The first thing you notice when descending the stairs to the Jeita Grotto is the drop in temperature. The cooling sensation is almost instant and a little startling—until you look up and realize you’re inside a cave filled with Dali-esque stalagmites and stalactites. Since its rediscovery in 1853, Jeita has been a national monument, and widely considered one of the unofficial wonders of the world. The cave is divided into two sections: In the upper grotto, there are rock formations that resemble melted candles and giant mushrooms, best viewed from a winding pathway hundreds of feet above the bottom of the cave. The lower grotto has a freshwater spring that actually provides drinking water to the city; a boat ride below the head-skimming formations is the best way to see it.
A 30-minute drive to the Mediterranean coast takes you to Jubayl, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and a former Phoenician port. Park your car at the marina and enter the walls of the old city, where there’s a castle built by 12th-century crusaders, an Ottoman mosque, and tombs of former Phoenician kings. It’s a scene straight out of 1,001 Arabian Nights; the best things to buy are handmade backgammon boards and traditional coffee sets.
The Blue Mosque
Martyr’s Square, Downtown Beirut
It took six years to complete this blue-domed mosque that opened in 2008. Formally named the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, it’s especially awe-inspiring when lit up at night, and the aquamarine dome and 65-foot-tall minarets reflect the traditional Ottoman style. Dress modestly and be prepared to remove your shoes; inside, opulent chandeliers light up incredible ancient calligraphic art. (Note: It’s next to the city’s oldest Greek Orthodox Church, also worth checking out).
Rafic El Hariri, Beirut
Perched on the edge of an active marina, the walking promenade on Zaitunay Bay has amazing shopping and incredible restaurants, all with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. It’s the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon lunch overlooking the port. Oh and while you’re there, rent a boat. You won’t be sorry.
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