While Beirut offers abundant sightseeing and urban activities, a day trip outside the city is highly recommended. For travellers with extra time, consider adding one, or all, of the following to your itinerary.
A Day Trip to Byblos.
As the world’s oldest known continuously inhabited city, Byblos has many stories to tell.
The first settlement is said to have been by a community of fishermen around 8,000BC. The coastal town sitting on a sandstone cliff allowed perfect access to the fruits of the Mediterranean Sea.
Credit for building the city is given to Cronus, son of Greek gods Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth), as the first city in Phoenicia.
As with most of these high-powered families, Cronus killed his father and Zeus, son of Cronus returned the favour.
The multi Pulitzer-Prize-winning Historian, Will Durant who wrote The Story of Civilization with his wife Ariel, said:
“Byblos thought itself the oldest of all cities; the god El had founded it at the beginning of time, and to the end of its history it remained the religious capital of Phoenicia.”
Regardless of when Byblos was founded, settled or built, we know thousands of years have passed and there have been many rulers.
The coveted Cedar Tree, represented today on Lebanon’s national flag, was an important resource for both building and papyrus bringing great wealth to Byblos through trade with Egypt and the world.
The relationship with Egypt not only brought material wealth to the city but culture and religious influences too. In 1284BC Egyptian control of the Phoenician coast put King Ramses11 in power influencing Byblos further.
With papyrus being such an important trading commodity the Phoenicians named the city with the Greek word for book biblos. The Books – Ta Biblia named the bible.
An ancient Phoenician inscription carved on the sarcophagus of Phoenician King Ahiram (found in the excavation of Byblos) draws a direct line to our contemporary alphabet.
The Phoenicians were known for their sailing abilities and Byblos is said to be where shipbuilding began. 480BC saw Phoenician ships join forces with Persia against Greece in the Battle of Salamis.
Byblos is a UNESCO World Heritage site protected for the most part by urban development, although new developments in the port area are being considered.
The distinguishing elements of a medieval town still exist – the protective wall, a cathedral, the castle and its donjon (a massive tower inside the castle).
Ottoman-style modifications also remain – souqs, mosques, khans (inns) and distinctive housing from the time of Ottoman rule.
Although the Greek “Byblos” has stuck, the town is known in Arabic as Jbeil (Jbail) and that’s what you’ll see signposted on your 40-kilometre journey from Beirut.
Byblos Castle replaced an earlier stronghold and the Crusaders reused the stones to build their fortress.
Originally surrounded by a moat, the castle consists of a courtyard with 4 towers in each corner and a fifth on the northern wall to protect the entrance.
The arrow loops fashioned into the castle’s walls were set at an angle reducing the risk to the bowman.
Massive columns bear the weight of equally huge stone blocks and displayed are some of the construction methods used in building the castle.
Byblos Site Museum inside the castle displays artefacts found within the archaeological site outside.
Photographs of pieces housed in the National Museum of Beirut hang on the 12th-century walls. (For historians and students of archaeology, a visit to the National Museum of Beirut is recommended to see these pieces in person)
One house is left on the excavation site representing typical Lebanese architecture. A 4 walled block with the traditional triple arched windows.
The rest of the area was cleared in order to get to the layers beneath. It’s here where King Ahiram’s sarcophagus was discovered.
It’s advisable to invest in a guide for the tour of the castle and excavation site. Ask if Hyame Khoury is available. An archaeologist herself, she has studied this site extensively and turns an interesting excursion into a fascinating one.
Had Hyame not been with us I would never have climbed into a grave site in the bowels of the earth!
The views of the Mediterranean coast north across Byblos and south to Beirut are breath-taking.
Stand for a moment in the amphitheatre and imagine witnessing Roman speeches and performances.
Tickets to Byblos Castle can be bought at the ticket office at the entrance. 6000LBP for foreigners (about US$4.00) adding a guide will be extra.
Tours are offered through Viator/ Tripadvisor and other operators usually including Jeita Grotto, Harissa or both. These can be bought online and prices vary.
From our experience, to really appreciate what Byblos has to offer it requires a full day. Here are a few reasons why.
Built during Ottoman rule the meandering alleyways from the entrance to the harbour were once filled with horse stables, inns and trading stores.
Today, bars and restaurants offer a host of traditional and contemporary options while shops sell souvenirs, clothing, accessories and beautifully designed homewares.
Stop in for a heart-starter at Bar Italia. An espresso, Café Corretto (espresso with a shot of grappa) or an Espresso Martini will put a spring in your step while making friends with Chabel.
Traditional Lebanese mezze is around every corner but the chargrills with rotisseries are perfect for sharing a feast with friends.
Jewellery stores twinkle in the afternoon light and al fresco seating with outdoor heating in the cobbled courtyard is a great spot to watch the world go by.
In an alley off the central courtyard explore Memory of Time – Byblos Fossil Museum. Just as its title states this is a museum of fossils.
A family’s 80-year history of fossil collection from 3 villages around Byblos creates a timeline of the area’s evolution.
The obsession passed from grandfather to his son who passed it to his sons, the current owners, who are in the process of passing it to their sons and daughters.
Working with international universities, natural history museums and fossil specialists, the museum offers further insight into this ancient area.
Byblos Historic Wax Museum.
When entering the Byblos Wax Museum, forget about Madame Tussauds. You’ll be taking a journey with these wax figurines through Lebanon’s history until independence in 1943.
Meet Alexander the Great prior to the burning of Tyre. Rural Lebanon is featured along with famous Lebanese authors and artisans.
A Traditional wedding scene is depicted as well as the 1916 revolt against Ottoman rule, resulting in the execution of the leading revolutionaries on Martyrs’ Square in Downtown Beirut.
Find the wax museum outside the souk near the Citadel on Mar Youhanna Morcos Street.
Open daily 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Strolling Byblos Harbour while the sun sets is not only free, it’s priceless.
Watch fishermen bringing in their catch while taking in the fabulous views of not only the Mediterranean Sea but the beautiful city of Byblos.
For seafood lovers, this is where you need to #eat. Highly recommended is Bab El Mina. A multi-level restaurant with incredible views of the harbour. Make your way almost to the centre of the harbour curve and there it is.
Prawns provençal (lemon, oil, garlic, herbs), always char-grilled occy, rocket and crab salad, and Poisson (fish) kibbeh were all divine. Try not to over-order (it’ll be a challenge) complimentary fruit and dessert are served and it would be rude not to accept. 😉
Getting there from Beirut.
Local Bus 6 leaves central Beirut to Jbeil (Byblos) taking either the coastal route or the highway depending on traffic.
Taxis frequently take passengers to Byblos, be sure to negotiate the price before leaving.
Use your Uber app but there may be a wait for a driver to return.
Many local drivers in Byblos will return you to Beirut for a negotiated fee.
A Day Trip to Anjar, Baalbeck & Ksara.
Carrie and Albert Bond are the creators of Backpacking with the Bonds, their travel site promoting sustainable tourism.
The Bonds have travelled extensively, independently and as a couple. A 2-year stint with the Peace Corp in Jordan provided opportunities for the couple to travel this region.
With a combination of Arabic skills, a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and microfinance experience, the Bonds design trips to help travellers consider how they spend their money to contribute to the sustainable and equitable development of their destinations.
Who better to take us on a day trip to the historic Anjar, Baalbeck & Chateau Ksara?
A Half Day Trip to Jeita Grotto.
Twenty kilometres northeast of Beirut a series of interconnected caves have been the subject of curiosity since 1836.
Although exploration continued intermittently since the first discovery, it wasn’t until the Lebanese Caving Club (Speleo Club Du Liban) made it their mission in the 1940s to fully explore until 9 kilometres of underground caverns were exposed.
Along the 750-metre path in the Upper Grotto expect to see enormous formations resembling curtains, chandeliers and mushrooms.
In the Lower Grotto, an electric boat tour introduces you to extraordinary sights, among them, Shangri-La and the Pantheon.
For more information on this spectacular natural phenomenon, please follow this link to our article in Travel Pass Magazine.
A Half Day Trip to Our Lady of Lebanon.
The 13-ton bronze statue of Our Lady of Lebanon (Notre Dame du Liban) at 20-metres in height overlooks the town and bay of Jounieh.
With open arms, she welcomes pilgrims and tourists not just to the small chapel beneath her, but to the impressive cathedral beside her.
From a vantage point of 650 metres above sea level, you can share the view and explore this popular attraction.
Make the most of your half day trip by arriving at Our Lady of Lebanon via the Teleferique aerial cableway. This excursion is worth doing for the 9-minute gondola ride from Jounieh alone.
Jounieh is 27 kilometres from Downtown Beirut. Taxis are very familiar with the Teleferique cableway. Expect to pay around 25,000LBP (US$16.50).
A Connex bus from Charles Helou Bus and Taxi Station in front of Beirut Port will cost 5,000LBP.
Of course, if Uber is working for you, you have that option too.
Exploring ancient history, archaeology and natural wonders on a day trip from Beirut: it’s a thing we love….
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