With a winding old marketplace, a seaside castle and a strong Lebanese heritage, Saida is easily one of Lebanon’s most delightful destinations. Though the coastal city sits just 40km south of Beirut, it has retained a more traditional vibe than the cosmopolitan capital, making it a perfect year-round getaway.
Take the highway south out of Beirut and follow the signs to Saida.
What to Do
Saida’s most iconic landmark is the Sea Castle, built in 1228 by Crusading armies on the site of an old Phoenician temple. Perched on a small island off the coast, the stone castle is framed by the sharp blue Mediterranean Sea, giving it a pictureperfect quality. Entrance to the site costs 4,000 LBP, and it is open daily from 9 am until sunset.
Saida’s old souk is exactly what you might imagine an Arabian bazaar to look like, complete with stone archways and shops selling everything from fruits to souvenirs. Many old religious sites are scattered throughout the souk, so enjoy the adventure of discovering them in the labyrinth of twisting alleyways.
Debbane Palace Museum
This exquisite building, built by Ali Hammoud in 1721, is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture. The atmospheric space features typical diwans (oriental-style living rooms), a liwan (a long, narrow-fronted hall), several rooms and an open-air courtyard, with the characteristic features of the Ottoman period — brown and white stripes of stone and intricate mosaic tiles making up the interior. Despite its location in the bustling old souk, the house is a peaceful escape. museumsaida.org
The Soap Museum
The Soap Museum delves into the art of saponification, the chemical process that produces the soap. The museum is tucked inside an old soap factory, which is now a well-organized and informative museum. For just 5,000 LBP, a guide will take you through the aromatic chambers of the museum.
Khan El Franj
Just outside the old souk is Khan El Franj, an old inn built by Fakhreddine II to encourage the silk traders to do business in Saida. Today, visitors can walk through the Khan for free and admire the scenic inner courtyard and arched Ottoman architecture.
Where to Eat
The Rest House (+961 7 722469) is Saida’s most popular restaurant, and for good reason. You can enjoy your lunch right on the waterfront, with an unparalleled view of the Sea Castle. The food is typical Lebanese mezze. Set above the maze of the marketplace below, Tawlet Saida (+961 7 733899) will lure you in with its peaceful charm and keep you satisfied with traditional Lebanese food made by local women. Al Kassir (+961 7 720536), a tiny familyowned sweet shop, is well known in the area for producing classic pastries stuffed with nuts and fruits in traditional Lebanese fashion.
Where to Sleep
Located on the water’s edge just steps from the old souk, the rooms of Al Qalaa Hotel (+961 7 734777) are charming and cozy. The rooftop restaurant overlooks the Crusader Castle and has the old feel of Saida. Built in the 1920s, Yacoub Hotel (+961 70 103222, yacoubhotel.com) is located in the heart of old Saida. Featuring six uniquely decorated rooms, the property is bursting with character.