What to see in Lebanon: top attractions
Lebanon is a small country located on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the birthplace of the Phoenician civilization, so the main attractions are related to ancient history. Because of the peculiarities of the climate tourist season lasts all year round. From November to April, popular ski resorts: Cedar, Faraya, Lakluk, Kedars, Fakra and Zaarour, in summer – the beaches. It is safe to travel around Lebanon, so the main tourist sites of the country can be visited on their own.
Fortress of Saint Gilles
This landmark of Lebanon can be seen during a trip to Tripoli . The ruins of the medieval fortress are located in the center of the old city. The citadel is named after Count Raymond of Saint Gilles, the organizer of the First Crusade. It was he who in 1109 initiated the construction of the defensive structure.
Fortress of Saint-Gilles is built on a hill, its size is impressive: the width of the walls – about 2 meters, a height of about 20 meters. During the tour, which lasts about an hour, you can see:
- the territory above the gate;
- the gate tower;
- stable yard;
- The western and eastern walls of the fortress;
- the Lebanese army barracks;
- the prison;
- the ruins of the basin;
There is a small museum on the grounds, where you can see the Crusader coat of arms stones, an ancient grain jug, a collection of coins, and a Mameluk mortar stone.
The sea castle and the fortress of St. Luke
History lovers should see two other Crusader fortresses, which are located in the south of Lebanon, in the town of Saida . The Sea Castle is the main attraction of the town. It is located on a small island which is connected to the mainland by a causeway.
Crusaders built a defensive structure in the 13th century. For the construction of the castle they used fragments of ancient structures. The ruins of the fortress of St. Louis are on a hill in the southern part of the city.
By car from Beirut to Saida – 40 minutes
The Sea Castle is open daily to tourists, and the ruins of St. Luke’s Fortress are closed to the public. During the trip to Saida you can see other attractions in Lebanon:
- The Lebanese Soap Museum;
- Fakhr ad-Din Palace (17th century);
- Synagogue of Bab el-Saray.
The Xara Caves in Zahleh
Wine lovers should visit the Bekaa province, which is located in eastern Lebanon. In the town of Zahleh the Xara Wine House organizes tours to the caves. The natural wine vaults stretch for several kilometers. Tourists are shown how the wine is stored, told the history of winemaking, and the tour ends with a tasting.
This natural attraction of Lebanon is located in the Nahr Al Qalb Valley, 18 km from Beirut. The complex consists of upper and lower caves. The tour begins with the upper part where you go up by cable car. Tourists walk through the cascade of caves, admiring the bizarre stalagmites and stalactites.
At the bottom of the cave down on foot or by train. The second part of the tour is a boat ride around the underground lake.
There are many interesting places in Lebanon. During a trip to Tripoli you can visit Batrun and see the ancient Phoenician wall built to protect against tidal waves. In the area of Zgarta there is a rock monastery of St. Anthony, founded in the 12th century. In the city of Bayt al-Din you can visit the palace, built in the early 19th century, it is deservedly considered one of the best attractions in Lebanon.
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Lebanon is a small state located in the Middle East. This country is washed by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and shares borders with Syria and Israel. About 4 million natives live in Lebanon and 1 to 2.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, who live mostly in the border areas, as well as in the capital Beirut. A long period of military conflict has forced some 12 million Lebanese to flee their homeland and settle all over the world.
Save on travel to Lebanon!
Lebanon is often referred to as a state of contrasts. In this country, there is a great difference in the social status of people, and snow-capped mountains neighbor the warm sea. What sets Lebanon apart from most Arab states is the religious diversity and tolerance of the inhabitants towards those of other faiths. There may be a Catholic church on the street next to a mosque. And a gray, gunshot-wrecked structure can coexist with modern, newly built houses. In Beirut, some of the buildings that have been bombed are deliberately not rebuilt to remind residents and tourists of the horrors of war. Today, it is possible to find military or police officers in almost every part of Lebanon. Representatives of the security forces do their best to ensure that peace and tranquility are maintained in the country.
After the war in 2006 Lebanon is no longer considered a completely safe place for tourists, but this reputation has not affected the flow of tourists coming to the country. Many tourists hurry here to get acquainted with Arabian coloring and traditions of oriental hospitality, and absolutely all who have been in Lebanon, note the cordiality and peacefulness of locals.
The most popular among travelers is the long-suffering Beirut – a city that has been destroyed seven times and has risen from the ashes again. The second most important attraction is considered one of the oldest cities in the world – the legendary Byblos.
The Cities of Lebanon
History of Lebanon
On the land where Lebanon is today, people have appeared about 6,000 years BC. Archaeologists have found here the remains of prehistoric dwellings and tools of labor and hunting. The first Lebanese cities began to form in the 3rd millennium BC. Phoenicia, the Mediterranean state where the alphabet was invented, was born on Lebanese soil. In 332 BC Alexander the Great destroyed the largest Phoenician city of Tyre. And at the end of I century BC the Lebanese lands became part of the province of Syria, becoming part of the mighty Roman Empire.
When the period of formation of the Caliphate began in the Middle East, Islam penetrated into Lebanon. From the 16th to the early 20th century the country was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. After its collapse, Lebanon was separated from Syria and was ruled by France under the mandate of the League of Nations.
This state gained official independence in 1943, and 5 years later it took part in the first Arab war with Israel. In 1958, the first civil war broke out in Lebanon, and it was stopped, thanks to the intervention of American troops. The second civil war lasted for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990. During the bloody conflicts more than 150 thousand Lebanese were killed.
From 1976 to 2006 there were Syrian troops on Lebanese territory and twice the Israeli IDF entered the country. Since 2006 there have been no regular hostilities on Lebanese soil.
Lebanon lies in a warm Mediterranean climate zone, but its territory is covered by mountains, which affects the weather. In January, the coldest month of the year, the air on the coast warms up to +13 ° C, but in the mountainous areas there is snow and the thermometer shows below zero. The steady snow cover in the mountains holds from November to April, and during this time Lebanon attracts fans of alpine skiing and snowboarding from the Middle East. At the end of the ski season in April, people who want to get a portion of adrenaline on the slopes, and then relax in one of the seaside resorts. At this time of year the coast is warm: +25 ° C during the day and +15 ° C at night.
August is the hottest month in Lebanon. With an average temperature of +28 ° C at the sea during the daytime it is very hot – the air heats up to +35 . +40°С. Because of this, almost all modern Lebanese homes and, of course, every hotel has air conditioning. But the heating system is usually not provided, because on the coast the temperature below +10 ° C is a rarity. Even if such a cold snap comes, it lasts only a few days.
Moist air is typical for Lebanon. There is no distinct rainy season, but the greatest amount of precipitation occurs from late fall to early spring. If you travel in the country during this time, can not do without an umbrella.
On the coast of Lebanon is very sunny. There are about 300 days a year without inclement weather. This is a paradise for lovers of warm sea and sunbathing! Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea stretches well equipped and wild beaches, whose total length exceeds 200 km.
In the capital of the country’s beaches are both within and outside the city limits. In the summer on some beaches of Beirut are on duty lifeguards, and you can also rent a water scooter and relax in the coastal cafe or restaurant. However, most of the capital’s beaches are wild.
The most popular among tourists and Lebanese themselves are beaches in Junia, which is located 16 km from Beirut. The local beaches are always clean and the sea is calm, even if there are storms outside the bay. Many hotels have been built in Junia. Some of them are near the shoreline, while others are a 10-15 minute walk from the sea. And of course, during the holiday season, tourists can get any beach services.
Almost as popular are the excellent beaches of Byblos, which are only 40 minutes drive from the Lebanese capital. Importantly, Biblos, Beirut and Junia are quite tolerant of open women’s swimwear, especially on foreign tourists. In these places, even Lebanese women can afford to appear on the beach in separate swimsuits. But in the south of the country, where residents are more radical and traditional, this can cause serious problems.
Holidays in Lebanon in winter
From November to April, and in some places until May, the ski season in Lebanon comes. It attracts a lot of fans of skiing and snowboarding from all over the Middle East. This is not surprising. Lebanon is the only state in the region, where the snow lies for several months. In addition, you can get here from neighboring Arab countries quickly and cheaply, so the Lebanese hotels during the ski season is quite crowded.
Lovers of winter holidays in Lebanon takes six ski resorts. The highest of them – Cedars – is more than two hours drive from Beirut. Its equipped slopes have a total length of 120 km and are located at altitudes between 2000 and 3000 m above sea level. They are served by five elevators and are designed for both beginners and experienced skiers. Cedars was built relatively recently, in mid-2000s, so there is a well-developed infrastructure: comfortable hotels and modern equipment rental stations.
Another popular place for winter entertainment – Mzaar – is significantly inferior to Cedars in overall length of slopes. There are only 80 kilometers of slopes. But this ski center offers tourists 42 slopes equipped with 18 ski elevators. And the road from Beirut to Mzaar is shorter and takes only one hour.
Attractions in Lebanon
You can travel in Lebanon by yourself or as part of an organized group. There are no tours in Russian, but you can always join an English-speaking tour.
There is a lot to see in the capital of the country. Everyone who comes to Beirut, tries to visit the beautiful city promenade. At any time of day and in any weather this part of town is crowded. Many people come to the promenade to exercise, others to sit in the cozy cafes and restaurants.
In the heart of Beirut is the Square of the Star or Sahat al-Nejma. It truly resembles a star. From the center of the square the little streets diverge on either side. Near the tall clock tower is a popular place for tourists to take pictures and the neighborhoods around the square have long been a center of nightlife in the Lebanese capital.
Beirut’s oldest architectural monument is the Mosque of Omar. The building was erected during the Crusades. It was owned by both Christians and Muslims and the mosque has been here since 1291. To learn the history of the capital of Lebanon, it is worth checking out the National Museum of Beirut. Another interesting museum – Sursok – is located in the district of Ashrafia. It houses private collections of modern art and a rich collection of ancient books.
Of great interest to travelers is a visit to one of the oldest cities in the world – Byblos, which is located near the capital and now bears the name of Jebeil. This is a real adventure for history lovers! The city has a mighty fortress and the ruins of a Crusader castle. Here you can see a Roman amphitheater and a royal well, an ancient necropolis with sarcophagi and the ruins of Phoenician temples.
In the northern part of the country, 2,000 meters above sea level, is the largest cedar grove in Lebanon, called the Divine Cedar Forest of Horsh-Arz-er-Rab. The natural monument can be reached by cab from Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. While traveling through the country, the 9th century mountain monastery of Deir Mar Antonius Kozhaya, the temples of Bacchus, Venus and Jupiter in Baalbek, the nature park in the Qadisha Valley, the Roman Hippodrome in Tyre, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Junia and the Jeita Caves are also worth seeing.
In Lebanon, cabs are considered the most convenient means of transportation in the cities and within the country. There are a lot of cabs here, so travel at any time of day is not a problem. You should not count on the meters, especially since they are installed far from everywhere. Usually the price for the trip negotiated in advance with the driver, and it is better to do so before you get in the car. Lebanese cab drivers accept payment in both local pounds and dollars.
Catch a car on the street is not difficult, but if you want, you can call a cab and on the phone. It is also convenient that the fare in any city in Lebanon will be about the same. And in Beirut, and in the distant from the capital of the cab driver will ask the same money for the same distance. However, cab drivers charge a lot for travel between cities. Such trips are about 10 times more expensive than traveling by minibus. So, for example, a cab ride from Beirut to Byblos will cost $25, although the distance between the two cities is only 35 km.
In addition to the usual personal cab, there is a “service taxi” in Lebanon. These cars have drivers who pick up other passengers on the way. “Service taxi” are three or four times cheaper, but there is much less comfort on the road. According to a local tradition, in a five-seater car sit six passengers: two in front, next to the driver, and four in the back seat. However, if any passenger wants more comfort, he can pay a double fare.
There are no domestic flights or railroads, so buses have become the main mode of public transport here. With a well-developed road network and an equally well-developed bus service, Lebanon has no shuttle buses and no bus stations that we are accustomed to. There are spontaneous parking lots in large cities where buses from various places gather. The largest bus gathering point in the capital is under the Charles Helou highway interchange, near the port.
Most buses and minibuses do not have clearly marked routes, so you can only ask the driver where the car is going. Sometimes tourists have to stand at the highway and stop all the buses in a row to get to the right destination. The fare is traditionally given to the driver when getting off the bus. There are no fixed price tags and no tickets. Roughly, the trip at a distance of 30 km costs 2 dollars. Buses move around the country around the clock, but at night there are significantly fewer of them.
On large tourist buses in Lebanon only organized groups are transported. For independent travelers are safer large minibuses. Foreign travelers are not recommended to use the small 9-seater cars. Their drivers are often reckless and get into accidents.
If you want, you can rent a car in Lebanon. As in the rest of the civilized world, in this country there are international rights, and the cost of renting a car is determined by the class of the car. Prices start from $25 for a day.
Peculiarities of national cuisine
Traditional Lebanese cuisine is characterized by an abundance of vegetables and fish. Meat dishes, except for chicken or lamb, are rare, and there is almost no pork. Vegetables are prepared in different ways and many spices are added to them. In addition, local cuisine is full of dishes made of beans.
In Lebanon they make excellent shawarma, which is called here “shawarma. It tastes different from shawarma from Turkey because the Lebanese use special sauces for it. Roadside shawarma is large and costs $2.
There are about 400 restaurants open to the public in Beirut. They serve both Lebanese and international cuisine. The most expensive restaurants exist only in the capital, in all other places the catering looks much more modest.
Excellent Lebanese wine is known throughout the Middle East. The most popular is Château Ksara. It comes in different colors. You can taste the local wines in any restaurant.
In Beirut there are not many places where you can buy “themed” trinkets with national attributes or views of Lebanon. To buy souvenir magnets, mugs and T-shirts, you should go to the city center and visit the shopping center “Sauks. Here, in the store “Virgin Megastore”, there is the largest selection of such products, as well as books and CDs.
You can also buy souvenirs in the small shops open in the museums, and fossils for memory – in historical places. You can take them out of the country with complete peace of mind. As for the famous Lebanese cedar, there are many bans. Cedar in this Arab country is considered a sacred tree. Tourists are not allowed to take its seeds out of Lebanon. As a souvenir you can buy small cedar crafts, which, according to the sellers, are made exclusively from the broken branches.
Tips for tourists
- Despite the presence of national currency – Lebanese pounds – dollars are widely accepted in the country. You can even use them to pay in public institutions.
- Money can be exchanged at banks. There are no small currency exchange offices in Lebanon.
- You can bring dollars in cash into Lebanon or withdraw money from ATMs. There is a network of ATMs not only in Beirut, but also in small towns. They receive money in your choice of local currency or dollars.
- You can only pay with a card in large supermarkets in Beirut. In other places, only cash is accepted.
- Arabic and French are spoken in Lebanon. Most street signs are also in these two languages. A large part of the population also speaks English. Among English-speaking Lebanese, there are more young people, and older residents tend not to know this language.
- The Lebanese, like the inhabitants of all Arab countries, are very fond of bargaining. It is quite normal to haggle between the owner and seller in small stores and souvenir shops. It is customary here to haggle in cabs and with bus drivers, as well as to try to bring down the price of any service.
- Stores are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A few supermarkets are open until 10 p.m. It is very rare for a retail establishment to close for a lunch break, as a rule, during the daytime there are simply fewer salespeople. On Saturdays and Sundays, most stores are closed.
- The tap water is not suitable for drinking, it is best to use bottled water.
- Tipping for service in this Arab country is never included in the bill. If you want, you can encourage the waiter, porter or cab driver. However it is customary here not to leave money on the table – it is handed from hand to hand.
Visa and security features
Modern Lebanon is a state that has just begun the transition to a peaceful life after the great war. In the southern regions, where there are pockets of conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, gunshots can still be heard.
The border between Israel and Lebanon is now closed. If a traveler has a stamp in his passport about visiting Israel, he will not be allowed to enter Lebanon. Even if the passport is new, all tourists during border control are asked if they have been to Israel. A similar situation applies in Israel. With a stamp in your passport about a visit to Lebanon, it is impossible to enter this country.
The situation on the territory bordering Syria is not stable enough either. The central part of Lebanon, where the capital of Lebanon is located, is considered safe. Foreign tourists are not recommended to travel south of Tyre and north of Tripoli.
Inside the country, security is provided by the regular army of Lebanon, the police and members of Hezbollah. On the streets of the capital there are a lot of people with guns. Inspections of the contents of backpacks or checks on the highways are quite common. Nevertheless, the Lebanese capital is recognized as a quite safe place. Tourists are only asked to observe simple rules regarding personal safety and the safety of property while walking around Beirut. Thefts are common in districts far from the center and at night.
How to get there
Beirut is the only Lebanese airport that is accessible to civil aviation. Planes fly here from Moscow as well as from some cities in Europe and the Middle East. You can get to Lebanon by direct flights as well as with a connection.
Although the country has three major seaports, they stop only for cruise ships. In the past, Lebanon and the island of Cyprus were connected by sea ferry, but today there are no passenger services in this direction.
It is possible to get to Lebanon by land only through Syria. There are several checkpoints between the two countries on the main highways – El-Arida, El-Aboudie, Masnaa and Kah. They are well controlled, but at the moment this option cannot be considered completely safe. There is fighting in Syria, so the checkpoints are periodically closed indefinitely.