For our latest travel guide, the globetrotting Syrian designer, Joana Hakki, is taking KHAMSA’s readers on an authentic journey through Damascus. While having lived in Jeddah, Paris, Montreal, London, and most recently, Beirut, Hakki continued to cultivate a deep attachment to her Syrian roots. In 2019, she introduced her eponymous brand, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship of Syrian artisans. Despite not residing in her homeland, Hakki’s connection to Syria forever fuels her inspiration and shapes her identity. 

Now, she shares her insider’s perspective with KHAMSA to offer a local’s insight into Syria’s culinary delights, daily experiences, and the enchanting atmosphere of the old souk.  Allow the allure of Damascus to enchant you and leave you yearning for more.

Top must-visit food spots in Damascus?

Naranj is the first restaurant that came to mind for a fine traditional meal. Located on the oldest street in the old town of Damascus, it really gives you a taste of Syria. 

Set el Sham is a classic and has the greatest traditional mezze. 

Nomad Urban Lounge serves the most delicious breakfast fusion and instantly transports you to a different world with its bohemian vibes. 

Kadmous Eatery is another must-have delicious breakfast with a farm-to-table concept. 

Whether you want to grab a cup of coffee or enjoy a drink with some friends, Blaque Resto/Bar is the place to be. With Its New Orleans meet Damascene feels, a chill afternoon is guaranteed. 

In the mood for shawarma? Either pass by the famous Al Sediq restaurant for cosy courtyard vibes and a super tasty shawarma plate. Or order-in the best shawarma sandwich from Farouk! IT IS TO DIE FOR!!!! 

Don’t miss out on Bakdash Arabic ice cream while you’re in Souq Al-Hamidiyyeh and Abu Abdo cocktail for a fresh smoothie – these are staples from our parents’ days! 

Have some corn on a cob and “termos” a.k.a lupini beans from street vendors, and some “sabbara” a.k.a prickly pear on the old rawdah roundabout – these are Syrian must-have street snacks.

Best places for shopping?

Maison TN for funky evening looks.

The Khan Store for an exclusive selection of luxury brands.

Tekkiyeh Al Sulaymaniyeh for local paintings and artisanal shops.

Demos for wearable art

And, of course, Joana Hakki for a fusion of traditional Syrian craftsmanship and modern designs.

Must Visit Culture spots?

Your first stop is The Old City. Walk inside Souq Al-Hamidiyyeh and outside all around the different alleys. You’ll find all sorts of goodies, from artisanal pieces, fabrics, and antiques to spices, nuts, candy and much more. 

Buy gifts, as almost everything you find is a treasure. 

The Ummayad Mosque is the Great Mosque of Damascus and is by far the most serene place on earth. My favourite time to visit is at dawn during the morning prayer. 

Visit private residences such as Azm Palace, the famous poet Nizar Qabbani’s home, Beit Nizam, Maktab Anbar or Beit Farhi. Each house is a perfect example of a damascene courtyard home with traditional architecture, calming fountains and mesmerizing design details.

Take a peek at Khan Assad Pasha, situated in the buzuriyeh part of the souk; it is the largest Caravanserai and dates back to the 18th century. 

While in the old city, go to Al-Nawfara café for a quick “tawleh” round, a yummy “tesekyeh”, a cup of tea, or simply to sit and socialize with people and hear their stories. 

Best boutique hotels to stay in?

The most beautiful boutique hotels are mostly located in Old Damascus, allowing you to fully experience centuries-old damascene courtyard homes as well as enjoy the vibrant souq life during the day and the various nearby cafes, restaurants and bars surrounding the area at night. Be prepared to be transported to a past era! 

From its rooms to its pool, Talisman is hands down a really special stay. 

H House is another beautiful boutique hotel near the Ummayad Mosque and Souq Al-Hamidiyyeh. It’s mostly known for its wonderful terrace overlooking the old city.

Al Zaytoona boutique hotel is also situated in the old city. Its bright courtyard filled with greenery is breathtaking. 

Al Pasha is another cosy boutique hotel in the old city celebrating Syrian heritage.

Finally, Art House is a five-star boutique hotel in the heart of Damascus. As the name states, it is practically a museum with its displayed art and traditional Damascene architecture. The lively modern, yet classic hotel is known for its spa and is also the hub of the city’s nightlife being home to Arts Café, Da Vinci’s pool top, lounge and cocktail bar, as well as Arch Resto/Bar.

Entertainment & Wellness:

Dar Abdullah is a very artsy venue that introduces different local artists and performers to the public each night. 

Abu el Zulof for live music and a great evening!

The Barbershop for the coolest speakeasy in the old city.

Tasneem’s secret garden is a 20-minute ride out of the city yoga sanctuary. 

Book a relaxing massage and a traditional hammam experience at Bloom by Lilly at the Art House Hotel. You’ll come out glowing and feeling fresher than ever. 

Pick up the tastiest nut butter, granola bars, Zaatar blends and healthy snacks from Wild Nut in the Fardos Tower hotel lobby.

Underrated places?

The Four Seasons Hotel cafes are nice. But, they do lack cultural “vibes.”

What to avoid?

Ignore all the hilarious flirtatious comments you receive. 

What to pack?

A film camera, water bottle, comfortable shoes, baggy pants and a big purse to hold all your souvenirs. 

Any tips and tricks to tackle Syria?

Enjoy your time; everybody is super friendly and hospitable – that said, if you take a yellow cab, make sure to pay the taxi driver even though he insists you don’t. 

Stop and smell the jasmines from the trees; Damascus is the city of Jasmines.

Get ready to try out all sorts of local alternatives to some of your favourite snacks ex: Oreos, Cheetos etc…

Pick up a box of the famous Ghraoui chocolates – you’ll confirm that happiness comes in an orange box!

Get some cash with you, as there are no card machines. 

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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