The Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon is a country of stark contrasts: beautiful Mediterranean beaches and high mountain ranges, Christianity and Islam, ancient history and modern lifestyles. However, what makes Lebanon even more special are the locals with their warm hospitality, generous food culture as well as both love and respect for their own country. And there are indeed many reasons to fall in love with Lebanon. Consider a trip to this Middle Eastern hidden gem and discover the gorgeous mountain villages, idyllic fishing towns, mesmerizing historic sites and vibrant capital Beirut yourself.
Thanks to an invitation from Lebanese friends, I had the chance to explore the country for a while in May and June 2018. Since Lebanon is a pretty small country, you can easily visit most attractions on a day trip. I checked out a lot of different areas throughout my stay. In this post, I’m revealing my top 5 travel highligts in Lebanon out of all the incredible spots I got to visit. May this give you some inspiration to embark on your own Oriental journey to Lebanon.
Where To Stay?
I suggest placing yourself in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, from where you can organize day trips to all major tourist attractions in the country. During my stay, I stayed at The Grand Meshmosh Hotel, which I consider a great accommodation in terms of location (in the heart of Gemmayzeh/Achrafieh) and pricing, especially if you’re looking to stay in a dorm. Plus, this is both a hostel and budget hotel with typical hostel amenities, such as free walking tours and organized group tours.
Is It Safe?
Despite issued travel warnings by Federal Foreign Offices around the world, I consider Lebanon a very safe country to travel – even as a woman. When thinking about Lebanon, many people still have the civil war in mind that took place from 1975 to 1990. However, the country has not been at war since then. The violence still taking place in Lebanon is as random as in other countries, such as terror attacks in Germany, kidnapping for ransom in the Philippines or misuse of firearms in the US.
Apart from that, contrary to popular belief, Lebanon is not ruled by Islamic extremism. In fact, the country has a total of 18 recognized religions and an open-minded and very respectful culture.
Lebanon’s capital city is a cosmopolitan destination with a diverse culture and an exciting balance of ancient and modern. Beirut is home to both Christians and Muslims practicing their faiths and living their lives side by side in harmony. Therefore it is no surprise that the largest mosque is located right next to a Christian cathedral. Apart from that, the rich history is prevalent all over downtown: gorgeous traditional houses are lined up in the vibrant Gemmayzeh district, ancient Roman ruins can be found in the midst of modern skyscrapers, and locals speak all kinds of languages – French, Arabic, English and sometimes even Armenian. On the contrast, modern Beirut offers fancy bars, chic nightlife, and an incredible art and fashion scene giving it the well-deserved nickname “Paris of the Middle East”. The city’s cultural diversity can also be seen in the mouthwatering local cuisine served in Beirut’s exquisite restaurants.
How To Get There: Beirut’s downtown area Achrafieh can be best explored on foot. Also, you can basically walk along the “Corniche” (seaside promenade) from one side of the city to the other. Otherwise, take a cab, service taxi or Uber (works very well in Lebanon) to travel further distances within the city.
2. Qadisha Valley
When you’ve seen some of Lebanon’s coastal areas and towns, the north seems like an entirely different country with a scenic mountain range that averages above 2000 meters in elevation. The region is famous for its historical heritage, millennial cedars as well as excellent hiking and skiing opportunities. Here you will also find Qadisha Valley aka. The Holy Valley, which is home to numerous isolated rock-cut monasteries and churches – some of them are well-preserved, others are non-accessible and abandoned. These ancient monasteries can be best explored on a guided trek. If you have the chance, I highly recommend taking a trip to the beautiful Qadisha Valley with its stunning scenery, pleasant breeze (as it’s situated around 1500m above sea level), and different rock monasteries.
>> See also: 7 Ways To Explore Qadisha Valley
How To Get There: Public buses are going to Qadisha Valley, though this might take a lot of time depending on traffic and the bus’ route. The best and most efficient way to explore Qadisha Valley is an organized tour. Nakhal organizes day trips into the mountains every week. If you’re a group of people, booking a private tour with a guide and driver might also be an option.
3. Cedars of God
The Lebanon Cedars are some of the most majestic trees in the world and once covered the entire mountain range of Mount Lebanon. Over decades, vast amounts of cedars have been exploited by all kinds of nations. Their oil and timber had been used by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans and, later on, by the British during World War I. Due to the cedar’s majesty and resilience, it is said that God himself had planted the trees thousands of years ago. Today, 300 millennial cedars are all that remains of the once rich cedar tree abundance. You can see some of them in Arz Forest, a protected zone near Qadisha Valley. The locals are very proud of and cherish their cedars, which is the reason why the cedar has become Lebanon’s official symbol.
How To Get There: Arz Forest is located on Mount Makmel near Qadisha Valley, about 8 km from the mountain village Bcharre. It’s best to go here by car or on a guided tour.
The idyllic fishing town Jbeil aka. Byblos is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has an impressive historical heritage (it is believed to have been continuously inhabited since 5000 BC!) with well-preserved ramparts dating back to the Phoenician period when Jbeil had been a major commercial center with one of the most essential city ports in the Middle Eastern region. You can easily spend an entire day visiting the Crusader castle complex built right next to the sea and strolling through the narrow lanes of the old souk in the beautiful old town. This charming Mediterranean town has a lot of beautiful cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy both drinks as well as some authentic Lebanese food while overlooking the sea.
TopTip: If you have the chance to go to Jbeil by car, continue driving north on the Sea Side Road for about 3 km. Follow the signs to Camping “Les Colombes”. Before the camping site, you’ll pass Mhanna Sur Mer, an absolutely incredible seafood restaurant right at the seafront.
How To Get There: Jbeil is located around 40 km north of Beirut. Public buses, service taxis and tour operators go here on a daily basis.
5. Baalbek Temple
The ruins of Baalbek are Lebanon’s premier attraction and a must-do activity when in the country. Located in the fertile Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, the massive Baalbek temple complex is truly mesmerizing. Its origins go back to the Phoenician period, around 300 BC. Centuries later, it was incorporated into the Greek Empire, followed by the Roman era, in which Baalbek was made into a Roman colony. Today, the town around as well as the temple complex are a Hezbollah stronghold. Due to its location close to the Syrian border and Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, many government travel advisories currently discourage travelers from visiting Baalbek. However, I suggest checking the current situation with locals. They can assess the situation much better and may help you organize a safe trip or ride to the Bekaa Valley.
TopTip: Going to Baalbek is also an excellent opportunity to explore the Bekaa Valley a little bit. Check out some of the wineries in the area and learn about the millennial history of winegrowing in Lebanon while trying some of the fruity locally grown wines.
How To Get There: Baalbek is located about 90 km from Beirut. Due to the current travel warnings for Baalbek, I recommend going there only with locals. Either join an organized tour with a tour operator or book a private guide and driver who know the area and current situation well.
Need more inspiration for things to do in Lebanon? Check out these awesome day trips you can easily do from Beirut. Also, don’t forget to explore some of Lebanon’s most beautiful landscapes in Qadisha Valley.
Are you planning on traveling other countries in the Middle East? In my Dubai Budget Travel Guide, learn how to spend 4 unforgettable days in the United Arab Emirates.
Also, take a look at my other country guides with travel highlights from countries across several continents.