What image do you have in your mind when you think of the capital of Lebanon – Beirut?
I bet the majority of you think of the dangerous, war torn country that now is flooded with refugees and garbage.
That’s the stereotype we hear about Lebanon and that’s what the media tell us. (Side note: many people wonder what is the capital of Lebanon anyway, not knowing it’s actually Beirut…)
Even if I always half believe in what we see in the news this time I fell for the rumors and had a mini panic attack before my trip to visit Beirut, at some point I even started reconsidering this whole journey.
But as it turned our Beirut was nothing that I imagined! Visiting Beirut was a really interesting and eye-opening experience for me!
So how is the capital of Lebanon (at least in my eyes)?
Of course I’m not an expert here, I’ve only spent one week visiting Beirut and only seen couple of areas of the Lebanon capital (Gemmayze where I’ve stayed, Downtown, Hamra just to name few) but it was enough to show me how wrong I was in my expectations.
Most of all Beirut (and Lebanon) turned out to be really safe! Yet another lesson I’ve learnt from my travels.
The worst thing about visiting Beirut is crazy traffic
OK, that’s the only thing I actually expected before visiting Beirut.
I was lucky as I arrived on Sunday, it was the 1st of May weekend, so the city was less hectic than usual and I could remind myself how to deal with crazy drivers in the Middle East.
After spending a few days in the Lebanon capital I kind of had nightmares with beeping cars!
But also I quickly started playing by their rules. I was crossing the street at the red light, I was navigating easily between the driving cars, I somehow managed to cross the road.
I figured that the key to success there is to look confident (and it doesn’t matter if you’re shaking inside).
I even got used to the drivers not caring about the red light and stopping in the middle of the crossing (if at all).
My only problem in Beirut were scooters – their drivers don’t follow any rules at all and it doesn’t matter if it’s a one way street, they will go in the wrong direction.
So many times I was this close to getting hit by a scooter…
Beirut, Lebanon capital, is modern
The cruel civil war in Lebanon ended only in 1990.
When you google pictures from the time of the conflict you will see images similar to what Warsaw after World War 2 or Syria these days looked like.
That’s why I’m not really surprised people still kind of expect to see a battlefield when visiting Beirut.
But the capital of Lebanon was rebuilt very quickly and in a modern manner.
The downtown and the seaside area are full of skyscrapers, some of them being a masterpiece of the modern architecture.
The city seems to be still under construction, on every second street new tall buildings are being worked on.
The area of downtown close to the clock tower and the parliament reminded me a little bit of the Northern Avenue in my favorite Yerevan, Armenia – all made up and modern but soulless.
Then the sea promenade looked much like I imagine Tel Aviv to be: high buildings, trendy people, something going on for all the time.
Beirut definitely looks much different than I’ve thought it’d be.
I was expecting a city similar to Amman, a crazy Middle East capital, yet I got a modern Mediterranean metropolis.
Beirut is wealthy
I’m not saying I was expecting a poor city with crumbling houses but I definitely didn’t expect this level of wealth.
The majority of the cars on the road are really good ones (and most have dark windows too), the downtown is full of fancy shops of world famous designers.
The souk is where you will find most of these shops – the place is busy with people, the whole families (including African / Asian help) hang out there, spending lots and lots of money.
Apparently it’s completely normal to have the help from developing countries here, even if very often there’s a dark story behind.
When I arrived to Beirut I witnessed an interesting scene at the airport: a big group of African women probably from Ethiopia (as the flights was from Addis Abeba) arrived and local wealthy families were waiting for them, after the paper work was done each woman could leave with their new employers.
To be honest it looked a little bit disturbing to me…
Of course Beirut has poor areas too, every city has them, but overall I didn’t expect to see such a wealthy city!
Beirut is multicultural
Again, my mistake for not preparing myself properly before I got to visit Beirut.
I was expecting a rather homogenous society, with a Muslim majority as that’s the image we mostly get in the media.
And even if I knew that the civil war, to simplify, was between western (Muslim) and eastern (Christian) part of the city, even if I knew there’s a significant Armenian Diaspora living in Beirut I still didn’t make any conclusion out of it.
And then I was almost jaw dropping surprised when I saw a mosque neighboring with catholic cathedral, with Armenian and Orthodox churches within the eyesight.
When walking around Gemmayze or Mar Mikhael I’ve spotted numerous small shrines, showing St. Mary, Jesus and various saints. They were literally on every street.
The multicultural face of Beirut can be also seen in the local food scene.
Not only you can eat amazing Lebanese food (which I believe is one of the best cuisines in the world) but you have so many other delicious options to choose from.
And everything is at the very high level, the best you can ask for!
The capital of Lebanon is tolerant
Or at least so it seems.
After all after the horrible experience of civil war that ended a little bit over 20 years ago it must be difficult to live in somehow peaceful atmosphere. Yet Beirut manages it, at least on the surface.
The downtown is the epicenter of religions coexisting that paints a perfect image of tolerant Beirut.
But when you look closer at the neighborhoods you can notice that they are divided by the religion, Bourj Hamoud being the Armenian one, Gemmayze – Christian and Hamra Muslim.
It doesn’t take much research, just careful looking around at the buildings and people and you can figure it out.
But still, despite the tragic past, caused mostly be the religious differences, these days people can live together next to each other without too much tension.
And in the places like the Corniche all these cultures mingle, creating an interesting mix of people of Beirut.
Beirut is progressive
Of all the Middle East cities I’ve visited Beirut was the most progressive one, or at least that was the impression I got.
It was the best seen in the outfits of people around, many of the young inhabitants of Beirut barely wore any clothes on, and that was just fine.
Modest Muslims passing them by didn’t give them reproachful looks, they were used to such freedom.
The party scene of Beirut is pretty epic as well.
In the day the Armenia street – the main artery of Mar Mikhael – is a hectic yet rather sleepy place but come the evening and it turns into the major nightlife hub.
It’s hard to believe this is actually the same place where nothing was going on just few hours before!
Beirut nightlife is considered one of the best in the region and the party areas of the city change constantly.
Previously it was Hamra, then Gemmayze. These days it’s Mar Mikhael but there’re already bets what will be next.
Beirut is chic
I’m very far from being the fashion victim and usually I don’t care about the clothes at all. But there were moments in Beirut (pretty many of them actually) when I really felt underdressed.
The wealth and designer shops really have an impact on people of Beirut as the places like the souk or Corniche felt like runways.
Not something you’d expect from the recently war torn country!
Beirut is cool
I found Beirut to be a cool and rather alternative place to visit.
The cafe scene is thriving, the street art is booming and the vibe is too cool to describe.
This is especially seen in Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, currently the trendiest neighborhoods of Beirut.
Wander around the streets of these districts, without any plan or map, and you will see what I’m talking about.
Every single corner hides some wonders, whether it is a cool street art, a small shrine, a charming cafe, a small craft store or an independent art gallery.
I was lucky to stay there too, in probably the coolest place in Beirut -Saifi Urban Garden.
Besides accommodation they also offer school of Arabic language, a rooftop nightclub and a cafe with awesome yet affordable food, probably your best choice when you visit Beirut.
If you want to experience the coolest that Beirut has to offer this is the place to go (even if you’re staying somewhere else you need to visit Saifi Urban Gardens!).
Beirut is artistic
Not only the walls of Beirut are full of street art.
The city is full of art galleries, most of them of independent and contemporary pieces.
I can’t recall any other city I’ve visited that would have so many decent galleries to visit.
They are spread all over the city, it’s not easy to get to some of them (though really worth it) and if you’d like to visit only the best ones you’d still need at least few days to only fully explore the local art scene.
Beirut is amazing
I guess it’s pretty obvious by now that I really enjoyed my time visiting Beirut and found it to be simply an amazing place.
The city took me by surprise and I loved almost every single moment I’ve spent there.
I had pretty high expectations of the capital of Lebanon and I was slightly afraid the city will disappoint me but there was really nothing to worry about. Beirut was simply amazing.
OK, sometimes it was overwhelming too (like the time when I didn’t manage to get to the bus stop to go for a day out of the city) but that’s how the Middle East is supposed to be.
Even if I spent a week in Beirut and walked like crazy just about everywhere I limited myself only to some parts of the city.
Not because I wanted to but because it was a wise thing to do.
The news and warning we get aren’t made up and Beirut, as well as whole Lebanon, is dealing with a lot of problems these days.
But if you stick to the awesome areas of Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael, Achrafieh, Downtown, Hamra and Corniche you will be more than fine and I’m sure you will enjoy Beirut as much as I did!
Revolut bank card is the best way to save money when traveling. It’s a pre-paid service that offers very good exchange rates and no fees for ATM’s use. Click here to learn more and order your Revolut card.
You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Beirut
Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Lebanon here.
I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
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Kinga05/06/2016 at 19:45
See? Good that you decided to visit Lebanon in the end. ;-) Very often places portrayed in the media as horrible and ultra dangerous turn out to be just normal places (only with more issues to solve than other) where people actually live – what else would they do, anyway?
kami21/06/2016 at 21:46
That’s exactly how I try to convince myself, that people call these so called dangerous places home. But these panic attacks like the one I had are normal I guess when it comes to travelling to weird places ;)
Stephanie Pelser05/06/2016 at 20:30
I love love love Beirut and am so happy you went. Have you seen the Lebanese movie ‘Caramel’? It portrays the lives of several women living in Beirut, their freedom and their struggles. BTW there was war much more recently than 1990 and Beirut was definitely affected by that.
Kami and the rest of the world05/06/2016 at 21:21
yeah, I saw this movie at the cinema when it was released and it was very good! You just reminded me to rewatch it now, once I’ve visited Beirut :) Thank you! And for the explanation about the war too!
Anna Zawadzińska06/06/2016 at 05:32
Byłam widziałam potwierdzam :)
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 05:33
o jak dobrze, że nie jestem jedyna! :)
Anna Zawadzińska06/06/2016 at 05:33
Ale gorąco pokecam też Saidę :)
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 05:34
no niestety nie udało się, zdrowotne perypetie miałam akurat w tym Bejrucie i jedynie do Byblos dałam rade pojechać. a plany miałam wielkie! no ale przynajmniej mam po co wracać :)
Pola Henderson06/06/2016 at 05:42
Years ago, I had classmates from Lebanon. I wish we’d gotten along better so that I could learn more about the country. But maybe I should go and find out for myself, huh? ;)
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 05:48
you definitely should! :) I’m sure you will love it there (did I mention awesome food and coffee ;) ? )
Pola Henderson06/06/2016 at 05:49
You just had to mention coffee, haha… Nicely done. :P
Karol Werner06/06/2016 at 06:00
Wciąż klikam w poszukiwaniu tanich biletów…
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 06:01
i wyklikasz! obserwuj szalone środy w locie, bo tam za dobre pieniądze najprędzej trafisz! albo Pegasusem tez podobno daje radę!
Marta Gawrychowska06/06/2016 at 06:00
Może kiedyś ;) na razie mam w planach inne kierunki.
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 06:01
Anna Nadia Bandura06/06/2016 at 06:42
Uwielbiam gdy nowe miejsca mnie tak zaskakują :)
Emilia Smolka06/06/2016 at 06:58
Ciekawi bardzo! Ja słyszałam same pozytywy o życiu nocnym tam, kulturze, ponoć mnóstwo się w artystycznym światku dzieje.
Darek Jedzok06/06/2016 at 06:59
Teraz już tak :D Przedtem w ogóle nie miałem go na mapie, ale błyskiem dopisuję!
Olka Zagórska-Chabros06/06/2016 at 07:08
Bejrut chyba zaskakuje miksem architektonicznym. Niewątpliwie to się rzuca w oczy, gdy spojrzy się na Twoje zdjęcia.
Monika Marcinkowska06/06/2016 at 07:10
Pewnego dnia pojadę.
A jak jedzenie? Bo też mi sie kojarzy że bardzo dobre?
Pát Krissdottir06/06/2016 at 07:13
Jedzenie najlepsze! ja pojade tylko w takim celu :D
Monika Marcinkowska06/06/2016 at 07:13
ja też :D
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 07:14
potwierdzam!!! ja tam w sumie w dużej mierze dla jedzenia własnie pojechałam i nie rozczarowało :D
Monika Marcinkowska06/06/2016 at 07:14
szukam biletów :D
Kami and the rest of the world06/06/2016 at 07:15
polecam szalone środy LOTu, da radę i za 600zł znaleźć!
Na lewo od entrum06/06/2016 at 19:26
Kamila, zburzyłaś moje wyobrażenia o Bejrucie w każdy możliwy sposób! Wspaniałe zdjęcie za schodami i figurą Maryi- aż chętnie przypisałabym je sobie. ;)
kami21/06/2016 at 21:47
dziękuję za komplement :D a to jak wyobrażałas sobie Bejrut?
Magda Biskup07/06/2016 at 09:56
Wygląda bardzo zachęcająco. Szkoda tylko że klimat polityczny u sąsiadów taki sobie. Dało się to odczuć?
Mr_Szpak08/06/2016 at 19:19
Ej naprawdę super wygląda Bejrut, zazdrościłem Ci go wcześniej, ale teraz jak widzę to już w ogóle super.
kami21/06/2016 at 21:48
to trzeba się wybrac jak się znów jakaś promocja trafi!
Połącz Kropki08/06/2016 at 20:20
No niestety media często wyolbrzmiają różne rzeczy, na lewo i prawo trąbią, że w danym miejscu jest niebezpiecznie, a na miejscu okazuje się, że totalnie nie ma sie czego bać.
Oczywiście sztuka uliczna przekonuje mnie prawie w 100% do tego miejsca;)
kami21/06/2016 at 21:51
dla samego street artu warto tam jechać! i dla jedzenia! :D
PlanetKiwi08/06/2016 at 21:23
Zdecydowanie Bejrut jest na naszej liście :) Nauczyliśmy się już, że nie należy zbytnio ufać złym opiniom o konkretnym miejscu, przekazywanym przez wszelkie media, a trzeba po prostu poczytać o nim u ludzi, którzy tam byli. Jak dla nas miejsce rewelacyjne! A do tego, że ktoś jedzie pod prąd, to przyzwyczailiśmy się już w Omanie czy Iranie, gdzie nawet autostradą jeździli nie w tą stronę czy przeprowadzali przez nią wielbłądy ;)
kami21/06/2016 at 21:52
oj Iran to był pikuś w porównaniu z Bejrutem, i to nie tylko moje zdanie ;) trzymam kciuki, żeby szybko udało Wam się Liban odwiedzić!
Agnieszka09/06/2016 at 20:02
When you asked at the beginning of this text what do we have in our mind when we think about Beirut, i started thinking very deeply, but… there was nothing. I had absolutely no idea how i imagine this city. Now, thanks to you, i find it really interesting and worth seeing. Especially this combination of temples and street art.
kami21/06/2016 at 22:09
I’m really glad I could introduce Beirut to you :) who knows, maybe one day you will go there as well?!
sekulada.com12/06/2016 at 19:59
Wow! Miasto zaprezentowane przez Ciebie wygląda naprawdę świetnie :) Dotąd niestety nie wiedziałem zbyt wiele o tym miejscu, ale sądząc po opisie wygląda niezwykle ciekawie. Urzekło mnie zdjęcie Matki Boskiej na schodach! Mistrzowskie ;) !
kami21/06/2016 at 22:10
Dzięki! Mnie też Bejrut niesamowicie zaskoczył, na szczęście (głównie) pozytywnie. Gdybym tylko miała możliwość od razu bym tam wróciła!
Katie30/04/2020 at 17:32
Hi Kami , I’m glad you enjoyed Beirut, I didn’t really fall in love with it. You mentioned the ‘maids’ out shopping, I wrote a blog about the reality of these women’s lives under the kafala system, modern day slavery. I stayed in a very traditional Arab area, which I loved, my main thing is getting a flavour of local life and culture. When I went, last year, there was social unrest and it was a very scary time to be there. So that probably influenced my experience, as we were restricted from going outside the city and going to other areas. I agree Downtown was ‘soulless’, I went to Hamra, which I felt was an overpriced tourist trap. Did you visit the National Museum? That was amazing, even though I’m not one for museums. But the people I met were the best. Also I want to start a travel website, did you make your yourself? I think I will try pay someone to make me one. Where will visit when we can travel again? Take Care Katie x
kami05/05/2020 at 08:53
Hi Katie, did you publish anywhere your article about maids? I would love to read it! I haven’t been to the National Museum but I’m hoping to visit Beirut again when we are allowed to travel again (I have tickets for September) so will go there for sure! Thanks for the tip! As for the blog we’ve already discussed it on Facebook :) I think you could manage to do most part of the work yourself, it’s not that difficult!
Walter Clark08/05/2020 at 18:18
To me, Beirut in Lebanon is like the middle eastern (or Islamic) equivalent of Honolulu, Hawaii, or the middle eastern (or Islamic) of Miami, Florida because of the hotels located next to the Mediterrarean Sea.
kami13/06/2020 at 18:00
I haven’t been to those American cities yet so can’t compare but from what I saw on the pictures I think you might be right