Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and the largest city with a population of two million inhabitants is considered by most experts as one of the most important financial centres and tourism Mecca of the Middle East.
It is the most cosmopolitan city of the region, with peoples from many neighbouring countries and nationalities, faiths (Muslims both Sunni and Shiite; Christians –Maronite, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestants, Jews and Druze.
Beirut has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times, followed by Phoenicians, Hellens, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, Crusaders, Armenians, Jews, and Druzes for more than 5000 years.
After WWII, Beirut and Lebanon fell under French mandate, and became an independent country in 1945. The Lebanese Civil War started in 1975, and lasted for two decades, devastating Beirut and the economic order of the country.
Now politically relatively stable, Beirut attracts more than two million tourists mainly from the Arab world and Europe.
The city, now mostly rebuilt from the devastation of the war, offers many sites, and lively nightlife in the section called Ashrafieh.
The best months to visit the city and Lebanon are May to October
(Average temperature is 26 – 30 C).
Beirut is the fashion capital of the Middle East and gastronomically point of view endowed with excellent restaurants featuring specialties left over from many occupying armies and populations that settled in
the city, i.e Greeks, Manorintes, Arabs, and Armenians.
Alcohol of any sort is inexpensive, and the Christian population produces fine wines, arrak (similar to Greek ouzo or Pernod from France), beer, and grappa (marc in French, trester in German).
Most of the European liquor brands are readily available everywhere including sidewalk kiosks.
Beirut’s many museums offer many opportunities to understand the evolution and history of the city. Museums of Beirut, American University of Beirut’s Archaeology Museum, Sursock Museum, are only a few that come to mind.
Place de l’Etoile, now completely rebuilt and modernized, Martyr’ Statue, the Jeita Grotto are only some the important sites. Several companies offer city tours, but you can easily walk everywhere, providing you have a reliable city map, and speak some French or Arabic. Many people also speak English.
The Cornish promenade on the shores of the Mediterranean is beautiful for a stroll, particularly at sunset. Studded with restaurants and cafes, and many hotels, this section of the city attracts many well-off citizens for entertainment and tourists.
The city has six inviting parks to cool off from the scorching heat that occasionally slows down life.
Bourj Hamoud is the Armenian quarter and is worth a visit to buy bric-a-brac, had made copper and brass souvenirs, costume jewellery and much else. It is important to haggle when buying anything in Lebanon, but especially in Bourj Hamoud.
When strolling in downtown, any tourist will encounter friendly, sometimes overzealous people, inviting one for tea, or coffee and to visit their showrooms full of merchandise. Caution is recommended. Most are sincere merchants recognizing the importance of tourists to the economy, but some may have other motives.
You can use shared taxis, or taxis, or buses or walk. When hiring taxis negotiate the price before you enter the vehicle.
The air is polluted, and tourists with respiratory problems should take necessary precautions accordingly. Beirut’s many industries are – banking, diverse industries, publishing, trade, the port (the busiest of the country), and tourism.
The city offers panoply of accommodations; possibilities form BandB to super luxurious hotels. Arriving at the Rafik Hariri Airport would shock any European or North American tourist encountering hundreds of taxi drivers vying for business, shouting, gesticulating and offering their “luxurious” car and ride to downtown. Remain calm, hopefully, you made arrangements before hand, or a friend or business associate will have organized someone to pick you up. Otherwise, use the public bus. It is elss expensive.