Lebanon travel guide
Fringed by golden beaches, peppered with World Heritage Sites and home to the Middle East’s premier party city, Lebanon has all the hallmarks of a classic traveller’s destination.
Yet the reality, alas, is not quite so rosy. Still recovering from a brutal civil war (1975-1990), the conflict in neighbouring Syria is spilling across the border and the Bekaa Valley remains a stronghold for the militant group Hezbollah. Suffice to say, cautious tourists have stayed away.
Nevertheless, for now, a fragile peace prevails in Lebanon, which extends a warm welcome to foreign visitors. Nowhere is this clearer than in the capital, Beirut, a friendly party town sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of Mount Lebanon.
Characterised by its affable inhabitants, dramatic coastline and delicious cuisine, bustling Beirut sits at the crossroads between Europe and Arabia. Influences from east and west abound – it is not uncommon to hear the call to prayer competing with DJs in some of the livelier parts of town.
Although buildings still bear the scars of past conflicts, the city is a forward-thinking capital where the biggest danger nowadays seems to be the traffic – crossing the road can feel like an extreme sport.
Though small in size, Lebanon boasts five UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the city of Byblos, one of the oldest Phoenician ports, and the haunting remains of Baalbeck in the Hezbollah-run Bekaa Valley, one of the finest examples of Greco-Roman architecture in existence.
Other highlights including the magnificent cedar forests and Christian monasteries of the Holy Valley, as well as the ancient cities of Tyr and Tripoli, home to one of the oldest seaports in the world.
And if that’s not enough, there’s always skiing in Mount Lebanon. Granted, it might not be an obvious place to hit the slopes, but there are few places in this world that can offer sun, sand and skiing in one day. But then Lebanon is not your average destination.
10,452 sq km (4,036 sq miles).
5,988,153 (UN estimate 2016).
591.7 per sq km.
Vacant. The president's duties are currently being carried out by the prime minister and his cabinet.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam since 2013.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins or three square pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The risk to tourists from petty or violent crime is moderate. There is a risk of vehicle crime and bag snatching. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
There have been incidents of armed robberies and physical attacks against passengers in shared taxis (known locally as service taxis) with passengers being attacked by either the driver or other passengers. Don’t use shared taxis or taxis hailed on the street. Only use taxis from recognised companies. Hotels can advise on firms with cars that are recognised as being safe and well maintained.
There have been clashes in recent years between Lebanese security forces and militants in Tripoli and in areas north of Tripoli, including in Minyeh and Banine resulting in civilians, soldiers and militants being killed and/or injured.
In August 2014 clashes between extremist groups and Lebanese security forces in and around the town of Arsal resulted in the deaths of 18 soldiers and over 50 gunmen. A number of soldiers are still held captive. Armed incursions and shelling across the Syria border have resulted in casualties across several locations including Wadi Khaled, Al Qaa, Hermel, Baalbek and Aarsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Palestinian refugee camps are volatile environments where the Lebanese state has limited capacity to impose law and order. There has been a long pattern of violent clashes in particular in Ein El Helwe camp near Saida in southern Lebanon.
There was an attack on the Israeli military in the Shebaa Farms area on 28 January 2015 with reports of cross-border shelling near the towns of Majidiyeh, Kfarshouba, Abbasiye and Wazzani. A UN peacekeeper was killed and further casualties were reported.
There is a UN peacekeeping presence in the area south of the Litani River. Although de-mining operations have been carried out unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs, remain in remote areas.
Roads, including the Beirut airport road, are subject to closure without notice.
You must hold an International Driving Permit to drive in Lebanon. This must be certified by the Lebanese authorities on arrival.
Driving standards are poor and the accident rate is high. Traffic lights are not always observed. It may be better to hire a car with a driver if you’re inexperienced. You must wear a seat belt (if fitted). Avoid travelling at night outside towns if possible. Vehicles with diesel engines are banned.
Carry ID with you at all times and be prepared to stop at check points to show your papers. The army have set up temporary check points on major and minor roads.
Celebratory gunfire into the air is common throughout Lebanon, including in response to speeches and messages by political leaders. If you find yourself in an area where there’s celebratory gunfire, take cover in a building and move away from windows.
The security situation can deteriorate quickly. Demonstrations and other forms of civil unrest can occur at short notice and often turn violent. Regional developments can have an impact on the local security situation. Monitor local media and avoid all protests.
Radio One 105.5 FM
Voice of Lebanon 93.3 FM
Radio Orient 88.3- 88.6 FM
Sawt El Ghad 97.1- 96.7 FM
BBC Arabic 93.1 FM