Hama (حماه,) is a city in Syria with a population around 400,000. The city is a relatively conservative one dominated by hijabs and burkas. Much of the old city was destroyed in the Hama massacre in 1982.
Overland travel is possible, but quite difficult. There major thoroughfare is the M5 motorway which is open from Damascus. Travel from Aleppo is slower as long detours has to be made to avoid conflict zones.
Passenger trains from Aleppo and Damascus are expected to return in 2020 or 2021.
- 1 Hama railway station.
Walk. Hama is a very walkable city, with the biggest waterwheels an easy 1 km stroll from the centre. The passport office, where you get visas renewed, can be reached from the downtown in about 15 minutes on foot and there are plenty of restaurants and markets around the two most popular hotels for backpackers, the Riad and Cairo.
If you need to get to the bus or train station, you'll find a service bus stop south-west of the bridge, easily recognized by many minibusses stopping there. There is an operator who can show you which bus to take if you're not able to figure out the Arabic destination names.
- 1 Hama waterwheels (نواعير حماة). World's largest Noria, traditional waterwheels along the Orontes river. The wheels generally turn all year round, expect when water levels are low during the dry season.
- 2 Azem Palace. A little hidden in the old town, is not as big as its counterpart in Damascus but still very much worth a visit.
- 3 Citadel of Hama. Nothing remains of the castle, but it's a locals' favourite spot for a picnic on a Friday. You do get some views over the city, can find some ice-cream there and plenty of families with their kids playing around.
- 4 Museum of Hama.
- 5 Great Mosque of Hama.
- 6 Nur al-Din Mosque. Historic mosque built in 1163-64 CE.
- Souq - which seems to have a lot of shoes for sale.
- Old town - you still see many of the destroyed buildings of the bombardment of the Hama massacre in 1982
Eat possibly the best felafel in the Middle East at Ali Babas near the Cairo Hotel. This small and simple restaurant is recommended by the guidebooks and consequently has a menu in English. There are numerous fast food and juice stands in the area around Ali Babas.
Al-Baroudi restaurant on Shoukri al-Quwatli is a good bet for barbequed chicken but be careful what you order. If you are not precise, they will bring a huge meal of half a chicken each plus three or four dips, bread, salad and a large plate of rice. While all the food is excellent, and perhaps just the ticket if you are starving, smaller meals are available for a proportionally smaller cost.
If you would like a quiet place to sit and have a tea, walk along al-Buhturi street and there you will find a couple European-style cafes selling pastries, ice cream and a wide selection of bread as well as serving all kinds of hot and cold drinks. They are quite popular with women.
Around Shari' al-Quwatli are many bakeries selling the famous Halawaat Al-Jibni a refreshing sweet cheese treat. Give it a try if you haven't done so yet.
The two most popular hotels for backpackers (and apparently also the only budget options in town) are the Riad and the Cairo.
- Cairo, Shari' Shoukri al-Quwatli, ☏ . Good basic clean hotel in the centre of town
- Riad, Shari' Shoukri al-Quwatli, ☏ . Good basic clean hotel in the centre of town. The Riad has a nice common salon for travellers to gather in and chat while the Cairo has the perfect terrace to enjoy the view from over a tea or cold drink.
- 1 Afamia Al Sham, ☏ . Luxury hotel next to the castle, remains open despite the ongoing civil war.
Several internet cafes have sprung up around Hama. Space Net on Abual-Feda is near the Al-Nouri mosque while Happy Net is just one option near the Cairo and Riad hotels. Both hotels also offers internet access to its guests on a computer in the lobby. The cost is the same as the internet cafes, and the speed is quite good, despite the connection being a dial-up one.
A post office is right next to the clock tower in the city center.
Hama makes a great base for exploring a lot of the north-east of Syria
The following can be done as a half day trip from Hama, but you could string a few together for a long day!
- Serjilla and Al-Bara - locations of the so-called 'Dead Cities'
- Ma'arat an-Nu'aman - for the Mosaic Museum
- Apamea - site of some well preserved roman ruins
- Qala'at Sheisar - ruined castle overlooking steep river valley
- Qala'at Musyaf - another crusader castle about 45 minutes west of Hama. (To get there take a service take to Musyaf. The castle is right in the city center, you can't miss it. Service taxis run back to Hama until at least 17:00.)
A little further afield you could get to the Krak des Chevaliers as a day trip - but this would be a bit of a shame, as staying the night near the Krak and spending some time to explore this gem of Syria is well worth the time and effort.
Riad and Cairo hotels can arrange private transport to all these.