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Syria is a country steeped in history and rich in local colour and tradition. There are many sights to see here, but much of the appeal for tourists visiting this fascinating place lies in its unique culture and the warm hospitality of the locals.
Driving in Syria can be a challenging experience - expect plenty of horn-beeping and a more relaxed attitude to driving rules and regulations than in the UK. Drivers do not always pay much heed to traffic lights or rights of way, so bear this in mind as you drive. Roads are generally in good condition, but many road signs are in Arabic only.
Driving license: in order to drive in Syria, international visitors must have a valid driving licence in their home country, as well as an International Driver's License. Drivers must carry their license, car-hire documents and insurance documents at all times.
What side does Syria drive on: the right.
Alcohol limits: as an Arabic nation, Syria does not permit drinking alcohol in public and drink driving is a serious offence. Even the tiniest amount of alcohol in the bloodstream while driving could result in a prison sentence.
Driving age: Drivers must be at least 21 years old in order to hire a car in Syria and must have held their driving license for a minimum of one year.
Seatbelts: seatbelts must be worn at all times, both in the front and back seats of the vehicle. Child seats and boosters are not a legal requirement.
Mobile phones and GPS: GPS is not commonly used in Syria and any GPS mistakes could result in the driver ending up in a non-safe area. As such, it is better to use a reliable map. Using a mobile phone while driving is an offence in Syria and could result in a heavy fine.
Cost of fuel in Syria: it is generally significantly cheaper than in the United Kingdom, but fuel prices tend to fluctuate dramatically due to political instability in the country.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are usually acceptable when paying for your hire car, but when paying for fuel it is better to have cash as not all petrol stations will accept card payments.
Insurance: when hiring a car in Syria drivers will be expected to take out an excess insurance policy due to the unstable nature of the political situation in the country.
Traffic and parking: many Syrian drivers regularly ignore traffic rules such as red lights and right of way, seemingly with no consequence. However, foreign drivers would be wise to adhere to the rules if they wish to avoid a heavy fine. Parking in Syria can be a tricky business. There are allocated parking lots in most towns and cities and it is better to pay for these than to risk parking in an unauthorised area.
Travel by train is a pleasant way to see Syria and trains generally run in a reliable and timely fashion, as well as being relatively comfortable, with air conditioning and sleeper coaches for long journeys. Rail travel in Syria is inexpensive in comparison with the UK and routes run from the capital Damascus to the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Hama and Deir Ez Zor, as well as from Homs to coastal cities such as Tartus and Latakia.
Taxis in Syria are cheap by British standards, although make sure the meter is on and that the driver does not overcharge for your journey. Most drivers will not overcharge and are friendly and helpful.
Long-distance travel by bus is very comfortable, with companies such as Pullman and Karnak offering coaches with refreshments and films during the journey. These are at the top end of the price scale, but are still very affordable in comparison with the UK. Microbuses are smaller and less luxurious and make many stops, but are good options for travellers on very tight budgets as well as being a good way to meet locals and soak up a little Syrian flavour.
The following cities have international airports: Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo, Al Qamishli and Deir Ez Zor. Syria Arab Airlines is the national carrier and operates both international and domestic flights.
The capital city of Damascus will be the first port of call for anybody visiting Syria and this truly ancient city is famous for its ancient mosques and the colourful markets of its old town. Also worth a visit is the city of Aleppo, famous for its imposing citadel, ornate bath houses and the ruins of what is thought to be one of the oldest churches in the world. For sun lovers, there are many beach resorts to be found among the towns on the Mediterranean coast.
There are several major public holidays in Syria, many of which are marked by street parties. Perhaps the largest of these is Eid al Fitr, in October, which marks the end of Ramadam, the month of fasting observed by devout Muslims. Note that while visitors are not expected to observe Ramadam, some restaurants will be closed for the entire month. Eid al Fitr is celebrated with parties and gift giving.
The weather in Syria tends to be extremely hot and dry from June to August. December to February is cooler but not cold, with some rain along the coast and colder weather - even occasional snow - in Damascus.
Syria is a country that welcomes foreign visitors and most locals will extend warm hospitality. Most educated Syrians speak good English and will happily converse about their culture and their country. Note that women in Syria are expected to dress modestly and physical contact in public is frowned upon.
Syria Contact Numbers:
- International dialling/country code: +963
- Emergency services: Police 112; Ambulance 110
- British Embassy: (00-963-11) 611-07-87, 611-28-04, 611-79-66
The currency is the Syrian pound or 'lira' (S). Most major towns and cities have ATM machines, although not all accept international cards. The Real Estate Bank has the largest network of machines that accept foreign cards. It is wise to carry cash in smaller towns as many businesses will not accept cards.
Health & Safety
Vaccines for hepatitis A and B, typhoid and rabies are advisable before visiting Syria. Visitors arriving from countries with a high Yellow Fever risk will be required to show proof of vaccination against the disease. Drink only bottled water and avoid ice cubes in drinks.
Syrians have a warm, welcoming culture, but personal space should be respected at all times. Leave at least an arm's distance between men and more between men and women. Touching on the arm with the same sex is acceptable, but is inappropriate between men and women.
Visas for Syria
UK visitors to Syria will need to apply for a tourist visa before their trip. Tourists may stay for a maximum of two weeks and are not permitted to seek work.
The voltage in Syria is 220 V and visitors from the UK will need an adaptor plug.
Shops: open 8am to 1.30pm, and 4pm to 7pm.
Businesses: closed Fridays; open Saturdays and Sundays
Banks: open 8am to 2pm Monday to Thursday.
Shokran - thank you
Min Fadlak or Lao Samahet - please
Al Salamu Aleykom - literally peace be with you, used to greet or say farewell