Lebanon was never really on my travel radar, however when we decided to visit Egypt and Jordan last year we found that it was cheaper to fly via Lebanon. I’m never one to turn down a new destination and so we booked a few days stopover in Beirut. More people than not questioned whether Beirut was safe and whether or not it was still war torn, the reality however was very different. Known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ this diverse city surprised us in almost every way possible. We loved our time in Beirut and wanted to share our thoughts from our time in Lebanon.
The Lebanese people were so friendly and welcoming. We had people welcoming us in the streets! The locals that we came across seemed really happy to have tourists visiting their city and yet also did not hassle us at all (which is almost unheard of in some other Middle Eastern nations).
We learnt that street crime is virtually non-existant. In our experience we felt completely safe at all times throughout our stay. We explored countless areas of the city on foot, however we always got ubers back to our hotel at night, mostly because we were stuffed from walking around all day and also just to err on the side of caution.
Everyone that we came across spoke excellent English or at least enough to get by. From the guys in the local sharmwama shop to the guy in the phone shop and the staff in the corner shop, we had no issues communicating with anyone during our visit.
Summer is HOT HOT HOT. We visited at the beginning of September and definitely recommend exploring early and spending the hottest hours of the day in the air conditioning or by the pool. We headed straight out to explore on our first day and almost got heat stroke.
The locals tend to go out for juices rather than alcohol. This is definitely something we embraced and trust me, they make amazing, fresh and delicious juices. There isn’t many things more refreshing than an ice cold juice or smoothie on a hot summers day.
Uber is SUPER cheap. We explored a lot on foot and then would generally get an uber back to the hotel when we were done. Our ubers ranged between AUD $3 and $6 depending on the journey. There was also no shortage of uber drivers and we never waited more than a few minutes.
Don’t be surprised if your Uber turns up and it is also a taxi. We found from speaking to many of our uber drivers that they are taxi drivers who also work for uber which is pretty smart. Just be sure to check the number plate is always correct before hopping in.
Traffic is crazy and whilst we would NOT recommend hiring a car (mostly due to the pure amount of traffic on the road), walking around is not as bad as you’ll read online and in guide books. When we did our research for Lebanon we thought that we would need to get an uber or taxi pretty much everywhere as we’d read that cars and motorbikes were manic and would even drive on the footpaths etc, rendering them unsafe for pedestrians. It definitely isn’t a walk in the park however there are footpaths (and we didn’t once see a motorbike or car on them) and you just need to take your time crossing roads. It’s no worse than any Asian country we have travelled in. We even found that often cars would stop and wave us across, just be sure to watch your step though as the roads and footpaths do have quite a few holes in them (real ankle breakers)! However, if I managed to survive walking around Beirut unscathed then the average person will be fine!
You cannot travel to Lebanon with an Israeli stamp. The border guard spent AGES going through our heavily stamped passports to check that we didn’t have a stamp or evidence of having visited Israel. So don’t even try to enter if you do have one – you definitely won’t be allowed.
There’s some pretty awful history between these two ↑ and whilst I consider myself fairly well up to date with world events I will admit that I was ignorant to the Israeli-Lebanon conflicts. We spent quite a bit of time reading up about the history in our down time, and really, that is what travel is all about. It is about learning and gaining knowledge which hopefully in turn leads to tolerance and understanding.
AGAIN, we felt COMPLETELY safe. There are a couple of regions such as those that border Syria and Israel which you are strongly advised not to visit but in Beirut we felt safe. We will definitely return and spend more time exploring the Lebanese countryside and the cities, towns and sites further afield.
There are remnants of the Lebanese Civil War and other conflicts dotted around the city. Barbed wire, bullet ridden buildings, destroyed buildings and evocative street art are seen in many parts of Beirut despite reconstruction works that are taking place. The biggest shock to us was the Holiday Inn hotel building which towers over the city. In 1974, this newly opened hotel became a sniper tower and you can still see the bullet and mortar holes in the building’s structure from the exterior (it is guarded by the Lebanese Army). Today, there is an ongoing dispute between two companies who own it as to what to do with it and so it continues to stand as a stark reminder of Beirut’s troubled past.
Lebanon has the greatest number of Ancient Roman sites outside of Italy. This completely surprised me as a history buff because I had no idea. I’d heard of Baalbek but as we were only visiting Beirut as a stopover we decided to save the ancient sites and other destinations for our next visit.
Lebanon is a jewel in the Middle East. If the situation there can stay relatively stable then I predict it will be one of the next big places to visit and travel to. It has so much potential and is undergoing a lot of revitalisation, so watch this space!
Lebanon Airport Departures is absolute chaos. When we booked our hoppa transfer to the airport they booked it in for 4 hours before we were due to depart which seemed a tad excessive, however it was necessary! It took us about 2 hours to get through the initial security into the airport then check in and drop our bags and go through immigration and security (again) twice. There were travellers from all over the Middle East and they all had SO much luggage (like a minimum of 4 suitcases each)! I think it was likely due to the fact that Beirut is considered to be one of the best destinations for shopping in the Middle East, even our MEA flight to Cairo gave us a 40kg allowance each! So the gist of that is, give yourself plenty of time at the airport!
We visited in Summer, however I was so surprised to find out that in winter and spring you can swim at the beach in the morning and ski in mountains in the afternoon, they have the best of both worlds climate-wise. The mountains which you can ski at are only about 40 minutes from Beirut.
Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East, with 18 religions being officially recognised. Churches sit in the same street as mosques and despite the country’s history, it is working well. Beirut was surprisingly tolerant, in many ways more tolerant than where we are from.
Clothing wise, we found that Lebanese people dress well. Dan felt comfortable in shorts and t-shirts and avoided wearing singlets. We saw women dressed in a full range of clothing from burkas right through to singlets and tights when exercising on the Corniche. I didn’t however see anyone wearing short-shorts or showing any cleavage. I stuck to more conservative clothing and felt comfortable wearing maxi dresses, t-shirts and long skirts, except when we were by the pool at our hotel (Le Bristol Beirut).
Lebanese food is SO mouth wateringly good. We definitely ate the best falafel of our lives in Lebanon and nothing we ate disappointed. Our favourite meal was at Barbar’s. We actually had takeaway sharmwamas a few times and we dined in once. It was close to our hotel, packed with groups of locals (families and groups of friends) eating, so cheap and SO GOOD.
Beirut is located on the Mediterranean and has beaches that will rival those along the Med in Europe! Crystal clear waters, white sand and rolling waves will leave you wondering where you are!