Tuesday, 8 January 2008

A weekend in Beirut

Thursday 10th January is a public holiday here in Dubai as it is the Islamic New Year. We're making the most of the long weekend and heading to Beirut, capital of Lebanon. I hope we'll be able to see the Roman ruins at Byblos and Baalbeck and maybe some bellydance or debke. Anyone have any recommendations?


  1. I definitely do!

    a weekend is short so you'd better make the best of it. this means spending as much as possible of your time seeing new things and meeting with people, and NOT stuck in the traffic jams!

    walk. you'll love walking in the old streets of beirut.

    must-sees include:

    - hamra and bliss street for a taste of the real and underground urban beirut. places to try include "de Prague" (amazing atmosphere, music and good drinks) in hamra and "blue note jazz bar" in Bliss steet.
    - gemmayze: the place to be for a good walk, sight of traditional architecture (or what remains of it), good food, drinks and people young and old. places to try include the traditional "kahwet al ezez" and the legendary "torino express" bar facing it.
    - from there you could take a walk to the refurbished downtown of beirut where you could enjoy seeing and reading about the several layers of civilisations stacked on top of each others. a few roman ruins, the few remains of the old city ramparts, traditional and not-so-traditional architecture. don't miss the falafel sandwich at falafel Sahyoun.

    outside beirut, you should try to see:
    - saida's or tripoli's old souks (a bit far but very urban and extremely interesting)
    - jounieh downtown (souk jounieh): a well preserved heritage area where you could see beautiful lebanese architecture
    - byblos: the legendary, centuries-old city. allow several hours to walk the old city (don't miss the small and hidden streets and alleys). check the citadel and don't miss having a good sea food dinner and drinks at Pepe or at Bab Al Mina.
    - if you wish to have a quick drive through the mountains overlooking beirut, i would recommend driving to brummana and trying some of the old pubs there (not sure whether the legendary "cheers" is still open) but you can try "Tom Wells" next to the location of "Cheers". you could also try "La gargotte" for a good bite. the views of beirut could be stunning on a clear day or night. not much else to see as the area is generally residential.
    - i wouldn't recommend that you drive all the way to Baalbeck as it is a bit far and could consume about 3 hours on each way. However, should you decide to do it, you will definitely love the different imposing roman architecture along with the layering of the different civilisations. a breathtaking site.

    other tips:
    - the situation is a bit risky but i would try to sneak into the palestinian camps in beirut. you will discover the state in which an entire people is living. a heartbreaking and life changing experience.
    - i would also recommend that you prioritise the urban experience over the historical one. lebanese people are very sociable and spending a day walking around hamra and heading to gemmayze through the old streets is (at least for me) worth doing.

    things to mind:
    - the weather at this time of year. it could be very cold and the weather is sometimes unpredictable.
    - the taxi drivers. don't let them fool you with crazy prices. pay USD 2 for a 10-20 minutes trip in a shared taxi or about USD 6 to 10 for the same trip in a dedicated taxi.
    - it is definitely worth having the Lonely Planet or Footprint handbook to make the best out of the visit.

  2. Shukran gazelan. That's brilliant Jimmy. Just going off to pack and I'm taking all the warm clothes I can find :-)