Beirut Travel Guide

Photo of Beirut

Beirut Overview

Breathtakingly sat on the shores of the Mediterranean and in the shadows of a dramatic mountain range, European-esque Beirut has all the makings of a great traveller destination. The best way to think of it is like a flower in spring that, in the face of adverse conditions, refuses to be put down and keeps blossoming year after year. Once referred to as the Paris of the Middle East, Lebanon’s capital city has faced its fair share of heartache over the years, being largely reduced to rubble during the Civil War. However, from the early 1990s Beirut dusted itself off, worked tirelessly to rebuild itself and is once again welcoming all and sundry to enjoy the high quality of cosmopolitan life.

 
Tourist attractions are plentiful here and range from lazing on the beach to exploring historical sights to partying like there really is no tomorrow. Start out in Place des Martyrs and feel the lingering atmosphere of past political demonstrations and then walk the Green Line, the point at where East and West were divided during the Civil War. Harsh reminders of the past are sometimes difficult to avoid but ask any local and they’ll likely tell you that it just gives the city that extra bit of raw edginess. It is not all about the past, however, and Beirut is as much a forward-thinking city as anywhere. Take a stroll along the Corniche, the beachfront promenade heavily peppered with flash hotels, boutiques and an array of bars and cafés. When night falls, Beirut lights up once again and the fashionable neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh and Ashrafieh are home to the city’s pulsating nightlife.
 
If planning a trip to Lebanon’s premier destination then it is important to bear in mind that it is not the cheapest destination to be found. Other than a handful of budget lodgings, backpacker hostels are rare and hotel prices can be pricey. That said, flights from across Europe are reasonable and there are a host of affordable restaurants to be sampled, so perhaps this is the holiday to splurge a little on a hotel room. Boasting hot sunny days from May to November and mild winters, Beirut can be visited at anytime during the year, although be prepared for some heavy rain from December to end-January. To cap it all off, the nearby mountains are ideal for skiing in February whilst the city often remains clear and blue.

Things to do in Beirut

Beirut Historic Sights - Beirut’s historical sights relate to a complete mishmash of eras and events, ranging from ancient historical ruins to political and war monuments. In the city centre Place des Martyrs is the main square, home to a bullet battered statue dedicated to war victims, and the sight of major political demonstrations. A few blocks away are the Roman Baths, superbly restored after the civil war and encompassed by a pristine garden. Lovers of architecture will enjoy gazing at the grand Ottoman-era government buildings of the Grand Serail. Moving away from the centre, lying just off the Corniche is the Raouche (or Pigeon Rocks) two arched rock formations and a city icon. For more natural beauty make the 3-hour journey to the Bekaa Valley and the historical ruins of Baalbekwhich date back to 1000BC.

 
Beirut Religious Sites - The city’s religious landmarks are equally as impressive and classed in the same bracket by the Lebanese. Check out the glorious 12thC St George Cathedral, curiously built only a few blocks away from both the Al-Omari Mosque, originally a church and converted by the Mamluks in 1291, and the striking Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, home to former prime minister Rafiq Hariri’s tomb. To complete the circuit look behind the Grand Serail where lay the ruins of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue, once home to Beirut’s blossoming Jewish community.
 
Beirut Museums
Agial Art Gallery - Fine gallery whose aim is to showcase modern art originating from the Arab world.
AUB Museum - Founded in 1868 this museum houses a fine array of artefacts collected in Lebanon and its neighbouring countries.
National Museum of Beirut - One of the Beirut must-sees, this museum recounts the city’s history from 9000BC up to today. Make sure to watch the hourly movie screening of Revival. 
Sfeir-Semler Gallery - Huge exhibition centre in the revived Karantina district hosting rotating displays of Middle Eastern, American and European art.
 
Hippodrome - In action since 1918 when it was a playground for the French and Beirut’s high-flyers, pass by on Sundays to experience one of the few legal betting grounds in the Arab world. Races are also held on Saturday between July and August.
 
Beirut Theme Parks - When not exploring the historical sights and learning about the city’s past, Beirut is a great place in which to lose all inhibitions and enjoy some childlike fun. Head along to the Phoenician-themed Habtoorland for a day of white-knuckle roller coasters and traditional fairground rides. For water-based action check out Rio Lento and Splash Land, both entertaining water parks home to kamikaze rides, wave pools and lazy rivers, with the latter also boasting a mini-golf course.
 
Beirut Festivals
Baalbek International Festival - The end of July welcomes the regions oldest performing arts festival attracting big names from the international music, dance and theatre scene.
Beirut International Film Festival - October festival with filmmakers competing for Feature Film, Short Movie, Culinary and Children’s Film awards.
 
Beirut Restaurants
Abdel Wahab - Local favourite serving up fine hummus, mezzes, grilled meats and delicious deserts. Popular for its traditional dining standards.
Barbar - The king of Lebanese cheap-fast-food knocking up tasty kebabs and shawarma, ice cream and juices.
Diwan Sultan Brahim - For fish dishes this place is tough to match. Take your pick from the days catch and allow the chefs to whip up a delectable meal. Busy on weekends so reservations may be required.
Le Rouge - A popular Hamra joint blending the best in French and Lebanese cuisine.
 
Beirut Nightlife - By a country mile Beirut is the party capital of the Middle East with the countless bars and nightclubs being chock full every night of the week. Nightly proceedings are focused around town main zones; Rue Gourard in the Gemmayzeh district and Rue Monot over in Ashrafieh. Gemmayzeh is the spot for lively party bars and Ashrafieh is the place to be for more sophisticated lounge-styled bars.
 
Beirut Bars
Dragonfly - Friendly and vibrant party bar on Rue Gourard with a DJ spinning crowd-pleasers to a large foreigner crowd.
Gemmayzeh Café - Iconic Beirut bar just down the road from Dragonfly. Stop by in the afternoon for a game of backgammon then come back for the nightly dinner and dance show.
Hole in the Wall - Old school dimly-lit drinking den in the heart of Rue Monot that continues to pull in a faithful following.
Pacifico - Another Rue Monot stalwart is this Latin-styled bar-cum-restaurant drawing in a 30-something crowd.
 
Beirut Nightclubs
Acid Nightclub - The place to let go on the dance floor, this clubbing favourite spins the latest in international techno to the gay-friendly masses.
Crystal - Long time favourite and the flashiest club in town which is a much loved haunt of Beirut’s hip and trendy gang.
Cassino Nightclub - When the other venues are banging out the latest in house music. Cassino gets the dance floor in a frenzy with the best in Arabic pop.

Hotels in Beirut

Budget Hotels Beirut

Embassy Hotel - Pleasant family-run hotel with affordable rooms and discounts for long term stays. Tel (961) 1 340814.
Napoli Hotel - Although not overly exciting this hotel is cheap and commands a superb location. Tel (961) 1 747333.
 
Midrange Hotels Beirut
City Suite Hotel - Slick boutique hotel in the heart of the city and affording both ocean and mountain views. Tel (961) 1 862111.
Mayflower Hotel - Long-established independent hotel just off Harma Street and offering comfortable rooms with good service. Tel (961) 1 340680.
Saifi Urban Garden - Newly opened in August 2010 this guesthouse offers 12 cosy rooms, dorm beds and a rooftop restaurant. Tel (961) 1 562509.
 
Luxury Hotels Beirut
Hotel Albergo - Luxury boutique hotel offering guests a romantic stay in a converted mansion. Tel (961) 1 339797.
Le Gray Beirut - Futuristic luxury hotel with highly expensive suites and a spectacular rooftop pool. Tel (961) 1 971111.
Movenpick Hotel & Resort - Upscale resort hotel in the city centre and overlooking the Mediterranean. Tel (961) 1 869666.

Beirut Weather

Beirut Travel Resources

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