Visiting South of Lebanon: Sidon and Tyre

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Sidon (Saida)

South of Lebanon is a beautiful area. First, head to Sidon (Saida in Arabic) in the morning. In order to travel to Sidon (Saida) you should go to Cola intersection in Beirut, a place where minibuses stop. When you reach the area, you won’t miss the right minibus you need to take, as the drivers are constantly shouting “Saida, Saida”. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on the speed to get to Sidon. The minibus will drop you off in a quite central area.


Sidon is another of the oldest Phoenician cities (the name means fishing town) inhabited for 6000 years. From the Phoenician remains here, the sarcophagus of the 5th century BC King of Sidon Eshmunazar was uncovered in the 19th century. anything else uncovered here is of later period, including the tombs from the Hellenistic times, Crusaders’ fortresses, Ottoman palace, etc.

Short walk away from the minibus stop is the Saida Sea castle (price in 2019: about 2.5 USD). Despite being built on a tiny island, this castle doesn’t have too amazing views. It was built in the 13th century by the Crusaders on the site of the Phoenician temple dedicated to Melqart and/or a palace. It was in the later years rebuilt by Mamluks. One of the two towers is better preserved. You can climb up to see the views of the town. You will also find an Ottoman mosque here.

After the castle, crossing the road, you will end up in a bazaar. Through the narrow streets you can find the Debane house museum (free). This mansion or palace was built by the local noble in the 18th century. I do recommend visiting it, as you will see the living space of the time, with the furniture and décor, mosaics and carpets, courtyard with fountain, various ornaments, etc. The place was ransacked during the civil war but rebuilt recently by the owner family, which runs the museum here.


Next, you can walk through the narrow streets and see a number of mosques, among them the Masjid Al Omary al Kabir.

Also don’t miss the Khan el Franj, a 16th century-built caravanserai. The Khan has the typical construction of the caravanserai with rectangular courtyard and galleries.

Slightly farther from this area is another Crusader built castle – St. Louis castle. The castle was built in the location, where ancient Sidon acropolis completed with the theatre and citadel must have been. It is currently quite in disrepair and needs cleaning from the soil. It’s also not easily accessible.

Tyre (Sour)

After Sidon, get back on the minibus to head to Tyre (or Sour, as locals call it). If you are coming here directly from Beirut, you will still have to change minibuses in Sidon, as there are no direct ones during the day. It’s another 1 hour or so to get to Tyre from Sidon.

On the way back from Tyre to Beirut, there are often direct minibuses. We left Tyre seaside pretty late and arrived at the Tyre bus stop area by about 8.30pm. We actually had to wait almost an hour for the minibus to get full and leave. But at least we didn’t have to change minibuses and got directly to Beirut.


Tyre (Sour in Arabic) is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to 2 archeological sites here – Al Bass, which contains Necropolis and Hippodrome, and Al Mina with Roman baths. I have included the Google map links because I was quite confused about their locations, when planning.

Tyre became leading Phoenician city in the X century BC, with the relative decline of Byblos and Sidon. Like the whole region it was then under Greeks, Romans, Persians, was involved in the fights of Crusaders with Arabs, was under Ottomans, etc.

The sites currently uncovered in the city are mainly from the Roman times, which were built on the remains of the Phoenician city. The excavations are clearly incomplete, and it’s obvious that with more work other parts could be uncovered.

From the minibus stop, head on the main road to Al Bass (Price: equivalent of 4 USD in 2019) first. This site is the most well-preserved here and prominent. When we entered in the afternoon, it felt abandoned, with only a couple of guards around and no visitors. It was surreal walking around here with no people in sight. After some time, we spotted a couple more people and that was it throughout over two hours we spent exploring.


After entering the site, the first major thing you see is the Roman colonnaded walkway starting with the arch. It was constructed in the 1st century AD. On one side of it is the Necropolis area. You will also find the aqueduct.

At this site you will see the remains of the hippodrome built in the 2nd century and hosting over 20k people. It is impressive in size and took us a lot of time just to walk around it. It was mainly used for popular sports, like chariot racing. Some of it’s parts are preserved, while others are completely destroyed unfortunately.

The major issue here is that the site preservation is threatened by looting, urban growth and insufficient maintenance. Besides, it borders a huge refugee camp.

After seeing Al Bass, the direct road to the seaside area is blocked, as there are several military sites around here. So you will either have to head back to where you came from and then down to port or go around to avoid the closed roads to get to another archeological site. Btw. the street going from the mini-bus stop area to the port and bazaar is the most unpleasant in Lebanon. The weird men with jests and weird laughs will make you very uncomfortable. But at least they didn’t seem dangerous.

Next, visit the second archeological site of Tyre – Al Mina (Price: 4000 lira or 2.5 USD in 2019, not sure if the price increased), which has far less preserved areas, than the first. Its location is amazing though, with the sea views. The only recognizable structures here are the Roman colonnaded street and mosaic tiles. The site is particularly well known for its Roman baths.


From here, walk down to the promenade, which is full of western style cafes and enjoy your evening watching the beautiful sunset.

If you want, you can also go to the Sour beach, it is the cleanest and the bluest among the Lebanese beaches. Or you can come back here another day.

See more information in the post about clean Lebanese beaches.

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