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Once occupied by Rome and Phoenicia, Lebanon is historically a melting pot of major civilisations. Today, it is home to the largest and best-preserved Roman sites in the world and offers tourists the rare opportunity to snorkel among submerged Phoenician ruins in the coastal cities of Sidon and Byblos. The pre-Roman site of Baalbek is perhaps the best place to see the region's intriguing past.
Sometimes called 'Paris of the Middle East', the capital Beirut is a trendy cosmopolitan city where a variety of languages, nationalities and religions transcend social barriers. Ironically, it suffered twin suicide bombings a day before the Paris attacks in November 2015.
The highlight of any visit to the Mediterranean country is the constant reminder of its role in world history, its location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe making it part of a global network of trade ports during Roman times. The Beqaa Valley is one of the leading wine-producing areas in the world and has been the country's main agricultural region since the 1st century BC, when it was known as the 'granary of Rome'.
Lebanon has a remarkable natural landscape, especially when considering how much desert surrounds it. Each region varies in climate and topography, though the country's small size means travellers can pack their itinerary with daytrips to historic coastal towns and lovely mountain villages from Beirut.
Lebanon's bloody civil war ran from 1975 to the early 1990s and deeply scarred the country. The Lebanese people have tried to rebuild since then and an atmosphere of tolerance and open-mindedness has been the reward. Visitors can certainly enjoy safe and pleasant stays in this popular destination, though they should be aware of the socio-political situation at any given time as Lebanon still appears on consular warning lists.
Ski resorts, ancient cities, striking landscapes, gorgeous buildings, wonderful food, internationally-renowned wineries, incredible shopping districts, red-hot nightlife and skilled artisans are all on offer in Lebanon.
If Beirut is indeed the Paris of the East, then Hamra Street is the Champs Elysees. A centre of intellectual activity during the 1970s, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Borzou Dragahi described it as a "bastion of liberalism, embracing multiple religions and political views amid sectarian conflict."
Hamra remains a wonderfully cosmopolitan, open-minded area, full of shops, pavement cafes, and trendy bars, thick with tourists and students from nearby universities. The street houses five-star establishments and budget backpackers alike.
And so, visitors to Beirut who want to experience authentic Lebanon but who also don't want to miss out on the luxurious comforts that really make a holiday abroad, would do well to make Hamra Street their home base.
Ultimately, Hamre Street is the perfect home base for those who want to experience authentic Lebanon but not sacrifice the luxurious comforts that really make a holiday abroad.
Located on Museum Street in the heart of the city, the National Museum Beirut has a history that rivals its artefacts. During the Lebanese Civil War, the museum stood on the demarcation line between warring factions and the Egyptian Revival-style building suffered extensive damage.
Many of its treasures would have been destroyed had it not been for heroic pre-emptive measures undertaken by a committed group of individuals. These days, the museum is spread over three floors and renowned for its collection of ancient Phoenician antiquities.
There are also beautifully-organised exhibitions which take the visitor on a journey spanning numerous eras, including prehistory, the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Malmuk periods.
Encircling Beirut's promontory, the Corniche is a seaside promenade and pedestrian walkway that constantly bustles with daily life. Offering perfect views of the resplendent Mediterranean and towering Mount Lebanon to the east, the Corniche is extremely popular with walkers, joggers, and bikers.
A wonderful place to hang out in the sun and socialise, with push-cart vendors peddling tasty snacks and drinks, the Corniche is to Beirut what the Malecon is to Havana. It also stands as testament to Lebanon's troubled past, with many of the palm trees lining the promenade still pock-marked with bullet-holes.
Officially the Hippodrome Du Parc De Beyrouth, the Beirut Hippodrome comes highly recommended by visitors to Lebanon's capital city. Every Sunday, Beirut's elite mingle as they gather for an afternoon at the horse races. During spring, the annual Garden Show attracts crowds in excess of 25,000.
The pristine grounds of the Beirut Hippodrome remains the property of the city's municipality and are maintained by a non-profit organisation known as SPARCA, the Society for the Protection and Improvement of the Arabian Horse in Lebanon.
Head to the Beirut Hippodrome for a late Mezze lunch, and revel in the sight of the beautiful Arabian horses pounding their way around the track. There are also betting offices aplenty at the Hippodrome, for those who fancy a flutter.
One of the biggest and oldest mosques in Lebanon, the Al-Omari Mosque in Beirut is a worthwhile tourist attraction, boasting an interesting history. Built in 1291, the Al-Omari mosque was one of the first buildings restored after the Lebanese Civil War.
The Al-Omari Mosque started life as a Crusader church in the guise of the Cathedral of St John. But when the Mamluks took control of Beirut from the crusaders they immediately began converting the cathedral into the large, impressive mosque that we see today.
Visitors to the Al-Omari Mosque should dress appropriately with no revealing clothing, and should request permission before entering. Note that the mosque is closed to visitors during prayer times and over the whole month of Ramadan.
Beirut has a typically Mediterranean climate, characterised by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The hottest month is August, with temperatures reaching 86°F (30°C), and the coldest months are January and February, with temperatures between around 50°F (10°C) and 63°F (17°C). The best time to visit Beirut is in spring (May) or autumn (September), when the weather is perfectly mild and there is plenty of tourist accommodation available.
Lebanon has three different climate zones: the coastal strip, the mountains, and the Beqaa Valley. Coastal areas experience a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. Mountainous regions have typical alpine climates and are cool in the summer and cold with heavy snowfalls in the winter. The Beqaa Valley has hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters with snow, frost and cold winds.
The sun shines for an average of 300 days a year and the average temperature in Beirut is 70°F (21°C), with a range of 50°F (10°C) in winter to 86°F (30°C) in summer. Coastal regions can climb to over 95°F (35°C).
The official currency is the Lebanese Pound (LBP), which is divided into 100 piastres. The Lebanese Pound is locally known as the Lira. ATM machines are widely available in Lebanon except in isolated towns and cash can be withdrawn from banks during business hours. Credits cards are widely used.
Arabic is the official language, though Lebanese Arabic is its own dialect, often a patois including at least one other language. French and English are the most common European languages and most people are bilingual.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. The European round two-pin plug is standard (type C), but a variety of other plugs are used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangments with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their entry date into Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangments with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for a maximum stay of one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangements with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for a maximum stay of one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangments with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon, and need a pre-arranged visa to enter Lebanon. When prearranged, they can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of six months.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for a maximum stay of one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangments with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least one month beyond their estimated duration of stay in Lebanon. A visa is required for all travellers and can be obtained on arrival at Beirut International Airport for a maximum stay of one month. However, some visas do require prior arrangements with the Lebanese government to ensure longer stays.
Most foreign nationals can obtain a visa on arrival in Beruit (BEY), Lebanon, provided that: (i) they are holding confirmed return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination; and (ii) they can supply a valid address and telephone number for themselves while in Lebanon; a familial or corporate sponsor are good examples of appropriate sponsors.
These tourist visas are either free (for stays of up to one month), or will be charged according to the nature and duration of the visit (for a maximum of up to six months). Visa extensions are possible from within the country. Business travellers and large tourists groups (min. 8 people) registered with a local tour operator can get visas on arrival for up to six months. Note that holders of passports containing a visa for Israel (whether valid or expired, used or unused), or containing any Israeli stamps or endorsements, will not be allowed to enter Lebanon. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Lebanon, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Health risks for travellers to Lebanon are not excessive. Update routine vaccines such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, chickenpox vaccine, and polio vaccine, as well as flu shots.
There is no risk of yellow fever, but a vaccination certificate is required for travellers arriving from an infected country. Typhoid vaccinations are recommended to all travellers, with the exception of those who intend to stay in Lebanon for only a short period and take their meals in major restaurants and hotels.
This is especially applicable around the rainy season, when contaminated water may filter into the cities. Medical facilities and healthcare in Lebanon are good but expensive and all payments are expected in cash, regardless of insurance. Make sure medical insurance covers any possible expenses and consider provision for medical evacuation.
Tipping is customary in Lebanon and service staff are usually tipped around 10 to 15 percent of the bill. Porters, hotel staff, valets, and doormen usually receive a nominal fee, depending on the area, service, and establishment.
Safety warnings change regularly and Lebanon is unpredictable at best, featuring on numerous consular warning lists. Most recently, twin suicide bombings in November 2015 killed 43 people and wounded 239 others in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Vigilance is essential, as family, neighbourhood, and factional violence is spontaneous, sporadic, and often lethal. Certain areas must be completely avoided, particularly at the Syrian and Israeli border. Any travel south of the Litani River is discouraged.
Politically or economically motivated kidnappings occur, and other crimes, such as burglary, petty theft, vehicle theft, and break-ins, are present in Lebanon, but are low by international standards. Visitors should be streetwise and exercise normal precautions otherwise.
Lebanon is a religious country where Islam and Christianity having the two largest followings. Though more liberal than surrounding destinations, visitors are still expected to dress and behaviour modestly at religious sites and during religious holidays like Ramadan.
Cosmopolitan areas in places like Beirut are far more liberal than the rest of the country and wider region, meaning travellers can relax and express themselves in more ways. Possession, use, and trafficking of controlled drugs are serious offences that carry custodial sentences. Most jurisdictions consider homosexuality a criminal office.
Overstaying without the proper authority is also a serious offence. Photographing military personnel or installations and government buildings may lead to confiscation of photographic equipment and possibly imprisonment.
Many businesspeople speak English but an interpreter may be needed. Work attire is conservative and local business customs may at times take precedence in an increasingly Westernised business environment, especially for smaller companies.
Business people consider it rude to negotiate without chatting over tea first. Direct eye contact, physical closeness and friendliness are important points for gaining confidence in a business meeting.
Cross-gender negotiations are more reserved and don't usually include physical greetings. Gift giving is common and it's worth asking a legal consultant to explain the legal boundaries of what could be considered a gift.
The working week runs from Monday to Saturday but some Muslim businesses may be closed on Fridays. Business cards are widely distributed.
The international dialling code for Lebanon is +961. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City codes are in use, e.g. (0)1 for Beirut, (0)6 for Tripoli. Internet services are provided at places like Starbucks. There is good mobile phone coverage and many networks have international roaming agreements.
Duty free allowances for travellers to Lebanon over 18 are 800 cigarettes/50 cigars/1kg of tobacco, two litres of spirits and four of other alcoholic beverages, and perfume for personal use. All currency should be declared on arrival, and a valid import licence is required for any arms or ammunition. All prescription medications should be accompanied by a Dr's letter and check a list of contraband medication prior to travel.
The National Council of Tourism, Beirut: +961 0 1 343 073
Lebanon Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 6300.
Lebanon Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 0 20 7229 7265.
Lebanon Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 5825.
Lebanon Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6295 7378.
Lebanon Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 012 430 2130
United States Embassy, Beirut: +961 4 543 600.
British Embassy, Beirut: +961 0 1 960 800.
Canadian Embassy, Beirut: +961 4 726 700.
Australian Embassy, Beirut: +961 0 1 960 600.
South African Honorary Consulate, Beirut: +961 0 1 804 100.
Irish Embassy, Cairo, Egypt (also responsible for Lebanon): +202 27 287 100
Embassy of New Zealand, Cairo, Egypt (also responsible for Lebanon): +20 2 246 16000
Public transport in Beirut is not very well established as most residents use their own vehicles for getting around the city. Buses operate along set routes, but schedules can be erratic. They are generally modern, comfortable, and air-conditioned.
To avoid embarrassment, men should be aware that seats at the front of the bus are usually reserved for women. Taxis are a popular mode of transport and easily hailed off the street. They are not metered so it's best that passengers agree on the fare before getting into the vehicle. Visitors should try to use reputable companies or a ride-hailing app to get fair prices.
Car hire is available and a viable option for travelling around Beirut, though traffic congestion can be extreme during peak times and Lebanese roads have a very poor safety record. Travellers should consider this option carefully.
Uncommonly blessed with a wide range of sights and activities, Beirut is truly able to cater to tourists' every whim. Culture junkies should check out the National Museum of Beirut, housing important archaeological artefacts. Additionally, the world's finest example of imperial Roman architecture survives in the form of the Temples of Baalbek.
Beachgoers head to Ramlet al-Baida, while adventurers go skiing on nearby Mount Lebanon in the winter. Visitors can also go snorkelling among shipwrecks and ruins in the Mediterranean Sea, or hike up to the Our Lady of Lebanon statue in Harissa.
Whether mixing with locals on the Corniche at sunset, browsing some of Beirut's cosmopolitan shops and restaurants, or exploring the incredible underground cave network of the Jeita Grotto, visitors will be blissfully busy while on holiday in Beirut.
Undoubtedly Lebanon's premier sight, the Jeita Grotto is a must-see tourist attraction. Located just 14 miles (about 22km) from Beirut, the Jeita Grotto is an underground complex consisting of two separate, but connected, limestone caves, spanning an overall length of 5.6 miles (about 9km).
Situated in the Nahr al-Kalb river valley, the caves are accessible by boat and house a series of limestone concretions shaped for millennia into unique formations, sizes, and colours. Known as 'Mother Nature's Masterpiece', the Jeita Grotto also features an incredible upper gallery.
The upper gallery is accessible via walkways carved into the natural rock where travellers can observe the world's largest stalactite. A finalist in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition, no holiday in Beirut would be complete without checking out these extraordinary caves.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple complex found at Baalbek contains the world's best surviving example of imperial Roman architecture. The small town in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley is just 53 miles (86km) from Beirut.
An ancient area rich in history, it was known as Heliopolis, meaning 'City of the Sun', during the Hellenistic Period. Today, the towering, intricately-carved monuments of Baalbek continue to amaze and delight visitors to the region.
Even for non-history buffs, a visit to the acropolis at Baalbek is deeply fascinating. It represents a confluence of exquisitely-preserved Greco-Roman architecture built over the course of two centuries.
Consisting of 24 monoliths, numerous religious structures, and the grand Temple of Jupiter, the temples of Baalbek are an essential inclusion in any Lebanese travel itinerary. Moreover, the town of Baalbek is a wonderful place to stop over and rest for a few days on your Middle Eastern adventure.
Our Lady of Lebanon is a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, painted white for added splendour. It dates back to the early 20th century, erected on a hill overlooking the beautiful Bay of Jounieh. A major Lebanese pilgrimage site, the statue is also a roundly-celebrated tourist attraction.
Towering 2,130 feet (650m) above sea level, unforgettable views unfurl at sunset when the western sky darkens over the sea. An added benefit is the cable car system, offering thrilling and affordable rides up the pine-forested mountain towards the shrine.
Those looking to make a day out of their trip to see Our Lady of Lebanon can also walk up the steep hillside, about 5.5 miles (9km) from the town of Jounieh to Harissa at the summit. Jounieh is located just 12.5 miles (about 20km) north of Beirut, considered an obligatory stop for holidaymakers in Lebanon.
The third-largest city in Lebanon, Sidon is full of interesting cultural sites and shopping opportunities. A worthwhile excursion from Beirut, it's located just 27 miles (43km) south of the capital. Known as Saida in Arabic, it's primarily a destination for day-trippers from Beirut.
By far the main attraction of the city is its legendary stretch of covered market-places (souqs), where tourists eager to find some Lebanese souvenirs can shop to their heart's content. A bustling, atmospheric place, shopping in Sidon's Old Souq makes for an enriching experience.
Other notable sights in Sidon include the Sea Castle, which is a fortress built by the Crusaders in the 13th Century, the Sidon Soap Museum, and the Temple of Eshmun, a Phoenician structure erected in honour of the god of healing, dating back to the 7th century BC.
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