Ultimate guide for traveling to Beirut

Traveling to Beirut

Lebanon is currently going through a deep economical crisis. Read:
How to travel in Lebanon during the crisis

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is a city that suffered one of the longest contemporary Civil Wars (25 years, ended in 1991).

However, today, among all the destroyed buildings, Beirut brags about being one of the safest cities in the region and, with unbelievable economic growth and the rapid rise of the middle class, it also stands as the most liberal and westernized city in the Middle East, outside of Israel. 

I love Beirut because of its deep, rich and contrasting history, composed of dozens of districts that differ massively from each other: the hipster district of Gemmayzeh, Hezbollah areas like Bourj al-Barajneh, the student neighborhood of Hamra, old Palestinian refugee camps, the Armenian district of Bourj Hammoud, several Christian areas and much, much more!

Beirut is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

Furthermore, in Beirut, you also find the best food and parties in the Middle East. Did you know that 40% of the population are Christians? Surprised? Beer is widely available and, you know the best of it? Drinking in the street is allowed!

From the deepest underground parties to the most glamorous clubs, from local eateries to the best fine dining restaurants in the region, Beirut is a city adaptable to any kind of traveler and budget. 

The following Beirut Travel Guide will show you the best things to do in Beirut, as well as how to move around, accommodation options and many other travel tips.

Beirut travel guide

In this Beirut travel guide you will find:

Beirut during the crisis
Where to stay
How to move around
Where to eat
Things to do

More Information

Visiting Beirut during the crisis

As you know, the situation in Lebanon is absolutely awful, and things are not expecting to get better any time soon.

The currency keeps devaluing, the exchange rate versus the dollar dropping from 1500 to 27000 Lebanese Pounds in just a few years.

The first thing you need to know before traveling to Beirut is that Lebanon has become today a cash economy, since the banks are still using the old bank rate (1500LPB = 1USD).

This means that you shouldn’t withdraw from an ATM because you’d be losing nearly 18 times the original value, but you need to exchange your € or dollars in the black market, where the current rate is around 27000LBP.

How to exchange money in the black market of Beirut

Basically, the black market for exchanging money is anywhere but the banks, and that includes that ordinary money exchange offices.

You can find exchange offices all over the city, but the best place to exchange is in Hamra Street, where you’ll find at least 10 of them.

For more information on traveling in Beirut during the crisis, check my Lebanon travel guide.

Beirut during the crisis
A potato seller, somewhere in the traditional Beirut

Where to stay in Beirut

Backpacker Hostel – Hamra Urban Gardens – A sister hotel of Saifi Urban Garden, this hostel is located in the main Hamra Street. It offers both suite and dorm rooms with a seasonal outdoor pool and bar.

Budget Hotel – Embassy Hotel – This is, practically, the only budget hotel in town. The rooms and bathroom are a bit old but, for this price, you are not likely to find anything better. However, it is in a very good location, right at the heart of Hamra, one of the coolest areas in the city.

Check on Booking.com

Mid-range Hotel – O Monot Boutique – Strategically located at the heart of Beirut, this property was highly recommended by many because of their amazing facilities especially their rooftop bar with a panoramic view of Beirut.

Check on Booking.com

Top-end Hotel – Radisson Blu Hotel – If you are looking for a comfortable place which has a delightful design, a good restaurant and other various facilities, this 5-star hotel is a perfect choice. Located in Dunes shopping center and 5-minute walk away from the beach.

Check on Booking.com
visit Beirut
Beirut Travel Guide

How to move around Beirut

How to get from the airport to the city center

There’s no public transportation for going from the airport to the center of Beirut.

If you want to avoid negotiating with drivers, I suggest you book a taxi ahead through this link.

Otherwise, taxis typically charge up to 20USD for going anywhere within the city. If they see you are a foreigner, however, the starting price is around 40USD but you can easily bargain it down.

Additionally, the airport is located pretty much in the city itself so, if there is no minibus, on the ground level, after the airport’s parking, continue walking towards the city center and, once on the main road, after 500m, you’ll find plenty of local minibusses.

How to move around Beirut

Service

There are minivans driving around the city but alternatively, locals have a system called service, which is basically a shared taxi service. Basically, when you stop a taxi in the middle of the street, say service and, on the way, he will be picking up other passengers. A single, short ride costs 25,000LBP.

Taxi

Uber is highly available in Lebanon, so are regular, ordinary taxis.

How to get out of Beirut

Cola Station – Cola is the largest bus station in Beirut, with plenty of buses going in all directions, especially to the south. However, it is a bit away from downtown and a bit limited when it comes to northern cities, even though you can find plenty of buses going to the Baalbek region and Tripoli.

Charles HelouFor northern cities, this bus station is way more convenient, as it has more choices plus it is located very close to both downtown and Gemmayzeh, where most tourists stay. However, for going to the south of Lebanon, to places like Tyr or Sayda, you should definitely depart from Cola Station. This is also the station where shared taxis to Syria depart from.

how to get from airport to Beirut
The road from the airport to the city center

My favorite places to eat in Beirut

Budget local eatery – Restaurant Le Chef – Always frequented by both local workers and businessmen, the restaurant Le Chef serves a large variety of local home-made dishes that changes every day. If available, you must try syadye, a rice-based dish with fish and almonds.

Nice Lebanese restaurant – Bayt em Nazih – On the second floor of Hamra Urban Gardens, there’s an excellent Lebanese restaurant which is always packed.

Nice Lebanese restaurant – T Marbouta – Similar to Em-Nazih but serving a larger variety of mezza and more of a restaurant than a café with music. You must try kibbeh mouloukyeh, fried meat with pomegranate.

Best place for traditional breakfast – El Soussi – Very authentic eatery with a real local vibe where to have the best hummus for breakfast.

where to eat in Beirut
El Soussi restaurant

Things to do in Beirut

Beirut is a city where monuments and tourist sites as such barely exist.

Instead, people travel to Beirut to enjoy its culture and history, by walking around its dozens of different neighborhoods, admiring the war-destroyed buildings, eating and savoring the awesome, social local life.

Map of the things to do in Beirut

Click here to see the interactive map

Things to do in Beirut map
Things to do in Beirut

Gemmayzeh

When you are wandering the streets of Gemmayzeh, it’s hard to remember that you are actually in the heart of the most turbulent region in the world.

With an endless number of bars, pubs, cafés and restaurants, Gemmayzeh is a Christian, trendy and sort of bohemian neighborhood, filled with narrow alleys, colonial buildings from the French era, and art galleries.

This is, perhaps, the most Westernized area in the entire Middle East (outside of Israel) and one of the highlights for anyone traveling to Beirut.

Unfortunately, this was also the most affected area by the port explosion and it hasn’t recovered since then.

things to do in Beirut
A wall painting in Gemmayzeh – Things to do in Beirut

Pigeon Rocks

If you want to forget that you are in a big city, I definitely recommend going to the Pigeon Rocks, which are the only natural beauty in Beirut.

The Pigeon Rocks are two rock arches situated next to a cliff from where you get amazing sunsets and views of the ocean.

It’s a place where families and people from all social classes like to spend the weekend.

what to do in Beirut
The Pigeon Rocks – What to do in Beirut

Hamra

The history books say that, during the Lebanese Civil War, Hamra was the center of intellectual activity, as it was full of theaters and other cultural institutions.

Today, Hamra holds the most prestigious university in the Middle East, the American University of Beirut, and, even though this area is not as cool and trendy as Gemmayzeh, there’s a friendly student vibe strolling the streets and drinking at the several bars and cafés.

things to see in Beirut
The district of Hamra is one of the best places to visit in Beirut

Downtown

Before the Civil War, Downtown Beirut was often called the Paris of the Middle East.

After the war, the district had to be completely rebuilt and, today, this is the most pedestrianized and cleanest area in the city.

It’s full of glamorous boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and the top fine-dining restaurants. Nevertheless, the locals claim that, since the reconstruction, this part of the city has lost its soul and you are likely to find more tourists from the Persian Gulf than local Lebanese.

However, due to the recent violent protests, most downtown area is today inaccessible, since that’s where the Lebanese elite lives in.

Read: How to travel to Saudi Arabia (How to get a tourist visa + Tips)

downtown Beirut
One of the things you’ll notice when you travel in Beirut is that many parts of Downtown Beirut are not accessible and blocked by road blocks like this one, to prevent protesters from overruning the areas where the Lebanese elite is living their good lives

The blend of Islam and Christianity

Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Maronite Catholics, Druze, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholics, Armenian Apostolic, and Protestants, just to name a few.

The religious diversity is very rich and one can easily realize about it, as there are mosques and churches for each and every branch of the two major religions in the country.

This diversity was one of the main triggers of the Civil War but, nowadays, all religions live in peace and harmony and, sometimes, both mosques and churches are built side by side, like in the picture below.

Beirut travel blog
A mosque and a church, one next to the other

Bourj Hammoud

Welcome to Little Armenia!

Bourj Hammoud is a neighborhood founded by survivors of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. If you want to get a glimpse of Armenian culture and eat at tasty Armenian restaurants and bakeries, I highly recommend spending half a day in this area.

There is plenty of pretty cool graffiti claiming Turkey is the only party guilty of the genocide and also, this is sort of a commercial hub, where you’ll find the best deals on clothes and electronics in the city. If you don’t know what to do in Beirut on your second or third day, this is a cool place to go.

Places to visit in Beirut
Turkey Guilty of Genocide – Best places to visit in Beirut

The legacy of war

The Civil War in Lebanon ended more than 25 years ago, in 1990, but still, Beirut has loads of destroyed buildings that haven’t been restored yet. Once, I asked a Lebanese:

Me: Why aren’t you restoring all these buildings?

The Lebanese: Actually, we kind of like them. It’s retro and gives an underground touch to the city

Me: And what about all the people that were affected by the war? In my country, we removed everything that reminded us of our Civil War. People didn’t want to see those things anymore

The Lebanese: I don’t know, we find them pretty cool

Destroyed buildings, as well as inhabited buildings with bullet holes can still be found all over the city and, for me, this is the most interesting thing to do in Beirut.

Fun things to do in Beirut
The old destroyed library – Fun things to do in Beirut

Shatila

Shatila is one of the oldest Palestinian refugee camps outside of Palestine.

It was set up in 1949 and today, it’s attached to the city of Beirut. Shatila caught the eyes of the outside world because, during the Civil War in Lebanon, a Christian militia was responsible for one of the bloodiest massacres ever, as they killed around 3,500 civilians, mostly Suni Palestinians and Shia Lebanese. Today, the population has doubled due to the massive flux of Syrian refugees.

If you decide to visit Shatila, you need to bear in mind that this is neither a tourist attraction nor a place to have fun but, one goes there to learn and empathize with the local Palestinians. In Lebanon, around 10% of the population are Palestinians, 56% of them are unemployed and many of them survive on less than $7 a day.

Note: If you want to live a real and unconventional experience, in Shatila, there is a guest house where you can even do some volunteer work if you want. Prices are lower than anywhere else in Beirut and are also likely to meet plenty of very interesting people. For further details, visit their website.

Shatila refugee camp Beirut
The Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila – Travel Beirut Lebanon

Bourj al-Barajneh

This is one of the most fucked up places (sorry for the expression) in Beirut and you are likely to be called crazy by the locals if they ever find out that you hanged in this area. You should only go if you are interested in local politics.

Bourj al-Barajneh is where the last suicide bombings happened, as this is a Hezbollah area targeted by ISIS. The heart of the neighborhood is a real ghetto, as it’s composed of extremely narrow alleys with electric cables hanging from everywhere. Due to the terrorist threat, there are endless checkpoints.

This is quite a sensitive area which it’s possible to visit, but taking pictures is strictly forbidden. If you get caught, you can be in real trouble, like it happened to me when a group of locals saw me taking a photo with my phone, so they retained for nearly 2 hours.

Also, bear in mind that the locals don’t understand why a foreigner would even want to visit the area for tourism purposes so, for them, any foreigner could potentially be a spy. If you go there, it’s 100% recommended to go with a local.

In order to better understand the situation in the Hezbollah areas, you should read some of my previous articles:

The day I was accused of being an Islamic State Spy
Is it safe to travel to Leban
on?

Bourj al-Barajneh
Bourj al-Barajneh – Beirut things to do

More information for visiting Beirut

All guides and articles for traveling in Lebanon destination

Check more city guides

How to travel to Beirut

27 comments

  1. hey! we ll be visiting lebanon in the first week of august and i m wondering if you have any new info on safety in baalbek and byblos? is it ok to drive there or should we get a taxi and a local with us (guide)? which area in beirut we should stay at? heard some friends mentioning a christina areas, but i dont know which ones are considered to be christian? we have only one week and would like to know if you have some itinerary or tips on what we must see besides bierut:) was also wondering if you ve ever been to the balkans/serbia ? or norway?:)

    1. I would love to hear you got on in August. My wife and I ( both elderly ) love going off the beaten track. We are going to be in Lebanon mid- September 2018 and intend to visit Baalbek and Tripoli. Are we crazy? We have heard from a few people on the ground that most of Lebanon is safe. We would like advise from fellow travelers.

        1. Joan, your comments and general commentary are very reassuring indeed. In 2015 after a significant health diagnosis,, I intensified my travel experience even more than before. In the last couple of years we have visited Korea ( demilitarized zone) Japan Philippines Iran, Oman and UAE. I am 77 and have just returned from a 4 mile walk. I admire free spirits of any age. I would like your undoubted knowledge of another Lebanese City! – Tripoli. Could you enlighten me please? J.

  2. Hi Joantow, I’m lebanese and happy that you liked your visit to Lebanon! I’m surprised you visited some of the places that you mentioned since they are not touristic places. Few suggestions for travelers: Jeita Grotto (and Harissa same trip), jezzine area in the south, baalback temples, jounieh area, north for hiking, cedar trees, Ehden. And so much more! Also we have uber if you need it!

  3. Thank you so much for the inspiration! These are information you cannot get from a book 🙂 So excited for my trip in one month! Gotta read your other posts about Lebanon as well, I might change my plans 😉

    1. Thanks! I am so jealous that you are going to Lebanon 🙂 I will be in the Middle East during the next month and, if I find a cheap flight, I will go back there to re-visit some pending places.

  4. You didn’t mention the CYC guesthouse in Shatilla camp, its the cheapest place to stay in Beirut and if you’ve got any useful skills you can do voluntary work for the charity that runs it. Food and essentials are much cheaper than near the other accommodation you mention and you can cook there as well so definitely the best place for travellers on a budget. There were a load of really interesting people staying when I was there and I found people in the area welcoming. Contact them through their website https://cycshatila.org/

  5. Beirut and Lebanon, in general, are seldom mentioned, so I was happy to stumble upon your article. We spent fantastic time there couple of years ago (even managed to get lost in the mountains which added an additional layer to our appreciation of local hospitality). Lovely to see some new street art that I either missed or it appeared after our visit. Speaking of how to get around Beirut, I just want to add that traffic is generally absolutely atrocious there, so sometimes walking works the best.

    1. Hi Elena! Oh nice, I didn’t have much time to really explore the mountains, except for a half day around Kadisha, so can’t say much about it! Thank you for the transportation tip, yeah, forgot to mention that traffic is insane there! Cheers!

  6. Hi, I was intending to only visit Egypt, Jordan and finishing in Israel and I thought I should include Lebanon since they are altogether however as I understand the passport issue, is it possible if I travel in this order: Egypt-Lebanon-Jordan-Israel? I am likely to fly out of Tel Aviv back home. When I enter Israel at Eilat, will there be any issue as they will see the Lebanese passport stamp?

  7. Hello:
    I am going to Beirut in July for the first time. I was trying to get a travel guide — i.e. a book — but they seem to not exist anymore! Or, if I’m wrong, can you suggest something in the form of a book with maps, etc.

    Thanks!
    Yasmine

  8. Greetings from one world traveller ( I have visited 66 countries so far) to another. I really enjoyed your latest news and updates for Beirut and the itinerary around Lebanon. My first visit to Lebanon I stayed with my local friend and was fully under his wing for the whole time. I am going more independently now..
    My other favourite places in the world are Iran, Yemen ( Sana’a) , Bangkok, Cape Verde and Sri Lanka.
    I want to explore and experience more of India and Pakistan next time! Would love to rendezvous?

  9. Should I get my Lebanese visa at the embassy or should I get the visa on arrival? I heard the Beirut airport is really crazy and getting a visa on arrival takes forever.

  10. From the comments it appears this article was originally written in 2017 and you just change the date on it to make it look current but in the process you failed to update it about the exchange rate. Which you fall asleep say in here is stable throughout the country at 1500 LBP≠$1 US. THIS IS AN ENORMOUS FAILURE ON YOUR PART BECAUSE THE LOCAL TAXI RIDE THAT YOU SAID WAS $10 USD IS NOW ACTUALLY 50 US CENTS.
    You only get one opportunity to make a good first impression and you colossally failed on a major point. By the way my travel blog has 350,000 readers and I’m part Lebanese. You have done a large disservice to your unknowing readers

    1. Just chill bro, you seem angry with the world 😉

      Congratulations on your blog! Impressive figures, you must be so proud. If you are so good at blogging, however, then you’ll know that the publishing date is different from updating date, the latter being changed automatically every time you make a change in a post, even if it’s adding a new comma.

      Scroll to the end of the post and you’ll see that the publishing date is 2018, the date when this travel guide suffered the last major update 🙂

      The reason why the updating date is so recent is that we have been updating certain affiliate links across all posts.

      I know what’s the situation like in Lebanon. I have been to Beirut twice this year, and returning there in September, since that’s the starting and ending point of our tours to Syria. I wish I had the time to update all that info but we have over 400 posts to take care of, plus a travel company to run.

      Don’t worry, we will update it eventually and meanwhile, I recommend you to relax 😉

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