Beirut

Beirut

Located on the central coast of Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut is an important and vibrant port city. Once the home of the seafaring Phoenicians the site of the modern city has also been home to Canaanites, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks, and Ottomans. No city of small significance would be such a source of contention and strife throughout its history and have withstood so long and tumultuous a course.

The city has endured earthquake, plague, famine and war, and today it is one of the most important cities in the Middle East. Modern Beirut’s downtown area is newly rebuilt and the pedestrian Corniche is a pleasant place to escape the hustle of the cosmopolitan, diverse, traffic congested, complex, ever-changing metropolis that is modern Beirut.

Beirut is the shopping capital of the region and an important financial and economic hub. It is also a center of learning with several prestigious universities. The city has ancient and modern attractions, a fascinating history, an interesting and diverse population, excellent restaurants and a pleasant Mediterranean climate.

A visit to Martyrs’ Square will give the traveler some insight into the country’s history and an excursion to the National Museum of Beirut is a must for a glimpse into the city’s ancient heritage with its exhibits of Phoenician figurines, Byzantine mosaics, ornate sarcophagi, Egyptian artifacts, and many interesting pieces from the nearby sites of Tyre and Byblos.

People

Beirut is a multicultural city with a long and complex history. The modern city overlays centuries old foundations that date back Roman times, and the city has been a treasured commercial and cultural port under numerous ruling entities throughout history.

Today the population includes followers of different faiths and is ethnically diverse. Many Lebanese today also speak French in addition to the official language of Arabic.

Religious and ethnic differences have often been a focal point of Lebanon’s tumultuous history, though many Lebanese today aspire toward a common goal of peace and unity.

Neighborhoods in Beirut and the greater metropolitan area are often fragmented and can change markedly from one area to the next. During the Lebanese Civil War the city was divided by the Green Line. The line is no longer in effect though some neighborhoods remain strongly segregated.

Many Lebanese people are friendly, gregarious, and hospitable. Some of the best fashion designers of the Middle East have shops in Beirut, and the city is also a major commercial and financial hub.

Food

Lebanese food is some of the best in the Middle East. It bears influences of various cultures and cuisines and is characterized by the use of local and seasonal ingredients.

Lebanese cooks are experts at transforming simple ingredients into flavorful dishes or mezzes. In some places the cuisine is influenced by the Mediterranean climate with bright citrus flavors adding liveliness to dishes and salads, and olives and olive oil making an appearance at nearly every meal.

Though Lebanon is a small country there are many regional specialties. In the mountains the cuisine often features lamb meat and dairy, and is a bit heavier than the cuisine of the coastal regions. The Bekaa Valley is famous for its fertile soil in which grow grape vines and many fruits and vegetables.

Lebanese have long prided themselves on the excellent cuisine of their country and Beirut is a great place to sample some of the country’s best.

Lebanese food often features plenty of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, and locally sourced products. Mezzes (small plates) are typical of Lebanese cuisine and often include salads and other dishes made with eggplant, peppers, chickpeas, grilled meats, fresh cheeses, yogurt, and fresh or pickled vegetables.

Pomegranate sauce or pomegranate molasses is sometimes used to add a bit of sweet or sour flavor to dishes and salads, and spices and herbs such as sumac, red pepper, za’atar (wild thyme), mint, and more are used to liven up many plates or top salads or dips such as hummus (made with chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon), tabbouleh (bulgur, parsley, tomato, lemon, olive oil), baba ghanouj (grilled eggplant dip), mutabbel (eggplant and tahini), and muhammara (made with red pepper and walnuts).

Kibbeh is a dish made with minced meat, and can be prepared in a variety of ways; it can be grilled like kebabs, baked into a meat ‘pie’, or prepared and eaten as a raw dish similar to tartar (kibbeh nayyeh).

Fatayar are little triangle pastries filled with spinach. Manaqish are Lebanese flatbreads sometimes topped with olive oil and za’atar for a delicious breakfast snack or topped with cheese or spiced meat. Manaqish are cooked on a dome shaped griddle called saj.

Population

1-2 million (greater metropolitan area)

Currency

Lebanese pound or lira

Language

Arabic

 

When To Go

A port city located on the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut has a comfortable Mediterranean climate. The weather is typically warm from April through August, with the hottest months being July and August.

Winter brings some rain, and it is possible to ski in the nearby mountains outside of Beirut from about December through March. A pleasant time to visit is in the spring or early summer.

Dress

People from Beirut are known for their good fashion sense. Daytime dress can range from casual to a more chic ensemble and going out at night is a good excuse to dress up. Take your cues from the locals. Some areas of the city are notably more conservative than others and travelers visiting these areas should dress conservatively as necessary. Certain areas are known for their bars and nightclubs, while others are noticeably quieter.

Dress appropriately when visiting religious sites such as a mosque or church, and in certain neighborhoods. Beirut is culturally diverse, and its many neighborhoods and districts have very different atmospheres.

During the summer months the weather is usually warm or hot with not much rain. From about December through February there can be a fair amount of rain so a light jacket is recommended.

Travel

Lebanon’s main international airport is located less than ten miles from the city, a 10-15 minute drive. Travelers can reach the city by taxi or minibus from the airport which can be found outside the airport (or call a local taxi company for pickup upon arrival).

Cars can be rented at the airport or in Beirut. Taxis or “servees” (“service”) are widely available and easy ways to get around the city. A “servees” is a shared taxi, and the driver may choose to only pick you up if you are going to a destination convenient or near the destination of other passengers. “Servees” are inexpensive and can be a good way to meet some locals.

It is usually wise to agree on a price if possible before you set out for your destination. It is helpful to know a few words in Arabic and/or French and the local name of the destination or neighborhood you are trying to get to.

Driving in the city can be a nightmare, with plenty of traffic during the daytime hours, especially in downtown areas.

Many tour operators offer organized day excursions to some of the sites outside of Beirut for reasonable prices (transportation provided), which may be convenient for visitors without a car. Many of Lebanon’s most interesting attractions are within a few hours from the capital by car (or closer). Usually a car is needed to get to out of the way places.

Buses operate within the city and outside of Beirut, though routes may change at any time and timetables can be unreliable.

Health

Beirut is a modern city with adequate health facilities and hospitals. Some vaccinations are recommended (or should be up to date), such as for Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus and diphtheria. Traveler’s insurance is recommended.

Warning: At the time of research some governments advise against all travel to certain areas of Lebanon, including parts of Beirut and its southern suburbs. It is essential that anyone traveling to Lebanon or planning to go keeps up to date with travel advisories and recent or ongoing events. Incidents can occur without warning. Travelers should check with their embassy prior to travel and should be very well informed and take any recommended precautions should they decide to go.

Visas

All visitors to Lebanon must have a valid passport (valid for at least 6 months upon entry). Most travelers are required to obtain a tourist visa. In some cases a visa can be purchased at the airport upon arrival. Citizens of some countries are required to obtain a visa and approval from their Lebanese embassy prior to travel. Traveler’s bearing an Israeli stamp on their passport or evidence of travel to Israel will not be permitted entry into Lebanon. Check up to date entry requirements before travel to Lebanon, as they can change.

Top 5 Sites

1. Jeita Grotto

2. National Museum of Beirut

3. Martyrs’ Square and monuments

4. Pigeon Rocks

5. Baalbek (outside of Beirut)

Top 5 Things To Do

1. Take a day trip to Beiteddine Palace, south east of Beirut

2. Take a day trip to Byblos

3. Sample traditional mouneh, naturally grown produce, and lovingly prepared homemade Lebanese food at the Souk el Tayeb farmer’s market

4. Visit Roman baths and recently excavated Roman ruins near downtown

5. Visit the Garden of Forgiveness (under development)

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