For those who are going to travel the Pearl of the Middle East, I’m sharing my one-week Lebanon itinerary to help you plan your own journey.
Lebanon: a name that many still associate with war and the Hezbollah even after 20 years the civil war has ended.
Lebanon used to be a tormented land – and in some parts it still is – but it is relatively safe to visit these days. Those adventurous enough to travel Lebanon will be rewarded with food for thought and a feast for the senses and the stomach.
The country is truly blessed with magnificent mountain vistas, impressive ancient ruins and authentic, hospitable people. The warm and welcoming Lebanese people are always willing to chat with you about their country’s culture and politics. Despite the war that tormented this country, the Lebanese will not let political problems overshadow their pursuit of happiness.
Table of Contents
- My One -Week Lebanon Itinerary
- A Detailed Lebanon Itinerary
- DAY 1: INTRODUCTION TO BEIRUT
- DAY 2: GETTING TO KNOW DIFFERENT BEIRUT DISTRICTS
- DAY 3: DAY TRIPS FROM BEIRUT
- DAY 4: VISIT THE BAALBEK RUINS
- DAY 5: HEAD TO TRIPOLI
- DAY 6: CONTINUE TO QADISHA VALLEY
- DAY 7: EXPLORE SOUTHERN LEBANON
My One -Week Lebanon Itinerary
Is It Safe to Travel Lebanon?
First, let’s discuss if it’s safe to travel Lebanon. I traveled Lebanon with another female friend in October 2017 and we didn’t feel any danger at all during our entire trip. While we did see quite a lot of military presence in Tripoli and Beirut and also plenty of bullet-marked buildings everywhere, there weren’t any other signs of instability or potential danger at the time of our travel.
Most parts of Lebanon are safe to visit these days. But some parts of Lebanon should be avoided, including the eastern parts close to the Syrian border and the southern areas on the Palestinian border due to the spillover from the war with Syria and the conflict with Israel.
Despite a few incidents, Beirut and nearby areas as well as many other parts of the country are still reasonably safe and the chances to be caught up in anything are very remote. South Beirut, Baalbek, Sidon, Beqaa valley have also suffered sporadic clashes and/or security incidents but these are occasional events that don’t happen often.
A Detailed Lebanon Itinerary
Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in the Middle East, so you can easily see a lot of it in just one week. Before the trip, I was worried if we would be able to see the country in just one week, but needless to say, I had nothing to worry about. If you want to see things at a more leisurely pace, I would recommend 10 days. I hope that sharing my one-week itinerary in Lebanon will help you figure out your own.
Note that many cities in Lebanon have Westernised names which are significantly different from their Arabic names; the Arabic names are given in parentheses below. Be sure to use the Arabic names when talking to taxi drivers and other locals.
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION TO BEIRUT
Our journey started in the capital Beirut. As Lebanon is so small and distances short, we chose to base ourselves in Beirut for our trip (except for a night’s stay in Tripoli) and took day trips from Beirut. Beirut is famous for its nightlife and great restaurants, so my best friend Melinda and I wanted to spend our evenings hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere.
Once known as the Paris of the Middle East, Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut is the most liberal city in the region. The vibrant city is home to great restaurants, hotels and nightlife. Even though the impact of the devastating war can still be felt today, there’s a sense of joie de vivre in this city.
Explore Downtown Beirut
We began our exploration in Downtown Beirut, the historical and geographical core. This was also the frontline of the Lebanese Civil War and suffered the most devastation of all of Beirut. It underwent a thorough reconstruction plan in 1994 and a Lebanese company, Solidere, transformed it into a modern hub filled with high-end boutiques and restaurants. This project was hugely controversial as original inhabitants were forcefully removed from homes and the restoration work was criticised as inauthentic and artificial.
National Museum of Beirut
Learn About the War at Beit Beirut
Then we headed to the National Museum of Beirut, located on the former Green Line. Its impressive, magnificently displayed collection of archaeological artefacts offers a great overview of Lebanon’s history and the civilisations that impacted this cultural crossroads. On the way there, we stumbled upon an impressive art exhibition housed in one of Beirut’s most iconic war-torn buildings, Beit Beirut. The crumbling, bullet-marked Beit Beirut building is a somber reminder of what happened here, and Healing Lebanon aims to promote peace through art work.
Beit Beirut building
Stroll Along the Corniche
In the evening, we went on a long sunset walk along the Corniche, the seafront promenade that fringes the entire northwestern part of Beirut. The 4.8km promenade is a great place for people watching as families, joggers and bikers often convene here in the evenings. There are also lots of beach bars here that overlook the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. We found a cute little grocery shop with high stools that offered the same view as pricey and touristy Bay Rock Cafe.
View of the Pigeon Rocks from the Corniche
Stay at: Le Gray Beirut
For our first two nights, we stayed at Le Gray Beirut, one of the best hotels in Beirut. The five-star hotel has a spectacular rooftop pool that overlooks Downtown Beirut as well as parts of the Mediterranean Sea. We loved our spacious Executive Suite, that had a comfortable sitting area for lounging, and a small balcony that opened up to stunning views of the Mohammed Al-Amir Mosque. Breakfast is served on the rooftop Indigo on the Roof restaurant, which also offers a great dinner menu at night with views of the city before you (Don’t miss the signature beef wellington!).
DAY 2: GETTING TO KNOW DIFFERENT BEIRUT DISTRICTS
Go on An Alternative Beirut Walking Tour
The next day, we signed up for a walking tour with Alternative Beirut to explore other parts of the city with a local. Beyond Downtown Beirut, there are plenty of lively, vibrant neighbourhoods in Beirut that are worth a visit.
We started in Gemmayzeh, a neighbourhood in East Beirut that’s popular with the younger crowd. Centered around Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh is an enchanting area to enjoy a coffee or lunch or to stroll around along its authentic, traditional houses with mediterranean facades. At night, the many bars and restaurants – ranging from trendy and expensive to laid-back and affordable – are swamped with locals.
Then our guide led us through Achrafieh, a district that shows a different history of Beirut. It used to be farmland owned by several powerful Beirut families. The street is home to the Sursock House, a museum that holds regular modern art shows, and Sassine Square, one of oldest in the city. New buildings have sprung up in the area, despite the efforts of groups trying to preserve its history.
Antique street in Gemmayzeh
Wander Around Hamra
Lastly, we found ourselves in Hamra, known as the Champs Elysees of Beirut. Because of all the historical cafes and theaters, Hamra was once the intellectual center of Beirut. While that has lessened, the district still has a cosmopolitan vibe, and is definitely the place to hang out for people interested in culture. The atmosphere is a liberal haven in the middle of a country torn by political difference. Today, it is full of pubs and coffee shops that welcome people of all sorts, and still stands as a testament to Beirut’s rich cultural history.
One of the many crumbling buildings in Beirut
DAY 3: DAY TRIPS FROM BEIRUT
Visit the Caves of Jeita Grotto
At just 18km from Beirut, Jeita Grotto and Mount Harissa make for an excellent day trip from the ctiy. We booked a car from our hotel (for around US$60) that brought us to both of the destinations and back. You can actually take public transport to Jeita Grotto but you’ll have to walk quite a distance and there isn’t any connecting transport to Harissa.
Jeita Grotto is a surprisingly impressive network of interconnected karst limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres (5.6 mi). It’s named one of top 14 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition. Though inhabited in prehistoric times, the lower cave was not rediscovered until 1836 by Reverend William Thomson.
It can only be visited by boat since it channels an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to more than a million Lebanese. The upper galleries house the world’s largest known stalactite. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the caves.
Take A Cable Car to Mount Harissa
From Jeita Grotto, it’s just a short ride to Mount Harissa, an important Lebanese pilgrimage site, Our Lady of Lebanon. It’s one of the most important shrines in the world honoring the Virgin Mary and the shrine is highlighted by a huge, 15-ton bronze statue of the Immaculate Conception. The view from the top of the statue is impressive and definitely worth the visit. You can get there from the coastal city of Jounieh either by road or by a nine-minute journey by a gondola lift, known as the Téléphérique.
The view from Harissa
Stay at: 35 Rooms
For the next two nights, we stayed in the Hamra district of Beirut as there was plenty to do after our day trips. 35 Rooms is affordable and well-located, just a block away from the main Hamra Street that’s flanked with shops, restaurants and bars. We could easily walk to the bars and flag down taxis right from our door step. Their service was really good; and they booked us affordable airport transfers as well as transport for the day. Check for the latest rates here.
If you prefer to stay outside of Beirut to experience other parts of Lebanon, I recommend staying in Jounieh, the closest city to Mount Harissa. Jounieh is said to have an even better nightlife than Beirut. Veer Boutique Hotel & Resort is a modern five-star hotel right on the sea, with a private beach and a massive swimming pool as well as spacious and stylish suites overlooking the sea.
DAY 4: VISIT THE BAALBEK RUINS
Take Another Day Trip to Baalbek
Next on our Lebanon itinerary is Baalbek, the most spectacular archaeological site in Lebanon. To get there, we took an Uber to the cola intersection and hopped onto a mini-van towards Baalbek. Mini-vans or buses are the best way to get around Lebanon; you’ll need to wait for the mini-van to fill up before you can leave but it usually doesn’t take too long. The journey from Beirut to Baalbek takes two hours each way and costs around LL6,000 ($4) per person.
Baalbek Roman Ruins is a site of great ancient temples built by the Phoenicians, the Romans, and other civilisations that have conquered the region. With its colossal structures, Baalbek is one of the finest examples of Imperial Roman architecture that I’ve seen, almost rivalling those in Rome and Athens. Some of the most impressive temples here are the ones of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, and Jupiter, the Roman god of light, of the sky and weather.
The historical site is located just 75km from Damascus, Syria, and is considered a stronghold of the Hezbollah movement so some books might warn you against visiting. I found the site very peaceful and quiet and didn’t feel any danger at all during my visit. As always, it’s best to keep yourself updated of the latest happenings.
Stay at: Palmyra Hotel
There are very few hotels in Baalbek, but if you do want to stay here, then definitely make it Palmyra Hotel. It’s an institution with remarkable history — the iconic hotel almost makes it worthwhile to stay overnight at Baalbek. The heritage hotel gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of Lebanon back in the day and you’ll feel like you’re being transported back in time.
Lebanon’s best archaeological site, Baalbek
DAY 5: HEAD TO TRIPOLI
Stop Over at Byblos
Next up on this Lebanon itinerary is the second biggest city in Lebanon, Tripoli. As the fishing town of Byblos was along the way, we decided to stop for a few hours to take a look around. Again we took a mini-van from the Cola intersection (LL1500), and we were dropped off on the highway, which was a 15-minute walk into town.
Byblos (Arabic name: Jbail) is a charming historical coastal city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Byblos is built upon multiple layers of ruins, dating back to as early as the Stone Age and extending to the more recent Ottoman days. Besides the layers of history behind it, it’s also a picturesque Mediterranean seaside town with beautiful cobblestone alleys and seafood restaurants that make for a relaxing visit.
Byblos has a charming old town
Wander the Old Town of Tripoli
Not to be confused with the other ‘Tripoli’ in Libya, Lebanon’s Tripoli (Arabic name: Trablous) is the second-largest city in the country and is famous for its Crusader- and Ottoman-era architecture. Located in northern Lebanon close to the Syrian border, Tripoli has a far more Middle Eastern feel to it, with its labyrinth-like souks, teahouses, sweet shops and mosques. In comparison to Beirut, this city gives a more authentic Lebanese experience than Beirut does.
Tal is the old center of Tripoli, where most cosmopolitan activities happened in the 20th century. It is home to the city’s famous clock tower and old hotels. Walk through this busy street and marvel at all the hustle and bustle that takes place in the area. The most interesting site in old Tripoli is the Citadel, a Crusader fortress originally built atop the town during the period from 1103 to 1104. It’s partly used as a barracks, so don’t be surprised to find soldiers and tanks around it.
Tripoli’s souks are massive
Stay at: Via Mina Hotel
Strangely there isn’t any affordable and pleasant hotel in Tripoli itself, so I recommend staying in El Mina, close to Tripoli (a taxi costs just US$3-5 each way) and next to the sea. It’s a pleasant area to stay in, with lots of seafood restaurants and kebab shops lined along the Corniche. Via Mina Hotel is the best hotel in the area, with comfortable and stylish rooms housed within a beautiful Mediterranean-style house. There’s even a swimming pool and a lush garden.
DAY 6: CONTINUE TO QADISHA VALLEY
Soak up Coastal Vibes at Al Mina
We spent the morning exploring Al Mina — although it’s an independent coastal city, it feels more like a neighbourhood in Tripoli. Al Mina is actually a port city with a rich history and a municipality that dates back to the 19th century. The Greeks first inhabited the city, then the Turkish came, followed by the Syrians. The people of Mina (Minawiyeh) have their own accent which is totally different as other accents in Lebanon.
Al Mina is known for its historic hotels and homes, but you’ll need to get lost within its narrow alleyways to find them. The beach is really nothing to rave about, with heaps of rubbish strewn all over the sea front. I found the Corniche in Al Mina to be far more interesting: lots of locals hang out all the seafront promenade to enjoy sunset, have drinks and snacks at the kiosks that litter the sidewalk. It’s definitely a good place to people-watch and to get a sense of the local environment.
Go for a Hike in Qadisha Valley
From Al Mina, we headed to Tripoli to catch a shared taxi to the Qadisha Valley, home to the legendary Cedars of God, the most highly prized building materials of the ancient world. This valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its importance as the site of some of the earliest Christian monastic settlements in the world, and its continued example of early Christian faith.
The drive there was really scenic and we wished we had a car to drive and hike all over the valley. Instead, we only managed to visit Bsharri, the biggest town in Qadisha, and just took a short walk around the area.
The UNESCO site of Qadisha Valley
Stay at: Riviera Hotel Beirut
For our last two days in Beirut, we stayed in Hamra once again, but we really should have booked a hotel near the Corniche instead. The seafront is lined with nice hotels and it would have been nice to splurge on a luxury hotel after a busy trip like that. We walked past the pool and bar of Riviera Hotel Beirut and wish we’d stayed there for our last night. The pool area is right next to the sea, and lined with beautiful daybeds and lounge chairs. It’s also surprisingly affordable considering it’s a 5-star hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and rooms are ultra luxurious.
DAY 7: EXPLORE SOUTHERN LEBANON
Get Lost in the Souks of Sidon
On our last day of our Lebanon itinerary, we headed south for the first time (the previous day trips were all in the north or east of Beirut) along the coast to two historical cities. Again, buses depart from the Cola intersection and cost around LL 4000 for the one-hour journey to Sidon.
Sidon (Arabic name: Saida) is Lebanon’s third largest city and is most famous for its sea castle. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise and I really wished we had spent the day here rather than going further down to Tyre. In July 2013, Sidon was the scene of a two-day battle between Sunni militants and the Lebanese Army which left over 50 people dead. Although Sidon is for now calm and safe to visit, be sure to keep up with the news if you decide to visit.
This coastal town was once a rich and flourishing Phoenician city, with tight trade links to ancient Egypt. Today it’s best known for its fresh fruit, pastries and sweets, which can be sampled at their awesome souk. Just across the road from the souk is the Sidon Sea Castle, which was built by the crusaders in the thirteenth century as a fortress of the holy land — another must-see when in Lebanon.
Views from the top of the Sidon Sea Castle
Enjoy Seafood in Tyre
Further south, just 26km (16 miles) from the closed Palestinian border is Tyre (Arabic name: Sur), another ancient Phoenician city and home to one of the nation’s major ports. We had a nice stroll on the seafront and meandered our way through the colourful residential area before finding ourselves at a historical site.
The city has a number of ancient sites, including its Roman Hippodrome which was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. Its beaches are also some of the most popular places to go for both tourists and locals alike in summer.
The lazy fishing town of Tyre (Sur)
Roman ruins in Tyre
Stay at: Al Qualaa Boutique Hotel
We had to head back to Beirut for our flight that evening, but I would recommend staying in Sidon if you have the chance. It’s an interesting city with lots to explore and discover, so an overnight stay would do more justice. Al Qualaa Boutique Hotel is a charming heritage hotel perched above the souk and overlooks the beautiful Sidon Sea Castle. You’ll find restaurants right at your doorstep and lots of spice shops and pastry shops just steps away. I particularly love the old stone walls and Ottoman decor and furnishing.
Are you planning a trip to Lebanon? Leave a comment below if you have any questions!