A weekend in Beirut

The “Paris of the Middle East”, Beirut is a city I had heard many good things about but had never got around to visiting. Part of my reluctance to travel there was due to the fact that the city, and the country of Lebanon as a whole, always had the specter of conflict hanging over it. While the very obvious presence of army personnel hinted at instability, never once in our brief time there did we feel unsafe or threatened. Indeed we found most people with whom we interacted very friendly and helpful.

Arriving early evening, we made our way almost immediately to Liza restaurant, only a short walk from the hotel. The meal, enjoyed in gorgeous setting of what was once a stately home, proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. Stand out dishes included the Hommos Bin Lahme, pan fried halloumi served with tomato jam and sesame seeds and Armenian dumplings. All the food was washed down with a bottle of Lebanese red wine, ordered on the  recommendation of our waiter with a perfectly groomed handlebar mustache.

The beautiful interiors of Liza restaurant

On our first morning we took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather to take an Uber  to Byblos, said to be one of the oldest continuosly inhabited cities in the world. For next to nothing, we had the opportunity to walk around old ruins dating back thousands of years, all the while taking in the spectacular expanses of the eastern Mediterranean.


After a few hours of wandering around the old ruins and streets, we sat down for a beautiful lunch at Bab el Mina restaurant, which overlooked the water. After enjoying an entree of octopus and fish kibbeh, we were asked to choose the locally caught fish from the display and nominate how we wanted it was prepared. I had a pan fried barracuda while my wife enjoyed a pan fried Sultan Ibrahim (I argued mine fish was nicer, though as I didn’t share any of it, it was impossible to come to a firm consensus).  To top things off, we were provided with complementary halva and fresh fruit, just to ensure we had enough carbs on board to see use through to dinner!

View from the Bab el Mina restaurant in Byblos

The pollution in Beirut is very noticeable, likely a reflection of the very limited amount of public transport, a lack of dedicated bike lanes and the subsequent dependence on cars to get around (apologies if I sound a little judgmental/pretentious here, but I’m currently studying for a Masters in Public Health in which we have covered the negative health consequences of outdoor air pollution and the health benefits associated with active travel). Indeed, our Uber driver on the way to Byblos even asked us to “look at the CO2” lingering over the city and water.

View looking back at the mountains from the corniche in Beirut. Note the “CO2”

One of the few green spaces we found was at the American University of Beriut, which is well worth a visit.

View of the Mediterranean taken from the grounds of the American University of Beriut

Wherever we travel, we are always on the look out for good coffee, especially if it is being served in an independent, cool, hipster cafe, so we were pretty excited to stumble on Backburner cafe just a few minutes from our hotel.

Inside the Backburner cafe, where we had by far the best coffee during our brief stay in Beirut

My wife and I both love farmers markets, so were absolutely thrilled to stumble upon this Souk el Tayeb farmers market nearby our hotel. We enjoyed samples of nut butters, fresh fruit and various types of oils, including a zataar infused olive oil which was divine. And it was also impossible to pass on the samples of Lebanese wine, which washed down beautifully the fresh, hot breakfast wrap we gorged on.


In the afternoon, we went for a stroll along the corniche, sharing the path with kids racing around on bikes and scooters, lazily taking in the late afternoon sun and the beautiful, vast expanses of the Mediterranean. Beirut is known as a city that allows people, should they desire, to go swimming in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. Indeed as we walked along the Corniche we could see the snow covered mountains in the distance, ableit, sadly, behind a haze of pollution.

Some locals playing some form of tennis on the cornish

We walked further up the corniche to Pigeon Rock for yet more stunning views of the Mediterranean. While there, we were lucky to grab a table outside at Petit Cafe, where we enjoyed (a little too much!) standard Middle Eastern fare. We seemed to be the only people not having shisha, which was conspicuous in most restaurants and cafes we visited.

Lunch on the deck at Petit Cafe

Beruit certainly did live up to it’s reputation as a fun, diverse and culturally rich city, one certainly worth adding to list if exploring the region.

Random trip notes

Cheapest way to get to/from the airport is with Uber. We caught a cab into town when we arrived and paid the price (~ 50000 Lebanese Pound or ~$USD33).  In comparison, on the way back to the airport we used Uber Black, which cost ~$USD18.

We stayed at O Monot in the Achrafieh district, primarily because we felt it offered the best value for listed accommodations on the Entertainer app. While the service couldn’t be faulted and the breakfast was excellent, the fact that the rooftop pool, as promoted on their website, had no water and the “gym” was about the size of a standard bathroom, was a little bit frustrating – first world issues I know, but still.

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