From ancient Phoenician ruins and Crusader-built castles to late-night beers and hummus at Pepe’s iconic Fishing Club, here are the best things to do in Byblos!
The sun was shining as I ordered another beer at Pepe’s Fishing Club, a somewhat iconic ‘Fishing Club’ (read: beer, wine, hummus, and seafood bar!) overlooking the harbour in Byblos, a small port city in Lebanon with a big history.
This was Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast at its finest, and I was loving every morsel of Tabbouleh and every mouthful of Gambas that came my way. This was Byblos (or Jbeil, as the city is called in Arabic), and the harbour’s towers and walls, I soon found out, dated back centuries.
Overlooked by a Crusader castle, Byblos is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Founded 8000 years ago, this was the birthplace of the ‘Phonetic’ alphabet, the forerunner to the alphabets we still use today, and empires as varied and numerous as the Egyptians, Romans, Mamluks, Ottomans and French have all left their mark here.
Byblos was one of the most surprising destinations I visited in Lebanon. Just a short drive north of Beirut, the city has ancient and modern history, excellent eating, great beaches and a nightlife that’s far too lively if you want to wake up in time for a walking time of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins!
If you’re preparing to explore Lebanon, then keep reading, as we list our favourite things to do in Byblos.
Table of Contents
The best things to do in Byblos
Visit Byblos Castle, the Royal Necropolis, the Roman Theatre, the Old Souks and so much more in Byblos.
1. Explore the Crusader history of Byblos Castle
Byblos Castle is a monumental testament to the city’s history. Built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, from local limestone and the remains of Roman structures, the castle has survived numerous historical periods – including the Fatmids, Mumlaks and Ottomans – each leaving an indelible mark on its structure.
The castle is part of the larger Byblos archaeological site, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which encapsulates several civilizations and epochs from the city’s 8,000 years of continuous habitation. The castle itself houses a museum where you can see a vast collection of artefacts unearthed in Byblos, including pottery, tools, and statues from the Bronze Age to the Ottoman era.
The castle’s strategic location offers stunning views of the surrounding cityscape and the Mediterranean Sea. We toured the castle with a local guide who was incredibly knowledgeable about Byblos’ history. She spoke perfect English and brought the stories of the Crusaders to life. I’d recommend the same; just ask for Stephanie when you purchase your entrance ticket, she was really quite the guide!
Read more: 23 Best Places to Visit in Lebanon
2. Delve into the Phoenician past at The Royal Necropolis of Byblos
Known for its collection of nine royal tombs, the Royal Necropolis of Byblos is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the city. Located in the heart of Byblos’ archaeological zone, these tombs date back to the second millennium BC and are a lasting legacy to the city’s importance during the Phoenician period.
The tombs were constructed for the city’s Phoenician kings and their royal families. They offer profound insights into the burial customs and material wealth of the Phoenician royalty, and artefacts unearthed from these tombs include ancient jewellery, weapons and pottery, which are now displayed in various museums around the world, including the National Museum of Beirut.
Perhaps the most famous tomb is that of King Ahiram, discovered by French archaeologist Pierre Montet in 1923. The sarcophagus of Ahiram, adorned with a lengthy inscription, holds considerable historical significance as it contains the earliest known example of the fully developed Phoenician alphabet, a crucial milestone in the evolution of written language.
Read more: 20 Best Things to Do in Beirut, Lebanon
3. Step into antiquity at the Roman Theatre
The Roman Theatre in Byblos is an archaeological marvel. I really felt this site was so underrated, yet it showcases the grandeur of the city’s Roman era. Constructed in the 3rd century AD, the theatre is part of the larger UNESCO World Heritage site of Byblos that’s also home to Phoenician and Crusader ruins.
Though smaller than other Roman amphitheatres, it is remarkably well-preserved. Constructed with local limestone, the theatre once seated around 1,200 spectators. Today, only a portion of the original semicircular orchestra and tiers of seating remain, but you can still imagine the crowds cheering the performances that would have been held here.
Read more: The Ancient Ruins of Salamis
4. Watch the sun set over Byblos Harbour
Byblos is home to one of the oldest and most significant ports in the world. The harbour dates back thousands of years and played a crucial role in the early history of Byblos, acting as a vital hub for the timber trade, notably the renowned Cedars of Lebanon, which were shipped across the world from here during ancient times.
Today, it remains a lively area, even if its importance has waned. Traditional fishing boats painted in bright hues bob in the waters, while modern yachts provide a contrast against the ancient walls and towers. The harbour area is lined with numerous restaurants offering local cuisine, particularly fresh seafood – try Pepe’s Fishing Club! – and provides breathtaking views of the sun setting over the sea.
5. Gorge on seafood at the Byblos Fishing Club
The Byblos Fishing Club, also known as ‘Pepe’s Fishing Club’, is a Byblos institution. Established in 1963 by Pepe Abed, a famous Lebanese adventurer and bon vivant, the club quickly became a popular gathering place for locals, travellers and celebrities from around the world.
Sitting on the edge of the old harbour, the restaurant offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea, the Crusader Castle, and the old city walls.
The ambience of the Byblos Fishing Club reflects a blend of the rustic charm of an old fishing port with an eclectic collection of memorabilia from Pepe Abed’s worldwide travels and encounters with politicians and famous folk (you’ll recognise everyone from French Presidents to TV celebrities like Dom Joly).
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6. Shop until you drop in the Old Souks
Winding through ancient cobblestone streets, the Old Souks are where the old world of the medina meets modern Lebanese commerce.
Dating back centuries, the Old Souks follow the pattern of the same medinas and bazaars you’ll find all over the Arab world. Narrow streets, designed to beat the heat, are lined with shops and stalls selling everything from replica Phoenician ships to ‘I Love Lebanon’ t-shirts.
The Old Souks are particularly lively in the evening, with beautifully lit narrow alleys, live music and sheesha bars (watch out for the free shots of Arak). A visit to Byblos is incomplete without buying at least one souvenir from the Old Souks!
Read more: Exploring Oman’s Nizwa Fort and Souq
7. Visit the curious Byblos Wax Museum
Forget Madame Tussauds, the Byblos Wax Museum is where you’ll find Lebanon’s best wax sculptures!
This unique Byblos attraction brings to life scenes from Lebanon’s past, as the museum showcases a collection of life-sized wax figures set in meticulously recreated scenes from various periods of the country’s history.
Ranging from prehistoric times to the modern era, these displays portray traditional Lebanese lifestyles, historic events, and influential figures. Notable exhibits include a Phoenician glass-blowing workshop, traditional Lebanese weddings and iconic national figures.
The Byblos Wax Museum
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8. Step back in time at the Byblos Fossil Museum (Memoir du Temps)
The Byblos Fossil Museum, or Memoir du Temps as it’s also known (which means ‘Memory of Time’, in French) is home to a vast collection of marine fossils.
These fossils, some of which are over 100 million years old, provide an incredible window into prehistoric marine life that once thrived in the region.
The collection includes a variety of species, from ancient fish to molluscs, and even features some specimens that are extinct today. Each display is accompanied by informative descriptions, making the museum both educational and engaging.
9. Hang out on the beach
Lebanon is known for its beautiful Mediterranean coastline, and hanging out on the beach is easily one of the top things to do in Byblos.
Here are a few of the best beaches in and around Byblos:
- Byblos Public Beach: This is the main beach in Byblos, offering stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and the ancient port. It’s a great place to relax and soak in the sun.
- Edde Sands: Just south of Byblos, Edde Sands is a luxury beach resort that offers pristine sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, swimming pools, restaurants, and even a wellness spa. This is a good choice if you’re looking for amenities and don’t mind paying an entrance fee.
- Bonita Bay Beach: Another resort beach located in Batroun, just north of Byblos. It features a beautiful sandy beach and offers a range of amenities, including a bar and restaurant.
- Bahsa Beach: If you prefer a less commercial and more local atmosphere, Bahsa Beach in the heart of Byblos is a pebble beach popular with the locals.
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10. Visit the revered St John-Marc Cathedral
The St. John-Marc Cathedral (also known as the Church of St. John-Mark or Mar Youhanna Maroun) in Byblos is a revered Maronite Christian church dedicated to John the Evangelist, who is also known as John-Marc.
According to tradition, John-Marc, the author of the Gospel of Mark, founded the first Christian community in Byblos. The church is believed to be built on the same spot where he lived and preached, and it’s also where he was reportedly buried, which gives the church a deep religious and historical significance.
The current structure dates back to the 12th century, built during the Crusader era, although it has undergone various restorations over time. Its architectural style reflects elements of the Crusader period, with robust stone walls and traditional Maronite features.
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11. Uncover the historic connections between Lebanon and Armenia at the Armenian Genocide Orphans’ Museum
The Armenian Genocide Orphans’ “Aram Bezikian” Museum is a significant institution dedicated to preserving the memory and documenting the stories of Armenian orphans who survived the Armenian genocide during World War I.
Situated in the former ‘Birds’ Nest’ orphanage, which was run by Danish missionaries and served as a refuge for Armenian orphans, the museum bears witness to a poignant history. It is named after Aram Bezikian, an Armenian artist and a survivor of the genocide, who was brought up in the orphanage.
The museum’s exhibits include a range of photographs, personal belongings, and historical documents. These artefacts trace the journey of the orphans, their struggles, resilience, and ultimately, their contribution to Lebanese and Armenian society.
The Aram Bezikian Museum offers an important, if sombre, glimpse into a crucial period of history. It serves as a poignant reminder of human resilience in the face of immense tragedy and forms a crucial part of Armenian cultural heritage in Lebanon.
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12. Discover more local heritage at the LAU Louis Cardahi Foundation and Museum
The LAU Louis Cardahi Foundation and Museum in Byblos, Lebanon, is a fascinating institution dedicated to promoting the rich cultural heritage of the city. Named after its founder, Louis Cardahi, a passionate archaeologist and collector, the museum is hosted by the Lebanese American University.
The museum’s exhibits provide an overview of Byblos’ history and archaeological findings. The collection includes a wealth of artefacts, maps, and replicas that narrate the story of Byblos through various historical periods.
The museum also houses a resource centre providing extensive information on Phoenician civilization, acting as an essential hub for research and study. The museum isn’t always open, so I recommend emailing them beforehand to arrange a time to visit.
Read more: 20 Best Things to Do in Beirut, Lebanon
13. Day trip to Batroun
Visiting Batroun from Byblos involves a simple yet enjoyable journey along the Lebanese coastline. Both cities are located in the Northern Governorate, making it convenient for a day trip or even a half-day visit.
The distance between the two cities is approximately 20 kilometres and it took us about 30 minutes to travel to Batroun by car, although that’s always depending on traffic.
Once in Batroun, you can explore the historic old town, visit the Phoenician wall, relax at the beach, or sample the town’s famous lemonade.
14. Escape the city with a trip to the Bentael Nature Reserve
The Bentael Nature Reserve is a serene sanctuary dedicated to conserving the region’s unique flora and fauna. Established in 1981, this was the first private nature reserve in Lebanon, playing a crucial role in preventing urban encroachment on the forested area.
Home to over 600 types of plants, some of which are endemic, and an array of wildlife, Bentael offers a rich biodiversity. Hiking trails meander through the pine and oak forests, leading to vantage points offering panoramic views.
The reserve also houses the centuries-old Mar Elias Church and is known for its breathtakingly beautiful sunset views.
15. Embrace the Byblos Nightlife
And what was the thing that surprised me most about Byblos? It was the nightlife! This ancient city, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, somehow transforms into one of Lebanon’s liveliest hotspots as the sun sets!
I found the Old Souks area to be particularly busy at night, with bars and cafes serving beers and sheesha until late in the morning. Just be wary of the Arak, it’s a potent alcoholic drink which can leave you with a killer hangover the next morning – and the locals love to ply the tourists with the stuff!
Map of the best things to do in Byblos, Lebanon
Here’s a map of the best things to do in Byblos:
Where is Byblos?
Byblos, a UNESCO World Heritage city located on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, is easily accessible from many parts of the country. The most common mode of travel to Byblos is by road, as the city is well-connected via Lebanon’s highway system.
If you’re coming from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, the journey to Byblos takes approximately one hour by car or taxi, depending on traffic. The route along the coastal highway offers picturesque views of the Mediterranean Sea.
For a more local experience, you can also take a minibus or shared taxi, known locally as a “service”, from Beirut’s Cola station or Charles Helou station to Byblos. These services are more affordable than private taxis, though they may require a bit more time due to various stops.
Upon reaching Byblos, the city’s compact size makes it easy to explore on foot. It’s recommended to start your exploration from the historic city centre, where many of Byblos’ key attractions, including the ancient ruins, souks and the old harbour, are located.
When to visit Byblos?
The best time to visit Byblos, like most of Lebanon, depends largely on what kind of experience you’re seeking. However, generally speaking, the most ideal times to visit are during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November).
During the spring, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, making it perfect for exploring the archaeological sites, wandering through the souks, and strolling along the picturesque harbour. Autumn is similarly mild and enjoyable, with less crowds than the peak summer season.
The summer months (July and August) can be hot, but they’re also when Byblos comes alive with various cultural events, most notably the Byblos International Festival, a music festival that attracts artists from around the world.
Winter (December to March) can be chilly and rainy, which might make outdoor exploration less comfortable, but the city maintains its charm with fewer tourists around.
FAQ on the best things to do in Byblos
Here’s an FAQ on the best things to do in Byblos:
Q1: What are the main attractions in Byblos?
A: The main attractions include the Byblos Archaeological Site, Byblos Castle, the Old Souks, Byblos Fossil Museum, and Byblos Wax Museum. The ancient harbour is also a must-visit.
Q2: What activities can I do in Byblos?
A: Byblos offers a range of activities like exploring ancient ruins, shopping in traditional souks, visiting museums, enjoying Lebanese cuisine, or simply relaxing at the beach.
Q3: Can I swim in Byblos?
A: Yes, Byblos has several beautiful beaches where you can swim. Edde Sands and Byblos Public Beach are popular choices.
Q4: What are some good places to eat in Byblos?
A: Byblos is known for its fantastic, fresh cuisine. The Byblos Fishing Club, also known as Pepe Byblos, is a popular seafood restaurant. Locanda A la Granda and Malena are also great choices.
Q5: What is there to do in Byblos at night?
A: Byblos has a lively nightlife scene with a variety of bars and clubs, especially in the Old Souks area. During the summer, you can attend concerts and festivals like the Byblos International Festival.
Q6: Are there any good hiking spots near Byblos?
A: While Byblos itself is more known for its historical and cultural attractions, the Bentael Nature Reserve is nearby and offers good hiking trails.
Q7: Are there any guided tours in Byblos?
A: Yes, several companies offer guided tours in Byblos. These tours can provide a deeper understanding of the city’s rich history and archaeological sites.
Q8: How much time should I spend in Byblos?
A: A day or two is generally enough to explore Byblos. However, if you want to fully experience the city, including its nightlife, restaurants, and nearby attractions, you might want to spend a few more days.
Q9: How do I get around Byblos?
A: The city centre of Byblos is compact and walkable. For farther distances, taxis are available.
Q10: Is Byblos a family-friendly destination?
A: Absolutely. With its historic sites, beautiful beaches, and family-friendly restaurants, Byblos has plenty to offer visitors of all ages.
There we have it, the best things to do in Byblos, Lebanon! What’s on your Lebanon bucket list?