48 Hours in Beirut: Travel and Tastes in the Paris of the Middle East

48 Hours in Beirut: Travel and Tastes in the Paris of the Middle East

Just as walking through the streets of Paris gives off a certain charm, a feeling, and a vibe that might not reveal exactly where you are, but hints that you are some where unique, so does Beirut. 

Travel to this part of the world (theMiddle East) is viewed as off limits by some, but travelers who dare to ventureto the capital of Lebanon (and beyond) will be rewarded with rich sights andculture stylishly combining Arabia with France and the west.  Wine and food, ancient ruins, and amountainous coastline make Beirut and the surrounding area a rich experiencefor a 48 hour self guided BeirutTour that’s within reach for anyone.

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Why Go to Lebanon?

For a balanced taste of the Middle East, any travelers passing through the region must visit Lebanon – Beirut at the least.  A bastion of its unique style and culture influenced by Arab roots, the Roman, the French, the Phoenicians, the Ottoman’s, and the present pop culture of the west.  Arguably the most westernized city in the Middle East (outside of Tel Aviv) Lebanon and the Lebanese offer a charming experience that you will absolutely be worth the journey to arrive

Don’t forget to checkout our inspiration series:

 “10 Days to Leave the Middle East: A guide to experiencing Arabia in 10 Days

Things you might not expect from the Middle East, but Lebanon offers in spades

  • Great Wine
  • Beach culture
  • Impressive nightlife
  • Extremely welcoming and friendly locals
  • Epic ruins
  • History from a stream of empires – Phoenician, Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Roman, and Ottoman

48 Hours in Beirut: Travel and Taste the Paris of the Middle East

The 48 Hour Beirut Travel Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive and exploreBeirut by day follow a self-guided Beirut Tour 

Day 2: Day Trip toBaalbek, with a night out in Beirut  

Day 3: Continue Your self-guided Beirut Tour, then depart Beirut…for youur next country…  


Beirut is not what I would describe as a “touristy city”.  Though it is beautiful and full of character, there aren’t a huge list of monuments and statues to see or high priced attractions to buy a day pass to.  However, Beirut is rich in history and culture, with amazing foods, lots of art and a generally great vibe.  Why do I say this? To set your expectations for how to make the most of Beirut. 

Beirut is best experienced by walking and wandering through the city and seeing sights, tasting the varieties of food you pass and feeling the neighborhoods.  Occasionally reading an article about the site you’re at or neighborhood you’re in to understand how it has evolved and its meaning to the Lebanese people today will add a layer of depth to your travels.  I recommend keeping Wikipedia handy


48 Hours in Beirut (Pinterest Image) ( ~100kb)

Day 1: Arrive and explore Beirut by day

The Self Guided Beirut Tour

See after this list for an embedded map with sites.  Also note google map links for each location follow each description

1. PigeonRocks

Start your tour off with an amazing view of Pigeon Rocks.  If you’re still waking up, keep an eye out for the little shops every few hundred meters.  In true French and Arab style, they offer cheap Espresso shots and Turkish coffees to go and for quite cheap.

Pigeon Rocks Google Maps Link

2. TheWaterfront

On your way to Pigeon Rocks, enjoy the ocean view.  Once you’ve seen the rocks, keep enjoying the ocean view, walking along the waterfront as it wraps around the city

Along the way you’ll pass the campus of the American University of Beirut, across the busy street and hidden behind brick walls.  If you’d like to take a look, just walk in and wander around. You won’t have any issues.

WaterFront District Google Maps Link

3. The BeirutSouks (Souqs de Beyrouth)

“Souk” is the Arabic word for market, so when I heard about the Beirut Souks I was expecting something very different than what the Lebanese presented.  What I found was a luxurious outdoor mall somehow combining European and Middle Eastern architecture in a very stunning way.  Simply wandering up and down these streets between luxury shops for the vibe and views was very nice experience.

If its super-hot out, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a Coldstone Creamery hidden in this complex somewhere (don’t judge me…)

Beirut Souks Google Maps Link

4. TheMosque, the Memorial, the Church, and the Roman Bath Ruins

Tucked behind the ultra-fancy “Beirut Souks” is a very interesting sight combining several unique sights into a single picture frame – a church, mosque, Roman bath ruins, and a memorial, all sharing the same view.  The mosque in its own right is quite grand and unique for a mosque, clearly taking some design cues from the architecture of the Beirut Souks (or vice versa) a few blocks away.

In the shadow of the mosque lay memorials from war, and a field of unearthed Roman Ruins within a few square hundred meters, this site offers quite a lot to appreciate

Oh…there’s a Dunkin Donuts one block to the north, just in case you were wondering

Mohammed Al-Amin Google Maps Link – adjacent to  Saint George’s Maronite Cathedral, Roman Ruins, and Memorial

5. BeitBeirut: Sniper Museum (Translate: “House of Beirut) (8AM – 8PM, Mon-Sat)

Once a “Sniper Nest” during the war, this building has now been turned into an interactive museum to educate.  The façade is still riddled with bullet holes, a reminder of how recent things in Lebanon weren’t so good, and reason enough to wander over and checkout this building.  This building was once occupied by the Christian Militia and was the tactical position that overlooked the “intersection of death”.

Beit Beirut Google Maps Link

7. HamraStreet and Neighborhood – The Champs Elysee of Beirut

If you’re staying at Hamra Urban Gardens (which I definitely recommend) then your tour will end here.  Proceed to wander this street checking out its food, shops, and coffee spots and you absorb one side of Lebanese culture. 

End your tour with a hookah in the first floor restaurant of Hamra Urban Gardens and ask the bar staff which nightlife spot is poppin’, and they’ll start you on your Beirut night tour…if you’re ready…

Hamra Neighborhood Google Maps Link

Along the Way….

Observe the remnants of war in the bombed out and bullet hole ridden buildings, that stand nonchalantly next to modern new developments and high rises

Bullet hole ridden buildings from the civil war stand nonchalantly next to new, modern apartment developments

For the “FreeWalking Tour” fans, there is a Free Walking Tour that starts at the BeirutSouks on Tuesday at 5pm.  Check www.FreeWalkingToursBeirut.com for info

Other Sites to Add to Your Tour in Beirut

  • The Sursock Museum: A museum in amuseum – the Sursock Museum is a perfectly preserved 18th century Lebanesemansion filled with Lebanese and international art. Open Hours: : Sat, Sun,Mon, Weds, Fri: 10am-6pm; Thurs: 12pm-9pm; Tues: Closed (Sursock MuseumGoogle Maps Link)
  • The Beirut Arts Center (Museum): A Contemporaryand Modern Art museum and the first non-profit public space in Beirut (Beirut Arts CenterGoogle Maps Link)
  • Souk El Tayeb (Market): Beirut’s firstorganic farmer’s market.  Held Saturdaysfrom 9AM to 2PM near BIEL downtown from. (SoukEl Tayeb Google Maps Link)
  • Burj Hammoud Neigborhood: Beirut’s “LittleArmenia”is a great place to soak up Armenian culture and pick up souvenirs
  • The Bombed out Holiday Inn, which you can read about on a quick NPR story to get abetter view of the past
  • Teleferique Beirut: For a beautiful view ofBeirut from above, try the cable car. 11,000 LBP (~$7.50 USD) on weekends and9,000 LBP (~$6 USD)  on weekdays.  Located 40 mins outside of Beirut (TeleferiqueGoogle Maps Link)

A Quick Guide toBeirut’s Neighborhoods

If you have longer than two days and want to stay in Beirut, check out this list of the major neighborhoods and quick descriptions.  You might just find your second home.

  1. Hamra, Verdun, & Around: Hamra Neighborhood was, during the 60’s and 70’s , a hub for intellectal activity, one of the trendiest places in the city, and frequented by “mega rich” Arabs, which is why it was known as “Beirut’s Champs Elysees”.  Today, the main street giving the area its name (Hamra Street) is still very active and home to several prestigious universities, such as the American University of Beirt and the Lebanese American University (Hamra Neighborhood Google Maps Link)
  2. Badaro (Mathaf, Furn el Chebbak, Jisr el Wati): A trendy yet low key and livable neighborhood, nicknamed “The Village”.  Most streets are lined with restaurants, pubs, sidewalk cafes, and neighborhood grocery stores (Badaro District Google Maps Link)
  3. Downtown, Beirut  Souks, Saifi Village, and Port/Waterfront: A series of neighborhoods that are upscale, high class, and a blend of commercial and financial districts, and high class shopping and restaurants (Google Maps Links to Downtown Beirut, Beirut Souks, Saifi Village)
  4. Gemmayzeh, Sursok: Epitomized by Rue Gouraud, a street that competes with the Badaro neighborhood for trendiness as one of Beirut’s Bohemian neighborhoods. The neighborhood is filled with narrow streets and buildings from the French era and is fiiled with trendy bars, pubs, restaurants, and lounges, most of which are on Rue Gouraud. In 2004 Travel + Leisure dubbed the neighborhood “SoHo by the Sea”. (Rue Gouraud and Gemmayzeh neighborhood Google Maps Link)
  5. Mar Mikhael, Qarantina: An emerging neighborhood, behind the renovation of Rue Gourard in Gemmayzeh, that’s up and coming but currently dotted with art galleries, and boutiques as restaurants, bars, and cafes are replacing neighborhood stores. (Mar Mikhael Google Maps Link)
  6. Achrafieh, Sodeco, Sassine, Sioufi: Among the oldest neighborhoods in Beirut.  (Achrafieh Google Maps Link)

Day 2: A Trip to Baalbek, the Largest Known Roman Temple Complex in the World

Baalbek is a Phoenician and Roman archaeological site, including the biggest temple complex of the former Roman Empire, and the highlight of many traveler’s trip to Beirut.  Located about 2 hours from Lebanon, the impressive ruins can be soaked up in a convenient day trip.

Baalbek Temple of Bacchuus

(Baalbek Roman Ruins Google Maps Link)

Guided Tours to Baalbek via Hostel/Hotel and Third Party Service

Guillame Piolle

Most hostels and hotels (such as Hamra Urban Gardens, noted below) will offer day trips from Beirut to Baalbek to tour the ruins.  The tour will include the 2 hour ride to the ruins, time to explore, lunch, and a ride back.  If the trip to Beirut has you nervous to the point that you are considering not going to Baalbek at all, opt for the tour as getting around will be much smoother with a well versed local.  The tour is roughly $75.

Also consider booking a trip to Baaklbek via Trip Advisor to schedule things in advance and go with a well-reviewed trip

Click here to check Beirut to Baalbek Day Trips (~$45)

How to take a Self-Guided Day Trip from Beirut to Baalbek

So let’s be honest, most travelers dropping into a Beirut are adventurous anyways, and shaving off a DIY, self-guided tour is almost cheating them out of adventure, so here’s the DIY version of traveling from Beirut to Baalbek to tour the Ancient ruins…

By hopping one way shared taxis you’ll be able to get to the ancient Roman city which will take between 2-4 hours to walk around and explore in its entirety.

Taking a shared taxi to Baalbek: Shared taxis (for locals and tourists) gather at the stop in front of the Cola intersection (Google Maps Link to Cola Intersection), and only leave when full, so the schedule is very flexible.  The shared taxis are one way and you’ll be taking a different taxi back to Beirut, so plan accordingly.  It can be a little difficult finding which van is leaving for Baalbek so just ask any mob of drivers, “Baalbek?” and they’ll point you in the right direction

To find a taxi from Baalbek back to Beirut, leave well before sundown as the last taxis returning depart before sundown or 8pm, whichever is earlier.

The rides to and from Baalbek will be roughly 2 hours.  Don’t leave any later than 2pm to Baalbek as later than that, you won’t have enough time to experience the city.

Day 3: Continue exploring Beirut

Pickup where youleft off on the self guided tour and Visit the places you didn’t make it to onDay, then depart Beirut.

If you have more time in Beirut than 48 Hours…

Other Quick Lebanon Tours from Beirut

If you have the time and interest, there are plenty of other Lebanon tours available, mostly revolving around wine, ruins, history, and beautiful coastlines.

Or, view other tours from Beirut…

Other Great Destinations in Lebanon

Experiencing Beirut

Where to eat, drink, and sleep

What to Eat & Drink

Restaurant to visit: Tawlet: Part of the Souk el Tayeb Market: Celebrates local traditional cuisine with a new chef daily with all profits going to support local farmers, cooks, and producers

Restaurant to visit: Kebabji, in Hamra: If you like Arab style kebab (ground lamb and bed, placed on a skewer, and fire grilled) you’ll love this place.  Its slightly upscale but still very affordable given the quality of the food.

For coffee lovers, (like, Italian level coffee lover) you need to know that Coffee is expensive (~6000 LP -8000 LP) (~$4-$6), aim for a Dunkin’ Donuts ($2), Turkish coffee spot (~$1), or a street side espresso vendor (~$1) to save money

A street side espresso machine, common and convenient throughout Beirut

Where to Sleep

Though the hostel scene in Beirut is not as robust as Europe, it is more developed than elsewhere in the Middle East.  Don’t expect pub crawls and guided parties, but do expect great food and hookah bars

Hamra Urban Gardens:

For any length of stay I recommend Hamra Urban Gardens: the beds are comfy, the facilities are clean, and the location is great.  Located in the Hamra neighborhood, the “Champes Elysee of Beirut”, Hamra Urban Gardens is within walking distance of most sites that you’ll want to see.  Additionally, the hostel and hotel has a restaurant and hookah bar downstairs with a great 4 hour long buffet of all of the popular Middle Eastern foods with a Lebanese twist.

If you wish to take a guided tour to Baalbek, local wineries, or any other Lebanon tours to more distant destinations, Hamra Urban Gardens will be able to set you up.  To maximize your enjoyment and minimize your hassle I recommend staying here.

Click to Book Hamra Urban Gardens on Hostelworld

For other options, check Hostelworld’s Beirt listings for good hostels but Booking.com’s Beirut Hotels offer plenty of options too.

Getting intoDowntown Beirut from Beirut Airport

Best option: Uber from the airport: From the airport to downtown Beirut, your best option is to Uber into the downtown area, which will cost you roughly ~$12.  As in most countries, Uber and the cabbies clash so plan on meeting the driver in the parking lot, not at the arrivals terminal

If you need to use the internet to book your Uber from the airport, drop by the cell phone and electronics shop on the first floor of the airport and purchase a one hour wifi internet access card for ~$6 USD to get you to your destination.  There is no other free wifi in the airport and taxis charge much higher rates than Uber, so plan ahead

Not So Great Option: Taxi from the airport. If you try to book a taxi, fair warning they will quote you $25-$30 USD, so Uber.

Budget Option: Shuttle Buses from the airport: For a cheaper option, head to the 2nd floor and take the airport shuttle bus

Getting around Beirut

My Preferred Option: By Foot: This was my preferred option, as it allows you to see and feel the city in a different light, and exercise to.  Make a quick left or right turn from your busy street covered with facades and you’ll find yourself in a more average neighborhood experiencing real Beirut life.

Best Option: Uber: Uber is great for getting around Beirut because you don’t have to haggle about price, and entering your destination beforehand helps overcome the potential language barrier

Budget Option: “Service Taxis”, aka shared taxis: As you walk down the street you’ll often be honked at or catcalled by a car or van full of people.  Yes, you’re that hot, but that’s not what they’re after.  These are shared taxis that’ll take anywhere along their route for about 2,000 Lebanese Pounds ($1.35 USD).  I took one of these and it was a bit of an adventure.  I still haven’t completely figured these things out yet…still fun though.  Let me know if you figure it out.

Where to Travel After Beirut

Beirut’s convenient location make it a great addition to an itinerary including Jordan, Israel, and Egypt – all of which is possible in 10 days.

For more information on which other Middle Eastern country to make your next destination, read “How to Travel through the Middle East in 10 Days

Beirut Travel Logistics

Cash & Currency

US Dollars are preferred to Lebanese Pounds, and are logistically easier, so plan on using dollars.  The ATMs in Beirut issue both Lebanese Pounds and US Dollars

Cell Phone Service and Data in Beirut: Buy a Local SIM Card

Note that most cell phone service carriers do not provide service in Beirut.  T-Mobile and Google-Fi’s international plans do not include data in Beirut, and roaming fees are astronomical.  If you plan to Uber around or research sites on your self guided tour, a date connection will come in handy.  To stay connected, simply purchase a SIM card.

On arrival, SIM cards (and any electronics you might have lost) can be purchased on the first floor of the airport, on the far right when facing the street.  If you just need data for an hour, to book your Uber, data cards can be purchased for ~$5 USD for one hour, but the internet is spotty at best.

Which SIM card should you get in Beirut? According to locals, Alfa and Touch are the most reliable.  Unfortunately, a SIM card and data plan are on par with US prices.  A SIM card and 1GB of data will run you about $25 USD, but isn’t that worth the peace of mind and freedom of movement?

Are you new to picking up SIM cards during your travels? Check out our article “The Best Options for SIM Cards Abroad

Lebanon Visa Info

A Warning on Entering Lebanon after Israel: Ensure no evidence of an Israel visit is in your passport

Beware that to enter Lebanon, your passport must not have any evidence of ever visiting Israel.  Also note that customs officials may ask directly of any Israeli ties or visits to Israel.  This includes land border crossing stamps from Jordan at the Israel-Jordan land border.  Plan accordingly.  The most logical route to get around this is:

  1. Visit Israel last on your trip through the Middle East (after visiting Lebanon
  2. Place a buffer country, ideally somewhere in Europe (not Cyprus) or Eastern Europe between your Israel and Lebanon travels.  Ukraine and Poland are two great, cheap options.

Lebanon Visa: One Month Visa on Arrival for most nationalities

US Citizens, Canadians, EU Citizens: A one month free visa (extendable up to 3 months) is given on arrival at the airport

For the most up to date information on the Lebanon visa for all nationalities, view the Lebanon Government’s official page listing countries that have a right to obtain a visa to Lebanon

Language: English is widely spoken with a touch of French

Though one would assume French would be the most common language in the Middle Eastern Paris, the younger generation speaks English enough to be of help, making getting around Beirut quite easy. 

Precautions in Beirut and Lebanon as a self-sufficient traveler

Here is a list of short and sweet, prudent advice for enjoying Beirut and Lebanon.  Though the parts of Beirut you’ll be in are relatively safe, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  • Do Not go to the Border with Syria under and circumstances, as violence is common there lately
  • DO NOT go to the border with Israel, as violence is common here lately
  • Avoid any protests or political demonstrations as these have at times become violent in the past. If you are arrested by authorities during a protest, things will be very “unpleasant”.
  • Avoid visiting refugee settlements, as there is a risk of violence and presence of terrorist organizations in some camps.
  • Visit the US State Department’s Lebanon Travel Advisory page, just to understand the situation.  If the Travel advisory Level is 3 or lower (in other words, not Level 4) and violent acts haven’t occurred in Beirut proper or the areas you intend to go, I would go anyways and then immediately have a conversation with the locals before visiting anywhere outside of the city.
  • US citizens, enroll in the US State Department’s STEP program before traveling, which will make locating you and getting you out easier if widespread violence does occur unexpectedly
  • At the end of the day, being alert and aware of your surroundings is your important travel asset.  Despite what you see in the media and on travel advisories, Beirut is a fairly safe place where I felt comfortable the entire time, but, educate yourself, be prepared, just in case, and make the decision to go based on your comfort level. 
  • If you’re feeling worried, go to Jordan first (which is extremely safe) and make your decision to go (or not go) to Lebanon from there.  See our “4 Days in Jordan” guide to see what a great trip to Jordan looks like

Safety in Beirut and Lebanon

Notes as of December 5, 2018: The security situation in Lebanon  as a whole can be described as interesting at best.  With war across the border (Syria) and occasional violence and conflict on another front (Israel) due to “political misunderstandings” along with active terrorist organizations within the borders of Lebanon (Hezbollah and Hamas), “no go” might be your first conclusion…just like mine was…

…but…

For places like this, that come with a state department warning, keep a few things in mind:

The threat is generally isolated to specific areas – generally a neighborhood, a town, or a border.  Additionally, certain areas can be presumed relatively safe as long as there have been no violent attacks within the last year targeting places you’re likely to be (hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, tourist centers, etc. ).

The security forces (police, army) are very aware that a threat exists and have every intention of keeping it at bay.  It is in their best interests to keep the parts of town where you’ll be free of violence and the threat of violence.  As a note, if the area you’re in starts to feel rough and you stop seeing a relaxed security presence, or stop seeing security at all, be aware.

  • Be conscious of where to go, where not to go, and why: US State Department country info and travel advisories are a good place to start looking to understand where to go and where not to.
  • Understand when the last violent acts (or concerning acts) were, and whether they’re still a threat: Look for a credible source and hit the search function – BBC and the US State Department Travel Advisories are great sources
  • Realize that you have better odds of being in a car accident or mugged at home than being in a terrorist attack
  • Listen to the hostel and hotel staff – they have their ear to the street, know what threats affect (and don’t affect) tourists, and its in their best interests to keep you safe
  • No matter what, always give credence to your government’s warning and make sure you’re registered with their emergency contact service
Translated: “All of us, for our nation”

Below the surface: Things to note in Beirut – A note on the refugee presence…

One of the things I noticed in Beirut was the heavy presence of Syrian refugees. The striking thing was not their they were in Beirt, it was that they were usually working in service industry jobs and mentioned waiting out their time until they could return home to Syria.  In all of my time interacting with refugees, on the road and during my time volunteering on Lesvos, Greece, the incident here intrigued me the most – similar to what I observed in Jordan. 

For Lebanon and Jordan, assistance and coexistence with the undertone that the “hosts” had every intention of protecting their “brothers and sisters”, helped them (the refugees) stay healthy and continue progressing, to eventually return to their homeland (Syria).  All in all, a few very interesting conversations transpired from the times I observed this…but I’ll save the thoughts from those conversations for the “Experience of Beirut” writings. During your time in Beirut, I encourage you to ask questions, have conversations, and form an opinion of your own.

If this idea intrigues you, I recommend reading the excerpt from our Jordan Itinerary, “An average Jordanian’s thoughts on the Syrian refugee situation.”

48 Hours in Beirut: Travel and Tastes in the Paris of the Middle East and the SoHo by the Sea

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