Some countries are all about nature. Others house outstanding cultural sites. Lebanon is one of the latter. The tiny country of some 10 000 km2 is so densely populated, that it seems a giant metropolis covers the entire coast. Most tourists visiting Lebanon stay in Beirut and go on day trips to its historic cities and ancient sites. We kind of did the same thing! One day we visited Baalbek, and another one we went to Sidon and Tyre. However, perhaps our most authentic experience was our visit to Tripoli and Byblos on a 2 day trip from Beirut. Though the two places are quite different, both are equally fascinating.
- 1 Day Trip From Beirut to Tripoli
- 2 Things to Do in Tripoli, Lebanon
- 3 Hotels in Tripoli, Lebanon
- 4 Day Trip From Beirut to Byblos
- 5 Things to Do in Byblos, Lebanon
- 6 Hotels in Byblos, Lebanon
Day Trip From Beirut to Tripoli
We were a bit hesitant about visiting Tripoli. Not because we didn’t find it attractive enough, but rather for safety issues. The British foreign ministry advises against traveling there, so we researched a bit, and decided it was safe enough! The only route in Lebanon used by comfortable buses on a fixed schedule is the one that goes from Beirut to Tripoli. Buses are new and depart mostly on time. Buses leave from Beirut’s Charles Helou Station, tucked under a large motorway. Take note that finding the station can be tricky. Thus, we suggest taking a taxi or an Uber to get there. Though the two cities are only 80 kilometers apart, the journey can take between 1,5 and 3 hours (traffic jams are quite common in Lebanon).
Tripoli City – Tarabulus, Lebanon
Most cities in Lebanon have two very different names, one in English and one in Arabic. Take note that some locals know only the Arabic names, so it’s useful to learn them beforehand. Tripoli is called Tarabulus in Arabic, a common name for several cities in different countries. With a population of roughly 300 000, Tripoli is the second-largest city in Lebanon and the economic center of the north. Unlike Beirut, in Tripoli, there is not much tourism. It seemed to us somewhat neglected, with not much a construction boom. On a positive note, the city is 100% authentic and has several interesting attractions. Besides, we felt privileged to be two of the few tourists in town.
Things to Do in Tripoli, Lebanon
Old Tripoli Souk
The heart of old Tripoli is its large medieval souk. Getting lost in souks is one of our favorite things to do, be it in Tripoli (Lebanon), Fez, or Damascus. What makes it special, is that it’s a real medieval souk still in use today. You can smell the scent of past centuries while interacting with the local community. Each of the 9 different souks that make up the souk is for a different product, including food, leather, gold, furniture, soap, and perfumes. These are Attareen, Bazerkan, Haddadin, Haraj, Kameh, Koundarjiyeh, Nahhasin, Samak, and Sayyaghin. Additionally, bathhouses and caravanserais populate old Tripoli. The city’s oldest mosque, Al Mansouri is here too.
Tripoli Castle (Citadel)
Another place you should not miss on your trip to Tripoli is its Castle, also known as the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles. The biggest historical site in Tripoli is also one of the largest and oldest military fortresses in Lebanon. Though many people believe the crusader and count Raymond de Saint Gilles built it, the fortress is much older. The Arab commander Sufyan Ben Mujib built it in 636. During Ottoman rule, medieval walls were destroyed to reconstruct the fortress extensively. Today, it belongs to the Lebanese army, so you will see soldiers passing by. We spent some time wandering about, admiring the uninterrupted views of the whole area.
Tripoli, like other cities in northern Lebanon, doesn’t have much of a beach. To the north of the city, there are is an industrial and agricultural area. A large boulevard with a seaside promenade surrounds the peninsula where el Mina is. Though the sea is there, it is dirty, and there are no beach facilities. To get a glimpse of what a real beach looks like, you should head to some of the private resorts south of the city. Most of them work only through their website, but we had a bad experience with that. Hence, we recommend booking through well-known hotel sites like Booking. There is only one option, quite nice, the Miramar Hotel Resort and Spa. The closest public beach is in the town of Chekka, but there are two large factories nearby.
El Mina, Tripoli’s Seaside Neighborhood
One of the things we loved about Tripoli is that it doesn’t have one but two old towns! Besides Tripoli’s ancient city center, there is another one in the coastal neighborhood of El Mina. Though administratively an independent town, it is part of the city. Historically, El Mina was home to the ancient city of Tripoli, but when the city moved inland, it became its port. The atmosphere here is quite different, laid back, and relaxed. You can easily forget you are in a bustling metropolis. Again, there are some interesting old buildings, charming cobbled streets, and great coffee shops. The Al Tamathili Caravanserai is its most distinguished historic building.
What Else to Do in Tripoli
As you can imagine, there are plenty of other things to do in Tripoli, Lebanon’s northern metropolis. The city boasts several nice fountains for you to discover. Tripoli’s prettiest fountain is inside the Al Manchieh Park, in downtown Tripoli. The famous Tripoli Clock Tower is there too. The Ottomans built it in 1906 as a gift to Tripoli. Another interesting, but unusual sight, is the Tripoli International Fair. The brilliant Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designed it, but the Lebanese civil war broke, so it was never finished. Nevertheless, it is well worth visiting this outstanding modern architecture.
Hotels in Tripoli, Lebanon
As mentioned above, we booked a hotel room in downtown Tripoli, but when we arrived they didn’t have available rooms. Slightly disturbed by the experience and the lack of hotels in Tripoli, we decided to check other cities in Lebanon and finally booked a place in Byblos. If you do decide to spend a night or two in Tripoli, there is only one place downtown that you can book online: the SEED Guesthouse. In El Mina, there are two nice options, but quite pricey. Both the Via Mina Hotel and the Azur Suites Hotel & Apartments are beautiful old houses with even nicer gardens.
Day Trip From Beirut to Byblos
Unlike Tripoli, Byblos is quite touristy and safe. To get from Beirut or Tripoli to Byblos, you can take a regular bus. In Beirut, they leave from Charles Helou Bus Station. On the other hand, in Tripoli, they leave from the Bus station on Abdul Hamid Karami Square. However, most tourists visiting Byblos on a day trip take a minivan at Beirut’s Cola Junction. Minivans are the cheapest and most frequent means of transportation. There are constant traffic jams, especially near Beirut, so travel times vary greatly. Both buses and minibuses stop at the national motorway 51. From there, it’s a 5-minute walk to downtown Byblos.
You can also visit Byblos on a day tour.
Byblos City – Jbeil, Lebanon
As mentioned above, most Lebanese cities have different local names. Byblos is called Jbeil in Arabic, a name commonly used throughout Lebanon. Unlike Tripoli, Byblos is a small city of some 40 000 people. Its proximity to Beirut and large tourist offer, make it an ideal holiday destination. Byblos hosts a very nice old town, several sandy beaches, ancient ruins, and lively nights. Bear in mind that Byblos is Lebanon’s prime tourist destination, so it can get pretty crowded, especially during the day and weekends. Therefore, it’s best to spend a night on a weekday in this lovely city!
Things to Do in Byblos, Lebanon
Byblos epicenter is the old town with its ancient souk. Large medieval city walls, remnants of the time of Crusaders, surround old Byblos. The souk is quite different from the one in Tripoli. It is small, thoroughly reconstructed, perfectly clean, and quite touristy. While you can buy original handicrafts in Tripoli, in Byblos’ market you can buy souvenirs and other popular items. The best place for shopping is the lively Ottoman Street, the souk’s main thoroughfare. What we loved the most about this souk is the colorful cafes and restaurants set in beautiful gardens. Everything changes at night when shops turn their colorful lamps on, and the music starts.
Byblos Castle (Ancient Byblos)
One of the best things to do in Byblos is to visit its ancient site. Byblos has been continuously inhabited since the 5th century BC, making it one of the longest inhabited places in the world. Ancient Byblos is a large archeological site that includes the Phoenician Temple of Baalat Gebal and the Temple of the Obelisks. However, crusaders built the castle in Byblos in the 12th century on top of the Roman ruins. There are remains of several Egyptian temples and a Roman amphitheater next to Byblos Castle. Today the whole area belongs to the Byblos Site Museum.
Byblos is a popular beach destination with several long sandy beaches on both sides of the city. North of the old town, you’ll find Bahsa Beach. The so-called Byblos Public Beach is to the south. Both are nice sandy beaches with deck chairs, umbrellas, bars, and hotels. The atmosphere is quite authentic, but the beaches are dirty. Though we tried to dip in the sea, we couldn’t get over the amount of trash. Thus, this is not the right place to swim. Maybe you are lucky somewhere else. However, that’s no excuse not to have a good time. Order a drink at a beach bar and enjoy the sunset. Partygoers will be happy to know that the famous C Flow Beach Resort is south of Byblos.
What Else to Do in Byblos
If you are wondering what else to do in Byblos, wonder no more. Byblos was an important city during Phoenician, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times. Fortunately, you can still see heritage from those periods. Once done with the souk and the ancient site, visit its interesting churches and mosques. The city’s nicest church, St John the Baptist is from the 12th century. Used as a stable after the Muslims conquered the area, the Maronite community got it back in the 17th century. The old Sultan Abdul Majid Mosque is from the 17th century. It bears the name of Sultan Abdul Majid, who renovated it. Another interesting place to visit is the lively Byblos Port (Harbor). Many Lebanese believe it’s the oldest port in the world. If you are into museums, don’t miss the Byblos Wax Museum.
Hotels in Byblos, Lebanon
In our opinion, most hotels outside Beirut are poor value for money. Either we are talking about old hotels in bad shape or nice overpriced ones. That’s why the majority of tourists stay in Beirut for their entire visit. Luckily, hotels in Byblos are amongst the best in Lebanon. There is a wide variety of accommodation in all categories, and you can book most of them online. We stayed at the lovely Aleph Boutique Hotel, a step away from the old town and the beach. Our tastefully decorated room was comfortable and had fantastic views of the temple and sea. The hotel’s roof terrace offered probably the nicest views in Byblos. If you are looking for luxury, stay at the Byblos Sur Mer, the best hotel in town. If you prefer to stay directly on the beach, the Ocean Blue Beach Resort Jbeil is your best option.