Tiny Lebanon is roughly half the size of Wales and sits on the Mediterranean bordered by Syria and Israel. It’s one of the most ancient and fascinating countries in the Middle East, home to Mount Lebanon and several of the oldest cities in the world. Most visitors take advantage of the compact size to choose a coastal base and explore from there. On a family holiday, it’s always best to avoid northern and eastern borders with Syria and check UK government travel advice before booking.
Why go on holiday in Lebanon?
Direct flights from the UK to Beirut, year round, take just over five hours.
Lebanon has warm, sunny weather from April to October with temperatures of 25 to 30˚ in June, July and August.
The fabled Mount Lebanon range stretches across the entire country from north to south, runs parallel to the Mediterranean in the west and Syria in the east.
Lebanon has five UNESCO World Heritage sites including the great Phoenician cities of Byblos and Tyre on the west coast and Wadi Qadisha (Holy Valley) in northern Mount Lebanon.
UNESCO World Heritage Cedars of God forest in northern Mount Lebanon is now so heavily protected it can only be visited by appointment.
Shouf Biosphere Reserve is Lebanon’s largest, has over 250km of walking and hiking trails and encompasses the Ammiq Wetland.
Lebanon’s western coastline is on the Mediterranean, and the country shares borders with Israel to the south, and Syria to the north and east.
Where to go
Once a byword for chaos, Beirut has worked tirelessly over the past 30 years to eradicate effects of the civil war which brutalised Lebanon in the 1980s. Today the city’s often described as the region’s, ‘most glamorous’ and ‘Paris of the Middle East’. But you’ll have to get past the pollution, crowds, ugly new build and unmistakeable traces of political tension to appreciate those more esoteric qualities.
The country’s main airport means almost all visitors to Lebanon arrive in Beirut.
Visit for the day and join one of the Old Town Tours. Visit Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael with cool, older teens in the evening.
Lebanon’s heartland for shopping and eating with everything from Saint Laurent couture to ancient markets, Joël Robuchon bistros to traditional mezze bars.
Don’t miss: the National Museum; Beirut Art Centre; The Sporting Club beach; Beirut Souks; Roman Baths; Martyrs’ Square; Beirut Corniche.
The world’s oldest, continually inhabited settlement and one of Lebanon’s remarkable Phoenician cities, Byblos is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular day trip from Beirut, just over an hour’s drive south. As a holiday base it’s a good choice for families, with peaceful Mediterranean beaches, ancient history to explore, international resort hotels and access to Mount Lebanon and the north west coast.
Historic souks are one of Byblos’ treasures and where to find the city’s best cafés and restaurants.
Beirut is an hour’s drive south and Shouf Nature Reserve
Don’t miss: Edde Sands beach; the Crusader Castle; Byblos Port; Sultan Abdel Majid Mosque; El-Houssami.
Lebanon’s most southern city is just a short drive from the border with Israel. Small compared to the likes of Beirut and Sidon, it’s generally considered loveliest of all in terms of ancient monuments and historic architecture. It feels more like a Mediterranean town, and has several good beaches and resort hotels.
Don’t miss: Al Mina archaeological excavations; reconstructed Triumphal Arch; waterfront corniche in new Tyre; historic souks; Hippodrome; harbour district.
Sidon is Lebanon’s second largest city, 40 minutes’ drive south of Beirut and another ancient Phoenician settlement with a mesmerising historic heart and Mediterranean beaches.
Look at Tyre Beach, Sour Beach and Al Khyam Beach to the north of the city for family resort hotels.
Don’t miss: Sidon Sea Castle; Eshmun Temple; Khan el Franj; Sidon Souks; Castle of St. Louis; Debbane Palace; Sidon Soap Museum.
Not to be confused with it’s Libyan namesake, Tripoli is Lebanon’s most northern city and by far the most traditional and historically interesting. It’s close enough to the Syrian border to discount as a family holiday base, but good to visit for the day with older kids and teenagers. Dress code is conservative for women so carry a headscarf.
Don’t miss: the Walled Towers; Mamluk Mosques, Hammam, Madrassa and Khans; Old Town street markets.
What to do
Shouf Biosphere Reserve
An hour’s drive east of Beirut, Shouf Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected nature reserve in Lebanon. With over 250 well marked walking trails and guided hikes round the Ammiq Wetland and Niha Fort, it’s the best place to safely explore the spectacular Mount Lebanon range.
Moukhtara, Barouk River Valley
A beautifully preserved mountain village and former seat of the Druze, the collection of palaces, working oil presses, mansions and townhouses can be seen on the Barouk River Valley Trail.
Jeita Grotto, Valley of the Dog
30 minutes east of Beirut, these sensational underground caverns are Lebanon’s most famous. Take the cruise into the lower grotto. The surrounding park has kids activities, playgrounds, a zoo and Mount Lebanon cable cars.
Debbané Palace, Sidon
Sidon’s magnificent Ottoman palace was built for Ali Hammoud in the 18th century and its sheer opulence is an astonishing experience, even for younger kids.
Cycle Beirut Corniche
One of the most fun ways to see the great city and the Mediterranean coast is to cycle Beirut Corniche.
Saint Nicholas Centre, Beirut
Dedicated to revealing the truth about Santa Claus in the art, architecture, houses, galleries and ancient staircases of Beirut Old Town.
National Museum, Beirut
This complex archaeological museum is widely regarded as the finest in the Middle East and beautifully curated for younger visitors.
Beiteddine Arts Festival, Shouf
The Beiteddine Palace is reason in itself to spend time in Shouf Biosphere Reserve, it also hosts Lebanon’s biggest arts’ festival every year in July.
Bay of Jounieh Teleferique
The most popular attraction in Lebanon is the soaring cable car into the mountains 570m above the spectacular Bay of Jounieh.
The Sporting Club Beach, Beirut
Beirut’s best loved beach bar none has huge swimming pools, terraces, water sports, restaurants and kids activities. It’s also the hub of the city’s Mediterranean resort hotels.
Educational value for kids
Don’t miss 17th century Khan el-Franj when you’re exploring Sidon’s ancient souks. Translated as the Inn of Foreigners it’s one of the best examples of a limestone Khan in Lebanon and kids like the local craft workshops tucked in and around its graceful courtyard.
Visit Beirut’s Mar Mikhael district for cool and colourful young restaurants cooking up a great take on legendary mezze and traditional Lebanese food.
Even Lebanon’s reconstructed souks have heritage at their heart, and the originals are historic, colourful, chaotic and incredible with kids.
If you’re in Tripoli, take half-an-hour out to visit one of the city’s amazing old fashioned chocolatiers. There a throw back to the days of the French Mandate, but still going strong for all the right reasons, and watching staff hand-wrapping sweets is mesmerising.
Think about staying for a few days in Shouf Reserve, the villages are captivating, and welcoming heritage guesthouse and boutique hotels make a lovely change from the coast.
The oldest cultural event in the Middle East, Baalbeck International Festival, is held in the UNESCO World Heritage city in late July. Expect anything and everything from English Chamber Music to New Orleans’ jazz, family activities, kids’ events and endless exotic feasting.
Beirut Art Centre is a hive of creative activity year round with radical performance, events and exhibitions regularly attracting international attention.
Getting around with kids in Lebanon
Taxis are the best way to travel round Beirut and most other Lebanese cities. They’re inexpensive but don’t have metres, so agree a fare before getting in. Driving in the capital is nerve wracking and best left to locals. Exploring the rest of the country, along the coast and on the western side of Mount Lebanon, can be done quite easily by road. But, before you hire a car or make plans, check UK Government travel advice on getting around Lebanon safely with kids.