Lebanon Holiday Planning Guide
With a lengthy coastline along the Mediterranean, Lebanon has attracted its share of foreign invaders, from ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians to the medieval Crusaders and Ottoman Turks. Each of these peoples left an indelible mark on the tiny country's cultural heritage, art, religious traditions, and cuisine. Though it shares a border with troubled Syria, Lebanon remains one of the Arab world's most charming destinations. A tour of Lebanon allows travelers to discover modern seaside resorts, ancient ruins, lush nature reserves, and dynamic cities. Base your Lebanon vacation in Beirut, a cosmopolitan capital known for its cafe culture and European architecture, as well as many museums, parks, and squares.
Places to Visit in Lebanon
Regions of LebanonBekaa Governorate
: Lebanon's main agricultural region, the Bekaa Governorate tops many Lebanon itineraries simply for its numerous vineyards and delicious wines, plus a range of landmarks such as ancient Roman ruins.North Governorate
: Get outdoors on your Lebanon vacation at North Governorate's caves, valleys, lakes, centuries-old forest, and abundant olive plantations. Mount Lebanon Governorate
: A blend of sandy beaches and rocky mountains, Mount Lebanon Governorate offers relief for hot summer days, plus treks through a nature reserve and grotto in cooler weather.
Cities in LebanonBeirut
: Nicknamed the "Paris of the East," the national capital carries flavors of both East and West, with traces of Roman, Ottoman, and modern ages. Topping most Lebanon itineraries, Beirut also combines a heady culture of cafes, restaurants, and nightlife with traditional and modern shopping.Zahle
: Quench your thirst in the City of Wine and Poetry. With its numerous riverside restaurants, good food, and better drinks, Zahle represents a pleasure-seeker's heaven. Byblos
: Hugging the Mediterranean coast, this ancient town has been continuously inhabited for over 7,000 years, and rightfully recognized as a World Heritage Site. See the remains of a 12th-century castle, the medieval old town, and historic souks, then dine in the restaurant-lined harbor. Jounieh
: Tucked between the sea and the mountain, this city will give you a chance to taste international cuisine, try its bustling nightlife, go paragliding, or ride a gondola for spectacular hilltop views of the bay.Bcharre
: A must on every nature-lover's list of places to visit in Lebanon, this quaint town lies tucked among mountains, vast valleys, and UNESCO-protected cedar forests--perfect for hiking and winter sports.
Popular Lebanon Tourist AttractionsJeita Grotto
: This 9 km (5.6 m) long cave system hides two giant grottos, with protruding rock formations on all sides. Navigate the lower cave's river by boat, or stroll the walkways of the upper cave to see the world's longest hanging stalactite, measuring 8.2 m (27 ft).Zaitunay Bay
: Stroll along the seaside promenade, absorbing the relaxed atmosphere of restaurants, cafes, and shops. Get active with one of the water sports, or grab a meal or drink with a scenic view. Beirut Souks
: Splurge in one of the 200 boutiques of this modern commercial complex, which also includes street markets and an entertainment area. Temples of Baalbek
: A World Heritage Site, this temple complex contains numerous ruins, including the Temple of Bacchus, the Temple of Jupiter, and the Stone of the Pregnant Woman--one of the largest monoliths ever discovered. The structures date back to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, mixing with reconstructions made during the Mamluk dynasty. Hamra Street
: Delve into the heart of free-spirited Beirut, exploring the local historic theatres, street performers, vibrant pubs and cafes, and more along this street. Our Lady of Lebanon
: A significant pilgrimage attraction, this 8 m (26.2 ft) tall statue of the Virgin Mary attracts both Christian and Muslim visitors. The shrine also offers excellent views of the bay and the city from its mountaintop position at 650 m (2,132 ft). The Corniche
: Stretching 4.8 km (3 mi) between the Mediterranean and Mount Lebanon, this esplanade enjoys popularity with cyclists and joggers. Stroll along the walkway, absorbing the view and the aromas coming from the street vendors' food carts.National Museum of Beirut
: With its collection of statues, sarcophagi, tools, mosaics, mummies, and more, this museum takes you along a timeline that begins with the prehistoric period and extends through the Mamluk dynasty.Pigeon Rocks in Raouche
: These landmark limestone arches rise from the bay and have become the focal point of a cluster of cafes overlooking the water. Observe them as you linger over coffee, or get closer via boat during the summer season. The Crusader Castle
: Built by the Crusaders during the 12th century, this limestone castle stands surrounded by other ruins from Phoenician, Egyptian, and Roman eras. Explore the site, and climb the central tower for a better view of the area.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Lebanon
Cuisine of Lebanon
Mainly Mediterranean, Lebanese cuisine boasts a variety of fresh, flavorful dishes. Not to be missed during any meal, ubiquitous "mezze" consists of several small dishes, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, salads, cheese, and dolma, accompanied by an alcoholic beverage, such as the traditional arak. After mezze comes the main dish, which may include chicken or seafood (but rarely pork, since it's forbidden by Islam). Lebanese flat bread accompanies most meals, used for dipping. Lastly, make sure you have a taste of some Arabic sweets like baklava or maamoul, followed by a cup of dark Arabic coffee. Visit Tripoli
, aka the "Sweet Capital of Lebanon" for desserts, and don't miss out on Beirut's
markets and award-winning restaurants.
As you tour Lebanon's culinary scene, keep in mind that the Lebanese consider eating an experience. They always eat with someone, especially with family, and having a meal turns into a social event. They take time with their food, and consume it with gusto.
Shopping in Lebanon
For big shopping sprees on your Lebanon vacation, head to Beirut. All of its malls offer well-known apparel brands, as well as places where you can splurge. These glitzy shopping centers will make you feel as if strolling through Paris or Milan, with their well-equipped stores and modern design. Browse the best of Lebanon's open markets at Old Souk
and Sidon Souks
; there you can spend hours poring over antiques, trinkets, and great bargains. Products to look for on a trip to Lebanon include silver jewelry, pewter plates, hand-painted ceramics, hand-carved wood decor, textiles, carpets, and herbs such as thyme.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Lebanon
Interesting Facts About Lebanon
● Known as the "Phoenix," Beirut has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times.
● Throughout its history, Lebanon has been occupied 16 times, with rulers such as Egypt, France, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire.
● Experts consider Byblos the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.
● Lebanon encompasses 18 different religious communities, including Greek Orthodox, Druze, Protestant, as well as a small Jewish community.
Things You Should NOT Do in Lebanon
Dress modestly when visiting religious sites or rural places. This means covered shoulders, head, stomach, and legs--particularly for women. When on the beach, feel free to wear a bikini, but avoid the skimpiest models. Generally speaking, it's probably safest to show less skin on the whole during your trip to Lebanon.
Avoid photographing military checkpoints or anything army-related, as well as government buildings and officials. Their laws prohibit this, and can punish you with arrest or confiscation of your equipment.
Refrain from public displays of affection, even if you find yourself in a Christian neighborhood. LGBT travelers should take caution, too, since Lebanon considers homosexuality illegal.
When visiting a household, bring a small gift--the locals see this as a sign of gratitude and a thoughtful gesture. Also, if offered food or drink, don't refuse as that can offend the host.
Lastly, during your Lebanon vacation, avoid talking about politics or business, or any other sensitive topic.
Holidays & Festivals in Lebanon
With 18 religious groups living inside its borders, Lebanon naturally has a multitude of holidays. Stand-outs include the month-long Ramadan--the ninth month in the Islamic calendar--and the celebration that marks its end, Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice.
If your trip to Lebanon falls during Ramadan, note that the country's observation of this holiday is more relaxed than neighboring countries. Because of the diversity of communities, life during the month of Ramadan resembles the usual day-to-day, with perhaps a few businesses closed during daylight hours. And since the daily fasting ends at sunset, nightlife also continues, with bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops open far into the night. Also, the festivities--especially iftar, the evening meal--can be observed by both Muslims and Christians, due to the tolerance between the two groups.
Lebanon hosts several music festivals, including one in Byblos in July, or at the Temples of Baalbek
, where classical music, dance, and theatre performances happen throughout July and August. Beirut keeps up, too, with Beirut Nights hosting concerts from classical to modern. This festival normally takes place during the summer (June to September), but other events happen year-round. Adding a festival to your tour of Lebanon makes a great way to get a sense of the local culture.
Useful Lebanon Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Lebanon
One thing that lingers on from the days of the French mandate in Lebanon is the expression of courtesy while out and about. Whenever you enter a shop, cafe, or restaurant, make sure you say "hello" ("bonjour"), as well as "thank you" ("merci") or "goodbye" ("au revoir") when exiting. This small gesture will help you a lot, especially if you want good service--and possibly better rates in the shops.
Due to the country's specific mix of European and Arabic cultures, socializing during your trip to Lebanon can be complicated. In order to avoid causing unpleasant situations, stick to a general greeting with a handshake or an affirmative nod. If unsure whether the person you greet wants to shake hands, wait for them to initiate it. Greeting between opposite sexes usually ends up with a nod and a smile, rarely a handshake--especially among Muslims. When family members or close friends meet, they tend to do a handshake, or possibly a hug, accompanied by three kisses.
Climate of Lebanon
Characterized by a Mediterranean climate, Lebanon has long, hot, and humid summers (June through September) along the coast, while the mountainous parts enjoy cooler air during these months. Rainfall happens throughout the country, but in sudden bursts, and mostly between December and March. This period makes a good time for skiing and winter sports in the mountains, which experience occasional snowfall. January sees the coldest temperatures, hovering between 5-10 C (41-50 F), while August takes the spotlight as the hottest of the year, with temperatures going as high as 38 C (100 F). Sometimes--during the hotter months--a dry, hot, wind sirocco can blow, often causing sandstorms that bring dust from the Sahara. This wind can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a two-day period.
The best time for sightseeing in Lebanon are spring (April-May) and fall (October-November), when mild temperatures are average--between 20 and 25 C (68 and 77 F).
Transportation in Lebanon
If you want to visit locations on different sides of the country, you'll have to plan your Lebanon itinerary very carefully. The country has neither an active railroad system, nor domestic flights. You can get to Lebanon by flying to Beirut International Airport, and from there go by car, bus, or taxi. Getting around cities is best done by taxis, which have reasonably affordable rates--share with other passengers for an even more economical option. Buses have irregular schedules, so renting a car represents the best option if you want to move freely, or travel from city to city.
Tipping in Lebanon
Tipping is a widespread practice across the country. Hotel staff, valets, porters, and similar personnel expect a tip in the form of small change. At restaurants and cafes, 10-15 percent of the bill is the norm; however, check the receipt before adding on, since some places automatically include the service charge.