The Beirut Rundown
Political and financial capital par excellence and most populous city in Lebanon by far, Beirut is blessed with all the signature attributes that make a city extraordinary. A 5,000 year old history for starters but, notably, a deliriously hospitable populace, impetuous nightlife, host of cultural landmarks and a handsome seaside scene all mark the original “Paris of the East” as supreme.
The problem most travellers face in Beirut has to do with sleep; namely when and how to pencil it in. Know this in advance: the capital of Lebanon will knacker you out. But survive you will and, indeed, the better for it. The points of interest and implicit magic of Beirut comes at you in a riotous blaze of noise and colour; from Roman ruins to elegant shisha cafés, venerable museums to contemporary art installations, boisterous supperclubs to the breezy Mediterranean coast.
Political instability and a turbulent past? All part of the package and elements which do, invariably, cast a pall over the city from time to time. Take the good with the bad in enigmatic, magnetic Bayrūt and succumb, as most do, to the charms of this wonderful, singular city.
Beirut’s Top 10
10. Robert Mouawad Private Museum is a treasure trove of objets d’art inside Beirut’s superb Pharaon Palace.
5. Jeita Grotto is worth the 18 km journey outside of Beirut. The karstic limestone cave system in the Nahr al-Kalb valley is spectacular.
9. Maghen Abraham Synagogue is the oldest, most important synagogue in Beirut and a fine introduction to Wadi Abu Jamil, the city’s old Jewish quarter.
4. Archaeology Museum of the American University of Beirut is but one of many gems under the auspices of the foremost academic institution. The museum is a triumph, however, and impressively, the third-oldest in the Middle East.
8. The Grand Serail is impossible to miss. A grand Ottoman-era masterwork that recently underwent an immaculate refurb, the landmark is primarily in use as a government office complex.
3. Sursock Museum is surely one of the most extraordinary structures in Beirut and, furthermore, a remarkable contemporary and Islamic art facility.
7. Pigeon Rocks is omnipresent on Beirut postcards as the most famous natural attraction in the capital, bar none. Walk down the Corniche in Raouché to get a prime photograph of the offshore rock arches.
2. The Corniche is the lifeblood of Beirut and an ebullient hive of activity.
6. National Museum of Beirut is the archive and repository of record in Lebanon, with a colossal collection that includes some of the best artefacts in the country.
1. Baalbek is one of only five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lebanon and a worthwhile 85 km drive from Beirut. The ancient city is the linchpin wonder of the gorgeous Bekaa Valley.
- Place des Martyrs – An old Turkish plaza, this square was renamed after the persecution of many Lebanese nationalists and intellectuals in 1916.
- Maghen Abraham Synagogue – This synagogue is one of the few remaining traces of a historical Jewish presence in Lebanon.
- Al-Omari Mosque – Built in the 12th century by Crusaders, this church was converted into a mosque in 1291 after the crusaders left.
- Temple of Baalbeck – The site of an ancient Roman temple in Beirut, founded on unbelievably massive stone blocks.
- Clocktower – Located in the downtown area, this Ottoman edifice was reconstructed in 1994 to repair damage done during the civil war.
Beirut Art & Culture
- The National Museum of Beirut – It is the primary archaeology museum in Lebanon.
- The American University of Beirut – The Middle East’s third-oldest museum has many artifacts from the surrounding regions on display.
- Sursock Museum – Built by the Sursock family in the 19th century and later donated to the government, this museum is home to Beirut’s most popular art.
- Saint Joseph University – This Jesuit college manages the Museum of Lebanese Prehistory.
- Planet Discovery – This children’s science museum hosts many interactive experiments and exciting performances.
- Gemmayzeh Café – The best place to listen to authentic Arab music in Beirut while you have a drink.
- Oriental Art Centre – Original souvenirs and vintage postcards are sold at this family business.
- Blue Elephant – If you crave Thai food while in Lebanon, this is the place to stop.
- Saifi Village – This district of Beirut contains many stores selling clothes, carpets and antiques.
- CD-Theque – They have excellent books on photography and culture of the Middle East.
Beirut Gay & Lesbian
- Acid – This techno club is gay friendly in a country that prohibits homosexuality.
- Milk – A gay bar located in the Saifi area close to Kataeb.
- Wolf – A nightclub for manly men with clean, original drinks.
- Bardo – Located on Hamra Street, this gay bar faces Haygazian University.
- Vice Versa – A gay club located on Ain Saade Street in Beirut.
- Pigeon Rocks – These anomalous, offshore rocks jut vertically out of the water and are some of the significant natural features of Beirut.
- Beirut-by-Bike – Rent a bike here and explore the no-car zone in downtown Beirut on Sundays.
- Ramlet al-Bayda beach – Beirut’s only public beach mostly draws men.
- St. George Yacht Motor Club – The club has a marina, pool and restaurant for those interested in a water outing.
- Animal Encounter – This is a Lebanese refuge for unwanted and abandoned animals, some domestic and some wild.
- Beirut Municipal Stadium – This multipurpose stadium is the home field for Al Aled, a Lebanese football team.
- Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium – Seats nearly 48,000 spectators, mostly for football games.
- Basketball – Lebanon’s most popular sport has four professional teams in Beirut and many more from lesser divisions.
- Beirut Marathon – More than 30,000 runners participate in this annual event held every October.
- Beirut Hippodrome – Located on Al Yafi Avenue, this horseracing facility hosts both local and international races.
As the commercial and cultural pulse point of Lebanon, Beirut unfurls a ton of districts to explore. One of the most important and influential capitals in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, the city’s metropolitan area contains well over 2 million inhabitants and spans some 200 km<sup>2</sup>.
Downtown Beirut is the nerve centre of the city and a vibrant district, full of restaurants, cafés, commerce, upmarket shops and historic landmarks. Vital points of interest include Nejmeh Square, Martyr’s Square, old French Mandate area and a vast network of Roman monuments, churches and mosques.
Ashrafieh is a lively hub of nightlife, restaurants and retail activity. Home to scores of young, upwardly mobile residents, the area contains the all-important artery of Gemmayze and busy Rue Monot.
Ain El Mraiseh faces the Mediterranean Sea and lines part of the city’s Corniche. Home to many luxury hotels, cafés and Western restaurants.
Manara is the western tip of Beirut and a tranquil residential enclave with some decent accommodation options.
Ramlet El Baida is a residential district of note, mainly because it contains the only standout public beach in Beirut.
Verdun is a tony, trendy area of the city that hosts a wide variety of boutiques, cinemas and restaurants.
Jnah’s appeal is seaside leisure and entertainment in southern Beirut, most notably in the form of beach clubs and the like.
Beirut Eat & Drink
Beirut’s culinary landscape has never been in doubt. The Lebanese capital is a city that eats well, often and at any time of day or night.
Ferdinand (Mahatma Gandhi Street, Hamra) Dark, smoky and supremely chill, Ferdinand is a popular concept bar and restaurant with excellent casual fare.
Myu (Gemmayze) is one of the best of Beirut’s many glam cocktail bars cum restaurants.
Al Falamanki (Damascus Road, Sodeco) is a classic shisha hangout with quality grub.
Da Giovanni (Rue Georges Haddad) serves top-drawer Italian food by any city’s standard.
Kabab-ji (Bliss Street) is part of a local chain that serves addictive, no-nonsense Lebanese cuisine. Curiously strong in the kebab department.
Pacifico (Monot Street), like a lot of joints on Monot, is more about ambiance than food. Still, the Mexican mezze and cocktails go down well enough to constitute a memorable night out on the town.
Sultan Brahim (Antelias Highway, Antelias) is expensive by Beirut standards but well worth it for carefully-prepared fresh fish and seafood and dutiful, attentive service.
Mandaloun sur Mer (Downtown, Biel) charges dearly for what amounts to one of the best views in the city but hey, when on holiday, live a little. Happily, the fish is delicious.
Abdel Wahab (Abdel Wahab El Inglizi) is the place to be for staple and obscure Lebanese classics. Perpetually full but worth the wait.
La Table d’Alfred (Sursock Street, Ashrafieh) consistently cooks up the best French cuisine in a city that has more than a few Parisian bistro wannabes.
The dynamic urban heart of Lebanon delivers a full slate of cultural events and festivals throughout the year, regardless of season. Pick a month, any month, and Beirut is bound to have a plethora of options for your entertainment pleasure.
Garden Show & Spring Festival takes place over four days at the Beirut Hippodrome in late May. The most important flower expo in the Middle East features scores of exhibitors from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and throughout the Arab diaspora.
Outbox International Short Film Festival is a free multi-day, open-air event in early June that takes place at Beirut’s Roman Baths.
Beirut Fashion Week proves year in and year out that the capital of Lebanon is the most fashionable city in the Arab world.
Beiteddine Art Festival is a paragon arts and culture bash held in a gorgeous, historic palace in the Chouf Mountains. The festival features an eclectic programme of events that unfurl throughout the hot Beirut summer.
Al Bustan Festival takes place every February and March and celebrates the musical heritage of a particular country or region. The 2012 edition will focus on the music of Latin America.
Beirut International Film Festival is a pinnacle event for film buffs in a country with a long, productive and significant cinematic history.
Beirut International Jazz Festival has grown tremendously in a short period of time and now draws top acts from around the world to the city every October.
Beirut Nights refers to specific events that take place every summer in the city, from concerts by the likes of Sting and Snoog Dogg, to special museum exhibits.
The Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Center is a major city focal point for special events, conferences, exhibits, performances and the like.
Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium is the premier sports stadium in Lebanon, with a total capacity of just under 50,000 spectators.
When To Go
Beirut has a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild winters. Weather-wise the city is amenable year round, despite heavy downpours that inevitably come in December, January and February. Understandably, however, the months of April and May, when temperatures hover between 59°F (15°C) and 77°F (26°C), are the most favourable and a popular tourism window.
Summer temperatures, on the other hand, range from 66°F (19°C) to 86°F (30°C), with little to no rain or cloud cover from June to mid-September.
Come winter, temperatures rarely dip below 50°F (10°C).
What To Miss
Political violence, for starters, is what to miss in Beirut. When it comes to travel to and within the city, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general, it pays to keep your eyes on the news tickers. No need to delve into a long and elaborate history and geopolitics lesson for the region either; it is no open secret that Lebanon dwells in a rough neighbourhood. When the kids play nice, all is well, but when a skirmish breaks out, visitors are often the first to get caught in the crossfire. The fact is that politics in Beirut is fraught with hostility fomented by powerful, adversarial forces and likely will be for some time. As a result, be sure to consult the travel advice section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website for updates on Lebanon and, indeed, other destinations around the world.
Aside from regional instability, avoid the Beirut Souks commercial area (expensive and a tourist trap) and, unless you like to gamble with your life, do not drive in the city. Traffic in Beirut is stressful, chaotic and completely haphazard.
Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport is the primary transport hub to get in and out of Lebanon and is held in high regard. Only Dubai International, in fact, scores more points in the Middle East among industry experts. In two decades, total passenger numbers for Rafic Hariri International have shot up from 1 million to well over 5 million in 2010. The airport provides services to destinations as far-flung as Riga, Rome, Addis Ababa and Kuala Lumpur.
Visitors can enter Lebanon another way - via Syria. The two Arab states share several border junctions, through which travellers can come and go by private or rental car, coach bus or service taxi.
In Beirut proper, it pays to acquaint yourself with the somewhat complex taxi system. Essentially, it boils down to cars you flag down yourself and may or may not share with other passengers (specify your preference to the driver) or cars you call in advance. The former is decidedly less costly and predictable but with one or the other, it behooves you to ask about the fare in advance and be very specific about your final destination.
Though some tourists shy away from Beirut’s bus system, it gets the job done for short haul trips and is quite inexpensive. Do not look for schedules or stops, however. Just wave your hand, look the driver square in the eyes and have faith.
If they want to keep it real, intrepid explorers must count the capital city of Lebanon as obligatory in future travel plans. Despite inordinate international coverage paid to Beirut's bouts of civil and political unrest, the "Paris of the East" is a genuine marvel. The famous nickname however, a testament to Lebanon's former mandate under France for three decades after World War I, may do Beirut more harm than good. The fact is that the city is a standalone beauty.
Beirut's good looks come from a superb peninsula location on the Mediterranean coast. Combine that with a history that dates back more than 5,000 years and the vast, modern metropolis of more than 2 million people is in very rare company on the world stage. The archaeological sites in and around the city are exquisite, with roots in Greek, Roman and Arabic culture. With myriad museums, busy beaches and a dynamic nightlife that pulsates well past dawn, Beirut is as complete a destination as you can find.
Restaurants & Nightlife
Beirut has a Mediterranean climate, with very hot summers and cool, rainy winters.
- Winter (December to February) 10-17°C
- Spring (March to May) 11-23°C
- Summer (June to September) 20-29°C
- Fall (October to November) 15-26°C
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