Shop in a souk
The quintessential visit to Syria includes a trip to the local bazaar, or souk. The souk, or suq, is the traditional marketplace of the Arab world, with its stalls buzzing with endless activity and the aroma of spices wafting in the air.
Syria’s historic souks are the perfect embodiment of an extraordinary bazaar experience. Damascus has a maze of markets to challenge the irrepressible shopaholic.
Along the path that leads to the Umayyad Mosque is the Souk al-Hamidiyeh, which was established during the Ottoman occupation in 1863. Its stalls are the best sources for almost everything, from jewelry to fabrics, and from sweet treats to leather products.
On the other hand, Aleppo has the biggest covered souk complex in the region, extending as far as 20 miles. These labyrinthine markets are mostly found in the Old City. However, there are other shopping streets in the modern part of the city as well.
Take a bath in a hammam
If you’ve wondered what it’s like to try a Turkish bath, then make sure to drop by a hammam for a different kind of Arab-style bathing and pampering.
Turkish public bathhouses, or hammams, are part of an ancient tradition that remains in Syria and in other Arab countries. While the early generations of patrons were male, women are also welcomed in modern-day hammams. It is common for a Damascus or Aleppo hammam to allot special hours exclusively for women bathers.
A full package includes a bath, followed by an intensive scrubbing session, a massage and tea. Bathing involves getting doused by scalding-hot water. Scrubbing is done by a typically muscle-bound male or female attendant who vigorously uses scrub pads on the exposed parts of the body.
Lastly, soapy water is poured and rubbed all over to work up a foam during the grueling massage. It can be an eye-opening experience if you’re a first-time visitor to the hammam.
Step inside a beehive house
Travelers exploring northern Syria may find themselves greeted with an oddity in the middle of the dry desert. Cone-shaped structures made from mud have enthralled visitors with their form and purpose. Beehive houses lend a glimpse of architectural wisdom inspired by the elements of nature.
Beehive houses are found mostly east and west of Aleppo, particularly in towns such as Twalid Dabaghein and Sarouj. Their origin has been traced to as far back as 3700 BC. The ones seen in the Syrian Desert serve as either storage or dwelling.
Beehive homes can withstand the harsh conditions in the desert. They are structured in such a way that the hot air tends to move upward, keeping the ground cool. The walls are built using mud bricks stacked in layers to form a conical shape, leaving just a small hole on top. In the event of torrential downpour, the mud bricks don’t get very wet because the raindrops easily slide off the dome’s surface.
Explore a khan
With Syrian cities like Damascus and Aleppo being major stops along trade routes for centuries, merchants traveled from far and wide to conduct business. The need for convenient accommodations gave birth to the khan, a place providing both living quarters and rooms for trading activities.
Khan As’ad Pasha is a well-known example of such structure that can be found in Damascus. A tour of this elaborately designed Ottoman khan never fails to impress visitors with its significance in Syria’s history.
Connected to the Souk al-Buzuriyyah, As’ad Pasha al-Azem covers a vast area of 2,500 square meters. It presents fine features of typical khan architecture. There are shops on the ground floor within the grand courtyard that were used for storing goods and trading as well. Rooms for lodging were provided on the second floor.
Most of the khans in Damascus have been well preserved and are still being used to highlight traditional crafts. A visit to a khan is a must while you’re shopping in the souks, to give you more insights into the Syrian culture.
Relax on the Mediterranean beaches
Syria has its fair share of lovely blue beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. Complementing the majestic ruins of Crusader castles, citadels and old churches, the long stretch of beaches and verdant mountains imparts another irresistible invitation to tourists.
Starting from Ras al-Basit to Tartus, the scenic Syrian coast offers holiday resorts and chalets. Ras al-Basit is one of the captivating seaside destinations, with its unspoiled beaches blessed by a moderate climate and azure skies. Its popularity has grown through the years, as seen from the number of restaurants found along the shore.
Latakia has remained a major port city since the ancient times, making it the ideal base for exploring the coast.