The Best Places to visit in Lebanon
This post is about the best places to visit in Lebanon. Lebanon is a small, but incredibly diverse country in the Middle East, bordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.
Why visit Lebanon
There are a lot of places to visit in Lebanon, especially considering its small size. I was surprised by the amount of things to see and do in Lebanon and by the easy of travelling in this off the beaten path country. Tourism infrastructure is still in its infancy and its bad security image is probably the cause that there are few other tourists.
But Lebanon is one of the most liberal and culturally diverse countries in the Middle East and it is relatively safe to visit. This is largely due to its history as a cosmopolitan center of trade as well as its multicultural nature. Lebanon has a diverse population with Christians, Muslims, and Druze communities, as well as smaller groups of Jews and Armenians.
As a result, Lebanon has a relatively tolerant and pluralistic society with a relaxed attitude towards different beliefs. What they all share in common js a heartwarming hospitality towards travellers.
The landscape of the country is just as diverse as its people. Mountains, hills, ancient cedar tree forests and a beautiful Mediterranean coastline with beaches and underwater caves. If you love outdoor activities, Lebanon will not dissapoint you. You can swim, hike and even ski in winter.
There are also many historical places to visit in Lebanon. Sidon and Byblos belong to the oldest cities in the world and are over 6000 years old. The country also has lots of Roman Ruins. Other great civilizations that once ruled Libanon are the Phoenicians, the Ummayads, the Abbasids and the Ottomans.
What is it like to travel in Lebanon
So what is it really like to travel in Lebanon? Truth is, that it is both surprisingly easy, but at the same time difficult. Lebanon is maybe not the best destination if you are a novice traveller. Tourism infrastructure is basic, especially outside Beirut. There are not a lot of tour operators and the choice in budget hotels is small. Furthermore, the security situation can change quickly. It is important to keep yourself up to date with the latest news.
That said, if you have experience travelling in the Middle East, you will find that you don’t need a tour operator. There is enough public transport that makes travelling around Lebanon not that difficult. I managed to travel in Lebanon for a week with public transport and used Beirut as a base. Beirut has enough options for backpackers. The country is small enough to make day trips to the best places to visit in Lebanon on your own.
For more practical information about travelling in Lebanon and whether it is safe to visit Lebanon, I recommend my post about backpacking Lebanon
The best places to visit in Lebanon
Below you will find an overview of the best places to visit in Lebanon as an independent budget traveller. They are in safe places of the country. I visited all of them using the public minivans with the exception of the Qadisha valley. This is the only place where I can certainly recommend having your own transport to fully explore this beautiful area.
Beirut is a liberal and cosmopolitan city and among the top places to visiut in Lebanon for lovers of food, culture and history. It used to be called the Paris of the Middle East. That was, untill sectarian violence between the different religious groups, caused a civil war from 1975 till 1990. The city has recovered and is returning to its former glory with a brand new center full of expensive designer stores.
Beirut remains a melting pot of cultures, with a diverse population of Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups. This cultural diversity is reflected in the city’s architecture, cuisine, and customs.
Before exploring Lebanon, take your time to explore Beirut with all of its diverse neighbourhoods. You have lively Ashrafieh, posh Gemmayze and hip Hamra. All are vibrant areas with nice shops and restaurants, but each with its own unique culture and atmosphere.
Beirut also has a long and fascinating history, with evidence of human habitation dating back to the Stone Age. The city was home to numerous civilizations, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans.
How to visit Beirut
Things to do: Al Amina mosque, Martyrs square, American University of Beirut gardens, The Corniche, Pigeon Rock, Roman Baths, National Museum of Beirut
Getting around: Getting around Beirut is easy. There are minivans and shared taxi’s. A shared ride is a servees and the driver will pick up and drop off other passengers on the way. You just tell the driver your destination and he will either accept you if he is going the same way or not if your destination is too far off.
Beirut is also the perfect place to explore Lebanon. Because Lebanon is not a big country it is easy to visit most places as a daytrip from Beirut. For destinations outside of Beirut there is the Cola intersection with buses heading south of the country and Charles Helou for buses heading north of the country.
Accomodation: budget travellers can stay in the Grand Meshmosh Hotel or the Hamra Urban Gardens. They are basic hotels woth dormitories in safe areas of Beirut. For a bit more luxury and private I can recommend the Beverly Hotel Beirut ot the Parisian hotel.
Jounieh and Our Lady of Lebanon
The Mediterranean coastline around Jounieh is very popular with local tourists. There are plenty of resorts and casino’s. I came here not to go to the beach, but to see the Lady of Harissa.
The Lady of Harissa is a statue of the Virgin Mary that stands atop a mountain overlooking the city of Jounieh in Lebanon. The statue is also known as Notre-Dame du Liban in French, which translates to “Our Lady of Lebanon.” It was built in 1907 and stands at a height of 13 meters (43 feet). It is illuminated at night, making it a prominent landmark visible from many parts of Beirut
Just south of Byblos in Jounieh you can take a cable car up the mountain where you can visit Our lady of Lebanon. It is an important pilgrimage site for Lebanese Christians. It is also popular among Lebanese tourists that come here to enjoy the stunning views over the sea and the town below.
How to visit Jounieh
Things to do: Cable Car, Our lady of Lebanon
Logistics: You can easily combine this with a daytrip to Byblos. The buses between Byblos and Beirut pass through Jounieh, ask the driver to let you out in Jounieh and walk to the cable car.
Accomodation: You can stay in either Byblos or Beirut.
Byblos, also known as Jbeil, is an ancient coastal city that is among the top places to visit in Lebanon for lovers of history. It was an important city for the Phoenicians that ruled the town more than 7000 years ago. Some claim that Byblos is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Throughout it’s history it has been a major center of trade, culture, and religion. The archeological sites and ancient ruins are a testament to its rich and diverse past.
Byblos has an old Crusader castle, Roman ruins and a medieval harbour. Nowadays Byblos is a small town that is predominantly christian. The old city has lots of character with its seaside location and restored bazaar. It is a picturesque area with the narrow streets of the old market, colorful buildings, and quaint cafes. From the cute mediterrean port you can take boat trips to the sea.
Byblos is located on the Mediterranean coast and has beautiful beaches. You can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and water sports at popular beaches such as Edde Sands and Jbeil Public Beach.
How to visit Byblos
Things to do: The Crusader castle, Roman Ruins, Old Souq, Marcus Cathedral
Logistics: Byblos is the perfect day trip from Beirut. From Beirut’s Cola intersection & Charles Helou station there are frequent buses to Byblos, also known by locals as Jbeil (1 hour). Alternatively you can use Byblos as a more quiet alternative to base yourself in Lebanon.
Accomodation: There are no real budget places in the ancient center of Byblos. The Ahiram hotel is within walking distance of the old town of Byblos.
Sidon, or Saida, is another fascinating city in Lebanon that is among the oldest cities in the world. It has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age over 6000 years ago. Numerous civilizations such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans developed Sidon into an important center of trade in the region.
Sidon is home to several well-preserved archeological sites that are worth exploring, including the Sidon Sea Castle and the Temple of Eshmoun.
The personal highlight for me was the lively and bustling bazaar. When I think of the middle east I imagine exotic bazaars with the smell of spices, friendly merchants, delicious Lebanese street food and tea stalls. The bazaar in Sidon was exactly that.
With the lack of tourists it is as authentic as it can get. no souvenirs, but fresh food and vegetables, muslim fashion, barbers, meat shops, bakery’s and delicious food.
How to visit Sidon
Things to do: Sidon Sea castle, Temple of Eshmoun, Exploring the bazaar
Logistics: From Beiruts cola intersection there are frequent buses to Sidon, also known as Saida (1 hour).
Accomodation: There are not a lot of accomodation options in Sidon. It is best to visit Sidon on a day trip from Beirut.
Tyre, also known as Sour, is a historic coastal city in southern Lebanon. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is renowned for its well-preserved Roman ruins, including the ancient Roman columns, the Triumphal Arch, and the Roman Hippodrome.
Tyre has the largest and best preserved example of a Roman hippodrome, a stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. Actually just a large open field, but there are some well-preserved mosaics that are very beautiful.
Besides Roman ruins, Tyre is also known for its religious diversity, with both Christian and Muslim communities that have a vibrant local culture. Don’t miss the Christian neighbourhgood with its colorful homes and the nice port on the Mediterranean sea. This area of town is full of nice boutique hotels and there is a relaxed atmosphere.
Tyre has delicious food, particularly fresh seafood. You can sample traditional Lebanese dishes such as tabbouleh, hummus, and kebabs, as well as fresh fish and other seafood dishes.
How to visit Tyre
Things to do: The Roman hippodrome, the Christian neighbourhood and the Port.
Logistics: From Beirut’s Cola intersection there are frequent buses to Sour/Tyre (2-3 hours)
Accomodation: It is not cheap to stay in Tyre, but if you have the money you can stay in the boutique hotels Dar Alma or Dar Camelia. You can easily visit Tyre on a day trip, but if you have the money I do recommend to stay for one night in the old town.
Baalbek and the Bekaa valley
Another highlight of my time backpacking Lebanon was my visit to Baalbek in the Bekaa valley. Baalbek has one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the Middle East that reminded me a lot of Jerash in Jordan.
In Greek and Roman times it was called the city of the sun (Heliopolis) and it was an important place of worship. The acropolis has several temples of which the temple of Bacchus is one of the best preserved. Especially when you consider that they are over 2000 years old.
A visit is well worth the effort, not only for the roman ruins, but also for the picturesque scenery. Baalbek is located in the beautiful Bekaa Valley, surrounded by lush green mountains and vineyards. Unfortunately it is also a Hezbollah stronghold and close to the border with Syria and therefore you should inform about the security situation at the moment. Read more about my visit and how to visit Baalbek.
How to visit Baalbek
Logistics: From Beirut’s Cola intersection there are frequent buses to Baalbek (2-3 hours)
Accomodation: The best hotel is the historic and upmarket Palmyra hotel. It is in a renovated old home and has lots of charm, but probably not within the average backpackers budget. The Kanaan group hotel offers cheaper places to stay.
Bcharré and the Qadisha valley
The Qadisha valley, or the Holy valley, was another highlight of my time in Lebanon. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural history. The valley is in a beautiful gorge with monasteries and cave churches. Actually this was the only place where I felt a daytrip was not enough.
First of all, The Qadisha Valley is a peaceful and tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life, with fresh mountain air and a serene atmosphere that is perfect for relaxation and meditation.
Second of all, The Qadisha Valley offers a range of outdoor activities. It has stunning natural beauty, with dramatic rock formations, deep gorges, and crystal-clear streams. There is a variety of wildlife, including birds of prey, wild boar, and mountain goats. Visitors can hike along scenic trails such as the Lebanese Mountain trail and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Bcharré, the main town in the Qadisha valley is a charming place from where you can do several treks to explore the christian churches and monasteries in the valley below. There are a number of Maronite villages. The Maronites are a Christian community from Lebanon. They are named after Saint Maron, a 5th-century monk who established a monastery in the Qadisha valley.
How to visit the Qadisha valley
Logistics: From Beiruts Dora roundabout there are buses to Bcharré (2-3 hours) every two hours. This was the only place where I would have wanted to spent more time and where it is better to have your own transport.
Accomodation: The Tiger House Guest House is one of the few budget options in Bcharre. It is pretty basic, but a good base to explore the area.
Places Not to visit in Lebanon
The subject of safety in Lebanon could be a whole different article and there is no straightforward answer. Lebanon is relatively safe compared to its neighbours (Syria and Israel), but the political situation is fragile and complicated. Lebanon is not a country to visit without reading about its history . You should get yourself up to date with the most recent developments.
Despite these warnings I still recommend to visit Lebanon. Throughout my week in Lebanon I always felt safe. The people in Lebanon are very kind and helpful. Furthermore, the best places to visit in Lebanon are all in safe parts of the country.
Update: as of 2023 the security situation in Lebanon has unfortunately detoriated due to rampant inflation, increasing poverty and crime. The country is in a deep financial and economic crisis with water and electricity issues as a result. There was even a cholera outbreak in october 2022.
Places to avoid in Lebanon
There are some areas in Lebanon that you should avoid. Luckily they also don’t really have any touristic sights so you are not really missing out on something.
Hezbollah areas: Hezbollah is a prime target for both ISIS and Israel. This includes the Shia neighbourhoods of Southern Beirut, the Southern border with Israel and the Bekaa valley. The first two have no tourist appeal anyway, but for the Bekaa valley read my post on visiting Baalbek. You can visit Baalbek, but be careful about the rest of the Bekaa valley
Tripoli: clashes between the Sunni and Alawi Muslims in Tripoli are not uncommon. I did visit Tripoli and when I was there it was peaceful, but there were clashes the week before and it was still very quiet in the streets. There was a bit of a tense atmosphere and a large military presence.
Refugee camps: Almost a quarter of the population in Lebanon is a refugee. There are a lot of Palestinian refugee camps and in recent years also Syrian refugee camps. Its better not to visit a refugee camp on your own. They are not tourist destinations, but if you really want to go, come with an established organisation such as the Shatila child and youth center.
Border areas: avoid getting close to the border with Syria and Israel.
Disclaimer: This post about the best places to visit in Lebanon contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!