Lebanon has always been high on my list of places to visit. I’ve been to much of the Middle East and I’ve always found the region to be fascinating in its history and culture. Lebanon is the without a doubt the most liberal of all the Middle Eastern countries. Beirut is known internationally as a party city and its club scene is famous worldwide. Lebanese food needs no introduction and this of course was another reason for my visit.
I spent almost two weeks traveling through Lebanon in 2021 and absolutely loved it. The people are incredibly friendly, even if there is a massive financial crisis taking place as we speak. If you’re looking at inspiration on where to go in Lebanon, or how to plan a trip, then this post is for you!
Visiting Lebanon in 2020 and Beyond
If you’re visiting Lebanon in 2020 and beyond, you’re visiting at a very trying time for the people of Lebanon. The combination of COVID-19, economic crisis, and the great port explosion of 2020 has sent the country of LEbanon into a Financial freefall.
You’ll notice that prices of goods are drastically cheaper than they ever have been and will probably among the cheapest if not the cheapest country you’ll ever visit.
Black market currency
The official exchange rate of the Lebanese Pound/Lira is pegged at 1,500 to $1 USD. From 2019 and beyond, confidence has long disappeared for the Lebanese lira.
There is a parallel black market rate and at the time of writing this post, is more than 10x the official rate (15,000 Lira to the dollar). This rate will continue to change as time progresses.
You will want to bring USD or Euro cash into the country and exchanging it on the black market, thereby completely avoiding ATM withdrawals and credit card payments.
Make sure to read my guide on exchanging money in Lebanon before visiting!
Getting around Lebanon: Rent a car or do day trips?
Lebanon is a very small country. From Tripoli in the north to Tyre in the south, it is only 2.5 hours. From Beirut to Baalbek, it is 1.5 hours. That is the entire country.
Therefore, if you are staying in Lebanon for a long period of time and are looking to see more than Beirut, you might ask if it is worth renting a car or just simply doing day trips around the country?
Day trips from Beirut to the rest of Lebanon
Both are totally feasible and viable options. I met plenty of tourists that elected to just do day trips from Beirut. They didn’t want to rent a car and deal with the craziness of the Lebanese drivers and traffic. I can’t blame them!
From Beirut, you can see every place in Lebanon as a day trip. For example, Beirut to Saida and Tyre is a perfect day trip to the south of the country. You don’t need a ton of time to see the highlights of these towns. I actually elected to do this myself. I took two day trips: One day to Tripoli and Anfeh in the north, and one to Saida and Tyre in the south. The driver drove me around the entire time and stopped whenever I wanted.
The only downside to doing day trips throughout Lebanon is the constant driving. I found myself rushed to see things at times and once I got back to Beirut, I had to prepare myself for the crazy traffic getting into the city. I did a combination of hiring a driver for day trips, as well as renting my own car to explore the inland area of Lebanon.
In 2020 and beyond, it is very cheap to hire a car with a driver for the day. With the currency depreciation, it’s feasible to hire a driver for the entire day with gas included for $25-30 depending on your itinerary. Negotiate accordingly.
Rent a car in Lebanon
I rented a car for five days to see the mountain areas (Qadisha Valley), Baalbek, and the Bekaa valley. I rented a car after staying in Beirut for five days already. I rented from a company in the city center so I didn’t have to go back to the airport.
For a simple Nissan Automatic car, I paid $20 per day which seemed to be the going rate. This rate included
Driving in Lebanon
I’ll keep this simple. Drivers in Lebanon (and the Middle East as a whole) are crazy drivers. The driving habits in the Middle East can be summarized as “rules are guidelines”. I’ve never seen people stop so infrequently at stop signs and turns. When turning at an open intersection, normally you would look all directions to make sure cars aren’t coming. In Lebanon, cars just slowly drift into the road and you need to react accordingly even if it’s your right of way.
Regardless, somehow it works and I survived without much effort. Keep in mind the traffic north of Beirut between Beirut in Jouneih is horrendous during rush hour.
Is Lebanon Safe?
Somehow, someway, Lebanon has retained its reputation of being “dangerous” or “suspicious” in the world reputation scene. Sure they had a civil war many decades ago but there has been no conflict here for a long time. Nevertheless, the media has brainwashed people into associating Lebanon with instability and danger.
I’m here to say, it’s all complete nonsense. Do not listen to the media, and especially do not listen to your friends who heard something from someone.
Lebanon is very safe to visit. Even in 2021 with their economic collapse, I didn’t feel in danger at any point. I also met a few solo female travelers that echoed this sentiment.
People in Lebanon are extremely friendly and there were constantly locals approaching me asking me how I liked the country and my stay. The sad part is every person was trying to convince me how Lebanon is not as dangerous as they make it out to be to which I had to reply of course I know this because why else would I be here?
Where I went in Lebanon
I had a total of two weeks to see Lebanon. With this amount of time, it is enough to see the entire country in my opinion without feeling rushed. Even with one week, you could see the majority of the country although you won’t have enough time to settle down anywhere.
If these places are on your list of place to visit, then this is the itinerary for you. Don’t worry, I will have plenty of itinerary examples depending on the amount of days you have to travel.
- Qadisha Valley (Bcharre town and the Gods of Cedars)
- Zahle and the wine region
I spent a lot of days in Beirut as I wanted to experience the famous Beirut nightlife and have my share of delicious Lebanese food.
From Beirut, I took day trips to Tripoli in the north and Saida/Tyre in the south. Following this, I rented a car and went to the Qadisha Valley and stayed in the town of Bcharre. Then I went to Baalbek to see the Roman Ruins.
Full map of my Lebanon Itinerary
Beirut, the Capital of Lebanon
Beirut, Lebanon’s bustling and lively capital city is where everyone will start the trip. Why I say everyone is you can’t enter Lebanon from Israel whatsoever, and the chances of you entering Lebanon from Syria would be quite low. There are also no ferries to Lebanon from Cyprus.
Therefore, Beirut will be everyone’s first experience to Lebanon. And it’s a good first experience in my opinion!
Beirut was once considered the Paris of the Middle East. It’s by and far the most liberal city in the Middle East. Tossing aside the fake glitz of the UAE, Beirut is also the most cosmopolitan city as well. The nightlife in Beirut is world famous with its nightclub scene one of its highlights. While I didn’t visit any nightclubs due to Corona, I went to plenty of cocktail bars, rooftop bars, and lounges.
Everything is true.
Beirut is nothing like other cities in the Middle East and there’s more energy and vibrancy here than most other cities I’ve visited. People are extremely friendly and love to enjoy life.
Where to eat in Beirut
First thing’s first, Lebanon is all about the food. This is probably one of the main reasons I came here. I absolutely love everything associated with Lebanese food. Hummus, Tabouleh, Moutabal, Kofte, Kebabs, Fattoush, Falafel, etc. you name it, I will eat it.
Beirut is the culinary capital of Lebanon and you will not go hungry here. It was actually one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite cities in the world and the food I’m sure added to his sentiments.
Here are a list of my favorite restaurants:
- Em Sherif: There are multiple locations but make sure to visit the original and the one with the Rooftop bar
- Loris Restaurant:
- Restaurant Joseph: For the best schawarma street food in town, look no further than Restaurant Joseph which has been slanging out the goods for a long time.
In addition to Restaurants, there are so many good cocktail bars, wine bars, and the like. I had some of the best cocktails of my life in Beirut.
- Ales and Tales
- Cyrano Cafe
- Electric Bing Sutt
- Aaliya’s Books
Go to the Harissa Cable Car for amazing views
Just 20 minutes (or 1 hour with the famous Beirut traffic) depending on how lucky you are is the Teleferique of Lebanon. It is located in the town of Jouneih which is just north of Beirut.
The cable car goes from the town of Jouneih to the town of Harissa at the top of the mountain. From here, you will see absolutely incredible views of the bay and the cities below. You’ll also see the famous Lady of Lebanon which is similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Sao Paolo.
It’s well worth a visit and I loved coming here around sunset time. Make sure to grab drinks at the Bay Lodge hotel which has dead on views of the Bay. Finish it off with dinner at Al Sultan Brahim and your night will be complete.
Saida and Tyre
Sidon, on the coast 48 kilometers south of Beirut, is one of the Famous names in ancient history. But of all of Lebanon’s cities this is the most mysterious, for its past has been tragically scattered and plundered.
In the 19th century, treasure hunters and amateur archaeologists made off with many of its most beautiful and important objects, some of which can now be seen in foreign museums.
Is a fortress built by the Crusaders in the early 13th century on a small island connected to the mainland by a causeway. A climb to the top leads to the roof where there is a good view of the port and the old part of the city.
Today the castle consists primarily of two towers connected by a wall. In the outer walls Roman columns were used as horizontal reinforcements, a feature often seen in fortifications built on or near former Roman sites. The west tower is the better preserved of the two.
Old prints of the fortress show it to be one of great beauty, but little remains of the embellishments that once decorated its ramparts. After the fall of Acre to the Mamlukes all the sea castles were destroyed to prevent the Crusaders from re-establishing footholds on the coast.
After the fortress, the Souk is the main point of interest in Saida. Get lost in the narrow streets and see how the locals live.
To top it off, make sure to eat some falafel at Abou Rami. It’s some of the best falafel I had while in Lebanon.
Tyre is the southernmost city in Lebanon and has the best beaches in Lebanon. I made a quick stop here to visit the Roman ruins in the city center which were impressive, but comes nowhere close to something like Baalbek which I visited a few days later.
The beaches are very nice in Lebanon with huge sandy strips and azure colored waters. I didn’t spend much time on the beach unfortunately but I did visit the famous Cloud 59 Beach bar for a quick drink and a shisha.
Tripoli and Anfeh
Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon (600,000 inhabitants), has an interesting old center. When one appreciates the feverish atmosphere of the souks, it is good to stroll there while looking at the architectural details of the “khans” (caravanserais serving both as warehouses and inns) and medersas (Koranic schools). You can visit the Great Mosque, the Saint-Gilles crusader castle and the Taynal mosque, as well as the Tower of the Lions, a Mamluk fortress.
The traffic in Tripoli is a bit crazy so I’m glad I came here with a driver who took care of it all. Nevertheless, the souk and the fortress in the center of the city are quite impressive.
The views from the fortress of the Mediterranean sea and the city of Tripoli are beautiful. I don’t think you need to spend much time here unless you have a guide who can give you a proper tour of the city.
Nearby to Tripoli is the coastal town of Anfeh. It was highly recommended to visit as it is considered the Mykonos of Lebanon. There is a strip along the water that contains many white washed houses and blue painted outlines. It does resemble the architecture of the Cyclades a tiny bit. However, you will not find the charm of the Cyclades here. It’s best just to take a flight to Athens and then visit the CYclades instead!
I did stop here for a seafood lunch which was quite delicious before heading back to Beirut.
The Cedars of God Forest is one of the last vestiges of the ancient cedar forest of Lebanon that covered much of the Land of Cedars. The Bcharré site is classified as a “forest reserve” and registered on the World Heritage List by Unesco, along with the neighboring Qadisha valley.
The emblematic tree of the country is becoming rare. The Lebanese forest and its legendary perfumed scents now represent only 7% of the territory. However, we can still admire beautiful relics in the forest of Bcharré, on Mount Lebanon.
This forest is nestled on the western slope of Mount Lebanon on Mount Makmel, between 1,900 and 2,050 meters above sea level, east of the village of Bcharré, which gave it its name. It is smaller than the cedar forest of Chouf, with only 375 trees, but is home to the oldest cedars, some over 3000 years old! One will not fail to admire the famous Cedar of Lamartine, where the famous French poet was ecstatic in 1832. In winter, the place is a ski slope!
Lebanese people are crazy about their Cedar Trees
The Qadisha Valley is famous for its large cedar forests. I will say that it is quite unique and spectacular to see these types of trees in what you’d expect to be a desert landscape. I wouldn’t have thought these Christmas tree lookalikes would grow in such a climate.
There are a lot of these trees too which is why it is the symbol on the Lebanese flag. However, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest of North America, cedar and pine trees were literally dotting every square inch of the landscape I had in my backyard. Not to say that the Gods of Cedars park isn’t cool, but I guess I am just too used to it. I probably would skip the Qadisha Valley if I was limited on time.
Visit the Shouf National Park
One of the constant recommendations I received from people is to visit the Shouf National Park southeast of Beirut. Apparently these forests are much bigger than in the Qadisha Valley. However, I think this would be at the bottom of my list of to-dos given where I’m from!
Baalbek Roman Ruins
Without a doubt, the highlight of Lebanon (after Beirut of course) are the Roman Ruins in Baalbek. From the Qadisha Valley, the drive to Baalbek was 1.5 hours through the beautiful Bekaa valley. The views from the top of the mountains of the valley were absolutely stunning.
Like Petra in Jordan, Baalbek alone deserves the trip to Lebanon. Located in the Bekaa plain in the east of the country, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some incredibly well-preserved temples. Emperor Augustus had undertaken to build the largest acropolis in the Roman world there. Gigantic remains of this crazy enterprise remain, among the most interesting bequeathed by the Roman Empire.
The temples of Venus, Jupiter and Bacchus, one of the best-preserved temples in the Greco-Roman world, are the highlights of the visit. The work started during the reign of Augustus, around 14 BC. AD, continued until at the end of the 2nd century AD. The name comes from the god Baal, deity of the storm and the rain, worshiped by the Phoenicians and the Canaanites, then the city was baptized Heliopolis at the time of the Greeks, Helios being the god of the sun. Since 1955, Baalbek has hosted a world famous international festival every summer in August.
Artists from all over the world come to perform on the spectacular ruins: ballets, orchestras, soloists, lyrical, jazz or variety singers, as well as theater companies, in a most spectacular setting! Baalbek hosts a world famous international festival every summer in August.
Take many photos
I spent a few hours walking around the ruins taking photos. I couldn’t believe how amazing and the conditions the ruins were still in. The Temple of Bacchus is probably the highlight. It’s the same size as the Parthenon in Athens but in much better condition. Most of the pillars are still in tact, and the inside is completely in tact.
I think some of the best photos are taken directly watching the Temple of Bacchus near to the leftover pillars of the temple of Jupiter. Nevertheless, everywhere I turned was a good photo opportunity so you won’t have any shortage of inspiration here.
The best part of the experience was the lack of crowds. It reminded me of the incredible Roman Ruins in Dougga, Tunisia where I was essentially the only tourist there. There were more people in Baalbek than in Dougga, but you never felt overwhelmed.
Zahle and the Bekaa Valley Wine Region
Wedged between two mountain ranges, Mount Lebanon to the west and Anti Lebanon on the Syrian border to the east, the Bekaa plain is the breadbasket of Lebanon, a fertile plain whose main areas of interest are the ancient site of Baalbek, the Umayyad site of Anjar, the Christian town of Zahle and the cellars and vineyards of Kefraya. This region is known for its crops of cereals, beets, potatoes, cotton, hemp and especially its vineyards.
From Baalbek to Zahle is a quick 1 hour drive from Baalbek and was where I spent the next two nights. Zahle is a picturesque mountain town with great views of the valley. It’s home to a large Christian community and home to most of the wineries in Lebanon.
I spent most of my time visiting different wineries in the region.
Stay at the Grand Kadri Hotel
I stayed at the Grand Kadri Hotel in Zahle. It is definitely one of the nicest hotels in town and you can tell the people that come here are not worried about the devaluation in the Lebanese Lira. The breakfast was good and the shisha from the courtyard was also superb.
Ksara is located just outside of Zahle town. It is the largest winery in Lebanon accounting for almost half of the total production. The estate is beautiful and you can come taste wine or go on a tour at any time.
The history behind wine making in Lebanon dates to pre Roman times. The cellars at Ksara are some of the oldest in the world and they are still used to help in the aging process.
Kefraya is the second largest winery in Lebanon. Kefraya and Ksara were wine brands I’d seen numerous times already as they are often times on the menus at restaurants.
While Ksara is located in the town, Kefraya is located out of town in the wine country. It is the most picturesque winery as far as having a large estate overlooking the vines. It reminds me of the wineries in South Africa and it is definitely the place to go for a few hours.
They offer tours that take you around the vineyards that includes wine tasting. I would highly recommend visiting this place.
The last stop on the wine tour is the St. Thomas winery. It was the only one still open at 4pm so I decided to pay them a visit. I ended up having a boatload of delicious and a nice long conversation with the owner about the current state of Lebanon which was quite enlightening.
Byblos and Batroun
The last part of the itinerary is to visit the coastal towns of Byblos and Batroun. You could technically do this at any point on the trip but I decided to save this for the end.
Byblos is the prettiest town in Lebanon
Byblos is by far the most beautiful town in Lebanon. Everyone recommended that I visit the town during my stay so of course I knew I had to.
Byblos is the most traditional and most picturesque town in Lebanon. The architecture and buildings date back hundreds and even thousands of years to the Phoenician and Roman times. It was the capital of the Phoenician Empire almost 3,000 years ago and has remained one of the oldest and continuously habited cities in the world (starting from 7,000 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightfully so.
Visit the Souk of Byblos
Byblos is a port town located just north of Beirut. It has a few beaches which are popular with Lebanese as a weekend getaway.
The Souk of Byblos is just one small street, but is very picturesque and you’ll inevitably find yourself here. I find the souk here to be a bit of a “premium souk” in that it was very clean, orderly, and without the chaos in other places I’ve been to in the Middle East.
Still standing tall is the Byblos Castle or Crusader Castle, built in the 12th century from indigenous limestone and the remains of Roman structures. Inside you’ll find the Byblos site museum, although a snap from the outside is a sight as is. The grounds are much larger than you’d expect so plan accordingly and roam freely.
Enjoy the sunset from Kino Bar
Grab a drink on the beach at Kino Beach Bar which is an eclectic oceanfront bar that has the most inviting reclaimed wood decoration. The drinks here aren’t that great but the views are fantastic.
Finally, to finish it off, have dinner at Feniqia Restaurant which serves the best Lebanese food in town. I had all the delicious delicacies along with my shisha which is a must!
Stay at Byblos Sur Mer
There aren’t many hotels in Byblos unfortunately but the best option is definitely Byblos Sur Mer. It is a 4* hotel right on the water with ocean front views.
Day by Day Lebanon Itinerary
This is a run down of my itinerary day by day.
Day 1: Land in Beirut, explore Beirut
Day 2: Full day in Beirut
Day 3: Full day in Beirut, go to Jouneih to take the Harissa cable car for sunset
Day 4: Full day Saida and Tyre day trip with a private driver
Day 5: Full day Tripoli and Anfeh day trip with private driver
Day 6: Beirut to B’charre in the Qadisha Valley
Day 7: Qadisha Valley to Baalbek Roman Ruins, stay in Zahle
Day 8: Full day wine tasting near Zahle
Day 9: Zahle to Byblos
Day 10: Full day in Byblos
Day 11: Back to Beirut
Day 12: Fly home
My itinerary is a bit all over the place. I had a lot of time in Lebanon and elected to spend much of it in Beirut. I really liked the vibe in the city and decided to make the trip more about city life than about the nature.
How to plan a one week itinerary for Lebanon
I had almost two weeks for my trip in Lebanon. I know not everyone will want to dedicate such amount of time to the country so in this section I will offer up suggestions on how to plan your trip if you only have one week. I will use a 7-8 day time frame for this itinerary and of course, you can ask in the comments below any questions on how to amend said itineraries.
Note that I prefer renting a car and driving around Lebanon as opposed to organizing day trips every day from Beirut. If you are uncomfortable driving a car in Lebanon, simply make the itinerary day trips from Beirut.
Day 1: Land in Beirut, explore Beirut
Day 2: Full day in Beirut
Day 3: Full day Tripoli in the morning, afternoon in Byblos, spend the night in Byblos
Day 4: Byblos in the morning, Jouneih and the Harissa Cable car in the afternoon
Day 5: Drive to Baalbek and visit the Roman Ruins, drive to Zahle afterwards and spend the night there
Day 6: Visit the wineries of Zahle, afternoon in Anjar town
Day 7: Drive to the Shouf National Park, back to Beirut in the afternoon
Day 8: Fly out
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