Lebanon, the tiny country in the Middle-East, locked in by their neighbors Israel and Syria. Is it even safe to travel to Lebanon? Can you travel to Lebanon as a solo female traveler? I just got back from an amazing trip to Lebanon and the country surprised me more than I thought it would. Lebanon is a complex country with multi-layered communities, varied landscape, different languages, and amazing experiences! Here are 25 things you should know before traveling to Lebanon.
25 Practical Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Lebanon
Help Beirut and the people of Lebanon after the harbor explosion of August 4, 2020
Traveling to Lebanon
If you’re planning to travel to Lebanon, you probably have an interest in the Middle East or know why Lebanon is so awesome. You’ve checked Skyscanner for the cheapest flights to Beirut, you’ve booked your hotel via booking.com, Hostelworld or Airbnb, and have an idea of the things you want to do while traveling in Lebanon. You probably know you cannot enter the country with a visa stamp from Israel and you’ve checked your local government’s website to see what they have to say.
You probably did all that or you can do it now. (I’ll wait). And NOW you wish to know what it is like to actually travel to Lebanon and explore Beirut and the other amazing sights. Here are some things you cannot look up in a guide book but my first-hand experiences of things that stood out to me while traveling in Lebanon. Enjoy!
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1. Don’t assume everyone is Muslim in Lebanon
Lebanon is located in the Middle East and surrounded by Arab nations, hence, Lebanon is Arabic and Muslim? Right? Wrong!
Half of the population of Lebanon is Christian and when traveling in Lebanon, you’ll experience a wide range of religions from Greek Orthodox Christians to Sunni Muslims, from Maronite Christians to Druzes and almost everything in between.
On a Sunday, you can hear the tolling of church bells at one moment, followed by the call to prayer from the mosques the next. Read up about Lebanon before you go and travel to Beirut. For example, pick up a copy of the Bradt Lebanon guide book.
2. There is more to Lebanon than just Beirut
When you travel to Lebanon, chances are, you’ll land in Beirut. As Lebanon currently is only accessible via air transport, you’ll land at Beirut airport and probably explore the capital first.
This bustling mega-city was surprisingly relaxed. I don’t like big cities, so I only allocated one day to explore Beirut. For me, this was more than enough as the rest of the country is equally diverse and exciting!
Many people go to Lebanon and spend their week or 10 days in the capital, taking day trips across the country. Although there is nothing wrong with that, I found the other cities and villages in Lebanon equally impressive and staying overnight, for example in Byblos or the Bekaa Valley, allows you to explore more in-depth instead of rushing back to Beirut.
I share my 10-day Lebanon itinerary with you for ideas and tips on where to travel in Lebanon.
3. Traveling to Lebanon felt perfectly safe as a solo female traveler
Yes, there is an ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel which mainly takes place in the south of Lebanon. If you wish to travel further south than Tyre, you need a permit that you can get in Saida. The UNIFIL (The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) is controlling the region and you can see them in the streets.
When I visited the Bekaa valley, which my government advises not to travel to or only travel to when needed, I felt perfectly safe. Yes, I drove on the Beirut- Damascus highway. When I was in Aanjar, I was only minutes away from the Syrian border and the area was full of checkpoints and military presence. However, I never felt unsafe.
People go about their business, shops are open, families go out for a picnic. There are some astonishing treasures in the Bekaa Valley and I really loved my stay there. I felt perfectly safe, crossing the country on my own. Going out at night, walking the streets in Beirut but also in Tyre, Tripoli, and Zahlé. It felt like any other city in the world and I wasn’t hassled by street vendors or salespeople.
4. You will see checkpoints and the army is present in Lebanon
Having said that, for me it is uncommon to see checkpoints and soldiers in the streets, wearing their machine gun in front of them with their finger on the trigger. Yes, this startled me. On my first day in Lebanon, I was walking down the street, following my Google Maps advice to get from A to B when I noticed the street was suspiciously quiet.
As I was walking, I suddenly got a tap on my shoulder and a soldier asked me where I was going? It turned out, I was walking right into a no-go zone and the soldier didn’t really pay attention to my presence. I apologized and turned around.
In Beirut, there are many places with barbwire and where you can’t photograph. Just follow instructions of the people walking around. Regardless of all this, I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
5. Be wowed by the long history of Lebanon
I sure was! From ancient Phoenicians to Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans, to Byzantines, via Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottomans to the French, all cultures left their mark on Lebanon, making it an intriguing mixture of history! I loved roaming around the different ruins of Lebanon and discovering new features everywhere. I made a plan to travel around Lebanon and see as many ruins as possible.
I share my favorite Roman Ruins in Lebanon with you here.
6. Bring a pen in your hand luggage when you travel to Lebanon
Uhmm… a pen you say? Yes, super useful. When you enter the country and when you leave, you need to fill out a tiny immigration document. The airline handed out the documents on the plane, but of course, they didn’t provide a pen. Save time and whisk out the pen from your hand luggage and beat the queues at the airport by just being prepared!
7. Bring hiking shoes and outdoor clothes for your trip to Lebanon
If you love nature and like to escape the big city of Beirut, make sure to bring hiking shoes and some outdoor clothes. Even a pair of jeans can be enough. Lebanon is equipped with some pristine nature and impressive national parks.
The nation’s symbol, the Cedar trees, is protected in several national parks across the country. Extensive hiking trails, long but also short, are set out and you can easily connect with nature in Lebanon.
Hike the Qadisha Valley near Bcharré or explore the Shouf Cedars National Park to connect with nature. You’ll be happy to bring your hiking shoes and a jacket.
8. There is no such thing as overdoing it on perfume.
When you’re packing for your trip to Lebanon, make sure to bring some extra perfume. Why? Because perfume is used in abundance by Lebanese people. Everywhere I went, when passing people on the street, I got a strong whiff of Gucci, Calvin Klein or Hugo.
9. Be prepared to be underdressed or out dressed.
As a solo female traveler, I love to look good when I travel, but I don’t pack a whole wardrobe. Mainly, because I am not stylish enough but mostly, because I don’t care enough.
But I felt really, really, underdressed walking around in Beirut. The men and young women are sooo stylish in Beirut and the rest of the country. Flowy dresses, matching shoes, designer purse and earrings, and immaculate make-up. I felt majorly outdressed in Lebanon.
If you plan on hitting the clubs in Beirut when you travel to Lebanon, make sure to make an effort of your appearance.
10. Smoking is allowed, almost everywhere
I was shocked to see people lit up a cigarette at the breakfast table in my hotel in Beirut. I was almost offended when people smoked on the cramped bus but apparently, smoking in public places in Lebanon is perfectly normal. Whether it be normal cigarettes or the typical nargile (or shisha), smoking is a social event and must be done at any moment of the day, in any place.
11. Pay with US Dollars or Lebanese Pounds when you’re traveling around Lebanon
Moneywise, Lebanon is super easy to travel to. Bring a wad of American Dollars, and just pay with them at almost all occasions. Just ask for the change to be in Lebanese pound and you never have to stop at a bank or exchange office during your trip to Lebanon.
Of course, withdrawing money from an ATM is perfectly fine or exchange your money at an exchange office, but I found it easier to just exchange at hotels, cab drivers, bigger markets and restaurants.
Although we have the Euro at home, I brought US dollars with me to Lebanon and didn’t need to withdraw money. I paid the hotels with my credit card (charged in US dollars) and the rest I exchanged as I went along.
1 dollar equals 1.500 LL so it is also easy to calculate. Just pay with smaller dollar bills (like 20$ for example) and always have some Lebanese money for the shared taxi, buses and small purchases in shops.
12. Travel in Lebanon is expensive
When you’re traveling to Lebanon, expect to pay the same prices as in Europe or North America. I found the price level to be equal to the Netherlands, France, Italy, and the UK. The shared taxi service was quite cheap, but hotels, meals, and attractions will burn a hole in your travel budget.
Expect to pay between 80 and 100 $ for a mid-range hotel room across the country. For a Lebanese meal, with mezzes, drinks, main course, and dessert, you’ll pay roughly 25-40 $ depending on how many people you’ll share the meal with.
A tour from Beirut can cost up to 80$ for a group tour, to 250$ for a private tour. I’ll share my spending and more budget tips later, so be sure to check back soon!
13. Take a taxi when needed
I never take a taxi at home. Hoping in a cab is just crazy expensive and I’d rather walk. But not in Lebanon! Shared taxis are cheap as chips and super easy.
Expect to pay 1.500 to 2.000 LL per ride within the city. Just say shared or service when you get in.
Most people pay the driver when they get in but you can also pay when you leave the taxi.
For smaller rides, the fare is lower, but I never had the courage to haggle with the taxi driver to get 500 LL back, so I always paid 2.000 LL.
14. Having said that, a taxi to the airport is considerably more expensive
It seems to be a golden rule that taxi to and from the airport need to be crazy expensive. Even when the airport is only a 20-minute ride to the city. When you leave Beirut airport to go to Beirut downtown, the fixed price for a taxi from the airport seems to be $27 at the moment.
If you wish to go from downtown Beirut to the airport, expect to pay 23$. Your hotel can easily arrange for a taxi and they will wait for you with a sign with your name on it.
Allo Taxi is used quite often for this service, but the trick is, you can also arrange them yourself. If you download their app (iOS here, Android here), you can request a taxi from the airport to Beirut downtown for $23. Going back will cost 25.000 LL or 16-17$ which will save you a few bucks for the exact same service.
Don’t use them to get around Beirut though, you’ll pay roughly 10$ for a single ride, where the shared service taxi will cost you $1.50 max.
15. Don’t be offended by honking cars on the streets
When walking down the street, especially along busy roads, it is not uncommon to hear honking cars all the time. They slowly drive past you, trying to catch your eye. This is not creepy and you shouldn’t be offended.
This is just the way how shared service taxis are looking for customers! It seems everyone in Beirut and the rest of Lebanon drives to where they wish to go, so walking along the street must mean you need a taxi! Just wave your hand or shake your head to indicate you don’t need a taxi.
16. Go skiing in the morning, take a dip in the ocean in the afternoon.
Lebanon prides herself with being so diverse and with good reason. It is really true that you can go skiing or snowboarding in the morning in the mountains of Lebanon. And then plunge in the Mediterranean Sea in the afternoon. Having said so, this also means the weather can vary a lot within just 1-hour drive! It can be 22 degrees in Beirut and one-hour driving in-land, you can be caught in a snow blizzard.
During my 10 day travel in Lebanon, I encountered sun and sea but also hail, wind, and snow! On the day of my departure, it was snowing outside my hotel room at -1 degree Celsius (30F), but by the time I got to Beirut, it was sunny and 18 degrees outside (64F).
17. Don’t accept any extra food you didn’t order
When eating out, I absolutely advise you to try the Lebanese mezzes! They stash your whole table with cold and warm mezzes, small dishes to share across the table. Eating out in Lebanon is always a good idea as I found the food of exquisite freshness and quality.
But be aware of the oldest trick in the book. Especially at more touristy restaurants, they will put extra food (or drinks) on the table that you didn’t order. Now an extra bottle of water is not the worst thing, but at one night, I got billed nearly 20$ extra for mezzes I didn’t order and a refill on my drink that I didn’t ask for (and didn’t touch). If you didn’t order it and you don’t want it, don’t eat it and send it back.
18. Don’t expect everyone to speak English in Lebanon
Maybe I assumed English would get me quite far. And if not, I could always rely on my rusty French from high school. Turned out, I found myself in quite a few situations where I really wanted to communicate with the local Lebanese people, but we didn’t have any language in common.
If only I had learned a couple of words of Arabic! I meant to, but you know how life gets in the way and it is so hard to learn a new language at an older age. All excuses, but I really wished I spoke at least a few basic words in Arabic.
19. You can’t order Coca Cola or Sprite in Lebanon
Ok, this might seem like a minor thing, but as a true fan of Coca Cola and a strong opinion about Pepsi, this really stood out to me! Pepsi, and thus 7Up, dominate the drink industry in Lebanon. They never left the country and they are rock solid connection with all Horeca outlets. If you look really hard, I’m sure you can find a can of Coca Cola somewhere, but the majority will be Pepsi and 7Up.
20. Ask the locals for advice but be aware who you’re talking to.
I always find it a good idea to ask locals for advice. They know the region best, the know if roads are open, how long things take and how much simple things costs. The receptionist at your hotel in Beirut can help you out a lot but also the people at the local tourist offices are very helpful.
However, I did notice, people in Lebanon can be pretty biased with their recommendations and advice. For example, I asked the lady at the reception of my hotel in Beirut about going to Tyre for a day trip and she made an awful face. Nose up, frowned eyebrows and an overall fowl look of disgust, asking me why I would want to go there.
When I was passing through several villages on the way, I asked someone if they knew any good place for lunch. The man advice against me stopping in the next village, because the places were no good and I should definitely continue half an hour to another village. As I passed the first village, it looked really appealing and relaxed but when I got to the recommended village, it was an absolute dump.
21. Be careful to be caught in a political discussion
It seems everywhere I went, people wanted to mention the horrors of the war and the ongoing struggles of the country. In several situations, I felt really uncomfortable when people were trashing their fellow Lebanese countrymen for having a different religion or advising me to go somewhere else because that city or town was full of terrorist and thieves.
As a non-religious person myself, it is deeply troubling to hear people let their lives dictated by the difference and not by the common grounds we humans share. I felt very eager to steer any conversation away from those topics and keep things light and casual. I’m not saying you should avoid talking about a certain subject, but it made me very uncomfortable at times.
22. There is no kissing on TV
All the hotel rooms I stayed in, had a tv. At first, I didn’t use them, because I figured it would be all in Arabic. But it turns out, most of these tv’s had quite a few other channels with English movies and Arabic subtitles. I spend a nice evening watching one sappy romantic story after another. But one thing you’ll notice is, that the kissing scenes are all cut! There is no kissing on tv in Lebanon. Odd little fact but I thought you should know.
23. You can’t use the call-function on WhatsApp in Lebanon
I purchased a Lebanese sim card with data for my stay in Lebanon. The salesman asked me if I wanted to purchase minutes too because you can’t voice dial with Whatsapp. I found this a bit odd especially seeing how expensive it is to purchase minutes. But Lebanese people have a resourceful solution for this. They leave voice messages for each other on Whatsapp.
Sitting on the bus, I was puzzled as to why the man in front of me was constantly speaking into his phone but didn’t seem to have a conversation. Turns out, he sends voice messages back and forth with the people in his contact list.
24. Double security at the Beirut airport
When my traveling in Lebanon was over, I returned to the airport to be surprised to see no check-in lines at the departure gates. On the left and the right, there were security lines and I was doubting where to go to check-in and leave my luggage.
Turns out, you first go through general security and then you’ll find the check-in desks and the places to drop off your luggage. After this, you go through immigration and have to fill out the form with your passport details. After the exit stamp in your passport, you’ll find yourself in the departure hall.
25. There is only 1 common restaurant at Beirut airport
I wanted to eat something before the flight home, but it seems there is only one restaurant where you can have a sit-down dinner at the Beirut Rafic Hariri Airport. The rest is carefully protected in private lounges where you just can’t get in if you’re not with a certain club or card or whatever. I was a bit disappointed by this, as apparently, the new airport lounge is supposed to be really relaxed and cool.
Traveling in Lebanon
Now, of course, these are just snippets of information I gathered myself. Most of them stood out because of my own references and things I knew or expected about the country. I hope it gives you a fun insight into what you can expect when you’re traveling in Lebanon.
Are you planning a trip to Lebanon? What is it you wish to know before you go? Let me know in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you.
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