The first view of Palmyra is a stunning one: As you climb a small hill and round a corner, you suddenly see a huge expanse of columns and arches. The City of Palms is one of the most important archaeological attractions in Syria and a must-see.

Founded near an oasis fed by the Afqa spring and now on the outskirts of the town of Tadmor, Palmyra was an important and wealthy caravan stop on the Silk Route between Europe and the East. The city is also famous for its legendary queen Zenobia, who conquered all of Syria, as well as parts of Egypt and Asia Minor, before falling to the Romans in AD 272.

Palmyra is so spread out that sightseeing is usually divided into three parts: the Temple of Baal, the Valley of Tombs, and the main section of the city (including the Monumental Arch, Diocletian's Baths, the amphitheater, Agora and Tetrapylon—all connected by a beautiful colonnaded street). We recommend that you hire a taxi for a few hours to give you an introductory tour of the three areas. If you want to spend more time in a particular spot, you can always return. Taxis are parked outside the museum.

Do try to make it to the hilltop Arab fortress just before sunset. The ruins offer a perfect vantage point for a complete view of the city, oasis and desert. The Archaeological Museum is also worth a visit.

From Tadmor you can hire a taxi to take you to Qasr al-Heir al-Sharqi (72 mi/120 km northeast of Tadmor), a palace complex constructed in the eighth century by the Umayyad rulers. The complex's enclosure wall has been partly restored, and you can also see the remains of a mosque, khan and baths.

A similar Umayyad palace complex, called Qasr al-Heir al-Gharbi, is west of Tadmor, but little remains there. A large gateway flanked by two towers was moved to Damascus and integrated into the main facade of the National Museum.

We recommend at least one night in Palmyra, which is 135 mi/215 km northeast of Damascus.

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