Our recommendation to visit Lebanon
Lebanon Travel advice
Events and festivals in Lebanon
Did you know that Lebanon is a multi-faith country? There are six different Christian groups and four Muslim groups in the country, with a majority of Shiites. This accounts for the many popular festivals in Lebanon. Some of them are joint celebrations and others are exclusively Muslim. These are the main ones.
Popular festivals in Lebanon celebrated by all religious groups
Mar Maron festival - 9 February
St. Maron was a Christian hermit, now sanctified, who dedicated himself to praying in the most absolute poverty. He welcomed all those who visited him with kindness and received the gift of healing the sick. Originally from Syria, he is a saint whose feast day is celebrated in Lebanon on 9 February.
The monastery of St. Maron, on the border with Syria, has caves carved into the rock where both the saint and his first followers lived.
Easter - March/April
Lebanon's popular festivities include a traditional Holy Week celebrated on the dates established by the Catholic Church and in which the six Christian groups carry out the traditional processions, running from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
Qana Day - 18 April
On 18 April 1996, the Israeli army carried out a massacre at a UN base in the town of Qana. To commemorate that day, and in honour of the victims, 18 April is a day of national mourning in Lebanon. This is not a festive day, and shops and other public places are closed on this date.
Labour Day - 1 May
As in most parts of the world, 1 May is one of the popular holidays in Lebanon. It is celebrated with workers' demonstrations and the shops are closed.
Assumption Day - 15 August
One of the most celebrated festivals of the international Catholic community is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August.
All Saints' Day - 1 November
This is also a Christian festival and a public holiday in Lebanon. The celebrations are private. Unlike the United States and, more recently, Europe, All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, is not celebrated in Lebanon.
Independence Day - 22 November
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943, on 31 December. However, the date of celebration is 22 November, as this is the day when the right to independence was recognised by France. During the day there are military parades, similar to those of Spain's Día de la Hispanidad.
Christmas - 25 December
Lebanon celebrates Christmas on 25 December. For Christians in the country the date is celebrated in the Western way.
Popular Lebanese festivals of the Muslim faith
Also known as Eid al-Adha or Festival of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Kebir is the most important festival in the Muslim calendar. It commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice the life of Isaac, his only son, to God. This episode appears in both the Bible and the Koran.
On the day of the feast, the Muslims reproduce the sacrifice of Isaac by slaughtering a lamb. This is the central tradition of this Lebanese holiday. Since not everyone can afford this sacrifice, only those Muslims who are able to purchase a lamb at least one year old and of reasonable size are obliged to celebrate Eid al-Kebir.
The sacrifice takes place on the tenth day of the month of Dhu l-hiyya, the day of the pilgrimage to Mecca, towards which the head of the animal must be pointed, and it must be kept awake during the celebration.
One of the popular festivities in Lebanon is Ras as-Sana or the Muslim New Year. This commemorates the journey that Muhammad and his companions made from Mecca to Medina in the year 622, which became the first Muslim year.
The Hegira does not involve any special religious celebrations, but the Muslim faithful do not go to work, because it is a holy day.
The day of Ashura commemorates one of the most important holidays in the Shiite calendar. It commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and there are processions of the faithful who flagellate themselves and hit their heads with swords. In Lebanon, it is celebrated by Shiite Muslim communities and the processions are often as striking as those of the Catholic faithful, who also whip themselves at Easter.
Muhammad's birthday is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. During the early years of Islam, the celebration lasted a whole month and ended with torchlit processions and great festivities. Today it is a little more modest and includes a religious sermon and a great banquet.
Perhaps the best known festival of Islam is Ramadan, the month of fasting, when Muslims do not eat anything between sunrise and sunset. Unlike other religions, where fasting is a punishment, Muslims deprive themselves of food in order to get closer to God. This month marks the moment when God revealed the Koran to Muhammad.
Eid al-fitr is the day when Ramadan ends. It begins with breakfast and a very important moment dedicated to prayer. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and friends and offering them fine dishes. Gifts are also given to children who, although they do not fast, experience this festival in a very special way.GO TO EVENTS
Food in Lebanon
Lebanon is a country whose aromas and flavours will linger long in your memory. Its cuisine fuses the best of Mediterranean food with the most attractive aspects of the Arab diet. So what you find in Lebanon is a healthy cuisine rich in flavours that will feel both familiar and at the same time new and refreshing.
What to expect from Lebanese food
Many of the traditional dishes you'll find in Lebanon are based on olive oil, sesame, legumes, cereals, vegetables and fruit. It is a rich and fertile country, but the ingredients of Lebanese food are not infinite. However, the way they are prepared makes each dish absolutely unique.
Some of the most typical produce you must try not to miss are aubergines, cheeses and yogurts. But don't expect the flavours to be the same as the ones you're familiar with.
One of the good things about Lebanese cuisine is that there are options for omnivores, vegetarians and even vegans. Unlike other countries, Lebanon offers a wide variety of vegan-friendly dishes, so you won't have to always order the same thing. And confirmed carnivores will enjoy rich meat, fish and shellfish dishes.
Every Lebanese meal starts with a mezze or mezza.
When you're in this wonderful country and thinking for the first time about what to eat in Lebanon, you'll see that most restaurant menus include the word mezze or mezza. Rather than being a typical dish, it's a small appetiser that's served as a starter. It consists of several different dishes and is usually shared.
The Lebanese are used to going out to bars and eating mezze, but they also do it at home. A little bit like the tapas that are eaten in Spain.
The Lebanese dishes comprising mezze usually include chickpea hummus, cheeses, fried foods, salads, olives and bread.
If you are in Lebanon and you order several dishes to eat, traditional restaurants will serve them with spring onions, mint, tomatoes, olives and pita bread. This is usually included in the price and is the real Lebanese mezze.
Hummus is a paste with the consistency of pâté that is made with chickpeas, olive oil, seeds and lemon juice. It is usually eaten with pita bread and in Lebanon also with nuts such as cashews.
It may remind you of hummus the first time you see it, but labneh is made with thick strained yogurt and olive oil. Its remarkable taste varies depending on whether it's made from sheep's, cow's or goat's milk.
This salad, whose origin is disputed between Lebanon and Syria, contains mint and parsley leaves, wheat and olive oil.
It is usually part of the mezze, accompanied by pita bread, chopped onion, lemon and cucumber. Just mentioning the ingredients makes it clear that it's a very refreshing dish.
Baba ganoush and bathenjan makli
Aubergines are the basis of many of the dishes you eat in Lebanon. When fried, they're called bathenjan makli. They can be fried with honey and accompanied by lettuce, fresh tomato, parsley or other types of sauces.
Baba ganoush is an aubergine purée that is eaten with pita bread.
This is a typical dinner and breakfast dish that also falls into the category of traditional Lebanese mezze. It's made from bread of varying degrees of freshness. To conceal the flavour of the stale bread, it is spread in a spicy sauce with olive oil, yogurt, cumin, pine nuts and chickpeas. A real treat.
This salad rests on a base of fried and cooled pita bread on which garlic, onion, radish, lettuce, cucumber and tomato are placed.
What to eat for breakfast in Lebanon: manakish with za'tar sauce
Manakish is a bread whose dough looks a lot like that of pizza. It's very thin and seasoned with olive oil and za'tar sauce, made of sumac, thyme and sesame seeds. This bread can be found in all Lebanese bakeries and its price makes it really affordable.
What to eat in Lebanon
When you see this chicken dish it may remind you of typical croquettes. The chicken is coated with bulgar wheat and there is a vegetarian version that instead of chicken has potato, tomato and pumpkin.
It's amazing with yogurt or hummus.
Shawarma is one of the most typical Middle Eastern dishes. This is meat that turns as it cooks on a spit and in Lebanon may be made of chicken, lamb, beef or a mixture of these.
Lebanese fried cauliflower
For every meat dish, there's a vegetarian one to eat in Lebanon, and in this case we're referring to fried cauliflower. It's usually accompanied by a salad and can also be eaten in a sandwich.
Kofta and falafel
Whereas kofta is minced meat that comes in the form of a meatball or hamburger, falafel is made with chickpeas or beans spiced with cumin. Kofta is served with pita bread and potatoes and falafel with vegetables and yoghurt sauce.
Desserts to conclude a meal in Lebanon
This biscuit filled with nuts and fruit is the star of many Lebanese parties and celebrations. It is usually round or shaped like a pyramid.
These delicacies from Turkey are made with almonds, honey and puff pastry. They have become very popular in Lebanon and throughout the Mediterranean in general.GO TO GASTRONOMY
Shopping in Lebanon
Lebanon is a country still visited by relatively few tourists. That's why it's not easy to find the typical souvenir shops or big markets aimed at tourists. This can work to your advantage if you're looking for what to buy in Lebanon and want something authentic.
You should know from the get go that the best place to go shopping is Beirut. Here you'll find markets and souks where haggling is a way of life. It's also home to large shopping centres.
What to buy in Beirut: shopping centres
The Beirut Shopping Centre is perhaps the best known in the Lebanese capital. Here you'll find the latest fashions, as well as a European-style leisure and dining area. This is a popular hangout for young people and you can tuck into a delicious Lebanese meal or an aromatic coffee.
The ABC Ashrafieh is another favorite shopping and leisure centre's among Beirut's locals. This is not only because of the great variety of fashion and shoes, but also because of the luxurious decoration and the great glass dome in which the best restaurants are located. This is a shopping centre for all budgets, as it offers everything from imitation perfume to high jewellery and top brand clothing.
The ABC Ashrafieh shopping and entertainment complex is very popular, not only among tourists but also among local residents. This centre has many interesting features. In addition to the original boutiques, for example, there's an excellent food court under a glass dome on the top floor. The shopping centre is always luxuriously decorated. It often hosts interesting recreational activities. It's hard to imagine a product category that can't be bought here. They sell everything from cheap clothing and perfumes to top-end designer accessories and jewellery.
Spices and oriental fabrics
If you travel to Lebanon in May or November, head to the country's most peculiar and picturesque oriental market, Suk al-Bargut. Here you'll find Arab fashion, a variety of aromatic spices and oriental fabrics. It's also the perfect place to try the most delicious Lebanese sweet treats, such as baklava, which is of Turkish origin but widespread throughout the Arab world.
As for typical Lebanese dress, here you'll find kaftans and abayas.
Kaftans are items of clothing made of silk or cotton and usually very bright colours. They're open in the front, with short sleeves and come in a variety of lengths. The traditional kaftans were knee length, but fashion trends have led to variation.
Crafts in Al Tayeb
The rest of the year you can do your shopping at the Al-Tayeb market, which is open every Saturday. It's the ideal market to find fresh products, as well as the work of local craftsmen at a very good price. Some of the most typical items to buy in Lebanon are ceramic and blown glass.
Cedar wood carvings are also very popular. The smell of this wood and the warmth of the products make it even more desirable.
If you want to get your hands on a rare copy of an exotic book, head to the BaalbekHalabi Bookshop, which not only offers new and second-hand books, but also old posters, retro writing devices such as typewriters, photographs and all kinds of Lebanese literary memorabilia.
If you want to give your home an oriental feel and you don't know what to buy in Lebanon, head to Liban et d'Orient. Here you'll be able to get hold of small Lebanese furniture, authentic Arab kitchen utensils, crockery and table linen that you won't find anywhere else. Both are unique pieces handmade by the craftsmen in the workshop. It's not a cheap place, but when you visit you'll know why.
Lebanese jewellery: the product to buy in Lebanon par excellence
Arab countries are known for their love of luxury, both in fabrics and decoration and, of course, in everything related to jewellery. You can't travel to Lebanon and not buy a little something.
If your budget is not too high, go to Khodr Jewellers, which has a stylish catalogue suitable for all.
If you prefer the showiness of more precious stones, go to Selim Mouzannar. The place is a jewel in itself. Its decoration is undoubtedly part of the experience of shopping in Lebanon.
But Lebanese goldsmiths don't just create traditional jewellery. They also make jars, silverware and pots in brass, silver, copper and even gold.GO TO SHOPPING
Lebanon tourist attractions
More information about Lebanon
This small west Asian country packs a punch when it comes to cultural value. Sat on the Mediterranean between Israel and Syria, Lebanon’s situation between Europe and the Middle East has ensured a rich history and a country filled with relics of ancient civilisations and empires. Considering its size, Lebanese culture is well-known throughout the world, especially its mouth-watering cuisine. The country is scattered with ancient ruins, ranging from Roman baths to ancient Phoenician fortifications and classical temples, making a holiday to Lebanon a must-do for history lovers.
Lebanon is also known for it’s ‘east meets west’ culture, where the influences of Islam and Christianity have mixed to produce a unique national culture. Notoriously vibrant Beirut is the capital city and as cosmopolitan as any European city, with a stretching coastline on the Mediterranean, attracting sunseekers who desire a beach-break alongside a dose of culture.
Byblos stands out as another of the country’s major cities as it’s widely believed to be one of the longest inhabited cities in the world; it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with its pretty harbour and narrow lanes of its old souk. A trip to Lebanon is a captivating invitation to examine the rise and fall of great civilisations and to absorb the atmosphere of the place where cultures meet.
History of Lebanon
Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans and Ottomans have all left their own unique mark on the country, making a tour of Lebanon one of the most fascinating journeys through history you could ever make. The much-romanticized civilisation of the Phoenicians, famed for their purple cloth, maritime power and alphabet originated in Lebanon and were active from 1550 to 530 BC before the mighty Roman Empire took control, whose prevalence in the region can be seen today in ruins ranging from Roman baths to temples. The world’s most well-preserved Roman temple, the Temple of Bacchus can be found in Baalbek in Lebanon.
The country was a leading centre of Christianity during the years of the Holy Roman Empire, although other religious traditions such as Maronite and Druze can trace their heritage to Lebanon during this time too. From the 1500s to 1918, the Ottoman Empire ruled the territory of modern-day Lebanon, followed by the French after World War II.
Lebanon did not gain independence until 1943, and in the following years, the country earned a reputation as the ‘Pearl of the Middle East’ and was considered a peaceful, diverse and prosperous country. Despite civil war and religious-based conflict in the second half of the 20th century, Lebanon has become an increasingly popular travel destination in recent years, owing to its abundant, well-preserved ruins and ancient cities.
Nature in Lebanon
Alongside a multitude of impressive historic and cultural sights, Lebanon has no shortage of natural wonders. The Jeita Grotto cave system is among one of the most magical in the world with an underground river and some of the largest stalactites on earth. With a length of almost 9 kilometres, this cave system is a must-see on a tour of Lebanon.
In the capital city, amongst the glamour and fast-paced city life, Pigeon Rock is one of the country’s best known natural attractions and is composed of gigantic rock formations, off the coast, which form natural archways in the sea. Lebanon is well-known for its cedar trees and lovers of the great outdoors will revel in the opportunity to walk through the thick cedar forests of Mount Lebanon. After all, it was this material which helped to build some of the most powerful civilisations in history.
Also in the mountains of Lebanon, the Baatara Gorge Waterfall charms visitors with its unique cascades which fall through the middle of the gorge and down into a sinkhole. Just one hour from the capital, winter sports enthusiasts will love visiting Mzaar Kfardebian whilst on a tour of Lebanon. This popular ski resort is suitable for all levels and is the largest in the Middle East.
Culture in Lebanon
On a tour of Lebanon, you can expect to enjoy a fusion of both Islamic and Christian traditions, with the majority of the population following either one of these religions. In fact, Lebanon is thought to be the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East where festivities and traditions of all different religions are celebrated nationally. The capital of Beirut is known for its open-mindedness, although there are more conservative parts of the country.
Nevertheless, the Lebanese are famed for their friendliness and hospitality which can only help to enhance a trip to Lebanon. Arabic and French are the two most widely spoken languages and the country is perhaps best known for its delicious cuisine, which shares influences of both the Mediterranean and Arabic culinary traditions.
There are very few places on earth where you can experience the result of centuries worth of rule from some of the most advanced and enigmatic civilisation in history, hence Lebanon is sometimes referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’ for its diversity and incredible cultural value.
Take a tour of Lebanon and immerse yourself in the history of a country which has both held on to its past and embraced modernity. Where ‘East meets West’ and where the past and future coexist side-by-side.
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