Arriving to Beirut: Day 1
As soon as you step foot in Lebanon, you feel that the country of controversies, where you find Uber drivers with socialist ideas and the ones, who care about nothing else but honking, whenever they see a girl they consider, well, attractive? Sexy? Who knows what goes on in their heads.
As we got out of the airport, we were accosted by the taxi drivers offering a ride. We were glad that we had pre-ordered a taxi (see the details in the post on transport in Lebanon). The drive to Central Beirut was strange. The area between the airport and Beirut city center is considered dangerous, so the only safe road linking south of Lebanon to Beirut is the main highway covered with tall walls and barbed wires. The drive to Hamra, where we stayed is just 15-20 minutes. As you get into the city center, you drive by Raouche area, which is a rich area, where apartments cost millions of dollars. The area looks modern and well maintained. Next was Hamra, most popular with tourists, as there are a huge number of hotels and food places, as well as shops. So, unless you have a lot of money to stay in Raouche area or in Downtown, your best bet is Hamra.
We stayed at the hotel in Hamra for the entire duration of our visit and were doing day trips from here, while having evenings in Beirut. We spent two full days exploring the city on our first and last day.
You can start exploring the city with visiting the National Museum of Beirut, where you find a lot of information about the Lebanese history.
In the afternoon, start walking around the city. Head to the Zaitunay bay. This is a marina area, where a lot of people like to hang out any time of the day and night. It has a number of restaurants and coffee shops.
A thing that jumps out, while walking in the city, is that women are dressed all sorts of ways, you find many with short shorts and some – fully covered.
Next, see the old Holiday Inn near Zaitunay bay. This building was the site for hostilities for months. It now is left, as it was during civil war, with bullet holes in it. It is surrounded by barbed wires and is guarded by soldiers. This was rather surprising, as it’s an abandoned. All around the city, you see a number of such buildings damaged during the civil war. The city still keeps the wounds of 15 year hostilities visible – so many buildings in Central Beirut still stand the way they were. We were told, these buildings are kept the way they were left after the war, as a reminder. Read more details here.
After this, head to the Corniche and relax walking on this long promenade. If the weather is good, you will find a huge number of people of all ages, locals and tourists, in all sorts of attire.
Head to the Raouche and see this symbol of Beirut also referred to as Pigeons’ Rock. It was formed after an earthquake in 13th century. It looks nice any time of day, but you should come back here once to see the sunset. Unfortunately, you find too much rubbish around the area and in the sea. I wouldn’t suggest to eat at a restaurant nearby, as they are too expensive because of the views, but you can have coffee there. If you want to go closer, you have an option to take a fisherman’s boat from the harbor. As I heard it takes about half an hour. It goes through the rock and comes back. A boat costs about 20-25 USD.
Start your day in the downtown Beirut. Visit Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. It is a new building opened in 2008 and located on the spot, where prayer corner existed from the 19th century. Women can’t visit with just a scarf, you need a huge thing on you, so you decide if it’s worth it for you 😊
Continue on to Nijmeh Square, where you will find a number of cafes. This is nice area to sit and relax. One thing that you will notice is the presence of many soldiers in the downtown area. Some roads were closed, and you had to walk around them.
The country, where people of so many religions live, boasts with numerous mosques and churches. Visit Al-Omari Grand Mosque and Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Then visit the Beirut Souk. This doesn’t look like the old bazaars at all, as the name souk may suggest. It’s more like a modern shopping area completed by the sign “I love Beirut”. Also walk around the Roman baths area.
Next, head to Gemayazeh area. See the Villa Tueni-Bustros. You can also go to Sursock museum (Sursock palace is private and you can only peek at it from outside). Not sure if this museum is worth your time, but it’s free, so you can check it out. After that head down the Saint Nicolas Stairs, this is a cute and picturesque area. You will also find a number of cafes and restaurants around here.
You can also check out the Armenia area – this is the district spread around the main street called Armenia.