Damascus (دمشق) is the capital of Syria and its largest city, with about 4.5 million people.
Established between 10,000 to 8,000BC, Damascus is credited with being the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. The old-walled city, in particular, feels very ancient and largely consists of a maze of narrow alleys, punctuated by enigmatic doors that lead into pleasing, verdant courtyards and blank-faced houses. The old city still has an authentic medieval feel to it, although this is vanishing fast due to the increasing tourist traffic as the city continues to be highlighted as an attraction. Life however, goes on in the old-walled city, which is still the religious and social center of the city.
Syria's busiest airport is the Damascus International Airport.There are internal flights to Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zur, Qamishli, and occasionally Latakia, costing approximately 1000 SP one way,
The airport is relatively well-equipped with most standard services. The tax-free assortment is limited, but prices are very low, especially on perfume. You might find better bargains on goods such as Lebanese wine, arak (an unsweetened, aniseed-flavored, alcoholic beverage) and similar items before departing the airport.
Getting Syrian pounds at Damascus International Airport might be tricky, as the change counters only accept US dollars. There are two ATMS in the main lobby that accept credit cards and foreign debit cards, but they tend to be unreliable. Your best bet is to bring a small amount of US dollars with you into Syria, and change it at the airport until you can withdraw from Damascus ATMs.
The average fare from the airport to the city is 1500 SP. the prices became that high because nowadays only Taxi Companies are allowed to pickup customers from the Airport, Fares are typically about 500 SP going from the city to the airport by Taxi, however, may vary depending on your bargaining skills.
There are also buses departing to and from Baramkeh bus station in the center of town (airport buses are the only ones which serve this bus station now - all other services have moved to the new out of town Soumaria bus station). The price is 45 SP + 25 for your luggage and there are departures every half an hour, 24 hours a day. At the airport, come out of the terminal and turn right - you will find the bus at the end of the building. There is a small ticket office. The buses have been upgraded in recent years and have become very good.
The bus will drop you a bit far from the Old City, but there are tons of taxis around to get you there. Make sure to ask for the meter, and you should pay less than 50 SP, depending on traffic.
There are train services to and from Aleppo, making stops in Homs and Hama. One of the trains continues to Qamishli via Raqqa, Deir ez zoor and Hassaka. There are also services to Latakia, stopping at Homs and Tartus. However, buses or service taxis are more convenient. Syrian trains are slow and make many stops. The Damascus-Aleppo service is good. The main train station is at Qadam, a southern suburb. Service microbuses on the Qadam-Assali route run between Qadam and Sharia al-Thawra in the city center.
International: There are weekly sleeper trains to Istanbul (35-36 hours) and Tehran (60 hours). There are also twice weekly trains to Amman (very slow, generally require a change of trains at the border).
Service Taxis are available to Amman and Irbid in Jordan. Depending on the political situation, these also service Beirut and other points in Lebanon, as well as points in Iraq. Since the closure of the more central Baramkeh Station, these service taxis leave from Soumaria (pronounced like the girls' names "Sue Maria"), which is a 10-15 minute taxi ride from central Damascus, along Autostrade Mezzeh. The bus number 15 and 21 will take you to Soumaria station from the bus stop next to Matry's place.
Damascus is well served by buses internally in the country. There are two bus stations: the western bus station serves destinations west and south (including Amman and Beirut), while the northern bus station serves destinations north (including Aleppo).
Hatay Turizm from Antakya/Turkey has regular buses to the city. You can board on these in Istanbul as well. Normally, you will have to reserve a seat one day or more in advance, and although prices may vary, you can get a busticket for 80 TYL.
When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the center of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150-200, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal. This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.
Upon arrival at the western bus station, city bus #15 will take you to Al-Marjeh Square in Souq Sarouja/Old Town (where you can find many hotels) for 10 SYP.
At rush hours (10AM-4PM), the best way of transport is on foot. Smoking is absolutely forbidden in all public transport ways.
A very good idea is to go on foot especially for a sightseeing, and it's the only way to get around in Old Damascus. Walking in the new city however, should be reserved to the nicer areas of Maliki and Abu-Rumaneh, as the new city tends to be pollution clogged. The driving culture in Damascus is not the safest, so beware as a pedestrian, especially in the new city. Cars will not hesitate to come extremely close to pedestrians or other cars in order to pass.
It isn't a very good idea to rent a car in Damascus. There is almost always a traffic jam, especially in summer, and parking tends to be difficult too; although that isn't the the situation in suburbs.
Micro buses, also known as servees, are one of the main sources of transportation in Damascus. All journeys inside the city costs 10 Syrian Pounds (20 American Cents approximately). You can go from one place to another in Damascus with at most one or two journeys. When on the bus, give any passenger a coin and he will pass it to the driver and return the change, just remember to tell that passenger how many people you are paying for, whether you are in a group, or tell him that you are paying "for one" ("waahid") if you are alone. The route is written (in Arabic only) on the roof sign. Micro buses do not generally have fixed stops except at very busy points, just beckon to the driver and he will stop near you (Al yameen, andak iza samaht).
Taxis are plentiful in Damascus, making them a great transportation. The taxis of Star Taxi, a new private company, are more expensive than normal taxis, but they are also more comfortable and safer. You can call their headquarters and they will send the nearest taxi to your door. Taxis with the Damascus Governorate logo on the side and a number on the roof sign are normally equipped with a meter, and it is best to use only these when hailing a taxi on the street. You should normally leave a 10-pound tip as well as the fare on the meter. At night, taxi drivers do not usually use the meter, so you may be best off negotiating the price before you get in. A service taxi to Amman or Beirut cost 700 Syrian pounds and takes around 4 hours and run 24 hours. Do not hesitate to take them; they are new, clean vehicles with air conditioning.
The Souq al-Hamidiyya, a broad street packed with tiny shops, is entered through columns from a Roman temple built on a site that had been occupied by an even older temple. The souqs themselves smell of cumin and other distinctive spices and you can find passages dedicated to everything from leather and copper goods to inlaid boxes and silk scarves.
At the end of Souq al-Hamidiyya stands the great Umayyad mosque; this building with three minarets is an architectural wonder. It was an Assyrian temple, then a Roman temple to Jupiter, a church when Rome converted to Christianity, then a mosque and a church together, and finally a mosque until now. All the symbols are still pretty much there and some Christian drawings can still be very clearly seen on the walls inside. The mosque contains the grave of John the Baptist (for Muslims, prophet Yahya) inside the main lounge. Women are asked to be to cover their hair, arms and legs. Abayas(full-body covers)are provided with the entrance ticket price of 50SP. Despite being one of the most sacred sites of Islam, this mosque welcomes foreign tourists, who are allowed to walk around the prayer area.
At the other end of Souq al-Hamidiyya is a fort-like section of the extant city wall that is the Citadel (but make sure to visit Aleppo's Citadel for a truly amazing experience).
Nearby, you can visit the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, the chief anti-crusader. There's a great statue of him on horseback right next to the citadel, which will make you gasp. If you walk all the way around it, there are two dejected Frankish knights underneath the horse's slightly lifted tail. These two knights are identified by inscriptions as Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and Reynald de Chatillon, lord of Kerak, an important fortress in the Holy Land. Both were captured during Salah al-Din's definitive victory at Hattin; Guy was imprisoned in Damascus and eventually released, but Reynald was executed as punishment for his many atrocities.
The October War Panorama is out in the suburbs but accessible by minibus or taxi. It's about US$7 to get in and well worth it. It was built with the help of the North Korean Government and the influence shows. There is an exhibit of military hardware outside. English-speaking guides are available.
View the city from Mount Qasioun is a must-do activity in Damascus as it offers a panoramic view. The peak is accessible at any time, although the view is perhaps most spectacular at night when the whole city is lit up and the minarets of mosques are bathed in green light. The Umayyad Mosque in the old town is particularly impressive when viewed from the mountain. There is a wide range of food and refreshment available on the peak from stalls to fancy restaurants that serve good local cuisine and alcohol. Check the price before you get too comfortable though- it is a well-known scam for local cab drivers to take you to their 'favorite' cafe, where you'll end up paying anything up to 500SP for a cup of tea.
Visit a restaurant in old Damascus. There are many restaurants in the old quarter each with their own unique character, but perhaps the most famous (and touristy) is "Beit Jabri", although "Al-Khawali" is considered by many to be the best dining experience in the old city. Another restaurant in the old city, Narcissus Palace, located close to Maktab Anbar, would offer an enlightening experience. Every night, a singer and band play old Arabic music and create an amazing atmosphere in the restaurant. A good idea, when considering these restaraunts, is to go for breakfast, and then go sightseeing. The breakfast is very cheap, the bill will amount to 1000 SP for about four people.
Bathe in a Hammam, i.e., a Turkish bath. The Nur-al-Din Bath (between the Azem Palace and Straight Street) and the Bakri Bath (first street on the right after entering the Old City at Bab Touma) are two baths that are familiar with Western tourists. A visit to either costs about 500 SP, and includes towels, soap, scrub, and a massage. Nur-al-Din is for men only, Bakri might be able to accommodate women or mixed groups upon prior arrangement. Bakri Bath: for women each day except Friday 10 - 5 pm
Relax at a Hooka cafe "Narjelah" Hooka cafe's are popular in Damascus and are easy to find. When visiting the old city, you'll get a more cultural or traditional experience. You'll probably find a crowd of tea-drinking, backgammon-playing men all smoking hooka. In the modern city, most cafe's cater to a younger crowd and are a big part of the night life offering a huge variety of flavored tobacco ranging from double apple which is the most common, to cappuccino. In almost every major restaurant, hookas are available, including the restaurants in the old city.
The famous vegetarian falafel sandwich (15-30 SP), chicken shawarma (30-50 SP) and manakeesh (10-20 SP), bread filled with zatar, spinach, meat, pizza-style tomato and cheese or other fillings are widely available and cheap. Less common but still widely spread are places which sell foul (boiled fava beans with sauce) and hummus.
A typical Damascene dish is fatteh, made up of soaked bread, chickpeas and yogurt. Delicious and extremely filling, it is excellent on a cold winter's day. Try it with lamb or sheep's tongue, or plain with the typical garnish of a little pickle and nuts.
There is a foul restaurant on Souq Saroujah, the same street as hotel Al-Haramein and one at the bab touma square. Also in this "backpacker district" on Souq Sarouja is Mr Pizza, a fast food joint serving good pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and fries. A large plate of fries is 50 SP, a sandwich filled with chicken is 75 SP and a pizza for one person is 110 SP.
Shawarma is, of course, popular in Damascus. It comes in different varieties, including chicken and beef. Station One (near the Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumaneh) is one of many restaurants that serve shawarma throughout the city.
In order to really experience local Syrian cuisine, be sure to visit a section of Damascus called Midan. It lies south of the old city and can easily be reached by walking south from the western entrance to Souq al-Hamadiyya or from Bab Saghir. There is a main street there called Jazmatiya which offers an unlimited amount of shawerma & falafel stands, butcher shops/restaurants and plenty of Syrian pastry shops which are clearly marked by 8 foot towers of sweets stacked on top of each other. Be sure to try Shawarma from "Anas," which makes some of the best sandwiches in Damascus. This main street is best to visit at night and doesn't close till around 3AM. The street is very safe and is always very busy.
Another unusual treat is a camel kebab, available tasty and fresh from the camel butchers outside Bab Saghir. As they typically advertise their wares by hanging a camel head and neck outside the premises, you're unlikely to miss them.
Fresh juice stalls are available all over the city. Orange juice (aasir beerdan) starts at 30-50 SP, other fruits are slightly more expensive. Many fruit stalls also have a range of dishes like hot dog, sojouq (armenian sausage), liver (soda) and meat (kebab etc.). These may not always be the safest to eat.
Fruits and vegetables which are not peeled might cause infections, but are still very good. Select places that have a steady stream of customers.
The area around Martyr's square is polluted with pastry shops selling some of the sweetest, tastiest and cheapest baklava on Earth.
Do not try to eat in empty places only crowded restaurants and food places are safe otherwise you may get food poisoning from Shawerma sandwiches or any other product (especially in summer) so beware!
Al-Sehhi Restaurant, +963 11 221-1555 , Sharia al-Abed, Central Damascus, This restaurant offers the basics in Middle Eastern cooking, including mezze and a variety of grilled meats. There is a separate family section for diners and women. Alcohol is not served, and credit cards are not accepted.
Pizza Pasta, sharia medhat pasha, at the turn to Bab Kisan. This place serves descent pasta and good pizza, and also antipasta and alcohol. The service is often less than good, but it's worth to put up with for some of the real stuff. No menu, just ask for whatever italian dish you fancy and chances are they will have it.
Nadil, a little closer to bab sharqi than pizza pasta, this place serves up typical arabic meat dishes and very good broasted, and does it well and cheap. Takeaway.
Beit Sitti, close to beit jabri in the old city (the street that runs parallel to the street of al-noufara down from the ommayad mosque). Opinions are diverse on the food. But there is no doubt that they have the best lemon and mint juice in damascus and it’s OK just to drink.
Inhouse Coffee, at the airport, in the bab touma shopping street on the way to sahet abbasin and in the shopping street of abu romanih (souq al-kheir, close to benetton shopping centre). This is the place for great coffee. They have everything, including pressed coffee, for those with European cravings. Heavy with smart looking people and bluetooth in the air (in Syria, it’s an acceptable way to flirt).
Cafe Vienna, close to cham palace, follow the street towards Jisr-al-rais, turn right in the alley opposite of the Adidas store. This place is great. They do sandwiches on brown bread and apfelstrudel!
Vino Rosso, in bab touma walk up the stairs beside the police station and ask your way. You can have food fried at the table and they got French cheese. Rather cheap, very cosy. Alcohol is served.
Chinese Restaurant, opposite of Cafe Narcissius close to Beit Jabri. Mom and Pop operation, although the chef's wife is back in China to raise their baby. Does standard Americanized Chinese food. Reasonably priced and good Chinese food, usually full of foreigners or Chinese students. The sweet and sour chicken and beef "hot pan" are highly recommended. Alcohol is served.
Fish place, bourj el-roos. This place is more or less male only, a little rough and does very good fish. about 500 SL per person. Not cheap, but it’s Damascus, it’s fish and it’s good. The same place runs a good place for foul and hommous next by. Alcohol is served.
Spicy, at the abu-roumanih side of jisr al-abiad, first street to the left if your back is faced to the bridge. Daily dishes, "home-made" style Arabic food. Excellent. No alcohol.
Caffe Latte, a small, warm-hearted cafe with the best coffee in town. Serves great muffins and pancakes. A very nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Damascus. Located near the Italian hospital.
Scoozi. It’s close to Noura Supermarket in Abu Rumanneh, if you walk from jisr al-rais towards jebel qasioun it is on your right. Best pizza in Damascus, the rest of the dishes are excellent too. No alcohol.
Haretna (bab touma area, take the stairs beside the police station and follow the sign) this is one of the hippest place speaking now, with some excellent mezze. The western dishes you can give a miss, but it does descent kebabs as well. But first of all, it’s always crowded, with a lot of nice looking people, and younger than most restaurants. A real Damascus favorite. No alcohol during Ramadan though.
Nadi al Sharq, close to hotel Four seasons, this is the best indian in Damascus. They do a great set meal for 600 S.P., which is really much good food. Or you can choose from great alacarte. The president dined here twice.
Rotana Cafe, a theme cafe built at the end of Damascus Boulevard by the Four Seasons. It is part of the Rotana Audio Visuals company which is probably the most famous music records company in the Arabic world. The head of Rotana is Prince Walid bin Talal. The food is great here, as well as the hookah. Some say Rotana cafe offers the best hookas in all of Damascus. There are many westeren dishes here, all cooked by world class chefs. The view from this cafe is great, Mount Kassyoun is visible and the rest of Beiruit Street. There is also a souviner shop and a music store located on the first level.
Cafe Trattoria is located right by the United Colors of Benneton in Abu Rummaneh. It is a beautiful sidewalk cafe that offers Italian food, hookas, and all kinds of western coffees, as well as the traditional Turkish Coffee.
Leila's Restaurant and Terrace, +963 11 544-5900, Souq al-Abbabiyya, Central Old City, Leila's Restaurant and Terrace has rooftop seating with a gorgeous view of Umayyad Mosque. The restaurant serves traditional Arabic cuisine. Alcohol is served at this location; however, that list is not on the menu. Ask the waiter for the drink availability.
Beit Jabri Restaurant , +963 11 544-3200, 14 Sharia as-Sawwaf, Central Old City, A favorite among locals and tourists alike, this cafe offers the Syrian classics. The casual eatery is located in the courtyard of a beautiful Damascene house.
Arabesque Restaurant, +963 11 543-3999, Sharia al-Kineesa, Central Damascus, The restaurant offers a combination of Syrian and French classics. While alcohol is served, credit cards are not accepted. Arabesque is on the more elegant side, so semi-formal dress may be more appropriate.
Downtown, +963 11 332-2321, Sharia al-Amar Izzedin al-Jazzari, Central Damascus, This contemporary restaurant offers a wide array of sandwiches, salads, and fresh juices. French is more likely to be spoken than Arabic. The interior is filled with Scandinavian decor.
The coffee houses of Old Damascus are something to experience. Hours can dissolve over a cup of shay (tea) or ahwa (coffee) amongst the smoke of a nargileh (water pipe) . An-Naufara (which means 'The Fountain') is a wonderful place to do this its just east of the Ummayad Mosque. There is even a Hakawati (a traditional story teller) present at 7PM most nights.
If you are craving a European coffee, head for Abu Rommeneh street and look for the Bennetton clothing store. There are a number of fancy cafes in the area, including the Middle Eastern chain Inhouse Coffee, which is very much like Starbucks in its prices and atmosphere. A large latte or cappuccino will set you back 135 SP. Free Wi-Fi is offered at each location throughout the city.
Apart from that, many bars and nightclubs have been set up in Damascus for many people to enjoy. These usually crowd up at night time, but they still guarantee nice alcoholic beverages and dances.
Souq-Al-Saroujah is where you find the cluster of backpacker hotels. There are other hotels in the area, but the three below could all be recommended.
As you can find some rooms to rent in the old city of damascus where you can sleep for cheap check this website http://www.ahllan.com/index.php?lang=english&f_id=1 old city of damascus
Al-Haramain Hotel, +963 11 231-9489, +963 11 231-9489, Sharia bahsa, Souq saroujah, next to the Al-Rabie Hotel, Some of the rooms on the upper floors lack heaters and can be very cold in the winter unless the door to the common space is left open. The courtyard is smaller than in Al-Rabie, but the staff is nice and friendly. Showers are in the basement. Helpful staff that can arrange tours and otherwise cater to tourist needs. No alcohol allowed on the premises. Be sure to get a reservation in advance.
Hotel Al-Ghazal , , Sharia souq saroujah, in souq Saroujah, at the street turning out towards Jisr-Al-Thawra, the revolution bridge, Also known as Ghazal Hotel, this hotel is a newcomer in the Saroujah budget hotels. It has a very attractive, typical Damascus courtyard. For breakfast, they serve the usual range of teas and coffeea and good water pipe free of charge. You can bring alcohol to drink in the courtyard if you like. Rooms and facilities are new. Several new, clean bathrooms with hot water and also a hostel portion in the same structure. Managers keep a safe on the premises for valuables. Owners are helpful and service-minded, but they speak less English than their competitors and don't arrange tours or otherwise on a regular basis (but could still probably help out if you ask). English spoken enough to arrange rooms, get/give directions and special circumstances. For foreign students of Arabic, the hotel staff is very accommodating and surprisingly insightful with the limited English they speak. If you are a light sleeper, you should avoid rooms close to the kitchen, bathrooms, and reception area. The rooms facing onto the courtyard are peaceful.
Martyr's Square or "Merjeh" in Arabic is the other place worth considering if you're on a tight budget, though many of the places double as brothels. However, at least the hotels below can be recommended. Women alone should avoid hotels at Merjeh Sqaure, because it's the red light district of Damascus.
Al Majed Hotel , +963 11 232-3300, +963 11 232-3300, 29th May Street, above Yusef Al-'Azmeh Square, behind the Assufara (Ambassadors') Cinema, completely renovated in 2001, this family-run 60-room hotel remains a very popular, secure and central place to stay for travelers of all sorts - from businessmen to backpackers. The Al Majed Restaurant, open 24 hours, is located on the top floor of the Hotel with a variety of dishes, from traditional Middle Eastern dishes to Continental fare.
Damascus Hostel , +963 11 541-4115, Al Abbara Street from Straight Street, or rope ladder on city walls 100m from Bab Sharqi, This hostel has a unique location, with some rooms in a tower on the city wall. While the location is excellent and the rooms are decent, the main reason to stay here is Raymond, the owner. A cool Palestinian who lived in Australia for 40 years, the guy is as friendly and helpful a person as you're ever likely to meet. Laundry service with an automatic washer is 200SYP. Satellite television is available in the common area but there is no on-site Internet access. The website has both a printable map with directions and GPS coordinates.
House of Damascus , , rents a rooms for students studying in Damascus in a beautiful, traditional Arabic house situated in the heart of the Old City of Damascus. The house includes seven bedrooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens, a beautiful courtyard, and a rooftop terrace with a great view over Old Damascus. Each bedroom is furnished with a TV, bed, wardrobe, dresser and heater (A/C in some rooms). The kitchens are fully equipped (gas stove, microwave, kettle, oven etc.) and the modern bathrooms have hot water 24 hours a day. Washing machine, internet access (dial-up) and fixed telephone (landline) are also available.
Hotel Old Damascus , +963 11 541-4042, Bab Tuma Square near Haretna Restaurant, is in the Old City, near the St. Thomas gate, on one of those two-meter-wide pedestrian-only streets that are so common in the older neighborhoods. The Old Damascus has about a dozen rooms and was formerly a typical Arab home of the sort common among prosperous merchants in the early 1900s. A Syrian-Arab family owns and operates the hotel.
Sah al Naum Bed and Breakfast , 00963 11 231 0884/0064, 00963 11 231 0884/0064, Baghdad street, Ekeibeh neighbourhood, Amara, Offers long- as well as short-term stays. The 400-year old house was newly renovated. The two-storey house prides has 27 furnished rooms restored in Ottoman decorative styles. With wireless internet access, laundry facilities and a fully equipped kitchen. The house has two open courtyards with view of Qasiun mountain.
Dana Residence , +963 11 323 56 61, Qudssaya Suburb, around 10 km from Damascus center, Offers various-sized apartments, suitable for all numbers of persons. Each apartment has its own balcony with breath-taking views of the mountains.
Orient Gate Hotel , +963 11 231 6224, +963 11 231 6224, opposite Venesia Hotel, beginning of Saroujah Entrance, Bahsa St., within walking distance of the commercial markets and many restaurants, The hotel has 25 air conditioned rooms (doubles, twins, and triples) with satellite TV, telephone and mini-bar. Safe deposit box at the reception. Staff are available to assist guests 24 hours a day. Summer terrace looking out over Damascus city.
Fallouh House , +963 933 356955, +963 933 356955, in the heart of The old city of Damascus-Bab Touma, Has air conditioned rooms (singles, doubles) with satellite TV, telephone and mini-bar. You can ask for a car to pick you up from the airport. the courtyard contains fountain and is full of plants.
Al Mamlouka , +963 11) 543 0445/46, Bab Touma, in front of Hammam Bakri, Amazing little boutique hotel on a quiet alleyway, behind an unmarked doorway. The rooms and courtyard are part of a beautiful old Damascus house.
Four Seasons , +963 11 339-1000, Shukri Al Quatli Street, The Four Seasons, located in downtown Damascus, offers many services, such as spa, baby-sitting, and fitness facilities. This hotel houses the Al Halabi restaurant, which features the Aleppo cuisine of northern Syria.
You can also check into the Sheraton Hotel, by Ummayad Square close the Malki and Mezze Area. It has a wide variety of high class restaraunts and a big swimming pool. Many concerts are held in this hotel, outdoors by the pool area, so it would be an enjoyable experience.
Most hotels in Damascus claiming to be 5 stars are actually closer to what Western travelers know as 2 stars. The Syrian government runs its own accreditation agency that gives highly suspect inflated ratings to hotels owned by Syrian chains and those that have paid "baksheesh" (bribes) to the authorities. Due to the American sanctions of Syria, credit cards linked to US Banks will not be accepted (this is pretty much every credit card in the world).
Damascus offers some of the best shopping in the Middle East. Prices are cheap, and since very few stores depend on tourists for their income, most will leave you alone to browse until you are ready to buy. Small stores are located throughout the old city, although the Souq al-Hamidiyya, located along the Roman straight street, offers the highest density of shops. The souq is a fantastic experience, but be prepared for the crowds.
In rural and modern areas of Damascus, people have been known to be perfectly healthy, but to imitate beggars in order to get money. Often, they will attempt to con you by giving more money and have many tricks to do so. Exercise caution.
Also, for your safety, do not take advice or recommendations, especially about accommodation, doctors and dentists, from taxi drivers. Kidnappings are rampant.
There are several institutions in Damascus that teach Arabic:
Language Institute at Damascus University - The Language Institute fully immerse their students in Arabic; the course materials and all interaction between students and teachers are done in Arabic. Students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced courses based on a placement test.
The British Council - While the classes may be expensive, they are mainly aimed toward diplomats and businessmen.
DSA - Damascus Language School for Standard Arabic - The school provides basic courses for beginners and advanced courses also on certain topics as for journalists, physicians, diplomats, engineers etc. Normal classes have maximum 4 Students. Lessons with private teachers are even possible. Twice a year, there are certain courses for students available at half price. Teachers are well experienced in teaching foreigners. Basic courses start every Saturday.
TikaTrip - Travels and Studies in Syria - Providing private Arabic tutors as well as professional language teachers and all important services: starting with the pickup service at the airport, arranging accommodation and advices on how to tackle the bureaucratic procedures.
Most hotels can arrange international phone calls, but prices are very expensive. Most internet cafes are set up for VOIP, and offer a much cheaper alternative, although the price does reflect the quality of the connection.
Internet access is widely available, although the Syrian government censors traffic, which can cause some interesting quirks in connectivity.
Be warned that only very few large banks will cash American Express Traveler Cheques in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria! ATM and Credit cards are NOT a reliable option for the foreign traveler.
The first ATMs were introduced into Syria in 2003, and thus are still a rare novelty in many parts, and are not always in operation. Change houses exist in many areas in Damascus, especially near the large Souks. The Euro, British Pound, and American Dollar can be changed at these shops, usually commission-free. Be sure to look up the current exchange rate before changing money so you do not get cheated. Many shops, especially in the old city), also change money. Though officially illegal, it is a handy option when you're already shopping in the old city and need to change some cash quickly. Just ask around the shopkeepers for a money changer and you will soon be directed to a store that does currency exchange.
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