There are few places in the Middle East where modernity and history fuse with such a sense of intrigue than in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut. An ornately constructed metropolis set on the eastern Mediterranean coast, this city once known as “the pearl of the Middle East” is rapidly beginning to regain its glitz and luster. Chic, sexy, and centrally located, Beirut is the perfect capital for basing yourself while touring the wonders of Lebanon. A nation home to snowcapped mountains, golden beaches, sprawling vineyards, and temples which date back millennia, it’s hard to believe it’s all found in a nation smaller than the state of Connecticut. Though every corner of the country offers something for inquisitive visitors, here’s a three day itinerary to get you traveling Lebanon while based in the capital of Beirut.
Day 1: Explore Downtown Beirut and Jeita Grotto
Begin the day with a morning jog or a warm cup of coffee along the Beirut Corniche, a three-mile coastal promenade which is the center of the active, morning scene. Spend the rest of the morning wandering the pedestrian mall around Nejmeh square, stopping to take in the superb architecture of the vibrant capital city. Grab a bite at a local café and fill your afternoon with a trip to Jeitta Grotto, a heavily visited site located 11 miles north of downtown Beirut. Once a finalist for the “7 Wonders of the Natural World”, the sprawling subterranean compound features an upper and lower cavern where visitors can explore the inner recesses of the longest explored cave in Lebanon. Accessible via walkway or riverboat ride, the White Chamber in the upper grotto is home to the world’s largest stalactite, an outcropping which dangles an amazing 27 feet down from the damp ceiling above.
Day 2: Road trip through Ksara, Baalbek and Anjar
Set in the fertile Beqaa Valley east of Beirut, the road leading into the eastern mountains features some of the best known and most historic sites in all of Lebanon. Passengers wanting to stretch their legs can stop at a number of local vineyards, the most famous of which, Chateau Ksara, features a tour of underground wine cellars believed to have been carved by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Continuing down the road, the ruins at Baalbek feature the remains of the Temple of Jupiter, a structure which would become the largest temple constructed anywhere in the Roman Empire. Of special note are the three stones known as the Trilithon which continue to baffle historians as to how rocks of such immense size could ever have been moved and purposefully used for construction. Though set over 50 miles from Beirut, a daytrip to Baalbek is a must on any Lebanon itinerary. Nearby, the ancient city of Anjar provides the only remaining glimpse into a city constructed entirely during the period of Umayyad rule. Set along an important trading route between Damascus and Beirut, Anjar is a forgotten relic of history recently excavated and returned to life.
Day 3: Visit Beiteddine and Byblos
Though located opposite directions from each other, get an early start and head out to the sprawling palace complex at Beiteddine, the nation’s best example of 19th century Lebanese architecture and a window into the private lives of the nation’s elite and affluent ruling class. After having perused the site many have dubbed “the Alhambra of Lebanon”, backtrack up the coast for an afternoon enjoying the vibrant souks and coastal cafes of Byblos, a town considered by historians to be amongst the oldest continuously inhabited cities found anywhere on the globe.