Beirut is the capital city of Lebanon, and also the largest city in this small county. Lebanon is in the Middle East and is where east definitely meets west, it’s a real mix of cultures, religions and has a very laid back feel compared to other countries in the Middle East.
Beirut was somewhere I had really mixed views about before visiting, as I had heard so much conflicting information about Lebanon in the past. I had heard how westernised it was and that it was meant to have an amazing nightlife and party scene, however I also remember several years back that Lebanon was at war with Israel, and decades ago the country had a civil war and was at constant unrest for many years.
I decided to request a trip with work to go and find out for myself what Beirut had to offer, as I was intrigued and don’t ever like to go on other people’s opinions and always like to make my own mind up on a place, and well I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised. Beirut is a beautiful picturesque city with lots on offer and serves up the most delicious Lebanese food, Beirut is a foodies dream!
Beirut has a very Mediterranean feel to it, but also shows its Middle Eastern heritage throughout its architecture, food and culture. There are still signs of Lebanon’s past unrest with derelict and war torn buildings, but this city feels very much at peace even with lots of chaos going on in neighbouring countries. Some of the places I visited were absolutely stunning and Beirut is somewhere I definitely want to venture back to and explore some more, however on my 24 hour layover I managed to pack quite a a lot into the trip.
Sights & Activities
Basilica of St Paul
Basilica of St Paul is situated in the mountain village of Harissa just north of Beirut, and is a stunning church and beautifully decorated with thousands of mosaic tiles and intricate detailing. Just outside the church are gorgeous views of the city too. When we visited the church was empty and so peaceful and quiet. Im atheist and church’s don’t normally appeal to me, but this church was absolutely stunning and well worth a visit, and only a short drive from Our Lady of Lebannon, where you can also get some lovely views of the Basilica in the distance.
Byblos is actually a city itself and a UNESCO world heritage site, it is located to the north of Beirut and is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It has a beautiful port looking out onto the vast ocean and the backdrop of old crumbling buildings from days gone by. There are lots of souks and market stalls, it’s easy to see why Byblos is a tourist hotspot! It’s pretty streets are filled with quirky bars, restaurants and boutiques and the area is steeped in history and archeology.
Byblos was my favourite area in Lebanon it’s so pretty and looks like a picture on a postcard, you can easily spend a day wandering around and stopping in the many cafes and shisha lounges along the way. I only spent a small amount of time here exploring and would love to go back to spend a full day there. It has a very relaxed atmosphere and it’s easy to loose yourself for the day and soak up the atmosphere. ￼
Jeita Grotto is a magnificent cave system with lots of limestone formations. There is a small cable car up to the caves which you can take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding greenery and hills. Once in the cave you are not allowed to take any photos and all cameras and phones must be locked away in lockers at the entrance, there wasn’t any real explanation as to why, so unfortunately I didn’t get pictures of these beautiful caves. While I was there the lower grotto was also closed off so I didn’t get to take the boat ride either.
The upper grotto is a easy walk through the cave and is well lit, and we spent about 20 minutes walking through the cave and back again taking in just how huge this cave actually is. Once we finished viewing the cave we took the small train back down to the entrance. The cable car, cave entrance and train back down are all included in the same ticket price which is LBP18,000 per adult which works out at less than £10 per person. ￼
Nahr Al Kalb Bridge
Nahr Al Kalb is a river that runs 19 miles from a spring in Jeita into the Mediterranean Sea, and is also known as Dog or Wolf River which are previous names from myths and tales from years ago. The river runs through a beautiful valley surrounded by greenery, hills and mountains. On our way to the Jeita Grotto we made a small stop at this old roman bridge that sits on the river and admired the views.
Hills overlooking Nahr Al Kalb
The drive up to Jeita Grotto is impressive and also a top attraction itself with gorgeous views overlooking the Nahr Al Kalb valley, river and greenery. There are several places to pull over to appreciate the beautiful views. Also along the way to Jeita Grotto are several stalls selling food, souvenirs and one still in particular that grabbed our attention was a tourist photo booth where you could pay to dress up in traditional Lebanese clothes and have your photo taken while posing with a gun.
Our Lady of Lebanon
Our Lady of Lebanon is perched on top of a mountain overlooking Beirut and the beautiful ocean below and located in the village of Harissa. The statue was finished in 1904 and is one of Beirut’s top attractions. Our lady of Lebanon can be reached by the Telerifique cable car. The shrine to Mary is one of the most important shrines in the world to Christians, and attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. You can walk to the top of the shrine and witness the most incredible views from up there.
Telerifique is one of Beirut’s most visited and oldest tourist attractions. These gondola cars and cableway were constructed in 1965, and provide incredible views over the Bay of Jounieh and the surrounding areas. The ride takes you 650 meters above sea level, and up to Harissa village then from there there’s a funicular to take you up to Our Lady of Lebanon. We paid for a one way ticket and the funicular ride which was LBP7000 per adult which is just short of £4, and our tour driver met us at the top by our lady of Lebanon. The Telerifique is an absolute must when in Beirut the landscape was stunning and great to see.
Food & Beverage
Abou Jihad serves up traditional hot and cold mezes as well as lots of barbecued meats. You can tailor make your own wraps and sandwiches too. There are some great vegetarian dishes to try I tried some cheese filled pastries, meze and tabbouleh salad which was delicious and finished off with a pistachio dessert. There are also shishas available there too to finish off your meal.
Falafel Zeinoun doesn’t look anything special from the outside and looks like a small cafe. We had an amazing feast in there, we had so much food and the falafel was delicious! My favourite dish was a yoghurt dish with chickpeas and almonds in (I can’t remember the name of it) but it was delicious with the bread. We had so much food all for the grand price of £7 each and we came away so full. This little place is a great spot for a cheap lunch and the falafels are cooked fresh to order.
Transport & Getting Around
As I only had a limited time on my trip to Beirut, my colleagues and I decided to book a tour guide to drive us around for the day and take us to some of the main sights around Beirut. The best and easiest way to get around the city is by taxi as it’s relatively cheap and I’ve heard the local buses are slow and overcrowded, and it’s not really a good idea to hire a car as the roads are crazy!
Beirut has really bad traffic so when heading out for the day try and head out before or after the the morning and evening rush hour, as after leaving Byblos we hit all of the traffic heading back into the city.
If your a shisha lover like myself then stop in one of the many cafes and grab yourself a shisha and some tea to wind down after the day.
There are tons of stray cats in Beirut so if your a crazy cat person, go prepared and take some cat treats out with you for the day to feed all our four legged friends. I took a few packets of cat meat and a tub of cat biscuits and treats out to Beirut with me and got some really funny looks off airport security I think thy thought I was mad, but these cats definitely needed some TLC!