Actually, Beirut was never on my bucket list, but since living in Jordan, where it is just an hour flight away, I got curious. After almost two and a half years I did it. Finally. I heard many different stories about the city – that it should be more western and mixed of cultures than most other Middle Eastern cities. Also stories about the plastic surgery business booming there and the late evening street life at the coastline. However, there is one aspect especially famous and well distributed in the Middle East – the legendary Lebanese dishes – which I was hunting for.
First thing after landing was to catch an airport taxi. Certainly prepared to get tricked already. I took one directly at the main exit, where the driver told me that driving by meter isn’t a problem. After 5 minutes ride, I was sitting at the backseat and watched the airport urbanization, he grabbed a little self-made paper box and covered the meter. He looked through the rear-mirror and ‘informed’ me: ‘We don´t need the meter – just make 35$’. Hahaha… I got it. But fine, I was a bit annoyed, but also in holiday mood… that shouldn’t get me down. By the way, in Beirut it is possible to pay in US Dollar as well as in Lebanese Pound with a fixed rate. So one chance less to get tricked at least.
Arriving at the Three O Nine Urbanhouse, which is a very fancy place to stay, I checked into my room. First surprise, I got a room with sea view – too nice. The Hotel also offers a roof top bar with an amazing city and sea view; a cosy place to hang out, to have a drink and watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea – and that’s exactly what I did for my first night.
Next day, directly after breakfast, I decided to explore the city by myself. First thing I wanted to see was the Pigeon Rocks in Raouché also known as ‘Love Rocks’. It took me an hour walking along the beautifully blooming sea cliffs until I reached the magnificent rock-towers. No problem for women to experience that alone. The view from the promenade was breathtaking. To get an even better perspective (and a drink) I made a break at one of the cliff restaurants. While sitting there and sipping on a refreshing lemon mint juice few boats and jet skis passed the Rocks – what a lovely scene. See for yourself…
A nice stroll thru one of Beirut’s neighbourhoods named Hamra and one of the famous main streets, the Rue Hamra, got me into real Arab street life mood. The streets are crowded with small fruit and vegetable markets, very fancy bars and restaurants as well as many shops of local and international brands. I took a break in one of the pubs and enjoyed the busy street life while drinking a beer and snacking some nuts. This is exactly the lifestyle that makes a trip in the Middle East so enjoyable for me. Of course I could not resist and spent the rest of the afternoon shopping.
Later that day, Stefan, my husband, finally arrived and we decided to spend our first night out on Beirut’s waterfront. Zaitunay Bay is a very modern location with a luxury boat harbour surrounded by chic restaurants.
Arriving at the sea, we decided to eat some fish at the Babel Restaurant. I read about it before and it should be one of the best fish restaurants around the bay. We ordered a Seafood Salad, Grilled Baby Calamari, Calamari á la Provençale and a bottle of white wine. As starter we got some cold mezza’s of fresh baked bread, olives and different nuts and a hot sauce. For dessert we had a wonderful combination of fresh fruits such as melon and a huge selection on sugar pickled fruits with delicious Lebanese Ghazl el Banet (cotton candy) – served in huge amount as common in Arab culture.
The atmosphere on the bay, with all the boats and lights, was truly nice experience. But in my opinion the prices are way too high and I prefer an open water view instead of the luxury boat promenade. But it’s definitely worth visiting once (or twice). I would say it is the perfect place for a cup of espresso during sunset, watching Beirut’s impressing skyline and getting ready for a party night out.
Apropos party… you will have a hard time to decide where to go in Beirut. Undoubtedly, the city is a party destination for every taste. For us the area around Gemmayze Street, which is a residential neighbourhood, is the top location for a fun night out. The trendy-urban style district was an absolute surprise for us. A charming area with a buzzing nightlife you probably won’t expect in that region of the world. There is nothing you can’t get or do. One pub after the other, stylish restaurants, food corners directly at the street, people gathering and drinking beer, smoking argileh – fantastic atmosphere.
Walking thru the streets and guided by all those fun-offers we found a hidden gem – maybe not too hidden in case of its popularity, but hidden because it is located in a courtyard. It’s the SUD Restobar which I highly recommend. You enter the restaurant thru a narrow stairway, which doesn’t rise expectations much. Then you enter the courtyard with olive trees and hundreds of lights – thrilling and cosy at the same. The second floor, or maybe a kind of a roof top, is my highlight: you find a huge bar, a pool table, DJ set up, carefully selected furniture and a nice view into the courtyard or the starry sky. What’s very special, the restaurant is surrounded by apartments – every now and then I had to glimpse at one older guy in an upper apartment sitting in his living room and watching TV, while the DJ started playing… I guess that’s not the usual restaurant feeling.
Totally fascinated by the location we were curious about the food. As the waiter mention it as a Mediterranean restaurant I got Porcino Ravioli and Stefan got Penne Arrabiata – yummy – it was delicious. You really should not miss this restaurant when visiting Beirut.
Next day came and we were keen on finally going to the beach – not to swim but to hang out and for checking the water. First thing we noticed, after walking 30 minutes along the coast street, there was no chance to reach the sea without entering a private beach or hotel.
We just continued our walk to the public beach area. Arriving there, unfortunately, the public beach was kind of polluted by plastic bags and broken glass – I even saw chicken running around. Funny but also a bit of a shock. To be fair, the water was crystal clear and the beach is beautifully located. However, no way to relax there… at least for us. We spent no longer time at the beach and headed for another city trip. But I have to admit we didn’t look at the other places (private ones), or the beaches a little bit outside the city centre, where I am sure there are good and clean ways to swim around Beirut. Maybe something we should explore during next trip.
I was ready for some dessert so we stopped at the fancy Urbanista Coffee shop at the Rue Bliss. Also in this street located: the American University of Beirut. A sight itself with charming architecture and a huge courtyard used as a cat ‘shelter’, I guess non-voluntary ;-). I was so distracted by all the cute kittens that I forgot to make a photo from the courtyard – but I took one from the facade…
There are many places of interest in Beirut, and totally opposite to what I expected, the city has not as much old parts but a lot of modern ones. The Beirut Souk or Downtown Beirut is a huge area, almost like a small city, with hundreds of shops, bars, restaurants built around the old (or rebuilt) sights, which Beirut has still to offer. Critical area for shopping lovers. Definitely worth a visit especially at night when most of the sights shine and glow in the spotlights and certainly the moon and stars as side-actors.
Last day came and we definitely wanted to spend our last hours at the seafront. Walking along the promenade made us stop frequently to watch the fishermen’s angling – quite entertaining (and learning lesson).
For the final Lebanese lunch we chose the Boulevard Beirut Restaurant we discovered days before and had our thoughts on what perfect place it must be overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed a beautiful restaurant, which offers all kinds of Lebanese dishes.
We choose Kebbe Borma, Tabbouleh, Makdous Baalbaki and a Grilled Fish with Lebanese spices and Rice. I personally loved the Kebbe Borma – not at least because it looked so delicious.
Back at the airport, surely not very willing to leave, we were happy finally having visited this beautiful place by the sea. But having many places left and unseen, and certainly searching for Beirut’s beaches, gave us heads up.
Cheers with sunbeams.