Although seemingly small, Lebanon is one of the most diversified countries of the Arab world: geographically, ethnically, as well as culturally. Tourists tend to skim through it superficially, but it much more could be explored.
The Capital; as you may know Beirut during the 70ies and 80ies war was divided in 2 sides; west (Muslims) and east (Christians) separated by an imaginary Green Line; starting by Martyr Square in Down Town, the green line width was from the end of Sacré-Coeur Gemmayzé to Phoenicia Hotel, then going down to Mat-haf area (National Museum), crossing by Sodeco through Damascus street to reach the Pine Forest and go by its border to end in Ain-el-Remmaneh. Making Down Town, Saifi and Pine Forest area a "No Man’s Land", whoever tries to cross there definitely get sniped; the only crossing was through Museum area. Until now there is a building between the Museum and Sodeco square that is left as a living example of the war’s green line http://flickr.com/photos/antoniocaselli/428416808/.
Now this separation doesn't exist anymore in the religious perspective, you will find Muslims and Christians living everywhere, but like anywhere else, the lifestyle and outings of each area differ from one another. Down Town and Saifi Village were bought from their land owners and renovated by “Solidaire”; a construction company that belongs to Hariri and their buildings are sold as the most expensive business / residential area in Beirut.
Currency: 1 USD = 1,500 Liras (on August 2010)
West side of Beirut is famous with those districts:
- El-Hamra; which used to be the place to go in the past but now it's mainly a residential and a commercial area and you may go for standard shopping in el-Hamra & Mar-Elias streets or you may enjoy the coffee shops and restaurants near by the AUB (Bliss Street).
However, El-Hamra still includes the largest percentage of Beirut Hotels amongst the rest of Beirut districts; which varies in 3, 4 and 5 stars.
- Verdun (pronounced as Verdann); considered to be part of el Hamra but more expensive as a residential area, it has the Holiday Inn Beirut Dunes http://www.holidayinn-dunes.com/Paged/mainframe.htm, the 730-732 mall, in addition to restaurants, cafés and theatres.
- Rawshé and Cornish area in general; where the famous picturesque Rawché Rock exists and most of Beirut sea side restaurants and cafés lies; one nice spot to go for coffee is "Starbucks" el Rawché branch that has a marvelous sea view (A café latté/cappuccino there is usually around 6,000-7,500 liras which is like 4-5$)..
This is mainly the west side of Beirut, of course in addition to other residential / commercial areas that are less important for tourism, but worth seeing while car cruising with a local.
East side of Beirut is famous with those districts:
- Achrafieh; well known by “Monot” street that has most of the bars and clubs of beirut, from which I would recommend “Pacifico” as a cool Mexican resto/bar style with a good menu of both drinks and food.. This is in addition to some stylish restaurants, very classy shopping boutiques and the ABC mall that has a good variety of shops, restaurants and cafés (something like City Stars in Cairo).
- Sodeco; which is next to Achrafieh and was very close to the green line area during the war, now it has few restaurants and pubs as well as small shops for clothing.
- Gemmayzé; since 2005 it became the new hot spot for small pubs and bars next to Achrafieh, there u can go to a nice Lebanese restaurant called "Ahwet L'Ezaz", means the glass coffee shop, it's decorated in the style of café riche in kasr el nile but much bigger in size. Also, a good Pub/Bar to go in Gemmayzé is "Cactus".
- Furn el Shubbak; good alternative for shopping, where shops are spread all the way down the street in a good variety of prices and styles.
- Burj hammoud and Arax st. (the Armenian area); Less expensive but not too cheap (nothing is cheap in Lebanon). There you can get the best Basterma without garlic you can ever imagine from either "Mano" or "Bedo" who are specialized in that area, they also wrap it and vacuum it for travel, BUT you must get it right before you go to the airport or leave it in the fridge at a friend house until you go.
This is mainly the esat side of Beirut, of course in addition to other residential / commercial areas that can be seen while car cruising with a local.
Is famous with its architecture renovated to the same old style, centered by "Midan el Nejmah" (the star square), it has most of the ministries, the "ESCWA" UN building, Hariri cemetery and the most expensive designer shops. Cars can go in all streets in the morning, while in the evening the streets surrounding midan el nejmeh are closed for walking and all restaurants and cafés spread their tables in the street in a “café troitoire” style. Within a walking distance from the Nejmah Square you will find Beirut Souks; a new shopping complex that was opened to public in October 2009 including about 200 shops of the most famous brands. Also, some of the most famous clubbing places are located in downtown area.
If you drink Alcohol, KEEP IN MIND:
- ALL BARS AND PUBS REQUIRE PREVIOUS RESERVATION.
- A beer would cost around 6,000 liras = 4$ and a cocktail drink around 12,000 liras = 8$, a flavored Smirnoff Vodka or a flavored Bakardi Breeze (something like ID edge but no comparison) is around 7,000-9,000 liras = 6-7$.
- They have an extremely good variety of cocktail drinks and cocktail shots (a must try).
- No minimum charge in most places but there is a "Non-Spoken Rule" in pubs and bars that says 2 drinks.. No matter what they are.. Will be enough to stay a good time there...
- Some famous clubbing places, like Buddha Bar & Sky Bar, have a minimum charge policy.
For a map u can check the following website http://www.beirutmap.com I know that the producing company distributes their free copy of maps in the major hotels lobby in Beirut but not sure if they sell it somewhere else. You can try yourself or let one of your friends try to get you one of those maps from the lobby of any 5 star hotel in Beirut.
Places to See in Beirut:
- The National Museum.
- Sursock Museum, for arts exhibitions, Sursock area in Ashrafieh (opens only according to galleries schedule).
- Children Museum, Minet el Hosn.
- Down Town and Saifi Village.
- Old Churches and Mosques in down town.
- Roman Bath, down town area.
- Archeological Site, down town area.
- Martyr Square, down town area.
- Khalil Gebran Garden (facing the UN Building)
- The Grand Serail (Lebanese government office).
- Lebanese Parliament, down town.
- Cornish al Manara.
- Manara Lighthouse.
- Pigeon Rock.
- Al Ramlet Al-Baida Beach.
- American University in Beirut and Bliss Street, el-Hamra.
- St. Joseph University (Jesuites), Monot area in Ashrafieh.
For Beirut Photos http://www.discoverlebanon.com/en/photos/cat-Beirut-2.htm
A must try outing in Beirut (in my opinion):
Jounié (on the coast); its famous mountain towns are Broumana, Bikfaya, Jeita and Harrissa (7arissa).
- Jounié (10-15 Km from Beirut); is becoming more a part of Beirut, like when you say Cairo and Katameya or 6th October.. In which there is shopping malls, hotels, resorts and beaches in addition to residential areas. Jounieh port is worth seeing even while passing by the road especially if you are interested in photography. In Jounieh there is:
- Zouk Area (which has a beach called Cyan with entrance for 10$).
- Kaslik for restaurants and shopping.
- Sarba where exist the only good pub/bar in Jounié called “Habana”.
- Maamalteen the nightclubs area (something like Cabarehat share3 el haram but with a Russian component), this area during summer is of course full of Arabs which are looking for more than nightclubbing…
- Broumana and Bikfaya; are mainly residential areas either on full time basis or as a summer house.
- Harissa; where the famous church that has the big statue of Virgin Mary standing on the mountain and you can ride a telefrique there.
- Jeita; the famous grotto http://www.lebguide.com/lebanon/touristic_sites/lebanon_touristic_sites_jeita.asp
Jbeil (on the coast its greek name is Byblos); its famous mountain towns are Faqra, Faraya, Baskinta and Afqa
- Jbeil; (like 20-25 km from Beirut) has an old city by the sea well preserved as well as an ancient port; it has one of the most famous beach and swimming pools area called Edde Sands (entrance is around 20$- 25$). http://www.eddesands.com
- Afqa reserve; is a camping spot in the mountains (there are chalets as well if u don’t have tent), where you can do some sports activities like mountain climbing, caving, flying fox, etc. www.lareserve.com.lb
- Faraya; is famous with their winter ski spots, but I went to there in summer it was a normal mountain town to me..
- Faqra; is also famous with skiing in winter, but has some ruins of old byzantine and roman ancient temples. http://www.lebguide.com/lebanon/touristic_sites/lebanon_touristic_sites_faqra.asp
- Baskinta; has a nice camping spot in the middle of the mountain cedar tree forest (they call the forest “7orsh”).. People in that village are very friendly (as usual) and are used to see campers all summer in weekends (but you bring your own camping gear). http://www.saidon.com/cities/baskinta.html
Batroun (on the coast); its famous mountain towns are Douma, Bcharri, Cedars, Ehden and Chekka (on the coast).
- Batroun; (like 40-45 Km from Beirut) also has an old city by the sea that is being taken care of and restored; during the last war in Lebanon in 2006; when people were stuck in their mountain chalets and not able to live in Beirut.. Partying was shifted to Batroun as an alternative to Beirut, and by consequence, Batroun pubs went up in the sky and new pubs were opening there, one of the well known is “Taiga”. http://www.thelebanon.info/recipes_lebanese_food_main.html
- Douma; is a very small village deep in the mountain in Batroun area it’s known for its red brick roof old houses when I went there, I was invited for lunch in one of the village resident families, and there was a restoration project running by some private donors, now USAID is planing to help in that project.. Due to its far location and relatively small size, it’s not common for people to visit Douma unless they are participating in some art project related to the place or are invited in someone’s house. Douma’s name is derived from the Phoenician language, meaning “The quiet, peaceful and restful.” http://www.lgic.org/en/photos3_douma.php
- Bcharré; the birth place of Khalil Gebran, located close to the cedars forest. If you think of spending New Year in a snow town in the Lebanese mountains I would recommend “Chbat” hotel in Bcharré. For more check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bsharri, and http://www.skileb.com/hotel/chbat/
- Cedars; the cedar trees forest that is now famous for skiing, http://www.middleeast.com/thecedars.htm, http://www.skileb.com/ski-resort/Cedars/ and http://www.phoenician.org/cedars_of_lebanon.htm
- Ehden; the mountain summer resort for "Zgharta el Zawieh" town residents, it’s famous by its natural reserve "Horsh (7orsh) Ehden" http://www.horshehden.org/ and "Kornet al Sawdeh" (the black horn) the highest mountain tip in Lebanon. http://www.zgharta.com/tourism/places/places.html
- Chekka; an industrial city but it has the best view of the mountain by a sea bay, on the top of the mountain there is a famous church called "Virgin Mary of the Light" in a village called “Hamat”, you go to it from Batroun and you can pass by Chekka coast on your way to Ehden or further to Tripoli. For photos about chekka you can check: http://i26.tinypic.com/ok95hh.jpg and http://www.theodora.com/wfb/photos/lebanon/lebanon_photos_59.html
Koura (mountain town).
Tripoli (a port city on the coast).
el Chouf : (the East-South mountain area) :
- Aley; The main street of Aley is full of restaurants and cafés that mainly have Arabic music and a singer on weekends; mostly outdoor in summer as Aley is high in altitude and has a nice weather, one of the nice pubs there is called “Silo” they serve both alcohol and shisha, with a background of English and French music. For a "Beirut at Night" view, you can go to "Ras El Gabal". As for extreme sports and activities you can go to Aley Equip Club; they o have camping, climbing, rappel, paintball, etc.
- Bhamdoun; very close to Aley, same style of restaurant and cafés and very crowded at night. Both Aley and Bhamdoun are favored by the Arabs as a summer vacation spot.
- Ain Zhalte and the Cedars of el Barouk; It has the largest natural reserve in Lebanon http://www.ain-zhalta.com, http://www.ainzhalta.com, http://www.saidon.com/cities/barouk.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barouk, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Shouf_Cedar_Nature_Reserve
- Deir el Quamar; about 5 km away from Beit el-Dine, the history of its well restored stone buildings goes many centuries back and was the resident of the governors of Lebanon during the 16th -18th century www.deirelqamar.com, http://www.tourism-lebanon.com/DeirElQamar.shtm, http://liban.viabloga.com/news/deir-el-kamar-13-photos
- Beit El Dine; one of the most important touristic areas in Lebanon, and now used for festivals; www.beiteddine.org, http://www.lebguide.com/lebanon/touristic_sites/lebanon_touristic_sites_beiteddine.asp, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beiteddine and www.maasser.info
el Bekaa: (the east side of Lebanon behind the mountains)
For more about Lebanon:
For a list of Lebanese Museums:
For hiking and extreme sports trips: