We set out for Lebanon on a sunny Monday morning from Larnaca airport. As we were boarding the Cyprus Airways flight for Beirut, the airline employee noticed that my friend had previously travelled to Northern-Cyprus twice and denied her from boarding the plane. Their excuse was that she crossed the border illegally to enter Southern-Cyprus and the Lebanese immigration would turn her back and fine the airline $2000.
We didn’t understand, how she could have entered the country illegally when she had entry and exit stamps from both trips. After I called the Lebanese Embassy in Cyprus and two other airlines that were flying to Beirut, we learned that this was just a made-up reason not to let her board the Cyprus Airways flight.
We informed the airline that they had made a mistake and we were aware of that. The airline admitted their mistake and booked us two tickets to Beirut with MEA Airline.
The conclusion of the story:If you had previously visited Northern-Cyprus, don’t try to board a Cyprus Airways flight, because you most likely won’t be allowed on the plane. Book flights of Cobalt or MEA Airlines.
Arrival to Beirut
We arrived in Beirut late at night. The passport control was quick and easy. Nobody cared about stamps from Northern-Cyprus suddenly, and we were quickly admitted to the country. The next surprise came at the airport because there was no Wi-Fi in the lobby and I was unable to call for an UBER. Luckily I met a Palestinian girl outside, who gave me a hotspot on her phone and let me order an UBER. She informed me that you have to buy a card for $5.50 for an hour Internet at the kiosk to be able to call for a taxi. She also took us to the parking lot, where the taxi arrived, so she helped us out big time! Thanks Jude!
Arriving in Beirut was a slightly bizarre experience first. Everything looked a bit run down and intimidating in the dark. The first impression was deceiving though, because the next day, we realized that it was a very friendly and modern as well as safe place.
Streets of Beirut – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
In the morning, we set out to explore the city by ourselves. We headed down to the beach to check out the famous pigeon rocks in the westernmost tip of Beirut. Then we walked back along the sea to visit the American University of Beirut. A guard with a machine gun by the entrance checked our passports and allowed us to enter the campus. From here, we walked around the Al Hamra neighborhood, where our hotel was located. It’s a lovely part of town, with lots of shops and restaurants. After some shopping, we had lunch and went to the Souk of Beirut for a free walking tour.
Pigeon Rock of Beirut – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Free Walking Tour of Beirut
I m a big fan of free walking tours, I have done them all over the World. They are not free, you do have to tip the guide, but it is a great way to learn about a country’s history and learn about the city from a local.
Modern vs Run Down Buildings Behind the I Love Beirut Sign – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
The free walking tour of Beirut was excellent. It was a bit long, (3 hours), but the guide gave us a lot of information about the history of the city. We learned that Beirut was the Switzerland of the Middle-East before the civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990. We also learned that Beirut was destroyed and rebuilt 7 times in the past and its history goes back to over 5000 years.
We saw some of the famous sites of the civil war and saw how the city was rebuilt and many beautiful modern buildings were constructed in downtown Beirut. The city was a mix of old ran down destroyed buildings and modern, glass high-rise buildings. It was fascinating. She also showed us a giant modern mosque and took us to a neighborhood that looked like the South of France, because of its beautiful French architecture. The city was full of luxury shops; the streets were clean. It felt like being in a wealthy Western-European town. We were in love with Beirut after the first day.
Moddern Mosque in the City Center – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Day Trip to Baalbek, Anjar, and Ksara
We joined the organized tour of Nakhal Tours to visit the famous Baalbek, which is situated in the Hezbollah region only half an hour away from the Syrian border. They picked us up at 7:45 and took us to the headquarters of the travel agency. The tourist bus set out at 8:30 towards the Beqaa Valley. Our guide Madeleine gave us all the historical background about the history of the country in general. We learned that Beirut meant water well and Lebanon meant white mountain. Madeleine was a fantastic guide, who spoke at least four languages and had an in-depth knowledge of the history of the sites we visited.
The first stop was at the ruins of Anjar. The place was built in the 8th century and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site today. Two main avenues ran across this ancient city. The avenues are decorated with colonnades. Visitors can see the remains of the Grand Palace, a Small Palace, a Mosque and a Roman Thermal Bath. The city of Anjar is populated by many Armenians, who sell their handicrafts and jewelry to visitors. We were introduced to some traditional Armenian silver jewelry after the visit to the site.
Ruins of Anjar in the Beeqa Valley – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Ruins of Anjar in the Beeqa Valley
From Anjar, we continued our journey towards Baalbek. We drove into the Hezbollah region, where everything was decorated with green Islamic flags. Entering this part of the country required us to go through a military checkpoint. It sounds more intimidating than it was, so don’t worry nothing will happen to you if you enter this part of Lebanon with an organized tour company. As we were approaching Baalbek, our guide told us about the three main temples of Baalbek, the temple of Venus, Bacchus and Jupiter.
Venus Temple – The Entrance of Baalbek and the Ruins of Baalbek
Once, we arrived, the first temple we noticed was the temple of Venus. Baalbek was built after Alexander the Great conquered Persia around the first century and it took 400 years to be built. The city was called Heliopolis at the time. The purpose of Baalbek was to worship Venus, Bacchus, and Jupiter. Heliopolis was an oracle and a famous pilgrimage site for the Romans. Seeing this giant overly decorated place is an amazing experience. There is so much history behind these beautiful temples.
Bacchus Temple – Baalbek
The Venus temple was fairly destroyed, but there was a photo next to it that portrayed what it looked like during the Roman times. It looked spectacular. The entrance of the temple was enormous and beautifully decorated. Upon entering the temple, we could see some of the remains of the Temple of Jupiter. After that, we explored the Temple of Bacchus, which is the best-maintained temple today. It is hard to imagine how they built these temples 2000 years, as they were so massive. These were certainly the most incredible Roman ruins, I have ever seen.
After visiting Baalbek, we stopped by a beautiful open-air restaurant and had some lovely Lebanese lunch. A wide variety of mezes were served, such as hummus, baba ganoush, cheese pie, meat pie, stuffed grape leaves, fatoush salad, followed by grilled meats and then fresh fruit as dessert. The food is delicious in Lebanon.
Lebanese Food – so Yummy!
Wine Tasting in Ksara
We continued our journey to Ksara for some wine tasting. We went on a tour, where they introduced us to winemaking and the various wines they produced. After the tour, we tasted some of the wines, the rose and the white tasted the best. We headed back to the city around 6pm so we had plenty more time to do some shopping and exploring in Beirut.
Wine Tasting in Ksara – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Day Trip to Byblos, Harissa and Jeita Grotto
We joined another tour of Nakhal Tours to visit Byblos, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the World. Nakhal Tours has terrific trips, so if you want to explore Lebanon, they have a wide variety of tours to all the famous sites. The agency has been around for 60 years and their tours are well organized and their guides are multi-lingual. They pick you up from your hotel and then drop you off.
Our tour started at 7:45 am. We hopped on the bus by the headquarters of the travel agency and after about half an hour we reached Jeita Grotto. This site was my absolute favorite it Lebanon. These are two separate karstic limestone caves, spanning the overall length of 9 km. It is considered to be one of the top 10 New Wonders of Nature. First, we discovered the upper cave, where we could walk around inside the cave. It was enormous inside. I was so impressed by it. Later, we hopped on a small train that took us to the lower cave, where we got on a boat, and they took us on a boat ride around the cave. It was a fantastic experience.
The Caves of Jeita Grotto – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
After Jeita Grotto, we visited Harissa, where we went up to the top of the mountain to visit the famous shrine of the Maronite Christians. It is called Our Lady of Lebanon. We loved the view from above. We could see the entire sea side and the town below us. After visiting the shrine, we took the cable car down to the beach, where we had a delicious Lebanese lunch. The lunch consisted of the usual Lebanese mezes and grilled meat, followed by fruits.
View from the top of Harissa – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
The last stop of our tour was in the oldest continuously inhabited city, Byblos. We learned that the three oldest continuously inhabited cities in the World are Damascus, Byblos, and Jericho. Byblos dates back to 7000 years. Today, visitors can see the Crusader Fort in the center of the ruins, the King’s Spring that supplied the city with water. There was also a Roman amphitheatre. Byblos was popular amongst celebrities before the civil war, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra were regular visitors to the city.
Ruins of Byblos – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Outside of the ruins, you can walk to the beach and enjoy the sun and the sea or you can check out the nearby bazaar and shop for souvenirs. It is a good place to get dried fruits and herbs to snack on.
We returned to Beirut around 5 pm and we had plenty of time to do some shopping and enjoy the restaurant scene. At night, the locals usually hang out at shisha bars or one of the many rooftop bars of Beirut.
Best Shisha Bar in Al Hamra: Afandina Bel Hamra on Makdessi Street
We also found our favorite bar in Al Hamra, where we enjoy some amazing smoothies. These smoothies were some of the most amazing drinks I have had. My favorite was the mixed fruit and avocado and my friend loved the avocado and mango smoothie. The locals were all smoking shisha except us. The place was decorated with colourful items on the walls, and it had bright coloured cushions. It is such a beautiful place. You must try it, when you in Beirut!
Afandina Bel Hamra – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Best Fancy Rooftop Bar – The Four Seasons Hotel
Go for a drink on the top of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Beirut to capture the best view of the city. After 6 pm it is open to the public. You can reserve a table and enjoy a cocktail with a great view of the city.
View From the Four Seasons – The Best Touristic Places in Lebanon
Our Favourite Restaurant in Al Hamra: T- Marbouta
We discovered this hidden gem just off the Main Street in Al Hamra. It is the 12th best eatery in Beirut according to Tripadvisor. It took a while to find it, as it was hidden away behind a Starbucks and there was no sign indicating that there was a restaurant there. The place had a beautiful garden and a library upstairs. The food was terrific, the portions were huge. We loved everything we ordered, but we couldn’t finish them. People around us would get together to play board games and hang out with their friends. It s a very pleasant place in the heart of the city to get a meal and to socialize.
About Safety in Lebanon
Many people warned me about going to Lebanon, because it was dangerous. I honestly don’t know where people get their information from. Perhaps FOX News? Surely, these were people, who had never visited Beirut. I just want to clarify that Beirut is a very safe place. I was wearing a mini skirt and a t-shirt the whole time. No one harassed me in any way. No one followed me around like they do in some other countries in the Middle-East. I felt absolutely safe the whole time and I would even go there alone. I felt safer than in some parts of London or in South-America. So, you should have no concerns about your safety in Beirut. The people are friendly and most of them speak English and they will help you out on every corner. It is a civilized, liberal, developed country.
I participated in the two tours at a discounted rate for the purpose of this article, however this post reflect my honest opinions and impressions of the experience.
Barbara is a London based luxury travel and lifestyle blogger. She started traveling through Paris, London, New York, Milan, Tokyo at the age of 17 to conquer the World as a model. Ever since, she has visited 67 countries. She writes about the most exclusive jet-set destinations such as Cannes, Venice Film Festivals, Monaco Grand Prix, Oscar Parties in LA, Fashion Weeks in Milan or Paris as well as yacht parties in St-Tropez, Miami Art Basel, Biennale in Venice, Frieze in London or the Royal Wedding in Monaco.