Many currencies in the world are used by just one country, and this is the case with the Lebanese version of the pound, which is only used in Lebanon. Just to confuse things you might also hear this currency referred to as the Lebanese lira, which is the term for it in Arabic, and also as the Lebanese livre. The latter is the French term for it.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
While the pound most people are familiar with (the British pound) is split into 100 pence, this isn’t true of the Lebanese pound. Instead this currency has a subunit called the piastre, of which there are 100 in every pound.
As is the case with several currencies around the world however, the piastre has pretty much been consigned to history. Inflation has meant the piastre has become essentially worthless, and so you will be unlikely to see any coins in this denomination now. Instead you will see the 250 and 500 pound coins, which seems bizarre when you think about it! Such is the price of inflation.
As far as banknotes are concerned, you will see the 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 pound notes in use in the country.
From past to present – the history of the Lebanese pound
Technically the first use of the pound in Lebanon was at the end of the First World War. However this version was the Egyptian pound. When France took over the country it brought in the Syrian pound instead, which as the name might suggest was also in use in Syria.
Over time Lebanon became separated from Syria and in 1939 (the year the Second World War broke out) Lebanon decided to bring in the Lebanese pound instead. So now it was on its third version of the pound and it is one it still uses today. However it would be another two years before the Lebanese pound would disassociate itself from the French franc, which had been the case for some years. Instead it became associated with the pound sterling. Nowadays the rate of the pound here is fixed to the US dollar instead.
How to get hold of the Lebanese pound
The first thing to note is to leave any idea of taking traveller’s cheques with you at home. This is not the best or easiest country to get them exchanged in. Instead, cash is the ideal form of payment here. You won’t be likely to get any of their pounds until you get to Lebanon. However the best currency to take with you is the US dollar, and there are two reasons for this. Firstly it is ideal to exchange for the Lebanese pound, and secondly you can actually use it to pay for things anyway. You may even see some prices quoted in dollars rather than (or as well as) the local currency.
There are cash machines throughout the country so you can use these as another source of cash when you run out. Generally speaking credit cards are fine to use in these, although watch out for the fees you could be charged on cash withdrawals. It would be wise to check the rates before you leave home. You can also use debit cards of all kinds, so this is good to know.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Lebanese pound
You’d normally use a currency converter to work this out, and you can do just the same here. Find one that has more than just the most popular currencies loaded into it, so you can access the Lebanese pound and then do a conversion from or to your own currency to see how far it will go.
The best way to start finding out more about Lebanon is to access the website for the Lebanese embassy, which is located in London. The website has information about visas, so this might be useful to you. Visit it at http://lebaneseembassyuk.org/.
Travelling safely with the Lebanese pound
Lebanon is not a country that is always completely safe to visit. There are some parts of the country you should not go to at all, in particular those areas within range of the border between Lebanon and Syria. The UK government posts the latest updates and advice regarding the situation in Lebanon on a regular basis, so it is always best to check before you travel if you are thinking of going there.
There is also another huge swathe of the country from the north-east to the south-west – including the area bordering Israel – where travel is not advisable unless you really have to go there. For most people this would mean essential business trips rather than tourism needs, so bear this in mind too. The western section of the country is better able to receive visitors but once again you should remember always to check the current situation before travelling there. While you can in theory visit Beirut at the time of writing, this only applies to certain areas. The situation can change fast so whatever is written here could change just as you read it. You simply never know. Moreover you should also keep an eye on things when you are in the country itself, even if certain areas are safe when you arrive there.
As far as petty crime is concerned, this actually isn’t a major problem in the country. One could say there are other more serious things to worry about if you are there and find yourself in an undesirable area. However bag snatching does occur so make sure you keep a tight hold on your bags at all times.
Where to spend your pounds in Lebanon – and what to spend them on
Lebanon can be found in the western part of Asia. It is a fairly small country, especially when compared to one of only two countries that share borders with it. Syria, which borders it to the north and east, is much bigger. The only other country to border Lebanon is Israel to the south.
The capital of Lebanon is Beirut, which many people will be instantly familiar with, since activities here have appeared on the news many times. It is on the Mediterranean coastline of the country, about halfway along its length. The history here is palpable since there is plenty of evidence that there have been humans here since prehistoric times. Despite what you may have read and seen about the city, it now has some charming areas that are worth seeing. For example the famous Saint Nicholas staircase is quite attractive, appearing in several levels and bordered by buildings on either side of its wide steps. There is enough greenery here too to create a charming effect.
When you think of Beirut the last thing you think about is a seaside promenade. But in fact the city has just that, and it is called Corniche Beirut. It is a wonderful place to be when the weather is good and you can enjoy superb views out over the Mediterranean Sea. Completed by a long wide walkway, dotted with palm trees and towered over by tall buildings that face the sea, this is a must-see area.
Elsewhere in Lebanon there are some other amazing sights, provided the situation deems it safe to see them. One is the Jeita Grotto, which offers two separate grottos visitors can see. One offers a walking tour in which you can find out more about the grottos and their creation, while the other offers a chance to ride in a rowboat to see the grotto from a different angle. The area has many other things to see and do as well, including riding in a cable car or on a train, and visiting the miniature zoo there.
Finally we should take note of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. This is the Kadisha Valley and it is an area filled with many monasteries. Each one tells a different story and all are included under the UNESCO name. The history here stretches back some distance, since several mummies were found here a couple of decades ago. They were thought to date back nearly 800 years, giving some insight into what life would have been like there then. There is some concern that the area could be in danger of being sacrificed to modern ways, although UNESCO has not yet added it to its well-known endangered list of places in the world. This is something that could well change in the future though.
Lebanon is a fascinating country but unfortunately it is one of those places in the world where things are never settled. It can be extremely dangerous to go beyond those areas which are thought to be safe for visitors. Indeed, even the safest areas can see events changing within seconds, so you always have to be aware of your surroundings and of what is going on there. Perhaps one day it will be possible to visit all the highlights the country has to offer without fear of any danger.