With a winding old marketplace and a seaside castle, Saida is easily one of Lebanon’s most charming destinations. Though the coastal city sits just 40 km south of Beirut, it has retained a much quainter and more traditionally Middle Eastern vibe than the cosmopolitan capital, making it a perfect trip from Beirut.
If you could scroll back through the annals of Saida’s history, you would see a city abuzz with activity for the last 6,000 years. Over the centuries, Saida has witnessed the conquest of Philistine, Persian, Greek, Roman and Crusader armies. Its foundations have been burned to the ground, its riches pillaged and its walls rebuilt over and over again. Throughout its long history, Saida has earned a name for itself as a producer of purple dye, soap, glass and ships. The city is even mentioned in the Old Testament. Today, Saida is replete with relics of its long and fraught past that make it a fascination destination.
By car: Saida is just down the coastal road from Beirut and is easy to get to. Just follow the southbound road past the Douha and Jiyeh until you reach Saida.
By bus: Go to Jisr el Cola in Beirut and ask for the next van to Saida; they leave every 5 minutes. You might be packed into a crowded bus, but the ride down only takes hour or so, depending on the time of day and the audacity of your driver. The bus stops at the transportation hub in Saida, just a 5 minute walk from the Crusader Castle and old souk.
WHAT TO DO
Saida’s most distinctive feature is the Crusader Castle, built in 1228 on the site of an old Phoenician temple. The temple was originally dedicated to the Persian version of Hercules, a god named Melkart,.
Sitting on a small island off the water, the stone castle is framed by the sharp blue Mediterranean Sea around it, making it perfectly picturesque. For 4,000LBP, visitors can walk inside this relatively well-preserved and historic landmark, admiring the medieval feel of the castle and the spectacular views its upper levels.
Entrance Fee: 4,000LBP
Hours: 9 am- sunset
Contact: 71 347895
Saida’s old souks are exactly what you might imagine an Arabian bazaar to look like, complete with old-fashioned blacksmiths, cobblers, butchers, and bakers shops. The marketplace is made of stone archways and wedged into each niche is a different shop selling everything from fruits to souvenirs to meats. Every turn reveals a new corner of the souk, where colors, smells and sounds blend to make an enchanting marketplace.
Many old religious sights, from churches to mosques, are scattered throughout the marketplace and discovering them in the labyrinth of twisting alleyways is half the fun. The Omari and Bab el Saray Mosques, with their beautiful architecture, are well-worth a stop—just ask any local to point you in the right direction or set out upon the adventure of trying to find them
The Soap Museum
Ever wondered how soap is made? The Soap Museum is here to show you. They specialize in the art and science of saponification, the chemical process that produces the soaps we use every day. The museum is tucked into an old and fragrant soap factory in the souk and is now a well-organized, interesting, and informative museum (with signs in Arabic, English and French). For 5,000LBP, a guide will take you through the aromatic chambers of the museum where olive-oil based soaps were made to service the many hammams in Saida. The museum is housed in the beautiful and large old house of the Audi family. An adorable café and well-stocked gift store await you at its exit.
Entrance Fee: 5,000LBP
Hours: 8:30 am- 5 pm
Contact: 07 733353 / 07 753599
It is hard to imagine from the bustling street level of the old souk that the serene halls of the Debbane Palace sit just above. Going through the small wooden door and up its narrow steps, the space opens up beautifully to the airy rooms of this 18th century building that was home to the Debbane family until 1978. The grand spaces of this palace and its open-air courtyard have all the characteristics typical of the Ottoman period – brown and white stripes of stone, cedar wood ceilings and intricate mosaic tiles. Well-worth a stop, especially since the entrance is free!
Contact: 07 720110
Khan El Franj
Just outside the old souk is Khan El Franj, or Inn of the Foreigners, an old inn built by the Ottoman Fakhr el-Dine II to encourage the silk traders to do business to Saida. Set up in the 17th century, the Inn housed predominantly French merchants who would buy and sell their silks with local traders. Today, visitors can walk through the Khan at their leisure (and free of cost) and admire the well-preserved structure. Though there isn’t much information or infrastructure to give history about this inn, it is worth a stop just to admire the scenic inner courtyard and arched Ottoman architecture.
WHERE TO EAT
The Rest House is Saida’s most popular restaurant for visitors to the area—and for good reason. The actual restaurant is located in a beautiful old stone house, typical of the area, but it is the outdoor sea-side garden, overlooking the Crusader Castle that makes the Rest House special. You can enjoy your lunch right on the waterfront with an unparalleled view of the castle before you and the lapping waves beside you. The food is typical Lebanese mezze style and reasonably priced, especially given its prime location.
Contact: 07 722469
The latest branch of the Souk el Tayeb family, Tawlet Saida is a lovely restaurant that is a tranquil place to cool down after roaming the Saida souk. Set above the winding tangle of the marketplace , the atmosphere at Tawlet Saida will lure you in with its peace and quiet and keep you satisfied with Lebanese food made by local women.
Contact: 81 707 240, tawletsaida.com
Across the street from the Rest House and Crusader Castle is Abou Rami, a small street-food style falafel shop that boasts the tastiest and plumpest falafels in town. The shop has plastic chairs and tables out front for visitors to enjoy their lunches with the sea and castle in front of them. Finish off your meal with a piece of fresh fruit from the vendors nearby, or a stop to the famous Al Kassir Sweet shop up the street.
Contact: 07 721907
After a filling lunch, a visit to Al Kassir, the tiny family-owned sweet shop is true perfection. Behold the swirling heaps of Baklava and Mahmoul that are perfectly baked and honey-sweetened. Al Kassir is well known in the area for their classic pastries, made of phyllo-dough and stuffed with nuts, sugar, and fruits.
Contact: 07 720536
WHERE TO STAY
Al Qalaa Hotel
The Al Qalaa Hotel is everything you could hope for in a boutique hotel—friendly service, prime location, and a great attention to detail in each of their rooms. Located on the water’s front, the rooms and salons of the Al Qalaa Hotel are uniformly charming, cozy and welcoming. The rooftop restaurant, along with some rooms, overlooks the Crusader Castle and has the old feel of Saida.
Contact: 07 734777
The Yacoub Hotel is the less expensive of Saida’s two hotels. It is well-located, clean, and cozy with a helpful staff—good for a night’s sleep if you’re on a budget and don’t need an upscale hotel.
Contact: 70 103222