The best way to see the country is by car. You can rent one through any large hotel at a reasonable rate, with or without a driver. If you want to do the driving yourself, you will need an international driver's license. Get a copy of the Freytag & Berndt map of Syria, which shows gas stations, and make sure you fill the tank whenever you can. Taxis are the best way to get around the cities—and they're metered.
Le Meridien Shoukry al-Qouwatly St., Damascus; 963-11/332-2650, fax 963-11/373-8661; doubles from $150. Near the National Museum, it's the best in the city for facilities, location, and ambience.
Sheraton Damascus Hotel & Towers Umayyad Square, Damascus; 800/325-3535 or 963-11/222-9300, fax 963-11/224-3607; doubles from $205. Standard-issue Sheraton on the city outskirts, with a pool and tennis courts.
Cham Palace Maysaloun St., Damascus; 963-11/223-2300, fax 963-11/221-2398; doubles from $220. More winning than the average hotel in this chain, with views of the Old City from the rooftop restaurant.
Zenobia Hotel Ruins Center, Palmyra; 963-31/910-107, fax 963-31/912-407; doubles from $79. Once frequented by spies and writers, now popular with archaeologists.
Pullman Al Shahba Hotel University St., Aleppo; 963-21/667-200, fax 963-21/667-213; doubles from $100. A good, modern hotel near the university, with an exceptionally helpful and friendly staff.
RESTAURANTS AND CAFÉS
Restaurant Zeitouna 24 Zeitouna St., Bab Sharqi, Damascus; 963-11/543-1324; dinner for two $15. Intimate restaurant in a renovated Damascene house. Near the East Gate of the Old City.
Palais des Nobles International Fair Grounds, Damascus; 963-11/221-6397; dinner for two $44. French and Middle Eastern haute cuisine served in an ornate covered garden.
Annadi Al Ommali 29 May St., Damascus; dinner for two $50. Wonderfully relaxed bar and restaurant, close to the Cham Palace. A favorite of local artists, professionals, and foreign embassy staff.
Al-Nofara Badreddin al-Hassan St., Damascus. A quaint café on the eastern side of the Umayyad Mosque. In the evenings, there is often traditional storytelling.
Sissi House Jdeide Plaza, Aleppo; 963-21/221-9411; dinner for two $15. Middle Eastern cuisine served in a mansion in the old quarter.
Baron Hotel Baron St., Aleppo; 963-21/221-0880. Once Syria's most glamorous hotel—its guest list includes everyone from Lindbergh to Atatürk, Lawrence of Arabia to Agatha Christie—but now rather dilapidated. Have a drink at the bar, where much of the French colonial furnishings and memorabilia remains.
Bayt Seba'i Madhat Basha St., at the center of the souks, Damascus. A Damascene manse converted into artists' studios that are open to the public.
National Museum Shoukry al-Qouwatly St., Damascus. Highlights include the 1,700-year-old synagogue transported whole from Dura-Europos, and the Hypogeum of Yarhai, an underground tomb from Palmyra.
Shibani Center Aleppo; 963-21/331-6827. Call for current performances and exhibitions.
Absolute Asia 800/736-8187 or 212/627-1950; from $4,380 for two. Eleven-day tours that take in Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, crusader castles, and villages along the Euphrates.