Lebanon has some truly amazing historical sights to discover. I’d even go as far as to say that Lebanon is home to my second favourite historical spot in the world (first is Petra, third the Roman Forum). As well as awe-inspiring history, Lebanon also boasts a range of delicious (and cheap) food, happening nightlife and wonderfully friendly, hospitable locals. Here’s the top 10 things we did during our stay in this beautiful country.
Top of the list for Lebanon and my second favourite historical site world-wide is the expansive and very well preserved Roman ruins at the outskirts of Baalbek. Historically known as Heliopolis or the ‘sun city’, the archaeological site is extensive, including three large temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. Excavated at the turn of the 20th century, the intricately carved detail on the temple walls and columns has been impressively preserved.
Not to be confused with Tripoli in Lybia, this city in Northern Lebanon also goes by the Lebanese Arabic name Ṭrāblos. There are numerous attractions to visit, including authentic Souks, Turkish baths from the Ottoman empire and a well preserved old town. The city is also famous for it’s examples of Mamluk architecture and sweet treats, with Hallab 1881 a favourite amongst locals.
3. Jeitto Grotto
Less than 20km north from the capital, these expansive upper and lower karstic limestone caves have amazingly well developed stalactites, stalagmites and columns. No photos are allowed but this makes the experience even more engaging. In the lower cave you can take a short boat ride through low hanging rock to an impressive subterranean cavern. Definitely not for the claustrophobic.
There are over 7 layers of history to explore at Byblos, as the city is believed to have been founded as early as 8800 BC and suggested to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (from at least 5000 BC). Due to it’s historical significance Byblos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth seeing with a local guide.
5. Southern coastal cities
Tyre (Sour) is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing two impressive ruins, one of which includes one of the world’s largest and best preserved Roman hippodrome– a horse/chariot racing stadium. The other archaeological site of interest is Al Mina, which contains Roman ruins of ancient columns, a rectangular theatre and a palaestra (wrestling school).
Sidon (Saidda), located halfway between Beirut and Tyre is the 3rd largest city in Lebanon. There are some interesting souks to wonder through as well as nice religious buildings to see, however undoubtedly the main attraction of the town is the Crusader era sea castle ruins.
The capital of Lebanon is fondly known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ due to the influence of past French colonial rule on Lebanon’s culture, food and language. In fact many Lebanese are tri-lingual, speaking Arabic, English and French. Beirut has much to offer people from all walks of life with a varied cafe/bar/restaurant scene, a number of significant religious buildings, monuments and treasures from past wars and cultures, and natural beauty within easy reach.
7. Bcharre – Qadisha Valley
Bcharre is situated 1500m above sea level at the top of the Qadisha valley, surrounded by countless towering mountains, making it a picture perfect location to relax. The spectacular scenery and rugged terrain are undoubtedly major attraction of this area, however the entire valley is UNESCO World Heritage listed area due to its incredible significance for Christians and the endangered but nationally beloved cedar trees.
8. Aanjar ruins
The ruins at Aanjar can be visited on the way to Baalbeck, and while they are far less extensive and well preserved than Baalbeck, they are nonetheless worth a visit. This site is also unique in Lebanon, in that there are not layers of history as at other sites, instead the ruins are solely the result of the 8th century Umayyad caliphate, the first of the Arab dynasties.
9. Harissa- Cable Car
For a few euro you can ride the 1,570m cable car to the top of Harissa for stunning views of the coast. At the top there is a large statue of Our Lady of Lebanon which is revered and worshiped by locals. There is also an amusement park for children and several restaurants.
There is an amazing amount of delicious food to be had in Lebanon, from mini meat pizzas served with lemon juice, to a plethora of divine cheeses, particularly Labneh. The hummus is amazing and can be ordered as a more filling dish with pinenuts or meat. Pickled vegetables and various salads of slightly different combinations of cucumber, tomato and mint are always on offer. For easy street style food, wraps containing all of the above fillings can be purchased from many street side vendors.
For more details on each of these locations and for further tips and advice about travelling in Lebanon, see this post.