Family Adventure: Discovering Lebanon
By: Rania Kfuri, founder and CEO of Free Like Birdie
Children: Two daughters aged 5 and 2
Lebanon was once known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” and today remains a meeting place of the east and west. It’s a stunning place and, being a Mediterranean country, you can enjoy the beauty of the sea as well as the amazing mountains.
Lebanon has something for everyone, whatever your age and whatever your interest you will find something that amazes you and leaves you wanting more. There’s fashion, history, restaurants and amazing nightlife. It’s also a small country so easy to get around.
Our family usually visits Lebanon at least once a year to see our relatives. During most visits we rent a car and stay with my in-laws who live in a mountain town just outside of Beirut called Ain Saade.
There are so many wonderful locations to visit. One of our favourite places is the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon in the town of Harissa. There is a beautiful view of the coastline from the top of the mountain and if you take the gondola to the top, the ride is lots of fun.
For families visiting Lebanon there is an endless amount of activities especially in the summer, ranging from horseback riding and hiking in the famous Cedar National Park to history tours of Beirut and cooking classes – and much more!
Even though the opportunities to have fun are endless, Lebanon is not the type of destination you can just arrive and enjoy. It’s a chaotic place that, like anywhere else, requires proper planning for visiting.
Lebanon is a country that has had a turbulent history marked with war and political violence. In recent years it has enjoyed periods of calm but continues to struggle with issues relating to tensions in the region and internal conflicts. It is important to note that when planning a trip to Lebanon you should be aware if your home country has any travel warnings or alerts that are relevant to your plans. Some countries such as the United States request that US citizens traveling to Lebanon enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) with the Department of State. Do proper research using these important resources to learn more about the up to date status.
UK Government Travel Advice: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/lebanon
Where to go?
The most central place to stay when you visit is in the capital Beirut. Lebanon is a very small country (smaller than the city of Chicago) so when you are in Beirut you are close to everything. From here it’s easy to book tours to places you might like to visit with professional companies such as Nakhal. If you are in Beirut then you will have easy access to a myriad of beach clubs that you can visit for the day.
The restaurants in Beirut are very visitor friendly and almost everyone speaks English, and the shopping in downtown Beirut is equal to any large European or American city.
The architecture of the “centre ville” or “city center” in downtown is beautiful. We always like to visit the Place de l’Etoile where there is a large clock tower in this centre square, to take a stroll and have an ice cream.
One of our favourite restaurants is called Semsom. Located at City Mall it features traditional Lebanese cuisine with a fun twist. And wherever you are shopping be sure to be on the lookout for the well known Artisanat stores that sell handmade Lebanese items such as tablecloths, clothing, home décor and jewellery.
The Best Part
The best part about Lebanon is the people who are kind and welcoming. When they know you are visiting their country for the first time, they want to welcome you and make sure you are having a great time. The kindness of the people is equal to the natural beauty this small country possesses.
I would definitely suggest you have lunch at one of the many restaurants on the sea; many specialise in fish that is caught fresh every day such as Chez Sami near the famous Casino du Liban.
Also, be sure to have traditional Lebanese Mezza (a tapas style meal) during your visit, we love a restaurant called Mounir in a mountain town 15 minutes from Beirut called Beit Miri, they have a playground for the kids to play which is also convenient.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
- Visit the Cedars of Lebanon. It is a beautiful and historic National Park that is worth visiting. The small towns along the way also offer a nice place to stop and have a meal before or after your visit.
- Baalbeck is such an impressive historic site to visit. The Temple of Jupiter will amaze you and it is has been well maintained. If you are lucky they will be having the famous Baalbeck International Festival which brings the place to life in an extraordinary way.
- Byblos is a historic seaside town that should not be missed. This Mediterranean city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world. You can visit the ancient port and castle as well as have lunch at the many restaurants available.
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