Lebanon has a rich cultural diversity, influenced by its storied past and strategic geographic location in the heart of the Middle East.
Lebanon is a very ancient region inhabited by various civilizations throughout history. For this reason, it is a country rich in history and archaeology. The Phoenicians were one of the most important civilizations famous for their navigation skills and creators of the alphabet. Likewise, it was an area occupied by Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, and Crusaders, so there are many churches, monasteries, ruins, castles, and fortifications dating from different centuries.
Lebanon is a small country, but it is one of the most diverse in the region, from beaches lapped by the Mediterranean to snow-capped mountains. The word Lebanon derives from the Semitic term “lbn” which means white in reference to the snow-capped mountains of Lebanon in winter.
Despite being in a conflictive geographical area, Lebanon enjoys a stability that allows it to open up to tourism. Once you have discovered this tourist gem, visiting it just once will not be enough.
How To Get To Lebanon
Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and the first port of entry if you’re traveling by plane. European capitals offer direct flights to Beirut and major European cities have flights with stopovers in either Athens or Istanbul. The main airlines that fly to Beirut are Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, Middle East Airlines (MEA), Lufthansa and Aegean Airlines.
To enter Lebanon, it is necessary to have a passport valid for at least six months and the address and telephone number of the accommodation. Most nationalities do not require a visa to visit Lebanon for tourist purposes. It depends according to the passport you have. However, it is not possible to enter Lebanon if your passport has an entry stamp from Israel due to the conflict between these two countries.
Local Currency Guide
The official currency of Lebanon is the Lebanese pound (LBP). Due to the current economic crisis, an unofficial exchange rate emerged, also known as the black market, which is actually the exchange rate that the Lebanese use on a daily basis.
The exchange rate with respect to the dollar or the euro varies constantly, so I recommend checking the updated exchange rate on the Lira Rate Org site and exchange only the money needed per day. Currency exchange sites are everywhere.
Since 2019, Lebanon has been experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis and it is currently not possible to pay anything with a credit card or withdraw money from an ATM. Consequently, travelers who wish to visit Lebanon should bring cash, preferably dollars, that are in good condition, as the economy has become dollarized, and more businesses are charging in dollars.
In case you run out of cash, in every corner of the country, you will find a Western Union or OMT to transfer money to yourself. Carrying cash might not be convenient, but in practice, it is not as complicated as it seems.
Traveling Around Lebanon
Lebanon is a small country in terms of territory, so traveling from north to south takes only a couple of hours. The most comfortable way to travel around is to rent a car, for example, Advanced Rental Cars, or rent a car with a driver, especially if you plan to visit places outside the main cities.
However, to my surprise, it is possible to move between main cities using public transport, which is comfortable, clean and cheap. From Beirut, the vans depart from the three main bus stations depending on where you want to go to from Cola bus station (Baalbek, Sidon, and Tire) or Daura bus station (Byblos, Batroun, and Tripoli).
The official language in Lebanon is Arabic, but French and English are also spoken due to its colonial history. Regardless of the language you speak, the kindness and hospitality of the people will make communication very easy.
Lebanese food is world-famous and definitely one of the main reasons people come to Lebanon. Lebanese food is a delicious combination of flavors and aromas that reflect the country’s rich culture. The traditional Lebanese breakfast is manousheh, a bread dough baked in olive oil that is often topped with zaatar, a mixture of traditional spices from the region.
Breakfast is usually accompanied by tomato, mint, feta cheese, and olives. Some dishes that you must try during your stay in Lebanon are hummus, tabbouleh, shawarma, kibbeh, and baba ganoush. Also, you should try Lebanese wines and Arak, a local alcoholic drink made from aniseed.
Security & Safety
Despite the economic crisis and political instability, Lebanon is a safe tourist destination even for women who want to travel alone. The hospitality and cordiality of the people make you always feel safe. However, it is recommended to follow the travel recommendations of the government of your country of origin and it is advisable to avoid political demonstrations or large crowds of people.
It is common to see checkpoints and military checkpoints throughout the country, so I always recommend carrying a copy of your passport.
Due to the economic crisis, not all hotels and hostels are registered on digital platforms as the banking system is frozen in the country. Larger hotels allow you to pay by card in advance, but smaller hotels require you to pay a percentage in cash or send via Western Union to secure your reservation.
Likewise, most cities have accommodations on Airbnb or on local accommodation platforms such as Dayf Homes or Chez Hospitality. Because the country is small, many tourists decide to make Beirut their base to stay and make round trips to the main cities.
Given the economic crisis, the country suffers from power cuts constantly and few places have electricity 24 hours a day. Therefore, when booking your accommodation, it is advisable to ask how many hours of electricity your accommodation will have.
How To Dress In Lebanon
Lebanon is a country with great religious diversity where the main religious communities are Muslims (Shiites and Sunnis), Christians (Catholics and Orthodox), and Druze.
The Lebanese constitution recognizes religious freedom and these groups coexist with each other. For this reason, in the capital and in predominantly Catholic cities, there are no dress code restrictions, especially for women.
In Muslim-majority cities like Tripoli, Sidon, and Tire it is recommended for women to cover their shoulders and knees if they wish to visit Islamic religious sites such as mosques. Despite this, there are no problems in dressing freely or wearing a bikini on the beaches.
Beirut is the capital and the largest city in Lebanon. Beirut is a place with a wide variety of activities to do. Dedicating at least a whole day to it is worth it and walking is the best way to get to know it.
Things To Do In Beirut
1) Visit the National Museum
The National Museum consists of three floors that tell the story of Lebanon from prehistory to the present, with exhibits of archaeological artifacts and historical objects. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
2) Walk around the Mineral Museum
The Mineral Museum is located in front of the National Museum and is an interesting site for those with an interest in geology and mineralogy. The museum has a collection of more than 2,000 minerals and rocks.
3) Learn about the history of Lebanon at the Beit Beirut
Beit Beirut is a museum and cultural center project that aims to portray the history of Beirut, with a particular focus on the Lebanese civil war. Lebanon was the scene of a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990; the ravages of this conflict are still present.
4) Explore Downtown Beirut
Downtown Beirut has very impressive architecture. Here you will find the Place de l’Etoile, a historic square surrounded by churches, mosques, and Roman ruins. Due to protests over the political and economic situation, this area is often fenced off by the military but ask the nearest officer for permission to be able to walk inside.
5) Visit the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque was built in 2007 and has an impressive blue dome. The entry times for non-Muslims is around 2:00 pm.
6) Walk around Zeituna Bay
Zeituna Bay is a popular site with a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, shops and recreational activities.
7) Take in the views at the Corniche
The Corniche is an ideal place for walking and experiencing the local life of locals. It offers stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and the city’s skyscrapers.
8) Explore the Rauche
Rauche is a coastal neighborhood famous for its rock formations; renting a boat and navigating among the rocks is possible. There are restaurants and cafes with impressive views of the sea.
9) Eat dinner in Gemmayzeh, Hamra or Mar Mikhael
Gemmayzeh, Hamra and Mar Mikhael are some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Beirut at night – ideal areas for finding bars, restaurants and cafes.
Places To Eat In Beirut
Beirut has a wide variety of options for eating traditional Lebanese food. It is important to book to guarantee a place inside due to the popularity of these restaurants, especially during the weekends and high season.
Some of the restaurants and cafes that I recommend in Beirut are:
- Beit Kanz
- Beyt Cafe
- Le Chef
- Mezzyan (Live Arabic music every Thursday)
- Dar Beirut (Live Arabic music on weekends)
- Salon Beyrouth
Places to Stay In Beirut
Some of the hotels and accommodations that I recommend in Beirut are:
Top-Rated Beirut Hotels
Here are some other top-rated hotel options in Beirut:
- InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut – Overlooking the Beirut Marina and the Mediterranean Sea, featuring indoor and outdoor pools, a full-service spa, and a gym.
- Beverly Hotel Beirut – Four-star luxury, boutique hotel, renovated in 2017, 1.5 miles to the beach.
- ZUR Studios & Suites – Set in Beirut in the Mount Lebanon region, stylish studios and suites with free WiFi and free private parking, 1.7 miles to the beach.
- Find the best prices on all Beirut Hotels
Jounieh is a coastal city and can be reached from Beirut by taxi or public transport. The center has a wide variety of cafes and shops. From Jounieh, you can take a cable car to reach Harissa, where the statue of the Virgin den Harissa stands on top of a hill overlooking the city and the Mediterranean.
Byblos Guide (Jbeil in Arabic)
Byblos, on the shores of the Mediterranean, is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The word Byblosderives from the Greek word “book” and the legend says that the name Bible originated in this city since, in Phoenician times, this city was known for producing and trading papyrus to produce books.
The old town of Byblos is relatively small; a couple of hours are enough to explore it and visit the main archaeological sites.
Things to Do in Byblos
1) Visit Byblos Castle
Byblos Castle is a fortress located in the port of the city and was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. This is one of the main archaeological sites and includes a Roman theater, a hippodrome and a Phoenician temple considered World Heritage Sites.
2) Explore the old Souq
The old souq (market in Arabic) of Byblos dates back to Phoenician times when it was one of the most important commercial centers in the Mediterranean. Today it is a popular place to buy souvenirs from Lebanon.
3) Visit the Port
The port of Byblos has been an important commercial center since ancient times. The port was an important starting point for Phoenician ships on their voyages along the Mediterranean coast and beyond.
4) Eat at Feniqia
Feniqia is one of the most traditional restaurants to eat in Byblos. It is located outside the Castle and offers typical Lebanese dishes.
Approximately 20 minutes from Byblos is Batroun, one of the oldest cities in the world but relatively new to tourism. Batroun is known for its beautiful architecture that combines elements from different historical periods, its old houses with red roofs, beaches and nightlife.
Things to Do in Batroun
1) See Batroun’s Phoenician
Batroun’s Phoenician wall was built during the time of the Phoenicians and was originally built to protect the city from tidal waves and foreign invaders. The wall is one of the oldest standing maritime fortifications.
2) Visit a Church
Batroun has several churches, such as St. Stephen Church, St. John Church John, and Church of Our Lady by the Sea; the latter is located right by the sea and offers a panoramic view of the Phoenician wall.
3) Explore a Batroun Souk
The Batroun souks are a popular place for shopping and walking around. They offer a wide variety of crafts, bars, and restaurants.
4) The Diaspora Village
The Diaspora Village is a cultural project created to honor the contribution of the Lebanese diaspora to the country. It is an area with restaurants and cafes where cultural events are constantly taking place.
5) Visit a Winery
Batroun is a wine region and has several wineries, such as Ixsir, which produces some of the best wines in the country.
Places to Eat In Batroun
Places to Stay Batroun
Some accommodation options in downtown Batroun:
Beach Resorts in Batroun:
Tripoli Guide (Trablos in Arabic)
Tripoli is a city with a Muslim majority and certainly one of the cities where Lebanon feels most authentic. Tripoli has historical sites that are living testimony to the rich history of the city that was home to different civilizations such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks, and Ottomans.
Things to Do in Tripoli
1) See Tripoli Citadel
The Crusaders built the Tripoli Citadel in the 12th century and is one of the best-preserved examples of medieval-era military architecture in the region.
2) Visit the souks of Tripoli
The souks of Tripoli are one of the few that remain in the same place where the caravans of the silk route used to stop. These souks have been in operation for centuries and you can find textiles, soaps, spices and handicrafts. There is a section dedicated exclusively to soap-making called Al Saboun Caravanserai due to the fame of this product. Lebanese lands are kind to olive trees, so the soaps made with their oil are of high quality.
3) Explore the Al Mansouri Mosque and the Taynal Mosque
The Al Mansouri Mosque and the Taynal Mosque are known for their architecture that combines Ottoman and local elements.
4) Relax at Hammam Al Abed
Hammam Al Abed is one of the largest and most historic Turkish baths in the city. These used to be meeting and relaxation places for the local population.
5) Visit the Al Mina Neighborhood
Al Mina neighborhood is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Tripoli. It has several restaurants and cafes along the port that offer local dishes and views of the sea.
Places to Eat in Tripoli
- El Hajj Ali – Tripoli’s sweets and desserts enjoy a good reputation. The most traditional sweet is called “ashta” a dessert made of milk cream, pistachios and honey.
- Hallab 1881
Kadisha Valley Guide
The Kadisha Valley is located in northern Lebanon and is known for its nature and religious importance. This valley is home to several monasteries that were built in caves and cliffs.
This valley is considered a sacred place for Maronite Christians and ideal for people who are passionate about enjoying the landscapes and walking along its trails. To get to the Kadisha Valley, public transport from Tripoli to Bcharre is necessary, the closest city to the Kadisha Valley.
Baalbek is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archaeological site is composed of several temples and structures dating from different historical periods.
The Temple of Jupiter was built during Roman times and is believed to have been built on top of a temple formerly dedicated to the Phoenician gods. Also included in the complex are the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Venus.
A few years ago, this area was the scene of waves of violence between groups in the region, but now the security situation has improved and tourists are once again coming back.
To get to Baalbek, renting a car with a driver is advisable and dividing the costs among the passengers. In this way, when you return from Baalbek, you can eat at the local restaurant Al Khan Al Makhsoud and later visit Chateau Ksara, the oldest vineyard in Lebanon. Approximately a full-day car rental with a driver to Baalbek from Beirut costs $120.
On the other hand, public buses to Baalbek leave every couple of minutes from Cola Bus Station in Beirut. Because they are constantly stopping, the arrival in Baalbek can take up to three hours, but it is an adventure that is worth taking as long as you leave Beirut early.
Lebanese Wine Guide
The Beqqa Valley is a very fertile area and is considered one of the most suitable places for growing vines, thanks to its Mediterranean climate. The history of wine in Lebanon dates back over 5,000 years.
On the way back from Baalbek, you can find Ksara vineyard, the oldest vineyard in Lebanon and the most visited due to its impressive Roman tunnels that the Jesuits used to store the wines.
Mountains In Lebanon
The Chouf Mountains in the Beiteddine area is a trip I recommend doing if you have enough time. This area is ideal to escape the city’s chaos and see nature, but it is difficult to reach by public transport since it is located off the highway that connects the main cities.
Things to Do in the Mountains in Lebanon
1) Spend some time at Beiteddine Palace
The Beiteddine Palace was built in the 9th century by Emir Bashir Shihab II, who used it as a summer residence. The palace is an impressive display of Ottoman-style architecture and has three courtyards with a large number of rooms delicately decorated with works of art, mosaics, and frescos. Today, in addition to being a tourist site, it is used to host cultural and official events.
2) Visit Moussa Castle
Moussa Castle was restored and has been converted into a museum displaying historical artifacts from the region. Personally, I don’t think it’s a worthwhile place, but if you’re curious, it’s a 5-minute drive from the Beiteddine Palace. Admission is $5 per person.
3) Take in the National Pride at Al Shouf Cedars Nature Reserve
The Al Shouf Cedars Nature Reserve is the ideal place to see the famous cedars, the national symbol and reason for national pride.
Places to Stay in the Mountains in Lebanon
The following places offer accommodation services and restaurants in the region with impressive views of the mountains:
Sidon Guide (Saida in Arabic)
Sidon is a coastal city south of Beirut with a rich history dating back to Phoenician times. It is the third largest city in Lebanon and was an important commercial center famous for its production of glass, textiles, and bronze objects. The main tourist attractions are located in the heart of the old Souk, just a couple of minutes walk from each other.
Things to Do in Sidon
1) Visit Sidon Sea Castle
Sidon Sea Castle was a fortress built by the Crusaders in the 13th century. It is currently in ruins, but it is possible to enter and see some of its walls and towers that are still standing.
2) Shop at the Souks of Sidon
In the souks of Sidon, you can find all kinds of products, such as spices, sweets, clothing, and handicrafts, among other local products.
3) Learn About Soap-making
Sidon is also known for its olive oil soap production. The Soap Museum shows the traditional soap-making methods and their evolution over the years.
4) Explore the Debbane Palace
Debbane Palace is a beautiful museum that exemplifies Ottoman architecture.
5) Relax at a Turkish Bath
The hamman Al-Jadid dates from Roman times and preserves the traditional architecture of the Turkish baths. It was the last Hamman used by the residents of Sidon and its opening to the public for tourist purposes dates back to 2019.
Places to Eat in Sidon
In Sidon, the most popular place to have breakfast is at Bab Al Saray cafe. There are traditional and seafood restaurants such as Saida Rest House along the sea.
Tyr Guide (Sour in Arabic)
Tyr is the last city to the south where tourists usually arrive. In order to reach the cities closest to the border with Israel, for example, Naqoura, it is necessary to request a special permit from the Ministry of Security either in Sidon or Tire due to the conflict with the neighboring country of Israel. For security reasons, crossing the checkpoints without prior authorization from the government is not advisable.
Tyr was once the capital of the Phoenician kingdom of Tyr and also different civilizations like Babylonians, people, Greeks, Romans and Arabs passed through here.
Things to Do in Tyr
1) Visit the Necropolis of Tyr
Although not as impressive as Baalbek, the Necropolis of Tyr is an archaeological site that is worth visiting. The Necropolis is famous for its stone-carved tombs and sarcophagi. The well-preserved Arch of the Necropolis stands out within the archaeological complex, an impressive example of Roman architecture. In addition to the tombs and funerary monuments, there is a hippodrome and an aqueduct.
2) Explore the Center of Tyr
The center of Tyr is small and you can walk through the old Souq and the colorful streets of the center that have a view of the sea. On the boardwalk, there are several seafood restaurants that offer fresh fish.
Places to Stay in Tyr
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