Note: My visit was late 2018. Unfortunately, the country has experienced a few problems recently. Check foreign office advice before your trip.
Where to go in Lebanon? It is a small country, so easy to get around on day trips and base yourself in one of the excellent five star hotels or drive around and stop en route as you wish. A luxury trip is easily attainable by staying in a top hotel, renting a top of the range 4 x 4, enjoying delicious Lebanese wine and top restaurants.
3 Favourite Places to visit in Lebanon:
- Beirut – Nightlife, Museum, Ruins and ancient history
- Byblos – Archaeological site, beautiful Port, Restaurants, Castle and Cave
- Saida or Sidon in English – Castles, history, old town beuatiful seafront
WHAT TO DO IN LEBANON:
PHOTO: Mohammad Al Amin Mosque Beirut, Lebanon
10 Things to do in Lebanon:
Check online foreign office https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/lebanon advice first on areas near the Syrian border.
- Kadisha Gorge – Hiking, beautiful views, Monastery
- Cedars of God -Beautiful forest of Lebanese Cedar Trees
- National Museum of Beirut
- Beqaa Valley – ancient ruins, farmland and great wine vineyards
- Temple of Bacchus
- Baatara Gorge Waterfall
- Jeita Grotto
- Tyre – Swim with Turtles and ancient ruins
- Byblos – Castles, caves and ancient ruins, pretty port and restaurants
- Baalbeck – Temples, Ruins and wine
Where to stay in Luxury in Lebanon:
Four Seasons Hotel, Beirut – Intercontinental Phoenicia Beirut – Le Gray Hotel (my favourite) – Kempinski Summerland Resort beirut
Also, Crowne Plaza, Hilton and Radisson Blue Hotel group can be found in Beirut all at very reasonable prices.
Food Specialities of Lebanon – things to try:
Lebanese food can be found all over the world, it is so delicious. So, make sure you visit some of the great restaurants in Lebanon and try these Lebanese specialities:
- Manakish – Flatbread with cheese or za’atar.
- Menti/Shish Barak – Meat dumplings in Yoghurt for you meat eaters. There is a LOT of meat served in restaurants in Lebanon. Not great for veggies like me.
- Fattet Hummus – Hummus casserole with croutins
- Hummus – I prefer just hummus with veggie sticks
- Samke Harra – Spiced fish, find this dish in a lot of the seaside fish restaurants – yummy!
- Kebab Halabi – Another one for you meat eaters out there!
- Mezze dishes – I love these little dishes of Hummus, Tabooli, Fatoosh. These are a starter but dont order too many!
- Mughli – sweet rice pudding for desert
PHOTO: Mezze at Pepe’s Restaurant, Byblos
Don’t forget to try some of the delicious Lebanese wines, excellent! You will have so many restaurants to choose in Beirut! Outside the city here are two of my favourites:
- Restaurant Fakhr El Deen on Mount Lebanon – Delicious Lebanese cuisine, stunning restaurant with friendly staff and stunning views over the mountains to the sea.
- Pepe’s Restaurant in Byblos – Lovely seafood and Mezze looking out over the Port of Byblos. Such a fun place with great food and lovely staff.
PHOTO: Favourite Restaurants in Lebanon
How Safe is Lebanon?
Are you feeling a bit anxious about visiting this little country? Do not hesitate for a second, it is perfectly safe, Beirut is considered to be one of the safest cities in the Middle East and Lebanon one of the safest countries in the Middle East. The people are welcoming and friendly and the roads are safe, if a little chaotic in Beirut in rush hour. Just like any city! The only annoying thing that happened was that Mr Diva could only navigate with a map! Our hired 4 x 4 didn’t have SatNav and the GPS didn’t work! So check that before you hire a 4 x 4. I drive and he navigates!
However, at the time of my visit, UK Government advice was to avoid travelling near the Syrian border, including the Beqaa Valley and Baalback and so we heeded this advice. I suggest you check your own governments Foreign advice website as the situation in Syria is changing rapidly. Also, the advice is usually overly cautious!
We accidentally strayed into a Hesbollah area (thanks to the lack of SatNav!) But all was fine and everyone perfectly friendly. I find that if you smile and are friendly, people smile back.
On the plus side of getting lost, we stopped to ask directions. up in the hills. A lovely chap called Bachir Hnein showed us the way, considerably out of his way, and now we have a lovely friend in Lebanon! People are wonderful all over the world. My stay in Lebanon was short so we didint have time to see everything. Bachir has some suggestions for my next visit:
- Moussa Castle in Tahouitet El Ghadir – full of history
- Qurna as Sawda ‘The Black corner” – highest mountain in the Middle East
Funnily enough the people who ask me questions about safety are often from the U.S., seemingly unaware of the irony that their home country is far more dangerous with more than 36,000 citizens being killed by guns every year plus 100,000 injured.
PHOTO: Instagrammable Beirut, Where to go in Lebanon
Beirut is being rebuilt as a modern vibrant city, great location right by the sea too. Downtown is a super chic area now with International shops, bars and restaurants. Little glimpses of history such as The Forum and Mohammad Al Amin Mosque pictured below. The Mosque is spectacular and worth a visit as is the National Museum of Beirut.
PHOTO: Where to go in Lebanon – Beirut
PHOTO: Downtown Beirut, Lebanon
Beirut was a bit disappointing, if I am perfectly honest. The city was decimated during the civil war and very little of the traditional Beirut architecture is left today. Rebuilding a modern city has been a great success, but there is very little cultural heritage left, you could be in any city in the Middle East. Well, except for the Mosques and Churches side by side …. a joy to see!
PHOTO: Shop until you drop in Beirut, Where to go in Lebanon
We loved: Sipping coffee in a cool cafe, enjoying dinner downtown, LOVED Hotel Le Gray bar for a glass of Lebanese wine and rooftop bar, will be back to stay for sure. Movenpick Hotel rooftop bar to enjoy a sundowner.
PHOTO: Le Gray Hotel Lounge, Beirut, favourite hotel in Beirut
However, outside Beirut it is a different story! We loved the mix of traditional and modern in Saida and Byblos. We hired a 4 x 4 and drove to Byblos on the recommendation of my readers! Lots of women drive in Lebanon, which is lovely to see. Hiring a car and driving is my absolute favourite.
Tip: Hire a car in advance to collect at the airport. We hired from a local company, super 4×4 car but it would have been easier to rent at the airport. Saves money too considering the high taxi fees.
Enjoy exploring, change plans as you wish and meet local people. If you are not so enthusiastic about driving, hire a car and driver, taxi or Uber for the day. This costs approximately $100 for a day trip plus tips.
PHOTO: Views from Mount Lebanon
Mount Lebanon has spectacular walks and views, go horse riding through the mountains, definitely worth visiting. This beautiful mountain range averages 2,500 ft in elevation. You can even ski in the mountains in winter time! One of my favourite restaurants is up here in the mountains, worth a drive up to have lunch.
PHOTO: Harbour at Byblos, Where to go in Lebanon
Explore Byblos, take a boat ride, enjoy the beach, have lunch one of the little restaurants by the port. Byblos history goes back 7,000 years. Visit the archaeological site that has ruins from past civilisations, including the Crusader Castle from the 13th century.
PHOTO: View from the Crusader Castle, Byblos, Lebanon
You will enjoy a lovely lunch at Pepe’s Restaurant, which was full, lively and the food was delicious. They even have their own little museum!
PHOTO: Museum at Pepe’s Restaurant
A ‘must visit’ in Lebanon is Jeita Grotto. About 30 minutes from Beirut, this is the most magnificent Grotto I have ever seen. Photography is banned (in order to protect the caves) and so I cannot share the many splendours of the limestone caves which have an underwater lake and magnificent Stalactites and Stalagmites. Just visit and see for yourself.
PHOTO: Train takes you to the Jeitta Grotto
SAIDA or SIDON:
We ventured South along the coast to Saida. After reading the British Government advice, we were going to miss this area, but everyone in Lebanon assured us it was perfectly safe. Absolutely loved Saida and felt welcome everywhere. Sometimes the travel advice can be overly cautious on these government websites! Said, or Sidon, has a history stretching back 6,000 years and is a fascinating place to visit.
PHOTO: The castle at Saida
Saida, or Sidon, has a lovely old town with a Souk to buy some Lebanese treats. I always buy Spices in the markets. Ask the stallholder for a local recipe, I have a stash of Spices and recipes from everywhere I visit and I am reminded of my trip everytime I cook the dishes at home. See if you can find the Debbane Palace Museum in the Souk. Beautifully restored and worth a visit. We ate lunch at the Government Resthouse, right next to the Castle. Delicious food and great views of the sea and city.
PHOTO: The Government Resthouse
Funny name for a restaurant but we enjoyed the food and the views. There are plentiful restaurants in the Old Town and many stalls serving Lebanese seafood and specialities.
PHOTO: The Port at Saida
Why do I enjoy visiting this area of the Middle East?
Lebanon and nearby Jordan are a short flight time from London. Only four and a half hours to Beirut from London. The climate is warm and dry, both countries are beautiful with rich history and beautiful beaches too. The people are warm and friendly, the food delicious….. there are so many reasons to visit! Oh, I nearly forgot it is relatively inexpensive!
The joy of this part of the middle east …. stay in top luxury hotels for a fraction of the cost of other countries! The difference between these two countries are very noticeable, despite their geographic proximity. Lebanon is sophisticated and much wealthier with a large Christian population living at peace with the Muslim population. You will find great restaurants, nightclubs, good shopping in Beirut and Beirut is very westernised.
Jordan is very different, a poor country with a traditional Muslim population. Jordan is interesting to visit because it has so many fascinating natural wonders and historical sites of interest. BUT it is far more basic and not exactly luxurious outside the Western resorts and hotels. I enjoy visiting both countries and enjoy the contrasts.
How to get there: I flew on British Airways from London.
How to get around: Car hire from the airport. A car and driver costs approximately £100 a day depending on where you go. Taxis are expensive and not very luxurious to say the least.
How expensive is Lebanon: We found it to be good value for money. Top hotels are much cheaper than in Europe for example. Eat out for under £50 for two.
Check out my Jordan report:
Next trip I want to visit Tiro and go diving, the mountains of Les Cedres and Beiteddin!