by Ramsey Qubein
Beirut, once the Paris of the Med, is still glamorous and open for business
Erase any preconceived notions you may have about Beirut. While the city’s history has been equally glamorous and tumultuous, it is embracing a future that sees it winning back its past status as the Monte Carlo of the Middle East. Despite current global tensions, the city is well-prepared to welcome back tourists when the time is right.
No matter how much time you have while there, there are exciting things to see and explore. We break the ideal schedule down for you so that you can experience Lebanese hospitality and wonder on your own time frame.
Only 4 hours in town
If your time in Lebanon is restricted to Beirut, we recommend exploring the city from the sea. Surely, your hotel will have given you a glimpse of the bustling downtown scene. But, seeing Beirut from the Mediterranean delivers a better understanding of the city’s majestic location: beachfront with snowcapped mountains just beyond.
Head for Zaitunay Bay where dozens of cafes entice and boat tours encourage exploration. From here, you will truly get a glimpse of Beirut. The experience is best at sunset with a glass of champagne so before you embark, pay a visit to Al-Omari Mosque near Martyr’s Square. You will need to cover your legs and shoulders, and shoes must be removed. Still, this is a spiritual experience that will move you with the building’s architecture and its patrons’ faith.
If you still have time, wander through Gemmayzeh where you’ll find all the latest boutiques and brand-name shops. Sip Arabic coffee and have a few sweets before heading for your cruise. It’s always a fun experience (families love it) to wander along the Corniche, which is the waterfront pathway that lines the city. There are many cafes and restaurants to distract you, and the famous Raouche rock is a landmark spot for swimming and watching the waves crash against its rocky surface.
A whole day, 12 hours to explore!
For those with more time, it is worth exploring further afield. Day trips from Beirut range from hillside excursions to see the famous national cedar trees. These are best enjoyed from the mountain town of Bcharre. You can wander through the snow-covered trees in winter and spring or hike amongst them in summer and fall. It’s the perfect way to get away from the frenetic city lifestyle.
Equally popular is a visit to Broumana where the short drive from downtown Beirut delivers you in no time to peaceful cafes and shops overlooking the Mediterranean. It is here where you will find a bit more affordability when it comes to dining, shopping, and hotels. The Grand Hills Hotel & Spa Broumana, A Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa, is particularly popular for its lavish restaurants, bountiful spa, and the largest suite in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Pay a visit for great dining before heading to Massaya, one of Mount Lebanon’s best wineries, where you will experience incredible views while sampling exquisite wines that are representative of the burgeoning wine industry in the country.
On the way back to your hotel, stop at Faqra, which is unique for its remarkable historic monuments: temples, columns, altars and rock-cut tombs. One of the country’s spectacular natural wonders is found here. The bridge called "Jisr al-Hajar" or the "Stone Bridge," features a natural arch measuring neary 125 feet.
24 Hours in this Mediterranean capital
If you have had it with city life or are itching to get out and see the numerous architectural wonders of the area, Byblos should be first on the list. In just an hour, you can reach the stunning crusader castle and the ruins of a Persian castle plus Amorite temples of this ancient city. As you wander amid these restored historic sites, you will also find a Greek well, a Roman theater, and a necropolis containing the tomb of King Hiram.
Historians will truly be in their element here. This is an archaeological site worthy of the global stage, yet it sees far fewer visitors than other major spots around the world. It is here that you will really feel like you have found the opportunity to discover something without the crowds.
On the way back, it is worth making a reservation at Les Grandes Arcades, which is part of Al Delb Town House Village (a complex of residences in the hills over Beirut open to rentals and investment). This Lebanese restaurant specializes in serving traditional cuisine with a modern twist including with live entertainment many nights.
Adjacent to the development owners’ own home, you will find stone archways, mounted taxidermy, and rustic artwork of this cave-like dining room. It is truly unique to any restaurant in the country and worthy of a visit. The menu is organic from the development’s own gardens, and the wine served here comes from its own vineyards. This is a popular place for business, social, and small conference groups to host events. It’s the perfect way to toast a visit to this majestic and wondrous, yet small, country.
Business Traveler USA