Beirut is the bright light of Lebanon

The word vibrant is one that’s frequently overused by travel writers but for the Lebanese capital, Beirut, it’s one that genuinely fits the bill. One of the best party spots in the world, Beirut combines a hedonistic appetite for pleasure with beauteous boulevards and a fascinating – if troubled – history. A single day doesn’t do it justice but with our 24-hour guide, you should be able to squeeze in some of the highlights.


Beirut 24 hour guide - image - Beirut cornicheWatch the sunset from the Beirut Corniche
Creative Commons / Giorgio Montersino

Set between the sea and the mountains, Beirut is one of those rare cities that lets you reconnect with nature while staying within striking distance of its bright lights. And nowhere sums up the juxtaposition of the natural and urban better than the Beirut Corniche.

Not so long ago, a saunter down the seaside promenade was the preserve of the hard-bitten war correspondent – or the clinically insane – but now, Beirut’s Corniche is one of the city’s beauties. Along with spectacular views of the Mediterranean, the waterfront walk boasts glimpses of Mount Lebanon to the east and an eclectic array of architectural styles. Go early before the crowds arrive to enjoy it in peace, with a coffee or slice of baklava picked up from one of the many street food vendors.


If you’ve managed to resist the overtures of the baklava sellers on the corniche, head downtown for your breakfast. Thanks to Beirut’s post-war optimism, new buildings are shooting up, but the historic downtown area offers clues as to why the city was once known as the ‘Paris of the East’. Broad boulevards flanked by colonial relics and honey-coloured stone loggia dominate, with vibrant street cafés bringing life to the streets. Brightly coloured awnings add welcome flashes of colour, while the maniacal rush hour drivers provide an excuse to amble slowly along the pavement.

Breakfast Lebanese style is usually a simple affair, with plenty of labneh (mild cream cheese), zaatar (a blend of herbs and sesame), mint, tomato and cucumber, served up with fresh markouk bread and plenty of thick black coffee. Coffee is a serious business in Lebanon, so avoid the rookie’s mistake of asking for a cappuccino: you’ll get confused glances and will end up with something not unlike a bog standard Nescafé. Instead, copy the locals and drink your coffee black with plenty of sugar.


No visit to the Lebanese capital is complete without a trip to the National Museum (Rue de Damas), so head there after breakfast. Beirut’s history goes back more than 5,000 years with the earliest mention of the metropolis recorded in the 15th century BC Egyptian Amarna letters. Since then, the city has seen waves of invasion, starting with the Macedonians in 140BC and culminating in French rule following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Beirut’s architecture and culture have a distinctly multicultural feel, while the National Museum is home to antiquities of wildly disparate origin.

Beirut 24 hour guide - image - food collageYou won't be short of choice when it comes to food and shisha in Beirut
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

The museum’s vast collection of Phoenician relics will keep you busy for hours but don’t forget to delve into its own past. During the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was split into two and the museum, which straddled the demarcation line, was repeatedly shelled. When the war ended in 1991, it was badly damaged and only reopened fully in 1999. If all the history has made you hungry, head east along Abdallah El Yafi Street until you arrive at Abdel Wahab Street, where you’ll find an eatery of the same name which does a purse-friendly line in local food and has a sunny terrace on which to enjoy it.


After lunch, head back towards the corniche and sleep off the sightseeing with a spot of sunbathing on one of Beirut’s many beaches. While there are plenty of public beaches, the majority are none too clean so your best bet is to head to a private stretch of sand such as the Riviera Beach Club (Corniche El-Manara). Free to guests at the Riviera Beirut Hotel, everyone else is obliged to shell out for a day’s membership but it’s worth it for the clean golden sand and the deep-blue Mediterranean water.

Later on, head south towards Pigeon Rocks along the corniche for a sunset shisha and the chance to watch the sun go down over Beirut’s only natural feature. Lebanon’s answer to Dorset’s Durdle Door, the two huge craggy archways are joined to the mainland via a short rocky path that’s pitted with crevices and spells doom for flip flops. You’ll occasionally see a local woman teetering along in high heels, but it’s much better to attempt it in trainers or stick to drinking in the view from the safer ground of the corniche.


Beirut 24 hour guide - image - downtown street at night overrideAt night, Beirut comes to life
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Head back into downtown for dinner to the wonderful old landmark that is Abdel Wahab (51 rue Abdel Wahab el-Inglizi). Hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, the restaurant specialises in gargantuan buffets characterised by more varieties of houmous than you ever believed existed, all set in a picture-perfect Ottoman building. Should you manage to eat your way through all the houmous, Abdel Wahab does a nice line in local puds, including the ubiquitous baklava.

If you can still move afterwards, Beirut’s party scene is one of the best in the world. Charming, friendly locals and a huge array of bars, clubs and all-night shisha cafés mean there’s something for everyone. At night, the Lebanese capital’s streets are thronged with revellers and nowhere encapsulates Beirut’s party spirit more neatly than the Amethyste Lounge (Minet El Hosn) at the Phoenicia Hotel. There you’ll find a large cocktail menu (try the Beirut Cosmopolitan), a luxe approach to furnishing and a poolside terrace. It’s great for a chilled-out shisha surrounded by Beirut’s beautiful people and is the perfect launch pad for a night of serious partying.

To find out more about Beirut, visit our Beirut travel guide.

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