For most Europeans, the Mediterranean is reminiscent of the sun-soaked shores of Italy, France, Greece and Spain. But is this neglecting one of his best travel destinations?
Though Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, has long suffered from instability, it was once hailed as the Paris of the world middle East. Resilient given conflict and disaster, the city retains a raw energy fueled by the fusion of modern and ancient.
Here you can explore the modern shopping districts and vibrant nightlife of this underrated city.
Modern malls and luxury residences rise among Beirut’s war remnants
Heading downtown to Beirut’s souks, don’t expect the clutter and chaos of Marrakech.
This outdoor shopping district, designed in part by Pritzker Prize-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, opened in 2009. It replaces the souk destroyed in the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, with Beirut at the center of the conflict.
Contemporary design meets traditional architecture in the souks, bringing modernity to the historic district while evoking a nod to its past.
Scan the ranks of high-end international brands and you’ll see why Beirut has earned a reputation as a regional fashion hub.
Nearby, in Beirut’s Central District, is the upscale neighborhood of Saifi Village. It’s full of boutiques, bars, and galleries farmers Markets occupying French colonial style buildings.
These were rebuilt after the Civil War, during which Saifi Village lay along the “Green Line”, the no man’s land that divided the city. Today, the sniper nests have been converted into houses with warm-colored facades.
Remnants of the Civil War can be found all over the city – not in Museums but in sight. A visit to the ruins of Beirut’s Holiday Inn, which was at the heart of the “Battle of the Hotels,” is a chilling reminder of how recent and personal this conflict is for locals.
To learn about the city further away story, visit the gigantic National Museum of Beirut. It’s packed with Lebanese artefacts from prehistoric times through to the different eras and 15 empires the city lived under.
From mosques to beer bars, tradition and modernity coexist in Beirut
religion plays an important role in Beirut’s identity, and there are countless beautiful churches and mosques to visit. Not to be missed is the Ottoman-style blue-domed Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, flanked by 65-meter-tall minarets, which is architecturally impressive.
Next door is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George, the oldest active church in Beirut. Inside the cathedral it really comes to life, with colorful frescoes and gold accents set against a classically orthodox exterior – also restored to civil status War. Deep down in the crypt you will find a wealth of architectural finds.
Just a 10-minute walk from the Cathedral, you can stroll through the bohemian Gemmayzeh district, a bustling world of pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes.
It’s a great place to try the eatery Beerand relax with friendly locals in the narrow streets and old French-era buildings.
A stone’s throw away is L’Escalier de L’Art, a 500 meter high staircase that connects rue Gouraud and rue Sursock. As the name suggests, the staircase has held a number of art exhibitions since 1973.
Beirut has a vibrant music and party scene
It may surprise you that Beirut also has a vibrant city music Scene. Take a trip outside of the city to discover some truly unique venues.
Drive 42 km past seaside resorts and high-rise buildings into the green of the Chouf Mountains where you will find Beiteddine Palace amidst orchards and terraces garden. With its stunning blend of Italianate and Arabic Baroque styles, it’s easy to see why Ottoman governor Emir Bashir Chehab II made this his residence.
Completed in 1818, it has continued to play an important role in Lebanon’s political history over the years – but today it hosts the famous Beiteddine Festival. The event traditionally attracts international talent from the opera and classical worlds, but has also welcomed the likes of Elton John, Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, UB40 and more.
Don’t feel like driving? Beirut’s nightlife will not disappoint. Dance music is all the rage in the city and summer really gets going when international DJs do the rounds.
Venues such as SKYBAR, The Ballroom Blitz and virtually every clubbing institution within the BIEL Waterfront have earned Beirut party hub status. It even took third place in CNN’s 2019 list of the world’s best party cities.
Where to get Beirut’s best falafel
Any local will tell you that one of the best things about Lebanese is this Food. The country’s coastal climate lends itself to fresh, fragrant and colorful dishes, each with a centuries-old history.
Must-try dishes include sfiha (flatbread with minced meat), tabbouleh (Levantine salad with chopped parsley), manakish (dough topped with thyme, cheese or minced meat), kibbeh (Levantine croquettes) and knafeh (dough dessert), to name a few .
Local recommendations for sampling Beirut’s best food are Barbar in Hamra for sandwiches and M Sahyoun on Damascus Road for falafel. If you think you’ll have double vision upon arrival, don’t go just yet and have your eyes checked.
Two falafel sahyouns stand side by side – owned by two brothers who are embroiled in a bitter, longstanding feud. Though the menus are virtually the same, these two Beirut restaurants have legendary status, with incredible falafel that have locals splitting.
By now you’ve seen how much Beirut has to offer. This is a city of history, culture, religion and modern charm.
But it’s the city’s energy that really stands out. The people are friendly. The pace is fast. There is always something to do. However you choose to spend your time here, your senses are sure to be stimulated.