Yet another country that has been marred by frequent terror attacks, although not in the news as much recently, Lebanon is a beautiful destination which makes for a great vacation, for those willing to look past the fear created by the political unrest, border tensions, and hostilities. As long as you can avoid certain areas, you’re fairly as much at risk as you would be anywhere else in the world, considering no country is safe to travel to anymore.
Our trip to Lebanon a few years ago was amidst similar circumstances but we decided to take the plunge anyway and explore this gorgeous country, with its beautiful mountains, spectacular beaches, and pulsating nightlife. Here’s a photo blog of my favorite places in Lebanon – it covers the most iconic places to see, food and nightlife, shopping, historical monuments, wine tasting and beautiful landscapes.
Disclaimer: I am in no way encouraging anyone to take the risk of putting themselves in any sort of danger. Please read the travel advisory here to get an idea of the current situation and things to keep in mind, should you decide to travel.
Cultural & Historical
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, Beirut
Located in the lively downtown Beirut, Mohammad Al-Amin stands apart from other buildings in its neighborhood because of the bright blue dome, which is also why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Blue Mosque of Beirut’. Surrounded by modern commercial and residential buildings, the mosque is a stark contrast in its architecture and immediately catches the eye. It’s four pillars and the domes light up beautifully at night, making for a perfect picture.
Roman Bath Ruins, Beirut
These ruins, situated in the middle of commercial buildings, have been well-preserved since they were excavated in the late 20th century. Although there isn’t much literature explaining these baths, a quick walk around the area gives you a flavor of history between modernization and development. A landscaped public garden surrounds the ruins and this is also where some concerts take place during the summer season.
Hardly 40 minutes away from Beirut is one of the oldest cities in the world – Byblos. An ancient coastal city which is said to be continually inhabited for 8000 years, Byblos has a wealth of historical sites such as temples, churches, and forts from the Roman, Byzantine, Phoenician, Crusader and other eras. Of particular interest are the Byblos Castle and the Old Souk; the castle is a restored property from the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the old souk is a lively street market selling souvenirs and local handicrafts.
Tourism Advisory has put this area in ‘red’ in terms of the risk associated with going closer to the disturbances at the Lebanon-Syria border. However, a visit to this Phoenician city will take you back in time and you’ll feel as if you’re in Rome. Baalbek is a complex of temples which are models of Imperial Roman architecture and a place to worship the Triad of Heliopolis- Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury. Baalbek is a must visit for history lovers and is a 2-hour drive away from Beirut City.
Beaches & Nightlife
Nejmeh Square, Beirut
This place is the heart of Downtown Beirut and is buzzing until wee hours. With al fresco cafes, shisha lounges and restaurants spilling over the patio, the place has a very artsy feel and an energetic vibe. Some interesting variants of shisha (served in a watermelon, for example) can be found here and this is probably the best place to enjoy authentic Lebanese fare.
Hamra Street, Beirut
Another lively street in the heart of Beirut, Hamra Street is Beirut’s former ‘Champs Elysées’. Home to upscale restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping, and nightlife, it is one of the most crowded areas in the city. You will see a lot of students here from the nearby universities and you’ll find some of the trendiest clothes and accessories in the shops here. There is no dearth of shisha cafes and pubs and it is one of the best places to experience the nightlife of Beirut.
One of the most popular nightclubs in Beirut and for the right reasons, Bo18 starts to buzz only after 11 pm. As you approach the parking lot, which looks quite gloomy and misleading, you will see a flight of stairs which will lead down to this former ‘bomb shelter’ (there is literature both in support and contradiction of that) converted into a nightclub. Shaped like a coffin, the nightclub gets extremely crowded during the late hours and is an iconic place to experience the best of Beirut’s buzzing nightlife.
Riviera Beach Club
Beirut isn’t only buzzing at night, it has a bunch of beach clubs and pool parties that also keep the city full of zip during the day. One of my favorite places to enjoy great tunes, swim in (one of the three) pools or relax on a sun lounger to the sound of the waves is Riviera Beach Club. There is an entrance fee to go to this place which is slightly pricey but fair and the place shuts by late evening.
Cityscape & views
Although this is a historical place to visit, for the bronze statue of Virgin Mary built on top of the hill, in the 19th century, this is also recommended for the beautiful panoramic views of Jounieh that you can enjoy from the vantage point. Hardly a 30-minute drive from Beirut, the ‘Teleferique’ or the cable car can be boarded from Maameltein for a short 10-minute journey up to the area with the food court. At this point, you will be able to capture breathtaking views of the coastal city below. Another short trip in the funicular will take you to the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon (please wear respectable clothing oy you will be required to borrow a stole to cover your knees).
Pigeon Rocks in Raouche
This is the most iconic destination in Beirut, the one you get to see in most pictures promoting the destination. This marvelous piece of nature has two stunning rocks located in the middle of the ocean and is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset. The corniche which offers amazing views of the rocks is lined with several cafes offering great views of the Pigeon Rocks or you can simply enjoy a peaceful walk along the seaside promenade. For those interested, you may also take a boat ride which will take you very close. However, personally, I enjoyed the views from a distance and from a height, such as from the Bay Rock Café.
Beauty & Nature
Yet another place which is hardly a 40-minute drive from Beirut city, this is an interesting wonder of nature to visit. It is a set of two interconnected limestone caves which are home to some of the largest stalactites in the world. The lower caves can only be visited by a boat and the upper caves can be explored on foot. Be prepared for refreshingly lower temperatures inside the cave and a slippery walking path. You will need approx. 2 hours for the tour which includes a cable car ride to the top, where the upper cave is located and the boat ride in the lower cave. Try to visit as early as possible to avoid crowds and also because the place shuts by sunset.
The drive to the valley is actually prettier than the valley itself. The valley is surrounded by picturesque villages and cathedrals, shrines, hermitages and monasteries. The drive through the beautiful green hills and cobbled stone villages while going towards this valley is an amazing experience. Quite the contrary to the busy and crowded city life Beirut, this is your foray into the countryside, nature, and culture of Lebanon. The best place to experience the views, the serenity, and the historical villages is Bcharre, located at a 3-hour drive away from Beirut city. If you’re planning to cover this as a day trip, make sure to leave early in the morning. Many people spend a night in Bcharre because of the variety of places to explore nearby. For a detailed list of places to explore, click here.
Lebanon is home to some world-class wines and Chateau Ksara is one of the oldest wineries in Lebanon. French wines stored in Roman Caves, which were discovered by some monks 150 years ago and taken over by businessmen eventually, the two most popular varieties you’ll find here are cabernet sauvignon and Syrah. The vineyards are located in Bekaa Valley, which is about an hour’s drive from Beirut city and a wine-tasting stop here is a great idea for wine-lovers who can enjoy a free 45-minute tour of the winery. A short video introduction followed by a trip to the wine cellars and a wine-tasting session is the perfect way to spend your day away from the city.