Lebanon

Guide to Beautiful Beirut

 

Beirut is everything you expect it to be with its bullet-hole splattered buildings, telephone wires hanging across streets, chaotic traffic and derelict buildings, but at the same time it is nothing as you expect. The architecture has a French colonial elegance, the locals are incredibly fashionable and the atmosphere is electric and exciting. Located on the Mediterranean, the city offers beautiful views over the coast and has a corniche to stroll along. How can you not love a city with a Corniche?

 

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

Specialty coffee
One thing I was not expecting in Beirut was such a thriving coffee scene. Sure, I was expecting to find Arabic coffee laced with cardamom on every street corner, but not an expertly made flat white with oat milk. The coffee shops in Beirut are just as chic as you would expect to find in Paris with whitewashed interiors.
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Kalei Coffee Co.
With two locations across the city, I visited the Mar Mikhael one which has a leady outdoor terrace with hammocks and a canopy of trees overhead. The coffee is superb, as is the Lebanese-inspired menu.
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Sip
This coffee shop is as trendy as they come with exposed walls, tiled floors and a mirrored copper coffee bar where the magic happens. Located along the hip Gouraud street where you'll stumble across homeware shops and concept stores aplenty.
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Backburner
Not far from the Grand Mosque, Backburner is a hip café and neighbourhood gem. Stools are scattered outside and when the heat isn't too intense locals perch atop them convivially chatting. They take their coffee seriously and bake their pastries daily.
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Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

To do
From bustling souks, to ancient ruins, to strolls along the coastline, you won't be at a loss for activities in Beirut. But if you do happen to exhaust the sites, then the beach beckons for some relaxation.
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Pigeon Rocks
These limestone rock formations with naturally forming archways have become one of Beirut's biggest landmarks. There are plenty of bars and restaurants with views overlooking the Pigeon Rocks for a special evening at sunset, but the one I would most recommend is Al Falamanki Raouche.
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Sursock museum
Once the home of Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock, this elaborate mansion is an architectural masterpiece and now houses a collection of contemporary art. Entrance is free, but it is encouraged to leave a donation.
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Al-Omari Grand Mosque
The beautiful blue-domed grand mosque stands proud as the icon of Beirut. It is incredibly photogenic with its warm Romanesque stone and striking blue dome.
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Byblos, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

Day trips
As Lebanon is quite a small country, Beirut is the ideal place to base yourself to embark on day trips. There are few places that can't be visited on a day trip and the country has towering mountains, ancient ruins and a beautiful coastline to offer the intrepid traveller.
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Byblos
If time allows, I would highly recommend taking a day trip to the nearby town of Byblos. Straddling the coast, this timeworn town has ancient Roman ruins, a well-restored citadel and a souk. Once the getaway for French movie stars, it retains a timeless elegance.
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Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

To eat
Lebanese food is a feast for the senses with flavourful salads, creamy dips, herb-infused meats and grilled vegetables. If there was ever were a city to eat your through, this would be it.
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Falafel Tabbara
This falafel joint serves up something quite unusual. Expertly crafted falafel made from fava beans instead of chickpeas. I've never seen this anywhere in the world, so this is your place if you want to try something unique to Beirut.
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Ichkhanian Bakery
This local bakery is famous across the city for its Lahmadjun: an Armenian flatbread coated with meat, spices and herbs and baked until crispy and thin.
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Al Falamanki Raouche
If you're after a Lebanese feast with killer views over the Raouche Rocks, then look no further. Their menu is extensive and offers all the classics, so go with a group so you can order a selection for the table.
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Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

Sweets
From homemade ice cream to turmuric rice pudding to decadent knafeh, here are the best desserts to try in Beirut.
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L'abeille d'or
Trust me when I say no trip to Beirut is complete without visiting the country's most loved dessert house and sampling the most loved dessert: knafeh. Here it is served in a sesame-coated roll and sweet rose syrup that is overflowing with the warm, gooey and caramel-like knafeh.
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Bouzet Hanna Mitri
This one-man shop serves up the best ice cream in Beirut which has become legendary. In the summer months, the queue snakes down the street as locals patiently wait in line for his homemade ice cream. The pistachio is bursting with pistachio kernels and the apricot is laced with pine nuts.
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Al Makari Sweets
Famous for its rice pudding made with turmeric, tahini and pine nuts, this just sounds like the most comforting of comfort food. Sadly I didn't make it to this place, but it's high on my list for my next trip.
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Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon

Bars
Bars are dotted across Beirut like hidden jewels and form the pulsing heart of the city. To experience Beirut fully, you need to stay up late.
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Capitole
This is a rooftop bar with a view to remember. Located directly opposite the Grand Mosque, I think you would struggle to find a better view of this blue-domed masterpiece if you tried.
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Armenia Street
Try the city's favourite basil smash cocktail at one of the many bars on Armenia Street, which is so refreshing on a sticky summer night. If you're ever at a loss for where to go, then Armenia Street or Gemmayzeh are thriving late into the night.
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Kiosks
You haven't been to Beirut, if you haven't tried homemade Arak. This aniseed spirit is their national drink and it packs a punch. Go to one of the local kiosks where Beirutis crowd around onto the streets outside smashing back the Arak.
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