Below are a few books I recommend reading prior to a trip to Syria:
Syria - A Historical and Cultural Guide, by Warwick Ball
Damas - Miroir Brisé d'Un Orient Arabe (Éditions Autrement, Séries Monde)
Monuments of Syria - An Historical Guide, by Ross Burns
Syria - A Selection of Reports, by Carol Miller
Damascus - Hidden Treasures of the Old City, by Brigid Keenan (illustrated)
Damascus - A History, by Ross Burns (a detailed historical account, recommended only for those passionate about the details)
Rome in the East, The Transformation of an Empire, by Warwick Ball
The Old City is my favourite part of Damascus. I guess it is everyone's. It is fascinating for its history, architecture and culture. Highlights include the Umayyad Mosque, Straight Street, Al-Hamidiyya Souq, Azem Palace and the Citadel. But it is also great just to wander around the various souqs, khans and narrow streets that people have lived and worked in for centuries.
No-one (male or female) wears...
No-one (male or female) wears shorts in Damascus. Women need to cover up, but don't need to cover their hair. There are no set rules, and you can wear what you want, but if you wear tight and revealing clothes, you'll get a lot of unwanted attention, and (depending on what you wear) you might offend a lot of people too. Dress modestly...shirts (with sleeves for women), trousers/jeans, etc... I have seen many tourists not following these simple guidelines, the worst being a group of Australian girls dressed as if they were on Bondi Beach, moaning about all the attention they were getting. Basically, just look around and see what Syrians are wearing...it makes sense, too, to dress similarly, because then you can visit mosques without worrying if you are suitably dressed.
An English lady
Those who have read of the life of Jane Digby, the Victorian English noblewoman who married a Bedouin sheik, lived in Damascus and Palmyra and is buried in Damascus, may be curious about her grave. You will find it in the Protestant cemetery which is situated in a small walled garden on the right hand side of the airport road going away from Bab Sharki. If the gate is locked you can usually find someone in the Armenian cemetery across the road (watch out for the traffic) who will find the key and open it for you.
The grave is situated towards the back left-hand corner of the cemetery, under a tree and with a small chain railing around it.
If you are curious to know more about the life of this most remarkable woman and what brought her to Syria, Mary Lovell's biography "A Scandalous Life" is a great read.
For a break from the busy...
For a break from the busy streets, you could try sitting in one of the many public parks. be careful about which ones you visit though, as some tend to attract the wrong type of people. A good sign is a children's playground, and if there are groups of women in the park, it is normally OK. If there are only men, avoid it whether you are male or female, as you will get some unwanted attention! Tishrin park is the largest and one of the nicest. It is behind the Sheraton Hotel, quite a distance from the centre of town. There are a couple of nice cafes here too. Sometimes however, the piped music can be a bit too loud, and there are speakers all over the park! To get there, take any microbus heading towards Mezzeh and hop out at the huge roundabout near the Sheraton (to find the right bus, go to Jisr ar-Ra'ees, the President Bridge, not far from the National Museum, and ask around). There are also some nice parks just outside the old city at Bab Touma, one of them even has a funfair with an unusual airplane restaurant (you can't fail to miss it, as it is rather large!). In most parks, there are usually drink sellers who will come to you, offering tea, milo (a dreadful chocolate-type hot drink) or cold drinks.