Byblos: how to make the most of the city in 24 hours

It’s less than 35 kilometres north, but it’s a world away from Beirut…

This historic coastal city lays claim to the moniker of “one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world”, and if that’s not something to be known for – I don’t know what is. Located about 35 kilometres north of Beirut – which belies the fact that it actually takes over an hour to get there because of the capital’s chronic traffic problem – this charming little seaside city is worth the jaunt.

Other than the incredible ruins and history from at least 8000BC that fills the town, there’s also some excellent seafood, and vibrant nightlife. It can also be explored in about a day, or half a day, if you’re really in a rush.

Things to do in Byblos

Byblos castle and ruins

An obvious choice if you’re after the touristy parts of Byblos, the castle is its focal point. The building was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, and has undergone numerous occupations since. These days, it’s largely ruins, but the main building can be scaled for a brilliant view out over the city and the surrounding coastline.

The castle also hosts the site museum, but most of the really interesting finds are in the National Museum of Beirut. Which we wrote about here.

A ticket into the complex also gains you access to the royal Phoenician necropolis and the Roman amphitheatre. Tickets are 8000LL per person. Expect to spend a couple of hours there, and if it’s hot – take a sunhat, shade is scarce.

Marina

Being a seaside town, it’s only natural that the people would need somewhere to park their boats – but this picturesque little stone marina is a spectacle in itself. Surrounded by stony ruins, high cliffs and beautiful restaurants – it’s the perfect spot for some of Byblos‘s finest ice cream and an afternoon stroll.

Fossil “museum”

As the door will tell you, this place has been featured by the likes of BBC, CNN Travel, Nation al Geographic, and many more – and it’s also home to hundreds of amazing fossils that are millions of years old. An unassuming shop from the outside, upon entering you’ll be accosted (in a good way) by a helper who will explain the concept behind the museum, and a number of the prominent fossils. All the items came from the limestone in Mount Lebanon, located just behind the city. Notable mentions are the dinosaur bone and the many now-extinct species that have been immortalised forever in the tiny shop. You can even take one home for as low as $5USD. Unfortunately, the dinosaur bone is not for sale – we asked.

Wander the citadel/ historic quarter

The central part of town is full of beautiful, stony alleys and is a pedestrians dream – especially this little flower arch that is also a beaut backdrop for Instagram photos I definitely did not stage. There’s lots of quirky little shops and things to see, including more ruins and a busker or two. The cafes around here are lovely, but be warned, they’ll also charge you 8000LL for a cappuccino.

Old Souq

While it’s largely gimmicky tourist souvenirs that nobody seemingly wants to buy, the Old Souk has a certain charm and character typical of an old city. If you need a Lebanon key ring/ shot glass/ friendship bracelet, by all means – look no further. But if you’re after something a bit more authentic, you’re probably going to have to look a bit further afield.

Beach
byblos

For starters, we need to make it clear that there are two main beaches in Byblos, and they’re actually quite different. The southern, public beach is sandy and long – and is where you’ll find most of the beach clubs, like the well-known Eddesands. However, because it’s more popular – it’s also a hell of a lot more dirty, with rubbish strewn about the place, and more frequented by wannabe Insta stars.

The northern beach, however, is pebbly and less popular – with just one or two small snack shacks and a handful of kayaks for hire. This one is far cleaner, however, with crystal-clear water and a (mostly) rubbish-free beach. Our pick? Probably the latter. The pebbles are small and not out to pierce you through the foot like in some rocky beaches, and you won’t end up with a chip packet wound round your ankle.

Where to stay in Byblos

Monoberge Hotel
This charming hotel on the main drag through town is cosy, clean and cheap. For about 300 AED (about $100USD) you’ll get a double room, with TV and all the usual amenities – in a fairly modern room with views out over the back of the town. You’re about five minutes walk from the Old Souk, and maybe eight minutes from the beach.The staff are helpful and attentive, and there’s a bar downstairs if you’re partial to a nightcap.
Breakfast here is particularly excellent, with the usual cereals, fruit, cheeses and hams – but there’s also piping hot fresh manakish and pastries, and during our stay, an entire cheesecake. Just sayin’.

More info here.

Get around

Walk: Byblos is actually quite a small place, and there are plenty of beaut little alleys and streets you wouldn’t see unless you were using your own two feet.

The best restaurants in Byblos

Pepe Byblos Fishing Club

If you’re prepared to remortgage your house for a kilogram of fish. Okay, so a plate of snapper won’t cost you quite that much – but be warned, this is where poor seafood lovers come to die. The outlook is stunning, overlooking the entirety of the marina and out to sea, so that’s probably why your meal is about to cost you a small fortune.

The fish here ranges anywhere from about $80USD a kilo to about $130, so make it a special night out. Disclaimer: I cannot comment on the food here, because like the stingy New Zealanders we are, as soon as we saw the price lists – we quickly did the ‘Okay, thanks, we’ll be back later’, and walked straight back out the front door without an inch of willingness to return. Instead we went to this place…..

Malak Al Tawouk

Sure. it’s no waterfront dining extravaganza – but after the notion of paying $50 for a fillet of fresh (?) fish, this little find was a huge achievement. With plenty of outlets throughout Beirut, this Lebanese fast food joint is always filled with happy patrons – which was our drawcard as we wandered the streets, starving and in search of something that wasn’t going to bankrupt us in the process.

The tawouk sandwhich is a hearty little meal – moist chicken encased in fresh saj and slathered in garlic saude – and it’s a steal at 7000LL. We couldn’t have even got a fish eye for that at the other place.

You’ll find it just on the end of the Old Souk.
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