Beirut to Baalbek: how to visit Baalbek in Lebanon
This post is a travel guide about how to visit Baalbek in Lebanon and about my experience travelling from Beirut to Baalbek on a daytrip.
Up untill the last moment I hesitated whether I should travel from Beirut to Baalbek, because of its proximity to Syria. It was 2015 and I just saw in the news that in Anjar, only 20 kilometers north from Baalbek, the Lebanese army was fighting IS.
Why visit Baalbek Lebanon?
Obviously I was in doubt and maybe crazy for even considering to travel from Beirut to Baalbek in Lebanon at that time. But the Bekaa valley is also one of the most beautiful parts of the country and Baalbek is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East, only to be compared with Jerash in Jordan.
Travelling from Beirut to Baalbek is relatively easy and it makes for a great day trip from Lebanon’s capital. I tried to call the Lebanese Tourism Information board, but got no response. Finally I decided to head to the bus station myself to see if I would be able to go.
Before I continue to share my experiences, let me tell you that I had a great daytrip from Beirut to Baalbek and that in the end there really wasn’t so much to worry about. As of 2022, security concerns have only improved and it is absolutely safe to travel from Beirut to Baalbek in Lebanon.
Getting from Beirut to Baalbek
I arrived at the Cola intersection in the early morning and the bus drivers found me before I could find the bus from Beirut to Baalbek. There were still frequent buses going. I knew that was a good sign.
When I asked whether it was safe to visit Baalbek, our driver didn’t seem too concerned “Sure, why not? people go there every day”. It wasn’t clear who these people were. Certainly no tourists as I was the only one around, but I was happy with the answer.
Baalbek wasn’t so popular after all and it took a long time for the van to fill up. I was almost about to give up on my plan to visit Baalbek when at the last moment a big family showed up taking the last vacant seats. The driver started the engine, everyone got on board and off we went.
Lebanon’s Bekaa valley
I was finally on my way from Beirut to Baalbek. It took a while before we could leave the congested traffic of the city behind us. But as soon as we entered the Bekaa valley, I could see why this is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of Lebanon.
Small villages surrounded by vineyards and orchards with snow-capped mountains in the back. It is hard to believe that this seemingly peaceful place had some pretty violent times in the past.
Now everything was quiet. Although we passed several Syrian refugee tent camps that are a strong reminder of the political turmoil across the border. The fertile soil is apparently also good for growing hashish and opium poppies and the Bekaa valley has a long history of illicit drug trade.
As much as I loved to explore more of the Bekaa valley the main purpose of my day was to visit the Roman ruins in Baalbek. The journey from Beirut to Baalbek took about three hours. As I enjoyed the scenery so much I was almost sad to arrive.
Roman ruins in Baalbek
Because it was friday most shops in the town of Baalbek were closed and it was eerily quiet. I quickly made my way to the Roman ruins. A single man trying to sell his Hezbollah souvenirs approached me immediately. He had not seen any other tourists for the whole week and was hoping this was his lucky day.
The Roman ruins in Baalbek were well worth the visit and much better than any of the ruins left in Rome itself. Where else can you wander around alone through a Roman temple complex so well-preserved that it is like travelling back in time. It reminded me of Jerash in Jordan, but then without the tourist crowds.
The Greek and Romans called it the city of the sun (Heliopolis). The acropolis has several temples of which the iconic temple of Bacchus is one of the best preserved. However, the other temples such as the temple of Jupiter and the temple of Venus are also quite impressive.
Back to Beirut
Without hordes of tourists it was also a peaceful spot. After wandering around the Roman ruins in Baalbek for several hours through temples and old stones it was time to head back.
I quickly found a bus back to Beirut. This time the van filled up pretty quickly and it seemed our driver was in a hurry. He was driving on full speed on a back road through the mountains. He made it to Beirut in almost two hours, but this was probably the most dangerous experience of the day.
Beirut to Baalbek: a day trip guide
How to get from Beirut to Baalbek
It is very easy to travel from Beirut to Baalbek by public transport. Mini vans leave when full from the Cola intersection or the Al Sayad roundabout in eastern Hamzieh in Beirut.
It can take some time for the vans to fill up, but it seems there is at least one leaving every hour from the Cola intersection. The journey itself from Beirut to Baalbek takes between 2 to 3 hours, depending on the traffic in Beirut.
Some vans will dropp you off in Baalbek center near the ruins. Other will dropp you off at the bus station that is 5 kilometers away from the Roman ruins in Baalbek. In this case you need to take an inexpensive taxi
To get back from Baalbek to Beirut you can head to the bus station or ask people where the minivans to Beirut depart from. Apparently there are several departure points. I was lucky that there was a mini van around the corner from the ruins that was about to leave.
The costs of a Beirut to Baalbek daytrip
Nowadays you can book organized tours from Beirut to Baalbek. If it’s your first time in Lebanon and travelling with public transport seems a bit too much for you, this might be something to consider. Expect to pay between 90 and 100 USD for a day tour.
If you go on your own by public transport, expect to pay between 10 – 15 USD for a roundtrip by minivan. The entrance fee to the Baalbek ruins is 15,000 LBP (around 10 USD).
When to visit Baalbek Lebanon?
Weather wise it’s best to avoid the summer heat. Spring and autumn are the best times to go and in winter it can even be a bit chilly.
The Baalbek temple is open from Munday to Sundays from 9 AM till 6 pm in summer and 4 pm in winter. In theory you could visit every day of the week.
However, keep in mind that on fridays most other places in Baalbek are closed. I did visit on a friday and it almost felt deserted. A pity as I heard that there are quite some good restaurants. If you like to experience Baalbeks lively market and delicious street food don’t come on a friday.
Other things to do in Baalbek
The Baalbek ruins are the biggest attraction in Baalbek, but there are some other things to do in Baalbek as well.
As you enter Baalbek town you will see a large golden domed mosque. This is actually not a mosque, but a Shia shrine dedicated to Sayyida Khawla, daughter of Imam Hussein and great-granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad.
South of the Sayyida Khawla shrine, 20 meters away from the main road you can find the somewhat mysterious stone of the pregnant woman. It’s one of the largest monoliths in the world and nobody knows how it was carved out
Baalbek also has some culinary delights waiting for you and it’s definetly worth it to make sure you have some time to visit Baalbeks lively bazaar.
Where to eat in Baalbek
I had lunch at Tavern Cezar. It was the only restaurant that was open when I was there on a friday and it was conveniently located opposite the entrance to the ruins. Prices were budget friendly and the portions generous. The food was ok and is a mix of Lebanese and international fast food.
A bit more up market is the Baalbeck palace serving traditional Lebanese food. One of the things you must try in Baalbek are Sfiha Baalbakieh. These Lebanese meat pies are a local speciality. They don’t serve them in a restaurant. You need to go to a butcher to order meat for Sfiha Baalbakieh and then go to a bakery that will bake them for you in the oven.
Because it was friday I missed out on trying the Sfiha Baalbakieh. One always needs a reason to return somewhere.
Where to sleep in Baalbek
It is easy to visit Baalbek on a day trip from Beirut, but if you prefer to spend the night in Baalbek there are several accomodation options. the best hotel is the hostoric 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.
Is it safe to visit Baalbek?
Wen I was visiting Baalbek in Lebanon in 2015 it was a tense period with fights between the Lebanese army and IS going on near the border with Syria. As of 2022 things have become more calm and there should be no problem to visit the Roman ruins in Baalbek.
Even back in 2015 it was safe to visit Baalbek in Lebabon. Despite my worries about what I saw on the news, things were quiet in Baalbek and the parts of the Bekaa valley that I travelled through.
If I had one regret it was that I did not plan to spend more time in the Bekaa valley. It is clear that there is a lot of potential for tourism as you can see in this guide to the Bekaa valley by Jason Lemon. Besides the best Roman Ruins in Lebanon it also offers some of the best sceneries, mountain views and food.
Also check my post on Backpacking Lebanon: the different faces of the middle east to see all the other beautiful places that Lebanon has to offer.
Last updated: July 2022
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