Thinking of visiting Beirut? I was recently there for 2 nights and although I am far from an expert I wanted to share with you my first impressions of the city and my experiences to help you if you are a first time visiter to Beirut!
Tips and Experiences:
- Arriving at the airport: Arriving in Beirut was about the quickest I have ever gotten from airplane door to taxi…EVER. The line for foreign passports was non existent. I had read online that I would have to pay 25 US dollars for a visiter visa but when I got to the passport control officer he did a quick look through my passport stamps (looking for an Israeli stamp I assume) and then simply stamped my passport. I was out in arrivals in 5 minutes, withdrew some US cash from an ATM and was out of there.
- Departing from Beirut: This was a completely different story. If getting in was easy getting out of Beirut was definitely a bit more tedious. With various security checks and potentially more scrupulous passport control officers, leave your self a bit more time to depart. The boarding pass that I had printed at my hotel to save myself time at the airport was rejected at a checkpoint and I had to wait in one of the slowest moving lines at the FlyDubai check in counter to print out an “official” boarding pass. Getting through the passport control again was long and tedious- it seems for sure your experience will vary depending on the day, but keep in mind to give yourself extra time just in case your experience is like mine.
- Currency: In Lebanon you can pay in either US dollars or Lebanese pounds and you will almost always get a mix of both currencies in change so be sure to be aware of the exchange rate to avoid getting ripped off. Roughly 1500 Lebanese pounds equals 1 US dollar so it takes a bit of practise to get the calculation right in your head when you are out spending.
- Traveling as a woman: If you have traveled in Morocco or Tunisia, you will find your self having similar experiences with men in Beirut. I found the men on the street much less agressive than in North Africa but still a bit tiresome. Even in the high end hotel where I was staying I had to ward off men trying to pick me up. Just be polite but firm and you should avoid any problems.
- Traffic: My only concern for my safety in Beirut (much like in Cairo) was the traffic. Street lights seem to have little meaning to drivers, so as a walker I had to be quite diligent in my awareness when crossing the road. Riding in a taxi was just as stressful but luckily I limited my taxi time to only too and from the airport. If you stay in central Beirut it is easy to walk around via the corniche to the main attraction including Pigeon Rocks, downtown Beirut, Beirut souks and the famous Hamra street.
- Taxis: I had no trouble at all with metered taxis and I would recommend taking these. On the way back from the airport I mistakenly took a “hotel” taxi and was charged double. It would have taken no extra time to hail a metered one so watch out for this when in Beirut!
- Security: Get ready to see automatic weapons and soldiers on the streets…everywhere. If you are from Canada (like me) or a similar country it may make you feel a bit uneasy. Regardless, I had no issues and found the soldiers all to be quite polite and helpful in letting me know where (and where NOT) to walk.
What to See
I came to Beirut for a relaxing 2 days of sun and pool but ended up seeing quite a bit of the city while I was there!
Here is what I loved:
- Walking on the Corniche: I am a walker FOR SURE. I feel it is the best way to see a new city and being in a walkable city is such a pleasure (it is perhaps the one thing that is disappointing for me about Dubai-because it isn’t.) I loved being able to take nightly walks on the corniche and listen to the beautiful sounds of the sea. Seeing local families out for a stroll and people jogging and enjoying themselves is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon or evening.
- Pigeon Rocks: You are bound to stumble along this Beirut landmark if you are walking along the corniche. It is a great place to take pictures and there were guides offering boat rides around the rocks which looked amazing! I will definitely take a boat ride the next time I am in Beirut.
- Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque in Downtown Beirut: I loved this Mosque. Both from the outside and inside- it was exquisite. Proper attire is provided for woman so feel free to come in shorts and a tee like I did.
- Nejmeh Square in Downtown Beirut Cars are barred from driving in this square in Downtown Beirut, which makes it a nice and quiet place to sit in cafes or for walking around. Of course there is also the beautiful clock tower in the centre of the square with one of Lebanon’s beautiful trademark Cedar trees.
- Beirut Souks: A super modern shopping and eating district in downtown Beirut with both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Thanks for reading and I hope I inspired you to put Beirut on your travel list!