Beirut Travel Guide

Beirut Travel Guide

Beirut is a sexy, fascinating, city that would likely be one of the world’s top urban destinations if it weren’t for the political unrest in the Middle East and the lingering reputational effects of its civil war back in the 1970s. But the Arab world’s most gay-friendly city is not letting any of that hold it back. The Mediterranean hub is a hotspot for food, wine, nightlife, art, design, fashion and anything else you could ever want from a city. Get ahead of the pack and make this ancient-city-slash-cosmopolitan-playground your next big trip. Word is already getting out–the number of tourists from the US, France, Canada, UK, and Australia has been steadily on the rise for five years running. The gay scene is more developed than elsewhere in the Arab-speaking world, which means there’s still a long way to go. Well-established gay clubs are tolerated by the authorities and Beirut launched the Middle East’s first Gay Pride in 2017 but never got off the ground due to threats from Islamic radicals. The courts have thankfully begun poking holes in the law that criminalizes gay sex but it still stands (for now).

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Baffa House is the product of a love story between an Italian who fell in love with a local gal

The best hotels in Beirut

The Albergo Hotel dishes out elegance and charm in spades. The 33 suites, each with its own character, are decorated in Lebanese-oriental. The boudoir-style rooms are appointed with crystal Ottoman chandeliers, Persian rugs and four-poster beds. And with a wood and glass Art Deco lift that deposits you onto a leafy roof terrace with views to the city and the Mediterranean, Albergo is the place to stay in Beirut. A funky boutique hotel in a 1920s house, Villa Clara is filled with both colour and character. With just seven rooms, the blue villa is run by a French chef and his wife who designed it so that contemporary pieces by local artists sits alongside antique furniture. The hotel’s French restaurant is considered to be one of Beirut’s best. A light-filled guesthouse with high-ceilings, tiled floors and vintage furnishings, BEYt Mar Mikhael is lovely. Take your breakfast in the garden courtyard. O Monot landed a spot on the Small Luxury Hotels of the World for the simplicity of its sleek minimalist design set in a Modernist building. It’s got a rooftop bar and pool and plenty of high-tech amenities. The Baffa House is the product of a love story. Italian immigrant Francesco Baffa Volpe came to Lebanon after WWI and fell in love with a local gal. They built this house in the 1940s and his family has lovingly converted it into a four-room guesthouse. Local art and family photographs adorn the whitewashed walls and the owner’s mom makes the breakfast for you each morning.

Baffa House

Baffa House

Photo: Piotr Chrobot

Photo: Piotr Chrobot

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Recommended hotels in Beirut
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Pigeon Rock | Photo: Zheka Boychenko

Pigeon Rock | Photo: Zheka Boychenko

Things to do in Beirut

Beirut’s thriving art scene was hobbled by the civil war in the 1970s that divided the city. The massive renovation and resurgence of the Sursock Museum is a sure sign of the revival of the local arts scene. The Italianate-style villa built in 1912 by an art-loving Lebanese aristocrat was converted into a museum in the 1950s. The building recently underwent a seven-year overhaul that quintupled its size and made it a premier art institution for Lebanese and international contemporary and modern art. The Lebanese flag is emblazoned with cedar in homage to the country’s ancient trees, which are mentioned no less than 73 times in the Bible. The cedar symbolizes holiness, eternity and peace and The Cedars of God outside the city is one of the remaining remnants of ancient stands of the vaulted tree that once covered the country and were a prized building material in ancient times. The cedars, which can live 1,000 years, have UNESCO World Heritage status. Visit them on a day trip from Beirut on a guided tour. Of all the things to do in Beirut, it’s understandable why most sophisticated travellers might not flock to Beirut’s rickety amusement park Luna Park. But if you’re into the idiosyncratic, buy a ticket and jump on the creaky Ferris wheel for hands down the most stunning view of Beirut. Go at sunset. For a secluded beach club, book a taxi for a 20-minute ride to Lazy B. Laze at one of the freshwater pools and gaze out at the Mediterranean or relax in one of the natural basins surrounded by rock formations. The whole property is situated on a coast of protected creeks.

Lazy B

Lazy B

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A Zaha Hadid-designed building is proof the future is alive and well (and female) in Beirut

Things to see in Beirut

Continuously inhabited for 5,000 years, the ancient roots of this city are evident in its Roman Baths ruins in the middle of downtown. Built in the early first century by the Roman Emperor Augustus as a meeting place for citizens, it wasn’t unearthed until the late 1960s and is sometimes used a performance site. The future is alive and well (and female) in Beirut as evidenced by the Zaha Hadid-designed building. The Iraqi-British architect, who was the first woman to receive the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed the Issam Fares Institute on the campus of the American University of Beirut where she studied mathematics as an undergrad. The intersecting geometries of the cantilevered building are meant to evoke the free exchange of ideas and dialogue the university prides itself for. Take the lift to the roof, which is open to the public. Built in 1860, the Sursock Palace was in its day Beirut’s most extravagant townhouse and it the largest private palace to have survived in its original state. The lush gardens are open to visitors on weekdays. Smack in the middle of downtown Beirut is a potent reminder of the city’s deep ancient roots. The female-owned Sfeir-Semler Gallery was the first white cube space in the Middle East. With a sister gallery in Hamburg, the space acts a bridge between the conceptual art of the Middle East and the West with a strong leaning toward the political. Go there to see what renowned artists from the post Civil War generation have to say. A wonderful place to wander is Saifi Village, the Beirut arts district that was completely destroyed in the war and completely rebuilt into an upscale neighbourhood stocked with galleries and fashion, concept and jewellery stores. Part high-end mall, part world-class museum, you’ve never seen anything like the Aïshti Foundation. Buy a Birkin bag, or a sculpture, or neither. But whatever you do, go. The Corniche, Beirut’s seaside esplanade, is lined with palm trees and dotted with locals ambling, jogging and vendors pushing carts full of wonderful treats. Rent a bike and take in views of the Mediterranean, lighthouses, beaches, art installations, rocky outcrops and the summits of Mount Lebanon. Stop to admire (and take a selfie) of the iconic Pigeon Rocks. The set of arched limestone outcrops just offshore is a Beirut landmark.

Issam Fares Institute | Photo: Nidal Mawas_Issam

Issam Fares Institute | Photo: Nidal Mawas_Issam

Photo: Sfeir-Semler Gallery

Photo: Sfeir-Semler Gallery

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Where to eat in Beirut

Each day the food served by Tawlet is prepared by a different chef from a different area of the country to celebrate traditional local cuisine. The restaurant’s profits go to farmers and cooks. Everything is fresh from the farm. Go for the daily lunch buffet for a little taste of everything. In a modern-day Cain and Abel, two estranged brothers own competing for falafel shops next door to one another. They have the same name and the same menu but locals swear by this one, Falafel Sahyoun, which you can identify by the sign that with “Original Shop No. 1.”  The Mediterranean influenced, re-imagined modern classics at Baron will blow your mind, especially the shawarma-spiced roasted cauliflower Babel Bay, located on a boardwalk marina, is known for cosmopolitan seafood dishes prepared with a progressive flair. The harbour views are generous as are the portions. In a country whose divisions once brought it to its knees, the Souk El Tayeb farmers’ market now brings together small farmers from all over the country to share food made with traditional recipes. It’s run by a non-profit organic cooperative. We bet you’ve never had a Lebanese-Sri Lankan lunch buffet in a garden under the shade of grape vines where you get to “pay what you think is fair.” Makan offers you this unforgettable experience. Restaurant Liza

has been called one of the world’s most beautiful restaurants. Take in   Lebanese Sunday brunch in a chic dining room that’s been written up in Architectural Digest. The space in a 19th-century palace evokes Ottoman royalty if the royal family had their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. Frescoes, ottoman-style windows, arches and patterned tiles are paired with wallpaper patterned with banana leaves in one room; in another, with blown up Lebanese currency.

Baron | Photo: Diane Aftimos

Baron | Photo: Leva Saudargaité

Tawlet Beirut | Photo: Tanya Traboulsi

Tawlet Beirut | Photo: Tanya Traboulsi

An avant-garde retail experience, Another is constructed to make shoppers feel they’re walking through a ‘living magazine’

Shopping in Beirut

Both an atelier and boutique, Orient 499 sources exclusive handmade clothing and crafts from the Middle East and beyond.  Keeping traditions alive but imbuing them with a modern flair, the boutique employs coppersmiths, carpenters, glass blowers, soap makers, weavers, printers, dyers, embroiders and couturiers.
This is the place for housewares, furniture, jewellery, clothing soaps, and stationery. The creations of men’s fashion designer Nemer Saade have been spotted on Usher, Adam Lambert, Slash from Guns N’ Roses. His bespoke suits are absolute perfection. The shop specializes in tuxedos, formal- and semi-formal attire. Jawdat Ejjeh & Sons have been creating bespoke tailoring since 1926 and now design their own ready-to-wear line. For a more edgy vibe, try a shop run by an Arabic Street art collective whose mission is no less than to revive Arabic culture in an urban context and spread tolerance. Ashekman Urban Wear sells clothing by woke hip-hop-loving graffiti artists. Their stuff mixes Arabic graffiti, urban iconography and calligraphy. The extremely cool concept of Another is to make the shopper feel he is walking through a “living magazine.” In real life, that manifests as an avant-garde retail experience that showcases fashion, food, fitness, lifestyle and music products and experiences. The SMO Gallery deals in contemporary Lebanese designers with a focus on furniture, art, and fixtures.

Orient 499

Orient 499

Orient 499

Orient 499

Beirut nightlife

A mix between a music venue and a dance club, MusicHall Waterfront’s  innovative nightlife recipe mixes very short live musical and cabaret acts from around the world and a dance-til-you-drop DJ. The outdoor venue is one of Beirut’s most iconic and legendary live music venues as well as a cultural hub. We are happy to report we had quite a few places to choose from for our Beirut gay scene guide. A B018 has been one of Beirut´s most popular nightclubs since the mid-aughts when Wallpaper declared it one of the world’s best clubs. Evoking what’s been described as “war architecture,” the club resembles a bomb shelter but for its retractable roof.  A mixed club, there is no shortage of LGBTQ revellers to be found there. Bardo is the grand dame of Beirut’s gay scene and acts more like a salon and cultural space as much as a bar and restaurant. Twinks prefer Bardo over gay-friendly Kahwet Al Franj, a homey and inviting café and restaurant with living room-style décor that attracts the bears and an older gay crowd. Another cosy/gay gastropub is Madame Om. A Beirut gay nightlife guide must include Posh, reported being the largest gay club in the Arab world, which is reason enough to go there. After Posh, the crowd often heads off to the after party run by Ego party at Projekt Beirut. (Please note that photography is not allowed in most gay clubs since many if not most of the local patrons are still living on the DL.)

MusicHall Waterfront

MusicHall Waterfront

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