On our way back from London to Dubai we decided to stop in Lebanon for a few days. All in all, it came out pretty cheap (we paid £60 more to stop in Lebanon rather than to just have a 4-hour layover) and we were up for a little adventure so we booked the flights.
Lebanon wasn’t really on our bucket list. To be honest: it wasn’t on our radar at all. All we knew about the country was that there used to be a very harsh civil war and that there are still problems between Lebanon and Israel.
But the more we looked into Lebanon and Beirut, the more excited we got about visiting this amazing country. We were planning to visit the amazing ruins of Baalbek, wanted to eat the local cuisine, try the best shawarma in the world (not even kidding) and visit the streets of old Beirut.
Beirut has always been described as the “Paris of the Middle East” and I cannot agree more. As a Belgian, Paris was never far away. I love the city and especially the outskirts of the city, the ‘real’ Paris. And Beirut really had a massive French vibe going for it. The buildings, the people, the little restaurants… Paris of the Middle East is pretty spot on!
Beirut is, however, not the only place worth visiting in Lebanon. I have made a little list of places and cities you can’t miss!
Visit the Sursock Museum
In a splendid mansion, the Sursock Museum was built back in the early twentieth century. The museum reopened in 2015, more beautiful than ever, after eight years of renovation under the leadership of the duo architects Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Jacques Abou Khaled. The permanent collections allow immersing oneself in the unknown world of Lebanese art while many exhibitions testify to the History of Beirut and Lebanon through multiple themes. Without a doubt, it’s the most charming art museum in the city.
Visit the National Museum
You cannot leave Lebanon without having visited the National Museum. This amazing museum filled with artifacts from the antiquities to the early Middle Ages. I went in without expecting much. My husband is a history teacher and I studied history in uni. We came out with our minds blown. Not only does this museum boast an incredibly impressive collection, the information provided is all very on point, relevant and very interesting.
Don’t miss the Jeitah Grotto
The Jeitah Grotto was one of top 14 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition. Located 18 kilometers north of Beirut, the Jeita Caves are fascinating because of their beauty and impressive stalagmites and stalactites. Waterfalls and drafts making a deafening noise gave the Grotto its name: Jeitah that means “roar”. The caves, which you can visit on foot and by boat, consist of two parts – the upper grotto and the lower grotto.
When going in winter there is a very good chance that the lower grotto is flooded and closed to the public. The upper grotto however, is still worth visiting.
There will be a lot of tours guides and taxi drivers offering to take you up to the grotto. We hired an Uber to bring us to the grotto. It was very easy and cost us about $15 each way. I would recommend taking an Uber to the grotto as most tours taking you to the Grotto also include a tour of Byblos and you might want to spend a day in Byblos rather than just an hour or 2 as part of a massive tour group.
The entrance costs just 18.000 lira (12 dollars). But if you do not have a lot of time to visit Jeitah and Byblos I would definitely recommend taking a tour.
Exploring the past of Byblos
Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Byblos coastal town, located on a sandstone cliff, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world! It is here that they discovered the oldest Phoenician inscription engraved on a sarcophagus.
Byblos really is a magical place. The cobblestones take you to the seafront where you look over little boats floating in the water. Enjoy the sun on one of the terraces with a glass of Lebanese red wine.
There are so many nice historic places to visit like the old churches and mosques. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful old fort the crusaders built in Byblos. There are numerous tours you can take from Beirut to visit this amazing little town.
Baalbek and Anjar
Although Baalbek and Anjaar lie in the Beqaa valley. All travel through the Beqaa valley is advised against as it is Hesbollah territory. However, through touristic tours it is very easy and especially safe to visit Baalbek and Anjar.
Baalbek or Heliopolis will take your breath away. These ancient temples are some of the most impressive temples I have ever seen. Especially the temple of Bacchus is worth driving 2 hours for! You ALWAYS need to go with a tour. Driving yourself is not really an option as you need to pass a lot of checkpoints and most soldiers do not speak English nor French.
Beirut by night
The nightlife in Beirut has no equal in the Middle East. The capital of Lebanon manifests an incredible thirst for life: it hosts many discotheques, nightclubs and pubs in Monnot, Verdun, Hamra, Gemmayzé and on the corniches of the seaside. It’s a party until the morning everyday over there.
Eat , eat, eat!
The gastronomy of Lebanon is varied, hearty and refined. It offers a wide range of mouth-watering and tasty dishes made from products from all parts of Lebanon.
Among the best known dishes are taboulé and fattouch, hommos, moutabbal, kebbe… the list is endless. To enjoy good food, Beirut offers a great choice of restaurants serving regional cuisine, but also European, Asian and South American.
When in Beirut you should order Shawarma from BarBar. The Shawarma from BarBar has been named the best shawarma in the world. We ordered in via the Zomato app and were not disappointed! The meat is amazing!!! Also try the Lebanese sausage platter as I loved them so much I am still looking for similar sausages in Dubai.