The top 8 places to visit in Lebanon
Lebanon is probably one of the places during my travels around the Middle East that impressed and surprised me the most. It is like a mix between Europe and the Middle East and there are so many beautiful places to visit in Lebanon. While the countryside doesn´t look middle eastern at all, more like the Swiss or French Alps, the cities remind me of other Middle Eastern countries and the beaches are like taken from the Greek Islands. The climate? Well, there is snow. And then there is the extreme heat. Lebanon has a rich history as well as a young crazy culture filled with non-stop parties and meeting new people. The culture is unique compared to its’ neighboring countries in the Middle East. Maybe it´s because of the mix of the two main religions, 50 % Islam and 50 % Greek Orthodox. Lebanon was nothing like I expected it to be, but I loved every bit of it. Here is my full summary of the best places to visit in Lebanon and if you see these and nothing ells you can consider your Lebanon bucket list fulfilled.
The top 8 places to visit in Lebanon
When to go
The best time to visit Lebanon is in spring between April and June or in autumn, between October and December. The summers get extremely hot in Lebanon, temperatures reach over 100° F / 40°C. And yet, surprisingly, the winter months get very cold with snow. During spring and autumn, the weather is pleasant and both June and October still offer opportunities to hit the beach.
Visa and entry regulations
Residents of the US and EU get a visa upon arrival. The same goes for Gulf countries in the Middle East and Malaysia. To be sure about the visa regulations for you, check here.
Beware that you shouldn´t go to Lebanon after having been in Israel, as “Israeli citizens or any other person who holds any passport bearing stamps, visas, or seals issued by Israel are strictly prohibited from entry to the Republic of Lebanon and may be subject to arrest or detention for further “inspection.” If you´re planning on visiting both countries on the same trip, make sure to visit Lebanon first, as Israel doesn´t have any restrictions when it comes to tourists having visited Lebanon before entry to Israel.
Where to stay
OK, there is no point sugar-coating it, accommodation in Lebanon is expensive. Budget backpacker places start from 30 USD per night. Baalbek and Tripoli offer slightly cheaper options. Lebanon is really small and everything can be visited as a day trip from Beirut. You will also save money on accommodation if you stay in Beirut hotels and make day trips to all the popular destinations, as the prices at the places I recommend here are generally higher than in Beirut town.
Hostel Beirut is really one of the best hostels I´ve stayed in. It´s lively, friendly, truly a place where it is easy to meet new people and share travel experiences. It´s located in the Geitawi area, so while the street itself is picturesque and quiet, it is very close to both shopping, nightlife and restaurants. The perfect place!
Hamra Urban Gardens is amazing! Rooftop terrace with a pool, nice clean rooms and close to the beach. The breakfast buffet is amazing offering plenty of middle eastern specialities. I honestly can´t find anything negative about this place.
Saifi Suites is elegant and located in the heart of Beirut. The staff is super friendly, the rooms are impeccable and spacious and it´s just a 2-minutes-walk from the pulsating nightlife in the Gemmayzeh area.
Top places to visit in Lebanon
Beirut is one of the most vibrant cities in the Middle East. Take a stroll along the seaside promenade Corniche at sunset to get a real glimpse of Beirut life. At Corniche the fishermen and coffee vendors mix with crews of jagal (wealthy posers) peacocking in their expensive cars.
Join a walk guided tour such as Walk Beirut, to get a feel for the history of the city. If you want to know more about the history and architecture of Lebanon you will also find the national museum of Lebanon here. You should also visit the Al-Omari Mosque or hit the crazy Beirut nightlife in the areas Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh. Beirut is the city that has it all. A great nightlife, plenty of delicious Lebanese food and wine and it´s still a hub for both culture and history.
2. Jeita Grotto
Located right outside of Beirut, making it a nice city break and day trip is the Jeita Grotto. It is a spectacular underground system consisting of two separate cave systems intertwined with one other. The lower cave system is only accessible by boat, while the upper grotto, reached by cable car, is home to the world’s largest stalactite. Sometimes the lower grotto can be closed due to high water levels, so make sure to check http://jeitagrotto.com/ before you go.
The caves formed over millions of years and both grottos are full of breathtaking crystallized limestone formations in different colors and sizes. It was nominated as one of the seven Wonders of the World due to its historical significance dating back to the early 1800s.
There are several ways to get to Jeita Grotto from Beirut, but my recommendation is to take a taxi or Uber for around 20 min and at a cost of 15 USD. The entrance fee to Jeita Grotto is 29 USD and worth every penny, taxi included. Jeita Grotto is located close to both Byblos and Harissa, making it easy to combine in a guided tour.
Byblos is probably one of the most beautiful places in Beirut. A seaside village and an ancient Phoenician city north of Beirut. It is famous for being the birthplace of the written word and the Old City of Byblos has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the iconic Crusader castle built in 1108, hit the beach and visit the Old Souk (market), whether it’s for souvenirs, spices, street food or the hedonistic nightlife. Eat meze at Beit Nazha, authentic Lebanese food at a reasonable price, both cooked and served with lots of love. It was honestly so good I went back a second time. Try the fatteh hummus, layers of chickpeas toasted Lebanese bread, fresh yoghurt garlic & pine nuts and you´re in food heaven.
Tyre means sour in Arabic, but there is nothing sour about the fourth largest city in Lebanon. The beautiful seaside location, Roman ruins and some of Lebanon´s best beaches. It is filled with old mosques and churches, lots of restaurants in quirky alleys, meet local people at the open-air markets. Tyre is the place to get a taste of the real local culture and is really a must-visit when in Lebanon. The hospitality is so welcoming, you feel right at home. The waters pristine (I even swam with turtles!) and it is packed with archaeological sites to visit.
Even if Harrissa isn´t as famous as other cities in Lebanon it really has a wow factor and I would definitely say it´s a hidden gem. In Harrissa you find the Shrine and statue “Our Lady of Lebanon” an important pilgrimage site that draws millions of faithful both Christians and Muslims from all over the world. It overlooks the Bay of Jounieh, on a high pedestal on top of a mountain with a spectacular view. For 3.50 USD one way or 5.50 USD round trip you can take the famous cable car up to the top to get a beautiful view over the city. The teleferique (cable car) is one of the oldest tourist attractions in Lebanon and it´s open 10 am -10 pm during peak season and 10 am to 6 pm in the off-season.
Baalbek is all about them Roman Ruins. And they will probably be some of the best ones you´ve seen in your life. In this 8000-year-old city, you will find the temple of Bacchus with 42 columns, which is one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. You also have the impressive temple of Jupiter, with its impressive entrance, high altar and huge square lined with many beautifully decorated side rooms. Inside the temple of Jupiter, there´s the Great Court which is 135 meters wide and 113 meters long made out of pink granite imported from Egypt. It is free to enter, however, I would recommend going on an organized tour, from Beirut. The ancient city of Baalbek Lebanon is located in the somewhat dangerous Beqaa Valley (formerly a part of the Beqaa governorate) and some countries advise against going there. I, however, felt very safe. But I strongly advise against visiting on your own. The streets are lined with military posts that ask everyone where they are going and what their business is. There´s often a language barrier as they don´t speak English or French. The Beqaa valley is also home to hundreds of refugee camps and the situation can very quickly escalate into fights between the police and the refugees. Baalbek is also controlled by the militant group and political party Hezbollah.
Anjar is a fascinating city in the Bekaa Valley. Anjar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was established during the Umayyad period by Caliph Walid Bin Abed Al Malak at the beginning of the 8th century. The ruins of Anjar include the walls of the Umayyad palace, harems, a mosque, the great palace of the Caliph, thermal baths, and many pillars which include some elements of the Roman architectural style. Outside Anjar stands the Tal El Nabi Mosque, which is built on top of a small hill overlooking the Bekaa Valley. It is well worth a visit and the view over Anjar and surrounding villages is magnificent.
Apart from the ruins and the mosque, there isn’t much to do in Anjar. It is advised that you combine your visit to Baalbeck with Anjar as both sites can be done in one day. Preferably do it as a day trip from Beirut.
8. Visit the cedars of God
The Cedar tree is the national emblem of Lebanon. Unfortunately, civilization has wiped out most of the Cedar forests found around mount Lebanon. You can still view the last remaining ones in the Cedars of God. In this ancient forest, now protected as a world heritage site, you can see the majestic trees in all their glory. A peaceful forest, 2000 meters above sea level and a welcome sanctuary after a few days of sightseeing. There is no entrance fee to the forest, although donations are welcome. The forest is closed on Mondays.
9. Pigeon rocks
Pigeon rocks are two arched stone formations just off the coast in Beirut. You’ll easily spot them at sunset because you are likely to find a crowd of people posing in front of them. Personally I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this site as the others I mentioned are much more interesting and impressive. However, if you find yourself seaside off of Binhai Avenue in Beirut, swing by and snap a pic for the gram or maybe of other people taking pics for the gram.
My top travel tips
1. While Arabic is the national language of Lebanon, almost 20% of the population speak French. There is also a large population of Armenians who speak their native language. In most cities, and definitely in Beirut most people speak English. However, once you head to the countryside, English isn´t commonly spoken, so make sure to brush up on some Arabic or French phrases.
2. As some countries advise against traveling to certain parts of Lebanon, always make sure to check the recommendations valid for your nationality and make sure your travel insurance cover traveling to sites like Harrissa and Baalbek.
3. What makes Lebanon so interesting is the mix of a lot of different religions, mainly Christianity and Islam. They have learned to live side by side for many years, and mostly accept each other. Visit both churches or mosques, but refrain from voicing your religious viewpoints or get into religious debates.
4. Just as you shouldn´t engage in religious debates, don´t engage in political ones either.
5. There´s a large military presence in areas of Lebanon with lots of checkpoints. Make sure to have your documents with you at all times as they might be checked.
6. If you´re taking pictures and there´s a possibility to capture military or police, make sure to ask them if you can take a picture and make it clear that they will not be in it.
7. In some areas, due to political instability in neighboring countries, it is best to check the current situation before going there. This especially applies if traveling to areas bordering Syria.
8. The Lebanese people are friendly and eager to help. It is a safe country to travel to, but make sure to keep your wits about you and follow my recommendations above.
Which of the places to visit in Lebanon are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below.
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