Beirut: Where to begin?
February 9, 2018|In Beirut, Lebanon, Middle East, Middle East Guide|By paraphernalia.coShare This
Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, is an exciting and eclectic destination. A city with ancient history, architecture, art and design; traditional, contemporary & fusion cuisines; a melting pot of nationalities, religious and political beliefs, and Beirut is beautiful too!
Table of Contents hide Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, is an exciting and eclectic destination. A city with ancient history, architecture, art and design; traditional, contemporary & fusion cuisines; a melting pot of nationalities, religious and political beliefs, and Beirut is beautiful too! Welcome to Beirut! Downtown. Hamra. Pigeon Rocks/ Corniche/ Marina. Ashrafieh. Gemmayze. Mar Mikhael. Bourj Hammoud. Safety. Getting there. Finally….
Surrounded by mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut is a city where a few days is not enough, but if that’s all you have, our Beirut Guide will get you started.
Intended for first-timers, it’s a foundation to build your own adventure from. Separated into districts, it covers all the things we love; where to #eat #drink #explore #shop & #stay.
Welcome to Beirut!
Martyrs’ Square is identified by Martyrs’ Statue. Erected in 1960, the statue commemorates 6 Lebanese nationalists hanged by Ottoman occupiers in 1916. The four bronze figures represent freedom, hope and liberty.
The statue was damaged during the civil war (1975-1990) and although restored, bullet holes and broken limbs were maintained in the hope they deter history from repeating.
You can’t miss Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque on the opposite corner. Its grand Ottoman styling, 48-metre diameter blue dome and its four 65-metre minarets make it an imposing landmark.
Built as recently as 2007-2008 and funded in part by the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, opinions are divided regarding its cultural significance.
For the perfect example of Beirut’s diverse culture and history, meander through the 5 sq km block between Martyrs’ Square (north), Riad El Solh (south), El Amir Bachir (east) and Waygand (west).
Pinned almost centrally by Parliament, this space is shared by cathedrals, mosques, archaeological sites, museums, designer clothing stores, 5-star hotels and a Virgin Megastore. Take some time to absorb the contrasts.
Shopping this area is going to burn a hole in your pocket but window shopping costs nada, so wander the streets of Downtown and you’ll find every designer brand you can think of and more.
The same goes for accommodation, although you’ll find some pretty fancy digs.
Le Gray, for example, is a funky 5-star and the Four Seasons, Sofitel and Hilton are all Downtown but, (depending on your loyalty status) you’ll find more affordable accommodation just a few minutes walk from here.
Restaurants and bars are upmarket too. One that is worth the coin is Capitole in the Asseily Building on Riad El Solh Square.
While partaking in sundowners and light bites overlooking the city, you may be tempted to hang the expense and stay all night.
Between the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU), Hamra is well and truly established in the entertainment arena.
Expect everything from high-end cocktail bars to pubs with loooong happy hours. International coffee, pizza & burger chains scatter through traditional and contemporary local restaurants and cafés.
T Marbouta (GF, Hamra Square off Hamra Street. +961 1 350 274) is a little hard to find but it is worth the effort.
Their value-priced menu of traditional mezze attracts a younger crowd. It’s a little hectic at times, but the menu’s variety and flavours are excellent. Open from 8 am until late, T Marbouta is a great spot for lunch or dinner.
Mezyan (Rasamany Building +961 71 293 015), within a block of T Marbouta, prepare tapas from Syria to Spain. Time constraints prevented us from sampling Mezyan, next time!
The recommendation to order the tagine of chicken and apricots was given enthusiastically. If you have the chance, please let us know how it was.
As with food, Hamra has many drinking holes.
Favourites within hopping distance begin with Propaganda Gin Room (The Alleyway, Hamra).
Housed on the ground floor of Caramel Hotel, Propaganda Gin Room’s gin selection is impressive. Their Cup-O-Gin-O is all the reason you need for seeking out this laneway establishment.
Opposite Propaganda is a pub offering happy hour pricing and next door to that is the Tipsy Goose. There’s no shortage of drinking establishments in Hamra, in fact, anywhere in Beirut.
Hamra also has reasonably priced accommodation.
Crown Plaza, Caramel Boutique Hotel, affordable apartment-style hotels and homestays all offer excellent deals.
Be aware this area is busy most of the time and drivers in Beirut have a close relationship with their car horn.
Pigeon Rocks/ Corniche/ Marina.
When flying into Beirut from the north, window seats on the left are your goal.
An evening flight captures Beirut’s undulating terrain under a gossamer curtain of lights and through the day you’ll spot the iconic Pigeon Rocks (Raouche Rocks) proudly flying the country’s flag.
A visit to Beirut would not be complete without a selfie at Pigeon Rocks. With the limestone rocks in the foreground and the sun setting behind, line up with others filling their Instagram accounts. It has to be done!
To arrive at, or retreat from, Pigeon Rocks follow the coast along the Corniche.
This 4.5 km esplanade is well used by locals and tourists providing sweeping views of the Mediterranean, fishing spots and there’s plenty of room for bike riding, rollerblading, walking and jogging.
Many cafés and restaurants dot the corniche. Stop for a sundowner or tuck into the catch of the day grilled or baked in a wood oven.
At Boulevard Beirut (Marina end of the Corniche), grilled octopus dressed with mustard seeds, pan tossed prawns in lemon and garlic, and a myriad of Lebanese dishes match perfectly with the sea views.
This picture perfect location comes at a price, but the hospitality and location more than compensate.
Further north toward Downtown, the Marina has a range of eateries with a more international flavour. Here pizza, pasta, shawarmas, salads and sandwiches are offered al fresco overlooking fancy vessels in the marina.
Handy to Downtown, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, Ashrafieh is another area with the goods.
Reserve a table at Em Sherif (Victor Hugo Street) for their spread of incredible mezze.
A daily set menu offering the best the market has to offer, prepared and served under the watchful eye of Em Sherif herself, this is a Beirut experience not to be missed.
Expect 34 items for lunch (US$45), a table spread with colourful dishes and to taste the distinct flavours of Lebanon. The opulent interior matches the warmth, richness and vitality of all things Em Sherif.
Nicholas Ibrahim Sursock Museum (Greek Orthodox Archbishopric Street) is housed in the late Nicholas Sursock’s 1912 mansion.
Left to the Lebanese people at the time of his death (1952), it took 9 years to finally implement his will with the opening of the museum in 1961. Surprisingly the museum did not close during the civil war but continued to exhibit.
3 floors of exhibition space with a tribute to Nicholas Sursock by way of preserving his study are joined by a library full of art, architecture, history and museum archives.
Closed Tuesdays, the Museum is open from 11 am to 7 pm the rest of the week.
O Monot Luxury Boutique Hotel’s location on O Monot Street allowed easy foot access to Downtown, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael and the hotel’s surrounds of Ashrafieh.
Follow this link for our review on O Monot Boutique Hotel and the answer is, yes, we would stay here again.
Mayrig (282 Pasteur Street), a must for Foodies is an Armenian restaurant serving classic dishes with Lebanese influences.
After the rains, wild thyme pops up over the Lebanese mountains and is turned into a tabouleh style salad with tomatoes and citrus dressing.
The main attraction at Mayrig, Mante, is described on the menu as minced meat dumplings with tomato sauce and yoghurt.
Don’t be fooled by this simple description. There’s a short performance where the components are combined and sprinkled with their favourite tart spice, sumac before you can tuck in and marvel at this delicious Armenian dish.
The menu is extensive, the wine list reasonably priced with many Lebanese wines represented and the service is welcoming, knowledgeable and efficient.
At Fancy Owl (Gouraud Street) you can prop yourself at the bar and squeeze info from Rudy and the boys on where to go and what to do in Beirut. Guaranteed they will send you straight to Byblos on a day trip via Jeita Grotto. Follow this link for details on these 2 fascinating locations along with more attractions outside of Beirut centre.
Their generous and inclusive nature will have you there far longer than you intended, sharing shots and watching as the bar fills and the dancing begins.
This would not be a Beirut Guide without mentioning Tawlet (12 Rue Naher, Armenia Street).
Guest cooks from rural areas prepare a spread of Lebanese dishes daily. An open buffet ($33) offers a sampling of the entire spread or choose the classic dish of the day ($15).
Tawlet is a social enterprise supporting farmers, cooks and producers. Open Mon-Fri 1:00pm – 4:00pm & Sat 12:00pm – 4:00pm. Closed Sundays.
Follow this link to find out more about Tawlet, Souk El Tayeb, regional food festivals and how this social enterprise is enriching the lives of underprivileged communities.
Thanks to Albert & Carrie (Backpacking with the Bonds) for the heads up on Vyvyan’s.
With all the bars in Mar Mikhael, this one can’t be missed. Set your alarm for 5 pm so you won’t be late for cocktails.
The list may look stock standard but Santana, Ribal and Jeff are all over it. That margarita, whiskey sour or negroni on the list is twisted to suit your mood.
Spend a few minutes at the bar and you’ll soon realise there’s a penchant for absinthe here.
Yes, the all-seeing eye is staring back at you from a substantial selection of bottles. Take your cue from the masters, but you’ll need to be patient while the fountain lady perfects your drink.
Ashrafieh, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael can be grouped together for the retail experience.
Expect vintage fashion, jewellery & accessories. Vinyl collectors will love the music stores, art galleries promote Lebanese artists, there are bookstores and as many boutique barbers as there are hairdressing salons.
If you’re pressed for time and don’t make it to the Bekaa (Beqaa) Valley, Lebanon’s famous wine region, a little retail therapy in Zawya may do the trick.
Stocking independent Lebanese wines and offering daily tastings to try before you buy, you’ll be tempted to stock up. Here’s a tip: try to remember your alcohol allowance when you’re coming home. 😉
Settled in 1915 by Armenian refugees, this area’s main artery, Armenia Street continues from Gouraud. A rabbit warren of alleys connects restaurants, bakeries, shoe stores and jewellers, to name just a few.
This maze is confusing but help is at hand. People are friendly and happy to point you in the right direction.
Find handmade leather goods and footwear.
On Manash Street, grocers carry special Oriental produce, spices, soaps and dried fruit and around the square in front of the Municipality in Armenia Street many gold and jewellery stores can be found.
It is said Bourj Hammoud is where the bargains are in Beirut and if you need repairs on anything from kitchen appliances to cars, someone here will be able to fix it.
It would be remiss not to mention the U.S. and Australian Government Travel Advisories’ amber warnings on Lebanon.
For the most part, the warnings are for areas bordering Syria and Israel. Notes within the warnings highlight random protests and celebratory gunfire in urban areas.
Locals advise of potential taxi scams. Ensure the meter is running or you have agreed on a price before commencing your ride.
With that said, our advice is to keep an eye on current affairs, be mindful like you would anywhere, but go and see for yourself, you’ll definitely want to return.
Emirates Airline flies to Beirut via Dubai 3 times daily with Fly Dubai increasing those options.
MEA (Middle East Airlines), Lebanon’s National Carrier, has direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and some African countries while code sharing with Delta and Air France expands their reach.
According to this article from late December 2017, Lebanese – Syrian border crossings are all open if you’re arriving by land. Be sure to check your country’s required documentation.
The ferry service between Cyprus and Lebanon is no longer available.
In this war-torn city with its eyes on the future, Beirut’s history and aspirations merge. Offering genuine hospitality with a live-for-the-moment attitude, the people of Beirut warmly welcome guests to their city.
Foodies are satisfied by traditional Lebanese cuisine and the fusion of introduced cultures. The bar scene would not be out of place in any of the hippest enclaves in the world.
For the simply curious, this ancient part of the world delivers on history, the arts and archaeology.
Local artists, designers and International brands provide retail therapy and when you finally rest your head, sink into the comfort of anything from luxurious 5-stars to welcoming home-stays.
Exploring Beirut for the first time: it’s a thing we love….
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