Imposing snow-capped mountains, skiing resorts, sumptuous promenades, alluring valleys surrounded by picturesque towns and cedar forests…No wonder Lebanon was at one time nicknamed the “Switzerland of the East,” and more so for its dynamic culture and unique landscape resembling very much alpine scenes cut out of postcards from St. Moritz and Geneva. Lebanon is a slice of the Alps in the Middle East and a central cultural and financial hub where tradition, stylishness, and modernity combine to offer a kaleidoscopic allure unique in the region.
Lebanon has the distinction of attaining nicknames associated with the imposing geography of Europe: the country is known as the “Switzerland of the East,” but Beirut, its capital and largest city, is in turn nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East”; and in 2015, another heavy-weight title of marvel was added—it became the New7Wonders Cities. There’s absolutely no exaggeration in any distinctions as Beirut is the most exciting and frivolous of cities in the region: to the West, the Mediterranean bathes a shoreline of cliffs, giving rise to the famed Corniche, a cobblestone boulevard stringed with shops and cafes overlooking the sea.
From there, you may take an exquisite leisure walk on Avenue De Paris and Avenue De Gaulle, two of the city’s most essential veins and home to posh high-rise buildings, restaurants, and brand boutiques. Nearby is the equally famed upscale neighborhood of Rouche, packed with fine shops and restaurants overlooking a major landmark just off the Beirut coast—the Pigeon’s Rock, a bizarre rock formation shaped by the waves and admired by thousands of visitors.
Just away is Badaro, a lovely neighborhood of leafy streets worth a leisure daytime walk, and at night-time, a central hub for entertainment: cafes, clubs, bars, theatres…If shopping and frivolity are sought, look no farther than Hamra Street or Beirut’s elite “78 street”, the leading commercial and financial sector packed with even more great shops and pubs. As you go along, you will encounter Beirut’s “intellectual center”: right around is the American University of Beirut, The Lebanese American University, and a string of hotels, libraries, and upscale apartment buildings.
At night, the skies enliven with the lights of Casino du Liban, a little piece of Monte Carlo that adds to exciting nightlife for which Beirut is legendarily known. With an eclectic architecture combining French, Ottoman, and Art-Deco and set against an Alpine landscape, Beirut’s profile is a first-class European city.
Some 90 kilometers north of Beirut is this ancient Phoenician city set in the Beqaa Valley, one of the most beautiful, picturesque landscapes in the Middle East. Baalbek is the site of significant Hellenistic and Roman ruins, mainly the Temple of Bacchus and The Temple of Jupiter, both impressive architectural marvels frozen in time and well-kept, with a formidable plaza surrounded by imposing Corinthian columns and Roman avenues. The valley itself is a wonder of nature: nearby are Zahle and Chtoura, both picturesque towns with high-end cafes and hotels perched on Mount Lebanon, reminiscent of Swiss and Northern Italian cities (no wonder they call it “Switzerland of the East”).
Best things to do
Lebanon’s sensational Jeita Grotto makes an exciting day trip from Beirut. Once considered a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this dramatic cave is divided into a lower grotto and an upper grotto, which contains the White Chamber, home to the world’s largest stalactite.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Byblos (Jbeil), has been home to many civilizations over the last 8,000 years. A historic harbor, a Crusader castle, a medieval atmospheric center, and a charming archaeological site add heritage charm. During summer, there’s a vibrant party scene as well as outstanding seafood eateries.
Visit the Beirut Souks
If you’re looking to do some shopping in the Middle East’s fashion capital, Beirut Souks is the place for you. The site boasts a lot of international brands for you to peruse. There are also many restaurants to choose from, and the area is always bustling with people and events.
The home of the Lady of Lebanon, Harissa, is the religious site to visit in the country. The great shrine honors the 50th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception declared by Pope Pius IX. The trip to the site is extraordinary as you can ride the Telefrique to Harissa. With the lady watching over Jounieh, you can feel solid spiritual energy at this stop.
Beirut National Museum (Musée National de Beyrouth)
Beirut National Museum features an impressive, well-displayed collection of archaeological artifacts from throughout the ages, offering a thorough survey of Lebanon’s history.
The museum collection is displayed in chronological order, beginning in prehistory and ending in the Ottoman era. The circuit starts on the ground floor, where you’ll find various ancient statues and mosaics. The museum’s upper level features more than 1,000 artifacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Mamluk eras, all arranged by theme. Of its many artifacts, the Phoenician gilded bronze figurines found buried near the Obelisk Temple are probably the museum’s most popular.