Things to Do in Lebanon
Mentioned in the book of Genesis, the ancient port city of Sidon is known to Lebanese as Saida. Its scenic old town boasts attractive souks, historic mosques, a Crusader sea castle, a 17th-century khan (trading inn), and a fascinating soap museum. Close to town lies the Temple of Eshmun, Lebanon’s best-preserved Phoenician ruin.
Known for the enormous Casino du Liban and the Téléferique gondola lift that runs to Our Lady of Harissa above, Jounieh is a party-friendly high-rise beach town about 11 miles (18 kilometers) north of Beirut. The main attractions here are eating, clubbing, and barhopping, although the old souk has charm, and paragliding is possible.
Lebanon’s spectacular Jeita Grotto makes an exciting day trip from Beirut. Once considered as a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this dramatic cave is divided into two levels: a lower grotto and an upper grotto, which contains the White Chamber, home to the world’s largest stalactite.
Known to locals as Sour, the port city of Tyre in southern Lebanon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular vacation destination for Beirutis. Ruins here date back over 4,000 years and span the Phoenician, Roman, Crusader, and Ottoman eras—and beyond. But white sand and fresh seafood mean Tyre is not just for history buffs.
When prominent Lebanese poet, artist and philosopher Khalil Gibran died in 1931, his body was interred within the chapel of a nineteenth century monastery on the outskirts of Bsharri according to his wishes. This monastery, set into the rocky slopes on the eastern side of town, now houses a museum dedicated to Gibran.
Besides Gibran’s tomb, the museum collection includes 440 of his original paintings and drawings, as well as private manuscripts and personal belongings from his time living in New York.
Take a walk through Lebanon's cultural history on a visit to Hamra Street (Rue Hamra) in Beirut. In the 1960s and 1970s, the neighborhood served as a cultural epicenter for progressive artists and thinkers, its many art galleries and multicultural way of life representing a new era in Lebanese history. Though far more commercial present day, Hamra maintains its energetic atmosphere, and a visit to the neighborhood is highly recommended.
Thanks to a new wave of bars and restaurants and a lasting (and thriving) art scene, Hamra is still one of the most cosmopolitan neighborhoods in the city, and is frequented by tourists, locals and students from the nearby American University of Beirut.
While most of the original art galleries no longer exist, numerous new oneshave taken their place, includingArt Circle, Agial and Zaman. Theaters and music venues also call Hamra Street home, with Metro Madina, Masrah Babel and Democratic Republic of Music offering a range of cultural performances as well as a modern venue.
An essential stop for all visitors to the city, Beirut National Museum (Musée National de Beyrouth) features an impressive, well-displayed collection of archaeological artifacts from throughout the ages, offering a thorough overview of Lebanon’s history. Entry into the National Museum of Beirut is a staple of most historical Beirut walking tours.
The museum collection is displayed in chronological order, beginning in prehistory and ending in the Ottoman era. The circuit begins on the ground floor, where you’ll find various ancient statues and mosaics. The museum’s upper level features more than 1,000 artifacts from the Bronze and Iron ages, as well as from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Mamluk eras, all arranged by theme. Of its many artifacts, the Phoenician gilded bronze figurines found buried near the Obelisk Temple are probably the museum’s most famous.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lebanon’s Baalbek ruins are some of the best-preserved Greco-Roman structures in all the Middle East. The site was once a thriving Phoenician city known as Heliopolis (“Sun City”), and today, the Temple of Bacchus, Temple of Venus, and Temple of Jupiter offer visions of past glories.
Beirut’s Banque du Liban Museum (Musée de la Banque du Liban) opened in 2010 to chart the story of currency throughout history and to increase public awareness of the role of the central bank. After its establishment, the Banque du Liban (which means Bank of Lebanon and is sometimes shortened to BDL) created the nation's fourth currency.
Exhibitions within the museum display banknotes and coins dating as far back as the Phoenician era, while others highlight the current Lebanese pound as a stable monetary system. It may not sound like it, but this is a family attraction that even children can enjoy, with money puzzles and the opportunity to calculate your weight in gold. You can also design your own banknote and get your picture printed onto it.
On a 1,970-foot (600-meter) hilltop just north of Beirut overlooking the Bay of Jounieh stands a painted bronze statue of the Virgin Mary with her hands outstretched toward the city. The shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon (Notre Dame du Liban), the nation’s patron saint, was erected in 1908 and has become one of the world’s most important shrines to the Virgin Mary and attracts millions of pilgrims and visitors each year. It's also occasionally known as Our Lady of Harissa.
Getting to the base of the white statue requires 10-minute ride up the hillside from Jounieh aboard ateleferique, or cable car. The views of Beirut and the sea beyond from Harissa’s base are worth the ride in their own right.
More Things to Do in Lebanon
Prized in biblical times, the cedars of Lebanon are the remnants of an ancient forest. The Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab), a cluster close to northern Lebanon’s Qadisha Valley, is recognized with UNESCO World Heritage status. These majestic trees, a distinct species known as cedrus Libani, can live more than 1,000 years and grow to 130 feet (40 meters) tall.
On May 6, 1916 a group of Lebanese nationalists were hanged for rebelling against Turkish rule. In 1965 a bronze statue was erected in their memory in what is today called Martyrs’ Square (Place des Martyrs). Since then it has served as Lebanon’s most important public gathering places and the site of the massive March 14th demonstration in 2005, which brought 1 million Lebanese to the square on the one month anniversary of the murder of Hariri.
The 19th-century Beiteddine palace complex stands on a hill above the village of Beiteddine (also written Beit ed-Dine) in Lebanon’s Chouf Mountains. Elegant interiors, landscaped gardens with Byzantine mosaics, and architecture that fuses Arabic and Italian elements make it a national monument. It hosts a well-regarded festival each summer.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Byblos (Jbeil) has been home to a wealth of civilizations over the last 8,000 years. A historic harbor, a Crusader castle, an atmospheric medieval center, and a fascinating archaeological site add heritage charm. During summer, there’s a vibrant party scene as well as outstanding seafood eateries.
Founded in 1857, Château Ksara is one of Lebanon’s oldest wineries and an ever-popular stop on Bekaa Valley tours. Situated at around 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) above sea level, the estate has vineyards across Lebanon. Star of the show at the winery, besides the wines themselves, are the historic 1.5-mile (2-kilometer) cave cellars.
Founded in the early eighth century, at the start of the Islamic period, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anjar is a fascinating example of an Umayyad fortified city. Set in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley astride an important trading route, Anjar highlights include the remains of palaces, a mosque, and Roman-style public baths.
The rugged slopes of the Qadisha Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are home to mountain wilderness, ancient monasteries, the pretty village of Bcharré, and even the occasional hermit. Carved by the sacred river Qadisha and mentioned in the Bible, it’s also known as the Kadisha Valley, Wadi Kadisha, Ouadi Qadisha, and Kadisha Gorge.
Along Beirut’s aptly-coined 'museum mile' is a real gem of a collection, housed at the Mim Mineral Museum Beirut (Mim Musée des Minéraux Beyrouth) on the Saint Joseph University campus. Featuring local engineer Salim Edde’s private collection of more than 1,400 minerals, the museum showcases precious stones from around the world, attracting chemists, collectors and enthusiasts alike.
With a tour of the Mim Museum, you’ll see over 300 different minerals from more than 60 countries and learn about mineral formation and history from various interactive screens. The minerals are organized by room, with radioactive elements found in the main exhibit and more precious pieces like gold, silver, emerald, ruby and topaz displayed in the treasure room.
Considered to be one of the most impressive private collections of minerals in the world, the Mim makes for a great stop on a tour of Beirut museums, and is a must-do for those with even a passing interest in precious stones.
From Roman relics to rooftop bars, from elegant mosques to designer stores, from bullet-pocked ruins to glitzy restaurants, downtown Beirut (Beirut Central District) is a study in contrasts. Archaeological museums, art galleries, and Mediterranean vistas offer much, but for many the focus will remain on food, drink, and fun in this sophisticated and diverse city.
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