Beirut

Battle-scarred images of Beirut from the ‘80s can finally be laid to rest when venturing to this beautiful and culturally cosmopolitan city. High above the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut, the biggest city in Lebanon, is gaining momentum in its efforts to regain its status as the darling of the Middle East.

With a 5000-year history, Beirut’s influences are diverse. Ottoman, French and Arabic influences are represented architecturally, gastronomically, culturally and ethically. Coupled with its ultra-modernistic approach to development, Beirut is an exciting city to explore. An inquisitive visitor will find it near impossible to sit still.

The French architecture of the Arts Quarter creates a suitable backdrop to house Beirut’s bohemian scene. Chic, colourful cafes and high-end restaurants mix with apartment buildings, galleries and artisan shops to create a timeless European feel–Rou Gouraud is the place to be seen. 

In summer when the humidity peaks and temperature exceed 30 degrees, the city empties as everyone heads to the beach. A long list of cafes, restaurants, clubs, pools and glamorous resorts make the most of the enviable Mediterranean Sea locale. 

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Languages Arabic, French, English
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Time Zone GMT +2
Population 2,200,000
Currency Lebanese Pounds
Area 200km2
Dining

Restaurants and cafes abound, the city’s awash with food cultures from around the globe.

For early risers, a peaceful way to start the day is by the Corniche. A 3km stretch of promenade that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, visitors can kick start their day with black coffee and mint tea as the city stirs to life.

Traditional breakfasts include Labneh (a type of yoghurt cheese) served with a pool of olive oil, pieces of pita bread, fresh tomato, cucumber and mint or manouche, a type of Lebanese pizza covered in cheese, meat and fresh thyme.  

Beirut is the birthplace of mezze. The small savoury dishes commonly served at lunch can vary greatly depending on the region it originates from. An Armenian-style dish may feature a crunchy baked pasta, with tomato, meat and labneh or a spicy dip like muhammara. In Dimbleby, a dip made from broad beans or a bowl of turnips pickled with beetroot also constitutes mezze.

Dinner in Beirut generally starts late. Head out much before 10pm and you will be dining alone. For the cities best dining, the well-established Gemmayzeh district is the place to stop by first. From casual eateries to highly styled interiors, it’s the Greenwich Village of Beirut. As well as traditional Lebanese restaurants, wine bars and international cuisines can be experienced here.

For a pre or post dinner tipple, the Hamra districts legendary hole-in-the-wall bars are popular year round and new bars are always opening on Gouraud Street in Gemmayzeh.

In summer, beach club roofs and balconies are the busiest places to drink cocktails and Campari. 

Shopping

Shopping in Beirut is thrilling, each district a treasure trove of clothing, art and jewellery.

The downtown commercial district is home to Beirut’s souks. Built to replicate the traditional markets destroyed during the war, the open-air souks sell everything from global high street chains to international luxury designers.

Self-taught, Lebanese fashion designer, Elie Saab chose Beirut for his design headquarters. Located off rue Omar Daouk, Saab is adored on the red carpet and by Middle Eastern royalty. Haute couture or ready-to-where from one of Lebanon’s own might just be the perfect way to remember Beirut.  

Visitors who seek the unique should escape to Mar Mikhael where independent fashion, furniture and bookstores have kicked off the gentrification of this otherwise gritty neighbourhood.

A visual feast as much as it is a delicious one, Souk el Tayeb is the first farmer’s market to open in Lebanon. Small-scale producers are encouraged to grow seasonal and organic produce and local gourmets sell everything from cakes and preserves to roasted nuts and honey.