Essential Lebanon


Culture | Silk Road

Discover Phoenician history, sublime ruins & fine wine

6 days Ask us for pricing This is the price per person for a private tour (based on 2 people travelling) excluding international flights. Contact us for pricing for other group sizes including individuals.
Intro, Dates & Prices


A turbulent recent history means this beautiful and welcoming country sees few visitors, however a trip to Lebanon is a deeply rewarding experience. Its ancient history, friendly and forward-looking people, and wealth of natural beauty ensures that this small country packs a lot of punch. Come see for yourself. Take a boat through the cave complex at Jeita, journey back in time at the incredible Roman complex of Baalbek, and explore Byblos, the birthplace of the alphabet and the ancient heart of world-shipping before indulging in Ksara’s finest wines.


  • The historic Southern towns of Sidon & Tyre
  • Experience Beirut's beguiling mix of antiquity and modernity
  • The Temple of Eshmun
  • Visually stunning Jeita Grotto
  • Byblos, birthplace of the alphabet
  • Byblos, ancient town and port
  • The spectacular Qadisha Valley
  • Baalbek, vast Roman complex
  • Sample the finest wines at Ksara winery

Places Visited

Beirut - Sidon - Eshmun - Tyre - Jeita Grotto - Byblos - Zahle - Baalbek - Aanjar - Ksara Winery

What's Included

Airport pick-up & drop-off
Ground transport
Entrance fees to sites
Breakfasts and some meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
Drivers and guides

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Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Beirut

Arrival. Pick up from airport and drop to hotel. Overnight in Beirut (Hamra area).

Overnight in Gems Hotel, Beirut

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Sidon - Eshmun - Tyre

Early start. Drive to the South of Lebanon, to one of the oldest Phoenician cities, Sidon (Saida) and explore the colourful souk, the sea castle and the fish market (the name 'Sidon' means fishery). Visit the nearby Temple of Eshmun. Continue to another Phoenician town, Tyre (Sur), and visit its spectacular ruins. Learn the complex history of invasions by Persians, Egyptians, Ottomans and Babylonians. Return to Beirut for overnight.

Overnight in Gems Hotel, Beirut

Meal plan: Breakfast

Sidon (a.k.a. Saida) is located in the southern part of the country, and, as such, has been the crossroads of many civilizations whose traces may still be seen today. It is known as the capital of the South. Sidon’s habitation goes back as far as 6000BC. Its trade links with Egypt aided its rise during the Phoenician period in the 12th to 10th centuries BC. Despite invasions in 1200 BC by Philistines and in 675BC by Assyrian king Esarhaddon, Sidon reached its pinnacle under the Persian Empire (550 - 330 B.C.). At the end of the Persian era in 351 B.C., unable to resist the superior forces of Artaxerxes III, the Sidonians locked their gates and set fire to their city rather than to submit to the invader - more than 40,000 died in the blaze. After the disaster the city was too weak to oppose the triumphal march of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. This city’s turbulent history of invasion and destruction is evident in its buildings and sites and makes for a fascinating visit. The city’s sea castle, lively port and excellent seafood also make it a popular spot for locals.

The Temple of Eshmun is an ancient place of worship dedicated to Eshmun, the Phoenician god of healing. The site was occupied from the 7th century BC to the 8th century AD, suggesting an integrated relationship with the nearby city of Sidon. Although originally constructed by Sidonian king Eshmunazar II in the Achaemenid era (c. 529–333 BC) to celebrate the city's recovered wealth and stature, the temple complex was greatly expanded by Bodashtart, Yatan-milk and later monarchs until the fall of Paganism under Christianity. The continued expansion spanned many centuries of alternating independence and foreign hegemony, and today the sanctuary features a wealth of different architectural and decorative styles and influences. Compromising an esplanade, a grand court, a huge limestone terrace and a monumental podium, the sanctuary features a series of ritual ablution basins fed by canals channelling water from the Asclepius river (modern Awali) and from the sacred "Ydll" spring. These installations were used for therapeutic and ‘purification’ purposes by the cult of Eshmun. The sanctuary site has yielded many artefacts of value, especially those inscribed with Phoenician texts, providing valuable insight into the site's history and that of ancient Sidon. 

Legend has it that Tyre, (or Sur in Arabic), was the birthplace of Europa (a Phoenician woman of high lineage from Greek mythology after whom Europe was named) and Dido (Queen of Carthage). Tyre has a long and illustrious history. In ancient times it was the most important city of the Phoenicians, amassing great wealth and power from the export of purple dye. In the first century AD, Tyre was the home of a Christian community visited by St. Paul, and it became a major stronghold of the Crusaders in the 12th century. Today, Tyre is the fourth largest city in Lebanon and is famous for its ancient ruins and a Roman Hippodrome, which became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.

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Day 3 : Beirut - Jeita Grotto - Byblos

Half day tour of Beirut including the modern downtown, the historic Green Line, the bustling Hamra and the charming waterfront, known as The Cornice. In the afternoon drive to Jeita Grotto. Spend some time exploring these incredible caves with one of the world's most impressive collection of stalagmites and stalactites. Drive to Byblos for overnight in hotel.

Overnight in Ahiram Hotel, Byblos

Meal plan: Breakfast

Beirut's history goes back more than 5,000 years. Its antiquity is indicated by its name, derived from the Canaanite be'erot ("wells"). These wells refer to an underground water table still tapped by the local inhabitants. Historically occupied by the Romans, the Crusaders and the Ottomans, among other ruling dynasties, Beirut’s art and architecture is layered with multiple and diverse influences. Lying at an historical crossroads, excavations in Beirut’s downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman remains. The first historical reference to Beirut dates from the 14th century BC, when it is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Amarna letters, three letters that Ammunira of Biruta (Beirut) sent to the pharaoh of Egypt. Biruta is also referenced in the letters from Rib-Hadda, king of Byblos. The city was known in the Roman period as Berytus. Weaknesses in Roman Byzantine rule did not go unnoticed by the emergent Ummayad Arabs to the south, who in the 8th century ruled from Damascus. In 1110 the coast, including Beirut, fell to the Crusaders. In 1291 it was conquered by the Mamlukes. Ottoman rule began in 1516 and lasted for 400 years until the defeat of the Turks in World War I. The French Mandate Period followed and in 1943 Lebanon gained its independence. Beirut's history of dynastic successions is quite remarkable. Set between the Mediterranean and dramatic mountains rising up in the background, modern, secular Beirut is also one of the Middle East’s liveliest cities.

Jeita Grotto is a system of caves that has been sculpted by water over thousands of years. Discovered in 1836 by Reverend William Thomson, an American missionary, the caves provide a tunnel - or escape route - for an underground river, which is the principal source of the Nar el-Kalb (Dog River). The lower galleries, discovered in 1836 and opened to the public in 1958, are visited by boat. The upper galleries, opened in January 1969, can be explored on foot. 

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Day 4 : Byblos - Qadisha Valley - Baalbek

Take a tour of Byblos, famous archaeological sites including its Crusader castle and Roman ruins. Wander through the beautiful souk and down to the harbour for lunch. It was once the nerve centre of the world's shipping, but nowadays is little more than a quaint port. After lunch, drive to the stunning and historic Qadisha Valley, and stop in Bsharreh to visit the Gebran museum, dedicated to the Lebanese artist, writer and philosopher, Khalil Gibran. Take a walk through a Cedars grove. Drive to Zahle for dinner & overnight in hotel.

Overnight in Grand Kadri Hotel, Zahle

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The coastal town of Byblos is located on a sandstone  cliff 40 km north of Beirut. Byblos bears outstanding witness to the beginnings of the Phoenician civilization and scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least seven thousand years. Touted as the birthplace of the modern alphabet, Byblos was also once the epicentre of the world’s shipping. Its remarkable Crusader Castle was built in the 12th century. The castle, along with the town, was captured by the Muslims and its walls destroyed in 1188. The Crusaders recaptured and rebuilt it in 1197.

Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, the stunning Qadisha Valley offers spectacular scenery and a unique atmosphere. With the Qadisha River running through the bottom of the gorge, the valley is considered one of Lebanons most beautiful places to visit. Qadisha comes from a Semitic root meaning ‘holy’. Scattered with caves and rock shelters from the third millennium B.C. to the Roman period, the valley is filled with cave chapels, hermitages and monasteries cut from rock.

Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist, writer and poet was born in Bsharreh in 1883 and lived until 1931. His best known work is his ‘The Prophet’ and, after Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu, he is the 3rd best selling poet in the world. 

Zahle is the capital and largest city of Beqaa. The mean elevation is 1,000m and lies at the junction of the Lebanon mountains and the Beqaa plateau. Known as the "Bride of the Beqaa" because of its geographical location and attractiveness.

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Day 5 : Baalbek - Ksara - Aanjar - Beirut

This morning visit Baalbek (the "Sun City"), arguably the most important Roman site in the whole Middle East. After marvelling at the temple complex in Baalbek, drive to the famous Ksara winery to take a tour of the winery and to sample some of Lebanon's finest wines. From Ksara drive to the predominantly Armenian town of Aanjar. Visit the beautiful Umayyad ruins here before stopping for lunch in Aanjar town. After lunch return to Beirut. Rest of the day free.

Overnight in Gems Hotel, Beirut

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

For centuries the temples of Baalbek (a.k.a the “Sun City”) lay under metres of rubble, obscured by medieval fortifications. Excavation and restoration work began in 1898 and has since been recognized as hugely important in understanding the style of Imperial architecture within broader Roman history. Seen from this angle, Baalbek is probably the most important Roman site in the whole of the Middle East. Baalbek's temples were built on an ancient tell that dates back at least to the end of the third millennium B.C. Construction of the temple began in the last quarter of the 1st century B.C., and was finished by the 3rd century AD. The temples were closed in 313 AD when Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion.

Founded during the Umayyad period under Caliph Walid Ibn Abd Al-Malak (705-715), the city of Aanjar was an inland commercial centre, at the crossroads of two important routes: one between Beirut and Damascus and the other crossing the Bekaa and leading from Homs to Tiberiade. Only discovered by archaeologists at the end of the 1940s, excavations uncovered a fortified city surrounded by walls and flanked by forty towers surrounding a rectangular area (385x350m). Dominated by gates flanked by porticos - an important North-South axis and a lesser East-West axis - superposed above the main collectors for sewers, divide the city into four equal quadrants. Public and private buildings are laid out according to a strict plan: the great palace of the Caliph and the Mosque in the South-East quarter occupies the highest part of the site, while the small palaces (harems) and the baths are located in the North-East quarter to facilitate the functioning and evacuation of waste waters. Secondary functions and living quarters are distributed in the North-West and South-West quarters. The ruins are dominated by spectacular vestiges of a monumental tetrapyle, as well as by the walls and colonnades of the Umayyad palace, three levels of which have been preserved. These structures incorporate decorative or architectonical elements of the Roman era.

Lebanese wine tradition dates back 5,000 years, when the ancient inhabitants of Lebanon, the Phoenicians, first began tending vineyards. The Phoenicians exported wine to ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and Carthage, introducing the world to viticulture and oenology. Lebanon is also said to be the place where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. Originally started in 1857, Ksara winery has blossomed in recent years, producing some excellent vintages. Over the past decade, Ksara has seen the introduction of new grape varieties that have grown into vines nurtured by the Bekaa Valley. Ksara has also seen developments in technique such as vines cultivation on wires and the attentive application of advanced science by French oenologists, who watch over the vinification, fermentation and decanting processes.

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Day 6 : Departure

Transfer to Beirut airport for your departure.

Meal plan: Breakfast



All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Gems Hotel

Beirut (3 nights)

Located on bustling Maqdessi street in the heart of Hamra district a short drive from Beirut International Airport, where shopping, entertainment, nightlife and dining choices make the hotel the perfect place for vacationers and business travelers alike.  Every room is comfortable and secure and includes an in-room safe, mini refrigerator, coffee and tea maker, microwave, hair dryer, satellite television and 24-hour free wireless Internet access. 

Visit hotel's site
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Ahiram Hotel

Byblos (1 night)

This beachfront hotel is located within walking distance of the fortess, old port and Byblos market. Rooms have air conditioning and cable, and the hotel has an in-house restaurant.

Visit hotel's site
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Grand Kadri Hotel

Zahle (1 night)

Located just minutes from Menshieh Park and close to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance this hotel offers complimentary Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and great views from the terrace. 

Visit hotel's site

Culinary Lebanon

Learn recipes, sample delicious mezze and sip on fine wines

Hiking in Lebanon (11-10 days)

Discover Lebanon's panoramic ridges and isolated monasteries by foot

Caving in Lebanon

Explore Lebanon's spectacular sinkholes and cave complexes

Skiing in Lebanon (1-5 days)

Experience Lebanon's lofty ski slopes or try your hand at snowshoeing

Lebanon Explorer (10 days)

Roman sites, rich culture and cedar forests

Hidden Lebanon (9 days)

Ancient ruins, natural wonders and the hidden treasures of Lebanon

Gourmet Lebanon (8 days)

Discover the flavours of the Levant

Ancient Wonders of Lebanon (7 days)

Discover ancient history, archaeology & architecture

Essential Lebanon (6 days)

Discover Phoenician history, sublime ruins & fine wine

Hiking the Holy Valleys (6 days)

Hike through the verdant and historic Qadisha valley


Great mixture of everything. Of all the places we visited, Byblos is a lovely town with great restaurants. Also, the lunch at the Eco place in the Bekka valley was stunning. While it was expensive, Lebanon is an expensive country and we saw more than we could possibly have seen by ourselves. Best holiday in a long while. Travel The Unknown were flexible and professional to deal with and put together a trip for us that was one of the best holidays in years. Would definitely consider Travel The Unknown again for future trips.

Joanne Hyde , Essential Lebanon

The trip to Lebanon was first class in every way. In the four full days of the tour, we saw all the main sights in the country and some extras were thrown in. The guide and driver were outstanding. The accommodation was good and the food was absolutely superb.

Charles Harpum , Essential Lebanon

Travel the Unknown is now our travel company of choice. It is really easy to deal with Rahul, the destinations offered are very comprehensive and all aspects of the trips are carefully chosen - itinerary, accommodation, meals etc. Our guides have been superb. They are knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and always happy to suggest tweaks to enhance the experience. The drivers are equally good and willing to go the extra mile - literally too. All in all, a first class company.

Andrea Nutter , Tailormade Lebanon

The Qadisha Valley is a beautiful and fascinating place. The night in the monastery was a highlight for me although both the other home stay nights were equally enjoyable in their own way. Danielle made me feel particularly welcome and my guides looked after me very well throughout.

Mary , Hiking the Holy Valleys, Lebanon

The Lebanon Explorer visit was a pleasure from start to finish. From a personal and friendly approach to booking to the seamlessly organised and well paced itinerary, the trip was highly memorable. Our guide was always ready to help us to understand the complexities of everyday life in Lebanon as well as providing entertaining information on the rich historical and archaeological sites. For me, the best part was that I didn't feel rushed.

Chris Thompson , Lebanon Explorer

Most of my 40 years of travelling across the globe has been independent travelling with the occasional exception. My recent organised tour of Lebanon with Travel The Unknown was excellent a diverse and great trip. It was a great way of seeing such a small and wonderfully diverse country in a short time, a truly great place!! Rahul and his team were responsive, knowledgeable and a real pleasure to do business with them. The local guide was excellent and the driver friendly and helpful. I strongly recommend them if they travel to a country you want to see albeit do not want the effort, hassle and planning to travel independently.

Robert Williams , Lebanon Explorer
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