As Tourist In Damascus, The Capital Of Syria in 2017

In October 2017 was I lucky to be granted a 10-day tourist visa to Syria.

Friends and family told me I had to be insane and that I must have a death wish to want to visit Syria in 2017. Everyone knows there is a brutal war raging in the country that is heading into its 7th year now.

The people I told about my plans were all saying the chance of entering Syria was around 0 and, if I did manage to enter, I would most likely end up getting killed or kidnapped.

So when I finally managed to secure a tourist visa to Syria, I booked the first flight possible to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, since there are currently no flights to Syria.

Damascus,Syria
Streets are full of people and Shisha houses are full.

Over the 10 days, I traveled around Syria, I visited Damascus – Aleppo (Read About my visit to Aleppo by clicking here) – Homs with countryside around it, and the Mediterranean coast before I went back to Lebanon for my flight back home to Europe.

I went to Syria with an open mind and with no political intentions at all.

To obtain a visa for Syria these days, you will have to get a recommendation from someone with contacts inside the country, fill out some paperwork, wait for around 9 – 10 weeks to get an answer and pray that you will get accepted. Most people don´t even receive an answer.

Damascus
Local families in the street, all souvenir shops are open.

I left my hotel in Beirut in the afternoon with a shared taxi heading for Damascus and I would be lying if said I wasn’t excited about my trip into Syria. The trip between the two capitals is no more than 120KM /75Miles, a journey that used to take only around 2 hours to travel between before the war, including immigration procedures.

With the circumstances these days I would be happy if I could just make it across the border and into Syria at all.

Leaving Beirut proved to be the most time consuming on my whole trip to Damascus since I got stuck in the notorious Beirut traffic jam when leaving the city center.

When entering the immigration office on the Lebanese side of the border I noticed early on that myself and the 5 other westerners I was traveling with were not the only foreigners crossing the border. There were another 9 Europeans together with the tens of locals exiting Lebanon the same time as me (the border is open 24/7). Exiting and get stamped out of Lebanon only took a few minutes.

Here´s a short video from my trip to Syria, filmed with GoPro.

The first thing I noticed when entering the Syrian side of the border is how organized and calm everything was. People are lined up in queues. There are no soldiers around and only a few welcoming border guards. To make a long story short, the Immigration on Syrian side took only around 20 Minutes before I was stamped into the country and ready to go.

I entered Syria just in time to hear the 7 PM call to prayer from the Mosques in the distance.

When leaving the border to head towards Damascus there are a few military checkpoints to go through. None of them were any problem at all and every single soldier greeted me and my friends with a big smile, a handshake, and a “Welcome to Syria My Friend.”

The first thing to notice when arriving in Damascus is all the street life going on; young couples holding hands in the streets, shops open everywhere, shawarma stalls next to tea and coffee stalls and, in general, the streets are full of people like in any other country. There are no signs of war going on except the few relaxed soldiers sitting on a street corner.

Damascus
Traditional Resturant in an old home.

I only went for a fast dinner and a few beers in a traditional restaurant full of people before heading to bed. I wanted to be fully rested and up early to explore the streets of Damascus the next morning.

After waking up early to walk around of the oldest cities in the world, I left my hotel in the old city and you quickly notice the smell of fresh bread. The milkman is on his bike delivering milk around the old narrow streets and the fruit and vegetable stalls are full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Established between 10,000 to 8,000 BC, Damascus is credited with being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

When walking around the old city, you start to wonder if there is even a war going on. There´s absolutely no damage here. All shops are open and the streets are bustling with life. There´s a few military checkpoints here and there but you don´t really notice them. Even here the soldiers are happy to see tourists. Shopkeepers are overwhelmed with happiness when they see that tourists are back in town.

Syria, Damascus
A milk man in the old streets of Damascus

You are completely free to travel around Damascus on your own. You can take photos of everything you want except military checkpoints and government buildings.

It´s very easy to forget that you’re in a country that ravaged with war when visiting Damascus but then you suddenly hear rocket hitting the terrorist-infested Jobar district only two km away in a straight line from where I’m staying and enjoying life. Between 10 – 30 rockets I could hear a day.

Just like before the war, there is plenty to see in Old Damascus – The Umayyad Mosque, the 4th holiest place in Islam, take a walk around The Souq al-Hamidiyya (old market), visit The Damascus Citadel or just get lost in the narrow streets filled with a century after century with history.

Umayyad Mosque,Damascus
Umayyad Mosque, the 4th holiest place in Islam
Umayyad Mosque, The Mosque was a Christian Temple before it becomes a Mosque in 634.
Damascus
The Entrance to The Souq al-Hamidiyya is an old Roman temple.
Damascus
The old bazar is crowded with people, here you can everything

If you get tired of walking around the streets, just walk into an art gallery to have a look at modern art in Syria, relax in a local Hooka cafe while looking at bustling street life or listen to a local storyteller. Everything here is just like it was before 2011.

Damascus
A local art gallery

But like before 2011, so is the Old Town of Damascus the place you to stay to explore. The only real reason to head into to modern part of Damascus is if you need to do some proper shopping at a western style shopping mall or to visit a supermarket just as well stocked as any supermarket back in Europe or America. Everything is available here.

Damascus, Syria
Food Selections are just like Europe
Damascus,Syria
European Cheese

Syria,Damascus
Jack Daniels, or Jagermeister? Alcohol shops are everywhere in Syria.

Overall, Damascus is so completely opposite of what the media has been telling us for the last 7 years. So I wonder if the journalists have actually ever been here themselves.

Christian churches are located door to door to Mosques. Both are filled with people. Even the Jewish Synagogue in the Old City of Damascus is still open. You see Christian weddings around the city and Priests walking around in public.

Damascus
A beautiful girl looking at her friend taking wedding photo.
Damascus,Syria,Christian
A Christian Wedding, You see Christian Weddings every day.

In the afternoon, the bars and pubs are filled with locals that enjoy a few beers and drinks together with watching European football on big screens. And all of them are welcoming to you as a tourist. I went out drinking with the locals to 2 am before walking back to my hotel on my own.

Damacus
Locals Out dancing.
Locals out enjoying live music

I was lucky enough to walk around and explore Damascus for 3 full days. Never did I experience any hostile or unfriendly people.
Everyone was so happy to see that tourists are back in town.

Visiting Damascus in 2017 as a tourist feels just like being home in Norway or walking around Barcelona or any big western city. Damascus is very safe and ready to welcome tourists back.

After 3 Peacefull days in Damascus was it time to leave the capital and travel north to Aleppo. Click here to read.

Click here! to read about my visit to the world´s most impressive castle, KRAK DES CHEVALIERS & THE VALLEY OF CHRISTIANS.

Travel report from Damascus the capital of Syria from 2017
Travel report from Damascus the capital of Syria from 2017

 

66 Comments
  1. Thanks for doing this! I’ve been curious as to how the war has affected the daily life there….it’s very nice to get an alternative perspective other than the usual press sources.

  2. This makes me ponder.. really think… What is real and what is a mirage… This article and your travel to Syria, gives me hope for the people who reside there… I hope the war affected areas too, return to normalcy soon!

    1. Hello Deepika.
      I did visit war affected city´s to like Aleppo and Homs around 70% of Homs was destroyed but people have already returned home and rebuilding begun, you see kids playing in the streets again. Some parts is almost completely restored already

  3. thank you for sharing your experience! would you mind writing a more detailed guide on how to visit syria? e.g. name of guest houses, hotels, trusted bus companies, the detailed process of the visa application

    you are awesome. thanks a lot for sharing!!

    1. Hello Hello.
      I will be writing a post about all information about traveling around Syria soon, just gone finish the posts about Aleppo and Homs with Central Syria first.
      As now, so are more or less every hotel in Damascus and most of them in Aleppo open, just as before the war.

  4. Damascus looks absolutely mesmerizing!! Love how the women express their fashion sense however they choose! Looking forward to reading more about your time in Syria. 🙂

  5. Hi Chris,
    wonderful post! Really!!!
    I was wandering in which Embassy you have managed to get the Sirian visa. Would it be possible to know it? Thank you a lot!!!

    1. Hii.
      The visa is a complicated thing, You will have to pre-arrange it, it can take up to 9-10weeks. You will have to contact someone that work with tourism, or used to do it back before the war.
      When your application gets accepted can you pick it up at either the border (that´s what I did) or at the embassy in Beirut, but it HAS to be pre-arranged.

  6. Hey Christian,
    Great article! Thanks for sharing Ur experience and showing the real Syria now.
    I really wanna visit too. For the visa You said u need to.contact a person who works in tourism. Do u mean someone located and working in Syria who works in tourism ? Do u think it’s easier maybe to just fly to Beirut und try to get a visa there? Maybe in a travel agency? I have no idea how to do it best.
    Thanks for Ur help 🙂

    1. Hello Maria.
      At the moment is it almost impossible to travel to Beirut to get the visa without having prearranged the papers. I did meet a few people in Beirut that have tried that but have given up in the end. For me did it take 9-10 weeks from I emailed the papers before I got the answer that I could go.

      BUT things are set to change next year, I know at least one European travel company are set to start doing tours there next year, (they already offering a consultancy service for people looking to visit Damascus on private individual trips from Beirut). I also get reliable information from people that things are set to change from March next year.

      BTW: The easiest way to visit now, is to go through a Christian Chruch, they receive the visa much much easier then tourist do.

      1. Thanks Christian for Ur reply. I would like to go next year in summer, so hopefully it will be getting easier to get a visa. Fingers crossed!

  7. Thank you so so so much Chris for this awesome article.
    We really appreciate.
    Hope to see you in Damascus one day and your beer is on me.

  8. Wow, utrolig interessant lesing! Jeg har selv fått erfare at verden ofte er ganske så annerledes fra hva media forteller oss, og at man ikke må ta alt for god fisk. Jeg er imponert over stedene du reiser til, og det er godt å se at ting ser ut til å endre seg til det bedre i Syria nå.

    1. Hei Hei Renate.
      Ja dessverre viser media også Norsk media et helt feil bilde av store deler av verden.
      Syria var utrolig mye bedre enn forventet, også Aleppo og områdene rundt, kommer flere poster fra Syria snart:)

      Ser at du reiser en del også, er selv imponert:)

  9. Fantastisk flott å lese dette, og ikkje minst sjå bileter frå Damaskus. Dette beviser jo noko vi alle veit, at media vrir på sanninga slik det passer, er det krig så er det krig. Kunne godt tenke meg ein tur til Syria. Gamle historiske stader som det står om i bibelen er høgst interessant. Gled meg til og lese meir frå denne turen 😊

  10. This post is amazing. I have been wondering and thinking to get a tourist visa for Syria in the last years and never got a more beautiful, accurate reportage.
    I think I will be starting following this blog more often 🙂
    SH

  11. Fascinating journey and nice pictures! WoW! When you say “a recommendation from someone with contacts inside the country, fill out some paperwork, wait for around 9 – 10 weeks to get an answer” – do you mean obtaining a letter of invitation, then complete the visa application forms and then wait 9-10 weeks to get the application approven a Syrian embassy? Thanks in advance and continue with your journeys!

    1. Hello Johnny.
      You need someone in Syria that can guarantee that you are the person you claim to be, I was told there had been cases where people that claimed to be normal tourists were actually spies and activists.
      So now all visa applications have to be faxed and processed in Damascus even from the embassies, then IF accepted will your visa be faxed back to the embassy.

      The good thing about this is that you can pick up your visa at the border (that´s what I did). So no need to wait around Lebanon.

  12. It is a great post. Just wanna ask you, if you have a contact to somebody from tourism. I visited Syria last year. It was amazing. I could spent there only 4 days, and wanna visit my friends again. But one year ago, there were only a few people, who could do the paperwork, and it was crazy expensive.

  13. Life looks so rosey in Damascus. I wonder why you came back!
    Can you tell us who was your contact in Damascus who arranged for you the tourist visa?
    Can you tell us why you decided to go to Damascus ? Is it an invitation from the Syrian government? Or do you work for an intelligence agency?
    I came from Damascus and I thought you were talking about different city and country.
    I suggest you go to Gazza city and you discribe the rosey life there too.

      1. They didn’t give any reason? That’s really interesting actually. I don’t know if you realize but your post can strike several political nerves, just by showing the reality you encountered in your travels. I’d appreciate if you post any follow ups that might arise from these posts! Cheers!

        1. Nope, they haven’t given me any reason at all. Yeah, I figured that out, that some people couldn’t handle the truth and probably complained enough to get it removed. I’m gone post at least 3 more photos from Syria, so I’m expecting that more people will get annoyed by the truth.:) Will post about Homs this week hopefully

  14. Thanks for sharing your recent experiences in Free Syria. Syria now seems to be a much more peaceful place than my homecountry Germany or Sweden, or France, or UK, or Austria, or Italy.

    In Germany tourists nowadays are very scared because of many threads against their lifes and against their freedom. But our Mainstream Media is still telling their consumers that Syria is still a very bad and very unsecure place. That’s absolutely ridicolous after reading your lines @Chris.

      1. Thanks for your answer. Please don’t get me wrong. Until now I did leave my home for once instead, but only to buy a gift for self-righteous people like you @Chris 😉

  15. Nice post. I’ve been an admirer of Syria and Lebanon for some time now. The peaceful multi-religious society is fascinating. Our media always seems to tell us that they only want to fight “down there” in the Middle East but it’s not true at all. They are obviously people like you and me. Assad’s rule is not really democratic and him having all that wealth is not fair BUT he is a 1000 times better than the foreign sponsored radical Sunni Islamists who tried to take over the country. When you ask Syrians what Syria was like before the war, almost all of them will say that it was a beautiful country and life was good. This armed “revolution” by radical elements was a revolution that no-one in Syria wanted and needed.

    1. Heyy Marko.
      Lucky so is there more people than me that are not afraid to question the media:) A thing that I wasn’t expecting before going to Syria is that people are not afraid of criticizing their government in public, and people will openly tell you that they would like to have an opposition party, BUT not a armed one where most fighters are foreigners with the support from the west and Saudi Arabia.
      And actually around Homs region is the opposition party Syrian Socialist Nationalist working WITH the government against the armed revolution.

      1. Hallo Christian,

        Thank you so much for your wonderful report on Damascus! I am half Syrian and I almost cried when I saw the photo of Noufara Cafe in Souq Hamadiya. Countless times I went there when I visited my fathers home country. I think what you do is very important and I can see that from all the replies you are getting. Even tourism is political. Everything in our days is political. But I encourage everybody to see for oneself and go there and speak to as many people as possible. Nothing is just black or white. Syria will welcome everybody who is peaceful.

        1. Hello Riema.

          Nouffara Cafe is still doing great, and the storyteller is still there:) I was there enjoying a cool drink and watching him telling stories with the biggest enthusiasm even tho I couldn’t understand a single word that he was saying:)
          I agree that everything these days has become politics unfortunately;/

  16. Hello!
    What ist your nationality, Christian?
    Because if you can read German I would send you a link to an article by my daugther Nadina from last year – when she and her sister accompained me to Damascus. As we are (also) Syrians, we don’t need a visa, which make things a little bit easier.
    Anyhow – THANK YOU VERY MUCH for this article and the beautiful photos.
    Best regards,
    Achmed
    (My CV in English, see here: http://www.khammas.de/engl_my_cv.html)

    1. Heey Achmed.
      I’m from Norway, I can´t read German but I can use google translate to read your daughter’s article:) You welcome, I’m very happy to share how Beautiful Syria actually is, I’m already planning to go back soon.
      Christian

  17. Hi.
    I was very surprised to read about your trip.
    On several Videos you find on YouTube you see masses of destroying in Aleppo, Homs and also Damaskus. This cannot be all a fake.
    Do I ask myself, what is really happening there.

  18. I was very surprised to read about your trip.
    On several Videos you find on YouTube you see masses of destroying in Aleppo, Homs and also Damaskus. This cannot be all a fake. I ask myself, what is really happening. Or is the Syrian war only a movie?

    1. Hello Olli.
      There´s is Damaged, Destruction and many thousands innocent have died during the war in Syria, BUT there´s A LOT less damage in Syria then we have been hearing/reading about in western media. When traveling around the countryside between big cities, can we easily see that tons of places around Syria are completely undamaged from the war.

  19. Great blog, thanks!
    Hey Chris, I wanna ask something. My state’s embassy (Indonesia) in Damascus is still open (never been relocated or closed due to political differences), so does with Syrian embassy here in Jakarta hence I am a bit lucky (hehe). Can I apply for a visa through the Syrian embassy here? Or should I follow your guide?
    If I may ask, where do you come from and Is your state’s embassy still closed in Damascus?

    1. Hello Wahyu.
      I noticed the Indonesian embassy was open in Damascus, so was a few others, like Japan, Czech Republic, Armenia, China, and 10+ others.
      Unfortunately, so do I have no idea if you could apply from the embassy in Jakarta, but I would definitely try. My country currently has no diplomatic relationship with Syria, but I managed to get the visa without much problems. So should be easier for you. Just be ready for a long wait, it takes around 9-10 weeks to obtain a Syrian visa these days.

  20. Hallo Christian!
    That must have been really an “eye-opening” trip. Thank you for sharing your impressions.
    Have you had contact to the citizens of Damascus or Aleppo?
    Did you have the chance to talk with them about the situation in syria, Assad, the western way to report about their country?
    I´m really disillusioned, when I see the difference between the TV-News and the pictures you took.

    1. Hello Matthias.
      Yes, I talked to locals, even some refugees that had moved BACK TO Syria from Europe. The locals I talked to couldn’t understand why the west was going against them and why the west supported terrorists that beheaded people and demanding that females covered up. I did a video interview with a local in Damascus that I’m planning to post later, he was asking me to tell about all the bad I saw in Syria, about all the good I saw, but mostly he begged me to tell the truth of what I saw.

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