Known as one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, the fascinating city of Aleppo, Syria, offers a rich combination of history, culture, and an enduring spirit. Here, classical architectures sit harmoniously next to bustling marketplaces, ancient castles, and amazing local restaurants.
This guide will lead you through the must-visit sites, valuable travel tips, the history, the best souvenirs to bring back, and other essential insights that will ensure a beautiful journey when you travel to Aleppo, Syria in 2024.
If you want more to be persuaded, you can read my guide with 25+ compelling reasons to Visit Syria in 2024.
A Little Bit of History
Contrary to what you might think, Aleppo is actually older than Damascus. Standing proudly at the crossroads of several ancient trade routes, the city was once the heart of the prosperous kingdom of Yamhad around the 18th century BC. Later, it flourished under the rule of Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, and many other civilizations, seamlessly absorbing their cultural and architectural influences.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, Aleppo gained importance for its strategic position within the Silk Road. It was an essential trading center attracting merchants and craftsmen worldwide, thus achieving rich cultural and economic growth. Moreover, the Aleppo Citadel was constructed during the Ayyubid period, a formidable reflection of Islamic military architecture, which remains one of the city’s main attractions today.
However, the city’s more recent history is somewhat shadowed by war and destruction. During the Syrian Civil War, Aleppo became a major theater of conflict between the Syrian Government, numerous rebel groups, and ISIS. The war had severe consequences on the city’s cultural heritage, causing devastating damage to many historical sites.
In 2023, Aleppo was again tried by fate, struck by a significant earthquake that shook its foundations. This natural disaster only added to the challenges faced by the resilient city, causing further devastation and delaying the progress of restorative efforts.
Today, despite the numerous setbacks, Aleppo and its people continue their remarkable journey of recovery and rebuilding. Aleppo is on a journey, trying to heal its wounds and rebuild the historic city. While much of it remains threatened, the spirit of the people of Aleppo continues to inspire. It remains a city of remarkable depth and historical wealth that offers a hard reminder of the ever-lasting power of civilization.
A Map of Aleppo, Syria
Understanding the geography of your destination is an important step before you travel to Aleppo. As such, I’ve sourced a map of Aleppo with all the most important attractions for you. This is a great tool to use when planning your trip routes and daily itineraries.
Is it possible to Travel to Aleppo, Syria?
In the last few years, Syria has opened its borders to foreign visitors. In fact, in 2023, more than 1 million foreign visitors and 1.2 million Syrians from abroad chose the Middle Eastern country for their vacation. This was also the first year the country welcomed American tourists.
Americans had been banned from traveling to Syria for the past years years, but that’s no more the case. US citizens can now visit the country as tourists. So, yes, it is very possible to travel to Aleppo!
For more information about traveling to Syria in 2024, read my comprehensive guide to the country. The first thing you should know about traveling to Syria is that since 2018, you must organize your trip with a local tour operator.
We chose to do our trip with Golden Team Syria. They have one of the most reputable travel agencies in the country. They took care of everything for us before we arrived. They were excellent professionals and tried their best to fulfill every request that we had.
A driver and guide were solely dedicated to our trip, and they eventually became our friends. Sally and Abo Azad, if you are reading this, thank you for making this trip unforgettable.
Is it safe to travel to Aleppo, Syria?
This is one of the most common questions I got asked from everyone who knew about me traveling to Syria. The answer is rather complicated.
While the Syrian Government has gained back control of the majority of the country, there are still a few places occupied by rebel groups. However, the only places you are allowed to visit when traveling to Syria as a tourist are the ones that belong to the Government. These places have been out of the conflict for quite some time and are safe to visit.
During the entire time I was exploring Aleppo, I felt as safe as everywhere else I’ve been. For me, it was no different from any other Middle Eastern city.
One of the first things that has to come to your mind when planning a trip is insurance.
Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance is one of the best options available out there. With a maximum coverage of 365 days, they are a great option whether you are a Nomad or not! They offer very low rates, but excellent coverage and immediate support (in a few minutes!). The best part? Nomad Insurance can be purchased even if you have left your home country already.
Lastly, they also cover extreme sports, something that can come in very handy if you are an adventurous soul.
*please note that Nomad Insurance does not cover travel to Syria. However, they are an excellent option for the rest of your trips.
As long as you are with your guide and listen to what they advise you, you‘ll be alright. You will pass many checkpoints and see a lot of soldiers around, but they are there to protect you. You’ll always be greeted with a smile and a warm “Welcome.”
There have been a few moments of tension in recent years. However, the Government always canceled visa approvals whenever they thought the country was unsafe for visitors.
Obviously, I cannot guarantee anyone’s safety when traveling to Aleppo, or Syria in general, and you always travel at your own risk. However, I can say that there was no place in the country where I felt insecure, even a tiny bit.
How to get to Aleppo from Damascus
The road trip from Damascus to Aleppo is approximately 355 kilometers, or about 220 miles. The Syrian Government regained access to the main highway to Aleppo, as it was previously occupied by rebel forces. This had lead to the trip lasting up to 9 hours!
Nowadays, the travel to Aleppo typically takes around 4 to 5 hours by car, depending on traffic and road conditions. The route takes you through several notable cities and towns, offering opportunities to experience the diverse culture and history of Syria.
What is The Currency in Aleppo?
The currency used in Syria is called the Syrian pound (SYP). It has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century when it was first introduced as the national currency.
All transactions inside the country have to be in the local currency. Generally, you cannot use USD or Euros when you travel to Aleppo, but there are some exceptions.
Is Aleppo Expensive?
Syria is actually a very affordable country to visit. It is for sure the cheapest country I have been to so far. A full traditional meal for 3-4 people at a middle-to-high-end restaurant will set you back around 15-20$ in total. A sandwich will cost around 1-2$, and a soda 1$ tops.
Small souvenirs like keychains etc., cost around 0.5$ per piece. As you can see, traveling to Aleppo on a budget can be very easy. However, there are more expensive and high-end options if you are a person who likes luxury and more expensive options.
What is the best time of year to travel to Aleppo, Syria?
When planning your visit to Aleppo, you should always take the climate into account. Like many parts of the Middle East, summers in Aleppo can be very hot, while winters tend to be mild to chilly. This makes autumn and spring the most enjoyable seasons to visit when temperatures usually range between 20°C (68°F) and 30°C (86°F). Between April and June, the landscape is particularly lush and vibrant, while from September to November you can enjoy pleasant weather and fewer crowds.
No matter what time you decide to visit, there’s always something interesting and unique happening in Aleppo. Just be sure to check your travel agency’s advice before setting off.
The Best Things to do in Aleppo
Visit the Aleppo Citadel
The Aleppo Citadel is a large medieval fortified palace located in the center of the old city of Aleppo. It is considered one of the oldest and largest castles in the world (!) Standing on a 50-meter-high hill, it has been a symbol of Aleppo’s long and rich history.
The Citadel’s history dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, during the Hittite period. Since then, it has been occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks. Each of these civilizations left its mark on the Citadel, contributing to its diverse architectural styles.
Around the Citadel you’ll find many cafes and bars. The surrounding area is a very popular gathering place for locals. It actually brought up to me many different emotions. While I saw the remnants of both the war and the earthquake, I did see people and families gathering, playing, laughing, and smiling. And seeing that made me appreciate the people of Syria even more.
The Citadel is known for its impressive architecture. The entrance block, a massive fortified gateway, is as impressive as it gets. It leads to a large courtyard, around which are several important buildings including the Throne Hall, the Small Mosque, and the Ayyubid Palace.
However, what fascinated me most was the fact that you cannot appreciate its size unless you are there. This castle is massive! In fact, our guide told us that it is like a city inside of another city.
Inside the Citadel, you can explore numerous historical treasures. As you dive deeper, you will encounter the Throne Room, the beating heart of the Citadel. This hall, once a popular destination for court ceremonies and royal affairs, now stands silently, allowing you to take a moment to enjoy its magnificence.
One of the Citadel’s most impressive features is its ancient Hammam, or bathhouse. Walking through the hallways of this Hammam, you can imagine the social life of the past, where these rooms served as a space for relaxation, gossip, and business negotiations.
The Citadel of Aleppo not only offers a journey through history but also provides stunning panoramic views of the city. The high vantage point from the castle walls allows you to appreciate the vast expanse of the ancient city.
Despite significant damage during the Syrian Civil War and the recent earthquake, efforts are underway to restore the Citadel. The citadel had been closed to the public for some time due to the damages the latter caused. However, as of 2024, the Citadel is again open to visitors and locals.
The Aleppo Citadel was one of the best and most impressive places I’ve visited in my life! I could spend hours standing around and talking with the locals. Despite everything that happened, it remains a popular tourist destination and a testament to Aleppo’s resilience and rich cultural heritage. It is by itself a reason to travel to Aleppo.
See the Rebuilding of the Great Mosque
Another must-see when you travel to Aleppo used to be the Great Mosque, also known as the Umayyad Mosque (does that name ring a bell?). This was one of the largest and oldest mosques in the city. Its architectural beauty and spiritual significance were some of the elements that made it a key attraction. The mosque also used to house the remains of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, making it a significant site for both Muslims and Christians.
However, the Mosque was heavily damaged during the war. Efforts to reconstruct it while keeping the original style are ongoing.
Walk around the Bab Al Faraj Square
Bab Al Faraj Square, located in the heart of Aleppo, is a significant historical and cultural landmark to see when you travel to Aleppo. The square, whose name translates to ‘Gate of Deliverance,’ is a central hub of activity and another popular meeting point for locals.
The square is named after one of the main gates of the ancient city of Aleppo, the Bab Al Faraj, which was part of the city’s defensive walls. The gate no longer exists, but the square retains its historical significance and serves as a reminder of the city’s rich past. The square is surrounded by a number of important landmarks. One of the most notable is the Clock Tower, a distinctive structure that stands as a symbol of the city.
The tower was inaugurated in 1900 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Sultan’s accession to the throne. The clock itself, which was imported from Britain, is a significant feature of the tower. It was designed to chime every quarter of an hour, serving as a timekeeper for the city’s inhabitants. The clock’s mechanism is a wonder of 19th-century engineering, with its intricate system of gears and wheels. I am not sure I’ve seen another clock as impressive as this one ever in my life.
Another significant landmark is the National Library, a repository of thousands of books, manuscripts, and other important documents. The library remained under the administration of the Aleppo municipality until 1954 when the building was redeveloped and became under the direct administration of the Syrian Ministry of Culture. Currently, the library contains a collection of 100,000 books. The building has also a small theatre hall with 300 seats.
Wander around the Al-Madina Souk
The Aleppo Souk, also known as the Al-Madina Souk, is one of the most significant historical and cultural landmarks in Aleppo, Syria. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with an estimated 13 kilometers of winding alleyways filled with shops and stalls.
The souk dates back to the 14th century and is a testament to the city’s rich history as a major trading hub along the Silk Road. It is renowned for its unique architecture, featuring vaulted stone ceilings and intricate ironwork, which provide a glimpse into the city’s medieval past.
Within the souk, you can find a wide array of goods, from spices, textiles, and handmade crafts to jewelry and antiques. Each section of the market specializes in a particular type of merchandise, making it a vibrant and bustling place of commerce.
Unfortunately, the souk was severely damaged during the Syrian Civil War, with many of its historic buildings and shops destroyed. However, efforts are underway to restore and rebuild this UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the hope of reviving its former glory.
The contrast between walking in the destroyed old part and the new one is very stark. However, it is very pleasing to see that locals are starting to get their lives back. Buing souvenirs from local businesses will massively help the locals. So keep this in mind when you travel to Aleppo.
See the Abandoned Baron Hotel
The Baron Hotel is a significant historical site that has been standing since the early 20th century. It was founded by the Armenian Mazloumian family in 1909, making it one of the oldest hotels in the country.
The hotel is renowned for its unique colonial architecture and its rich history. It has been a hub for many famous figures throughout the years. These include renowned writers like Agatha Christie, who is said to have written parts of her novel “Murder on the Orient Express” while staying at the hotel, and T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.
In 1958, Syria and Egypt came together to form a union called the United Arab Republic (UAR). Egypt’s President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had a vision of uniting Arab countries to stand against foreign influences. The union was announced from the balcony of this very hotel. However, it didn’t last long, mainly because of differences in culture, politics, and money. The union ended in 1961. Even though it was brief, it showed how tough it can be for Arab countries to unite, while also highlighting their desire to work together.
Despite the damages it suffered during the Syrian Civil War, it is still possible to visit the Baron Hotel. Our amazing guide from Gloden Team Syria, Sally, arranged with the person responsible for the building to get a tour. It felt like we were VIPs, a nice little detail.
Visiting the Baron Hotel when you travel to Aleppo is like stepping into a living museum. Inside the hotel, visitors can find a wealth of historical artifacts and memorabilia, such as antique furniture, old photographs and broshures, and much more. The hotel’s bar is a particular highlight, offering a vintage charm that transports you back in time.
Learn About the History of Aleppo Soap
No trip to Aleppo is complete without trying its world-famous soap. Aleppo soap is one of the city’s most renowned essentials that you should absolutely consider purchasing as a souvenir.
Made from olive oil and bay leaf oil, Aleppo Soap carries a distinctive scent. The process of creating this soap is an art in itself. Traditionally, craftspeople cook the soap in large cauldrons, after that, they pour the mixture on flat surfaces to cool and harden. It’s then cut into blocks and stacked to dry, an age-old process that carries forward to today.
Besides its lovely fragrance, Aleppo Soap offers numerous benefits. It’s known for its strong antibacterial properties, which can be beneficial for conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. When you visit Aleppo, do make sure to stop by a local market to bring home this valuable traditional souvenir.
Don’t be afraid to ask your guide or the locals for recommendations for the best places to buy Aleppo Soap. And remember, this isn’t just any purchase – it’s a chance to carry a piece of Aleppo’s history back home with you.
Have a Traditional Feast at a Local Restaurant
You cannot travel to Aleppo without trying the amazing local cuisine. The Al Kimma restaurant in Aleppo, Syria, is renowned for its traditional Syrian cuisine. It is for sure one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever dined in, located on a rooftop and offering incredible nightime views of the city. The meals were just incredible, and I would recommend it to everyone!
Enjoy a Drink in an Underground Bar
Underground bars in Aleppo offer a trully unique experience. They are often located in historical buildings, with stone walls and arches that give a sense of the city’s rich history. These bars are not just places to drink, but also social hubs where locals and tourists alike can mingle and enjoy the nightlife.
We went in a bar after a suggestion from one of our guides and we had beer and arak. They are both two popular alcoholic beverages in Syria.
Arak, a traditional Middle Eastern spirit, is typically made from grapes and aniseed, giving it a distinct licorice-like flavor. It’s often served with water and ice, which turns the clear liquid milky white, and it’s usually consumed with food.
Beer, on the other hand, is a universal beverage and Syria is no exception. The country has a few local brands, such as Afamia beer, which is a lager-style beer. It’s light, crisp, and refreshing, making it a popular choice in the warm climate. When you travel to Aleppo, you can find a variety of both local and imported beers.
This experience at the bar, drinking and getting to know people that I would never think I’d meet is for sure one of the best ones I’ve had while traveling. It is why I travel.
Essential Travel tips for visiting Aleppo, Syria?
- Before you travel to Aleppo, it’s essential to stay updated on the current situation in the region. The city has been significantly affected by the Syrian civil war, and some areas may still be unsafe for tourists. Guides in Syria are all licensed, well-educated, and know better when it comes to your safety. You should always be respectful to them and accept when they say that something is not possible.
- Learning a few basic phrases in Arabic can be beneficial. While some locals may speak English, many do not, and knowing how to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, and ‘please’ can go a long way. Also, carrying a phrasebook or translation app can help in communication.
- Syrian cuisine is a delight for food lovers. Don’t miss out on trying local dishes like kebabs and hummus. Street food is also popular, but ensure it’s from a clean and reputable source to avoid potential health issues.
- Syria’s currency is the Syrian pound, and it’s advisable to carry cash as no places accept credit cards. So keep this in mind when you travel to Aleppo.
- Healthcare facilities in Syria may not be up to Western standards, especially outside major cities. It’s recommended to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical evacuation.
- The Syrian economy has facves a lot of struggles in the laast few years. It will help massively the locals if you support small businesses.
- Lastly, respect local laws and regulations. For example, photography may be restricted in certain areas due to security concerns. Always ask for permission before taking photos of people or private property. Remember, you’re a guest in their country, and respecting their customs and rules will ensure a positive experience.
Final Thoughts-Why you should travel to Aleppo
Your journey when you travel to Aleppo, Syria is about to be a memorable one. Remember, travel is about creating memories and expanding your horizons by experiencing different cultures and ways of life. So take that leap; embrace your adventurous soul, and allow Aleppo to mesmerize you with its enchanting charm, resilient spirit, and enriching culture. Above all, stay safe and enjoy every moment of this truly unique journey.