Enjoy the mystery and allure of what is believed to be the world’s oldest city, with its traditional souks, Middle Eastern foods, and ancient art and architecture. To help you make the most of your visit, we asked the concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Damascus to share their tips for what to see and do in the city.
There is arguably no better place to absorb the city’s intellectual flavour than Rawda on Abed Street in the heart of downtown. Coffee, tea, fruit flavoured-tobacco (shisha) smoked in water pipes and backgammon lure the diverse crowd that frequents this popular spot. For those who require a jolt of excellent espresso and high-speed Internet, try the trendy Segafredo or Moka & More on Damascus Boulevard.
Shopping the souks
The three covered bazaars of Damascus are your best bets for gifts and souvenirs. Souk al-Bzouriyeh runs from Azem Palace to Souk Midhat Pasha, and is known for its spice and soap shops. Souk al-Hamidiyeh is the place to find gold and silver jewellery, copper cookware and ornate brass trays. In this souk, seek out Old City, a treasure chest of a rug shop. Souk al-Harir is filled with silk and pashmina shawls and colourful dresses. The more modern venues, Damasquino Mall and Cham City Centre mall, offer high-end, international designer brands.
Art collectors should head for Al-Khoury Arts Gallery on Straight Street. You can also take an art tour through al-Amin Street, in the former Jewish quarter, and meet top Syrian artists like Mustafa Ali. Don’t leave the quarter without seeing Beit Farhi, the palace of Raphael Farhi, financial adviser to the Ottoman sultanate. In this meticulously restored estate, don’t miss the Hebrew inscriptions in the reception hall and orange trees in the courtyard.
After a day touring ancient mosques, pamper yourself with a healing treatment once reserved for Palmyrene royalty. The Hotel Spa offers the Zanobia massage, in which warm poultices infused with aromatic oils soothe tired muscles. Or opt for the Orient Blend massage, based on the theory of energy meridians, which uses acupressure to invigorate and energize. Or simply stretch out in the steam room and let the peace, quiet and heat work their magic.
The colours and patterns of the city’s famous woven tapestries and rugs will send you flying, figuratively if not literally. The rugs are said to be the most exotic collection outside of Persia. Yasser, near Nofara, and Samir & Khaldoun carry some of the finest.