Beirut Travel Done Right: How to Navigate Lebanon's Enchanting Capital
If you’re a fan of adventure, amazing architecture, insane nightlife, and food galore, then Beirut—the capital city of Lebanon—may deserve a spot on your travel bucket list stat. The first question out of your mouth is probably going to be “Well, is it safe?” and while the U.S. has issued a travel warning, visiting this Middle Eastern city is likely doable if you follow the right Beirut travel tips. First off: Take caution, don’t walk around by yourself late at night, make sure you only use registered taxi companies, and stay clear of any public protests (you probably follow most of these rules already!).
Okay, so now onto the fun stuff: “Bey” (a loving nickname for the city that has nothing to do with the singer we know and love) was actually once referred to as “the Paris of the Middle East.” The area became extremely popular as a financial hub post–World War II, and also boasts amazing art and fashion (Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, and Reem Acra are just three of the city’s clothing designers you may know). By the way, although it became independent from France after the war, a Parisian flair is still infused in Lebanese culture to this day, and it’s not just in its charming cafés.
We’re ready to take you on a whirlwind tour of Beirut—here’s everything to do, see, and eat in this vibrant city. Prepare yourself to be amazed.
Al Halabi: Mezze—or small dishes from salads to warm appetizers to raw meat dishes—are a Lebanese staple. This low-key spot isn’t fancy, but its barbecued meat will satisfy your taste buds.
Makan: This spot, known for its international flavor, hosts chefs to cook dinner as part of an incubator program (as in, it lets guests try its cuisine before opening their own restaurants). By the way, if you’re staying at Maffa House (see below), it’s located on the ground floor.
Chez Maguy: It may be a 45-minute drive outside of Beirut with no signs, but this homey seafood spot on the beach is not to be missed (just ask around, and locals will point you there). Owner and chef Maguy Al Mouhawas hosts you in her house for her fresh catch of the day—she fishes for it herself and cooks it.
Al Falamanki: Fast food is a thing in Beirut, so don’t forget to pop by Al Falamanki whenever you get a hankering—and make sure you sit on the gorgeous terrace. The Lebanese restaurant serves mezze for days and specializes in kafta, or mince meat skewers. Oh, and by the way: It’s open 24 hours.
Furn el Hamra: We can’t—er, won’t—forget about man’ouche. This teensy bakery serves up the traditional flatbread sprinkled with a combo of thyme, sesame, and sumac. (We won’t judge when you lick your fingers afterward.)
The Corniche: Walking this popular seaside promenade lined with palm trees is the equivalent of touring the Eiffel Tower when in Paris. If you wait till sunset, it won’t be so muggy, and you’ll get a spectacular view of both the Mediterranean and Mount Lebanon.
Old City: The ancient city of Beirut isn’t too big, so you’ll be able to walk its entirety in one day. It’s a good idea to get a local POV and hear about the area’s rich history, so book a guided tour with Beirut Old City Walk to see the Roman Baths, Martyrs’ Square, and much more.
Baalbeck: Also referred to as the “City of the Sun,” the Roman temple ruins in Beqaa Valley are exquisite and are devoted to Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus. Many famous musicians (including the great Ella Fitzgerald) performed here, and the Baalbeck International Festival in late July pays homage to the historical venue.
Château Ksara: The oldest winery in the Middle East is on the way to Baalbeck, so you can kill two birds with one stone. Its clay-and-chalk soil makes everything from tasty cabs to chardonnays, so book a tour before arrival to get the lowdown.
Jounieh Teleferique: You need to be a bit daring if you’re going to take this cable-car ride from behind St. Louis Hospital to the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon. Your nine-minute excursion via cableway will give you views of the sea and landscape you never imagined possible (just a heads-up that it won’t run if it’s windy out).
Souk el Tayeb: This Saturday morning open-air farmers market will delight the culinary-minded. Purchase everything from house-dried figs to pastries filled with dates.
Starch Boutique: To shop an array of emerging designers, head over to Starch. The boutique helps launch the careers of Lebanese designers, so chances are you might get your hands on a one-of-a-kind piece.
Nada Debs: Interior décor with flourishes of Eastern craftsmanship is what you’ll find in this store. Cool consoles, architectural vases, and more are total works of art in themselves.
Albergo Hotel: If you want to stay in all-out luxury, this boutique hotel in the district of Achrafieh is hands down the one for you. All the mansion’s suites have a different theme showcasing Lebanon’s grandeur, but each boasts sparkly chandeliers and lavish décor fit for royalty. Not to be missed: Keep an eye out for parakeets as you cross the foyer to check in.
Baffa House: This 1940s four-bedroom guesthouse is situated right next to the iconic Mar Mikhael train station and makes it easy to walk into town and the nearby Gemmayzé. If you’re looking for some guidance, just ask the owner, Samer, who will not only help get you a taxi, but he will also book dinner reservations at some of the top places.
Hayete: One of Beirut’s first guesthouses, Hayete, is situated in a quieter part of Achrafieh. It’s charming and has some serious perks: outlets that work with U.S. products, free Wi-Fi, and breakfast on the balcony. Oh, and did we mention you can book your stay seamlessly through Airbnb?
Are you planning a trip to the Middle East? If so, where are you going? Share your travel photos with us by tagging #MyDomaineTravels on Instagram.