Multicultural Beirut was once known as the Paris of the Middle East. It’s rich with history but also boasts a hipster bar scene, lively nightlife and some excellent modern restaurants. Slightly off the traditional city break path, the lack of tourists is certainly a plus point in my book!
What to do
For a dose of history head to the National Museum which has amazing mosaics, well-preserved sarcophagi and ancient pottery. Start with the documentary – despite being rather dated it’s worth a watch to see how the museum was protected during the civil war and then restored. NB you can only pay for entry in local currency.
In Hamra walk through the campus of the American University of Beirut and visit their excellent archaeological museum.
Wander around Mar Mikhael district and try to find some of the brightly painted staircases. Get an ice cream at Oslo. Take a break for a drink (coffee or alcoholic as the mood takes you) and peruse the books at Aaliya’s books.
For a day soaking up the sun a day pass to the pool at the Riviera Hotel is about $20, or for a more 60s expat vibe head to the Sporting Beach Club to hang out on their ‘concrete beach’ or people watch from the restaurant over some local Lebanese wine.
See the old alongside the new in redeveloped Downtown – visit the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque and see how many different religious places of worship you can see from the square in front.
Take a stroll along the Corniche and past Pigeon Rocks (Raouché).
Take the Teleferique of Lebanon 20k north of Beirut, up to Our Lady of Lebanon pilgrimage site in Harissa.
Take a day trip to the pretty historic port of Byblos. The enormous Jeita caves can be visited on the way, ask your driver to make a stop at Douaihy sweets and try some sweet cheese knafeh, delicious!
Where to eat
The Gathering serves good French food and wine in a number of pretty buildings around a central courtyard
SeaSalt on Corniche is good for seafood and La Plage next door has tables on the jetty
Salon Beyrouth is in a beautiful colonial building with a lovely indoor/outdoor courtyard and has a good brunch menu
Liza has a fantastic and generous set menu very reasonably priced, in a beautiful setting
Café Hamra has a large outside courtyard for breakfast/coffee
For a quick coffee or breakfast try Urbanista or one of the many Paul bakeries
Where to drink
Ales and Tales for cocktails, Rabbit Hole next door and other bars on the same small strip of Rue 57, parallel to Rue Hamra
Mezyan is a little Armenian and Lebanese bar/restaurant with live music, open late, hidden away in a little business block – go inside to find it and feel like you’ve properly arrived in Beirut
Coop d’etat rooftop for drinks and dancing, trendy student vibe
Sud is very buzzy for food and drinks, lots of bars and restaurant tables both inside and out spread out on different levels
Bar hop along the strip on Armenia to Bar 35, Grand Central, Radio Beirut and The Bohemian
Junkyard is very lively with belly dancers and live Lebanese music. Noisy, crowded and fun.
Four Seasons rooftop bar – book a table for sundowners with great views over harbour
Capitole – book ahead for drinks at this swanky rooftop bar in Downtown
Iris – another trendy rooftop bar in Downtown for sunset drinks or late night dancing to international DJs
What you should know
UK passport holders can get a visa on arrival at Beirut airport which is free for up to one month
NB if you say you’ve been to Israel (or have a stamp in your passport showing you have) you won’t be allowed into Lebanon!
The airport is a 20 minute taxi ride to the city (~US$ 20). We used Allo Taxi to book a transfer from the airport in advance.
Traffic can be bad in town but if it’s not walkable taxis are cheap and we used the Allo Taxi app to book (much like uber, albeit a little slower)
Flight time from UK: Around 4hr45
Currency: Almost everywhere will accept US dollars. Lebanese pounds can only be purchased in Lebanon but you’re unlikely to need local currency except for the National Museum. Use an ATM to withdraw Lebanese pounds if necessary.
Plug adaptors: Lebanon has a mixture but we found mainly European (2 round pins)
Time difference: GMT+2