Narmin AbbasovaNarmin Abbasova 24 JULY 2020 85 views 5 min. read

Beirut – Paris of the Middle East

85 views 5 min. read
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“Nothing is very constant in Beirut… It is exhausting, but it is also beautiful.”

The first thing that comes to mind while thinking of Beirut is Nasri Atallah’s quote. Bullet-holed buildings bearing the traces of the 15-year Civil War, beautiful modern streets reminiscent of Paris, luxurious restaurants, a different atmosphere that embodies Eastern and Western culture. All this and more makes Beirut one of the ideal travel destinations.

An hour of sightseeing in Beirut will make you feel sad and joyful. I guess this is the reason why I love this city. You can experience all the feelings in a few hours. I am sure that after reading this blog, you will include Beirut into your list of must-visit places. So, let’s take a closer look at this contrasting city known as the Paris of the Middle East.

Where is Beirut? 

Beirut night

Flanked by the Lebanon Mountains and perched on the Mediterranean Sea, Beirut is the capital and the largest city of Lebanon. It is also the biggest seaport. The city is composed of many districts massively differing from each other: Gemmayzeh, which is known as the hipster district, Bourj al-Barajneh, home of Hezbollah supporters, the student neighborhood of Hamra which is also the best destination for the tourists, especially travelers like backpackers, Armenian area of Bourj Hammoud, and community of Palestine refugees, Christian districts, and more. All these culturally different districts make Beirut both a historical and a growing city.

Yes, for sure, Beirut suffered lots; however, it is still one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East with amazing vibes. 

What to do in Beirut? 

Seacoast in Beirut

I would say that Beirut welcomes any tourists, whether you are a backpacker or fan of luxury traveling. There are many activities for all kinds of travelers. So, I assure you, you will not get bored in this city. 

If you want to spend your vacation on the beach under the sun or dive in the waters of the Mediterranean, the beach Ramlet el Baida with free entry is waiting for you. It is noteworthy that you can swim here in December as the water temperature is about 19.0°C. If you are one of those, who say: “No, I do not like swimming in the sea. I want to lay by the luxury pool and sunbathe”, then Sporting Beach Club, Warwick Palm Beach Hotel or Madame Bleu, this is the place for you. Of course, you need to reach your wallet for every luxury and comfort and pay around $20-30 for entrance.  

There is good news for the party and nightlife lovers. Beirut will impress you with its nightlife. Beirut, as a party town, has many pubs, nightclubs suiting all pockets. O1NE Beirut, Skybar Beirut, Music Hall, Spine Beirut are also a few of them. However, before heading to these glamorous clubs, find out about the dress code and prices and not forget to book in advance, since these places are full until the morning. 

Food and beverage

Beirut food

What will call your attention in Beirut is the restaurants at every step. Locals love to eat, and they have a rational reason for this. If you are in Beirut, you should not leave the city without tasting the local cuisine. The diversity felt in every district is also reflected in the restaurant. It is not only a homeland of falafel and zataar. Lebanon is said to have more than 50 mezze dishes. If you want to try local homemade food, Tawlet is the place to go. I strongly advise you to ask for Manakish, consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat. Tourists call it a “Lebanese pizza.” Being a coastal city, it will be sinful not to taste seafood here. Samke Harra, a spiced fish, is of that yummy seafood, which is best to try with a glass of wine in one of the seaside restaurants while admiring the sunset. 

 I highly recommend tasting Lebanese wines such as Ksara Blanc de Blanc, Reserve du Couvent, and Ixsir Altitudes Rose. If you want to eat delicious and affordable food, T-marbouta, Cafe Em Nazih, Le Chef Restaurants are suitable for every pocket.

So far, we have sunbathed, experienced nightlife of Beirut, and tastes its food and wine. Is this all? Needless to say: NO.  

Places to visit in Beirut

History place in Beirut

Beirut is not only a city of partying but a town with the streets full of history. To get acquainted with the history of Beirut, you can visit the State Museum, Nijmeh Square where Clock Tower is located, Martyrs’ Square historically known as “Al Burj” or “Place des Cannons,” where Martyr’s Monument is situated, St. George’s Church, the old city where you can see the remains of the Roman Empire baths. Furthermore, the Sursock Art Museum, Beirut Art Center, Pigeon Rock, Robert Mouawad Private Museum, and the American University of Beirut are must-see places.

To better understand the East-West contrast, you must visit Monot and Achrafieh. Breathing the air of history in the narrow streets, you can walk to Sassine Square. Do not be shocked by the bullet-holed, war-torn, and empty buildings in the streets. Although many years have passed since the Civil War, Lebanese do not want to restore these buildings. They find it retro and cool. After all, they are traces of history. You can come across such buildings not only in these neighborhoods but in many parts of Beirut.

Bourj al-Barajneh is probably the worst place in Beirut. The locals will think you are crazy if they see you are hanging in this area. Being a Hezbollah area, this district is considered a constant source of danger, and there are endless checkpoints. However, if you say I like to take risks and decide to see this district, get a local guide, and do not take photos. It will cause you a real problem.

Hire a bike and cycle to the Raouche where you can see the Pigeon Rocks, a natural landmark attracting many tourists. To avoid the crowd, the best time is to go there early in the morning.

Best place to stay in Beirut

Buildings in Beirut

There are many hotels, hostels for every budget. Saifi Urban Gardens is one of the affordable and lively hubs in Beirut. It may be surprising, but Couchsurfing is also available here. For safety and a better deal, I would suggest booking through Airbnb.  

Transport

Beirut city

You can use public transport in the city. When you call a taxi if you say service, it means that you want to share the cab, and in this case, the fare is cheaper, or you can order a taxi using applications such as Uber. Rent-a-car service is also available in Beirut, but keep in mind that the locals drive like crazy. Most of the must-see places are close to each other, so to avoid the traffic, it is better to have a walk. 

Some tips to consider before traveling to Beirut:

- It is safe to travel to Beirut, Lebanon, but the security situation can deteriorate quite quickly. So read the news.

- Do not go nuts while seeing military checkpoints. It is normal. 

- Make sure that you do not have an Israeli stamp on your passport

- Negotiate the cost of a ride with a taxi driver in advance to avoid surprise at the end of the trip.

- Ask for permission if you want to take photos or videos of locals. And making the photos of the military and diplomatic facilities is forbidden.

This blog could be extended, as there are many things to write about Beirut. But, instead of writing thousands of words, it is better to travel to Beirut and see this culturally diverse city with a deep and rich history, to feel this different vibe and to make some awesome photos for your Facebook or Instagram account. Are you ready for it? 

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From a tutor to a translator, and from translator to HSE Advisor, Narmin decided to quit her job in 2017 and went to Nepal, a country she considers a place of her spiritual rebirth. Since then, she works as a freelance translator, which allows her to travel whenever and wherever she wants. She is a solo traveller and has been in 28 countries, most of which are Asian countries. Her hobbies are reading, oil painting, hiking, music, yoga and meditation, and enjoying beautiful things. Her life motto: "live life to the fullest, and live it today."

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