Impressions Of Beirut, Lebanon

Filed Under: Travel

I just wrapped up an incredible three days in Beirut (well, minus the airport experience), and wanted to share my impressions of the city and surrounding area.

While I’m more of a fan of nature than cities, Beirut has been on my top five list of cities to visit for years, so I’m really happy I had the chance to go. It didn’t disappoint.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

Beirut is a picturesque city, in areas

Like every major city, not all areas are equally charming. Based on what I saw, it did seem like the charming areas of Beirut were pretty centralized. Much of the city was pretty run down, and not in an artsy way, but that’s to be expected.

But then you had parts of the city that were gorgeous.

There’s quite a bit to see in the city itself, from the Pigeon Rocks to the Roman Baths to the National Museum of Beirut.

Beirut is chic

Beirut is often referred to as the Paris of the east, and I think that’s an extremely accurate summary of the city. Beyond the architecture, I couldn’t help but notice just how chic so much of the culture was, including many of the people. Beirut was much more of a scene than I was expecting.

The food was exceptional, as expected

This came as no surprise whatsoever, since I’ve always loved Lebanese food. The food was every bit as good as I was hoping. When I travel somewhere it’s rare that I eat the local food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (after all, you sometimes want a bit of variety), though this trip was an exception. Nom nom nom.

Also, I love when you go to a restaurant and don’t order dessert, and then they just put all of the below stuff on your table. The quantities are sort of hilarious.

Security wasn’t as visible as I was expecting

I’m used to traveling to a lot of places with in-your-face security, and before my trip many people warned me that there would be military just about everywhere in the city.

I was surprised by how little in-your-face security there was. I found a lot less obvious security than in Amman or Tel Aviv, for example.

I didn’t see much armed military around the city, and I was a bit surprised that hotels didn’t have any sort of car inspections before driving up to it (there was just a metal detector to enter the hotel), like you’d find in Amman and many other cities.

Along those lines, I felt incredibly safe throughout our stay.

There’s a lot to do in the area

Beyond Beirut as such, there are lots of cool day trips you can take.

You can visit the Jeita Grotto, a system of two caves, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. You can walk through the top cave, while you take a boat through the bottom cave, which sort of reminded me of “It’s a Small World,” only much cooler. They don’t allow pictures, and they’re really strict about it.

Then you can go to the town of Byblos, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can also visit a mountain in Harissa, with beautiful views of the coast.

Lebanon reminded me a lot of Israel

I’m not trying to start WW3 by comparing the two countries, but Lebanon reminded me a lot of Israel. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising since they neighbor one another so have similar landscapes, but the similarities go beyond that, including similar food, and in some cases similar architecture.

Bottom line

I loved Beirut. I found the city to be approachable yet culturally rich. Lebanon has incredible food, and a lot to offer to tourists, both in the city and the surrounding countryside. I’d highly recommend a visit, especially when you consider that it’s only a short flight from many points in Europe.

If you’ve visited Beirut, what was your experience like?

Comments
  1. Hi Lucky

    I am going to Beirut in a couple of months. Am booked at the Four Seasons. Do you think that hotel is in a ‘nice’ part of town? If not, where did you stay/ which hotels do you think are in these good parts?

  2. @matt

    I am from Lebanon, four seasons is one of the best hotels in Lebanon. Location is phenomenal. They have a very nice rooftop that over looks the sea.

    Enjoy

  3. Beirut is awesome, always worth visiting again and again.

    Hopefully you also tried some Armenian food 🙂

  4. I have a friend who is originally an Iraqi Christian (they do exist in small quantities), but left as a child after the 1990 Kuwait invasion. Spent his teens and young adulthood in Cyprus, and then eventually made it to the US as an adult. He often spoke of the similarity of Beirut to Cyprus. Both experienced civil wars but both are cultural significant since antiquity and offer a lot. My sister lived in Jerusalem for 3.5 years (her husband worked for the embassy) and they visited Beirut once in addition to other areas nearby. If I find myself in the area I would definitely consider it. It is doubly interesting because Lebanon, unless most other countries in the Middle East, is multi-sectarian so its history and identity is not homogeneous.

  5. Great pictures! Looks like you stayed mostly around the Solidere area in Beirut. It was all completely rebuilt after the Civil War and is geared toward tourists. Did you happen to spend any time in Hamra, Gemmayze, or Ashrafieh? These neighborhoods, while they may look more run down, are where Beirutis are more likely to be eating or going out and you will find very nice restaurants, bars, and cafes. The bullet holled buildings are part of the charm of Beirut 🙂

  6. So Beirut vs. Tel Aviv? If you had to choose one to visit as a tourist? (I haven’t been to either so am genuinely asking)

  7. @Matt – while the Four Seasons is nice, i”d recommend Le Gray. It’s very chic, in a great neighborhood, and is a local place. Highly recommend.

  8. Glad you liked it. Lebanon is drop-dead gorgeous, and it is impossible to spend a week there without gaining 10 pounds. That’s partly because of the climate, partly because of the nature of the cuisine, and partly because the Lebanese tend to have extremely high standards for food.

    Next time you go, spend some time in the countryside. Go up to the mountains, rent a car and drive through the hills and valleys. Stop in the villages, have a coffee at the pastry shops, chat with the locals. Around every corner, there’s another beautiful valley, waterfall, olive grove, orchard, stately house. It is one of the most poetic (for lack of a better word) landscapes I’ve ever encountered.

    Speaking of poetry, these lines by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran always remind me of the Lebanese countryside:

    Bring me the flute and sing, for song is the secret of eternity.
    And the wailing of the flute remains, even after the end of existence.
    Have you taken the forest, rather than the palace, to be your home?
    Have you followed the creeks and climbed the rocks?
    Have you bathed in nature’s perfume and dried yourself with sunlight?
    Have you tasted the wine of the early morning from goblets of ether?
    Have you sat alone at dusk among the grape vines,
    Their clusters hanging like chandeliers of gold?
    Have you made the grass your bed at night, and the sky your blanket,
    So that you can allow the future to come, and let go of the past?
    Bring me the flute and sing, for song is a balm for the heart,
    And the wailing of the flute remains, even after the end of sins.
    Bring me the flute and sing, forget maladies and cures,
    For people are but lines of poetry, written, but with water.

  9. My neighbor is from Beirut, was forced to leave due to war and religious affiliation. He speaks fondly of his home country. He’s very glad he lives in the US but loves his home and his culture.

    I love Lebanese food and would love to visit someday…

  10. Don’t typically comment but completely agree with sentiments that Beirut is lovely and a great spot. Nice read.

  11. You better avoid some outskirts of the city (ie. several Palestinian refugee camps at the east of Beirut), as they’re the base and stronghold of Hizballah (a Shi’a terrorist group and militia, according to US Federal Government) where government control are non-existent. With their anti-American rhetorics (aligned with their best friend Iran), you might encounter some terrible experiences. In fact, Hizballah have some rocket warehouse right outside the airport.

  12. It’s really too bad that Beirut and Tel Aviv can’t get along better to create a pair of wonderful destinations close together that could share a lot I think.

  13. We’ve been there 4 times already and are planning to come back soon. You were quite precise in all (including the airport…).

  14. I was there several years ago for the first time, and I fully agree. The city is beautiful, food was great, the locals were lovely, and I have to say one of the most energetic party scenes I’ve run across. Took a turn up Gemmayze Street and encountered one crazy bunch of party animals in all the clubs and cafe’s. Reminded me of Ibiza or Mykonos. The restaurants, bars and clubs were all packed and the music was jumping, all up and down the street. They were dancing on tabletops and on the bar tops of the bars. Beirut young people must be the wild ass party animals of the Middle East. Loved it. Would love to go back.

  15. Zach: there is a very active gay scene in Beirut, compared to other Middle Eastern cities. A lot of nightlife in general actually, it’s a very lively city.

  16. Lebanon is one of my favorite places on the planet and definitely my favorite in the middle east, and I’ve been to a lot of places.
    The food, the culture, the history including the Phoenicians, and Beirut, Baalbec, Byblos, Tyre, and other locations.
    Ill be studying Arabic in Beirut for 5 weeks in September. Can’t wait!

  17. Our family lived overseas many years ago. Beirut was our weekend destination. I spent more time there than any other city growing up. We used to stay at the Normandy Hotel on the corniche about 1/4 – 1/2 mile north of the Phoenician hotel. It was also across the street from the Kit Kat bar. Thought it was funny as a child that cats had their own bar but I couldn’t go in there.

    I used to play the jukebox all the time in the Normandy hotel bar when I was a kid. Drove the bartender crazy. Our mom’s played bridge and drank scotch or martinis. I think the hotel was eventually destroyed in one of the wars.

    I really miss those days hanging out in Beirut. Saw the first Godfather movie there. Had my first pig roast up in the mountains at some hotel/lodge/restaurant. Had friends who lived there and hung out during our weekend trips. Last time I was there was in April 1973. Before the start of the war.

    But the airport always sucked. Even then.

    Perhaps when things are a bit safer there, I will journey back, inshallah.

  18. Thank u guys for your lovely comments on my country Lebanon u are always welcome I recommend that u visit batroun and chouf

  19. We have a huge Lebanese community in Detroit (and Windsor, ON, across the river), and I just love the people (universally friendly and personable it seems) and the food! It’s on my list!

  20. I was there a few years ago and loved every minute of the trip. What an eye opener. Lovely people great food. Stayed at Hilton and the staff were tremendous. Yes the airport is awful.

  21. I was born in lebanon. Live in mass usa. Visited oct 2018. Tiny country so everything is tightpacked. Biz on 1st flr residential above. Home cooked food is harder to find in coastal cities. Please ask & you will find it. Lots of foreign & local junk food…sad. car emissions are nauseating, seriously. Smell of gasoline in everywhere. I love the sounds of car horns, the chaos & that lebanese geography.

  22. Thank you guys for your kind words about my country,you are welcomed and feel at home.
    @Devine as far as i know Hixballah didnt harm any foreigners nor kidnapp any and Pompeo was allowed to visit and criticise Hizballah while in lebanon,keep your politics out of this blog.
    @Matt the four seasons is very well situated i personally prefger the Intercontinental Phoenicia with larger lobby,more restaurant and space.

  23. Agree with the sentiments of the article…visited for 10 days with my college age daughter…as an American, we were treated very well by everyone. Byblos, Baalbek, Harissa, Zahle, Jetta Grotto, Casino De Liban, Beirut, Mt. Sannine and the food… everything was magical.. it almost doesn’t make sense for a place smaller than Connecticut!

  24. Agree with the sentiments of the article…visited for 10 days with my college age daughter…as an American, we were treated very well by everyone. Byblos, Baalbek, Harissa, Zahle, Jetta Grotto, Casino De Liban, Beirut, Mt. Sannine and the food… everything was magical.. it almost doesn’t make sense for a place smaller than Connecticut!

  25. Been in Beirut in 2016 and I can’t disagree more, wonderful city with wonderful people, with a wonderful weather and last but not least, wonderful food. It’s a cultural city but fun at the same time. Hotels (the 4* good ones) are pricey. Airport is what it is, but of course we need to live in the city and not at the airport. Lebanese are some of the most friendly. I went alone to a forum/conference and met so many people and their hospitality was amazing, speechless. So yes I pretty much agree to this article.

  26. I really love Lebanon. I am Brazilian and my grandfather was Lebanese. I went there for the first time in December 2016. And after that I go to Lebanon every year. I went there in 2017 with my mom auntie and two friends. In 2018 I spend 3 months there and it was amazing. I am studying Lebanese theater and the parallel with Latin American. In June I will go to beirut again. My mom and auntie will go too. I have very good experience and I it was very intense.

  27. Nothing like it in the World.
    Unfortunately politics and it’s negative repercussions have taken a toll on that beautiful country. However the tenacity of the Lebanese and their unbelievable demeanor has managed to tip the scales favorably. Their love of life is contagious.
    Keep visiting and enjoy

  28. thank you guys for your love to lebanon
    we love you all welcome and need your help to learn how to appreciate our country

  29. Beirut is great and there is nothing like it. I was even invited to a home for lunch after church and most of the people were there. Hamra was great. I felt very safe. My stay was to short and I look forward to going back to Lebanon and exploring more.

  30. Glad you liked Lebanon. We prefer if we don’t get compared to “israel” as Lebanon was there before “israel” took over our neighbor country Palestine and made it their own country by force and bloodshed…

  31. “Lebanon reminded me a lot of Israel”

    Well, you’ll get that feeling in many countries in that part of the world. Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, southern Turkey, the coastal part of Syria, all to different degrees of course.

    “You can also visit a mountain in Harissa”

    Lucky, that…doesn’t make sense, and needs to be revised, since Harissa is the village on the mountain…unless you meant pilgrimage site instead of mountain…either way, yes, the views are lovely from up there.

    “You better avoid some outskirts of the city (ie. several Palestinian refugee camps at the east of Beirut), as they’re the base and stronghold of Hizballah”

    Did Bibi pay you by the word for this post?

    Glad you enjoyed Lebanon, Lucky, but something you should have pointed out, the traffic can sometimes be very horrible. And as wonderful as Beirut/Lebanon can be, public transportation is not one of it’s strengths.

  32. Thank you for this wonderful post, I’m glad you liked my country. I hope you will visit again but next time try to see and enjoy the Urban side of Beirut also don’t forget the north and the bekaa valley and other amazing places.
    Cheers mate

  33. Lebanon is beautiful. My first visit was supposed to be for three weeks, but I ended up moving there for two years while doing journalism on the area. I’d say Damascus is the heart of the Middle East and Beirut the soul.

  34. I went there twice and the place is stunning. I think it was most beautiful before the war, and the renovated area looks a bit sterile to me. I hope one day you can make it to Damascus, that city has a great vibe and the food is even better there. Hopefully the war will be over this year and people can visit the area again.

  35. Soon im gonna a come to Beirut..i have heard a lot about it… Read a lot about Beirut and beautiful Bekaaa Valley…Baalbeek and Byblos.

  36. Beirut is the city of the 5000 years old of civilization!
    Imagine how many generations lived before us there
    I grew up in Lebanon and I love it
    The food, the weather , the people and more !!!!
    If u have a chance visit and experience it for yourself

  37. I have been educated in beirut 1962 to 1973, since 1995 I have been travelling to Beirut twice a month. All I can say about Lebanon is it is the best country in the region, despite its domestic problems, don’t believe the TV networks, I stay at Staybridge Suites, Verdun, exellent value for money.

  38. I am not sure that writing comparisons between Lebanon and Israel will endear you to the Immigration Police at the airport but I suppose that you are now safely out. By the way, how did you make out at the airport on the way out ?

  39. Lebanon is the place that most exceeded my expectations and impressions vs how media reports it.

    Anthony Bourdain summed it up perfectly for me, “the food’s delicious, the people are awesome. It’s a party town. Hopefully, you will come back smarter about the world. You’ll understand a little more about how uninformed people are when they talk about that part of the world. You’ll come back as I did: changed and cautiously hopeful and confused in the best possible way.”

  40. I’ve been to Beirut 5 times now. Never any problem with airport ( beirut was final destination from US). first time i visited , stayed at four seasons for 3 days.. was ok, service great , rooms kind of average and dated. I would recommend an apartment for longer stays. City is safe and fun to roam around. Food excellent, always felt safe ( american female traveling alone). Felt welcome at all times.

  41. What a wonderful exciting city is Beirut! My parents visited before the civil war, I foolishly visited during the civil war, and more recently as well. Having spent time in all the countries of the middle east, I believe that Lebanon’s natural beauty is most stunning — of course the French would make it the Paris of the Middle East! The civil war was indeed shocking and sad, and now it is pleasantly surprising that the country stumbles along in beauty and business and tolerance, despite (or perhaps because of) the governmental paralysis. Go there! and travel to Baalbek to see another political side while walking the Roman ruins.

  42. @snic well said – thank you!

    Lebanon always invokes what Gibran Khalil have passioned about: his tolerance, Mount Lebanon, Lebanon cedar, Bsharri, and his beloved Selma in “Broken Wings”!

    I’m happy that this 5000 year old city is progressing forward to reclaim its rightful position as the leading cultural center of the Middle East.

  43. @ Devine. Agree. Stick to the tourist trail and one will be just fine in Beirut and Lebanon. Beautiful country. Unlike a trip to Jordan or Egypt there is always the possibility one could encounter a travel interruption should Hezbollah decide to launch rockets in to Israel. It’s rare, but one should have good travel insurance for delays unless acts of war are excluded. Didn’t deter me as it’s no more a risk that traveling somewhere prone to earthquakes, volcano eruptions or cyclones.

  44. As you have recently traveled to Lebanon as well as transited through Turkey I feel you should at least acknowledge that these are among the countries the US State Department advises your travel should be reconsidered. While you are surely free to move about as you see fit I hope you recognize there are dangers you freely put yourself in and that you do not expect anyone to risk themselves to get you out of a situation that you accepted. I surely hope it never happens but I do think you have a responsibility to let everyone know you are aware, you accept the risks and you advise your readers to consider their tolerance for these risks.

  45. Glad you liked Lebanon! I’m not Lebanese but, to me, Lebanon is my second habibi first being my home country, Portugal. It’s amazing how diverse that country is: from snowy Bcharre to dry Zahle, from bustling, hedonistic Beirut to the tranquil Byblos. It’s no wonder that Lebanon’s pre-Civil War slogan was something along the lines of “ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon”. I long to visit it. My urge is tremendous.
    A final inshallah for Lebanon’s economical situation. Hope your woes comes to an end in no time. You’ve showed the power of the Cedar before. You can show it once again, now.

  46. I can assure you that everyone (Americans included) are welcomed in every inch of lebanon. It’s just like evey country in the world there are bad people in the streets and you have to be careful. But hezbollah or other organizations will not cause any harm to foreigners. It is much safer now that ISIS have been delt with.

  47. Thank you very much for visiting and appreciating the beauty of my darling country.
    The comments I have read are heartwarming and this is what we have left after several.wars, invasions ,political clashes etc..
    Beirut was rebuilt more than 7times.
    Many charming spots in Beirut …
    The food is mind blowing because we care about hygiene we are hospitable and our nature is so generous which is represented in the gastronomy scene.

    The night life in Lebanon is unique you cant find it anywhere in the world..why …because we live as if it is our last day. Hehehe joking but we love to socialize and catch up over a bottle or 2 … the night is young and we have no policies of closing clubs or bars so even if you are the last customer u will have the bar tenders still.dancing there fixing you some great shots (talking about shots … have you tried DooDoo shot ???soo good)…. I promise you you will.never be the last customer.

    For the gent who asked about if it is a problem if he is “gay”….. of course NOT!!!!!!
    As my gay friends call Beirut Gayrut….. heheheh everybody is welcome
    … and I mean it come enjoy dance and do whatever you want .
    Here is the freedom land and people are lovely and helpful.
    We used to have a very nice Gay club where travesties used to wear fantastic outfit it used to be one great place but since it was in a residential area the people complained that the music didnt stop at 10am …. so they left many sleepless families …. that’s why it was closed.

    Lebanon has many many more places to visit hiking is amazing the country side makes you want to stay and just hug those adorable people who would invite you for a coffee or a meal even if they dont know you.

    I get so emotional how nice and generous those people are.

    I cant even start naming what else should be visited in the North South Or East….

    Every area has something special.and when I say special it includes food experience added to handicraft or natural scenery or even more some historical ruines.

    I am.from. Zahle in the Bekaa Valley where most of the wines of Lebanon are produced.
    It is called the bride of the Bekaa for it’s natural.beauty and her remarkable old typical houses .
    From what we have left after the neighbours attacked us with their bombs and their tanks.

    The Zahliots love to sing and drink Arak our national spirit made of 70%alcohol (grapes and anis) hehe don’t worry we drink Arak with food .
    Just to give you an idea a Sunday family lunch starts at 1.30pm.and can finish around 5pm or 6pm where everybody will.be dancing eating laughing joking and lots of cheers to your health wishes.
    With Arak the level of joy increases gradually we love to eat slowly and sip on this milky colour drink of my country.
    And yes even if you dont ask for deserts there will.be a table full.of the seasonal. fruits and sweet treats and this will.make your jaw drop because it will.intimidate you how generous this culture is (you dont have to be a tourist to feel this way I always appreciate this in all the Lebanese restaurants).

    Don’t worry wherever you are from you will.always be welcome.

    There is only one thing I dislike is driving and traffic we are still working on it I hope they will find a solution.
    Loads of refugees also I hope they will.go back to their homes soon.

    I.can write endlessly but I shouldn’t open all.my cards come and see it for yourself.

    Spring is hopefully coming as it was still.snowing on Good Friday.

    Come explore and have memorable events in a country that has a good spirit LEBANON.

  48. So after visiting Beirut; Ben will now have that dreaded “SSSS”; on all his future boarding-passes to the States!

  49. Mr WW this is not true … Ben will have nothing on his boarding pass but at least he will have a heart full of good memories

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