Where to go in Lebanon
Lebanon is a small country where getting around is easy, and you can get anywhere quickly, especially if you consider traveling on a road trip. The key here is to travel slowly and enjoy every stunning corner of the country, meet the people, taste the cuisine, and know where to go in Lebanon.
With an extraordinary cultural and landscape diversity, from north to south, east to west, one can find numerous points of interest to visit, be they cities, beaches, mountains, or archeological sites. The small but intense Lebanese territory has everything you could hope for and much more to offer.
Keep reading for more on where to go in Lebanon.
Where to go in Lebanon
Beirut has a long and turbulent history, enormous complexity, immense cultural and religious richness, and extraordinary people. Strategically located by the Mediterranean, it was for centuries an important cultural and economic center in the Middle East. In the last two years, the capital saw its port and adjoining neighborhoods totally destroyed by the largest non-nuclear explosion in the history of mankind, and has also faced, like the whole country, a deep economic crisis. But still, and thanks to the resilience of its people, the city continues to throb with life and is a must-see.
Like any capital, Beirut has a huge collection of places to visit and lots of activities to do. It is a city where one can find opulent and cosmopolitan architecture, mostly located along its waterfront, mixed with colonial-era architecture. No wonder, Beirut is known as the “Paris of the Middle East”. It is also there that we find a great religious diversity, materialized in places of worship that live side by side.
As far as archaeological remains are concerned, we can find many Roman ruins in the city center, giving the landscape an open-air museum image.
It is also possible to visit some emblematic neighborhoods, such as Sabra, Shatila, and Bourj Hammoud, better known as refugee camps, where days go by as time goes by in the midst of urban chaos.
Wandering through the streets of the city, you can find the most typical neighborhoods of the city, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhail, with a Bohemian atmosphere, where you can find the trendiest bars and restaurants in Beirut.
In the coastal area, we find the famous view point called Pigeon Rock, from where you can enjoy a magnificent sunset.
Of course, your visit won’t be complete without a reference to The Egg, the city’s architectural landmark, a former entertainment center now in total decay.
Tip: The Beirut City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour is a great way to see a lot of the city.
Following the coastline south from Beirut, we find Sidon. This small historic city is located less than an hour from the capital. It was once one of the largest cities of the Phoenician trading empire, and it is here that the Crusader-built Sea Castle can be found and visited. From it, you can see the magnificent Bay of Sidon and the old part of the city. It is, without a doubt, a landmark in the landscape and a reference to visit.
Sidon has one of the most beautiful and well-preserved souks in South Lebanon, where you can sample fabulous street food and also visit the traditional soap factory. To walk in its alleys is to be enveloped by the history of the country.
A little further south of Sidon is the town of Tyre. The small fishing port, the picturesque architecture and friendly people are the perfect combination to make you feel like you are in a movie set, so peculiar is this town.
Tyre invites you to take a long walk through its narrow streets. You can breathe history here, as this is one of the oldest Phoenician cities in the world. This town is so unique that legend has it that it was in Tyre that purple paint was invented.
It is also in Tyre that you can find the Roman ruins, classified as an archeological site by Unesco.
Extra tip: try to end your day with a swim in the warm Mediterranean waters, and enjoy the sunset in Tyre.
About a two-hour drive from Beirut, to the northeast, lies the unmissable Baalbek complex, a UNESCO listed heritage site. It is most likely the hottest spot when it comes to archaeological sites to visit in Lebanon.
The cultural and religious complex of Baalbek was built by the Phoenicians, and was later taken over by the Romans. The importance of Baalbek spans several historical eras, having been not only an important religious pilgrimage site, but also a strategically important point on the trade route between Damascus, Syria, and the Mediterranean coast. Its decline began with the Muslim occupation and later by the Ottomans, who, not having much interest in the structure, left it to be abandoned.
Still, Baalbek remains to this day, and it is there that we can find some of the most colossal and best preserved Roman temples ever built. Examples are the Hexagonal Courtyard, the Temple of Jupiter (the largest Roman temple in the world) and, of course, the Temple of Bacchus.
In Baalbek, besides visiting the complex of ruins, it is also possible and recommended visiting the city mosque. Its interior is of a rich decorative detail.
Extra tip: on the way between Beirut and Baalbek it is possible to stop and visit the ruins of Anjar. A lesser known archaeological site, but equally interesting.
Rural life is still very much present in the Kadisha Valley. As you drive along the roads, with absolutely breathtaking views of the canyon, you can find shepherds with herds of goats roaming the mountains. In the small villages that populate the entire Valley, life runs at its own pace, the rhythm of rural life of a place lost in time.
Throughout the Valley, it is possible to visit numerous monasteries nestled in the hillside. With unique architecture, these places of worship are even more special because they often have their prayer places inside small caves dug into the mountain.
Cedars of God
The Cedars of God are a must-see for anyone traveling to this part of the country. The green patch of trees, which once covered the whole of Mount Lebanon, is now reduced to a collection of thousand-year-old trees, classified as a UNESCO heritage site.
From the use of the wood of these trees in Egyptian times for building ships, to the various references in the Bible to Cedars, to them being on the Lebanese national flag, you can get a sense of how important these trees have been throughout history.
Be sure to enter the park and walk along the marked trails to appreciate these Lebanese giants, some of which are over 2,000 years old.
Tripoli is located about 1 hour north of the capital, Beirut. As the largest city in the north of the country and the second largest in Lebanon, Tripoli runs along the Mediterranean coast and includes on its territory a number of islands, one of which is classified as a UNESCO protected area. The city is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and having gone through several invasions, it has a rich and turbulent history.
Today’s Tripoli has a population of about 500,000 and is divided into two parts: El-Mina (the port area and site of the old city) and the city of Tripoli itself.
The old souk is undoubtedly the most vibrant part of the city. You can find everything you can imagine there, from vegetables, to fish, meat, gold, clothing and traditional soaps and perfumes. It is the place where smiles are broad and curiosity about where travelers come from is openly expressed. It is also the place where you cannot say “no” to the offers that pile up, from tea to bread. The Lebanese are happy to receive and make a point of offering a little of their culture to those who visit, which inevitably includes food.
You can see the entire city from Tripoli Castle. Like any building of its kind, it was built on the highest point in the city.
The Castle was built in 1102-1103 on top of a Shiite cemetery from the Fatimi period with an octagonal mausoleum. The construction of the castle was initiated by Crusader Raymond VI of Saint Gilles.
Tripoli has a permanent fair/exhibition site designed by the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Major exhibitions, trade fairs and other events are held here regularly. The vast majority of the space was never completed due to the beginning of the civil war in the country, causing it to be partly abandoned. Still, it is absolutely essential to visit this space to contemplate the unfinished works of one of the most brilliant architects of the contemporary era, before it becomes just a memory of what could have been an auspicious place.
The Palm Islands Nature Reserve, or Rabbit Island, is the largest of these with an area of 20 hectares. The name “Araneb” or Rabbits, comes from the large number of rabbits that were raised there during the French occupation in the early 20th century. Today, it is a nature reserve for green turtles, rare birds and rabbits. Declared a UNESCO protected area in 1992, camping, bonfires, or other forms of environmental devastation are prohibited. Besides its scenic landscape, Palm Island is also a cultural heritage site.
On the route from Tripoli to Beirut, we find Batroun. This small town is considered these days one of the biggest tourist destinations north of Beirut.
Famous for its lemonade, its numerous cafes and restaurants, it is also known for its vibrant nightlife. Today, Batroun’s economy is entirely centered on tourism, and as such, it is not difficult to find a wide range of activities to do, including bicycle tours along the coast.
Byblos is perhaps the most charming coastal town in the country. Located about 40 minutes north of the capital, it is a must-see tourist spot. The picturesque landscape, the small harbor, the archaeological sites, the beaches, the shopping and dining options, make this small town one of the most sought after places to spend a few days of rest.
Let yourself be charmed by Byblos, and don’t forget to leave the main streets, so you can appreciate the quiet alleys, full of bougainvillea that give them a special charm.
Isn’t it amazing how such a small country has a plethora of things to do and offer? Visit Lebanon, you won’t regret it!