Beirut is still the 'pearl of the Middle East'

Alexandra Sandels
7 Min Read

Beirut, Friday night, 9 pm. Hordes of the city’s young party elite wading through the mushroom of tents occupied by various anti-government groups and Hezbollah supporters in the city center.

“I know it s crazy. Here we are going out clubbing in the midst of all this political unrest going on in our country. But hey, you ve got to live, says a 20-year-old Lebanese girl wobbling on stiletto heels through the maze of tents.

“At this point, the people of Lebanon have become so accustomed to living in war that it has almost become a natural living condition for us. In Beirut, we seize the day and cherish what we have because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, the girl sighs before disappearing into the chilly night.

While the recent war and political tensions have had a significant impact on Beirut and the rest of Lebanon, the charm and beauty of Lebanon s capital and its inhabitants are far from gone.

Although the city does not boast a long list of must-see sights, Beirut’s dynamic and friendly atmosphere made up of the city s large mix of peoples, religions, and cultures is an adventure in itself.

When buying a coffee or a piece of fruit on the street, don t be surprised when you hear the vendor communicate with customers in a mix of French, Arabic and English or when you see Muslims and Christians walking side by side chatting on their way to their respective religious ceremonies. Beirut is an easy city to get around whether on foot or by car. Coming from Cairo, you will most likely be in serious need of fresh air, so a nice stroll along the Corniche may be a good way to start off your Beirut-stay.

Stop for a nice cup of coffee at one of the cafes on the water before heading up for a stroll around the cozy neighborhood Hamra and the breathtaking campus of the American University in Beirut.

If you finish your excursion in reasonable time, you might even be able to catch sunset at beautiful Pigeon Rocks on the Corniche.

Downtown Beirut should not be missed, however, as it provides visitors with both a historic and contemporary perspective on the city.

Pay a visit to the Hariri mosque – built in memory of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and then continue onto Martyr s square and take a look at the Parliamentary building before making your way over to the camps of political opposition activists surrounding the city center.

While the majority of campers appreciate curious visitors, do ask for permission before wiping out your digital cameras and video cams.

Another interesting excursion in the downtown area is to attempt a visit to the United Nations building.

Stormed by thousands of enraged Lebanese at the end of July 2006 following an Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana killing 56 people, the building is protected by three military checkpoints and surrounded by a field of military officers at all times of the day.

Little wonder it looks like a replica of Fort Knox.

“They brought us down here to a safe room when people started throwing stones and shooting at the cafeteria windows, Diana, a 23-year old UN employee says while pointing to the bullet holes in the windows.

While the streets of Beirut often are rather calm or even empty during the day, the city gets overcrowded at night with night crawlers eager to experience the city s world class nightlife entertainment.

A good way to start off the night is a nice meal at one of the restaurants in the hip Gemayyzee neighborhood.

Try for example Bread, an intimate Mediterranean restaurant located on the Gemmayzee strip that offers some of the best mezzes and rose wine in town.

If you have a full wallet and crave some real fine cuisine, consider paying a visit to trendy spot Muse in central Beirut, which provides its customers with delicious Lebanese-Mediterranean fusion dishes.

For after dinner drinks, a must see is popular hangout Centrale located on Mar Maroun Street Saifi, which features a stunning interior, a breathtaking view of the city, and some of Beirut’s best cocktails.

A good option for those operating on a shoestring budget is Torino Bar, a tiny and very popular Gemmayze hangout. Listen to some good house tunes, drink cheap beer, and meet new friends at this friendly bar/coffeehouse.

Those who are not big fans of the loud music, packed dance floors, and sweaty bodies at the jungle of clubs in Ashrafieh, may want to wind down at Club Sociale, a friendly and cozy hangout where Beirut’s leftists, human rights activists, and backpackers play board games and sip on Lebanon s Almaze beer.

Lebanese are big on weekend lunch and brunch, so you better get up early if you want a spot at one of the city s best delicious brunch places.

Paul, the renowned French bakery located in several cosmopolitan cities nowadays, is one of the best offering Beirut s best pastries and well-made weekend brunches.

While the prices are high, you will not regret your visit once you take a bite of your tasty chocolate croissant and sip on your perfect cappuccino on Paul s terrace.

While in Beirut, you may also want to go on a quick get-away to Byblos, an ancient Phoenician city turned international jet set hotspot in the 1960s thanks to Pepe Abed’s establishment of world famous Byblos Fishing Club.

While Byblos is more of a cozy sleepy fishing village than a clubbing hotspot for Hollywood stars these days, a rather cheap and quick cab ride from Beirut gets you some of the best sea food you ve ever tasted and a gorgeous ocean view.

If time allows, visits to Lebanon s Bekka Valley and ancient Roman city of Baalbek are musts. Visit one of Beirut s travel offices for detailed information on transportation and lodging at the sites.

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