Adventure with Aly: Lebanon

I often get asked, “where is your favorite place you’ve been?” Lebanon. My #1 favorite country in the world (that I’ve visited, so out of 57 countries, Lebanon #1). WHY?

  • Vibe. Beirut is the main spot, but there’s also so much outside the capital. Lebanon is Mediterranean and so you get that crystal blue water, fresh air, mountains, remote pristine beaches, nature, outdoor activities, massive ancient roman ruins, and loads of history (Byblos most notably)
  • Beirut itself: it’s got it all. There are great neighborhoods that have twist of old and new. The old buildings make you very aware that war isn’t that far behind and its effects are still heavily visible. But they’re over it. They’re ready to thrive, they are thriving. So there’s new modern architecture, bustling neighborhoods, plus the downtown is really quite wealthy and upscale…although I found it oddly empty. The new hip neighborhoods are the place to be.
  • Food. Lebanese food. Seafood. Great restaurants.
  • Wine.
  • The people. Yes, the Lebanese men 😉
  • Party time. There are lot of massive clubs. Summertime is even better because there’s a great day club scene and lots of open air clubs at night.

My Favorite Things:

  • To eat (eating is maybe my favorite thing about Lebanon):
    • Lebanese dishes you must try:
      • Manakeesh from a local bakery
        • Zaatar is my favorite, most people love cheese or mixed
        • Must go to Fern Beiti it’s located in Hai American (translates to American Neighborhood 😂) near to Gallery Semaan intersection (owned by my good friend!)
      • Hummus – you’ll never have better hummus than this part of the world (try it with meat)
      • Lebnah – yogurt that is way better than yogurt (can get it on manakeesh bread with honey, yumm)
      • Tawook sandwich (basically a chicken sandwich, but the best) @ Massaad – the absolute best I’ve ever had
      • Have a seafood and rose lunch on the Mediterranean (Le Pêcheur in Beirut is great, but if you do a day trip have your driver find a spot for you along the way)
      • Fattoush salad
      • Kebbe (Kibbeh)
      • Rez 3a Djeij (translates to rice with chicken)
  • To visit outside of Beirut:
    • Harissa – cable car to a great view of the city
    • Byblos  – day trip to ruins plus a cute little town
    • Baalbek – massive ruins with little tourists
  • To go out out (party time):
    • The Riviera Day Club (summertime)
    • Karma Club (Thursday nights are great)
    • Garten night club
    • SkyBar / The ONE (they are the same club, name depending on the season) – good for sunset, but mainly late night party time
    • B018 night club (by night I mean sunrise style night club) – underground bunker, it’s a top spot to check out Beirut nightlife
  • To drink:
    • IXIR Grande Reserve red wine
    • Chateau Ksara Sunset Rose (their winery is also a nice stop!)

Language

  • Arabic and French are the primary dual languages
  • English – yes, 90% of people speak English proficiently. You won’t have a problem, if someone doesn’t speak it someone right next to you will and will help translate. Very rarely needed to rely on this.

Currency

  • Lebanese Pound
  • US Dollars, surprisingly accepted everywhere
  • Majority of places take credit cards, but not all.
    • Taxis do not, but don’t take taxis anyway, see below
    • Little markets and bakeries will likely be cash only

Getting Around 

  • Aly’s Top Pick: I highly, highly recommend a driver. And I recommend our (meaning mine and my travel nomad partner Alex and I’s) faithful driver:
    • Elie. +961 70 564 464 (Can call or use WhatsApp…WhatsApp is my go to)
    • Elie is a retiered military vetaran, who drives Uber and day tours for enjoyment now. Very fair prices, comfortable car, excellent navigation and will create the journey for you. We continually use and recommend him due to how safe, friendly, and enjoyable he makes the trip!
  • Hiring a driver / Hiring your Uber driver: a very common experience is that you get an uber driver who is friendly and willing to be your driver for a day’s excursion. This is a safe, affordable, and very typical thing to do. Try to negotiate $80 USD per day, but $100-$150 USD is pretty standard.
    • If you have a larger group, book a day tour with a larger van
  • Uber over taxis: Cheap, they know where you’re going, they’ll speak English (taxi drivers are less likely to speak English to you even if they speak it. Just avoid taxis really.
    • Taxis aren’t dangerous. They are just going to rip you off on price and likely not speak English to you, or claim to not know where to go.
    • Here and there I grab a taxi if it’s convenient.
  • Don’t drive. It’s not worth it financially or stressfully.

Beirut

Neighborhoods

  • *Mar Mikhael – my recommendation on where to stay, and Airbnb
    • Armenia Street
  •  Gemmeyzeh
    • Colorful streets, shops, restaurants, cafes
    • St Nicolas Steps – big open steps that take you up to another neighborhood area, AchrafiehIMG_6170
  •  Rouche
    • Right on the coast
    • Don’t jump off the cliffs (from a personal experience that ended up at the American University of Beirut Medical Center and a very, very bruised butt….bei-ruises!)IMG_2501
  •  Downtown
    • Downtown area is completely renovated, upscale shopping, and nice restaurants. Not as populated as other areas, which can be nice or not, up to you.
    • National Museum
  • Ashrafieh
    • Just east of downtown, adjacent to Gemmeyzeh
    • Shops, coffee shops, nice luxury apartments
  •  Suburbs
    • There are many suburbs up into the hills around Beirut center. There you can find some great restaurants, local shops, etc. It’s best if you get a recommendation or a local to tell you spots if you want to venture out of the city center.

 Restaurants

  • Fern Beiti – must go for Manakeesh
  • Massaad – must go for Tawook sandwhich
  • Em Sharif – brunch – a MUST. It’s a full experience of Lebanese food, more than you could ever eat, and all amazingly delicious
  • L’Osteria – italian Mar Mikhael, fun vibe, I like it on weeknights
  • Central Station – Mar Mikhael – spot to grab cocktails
  • The Junkyard – food truck style small plates and atmosphere
  • Bay Rock – Rouche – great place to overlook the water, have hummus, shisha, and wine. Overlooks the pigeon cliffs…whatever you do, don’t go jump off them (I learned from experience, a very painful one where I ended up at the hospital)
  • Le Pêcheur – amazing seafood platters on the water, Rouche area
  • Stem – Ashrafieh – chic wine bar with good food
  • Babel – upscale Lebanese food on the Marina
  • Pacifico – Ashrafieh – Mexican food, lively scene

Coffee Shops/Cafes

  • Home Sweet Home – Mar Mikhael
  • Aaliya’s Books Cafe- Gemmayzah

Clubs:

Beirut’s party scene is awesome. You can really make it as much as you want too. From day clubs, to sunsets, to late night, to all night, it has it all, and it’s good.

  • Day Clubs:
    • The Riviera
    • Azure Beach
  • Sunset/Evening spots

    • Sky Bar
    • Four Seasons Rooftop
    • Music Hall
  • Night clubs (there are so many, these are my favorites)

    • Garten
    • SkyBar/The ONE
    • White
  • B018 (you watch the sunrise here, no need to arrive until well into the morning hours!)

Where to Stay:

  • Recommend Airbnb in Mar Mikhael area
    • Range from $-$$-$$$, can find a good one within the $$ range
  • The Riviera – near the harbor and Rouche
    • $$$
    • Gets access to the day club pool area
  • Four Points by Sheraton
    • $$
  • Ramada Plaza Beirut
    • $$

Day Trips (outside Beirut) –

Listed in order of my top recommendations, so if you only have a few days, start with the top ones. But don’t just do a few days, give yourself time to make it through the countryside and explore.

***Many of these could be done in a single day – work with a driver to make a day trip itinerary for you, or ask me!***

  • Byblos (45 mins from Beirut)
    • Ancient roman ruins of the historical town of Byblos
    • Also a cute little town with restaurants, wine bars, market shops, etc
  • Harissa (20 mins from Beirut)
    • Cable car / funicular that takes you up above to a Virgin Mary statue and amazing view over Beirut
  • Jeita Grotto (20 mins from Beirut)
    • Natural caves with stalactites and stalagmites
    • Can take a little boat through and walk around inside the cave
  • Baalbek (1.5 hours from Beirut)
    • Incredible ruins, compares with Rome but way way way less touristy
  • Baatara Gorge Waterfall – (around 1.5 hours from Beirut, and really not far from Byblos. Could be done in the same day as Byblos)
    • Waterfall flows through three bridges
    • Out into the mountains to some waterfalls and breathtaking views, highlight is the triple waterfall, drive through the coastal towns on the way home
    • Stop of Pierre and Friends – for sunset dinner right on the water
    • Make a day of this area, and if it’s summertime head to White Beach day clubIMG_6153
  • Tripoli (1 hour north of Beirut)
  • South Coast: (1 hour 15 mins south of Beirut)
    • Tyre Beach

My Previous Itineraries:

  • Weekend Trip – October 2016:
    • Hotel: Four Points Sheraton
      • Used hotel points
      • Decent location (I now prefer Mar Mikhael area better)
      • Good hotel
    • Arrived Thursday night
      • Went to a wine bar in Mar Mikhael
      • Went to Karma Club – good DJs on Thursday night, smaller spot that’s not too pretentious.
    • Friday:
      • Rented a big van and we went to the Grotto, Harissa, and Byblos in one day (about 9 hour trip). Stopped for a delicious and beautiful seafood lunch on the water
      • Dinner at Frida’s – Lebanese/Spanish fusion
      • Went out to a club
    • Saturday
      • Wandered around downtown
      • Manakeesh bakery for breakfast
      • Visited National Museum
      • Had seafood dinner on the water
  • Friend’s Wedding Weekend – July 2017:
    • Hotel: Ramada Plaza Rouche
      • Good location (I now prefer Mar Mikhael area better)
      • Nice service, big rooms
    • LOCAL! Most of this trip was attending wedding events of our friend and co-worker Diana, and her husband Maher. We got to visit her family home in a Beirut suburb, local hair salon, and Lebanese style wedding events that were beautiful, fun, and full of dancing and fireworks!
  • Two week highlights:
    • Airbnb:  in Mar Mikhael
    • Day-time favorites:
      • Coffee shops (Alya’s Library, Home Sweet Home Café)
      • Yoga Studio: Sarvam Yoga – they have a month for $50, I believe first class free, and decent drop in rates
      • Riviera Day Club
    • Day Trips
      • Balbaak
        Byblos
      • Harissa
      • Nature day up north – Triple Waterfall
      • Wineries
    • Evening/Nights
      • Wandering around the restaurants/bars, all within walking distrance of Mar Mikhael and Gemayzah area
      • Fun social scene in the evenings without being too crazy

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s