The Ultimate Travel Guide to Beirut, Lebanon
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Beirut is back, not only as a desirable vacation spot but also as a center for the latest in culture and nightlife. As far as historical sites are concerned, there isn’t all that much to see in Beirut, just one excavation of Roman ruins and you have to know where it is to find it. But there are some rather exotic museums like the Muawad Museum which exhibits a private collection from Roman statues to the diamond encrusted bra which Heidi Klum wore as an angel for Victoria’s Secret!
But, Beirut truly is a Phoenix risen from the ashes. Walk along the Corniche, Hamra Street or the newly developed Zaitunay Bay promenade and life buzzes around you. Some of the great buildings along the Corniche and even the trunks of some palm trees still show bullet holes from the devastating civil war or even scars from more recent bombs.
Make sure to get a day membership for the Beach Club on the Corniche. Not only can you enjoy a swim in the ample pool or the sea and get really close to the landmark Pigeon Rocks, and have seafood in the excellent restaurant, the greatest attraction is your fellow members. They are friendly and very inclined to tell the outsider personal stories from the war and from current life. If you need any recommendations, this is the place to get them.
You can walk around on your own or join a walking tour or even a guided bicycle tour. A word of advice for pedestrians: watch out. Traffic in Beirut is horrendous and drivers do not respect pedestrians much. You aren’t even 100% safe at zebra crossings or traffic lights. Wait for a gap and then just go, by no means stop or hesitate.
Beirut’s nightlife is legendary. The famous Sky Bar has been around forever, but there are plenty of new venues with a great variety of music and entertainment. Nothing gets really started before midnight, but then you can party the night away straight to your breakfast in one of the typical cafes on Hamra Street. A Lebanese breakfast cures any hangover.
Beirut itself may not have all that many remains from antiquity, but it’s a great starting point for day trips to majestic sites such as Byblos, Tyros, Sidon, Baalbek and Jeita Grotto.
In this Beirut Travel Guide blog, we listed helpful DIY Beirut travel tips and advice on how to get there, get around, great activities, restaurants, best hotels, tour packages and more.
Best time to visit
Beirut has a hot Mediterranean climate, but the only really hot and muggy month is August. Best time to visit is spring and fall with mild temperatures and little rain.
How to get there
Beirut’s International Airport which serves many airlines is your port of entry and the only airport in the country.
Public transport from the airport to the city center does not exist which leaves you with taxis. You recognize taxis by the red number plates and you must agree on the price in advance.
There are plenty of buses in operation in Beirut, but as there is not yet a bus plan project in operation, it’s very difficult to find your way around especially if you can’t read Arabic.
This leaves taxis of which there are different options. The cheapest is a shares taxi. It’s not recognizable from the outside, so, if you see a red number-plated taxi you stop it, go to the driver window and ask: Servees? If the answer is yes, you state your destination but you may be dropped more or less in the vicinity for the convenience of the driver and your co-passengers.
Better to stop a regular taxi, but agree on the price in advance and have cash! Or you can book a taxi through several companies like ALLO TAXI but still must confirm the price with the driver.
Currency, language etc
The currency in Lebanon is the Lebanese Pound (LBP). You need plenty of cash for taxis, restaurants etc. Often USD are also accepted but make sure you have small bills.
The official language is Arabic, but English and French are widely spoken.
WiFi is available in hotels and the airport.
Places to stay
Four Seasons Hotel Beirut
Address: 1418 Professor Wafic Sinno Avenue 2020 4107 Minet El Hosn Beirut, Beirut City Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Not only do you find all the luxuries and amenities of the usual Four Seasons hotels, the location with a fabulous view over the port and all the private yachts as well as the mountains in the back is unbeatable. On the 26th floor, you find the Asian inspired rooftop bar and restaurant, one of the trendiest in all of Beirut. You can even book a wine tasting tour through the hotel or a boat trip.
Saifi Suites Hotel
Address: Maroun Naccache Ave – Saifi, Beirut, Lebanon
If you have come to Beirut primarily to party you might want to be close to the nightlife center of Gemmayzeh and the Saifi Suites Hotel is just a short walk away. There is a pool and gym too and the rooms even have a kitchenette
City Suite Hotel
Address: Simon Bolivar Street, Raouche, Beirut, Lebanon
It’s located in Raouche which means a walking distance from Pigeon Rock and Hamra Street. Rooms are comfortable with floor to ceiling windows for splendid views, an ample breakfast buffet, wifi and a welcome drink on arrival.
Best places to eat
Address: Monot Street
This is the in a place where the Beirutis go to eat, celebrate and spend many hours of the day playing cards or backgammon. The founder’s story is a fascinating one which you can follow by looking at the many pictures on the walls. The best of Lebanese cuisine is offered here fresh to be enjoyed either indoors or on the tree-shaded terrace outside. Simply unique.
Café Hamra is, of course, located in Hamra Street. And an excellent choice for a ‘shopping break’ as well as a longer meal or breakfast. They have an ample menu of Lebanese specialties and the half-open half-closed venue makes for a pleasant stay. Try to get a table in the open backspace and help yourself to the salad buffet.
If you fancy Thai cuisine for a change, try Jai Restaurant.
Things to do and see
Many Beirutis start their day with a run or jog along the Corniche and you might opt for the same. Admire the landmark Pigeon Rock, often compared to Capri and the (expensive) new and elegant apartment buildings which have sprung up on the opposite side. Have breakfast in one of the many cafes which line the promenade and be prepared for a treat. It’s the most important meal of the day, so expect all kind of bread and labneh, cheeses, fried eggs, chickpeas, eggplant and much more.
Thus fortified you can start Beirut sightseeing and if like me, you are a museum fan, you can’t miss the extraordinary Mouawad Museum in Army Road in Beirut’s Zokak el Blat district. It is an amazing private residence and fabulous gardens, housing a collection of artifacts from antiquity to moderns times collected by an avid traveler.
Next is the National Museum, a huge building documenting the 5000 years of history which make up the background of Beirut, one of the oldest cities in the world.
What makes Beirut so appealing are the many different districts with their own architecture and atmosphere. The mile-long Hamra street with shops and boutiques of every kind was once Beirut’s most famous street.
Visit the pedestrian zone around Nejmeh Square, the Place de l’Etoile and, of course, Zokak el Blat, the souk. The old one was destroyed during the civil war, just one archway has been left standing. The new building is the venue of the most famous designer brands in the world. A giant Luis Vuitton case is even a piece of modern street art! Many more sculptures and works of art are to be found everywhere in Beirut.
Travel a bit outside and visit Our Lady of Lebanon, a huge statue of the Virgin Mary in Harissa, overlooking the port. Access is by cable car up the mountain.
Then, of course, there is the nightlife and club scene with new venues springing up all the time. The SkyBar has been around for a long time and it’s difficult to get in. Focus on two districts: Gemmayzah with one bar, pub and nightclub after another and the newer hub: Badaro. Kissproof in Badaro is very popular and Riwaq in Assad Rustom combines bar and performances with a library.
For open-air fans: Garten, an open-air club in the port district.
If you have time for a longer stay, use Beirut as a starting point for trips to the mountains with the Cedarwoods of Lebanon, to Baalbeck or the sweet smelling town of Saida because of the soap and perfume producers. Not to forget the incredible colors of Jeita Grotto, a lake and cave system which competed for Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Best place to shop
Zokak el Blat and Hamra Street.
Once visited, never forgotten, Beirut will cast her spell over you.