• Marion Mueller

Why to travel to Beirut? Explore this pulsating and immortal capital of contrasts

Updated: Apr 22, 2021


Beirut my favorite city in the world!

Some general things to begin with.......

Let us start with the question of safety first. Living in Dubai it is quite a common thing to do a weekend trip to Beirut. Lots of my friends are anyway Lebanese. However for my German or European friends it sounds rather like I have lost my mind. For them a trip to Beirut sounds similiar scary like a trip to Irak. The very few of them who were already there however can confirm that it is a great and varied destination.


Lebanon is not in the top list of the common holiday destinations. I would rather consider it as a raw jewel for insiders. It is a fact that the country is facing its worse political and economic crisis. The massive harbour explosion in August 2020 has once again shown the world in a painful way the fragility and corruption of the country. However I have been very impressed about the undestroyable spirit of the Lebanese people, the incredible willingness to overcome this catastrophe and the great solidarity. People helped each other just minutes after the disaster and throughout the following weeks and month.


Personally I have never felt unsafe when visiting the country - actually the opposite. I always had an amazing time there meeting lots of great people and enjoying outstanding food. Yes, I really need to raise my thumbs up for this lovely city and its super friendly people.


There are some suburbs in the south of Beirut which you should avoid to go - however you won't be going there anyway as there is nothing to see or do. If you are not sure about some places just ask at your hotel and they will always give you the right advises based on the actual situation.


The only problem you will face are taxi drivers (like in most of the other countries in the world 😃) with their antique old Mercedes or BMW's they will try to rip you of as a foreigner. And they have their pride as well, so if you don´t accept their price they will just drive off.


For longer drives I advise to arrange a car through your hotel - I would not recommend to rent a car for yourself as they are not properly insured, traffic is chaotic there without rules plus signboards are basically non-existing. Uber can be an option as well, but not if you are a single girl travelling on your own.


In whole Lebanon you can pay with USD. Hotels, restaurants and shops in the city are accepting credit cards. Due to the current economic crisis the local Lebanese pound is facing a terrific inflation rate.

Accommodation

Beirut has all sorts of accommodation possibilities.

For a good 4* city hotel you will pay around 150 - 200 USD per room and night for a 5* from 200 USD onward. Compared to other Mediterranean countries, Beirut is quite expansive in terms of accommodation and food (depending on the location).

I was often staying at the Warwick Palm Beach Hotel (www.warwickhotels.com/warwick-palm-beach), which is centrally located beside Zaitunay Bay at the Corniche Road. From here you can easily reach the main town center on foot. Rooms are modern with a bright and friendly ambiance.

Open the curtain and.............


......you have above kind of view - but WELCOME TO BEIRUT - it is the city of contrasts. Old war ruins beside modern and fancy new buildings, but exactly this mix makes Beirut so special and interesting.

Sea view rooms at the Warwick have better views as well as the breakfast room Level 6 on top. Here you can enjoy a delicious Mediterranean breakfast.

Further up you have a small rooftop swimming pool and the seasonal summer steakhouse La Parrilla, which is also the perfect place for a sundowner.

Sightseeing / Shopping

Although Beirut stands for an amazing Nightlife scene, you should not miss to visit the city in daylight to get a feeling of its lively buzz, its past and present.

I would recommend to start the day with a relaxed breakfast at Paul's in Zaitunay Bay (www.zaitunaybay.com). This mondane Yacht harbour is hosting various restaurants, bars and shops.

From here you can explore Downtown Beirut (which actually is completely restored) on foot. Everywhere you can still spot silent reminders of the civil war, which has torn the country apart....

.....however the city is in a constant move and want to come back to its former glory, when Beirut was known as the "Paris of the Middle East"......

You think we are in Paris now? No - it is still Beirut and its renovated city center.

New shopping malls have opened as well like Beirut Souks (www.beirutsouks.com.lb)

And you can visit historical landmarks like Place de l'Etoile - which is still heavily guarded by police. You need to pass a security check before entering - but let this not put you off. The place is very nice, unfortunately a bit deserted as most of the restaurants and shops have moved out of that area due to the fading number of visitors. Next to the Place de l'Etoile is the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.

If you leave Downtown towards the Martyr's Square you will pass the Le Gray Hotel - which is one of the best hotels in town (www.campbellgrayhotels.com/le-gray-beirut). I recommend to ascend to the rooftop bar and restaurant to have a chilled mid-day drink with views over Downtown Beirut. (Remark: unfortunately the hotel was badly damaged during the August 2020 explosion, a re-opening is planned for 2021).

More on shopping: I really like the neighbourhood of Burj Hammoud for a different shopping experience - I have to admit that even my Beirut friends think I am crazy. This part of town is far away from being fancy, but instead authentic I would say. It is the heart of the Armenian community. I found already some pretty good shoes, handbags and cloth there, which are mainly imported from Turkey or Italy. Bargaining is essential and will require your best skills. It is advisable to arrange with the taxi driver, who brought you, to wait or come back for you, as otherwise it can be hard to find a transportation for the way back. Also note that most of the shops are closed over lunch time.

If shopping is not your thing and you build up some hunger, I would otherwise recommend to take a taxi to the area of Raouche to take a picture of the iconic Pigeon Rocks and to have a nice lunch in one of the restaurants opposite.

For some afternoon relaxation the nearby beach club of Hotel Riviera (www.rivierahotel.com.lb) is a good option. Non-hotel guests have to pay an entrance fee inclusive of a sunbed, towels are for rent. The bar serves good cocktails with the vibes of a resident DJ.

The Riviera beach club is already a bit old-fashioned. Better and more fancy ones are for example Iris Beach Club (www.irisbeach.com) or the Oceana Beach Club (www.facebook.com/la.suite.oceana.beach.resort), however they are around 30-40 minutes drive away from the center. So for a quick afternoon pool dip with drinks the Riviera is still a good option. (Remark: at the time of my current up-date it is still not confirmed that these clubs will open again after the Covid-19 pandemic).

Restaurants

I always had amazing food in Lebanon. Starting from delicious street food like Manakish (the Arabic version of Pizza) over sumptuous dinners at traditional Lebanese restaurants. Further to creative international food in fancy places to home-cooked meals in family owned restaurants. Lebanon is all about the food. Many dishes are claimed to be invented here. Lebanese food never disappoints!

A must-try with the food is the popular Arak - an anis based liquor mixed with water and served on ice. Also the local wines should not be underestimated. My favorite one is the Rose wine from Ksara. Beside the wines from Ksara, try the wines of Kefraya.


Special tip: for authentic Lebanese food - visit Karket El Hajj (www.facebook.com/karketelhaj). A very good friend of mine from Beirut brought me there. They do all foods fresh and are even distilling their own Arak. Go for the typical selection of Lebanese Mezze followed by a mixed grill. Live music and a dance show can be enjoyed as well. It´s the perfect place to mingle with the locals. They anyway won't leave you seating when everybody joins the dance floor. An experience full of joy!

Bars and Clubs

Now to the main attraction of Beirut THE NIGHTLIFE - I must say that choices are just too many. To discover them all in a weekend is impossible. On a bar crawl you will notice that the venues are really well done in terms of decoration, atmosphere and service. The vibe is always good and soon you will make some new Lebanese friends.


Be aware that in the more fancy bars and clubs a smart casual dress code does apply and a reservation will be required for a table, otherwise you might not get in. If you are two girls dressed up nicely and playing your "I am just a tourist" card plus the bouncer has a good day, you might get in without a reservation.

There are some areas in the city where you can find streets full of restaurants and bars, perfect for a bar-hopping- tour. The most popular venues for any taste are in Gemmayzeh (close by are the St. Nicholas Stairs a nice place to start into the evening), Armenia Street or Mar Mikhael.

Note: Above areas have been vastly effected by the Harbour explosion of August 2020. Due to this disastrous event plus the ongoing economic crisis, many of these venues are closed up to date. Some will be/are renovated, some new places might come up, however others will stay closed. So check with Locals for the best places at the time of your visit.


My favorite places have been:

- Skybar Beirut (www.skybarbeirut.com)

Super stylish open-air club. The place to see and be seen.

- Iris (www.irisbeirut.com)

One of my long time favorites in Beirut - the rooftop Iris bar. Very nice for good cocktails and finger food, however not on the cheap side. Reservations are required. You always find this place packed with a nice crowd.

- White (www.whitebeirut.com)

Very stylish open-air nightclub playing mainly House/R'n'B.

- Music Hall (www.themusichall.com)

Another all-time favorite - Music Hall "the place where the heart of world fusion music beats". Actually there are two Music Halls in Beirut the indoor version for winter and the outdoor version at the Waterfront for summer. The second one I like best - however for both it is the same concept. They have various music acts over the whole night from Arabic over Spanish to Rock and Pop. Very interesting performances and in between a DJ takes to the stage. Advanced reservations are required.


- Fabrk (www.facebook.com/fabrkbeirut)

Lofty urban rooftop bar for dinner and drinks

- Mandaloun (www.almandaloun.com)

Wanna try something different and more Arabic - then go to Mandaloun, which is basically a restaurant with live performances, but turns into a club later at night. Alternatively you can just go to have drinks on the bar and enjoy some live music on stage. You will see the crowd heating up to their favorite Arabic songs.

- BO18 (www.b018.com)

4.00 am in the morning and you still don't wanna go home, then the legendary club of BO18 is the right thing for you. So crazy and so Beirut! Located in an old bunker with pumping hardcore Techno Beats. For those of you who know the old East Berlin Techno bunkers - that's pretty close to it. When you arrive in the dark of the night the roof of BO18 is still open, but will close with the sunrise - so you can stay in the bunker until early morning hours and heading straight for your Manakish breakfast afterwards .....done that many times :-)

For all the latest up-dates on restaurants, bars, clubs, special events and shows that are going on check out www.timeout.com/beirut

Around town

Although Beirut´s nightlife has a big attraction, it is worth to leave the night owl status for some days as Lebanon has also great landscapes and historical places to offer.

In my first visit to the country some years back, we have been to the great ruins of Baalbek and some other historical places in that area. Due to the political situation at the moment and the war in Syria, I would recommend to consider this area with caution. It is quite close to the Syrian border and the refugee camps. Unless you are with a local who really knows the area, stay away from there as well as the regions in the far South.

What I suggest is the following excursion, which can be easily done in a day. Best is to rent a driver for a full-day from the hotel, which you should get for around 100-120 USD/car/day.

First stop should be at Jeita Grotto (around 30 minutes drive from Beirut center), which is a system of two impressive limestone caves. It is a national symbol of Lebanon and a top tourist destination. The caves were on the Top 14 finalists list for the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

A cable car will bring you up to the first cave. At the entrance you have to lock your phone and camera in a safety box as no pictures are allowed inside. Throughout the year the caves have steady temperatures and a humid climate. You can walk in your own pace and admire the beautiful structures that nature has created.

After finishing the first cave a small train brings you down to the second cave, where you take a small boat ride through the stalagmites structures. Very mystical and peaceful!

No inside pictures were allowed - but have a look on www.jeitagrotto.com

Continue the drive through a beautiful mountain landscape with a lush greenery. Stop by at one of the many rural villages and try out some fresh bread or pastries at a bakery.

After around 30 minutes (depends on which routing your driver is taking) you will reach the next stop Harissa - which is a key Christian pilgrimage site with a shrine dedicated to our Lady of Lebanon. This shrine is one of the most important shrines in the world honoring the Virgin Mary. Religion aside the spot has beautiful views over the shores of Beirut as well as other churches of various Christian denominations in the vicinity. You can reach Harissa either by car - or more fun the old cable car departing from the main Beirut-Byblos road.

Back on the main highway you then aim towards the last destination of the day which is Byblos.

Byblos

Is a small charming fishing village with an historic stone town and is one of my favorite places in Lebanon. It is really worth to stay there for a night to experience also the lively night bars in the middle of the old center.

For overnight I can recommend the hip beach club resort Edde Sands (www.eddesands.com). It used to be one of the hottest beach clubs in Lebanon, however is now more taken over from families and groups of friends enjoying a day together. It has various pools and restaurants as well as Spa facilities, DJ entertainment and special activities. Even if you are not staying at the Resort you can have a beach entrance which costs around 30 USD per day. If you like to stay there you can either book yourself into the quite expansive Resort or alternatively book their 3* sister property el' Hotel which is close by and has free shuttle bus services to the Resort. The beach entrance is included.

During the day hang out on the beach and watch the Lebanese crowd (especially the rescue boys a la Baywatch 😉) and have a small stroll through the old town with its narrow cobble stone streets and the Old Souk.

For dinner I would recommend to go down to the Fishing Harbour with its many restaurants around. Last time we had dinner at Chez Pepe, which was excellent with super fresh fish. A bit off the harbour at the entrance of the souk is a restaurant called Feniqia - which I can also highly recommend for delicious Lebanese food and grills.

After dinner walk from there right back into the Souk, where you can find one pub and bar after another - very relaxed atmosphere to hang out.

During summer Byblos has also a very nice music festival - the Byblos International Festival with various national and international music acts. The stage is built in front of the old castle over the sea - very cool location.

I actually could write a full book about Beirut as I really like this country and its people so much. See also my other Blog articles about this destination.


Comment: Unfortunately due to the economic crisis, the harbour explosion and the ongoing Corona pandemic the Beirut that I have described in this article has changed a lot over the past few month. Nevertheless I still have great hopes that it will come back to a time, which I have experienced in this and many other trips.(Up-dated on April 2021)


If you like to read more about the current situation in Lebanon, please have a look at my latest Medium article:


https://marionm07.medium.com/lebanon-country-of-contrasts-90da72af1a51

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