Fast-paced, voguish, and overwhelmingly friendly, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is crowded and chaotic. With soul, diversity, and an intoxicating atmosphere, it is a city that you will find instantly addictive.
Mosques sit alongside Catholic churches, bullet-pocked buildings are neighbours of skyscrapers, and young intertwined couples share the streets with hijab-wearing women. Discovering the distinct character of the different districts and strolling the waterfront offer the best feel of the place. Often referred to as the gastronomic capital of the Levant, the choice of local cuisine can be overwhelming, and diving into Beirut’s wonderful restaurant and nightlife scene is a major attraction.
Enab, Kahwet Leila, Falamanki, and Diwan offer the best taste of Lebanon, with their blend of traditional and modern cuisine and local dishes prepared by mothers and grandmothers in the cafe kitchens. Try kibbeh, Lebanon’s national dish, made of bulgur wheat, minced onions, and ground beef shaped into a ball and deep fried. Skewered Kafta, tabbouleh vegetarian salad, and man’oushe, a pizza-like flatbread topped with cheese.
If there’s one thing that unites the Lebanese, it’s the soothing, nostalgic music of Fairuz, and a night of melodic entertainment is somewhat transcendent. The Corniche, with sweeping views across the Mediterranean, is the perfect place for a lazy stroll. You’ll meet families soaking up the atmosphere of the promenade, fitness lovers applying their discipline, and fishermen patiently trying their luck. Backgammon games, street vendors, and shisha smokers take up their places, too.
Over the years, war has rolled into and out of Beirut, transforming a city once known as the Paris of the Middle East to one struggling to claw its way back from civil war. Yet none of that is at the fore of your mind as you sit at a trendy roadside cafe sipping on your Turkish coffee and watching the world go by.
Home to a sizeable subculture of independent and progressive thinkers with an appreciation for art, designer coffee, and za’atar croissants, the future looks bright for this city flanked between the Lebanon mountains and its Mediterranean peninsula, and you’ll want to be there to see it unfold.
“The Lebanon” refers to the geographical region and mountains of Lebanon, while “Lebanon” without a “the” is the republic and national entity that became independent in 1943.
Books are written in Cairo, published in Beirut, and read in Baghdad – A popular Arab adage relating to the city’s obsession with the news.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.