So I’ve just returned from a trip to Beirut, Lebanon. The place most people associate with bombings and about 15 years of civil war between 1975 and 1990; (read up here) why would I want to go there right!?
As you may or may not know, I'm in Dubai. This puts me around 4 hour so hours away from Lebanon; this means there are a lot of Lebanese people in Dubai; that being the case it's pretty difficult not to meet any Lebanese people and find out a little about it.
From what I'd heard from Lebanese people and friends who've been, was that it was worth a visit. I guess eventually I'd find myself there so here goes.
Beirut Airport is small and easy to navigate. As far as Airports go, no concerns and a solid 7/10.
As per usual when landing in a foreign country; keep your eyes peeled, exchange your money in the country of departure and be sure to fill out your entry card before getting to passport control (to save time) Once through passport control and you've grabbed your luggage it’s pretty much 3 to 4 minutes walk and you’re out!
Booking a ride to your hotel in advance is probably a good idea. The hotel will likely offer you a pickup option, probably at a cost of $4/5 dollars above standard rate. If you're anything like me and hate being overcharged 'd suggest this:
Book a driver online in advance for some of your days tours, you'll want to tour the city and I DO NOT suggest you hiring a car or driving! Man! I've been driving for a long time and have driven in a lot of countries but! I just didn't have the stomach or patience to drive in Lebanon, it's CHAOS!! Anyway, you can use your driver to pick you up from the Airport since you'll be utilising them for tours anyway (They'll probably quote you a better price)
Failing booking a driver in advance; uber works just fine.
Worst case scenario just grab a taxi. If you’re staying in Beirut it shouldn’t cost anything more than $20 and a 15 minute ride into town
Surprisingly Beirut isn’t anywhere as cheap as I was expecting. In fact, I found it quite expensive on a whole; it could be down to the area we stayed in (which was pretty central) Things cost roughly the same amount as they do in Dubai, so expect to pay around $5/6 for an orange juice in most places. If you opt to stay near the University then things might be a little cheaper.
The local currency is Lebanese Pound but they accept US Dollars. If you’re coming from America or have any left over US currency just bring it, they accept it EVERYWHERE.
If using credit card/debit card you’ll always be asked if you want to pay in Lebanese pound or US Dollars, pay in Lebanese pound as you avoid getting a poor exchange rate on the transaction (This is how stores make money on top)
Things to do in Beirut (Day)
If your trip is short/long weekend style like mine I suggest accepting the fact you won’t get to see and do EVERYTHING, just take it easy and see as much as you can without burning yourself. I’m over needing another vacay to recover from a vacay.
Beiriut Souks area is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy picking up something stylish. Packed with most of the stores you’ll be familiar with and a few you might not be, stores like Adidas, Armani, Gap, Louis Vuitton, Lush, Nike, Oysho, Sunglass Hut and a ton of others. I picked up a few things at Zara since I always check them out in foreign countries.
The area is brand new and packed with restaurants, coffee shops and a movie theatre. A good way to spend a few hours, plus the I LOVE Beirut Sign is located there too, always good for a photo op!
Zaitunay Bay - If you’re looking to chill and grab some food then this place is worth the stroll. My recommendation is ‘Laila’. One of my favourite Lebanese restaurant brands, the food is out of this world if you’re into Arab food.
National Museum of Beirut - As far as Museums go, this one stands out. It’s a great space with a lot of interesting pieces. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain the benefits of hitting up a museum; if you have some time during the day and want to learn a little about the past, this is a good place to check out.
Where to Socialise (Afternoon/Night)
The Lebanese know how to party and socialise!! you definitely won’t be short of options in this area. Below are two spots I can highly recommend if you're only there for a few days and want to hit a bar and a club.
Iris - Super cool, super fun and an amazing sunset view. If you’re looking for somewhere to hang out, listen to some cool music with friends and maybe grab a bite to eat then this is your spot! It’s a chilled outdoor roof terrace located walking distance from the Main Souk area. Check it out on instagam here
Dress to impress since everyone else will be. I mean, don't come in a wedding suit but Men, throw on a casual shirt with some jeans, some converse or casual brogues etc. Ladies, high heels, cute dresses and the right amount of lip gloss.
Make no mistake, this is a Beirut hotspot which means they are choosey at the door, if you arrive after 11pm then you’re probably going to have a hard time getting in. On a weekday I say to get there for circa 8pm for drinks and food, you’ll be there to see it pick up and get busy. On the weekend, head there for pre drinks and sunset around 6pm as a warm up.
White Beirut - I didn’t get to White, simply because the flight back to Dubai was Saturday night, but if this is anything like White Dubai then you’re definitely in for some fun! Music is typically Hip Hop and RnB so be prepared for long lines and miserable door staff. Arrive early (11pm) to guarantee entry. The White in Dubai is based off this one in Lebanon so go figure! Check itout its instagram here
There are a ton of other places to hang out so a few google searches should put you on track, the above two places though… I co-sign
I've listed a few spots I heard about but didn't get the chance to go to below
Tonic Beach Bar
Resources: What's going on locally
Where to stay
Despite military presence, Beirut feels like a safe place to wander around but like any country, especially ones with a fairly recent concerning past, always best to pick an area in or close to the centre.
There are a lot of hotels to pick and choose from. Pick one about 20 minutes walk from the centre at the furthest. I'm not always a fan of staying in the heart of a tourist district so if you aren't one either, university districts can work too. They usually have great coffee shops and cafes etc
There are plenty cool boutique hotels to choose from as well as a plush Four Seasons (which has an amazing Rooftop Bar btw) Also, Airbnb might just get you an amazing pad for the money when compared to hotel prices.
Speaking of the Four Seasons, the food served at the Rooftop Lounge was some of the most amazing I'd ever tasted, so if you are a foodie I can highly recommend this place. It was probably one of the most expensive places to eat on the trip but the views and environment was worth it.
Whenever I travel I usually decide where to stay based on the city and the aim of the trip. If the plan is to spend a lot of time in the hotel then pick as best as your budget can stretch; if you’re going to be out all day walking, doing tours and shopping then opt for an inexpensive but nice hotel or AirBnB just outside the middle of the city.
There’s a little boutique hotel called ‘O Monot’ just walking distance from the rush. Fairly priced, nice rooms and a cool little rooftop terrace with pool and bar; definitely worth checking out if you want to be near the hustle and bustle but not directly in it.
This little boutique spot gives you pretty much everything you need from a hotel. If you don't manage to book a room rate including breakfast then opt for the A La Carte menu instead of adding the $27 breakfast option; it offers better value for money and spending $27 (per person) for breakfast doesn't make much sense.
Sights to see
Beirut is great but like any major city, the real experience is usually outside of it.
Book a tour to some of the sights and grab a history lesson at the same time. Partying and socialising in a new city is great but you’d be missing out if you didn’t aim to learn a ‘little’ history of the country you’re in.
Harissa: There’s an AMAZING cable-cart ride up to the Lady of Lebanon, If you’re afraid of heights then the cable cart might not be for you. Once you get to the top the views over Lebanon are amazing! the cost is about $10 per person but it’s money well spent. If you include this as part of the day tour it’ll add to a great day out
Byblos: A UNESCO World Heritage sight and definitely a must on any itinerary. Byblos is suggested as one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 5000BC. If nothing else it’s interesting to learn about the eras of people who inhabited the land way way waaaay back.
Opting for a tour guide at Byblos is worth the extra $10 or so dollar it costs, however! Take some of what the guide says with a pinch of salt. Our tour guide appeared to have her own personal motives when expressing history; some parts were left out or glossed over in order to paint the picture she wanted us to see. Meh..
Jeitta Grotto: This was least amazing experience of my trip. If you’re into Geology then you’ll probably be foaming at the mouth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an impressive cave but I just wasn’t blown away by the experience; it's cool as an add on though.
Note: They don’t allow you to take your phone in, I think to reduce the amount of shares it’ll get on social media, since people will probably realise that it’s not actually worth going to, lol.
I booked the tour through Lebanon Trip. These guys were the most competitive in price and the driver was great. He’ll probably remind you of your friendly uncle who doesn’t say much but smiles at everything; very friendly and easy going which is useful when you’re spending the day having them drive you around a country you don’t know. (He can pick you up and drop you to Airport too)
Uber Uber Uber.. These days, whenever I’m in a foreign country and don’t know the roads or the prices I use uber. If you don’t already have the app then download it. It’s probably one of the best travel tools you can have these days. You'll need wifi to make your bookings but you can either a) buy a local sim card for the duration of your trip or b) use the free WiFi from the hotel. Just ensure that wherever you’re going has wifi or you’ll end up having to book a local taxi which….. You can be certain will either a) overcharge you or b) take you in a loop-d-loop as one guy tried; I quickly hit him with the “where you going tho….I didn’t ask for a tour of the city”
A nifty little trick is to download the map of a city so you can use it offline. This ALWAYS helps when trying to find your way around, or if you hop into a cab and need to orientate yourself with the route back to your hotel
Hopefully this quick summary gives you an insight into Beirut. It’s waaaay more cosmopolitan and nicer than I expected it to be. All I knew before was Bombings and AK47s and while you do see Military presence on the streets, it’s non-threatening.
Beirut was great but not sure I'd go back:
There aren't many places I'd go back to I guess, however, although a) I had a great time in Beirut and b) it's DEFINITELY a place worth visiting, I just didn't find the people massively friendly or warm.
My experience 'could' be down to the fact I was in and around some of the expensive areas and broadly speaking, I usually find such areas (globally) a bit snooty and not overly welcoming in some respects. I've travelled to a ton of places around the world and what makes a great travel experience always includes a healthy mix of the land AND the people. Outside of the constant staring anytime I walked into a place/bar/store, I found the majority of Lebanese people I interacted with quite rude or with some form of unnecessary attitude (Including those who were serving us)
I’ll be the first to say; take my opinion with a pinch of salt, it’s only the opinion of one man formed over the space of 3/4 days in a few areas. I’m intelligent enough to know that my experience of Lebanese people in the places I visited isn’t necessarily one which reflects ALL Lebanese people, I did meet/interact with a few who were friendly and helpful; unfortunately it was a rarity rather than in the main.
Lebanon as a place is great and definitely one worth experiencing. It has plenty of things to do during the day as well as a VIBRANT night life with plenty of great places to eat out. My reason for being in no rush to return simply falls down to my personal day to day experiences while I was there. You might visit and not even notice anything as travel comes down to individual experiences after all.
My overall view on all things travel related is that you really need to experience a place first hand to understand if you like it or not. It’s all good reading blog posts, looking at photos and such, however if a place interests you then don't anyone persuade you not to visit (myself included) unless for safety reasons; get your feet on the ground and form your own opinion, it's really the only way to know if you like it or not
All things considered and having had the experience I had, I’d still recommend Lebanon as a place of interest. It’s interesting place with a lot of history and TONS fun to be had. You're pretty much guaranteed a great travel experience (assuming you take some of my tips) and you'll leave with a new experience you never had before.
I may end up eating my words and actually return as in all honesty, I can see it booming in the next 3-5 years, once tourism picks back up
If you do hit Lebanon, tag me in your trip so I can see the pics!