travel to Syria - Damascus

Are you planning to travel to Syria? If so, this blog is written just for you. You will find everything you need to know about Syria before you go.

Our travel to Syria was a really memorable experience. We travelled overland from Lebanon in September 2019. Syria used to be one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East, and now is finally opening up for travellers again. While general tourism is probably still a few years away, curious travellers are waiting to see this magnificent country on their own.

This post has been updated on 13 January 2022

How to get a Syrian Visa

In order to visit Syria, you will need to obtain a visa, unless you are one of the few Arabic nations that don’t require a visa for Syria. Your Syrian visa can be obtained from your nearest Syrian embassy or at the border. However, in order to get your visa, you will currently need a special security clearance that needs to be organised through a travel agency in Syria.

If you decide to travel to Syria with a travel agency on a tour (see more on that below), this security clearance will be included in your tour cost and it usually takes only a week or two, unless you have a US passport. In that case, it makes take a few more weeks. You will then be able to obtain your visa at the border. The cost of the visa depends on nationality, some examples are listed below:

Syrian Visa stamp at the border

Syrian Visa fee at the border:

  • Australians and New Zealand is 130 USD
  • European passport holders pay 50 – 100 USD (Slovak passport was 70 USD)
  • Americans 160 USD
  • British 140 USD

You will also have to pay an exit fee of 2,500SYP, which is around 5 USD when you leave Syria.

If you don’t have the security clearance, you will not be able to get your visa at the border.

Should you try to visit independently, the cost of this security clearance cost varies from $270-$500 USD per person and is also obtained through the travel agency.

The Syrian Visa at the border is a stamp only and it is valid for 15 days from entry.

Please note: you will not be eligible to get an ESTA visa for the USA if you have visited Syria. You must apply at the US embassy for a different type of tourist visa and pay a fee of $160. You also cannot have an Isreal stamp in your passport, you will be refused entry.

And in the case you are trying to visit every country like us, note that with a Syrian stamp in your passport you might not be allowed to enter Libya.

Check out our visa page for useful information on how to get a visa for some countries.

Travel to Syria - crossing the border

The Syrian border

How to travel to Syria

The most common way to cross into Syria is the border crossing from Beirut, Lebanon to Damascus, Syria. There is also a border crossing when travelling from Tripoli to Latakia and between Jordan and Syria. There are limited flights to Damascus from Moscow, UAE, Kuwait, Muscat, Erbil and Yerevan.

The border crossing was very smooth and it took only 40 minutes, but of course, it can be busy. The journey from Beirut to Damascus takes about 3-4 hours, depending on traffic. If you are going independently, a shared taxi is around 20-30 USD.

A private taxi costs about 100 USD, but in this case, you might book it as part of your tour package.

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Travel to Syria

Umayyad Mosque in Damascus

Independent travel vs an organised tour in Syria

While travel to Syria independently is not impossible, there are a few hurdles. First of all, your security clearance will cost you a lot, 270-500 USD. Of course, you will still need to pay for your visa at the border or at the embassy. You might not be granted this security clearance if you are planning to travel independently as it depends on your nationality.

There are travellers who were successful in the past few months and others who were not. Embassies can also take up to a month to process your visa application.

If you are able to obtain your visa at the embassy or at the border, you are then free to enter Syria. However, to be able to visit some parts of the country independently, you require additional permits for places such as Palmyra, Bosra and Maaloula.

You can use local buses and minibuses to travel to cities such as Homs and Aleppo.  There are hotels of different levels, expect to pay 30 USD to 150 USD per night.

Private tour in Syria

If you choose to book a private tour (as we did), all the logistics will be taken care of by the travel agency. Your visa security clearance will be done by the agency (they just need a copy of your passport and some personal details).

You will have an itinerary with places you visit, your accommodation, transport and services of a driver and guide will be included. This can help to see parts of Syria that are not possible for independent travellers. Of course, you can change your itinerary according to what you want to see, but this needs to be done at the time of booking.

We travelled with Golden Target Tours. The contact is Khaldoun +963 944 372700 or email address is [email protected] Packages for 2 people start from 700 USD for 4days/3nights per person, 7 days/6 nights itinerary is about 1250 USD. You can contact him via Whatsapp for more options, feel free to mention our names, Marty and Rach.

We were very happy with their service and had a great guide, Tayseer and a driver, Mohammed. Both with over 30 years of experience. You won’t need to pay anything until your visa security clearance is received. You pay in cash (USD or EUR) upon arrival in Damascus.

Travel to Syria - getting online

Our hotel in Damascus – Beit al malmouka. Getting online was easy.

Getting online in Syria

Most hotels and restaurants have wifi and the speed, in general, is pretty good. In order to get a local sim card, you must visit MTN or Syriatell office in downtown Damascus. The process might take some time as they need to register you so bring your passport. We opted to use wifi only, but you can buy 5GB for about 7-9 USD.

Money in Syria

The currency in Syria is the Syrian Pound. Due to the crisis, the currency value changed significantly. If you are planning to travel to Syria from Lebanon you can change euros or USD in the city of Chtoura before the Syrian border. We have changed at rate of 1USD = 600 Syrian Pounds (SYP) at the start of September 2019. We were told last week the rate was only 500 SYP to 1 USD.

There are no ATMs in Syria that will accept foreign cards due to the international sanctions so please bring enough cash. Many travellers travel to Syria via Lebanon which has ATMs that dispense USD – very practical. No credit cards are accepted either.

If you have any Syrian Pounds left when you leave, you can exchange them for Lebanese Pounds or USD in the same city Chtoura or back in Beirut.

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travel to Syria - security

There are many security checkpoints across the country

Safety in Syria

“Is it safe to travel to Syria?” is probably the most common question we get asked. And the answer is yes. While most of our governments advise against any travel to Syria, if you follow a few basic rules then you are unlikely to encounter any issues. The capital city, Damascus is safe as any other city in the Middle East. Read more about our first impression and experience of Damascus.

There are plenty of military checkpoints and life goes on here until late at night. Restaurants, cafes, bars stay can be found everywhere, the souk is busy to explore for hours too.

The city of Tartus on the coast was very relaxed and felt like a Mediterranean city in the Middle East – as that’s what it really is.

Aleppo is considered safe, but when we visited in September we were still advised to exercise caution. We went out in the evening for a short walk and some food. Our friend who has visited Aleppo in December 2021 was free to walk around.

Anywhere near Idlib is currently off-limits. 

Travel to Syria has some restrictions. Don’t venture out too much off the beaten path and don’t take photos of military checkpoints and don’t even think about flying a drone here.

Please note, most governments advise against any travel to Syria. This is a post-war zone, which means things could change quickly. We urge you to research the current situation before you go. If you are travelling with a reputable company, they will know the situation on the ground very well.

Syrian money

Cost of things in Syria

Syria is currently very affordable for visitors, sadly due to the sanctions and the dip in their currency. Here are a few examples of prices:

  • 1,5L Bottle of water: 200 SYP
  • Coffee or tea: 100-300SYP
  • Street food such as shwarma or falafel: 200-400SYP
  • Lunch in a local restaurant: 2000-4000SYP
  • Entrance to main sights (National Museum, Aleppo Citadel): 500-1000SYP
  • Budget Hotel: 10,000-20,000SYP
  • Taxis to get around town: 1000-1500SYP
Travel to Syria - Syrian food

Dinner in Damascus

The food in Syria

If you decide to travel to Syria just for the food, we don’t blame you. The Syrian food is fresh, healthy and very tasty. Some typical dishes are mezze (appetizers) which could include hummus (chickpea dip), baba ganoush (eggplant and yoghurt dip) and green and black olives.

Then various fresh salads such as tabouleh (parsley, radish, tomato and lemon juice salad) or fatoush which has lettuce, tomatoes, lemon juice and chopped up flatbread seasoned with sumac and lemon juice. The mains are grilled meats and there are plenty of sweets such as baklava or icecreams. You can also find delicious street food: shwarma, falafel or pizza.

Tea and coffee are available everywhere and since Syria has a large Christian population, beer is widely available too.

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Travel to Syria - Syrian people

The Syrian people will be the reason for you to return. Kind, friendly and hospitable.

Syrian People

The Syrian people will become the highlight of your trip to Syria. We were told this by many who have visited before our own personal travel to Syria, but it still took us by surprise. Friendly, genuine and hospitable, we felt an instant connection here.

We were invited for a coffee or tea multiple times during our stay and had many great moments with the people. Trying to learn some Arabic goes a long way, but many people do speak English.

Travel to Syria - Damages

Aleppo Souks has been almost completely destroyed.

How much has been destroyed

Any travel to Syria was on hold for the past 8 years due to the conflict. Sadly many cities and sights have been destroyed.

Palmyra – Sadly most of Palmyra has been destroyed by ISIS

Bosra Amphitheatre – Completely unharmed and it’s now open to visit

Aleppo – The main Umayyad Mosque has been almost completely destroyed as well as the main souks – during our visit both sights are being rebuilt.

Krak de Chevaliers – parts of it have been hit and destroyed, but when we visited reconstruction was already taking place with some new excavation too.

Saydnaya and Maaloula – both cities have sites, sadly both have been looted, but are now fully reconstructed.

Travel to Syria - dos and dons

The Streets of Damascus

Travel to Syria – the do’s and don’ts

Do try to learn a few words in Arabic, it will break some barriers.

Don’t talk about politics or about the president. If locals share their stories or opinions, please just listen. You are not here to change their perception.

Don’t take selfies or pose in front of damaged ruins smiling. This isn’t a place to get your gram photos. Taking photos is ok, but no posing, please.

Don’t take photos of the military checkpoints or any soldiers.

If you are taking a photo of someone, always ask for permission first.

Do try to support the local economy. There are small shops everywhere, we tried to spend money where it’s most needed. A coffee, tea or water is available everywhere. Also, consider buying handicrafts and souvenirs. They are beautiful and many sellers have had very little business in the past years.

If you have any questions in regards to travel to Syria, please comment below. You can also find comprehensive instastory in our highlights on our Instagram profile: @veryhungrynomads.

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