Ultimate Lebanon Travel Guide 2022

How to Visit Lebanon and Stay Safe During the Crisis

Ultimate Lebanon Travel Guide 2022

Last Updated: 11 Jun 2022.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know for visiting Lebanon in 2022, updated regularly with the latest pandemic travel restrictions and for changes caused by Lebanon’s current crises.  I have lived in Lebanon for the past two years (narrowly surviving the 2020 port explosion) and have visited almost every inch of this beautiful and crazy country.

Lebanon was a beautiful country with vibrant cities and beautiful ancient historic sites before the multiple crises that began in 2019.  And actually, it still is.  With a bit of planning, it’s still possible to have an amazing trip here, despite the political crisis, economic crisis, electricity shortages, frequent protests and the after effects of the port explosion.

The huge rectangular temple of Bacchus

The 2,200 year old Roman temple of Bacchus, the wine god, in Baalbek.

 

Places to Visit

One of the best things about Lebanon is that almost any area can be visited as a day trip from Beirut.  You can choose to do the below as a series of day trips or stay overnight in different cities as you travel.  Staying overnight reduces the time spent travelling, but also means you have to take everything with you as you travel.

Beirut

 In my opinion, the real must see place in Beirut are the Raouche (Pigeon) rocks, which are a beautiful place to watch the sunset.  If you’re feeling adventurous, take the path down the cliff from the viewing point next to the Bay Rock Cafe (opposite Starbucks) and sit on the rocks opposite Raouche.  From there, not only do you get a beautiful view of the rocks themselves, but also of the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s a great place to enjoy a couple of beers or a bottle of wine.  

Raouche and the nearby viewpoint

The best place to view Pigeon Rocks (left, with people gathered). Also a great location to take a bottle of wine for a romantic sunset date.

One of the joys of Beirut is just strolling through its vibrant neighbourhoods.  I particularly recommend Hamra, which is an interesting mix of old and new, with boutique shops, bars and restaurants.  Gemayze and Mar Mikhael, the main bar district, are also gradually coming back to life after the port explosion destroyed them in 2020.  Zaytuna Bay is a chance to see the more upmarket side of Beirut.

The centre of the Beirut Souks area has been cordoned off by the military due to protests, including the iconic clock tower in Place de L’Etoile and the Roman baths, and the Mohammad AlAmin Mosque is also closed.  Until recently, it was still possible to enter the ‘egg,’ an abandoned cinema building purportedly left to remind people of the atrocities of the civil war (it’s full of bullet holes), but unfortunately the authorities have now built a fence around it to keep people out.  The National Museum of Beirut reopened to tourists in summer 2021, but currently only has power in the morning from 10am until 2pm. 

The Beirut ‘egg’ (abandoned cinema) and the main mosque.

The Jeita Grottoes & Byblos

The Jeita Grottoes, located slightly to the north of Beirut, are spectacular and conveniently located not far from the coastal highway up to Byblos, making the two a convenient day trip.  You can also choose to stay overnight in Byblos before heading further up north.

At the Jeita Grottoes, you have to leave your phone in a little locker near the entrance, as they don’t allow photographs.  It doesn’t look very secure, but I’ve never heard of anyone having problems.  

The main attraction of Byblos is wandering the beautiful historic centre, with its ancient Mediterranean architecture, beautiful flowers growing up the walls and in some cases across nets over the streets and cute boutiques, bars and restaurants.  There’s also an ancient citadel that’s worth checking out and the picturesque little harbour.  

If you’re looking for something a little adventurous, walk along the right hand wall of the harbour (as you’re facing out to sea) until you reach the ancient tower at the harbour entrance.  From here, with a bit of care, you can climb up to the top of the tower for amazing sunset views, often without any other people.  

If the beach is more your thing, slightly north of the harbour you’ll find a pebble beach that’s great for swimming in the summer (approximately May to October).  Finally, Byblos is home to Fenicia restaurant, in my opinion one of the best restaurants in the whole of Lebanon.  

The waterfront of Byblos lit up at night

Byblos harbour is beautiful day and night.

Batroun

A pretty seaside town in the north of Lebanon, Batroun is nice for an afternoon to wander it’s old town, which is basically a less touristy version of Byblos.  In the Batroun area there are several off-the-beaten-track places that are worth checking out if you have time:

  • The Msailha fort, just up the main highway from the city, is small but impressive, standing alone on a huge rock (it’s also free to enter).  The location is here on Google Maps.
  • The Rock of Hamat, a giant rock painted in the colours of the Lebanese flag, on the edge of the old cliffside road from Batroun to Chekka.  The location is here on Google Maps.
  • The cliffside walk though the old road tunnel to the north of the cliffside road from Batroun to Chekka.  Go to coordinates 34.311459, 35.681865 (here on Google Maps) and then take the footpath on the left hand side of the road before the current tunnel entrance.
  • For the more adventurous travellers, the disused railway tunnel.  To reach the entrance, after the current road tunnel walk about 100m then go down the footpath on the left hand side of the road.  Two thirds of the way down, there’s a little bank on the left that you can scramble up (about 2-3m).  The entrance to the tunnel is at the top of this bank.
Mseilha Fort, perched on a rock with green hills and blue skies in the background.

The spectacular Mseilha Fort, just outside of Batroun.

Tripoli

Much of the time, Lebanon doesn’t feel like the Middle East.  There are no deserts, no camels (apart from a couple in Chouf that were imported from Saudi just to entertain tourists) and many of the main cities, including Beirut, Byblos and Batroun, have more of a Mediterranean feel than a Middle Eastern feel.  And then you reach Tripoli.  Check out the old souk (market) and the citadel.  The souk seems to close around sunset at the moment, possibly due to a lack of power after dark.  

Tripoli’s Corniche is, in my opinion, not as nice as Beirut’s, but Al Mina, the old town, is quaint and has several nice restaurants, including The Sailor Woman, my favourite seafood restaurant in Lebanon.  If you have plenty of time, you can also catch a boat from the Corniche to Palm Island, which has the biggest sandy beach in the north of Lebanon.  It’s a nice place to chill out and swim in the sea.  

Me and a group of friends in swimwear on the beach on Rabbit Island.

Beach Day on Rabbit Island with a group of crazy Couchsurfers.

Anjar & Baalbek

The Roman ruins at Baalbek are some of the most spectacular in the world, especially the enormous temple of Bacchus, the wind God (gotta love Roman priorities).  That’s why you should visit Anjar first!  Anjar is beautiful and spectacular, but after Baalbek, it will seem small and insignificant in comparison.  Don’t forget to try sfeeha, the local delicacy, while you’re in Baalbek.  Baalbek is also home to the Sayyida Khawla shrine, one of the most beautiful and historic Shia shrines in Lebanon.

The ornately decorate tomb inside the Sayyida Khawla shrine.

Local believe that Khawla, daughter of Imam al-Husayn, is buried in this tomb, although historians aren’t sure that Imam al-Husayn even had a daughter.

Baalbek has a bad reputation for safety, but this generally refers to other parts of Baalbek governorate, not Baalbek city.  If you’re concerned about safety, just don’t go north of the city (and definitely keep away from Arsel, which has a justifiably rough reputation).

 

Saida & Mleeta

Saida has probably the most beautiful souk (market) in the whole of Lebanon, full of ancient stone archways and local people hawking traditional wares (and delicious Arab sweets).  There’s also the small but worth-a-visit Dabane Palace Museum, a soap museum and the Hammam el-Sheikh traditional bathhouse.  The seafort on the waterfront is also worth a visit (although more spectacular from the outside than inside).  If you want a beer, go to Resthouse, a restaurant next to the seafort that is the only place in Saida allowed to sell alcohol.  Its garden is also a great place to take photos of the seafort.

Mleeta is a tiny village in the mountains that is home to probably the most well-maintained museum in Lebanon – The Hezbollah Museum.  Here, a free English-speaking guide will take you around and tell you about the various wars against Israel and Hezbollah’s role in protecting and driving out the enemy.  Whatever your political views, the museum is very well done and worth a visit.  It’s located about a 40-minute drive up into the mountains above Saida.

A stone castle stands in the sea with a stone walkway leading to it.

The Saida seafort – a castle in the sea.

Tyre

One of the oldest cities in the world, Tyre is home to an ancient Roman Hippodrome.  The site itself is a bit rundown now, but the ruins are still impressive.  There’s also a pretty little old town with less tourists than other cities in Lebanon and a colourful harbour full of fishing boats.  The restaurants next to it are worth checking out for some fresh seafood too.  To the south of the city is Lebanon’s longest sandy beach.  This was affected by the oil spill off Israel early in 2021, but is now clean again and safe for swimming.  

A harbour full of little fishing boats with colourful buildings in the background.

Tyre’s colourful harbour – a great place to eat fresh seafood.

The Northern Mountains

There are many beautiful places to visit in the northern mountains of Lebanon, aside from just the pleasure of driving through the local villages and the often breathtaking scenery.  The three I would recommend for visitors are:

  • The 2,000 year old olive trees in Bchaleeh, which are supposedly the oldest in the world.  Local legends say that the olive branch from the story of Noah’s Ark came from one of these trees, but you can make up your own mind.   The location is clearly marked on Google Maps.
  • The viewpoint at Aqoura.  Climb the rocky hill opposite the church for spectacular 360 degree views).   The start point is at Saydat Al Qarn church (here on Google Maps).
  • The Batarra Waterfall.  This 255m (837 ft) waterfall, which passes through several layers of Jurassic limestone rock, is definitely the most beautiful in Lebanon.  It’s best visited in the spring when there is plenty of meltwater.  I went in early August once and there was no water at all.
  • The Cedars of God.  At possibly 2,500 years old, the Cedars of God are some of the oldest cedar trees in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site to boot.

You will need a car to reach these locations, or you could try hitchhiking.  

A waterfall disappearing through three tiers of limestone

The 255m Batarra waterfall. Try throwing a stone down into the chasm below and see how long it takes before you near it hit the bottom.

 

The Chouf Region

Home to the majority of the Druze population of Lebanon, the Chouf region also contains the country’s largest remaining cedar forests at the Chouf Biosphere Reserve.  This is a great place to do some hiking with trails from 5 minutes to a full day.  

The region also contains the Bettadine palace, which was built by the Ottomans, and the Moussa Palace, which was built over several decades by a crazy Lebanese man who wanted his own palace.  The latter contains a vast collection of ancient weapons and some very well done scenes from traditional Lebanese life, created with models animated in various ways.  I love the concept that the guy just suddenly decided to build himself a palace!

Three mannequins in traditional clothing sit around an old-fashioned table.

A traditional Lebanese scene in the Moussa Palace museum.

Jounieh

The Christian city of Jounieh used to be where Arabs from stricter countries in the Middle East went to party and unwind, as evidenced by the strip of hotels on the coast that look like they’ve seen better days.  Even now, the city is still home to Lebanon’s only casino, Casino du Liban, and a bunch of ‘super night clubs’ – basically stripclubs.

For tourists not looking for such things, the main attraction is Harissa, the hill behind the city with a statue of Our Lady of Lebanon on the top.  There is also a very nice (but steep) hike up from the city below through the dense forest with occasional views across the bay.  The start of the path is at coordinates 33.997710, 35.650976 (here on Google Maps).  Recommended for sunset.  

Hermel and Akkar

The far north of Lebanon is known as one of its most dangerous areas, but most reports are highly exaggerated.  The main attraction here is the 2,500 year-old Pyramid of Hermel, which I visited in 2021.  Even now, no one’s quite sure who built it!  Worth a visit if you have the time, but its location in one of the most remote parts of the country means that it won’t fit many peoples’ itineraries.  

Me and a friend in front of the Pyramid of Hermel

Nobody is sure why the Pyramid of Hermel was built.

 

The Far South (UNIFIL-Controlled Area)

The far south of Lebanon is interesting, becuase you can drive along beside the border wall with Israel, which is covered in security cameras and, in some places, graffiti similar to that seen in the Palestinian territories.  The coast at Naqoura also have the cleanest waters in Lebanon for swimming, thanks to the low population density and proximity to Israel, which has better sewage treatment facilities than Lebanon.  

The downside is that this area is under control of the UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) and foreigners need a permit to enter it.  See below the section on Entering the UNIFIL-Controlled Area for details of how to obtain the permit.  

Jezzine

This picturesque little village in the mountains near Saida is often overlooked by travellers, which is a pity, as it boasts one of Lebanon’s most spectacular waterfalls.  For hikers, the village is surrounded by Lebanon’s largest pine forest.  For those who want something darker, there’re also some interesting abandoned buildings leftover from Lebanon’s war of resistance against Israel to explore.  Read more in my dedicated Jezzine guide here.

Me, standing on a sea wall with the blue Mediterranean in the background.

The sea wall south of Naqoura

 

Suggested Itineraries

Pick and choose where to visit from the places above.  However, my suggestions are as follows:

Two-day Trip: Beirut – Jeita Grottoes & Byblos.  This is way too short, but spend one day wandering Beirut, watch the sunset at Raouche in the evening and then head to the Jeita Grottoes and Byblos on day 2.

Four-day Trip: Beirut – Jeita Grottoes & Byblos – Saida & Mleeta – Anjar & Baalbek.   Best to base yourself in Beirut for this itinerary, which covers the major highlights of the country.  

One-week (7 day) Trip: Beirut – Jeita Grottoes & Byblos – Tripoli – The Northern Mountains – Saida & Mleeta – The Southern Mountains – Anjar & Baalbek. This itinerary includes most of the highlights of the country with a variety of cities, ancient ruins and nature.

Two-week (14 day) Trip or Longer: Beirut – Jeita Grottoes – Jounieh – Byblos – Batroun – Tripoli – The Northern Mountains – Anjar & Baalbek – Saida & Mleeta – Jezzine – The Southern Mountains – Tyre.  You could easily spend more than a day in many of the places listed here, making the trip more relaxing and enjoyable.  Alternatively, add in some hiking or visit some random villages in the mountains, many of which are beautiful.  

Me, standing in front of the Rock of Hamat, which has been painted in the colours of the Lebanese flag.

If you have the time, check out the Rock of Hamat near Batroun for a very Instagrammable pic.

 

Hiking

I had no idea until I moved to Lebanon, but the country has some amazing hikes.  My personal favourites are the following:

  • Qornet As Sawda (Black Peak) – The highest mountain in not only Lebanon, but the entire Levant region, and 5th highest in the Middle East, at 3,088m.  The landscape is like nothing else in the country, as barren as the moon.  It gets very cold near the top and is covered in snow from around November to May, so it’s best to avoid these times.  The hike starts from the Cedars ski resort near the Cedars of God and the first two hours follow the ski lifts.  The total hiking time is about 8 hours and it’s long, but not difficult.  
  • The Chouf Biosphere Reserve – The largest cedar forests in Lebanon make for some beautiful hiking.  The reserve is clearly marked on Google Maps and is suitable for short or long hikes.
  • The Qadisha Valley – Possibly the most beautiful place in the whole of Lebanon, a Colombian monk lives in a tiny monastery perched high on a cliff above the valley.  The path to the monastery is narrow with beautiful views and not particularly difficult, although the monk himself has stopped meeting visitors recently, due to the risk of Covid, as he is very old.
  • Jabel Moussa Biosphere Reserve – There are many hikes here, from short 3-5km jaunts to 20km marathons and over steep mountain paths.  The highlight is Chouwen lake, which is a beautiful turquoise blue.  It’s also possible to swim in it during the summer.  
  • Bkassine Pine Forest – The largest pine forest in Lebanon is riddled with beautiful hiking trails.  Check out my Jezzine guide for details.
Me, standing on a barren landscape of brown dirt

The moonscape of Qornet As Sawda is like nothing else in the whole of Lebanon.

A black fire salamander with yellow spots

A rare near eastern fire salamander, spotted by yours truly while hiking in the Chouf region.

Me, squatting in a lush green forest with a small waterfall and lots of green moss in the background.

Anyone who thinks the Middle East is only desert and camels has never been to Lebanon – the lush green of the Qadisha Valley is like something out of a Disney film.

 

Impact of the Crisis – Electricity

Lebanon’s national grid currently only supplies about 1-2 hours of electricity per day to most parts of the country, due to a shortage of fuel, insufficient capacity and various other factors.  This is terrible if you’re local and don’t have a backup power supply.  However, for tourists it’s actually not that big a problem, as major hotels have good generators that provide 24/7 power and most restaurants and other businesses also have generators, if not all the time.

The best advice here is check with your hotel before visiting.  Some generators are not designed to run 24/7 and so buildings can have gaps without power.  My apartment currently has seven hours in 24 with no power, split between the night and morning, when they let the generator ‘rest.’

The electricity crisis has made the roads more dangerous – many street lights and traffic lights are not operating.  If you do drive in Lebanon, when you come to a junction without working traffic lights, just slow down and drive slowly through.  Most Lebanese drivers are very cautious at these junctions, as the economic crisis has made imported car parts astronomically expensive and no one wants to damage their car.  

A burned out car on the edge of a road in Beirut.

Protests occasionally turn violent, but luckily protest areas are easily avoided by visitors.

 

Impact of the Crisis – Hyperinflation

The most important thing to remember is to bring enough cash for the duration of your stay.  The best currency to bring is USD, but other common currencies, such as EUR and GBP, can also be exchanged at black market rates.  Licensed currency exchange shops are now permitted to exchange currency at black market rates, so you no need to be hooked up with a black market dealer.  

Pro tip: before coming to Lebanon, download the Lira Rate or Lira Exchange app for your smartphone.  These apps show the current black market rates and, although the rate on the street is usually slightly lower, give you a good guide as to the approximate rate you should expect when changing money.

If you do run out of money in Lebanon, don’t withdraw money from an ATM if you can possibly avoid it.  ATMs still operate at the official rate of 1,507 LBP to the USD, so you’re losing more than 90% of your money.  The same applies to paying for things priced in LBP with credit/debit cards.  ATMs no longer offer USD currency withdrawal for foreign bank cards.  The best approach for travellers is to use a currency transfer service like Moneygram or Western Union, which allow you to transfer in foreign currency and collect it in USD.

One knock on effect of the economic crisis is that Lebanon is now significantly cheaper than it used to be.  Hotels have started charging foreigners in dollars again, but everything else, and especially food, is much cheaper than it was before.  A good Lebanese meal for two in a normal restaurant will usually cost about $10-15, including drinks.  In a slightly more upmarket restaurant, expect to pay around $30.  

A battered silver Sudan with the badge changed to a Batman logo

The economic crisis is so bad that Batman had to trade in the Batmobile.

 

Impact of the Crisis – Safety

Crime rates in Lebanon are very low and, although they have risen recently as people become increasingly desperate, rates of petty theft are still lower than in most of Europe and criminals in general do not specifically target foreigners.  That said, the atmosphere can feel tense and the fortifications erected in some areas (lots of barbed wire, concrete barriers and patrolling soldiers) can give the impression that the safety situation is worse than it is.  

Most violent incidents that have been in the news recently have occurred during protests, often of a political nature.  If you do see the beginnings of a protest, such as groups of people marching together or tyres burning in the road, simply turn around and leave the area.  Protests usually start peacefully, but build to a point where the demonstrations spill over into violence.  Again, protests do not target foreigners, but there is a risk of being caught in the violence if you stick around.

An unfortunate legacy of the Lebanese civil war is that a lot of the populations still own guns.  At a recent protest in Beirut, not only were there shootings with machine guns, but the violence escalated with the use of RPGs.  This is an extreme case.  Again, I stayed away from the area.  

Guns are also often used at funerals or celebrations, where they are shot into the air in waves of celebratory gunfire.  Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, and people are occasionally killed by falling bullets or by bullets entering buildings through windows.  If you do hear shooting while you’re in a building, move to the interior, away from the windows and wait for it to subside.  If you’re outside, leave the area.  Funerals rarely happen in the city centre, which is the most interesting area for foreign travellers, so you probably won’t come across them anyway.  Furn El Chebek, Chiyah, Tariq El Jdideh and Jnah are common areas for funerals.

A run-down neighbourhood of Tripoli with ramshackle buildings on a hillside

Lebanon is generally very safe. Even walking through the slummier neighbourhoods of Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest city, I never felt unsafe.

Certain areas of Beirut experience violence far more than others.  In general, the southern suburbs of Beirurt, south of main road where the National Museum of Beirut is located, are less safe than the city centre.  In particular, Chiyah, Cola and Tayouneh and Tariq El Jdideh have all seen violent protests.  Martyr’s Square and the Beirut souks area also see frequent protests, but these tend to be less violent than those in the south.

As a tourist, the only areas you’re likely to visit to the south are Badaro (an upmarket bar street) and the Cola Intersection, as it’s the main hub for public transport to the south and the Bekaa Valley.  I visit these locations regularly and have never had problems, but keep an eye out just in case.

This may all sound very scary, but actually Lebanon is very safe for tourists.  Even now, by far the most dangerous thing is the roads, where accidents are frequent.  Just use a bit of common sense and you’ll be fine.

 

Impact of the Crisis – Fuel

One of the best ways to see Lebanon, and especially the more remote parts, is to rent a car and drive yourself.  During the summer of 2021, fuel became extremely difficult to obtain, often requiring queuing for hours (if you can even find a fuel station that’s open).  The only other option was to purchase it on the blackmarket at vastly inflated prices.

The good news is that, since the end of September 2021, fuel has been readily available again.  The government has let the price of fuel rise to close to market value, which has reduced incentives for fuel hoarding and smuggling to Syria.  

Queue of motorbikes at a MEDCO fuel station

Bikers queuing for fuel at the peak of the fuel crisis in 2021

Ethics – Should I Visit Lebanon During the Crisis?

With frequent power cuts and shortages of some products, many people question whether they should visit a country while it’s in crisis, as they feel they may be using limited resources that are needed by the local population.  In the case of Lebanon, the answer is definitely yes, you should visit.  Lebanon produces very little domestically – even 80%+ of food is imported.  Shortages are not caused by a lack of supply on global markets, they’re caused by a lack of financial means to purchase supply (compounded by corruption and a range of other factors).  

By visiting Lebanon, you are bringing much needed foreign currency into the country and, by buying products and services from local businesses, ensuring that it reaches local people who need it.  One of the biggest problems for Lebanese people is that the value of the LBP to the dollar is so low, which makes imports expensive.  Everytime there is a large influx of visitors, for example with the Lebanese diaspora returning home over Christmas, the LBP gains value, helping local people.  This shows the positive effect that an influx of foreign currency has and, as an individual your contribution will be small, but will certainly be positive.  In other words, don’t feel bad about visiting!

Me and a group of friends in a bar in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut

Lebanese people are very good at enjoying life, even in the middle of a crisis.

 

Car Rental

One of the best ways to see Lebanon is to rent a car.  Car rentals are cheap now (about $20/day for a small car, including insurance) and Lebanon is a very car-based society.  A deposit of around $300 is often requested in cash for your first rental.  So far, I’ve not heard of any problems having this refunded.  In theory, an International Driver’s Permit is required, but in reality no one cares, at least not if your local driver’s licence is in English, French or Arabic.

I usually rent from Mike Rent-a-Car, which is a good option if you want to support local businesses.  The price is generally $20/day for a small car and their Website is at www.mikerentacar.com.  Their office in Beirut is located here.  Alternatively, the big international car rental companies, such as Avis and Europcar, also operate in Lebanon.  They also have the advantage of having a presence at the airport, so you don’t need to bother with other transport to get to your accommodation. 

 

Cars and Drivers

If you don’t feel confident driving in Lebanon, it is possible to hire a car and driver from a hotel or hostel. This can cost upwards from around $70 a day plus fuel, but hotels may charge significantly more.
 

Ride Hailing Apps

Uber and Bolt both work well in Beirut.  Bolt is usually slightly cheaper, but Uber cars are generally in better condition and the drivers are more professional.  These apps are also by far the cheapest way to get to or from the airport in Beirut.  Just be sure to change the payment method to cash, as credit cards are billed at the official exchange rate so you’ll end up paying $50 for a 5-minute trip across town.

 

Public Transport

Lebanon has an informal public transport network made up for service (shared) taxis and minibuses.  These are operated privately with pricing regulated by the government.  There are also public buses from Beirut to Tripoli.  Vehicles licensed for public transport, including taxis, all have red number plates (or red lettering on the number plate).

To catch a service (shared) taxi, stand on the edge of a road (main roads are usually better) and hold out your arm when a taxi comes past (look for the red number plates).  Ask the driver “Service?”  If he agrees, it means the taxi is shared, so you will not be charged for a private journey.  Then tell him your destination.  If he’s going in the right direction and willing to take you there, he’ll agree.  Finally, ask him the price.  Most drivers are very honest, but a few do try to overcharge foreigners.  

Inside Beirut

Service taxis operate throughout Beirut, although explaining the destination can be tricky.  Often, the easiest approach is just to say the name of the area, such as “Hamra,” “Gemayze,” “Daora,” or “Cola.”  Minibuses on set routes also operate, but finding the routes is extremely difficult, so use the same approach as when taking a service and ask the driver whether he goes to your destination.  Prices for service taxis are around 20k LBP and for minibuses around 10k.

Northern Lebanon

Shared taxis and minibuses run from the Daora roundabout in Beirut up the coastal highway to Jounieh, Byblos, Batroun and Tripoli.  Prices vary, but are cheap, starting at about 20K LBP (approx. $1 at black market rates) to Jounieh.  Just ask the drivers whether they go to the city you want to reach.

For Tripoli, there’s also a bus that runs on an actual schedule from Martyr’s Square in Beirut.  

Their current schedule can be found on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/connexion.transportation

Southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley

Minibuses run from the Cola Intersection in southern Beirut down the coastal highway to Saida and Tyre, as well as to Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley and to the Chouf region.  To visit the Chouf Biosphere Reserve, catch the bus to Barouk, the name of the nearest village.  From there, you need to walk several kilometres to enter the reserve and there is no public transport.  Hitchhiking could be an option. 

To reach Anjar, take the minibus to Baalbek and get off at Chtoura.  From here, there are other minibuses running to Anjar.  

The Jeita Grottoes

The Jeita Grottoes are located about halfway between Beirut and Byblos, approximately 5km from the highway.  Take public transport from the Daora roundabout and get off at the Ajaltoun exit of the main highway (coordinates 33.960616, 35.604071, here on Google Maps).  From here you can either walk (5km uphill) or take a taxi.  There are usually several drivers hanging around this area, although prices can be high and will depend on your negotiation skills.  To get back to the highway afterwards, you can usually find a driver in the Jeita Grottoes carpark.  Another good option to reach the Jeita Grottoes is to take an Uber all the way from Beirut.  Uber is cheap in Lebanon, so this works out around the same price.

The Northern Mountains

I’m not aware of any public transport option to reach this area of the country (including Aqoura, the Batara waterfall and the Cedars of God), so your options are really driving or hitchhiking.  

A view over the mountain landscape with snow on the distant mountains.

The view from Aqoura – there is still snow on the mountains in early May.  The northern mountains are a pain to get to without a car, but worth the effort.

 

Transport to and from Beirut Airport

Uber is a cheap and convenient way to get to or from the airport in Beirut.  This should cost around 80-120k LBP (around $4-5 at the current black market exchange rate).  However, this can be tricky when first arriving, due to needing to obtain Lebanese pounds to pay the driver.  If the exchange counter at the airport is not open or the rate is bad, you can try negotiating with the Uber driver to pay in USD at the black market rate.

There are always plenty of local taxis waiting at the airport to take you to the city centre.  These often try to charge ridiculous rates to foreigners – up to $50 for the 10-15 minute journey.  With a bit of bargaining, you should be able to agree to around 200k LBP.  Prices negotiated in USD tend to be higher, but even at night, never agree to pay more than $10.

 

Checkpoints

There are military checkpoints on the roads throughout Lebanon and even within some parts of Beirut.  Generally, they wave foreigners through without saying anything.  If driving yourself, slowdown at the checkpoint, wind down the window and greet the soldier.  Most times, he’ll wave you though before you even come to a stop.  

In my two years here during which I’ve travelled the country extensively, I’ve been asked twice for my nationality and had my passport checked once (so carry it with you, just in case), and that was on the road between Hermel and Qobayat, one of the most remote parts of the country.

 

Entering the UNIFIL-Controlled Area

The only exception to the above is the checkpoints for entering the UNIFIL-controlled area south of the Litani river near the border with Israel.  Foreigners can only enter with a permit obtained in advance (with the exception of UN employees).  To obtain the permit, visit the police headquarters in Saida with your passport.  The police station is at coordinates 33.550327, 35.381710 (here on Google Maps).  You need to bring your passport and colour photocopies of the identity page and your entry stamp to Lebanon (and visa, if you come from a country that needs a visa to enter Lebanon).  It generally takes less than one hour and permits can be issued for entry on the same day.  Permits can be obtained for one or multiple days.

Concrete and wire border wall with security cameras on it

Northern Isreal, as viewed over the imposing border wall in south Lebanon.

 

Money

Recently, the black market exchange rate has been hovering around the 30,000 LBP to the USD rate, whereas the official rate is still 1,507 LBP.  Until recently, currency exchange shops were prohibited from giving the black market rate,  but the government has recently relaxed this rule, so any currency exchange shop can exchange money for you.  Just make sure you bring plenty of cash.

Whatever you do, don’t use a foreign bank card in an ATM or to pay in shops.  The banks still apply the official rate, so you’ll be paying more than ten times the real price.  

A picture of six 100,000 LBP notes

Pre-crisis, these notes were worth about $66 each. Now they’re worth around $5.

 

Mobile Phone Service and SIM Cards

Lebanon has good mobile Internet even in most rural areas.  SIM cards are widely available from mobile phone shops.  I use Alpha, which has good 4G coverage across most of the country.  Passports are not required to obtain a SIM.  Prices fluctuate, but a SIM card with 5GB of data valid for one month can be obtained for around 200k LBP.  I have been warned to check that the seller gives you the packaging to ensure that it’s not a reused, although I’m not sure what the problem would be with this..  

 

Restaurants and Coffee Shops

One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Lebanon is the food.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are my favourite restaurants.  I happen to like coffee a lot, so I’ve also slung in a few coffee shop recommendations for good measure.

Beirut

  • Resto Ghazar: My favourite Lebanese-Armenian restaurant.  Try the soubeureg (cheese pastries), mouhamara (pomegranate with nuts) and manti.  Although not Armenian, their batata harra (spicy potatoes with coriander) is also out of this world.  Prices are very reasonable, at about $8-15 a person, including drinks.  
  • Ohannes Restaurant: Another great Armenian restaurant, with beautiful tiled decor.  The food is also great, especially the Ohannes salad and fried liver.  This place is a bit more upmarket at about $15-25 per person, including drinks.
  • T-Marbouta: A variety of great Lebanese food in the heart of Hamra with a nice outdoor seating area.  About $8-15 a person, including drinks.
  • Sawani Falfoul: A great place for breakfast in Badaro, an upmarket bar street.  In particular, try the foul (a kind of chickpea soup, pronounced like the word “fool” in English), shakshuka (scrambled egg with tomato) and hummus (the “Malaysian” hummus is particularly good, if not very Lebanese sounding).
  • Barbar Restaurant: Basic but tasty Lebanese barbeque restaurant in Hamra.  Not sure of the current price, but cheap!
  • Le Chef: A traditional Lebanese restaurant that claims to be the oldest in Lebanon, although my Lebanese friends tell me that this is bullshit.  The place has a lot of character and was saved from bankruptcy by a donation from Russel Crow, who once ate there, after being destroyed in the port explosion in August 2020.
  • Notes Speciality Coffee: My local coffee place.  Great brews and the chance to meet me if you’re there in the morning (I often work from there).  
Quail eggs with basterma.

Quail eggs with basterma (seasoned meat) – an Armenian-Lebanese delicacy.

Byblos

  • Fenicia: This restaurant is so good that I have hardly eaten anywhere else in Byblos.  Up there with Resto Ghazar as one of my two favourite restaurants in Lebanon.  The environment is elegant and the food is absolutely out-of-this-world.  The cheese/shrimp rolls and the mixed grill plata are my recommendations.  Prices are about $15-25 per person, including drinks.  The only problem is that they don’t take reservations and getting a seat can be difficult.  
A local restaurant with tables outside on the street and flowers growing above.

Byblos has many local restaurants, like this Italian one, where you can sit outside and enjoy the old town vibe.

Batroun

  • Barrio 67: Not Lebanese cuisine, but delicious international food and nice decoration in the heart of the old town.  Prices are about $15-25 per person, including drinks. 

Tripoli

  • The Sailor Woman: this cute little restaurant serves only six dishes – fish with tahini, calamari, octopus, french fries, fattouch (traditional Lebanese green salad) and Tabbouleh (traditional Lebanese salad with Parsley).  What makes it so special is that all the cooking is done by a little old lady in her apartment, which is just next to the restaurant.  The fish is also very fresh, as Tripoli is the centre of the Lebanese fishing industry.  
  • Newtown Coffee: Great place to take a break from sightseeing and chill.  Nice environment and good coffee.  
A plate of fish with Tahini with two plates of salad in the background.

My favourite fish in Tahini at The Sailor Woman restaurant.

A selection of Lebanese sweets

Be sure to try some Lebanese sweets, which can be found across the country.

Saida

  • Foul Abou El Ezz: Another breakfast place, simple, very local and delicious.  Try the foul (a kind of chickpea soup, pronounced like the word “fool” in English) and hummus.  
  • Green’s Coffee: One of my favourite coffee shops in Lebanon with a great selection of coffees and even a deli counter.  The environment is top-notch with a nice retro feel.  
  • Resthouse: Overpriced (although still cheap by international standards), but with a great view of the Seafort and the only place allowed to sell alcohol in Saida.  Perfect for a beer with a view on a hot summer’s day.
A man sieving icing sugar over Arabic sweets

A man making local sweets at a little bakery in the winding streets of Saida’s old bazaar.

Baalbek

  • Local sfeeha place: On the main street of Baalbek, on the left as you’re walking away from the Roman ruins, you’ll come across what is basically a traditional oven in a room on the edge of the street with a few tables outside (approx. coordinates: 34.005245, 36.208302, here on Google Maps).   They make one dish – delicious sfeeha, the traditional meat pastry originally from Baalbek – and they make it really well.  It’s a while since I’ve been there, so not sure of the exact price, but twenty sfeeha cost a few dollars.
A local man filling sfiha pastries with minced meat in front of a brick oven on the edge of the street in Baalbek

Local sfiha meat pastries being prepared for the brick oven.

 

Accommodation

Hotels recently switched to charging foreign tourists in USD and so the prices are roughly the same as before the crisis.  You may be able to negotiate a deal with some of the smaller places when you’re here, but that’s tricky to do in advance.  AirBNB can be a very good option and relatively cheap.

 

Couchsurfing

Lebanon has an active Couchsurfing community.  Many people here host travellers and there are often events organised.  If you’re looking to meet local people, this is a great way to do it.  

 

Covid-19, PCR Tests and Entry Requirements

Rules designed to restrict the spread of Covid-19 have been relaxed a lot over the last few months.  Masks are still required in a few public areas, such as shopping malls, but most other places, including bars and restaurants, are not enforcing their use now and many people don’t wear them.

For non-vaccinated travellers, a PCR or rapid antigen test must be taken at most 24 hours before departing for Lebanon.  Vaccinated travellers are exempt from this requirement.  A traveller is considered vaccinated if they meet one of the following criteria, otherwise a test is required:

  • The traveller has received two doses of a Covid 19 vaccine (or one dose for vaccines that only required a single shot) within the past 6 months.
  • The traveller has received three doses of a Covid 19 vaccine.

It is also no longer required to register on the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health portal.  PCR tests are no longer performed at Beirut airport and quarantine is not required.  

PCR tests are not required for departure from Beirut airport.  However, if you need one for your next destination, they can be obtained at many hospitals in Lebanon.  I have used Hotel Dieu de France hospital in the past. There’s also a lab that will send someone to your accommodation to do the test for you.  It’s very convenient and the results are available same day, sent via WhatsApp.  They can be contacted on WhatsApp at +961 3 444 925.  Wherever you do the test, it will have a QR code.  Prices vary depending on the exchange rate, but are generally around $10-12.

 

More about Lebanon

After two years living in Lebanon, I’ve visited almost every inch of the country.  You can read about my adventures here:

Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you enjoyed the article or have questions!

Me, standing next to the I Love Beirut

Beirut is one crazy beautiful city in one crazy beautiful country. I can’t not love it.