The capital of Lebanon, Beirut is the country’s largest city and major seaport. The bustling metropolis is home to 1,3 million people - 2,6 million in the surrounding metropolitan area. It is the governmental, banking, financial, and commercial hub and, with its 21 universities, also a major educational center of the region.
Beirut is one of the world’s liveliest cities; its cultural agenda and bustling nightlife keep the city buzzing day and night. It is a diverse, multi-cultural city, home to Christians, Muslims and a minority of Druze.
The city used to be known as the ‘Paris of the East’, and still to this day, the outdoor café culture is vibrant, and the European-style architecture can be seen everywhere. French and English are widely spoken.
The heart of Beirut is the Downtown. The city has a number of interesting museums, most notably the National Museum, home to compelling Roman ruins which were excavated during the 1990s. The Civil War left a deep mark on the city. The partially restored 18th century Cathedral of St George has become a sort of monument to the conflict, revealing half destroyed interior and frescoes.
Beirut is a platform for numerous leisure activities. You can swim in the Mediterranean Sea and ski in the mountains on the same day. The coast is a popular spot, whether for admiring peculiar rock formations in Raouche or for swimming. The beaches are an especially big draw in the summer as they are accessible only by a short drive from the city. In the winter the ski resorts attract many visitors – and Beirut lies in close vicinity, as five resorts can be reached within an hour’s drive from the city.
Beirut has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot and rainless and winters cold and rainy. Spring and autumn, though are nearly always pleasant.
The summers see no rain; most precipitation falls during winter, spring and autumn. Spring and autumn rains fall in the form of sporadic but heavy downpours.
August is the hottest month with an average temperature of 29 °C. The coldest months are January and February when temperatures fall to around 10 °C.
January average temperature 12 deg Celsius 188 mm rainfall February average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 152 mm rainfall March average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 97 mm rainfall April average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall May average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 18 mm rainfall June average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 3 mm rainfall July average temperature 26 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 26 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall September average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall October average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 48 mm rainfall November average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 119 mm rainfall December average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 175 mm rainfall
The only international airport of Lebanon is Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport. It is the hub of the national carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA). It is located 7 km from the city, and can be reached in 15 by car.
There is currently no public transport to the city, but taxis are widely available. Official airport taxis are parked outside the arrivals terminal and have the airport logo and have a guaranteed rate. Regular taxis are parked a little further away but these have no fixed rates. Bus lines 7 and 10 stop at the roundabout about 1 km from the airport and connect to the city. Car rental offices are available at the airport.
You can hail a cab on the street, pre-book it via phone, or use a taxi ‘service’ - this means sharing the cab with other passengers. Taxis you can hail in the street are to be found everywhere. Usually drivers do not run the meter so ask about the price beforehand. The price is given per destination not per distance, which is a better option due to the heavy traffic congestion that can be often found in Beirut.
Pre-booked taxis are more expensive but more luxurious too and they are usually air-conditioned. Some of the companies are Taxi Premiere (Tel 1260 or 00961-1-389222), Geryes Taxi (00961-1-332747), Allo Taxi (Tel 1213 or 00961-1-366661). Shared taxis are called ‘service taxis’ and are used by daily commuters. The ride is shared by four passengers and costs a fixed 2,000 L.L (€1).
Beirut has two companies providing public transport. The government-owned le Office des Chemins de Fer et des Transports en Commun (OCFTC) operates 12 bus lines that run throughout the city. The other provider is the LCC (www.lccworld.com/) which operates a fleet of red-and-white minibuses. There are numerous buses and routes. Buses can be hailed and stopped anywhere. Hail the bus by standing at the side of the road and signal with your hand.
Driving in the city center is not recommended. During the rush hours traffic is extremely congested. Parking is allowed for 2 hours on the street; otherwise parking houses must be sought. Cars are driven on the right. Car rental is useful however, if you wish to explore towns and cities outside Beirut.
Walking around the city is a good way of getting the feel of Beirut and is also the only way to see the inner center as it is a pedestrian area.
Beirut’s beaches, distinguished for their pearly white sands, are varied in their personalities. Head to La Plage if you want to party, it is full of pool party clubs. St. George’s Yatch Club is the most prestigious. If you are looking for peaceful, picturesque shores, head to the beaches near the Corniche and Ras Beirut. Families and those wanting a quieter beach experience can try Military Beach and Long Beach. Local women are rarely seen at the beaches due to the Lebanese culture that discourages women mingling with men in public. Thus most women visit women-only beaches such as Aajram and Costa Brava.
Beirut is a year-round scuba diving destination. The coast is rich in natural beauty and provides a great diving experience. There are many shipwrecks near the coast, as well as remnants from ancient civilizations. There are also sting ray and shark habitats in the canyons and caves. Among the highlights are: wreck diving, diving excursions with speed boats, and diving at ‘shark point’ where small tooth sand tiger sharks can be observed in July and August.
Beirut abounds in malls, shops and markets that cater to all budgets and tastes. From high-end and designer shopping in downtown Beirut and on Verdun Road, where western and eastern brands can be bought, to traditional markets, such as the Souk El Tayeb, which offers traditional food and local crafts.
Lebanon’s best known ski resort, the Mzaar Kfardebian, (previously known as Faraya Mzaar) is conveniently located just 45 minutes away from the city. It is distinguished by striking natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. It has 80 km of runs of various degrees of difficulty that are suitable for all levels of expertise.
TRIP TO BAALBEK
Baalbeck, an ancient temple complex, is Lebanon’s biggest Roman treasure. In fact, this was the largest and most noble Roman temple complex ever built and is also among the best preserved Roman sites in the world. It lies 86 km northeast of Beirut in the fertile Bekaa Valley. The ruins are among the most extraordinary and enigmatic holy places of ancient times.
The old town core combines the beauty of Islamic architecture with the elegance of French architecture. It is home to mosques and churches dating from Crusader times and the Ottoman era so that 20th century French colonial buildings, rub shoulders with ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins. When the area lay in ruins after the civil war, it was taken over by the Solidère Company and meticulously restored where possible, or otherwise razed.
National Museum of Beirut
Address: cnr Rue de Damas & Ave Abdallah Yafi, Horsh Beirut Web: www.beirutnationalmuseum.com Open: Tue-Sun: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (closed on public holidays)
The museum houses an important archeological collection of various artifacts that date from prehistoric times to the Mamluk period. Among the exhibits not to be missed are the stone human forms probably dated around 9000 BC from Byblos, gilded bronze Phoenician statues from Byblos, and the collection of Byzantine gold jewelry.
Address: Rue Riad El Solh, Beirut Central District (Downtown)
The Roman baths were discovered during the reconstruction of the downtown area in 1968 – 69 after the city was demolished in the civil war. The site was further excavated and cleaned from 1995 - 97 and is now surrounded by a landscaped park.
The University is highly esteemed in the Middle East. The complex itself is a serene oasis in the midst of a bustling city. The campus is beautifully maintained and is open to visitors. It can be accessed via the main gate, near Rue Bliss.
The mosque has a rich history: it was originally built as the Church of St John the Baptist in the 12th century by the Crusaders. It was converted into a mosque by the Mamluks in 1291. The mosque is the epicenter of Islam in Beirut. It was damaged during the civil war but was later restored and is today one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. It embodies the city’s multi-cultural nature and is a popular tourist attraction.
Pigeon Rock in Raouche
The natural arch off the coast of Beirut is the city’s most famous feature. It can be viewed from the Corniche, lined with numerous coffee shops offering spectacular views, or accessed on one of the numerous tracks that run down to the lower cliffs. There are many caves and inlets that can be explored. In the summer boats are available to tour the rocks and caves.
Beirut caters to all tastes and budgets - from street stalls to upmarket restaurants. The city is also a great place to explore amazing Lebanese food, known worldwide for its richness and variety. Among their trademark dishes are Mezze (a variety of small, tasty cold and hot dishes) tabouli, babaganoush, homus, kebabs and more.
There also numerous restaurants, offering international cuisines and you can delve into the delights of Japanese, Mexican, Italian, French, American, Asian and Australian dishes.
Gemmayzeh is a vibrant a popular area abounding in restaurants as well as clubs. The neat, cobbled Place de L'Etoile has a selection of great restaurants offering outdoor seating. They mostly serve mezzes and other Lebanese delicacies. Venues are open till late at night. In Achrafieh you can find loads of venues serving international cuisine.
Date: May 25 - May 29 (annual) Location: Beirut Hippodrome Address: Abdallah El Yafi Avenue
The spectacular annual garden show features an exhibition area of 24,000 square meters, with over 220 exhibitors. It showcases gardens, plants, furniture, organic food, outdoor equipment all things horticultural, and gives a good overview of the Lebanese Art of Living in the Garden experience.
Date: 7 Nov (annual)
The marathon attracts numerous elite runners from the Middle East, Africa and wider. The full length is 42 km (25 miles) but the marathon has also shorter routes. The course runs through the city center and along the coast road.
Beirut International Film Festival
Date: October (annual) Location: Empire Sofil and Concorde Planete cinemas Info/ email: email@example.com Web: www.beirutfilmfoundation.org/
Lebanon is home to one of the largest film industries in the Middle East. It holds a prominent spot in the world of Arabic media. The festival awards prizes for the best Middle-Eastern/Arab Feature and Short Film. International feature films are also screened. Most films are screened in Arabic and French.
Date: November (annual) Location: various
One of the most important dates on the Lebanese calendar, celebrated with much fervor in Beirut, it embodies the Lebanese pursuit of freedom and autonomy. There are grand military parades, and Lebanese VIPs attend.
The festival features performances of opera, ballet, music, dance and theater. The rich 5-week program features over 30 events. Some performances are held in the splendid Crystal Garden glass conservatory of the hotel.
Date: the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar
Holy month is a celebration of Islamic culture. During the month Muslims do not eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours. The evening fireworks signal the end of fasting. Then the feast begins. The hospitable Lebanese often invite visitors to share their evening meal.
Date: after Ramadan
The feast that comes after Ramadan lasts for 3 days. During the celebrations, Beirut comes alive with festivities, music and fireworks. All Muslims join in the celebration with great zest. Their homes are decorated and everyone dons their best attire.
Beirut is not only Lebanon’s liveliest city; it has been declared the party capital of the Middle East by numerous lifestyle magazines and is renowned for its pubs and clubs. There are, of course, options for all tastes.
Alcohol is widely available. There are bars in all city districts, but the hottest nightspots are Gemmayze and Monot St, both in close vicinity of the Ashrafieh district. These popular hangouts have a high concentration of restaurants, bars and clubs that are usually packed, especially during weekends.
Address: Lot 317, La Quarantine (near the main Beirut highway, near a turnaround at Forum De Beyrouth) Open: 7 pm – until morning
This club, bar and lounge is the trendiest place in town, located inside a bomb shelter tucked under a parking lot. It has a roof that can be opened so the dancers can be romanced by a star-lit sky while dancing.
Address: Omar Daouk Street (in the Starco Building) Open: Thursday to Saturday, from 10 p.m. to the early morning hours, often until 4 a.m.
This cabaret-style music hall offers live music by various bands, artists, and singers. It was once a cinema transformed into a fashionable cabaret theater. Now it features a huge dance floor and a contemporary pub-like appearance. It plays host to numerous performances but has no fixed theme, and boasts a diverse program featuring world music, jazz, pop, stand-up comedy and other genres.
The earliest traces of settlement in the area of today’s Beirut date from the Stone Age. Evidence shows that the earliest settlements were formed on two islands in the delta of the Beirut River which later turned into solid land.
The excavations in downtown Beirut have brought to light the remains of several ancient civilizations: Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman Arab and Ottoman. In Phoenician times Beirut was of minor importance – the nearby town of Byblos was considerably more prominent. In the 9th century BC the Assyrians came, and then the Persians, but the Phoenicians were finally defeated by Alexander the Great, who expanded throughout the Mediterranean during the 4th century BC. Under his rule Beirut rose in prominence and was, according to archeological data, quite a large city in Hellenistic times. The Romans, however, really brought the city to life. They made it a trading port and a military base, equipped with all amenities of the era: public baths, theater, civic buildings, monuments, markets, the remains of which can still be seen in the city today. The temples at Baallbek bear witness to the area’s former glory. As the Roman Empire declined, Lebanon became part of the Byzantine Empire and orthodox Christianity was introduced. In 635 the city was conquered by Muslim Arabs who met no resistance. They ruled uninterrupted until 1110 when the Crusaders won the city after a long siege, and held it for 77 years. During their rule they built the Church of St John the Baptist, which was to become the Al-Omari Mosque.
The Ayyubids ruled the wider area until they were suppressed by the Mamaluks, who ruled for the following 300 years. They were only weakened with the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1516-17, but was shortly undermined by Fakhreddine, under whom Lebanon as we know it today, united for the first time. The rule passed hands a few times but the era of emirs concluded in 1840 after internal struggles, so the Ottomans divided the territory in two between the Druze and the Maronites that caused an anticipated conflict. The Ottomans further ignited the problems according to the ‘divide and rule’ policy and by 1845 there was open war between the Druze and Maronites, and between the peasants and feudal leaders.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
After WW I the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Lebanon, together with much of the surrounding area, was placed under the French Mandate. In 1943 Lebanon gained independence, at which time Beirut became the capital city and it quickly evolved into a financial and tourist center. But this period of prosperity ended in 1975 when the Lebanese Civil War broke out, dividing the country into the Muslim west and the Christian east.
During the war, a line through the middle of downtown Beirut became no man's land, it was called the ‘Green Line’ for the plants that grew up unattended there. Many inhabitants fled the country during the conflict and found new homes in other countries. Thousands were killed, and the country was left in shambles in the conflict that lasted over 20 years. The war ended in 1991 and since then the city has been rebuilt and regained its status as a cultural and intellectual center, as well as a tourist destination. The Green Line was dismantled and the central district reconstructed.
The recent Israel – Hezbollah conflict of 2006 was yet another setback but the Doha Agreement of 2008 brokered for peace among the factions.
The Lebanese society is composed of approximately 70 percent Muslim, while most of the other 30 percent are Christian. Men usually greet each other with a prolonged handshake or three kisses if they are good friends. Women greet in the same way. Islamic Men and women usually do not interact with members of the opposite sex, apart from their family members. Family is very important, so asking about someone’s family is very much appreciated but it is advisable to avoid any political and religious discussions.
Women tend to dress in a conservative but stylish way. Men should wear darker color suits for business meetings. Note that shaking your head from side to side is interpreted as ‘I don’t understand’ rather than ‘no’. Alcohol can be bought at supermarkets and stores and legal drinking age is 18. However, possession and trafficking of drugs is a serious offence, resulting in jail sentence and/or hefty fines. Speaking about or displaying homosexuality is taboo.
Keep a close eye on the political situation. Tensions are ever present and occasionally flare up. Extra care should be taken if visiting the far southern part of the country where extensive areas are still heavily mined. Tourists rarely find themselves in any serious trouble and heavy security is present in the city. Armed guards can be seen in the downtown areas, in the shopping malls, and busy streets. However, keep an eye on your belongings in the crowded tourist areas where pickpockets operate.
Dress modestly when venturing out of the capital. The city is quite cosmopolitan but the rest of the country is still conservative so covering bare skin will save you unwelcome attention. This especially applies when visiting all religious places. Homosexuality is illegal and carries a jail penalty, although Beirut does have a thriving gay society. Note that you will be denied access in the country if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. Avoid discussions on Israel, and do not mention any trips you might have taken there, as there have been long existing conflicts between the two countries. Lebanon was engulfed in a long Civil War. Do not enter any war damaged buildings as there might still be unexploded landmines in the rubble and the buildings may be hazardous due to structural instability. If you hire a car be very careful when driving as locals tend to drive recklessly, traffic lights are not always observed, etc. A good travel insurance policy is a must.
Emergency Phone Numbers in Lebanon
Police: 112 Fire department: 175 Civil defense: 125 General Security: 1717 International Calls Operator: 100 Ambulance/ Beirut: (01) 386675/6, (01) 863299