So you’ve arrived in Beirut, one of the most disorganized highly-functioning cities you have the privilege of being stamped on your passport. Your first few steps out of the airport are confusing—the air is thick and smells of pollution, yet the greenery and not-too-distant shoreline rile up the beach boy inside you. Your next step? The generic airport country guide is telling you to head to Phoenicia at a great $200 a night offer, followed by a super cheap dinner for two at Balthazar—only $100!
My friends, you’ve been deceived. Airport pamphlets and TimeOut Beirut, bought by overly lavish sponsors, give you only half the story.
You’re in the “Paris of the Middle East.” You’re in the city bustling with life, energy, and culture rich enough to satisfy any adventurer’s needs. You’re in a place that can offer a day on the ski slopes followed by an evening lounging on a beachfront pub, daiquiri in hand.
This is Lebanon. This is falafel, traffic, and good times. An endless list of things to do, places to go, people to see. A traveler’s dream, a local’s heart.
Welcome to Beirut.
Before you even step foot in the country, you need to know the basics of Lebanese. I know what you’re thinking. “Lebanese isn’t a language, idiot! It’s Arabic and I took a whole semester my Freshman year!”
Let me tell you something, my dear, dear foreigner. If you aced that semester of fus’ha Arabic, you will flunk Lebanese. There is no “hatha’ and “al’2an” in Lebanon, unless you’re watching the news. My advice? Print out this handy dandy Wiki travel guide to the Lebanese lingo.
To lazy to read through it? Here are ten essentials you’ll need:
1. “Keefak?” (KEY-FACK). How are you? (Note: Usually used in between “Hi” and “Ca va?”) 2. “Shu?” (SHOE). What? 3. “E2hh” (AY-HH). Yes. 4. “La2 (LA-A.). No. 5. “Weyn al hamam?” (WAYNE AL HAM-MAM). Where’s the bathroom? (Note: Say “Fi hamam?” for “Is there a bathroom?”) 6. “Iza bet reed.” (IZ-ZA BIT REED). Please; if you will. 7. “Shukran.” (SHOOK-RUN). Thank you. 8. “Inshallah.” (IN-SHA-AL-LAH). God willing; hopefully. (Note: Most often used as a polite way of saying no.) 9. “Khalas!” (KHA-LUS). Enough; stop. 10. “Ma ba3raf.” (MA BA-AA-RAF). I don’t know. _____________________________________
If you have the means, always, always go big or go home. Before your plane even landed, you could tell that your stay in Beirut would be a picturesque one. Seriously, if you forgot your camera, run to the nearest Virgin Megastore and splurge on that 16 megapixel Canon HD, because you’ll be needing it.
But if you’re one of the many, many freshly graduated university students that are just looking for an adventure, maybe a 5-star hotel isn’t the best option. Your destination, my future binge-drinking friends, is a hostel.
Like every other tourist-savvy country in the world, Lebanon is home to a number of hostels, perfect for any and every young traveler who needs a quick, cheap place to spend the night. While you won’t exactly be submerging yourself in Lebanon’s culture (100% of the time, your roommates will be either European or American), hostels are any budget-tight traveler’s best option.
Word of mouth ranks Saifi Urban Gardens is the best at, well, everything. At only $18 a night (for a shared dorm room), Saifi Gardens offers you a room, toiletries, a great view, and breakfast included. Saifi Garden’s rooftop is home to Coop D’Etat, one of the coolest rooftop pubs you’ll ever have the pleasure of visiting.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, check out Beirut.com’s handy dandy hotel directory for the stay that suits you.
If this is your first time in Beirut, then skip the gourmet. Walk right past India, the fancy ethnic restaurant on the Corneich. Ignore Roadsters, Classic Burger Joint, and all the other generic and not-really-that great pseudo American food spots. Your first destination: manaeesh.
What is “ma-nay-eesh” you ask?
Only your new favorite breakfast food. The perfect balance of bread and topping, this Lebanese classic will make you forget what hash browns even are. Well, sort of. Finding a manaeesh place is probably the easiest thing you will ever do. Let your nose guide you on your lofty quest down Beirut’s roads, and you’ll spot (or smell) a maneesh joint in minutes. The original maneesh is topped with zaatar (dried thyme) and Lebanese olive oil. For that added heart-attack inducing kick, ask for a “cocktail”—half zaatar, half cheese—and have your taste buds singing to the high heavens.
A manoushe (singular version of “manaeesh”) has both pros and cons. For one, it’s freaking delicious. On the other hand, it’s so saturated with carbs and oils, it’ll cover least two of your three daily meals. So by the time you’re hungry again, it’s dinner, and you’re stuck wandering the streets of Beirut, probably tempted to walk into one of the American restaurants with the flashy signs.
Don’t do that. My friends, it’s time you were introduced to the mezze.
What was that? You’re only hungry for one plate? You don’t eat raw meat because the American FDA told you it wasn’t healthy? Too bad.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
A Lebanese mezze consists of just about every Mediterranean food there is. Plates of hummus, garbonzo beans, kibbeh, raw meat, chicken liver, grape leaves, baba ghanoush, and so, so much more. With a plate of mahshe (grilled everything), you’ll leave the table feeling like the Queen of Sheba.
Traditionally, tea or Turkish coffee, along with ishta ma 3sal (honey and cream) follow the massive meal. Most restaurants also serve a massive plate of just about every fruit native to Lebanon in bowls of ice. If you’re up for the trip, your top two mezze spots should be Manuella, a gorgeous seaside restaurant in Maameltein, or Marinus, an equally awesome Lebanese cuisine and seafood restaurant on the edge of a cliff in Jbeil.
If a 20 minute drive doesn’t seem so appealing, Beirut offers a number of seaside restaurants that serve a mezze. They will, however, be more expensive and less surreal. I mean, how often do you dine on strawberries and honey while the waves of the Mediterranean lap against your feet?
Curious for more of Lebanon’s cuisine? Check out our Beirut restaurant guide for every possibility in the city. _____________________________________
When you’re on vacation, you goal shouldn’t be to do something you can do at home. You’re not going to go from America to Paris and say, “gee, let’s go paintballing!” Every tourist hot-spot has a top ten list of things to do, and Beirut is no exception. But you only have a couple of days, and don’t want to end up spending three of those precious hours in a museum just dripping with culture that TimeOut Beirut said you just had to visit.
But 9 times out of 10, a good time trumps ancient pottery. Unless you’re the sort that enjoys artifacts, in which case you should most definitely visit our museums. Fair warning: if you’re coming from a first-world country, you’ll be sorely disappointed with the Lebanese museum’s size and variety. And don’t expect a cafeteria. Or a vending machine.
That isn’t to say culture should be ignored. By why look at it through a dusty glass case when you can walk through it? Here in Lebanon, we’re almost as proud of our ruins as the Egyptians are with their pyramids. Once one of the largest and most plentiful of crusader states, Lebanon is home to hundreds of impressive ruins guaranteed to have the Indiana Jones in you reaching for your stetson and whip.
Let’s pretend you’ve just arrived to Beirut. You have no car, and just one piece of luggage. You’re starting on the Corneish, right next to Zaitunay Bay, that long stretch of pretentiousness you know your wallet can’t handle. Here’s what you do:
Destination 1: Downtown
Are you a shopper? Do you enjoy Spanish architecture and cobblestone floors? Downtown is the place for you. A gorgeous little stretch of cleanliness, Downtown will have you window shopping at the likes of Dolce and Gabbana, while sipping on a perfectly brewed coffee from The Met. Your destination landmark, however, lies smack dab in the center of Downtown: the clock tower. Donated by Rolex (no, seriously, the tower has “ROLEX” engraved on the clock face), this lovely landmark is one that you cannot pass up. But you will pass by it, since, you know, it only really tells you the time.
Yes, you read that right. Roman baths. Lebanon, infamous for its ruined ruins (the civil war took a significant chunk out of most of the ancient sites), is likewise notorious for its ancient Roman bath houses, which happen to be, well, everywhere. Smack dab in the middle of Downtown are some of the most well-preserved bath houses in Lebanon. The site, plenty with trees, tourists, and beauty, also makes for a lovely place to rest before you head onto your third destination.
Photo via beirutblog.wordpress.com
Destination 3: The Blue Mosque and the Beige Church
Okay, so maybe it’s not really called the “Beige Church”. But in reality, it is beige, and completely and utterly gorgeous. The two religious centers stand for much more than their physical beauty–they represent the unity long lost between different religious sects in Lebanon. Having the two stand side-by-side, both as majestic as the other, marks a time of peace, which many still fight for. Both centers allow visitors, but as a sign of respect, you’re not allowed to enter the church in revealing clothing. Likewise, the Blue Mosque offers women a floor-length robe for modesty before entering.
Pit Stop: The Freedom Statue
Photo via flickr.com
Destination 4: Hamra
If you haven’t done Hamra, you haven’t done Beirut. A street alive 24/7, Hamra has everything you could ever need in a day. Great food? Check. Shopping? Check. Pubs? Check. Clubs? Check. Cobblestones? You know it. One of the first main streets in all of Beirut, Hamra is the place to go. My advice? Walk straight past the Chopsticks and Roadters, and grab yourself some shawarma from Barbar. For only 4,000 LL, you too can have your arteries clogged with meaty goodness.
Rouche. The Pigeon Rock. You might have heard of it from some of your Lebanese friends, who were trying to point you to the nearest Pizza Hut, or seen it on travel commercials. One of the prettiest natural landmarks in the city, Rouche is a place to go for sightseeing, swimming, or just to impress your date. Though you’re technically not allowed to swim there, locals are known for hopping the poorly hung metal chain meant to keep riffraff out. Wait until just before sunset, and you have yourself the kind of picturesque swim rom-coms would die for.