Ok, so everybody’s heading to the north coast this summer. But you? You’re tired of the same faces at all the same parties in Marina or the overcrowded beaches in Marsa Matrouh. You still want the Mediterranean breeze, just not the usual crowds. What are you going to do?
Head to Beirut.
Finally the “Paris of the Middle East (sorry, but this is a cliché that deserves mention) is enjoying an unprecedented period of peace. Now’s the time to go.
The approach and landing in Beirut is breathtaking. Sea gives way to mountains, which in turn recede to roll out Beirut, before you touch down just south of the city.
Take an early morning taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. If you’ve got Lebanese Lira to burn, try the Phoenicia Intercontinental, the height of luxury in a city that demands it. If you’re on more of a budget, head to the other side of downtown and check into Pension Al-Nazih, with its friendly staff and seafront views.
Since you’re thrilled to have escaped Cairo and to have arrived in a city with functioning sidewalks, make this a walking day.
First head into downtown. Visit Martyr’s Square, where a bullet-riddled statue paying tribute to Civil War martyrs gives you an ironic look at the city’s tragic past. Next, ogle at the imposing figure cut by the blue domed mosque, which was built by the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Next to the mosque stands a makeshift burial ground for Hariri and the other victims of the bombing that killed him. Visit there. It’ll be the most poignant moment of your day.
Then go to Star Square, at the heart of the rebuilt downtown. It’s lunchtime, so grab a meal at any of the dozens of the surrounding sidewalk cafes (the streets around Star Square are pedestrian-only).
After putting back a few mezzah and possibly a nargileh (shisha), walk west to the handsome promenade that follows the coast in west Beirut. Stroll along the sidewalk, enjoying the sea breeze, watching the fishermen, and chuckling while you people-watch.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at the pigeon rocks, Beirut’s finest natural wonders.
Have a tea as the sun sets behind these towering rocks that rise impressively out of the sea.
When you’re done, it’s time to head home and rest up because the city only really comes alive at night.
Grab a dinner at the delicious downtown seafood restaurant, Sultan Brahim.
Then make your way to the east side of town for a night of drinks and dancing.
Start on Rue Gouraud, a small Parisian looking street that’s lined with dozens of bars. Pick any place that suits your fancy. Later, head up to Rue Monot for some late night clubbing and dancing. Go to the club Crystal, or pick any other like it, and you won’t come up for air till morning.
The next day, rub the cobwebs out of your eyes and get going. Pay a visit to any one of Beirut’s impressive museums. The traditional art museums track Lebanese history through painting and sculpture, while the modern museums display art that grapples with the modern history of sectarianism and war.
After you enjoy a museum or two in the morning, take a taxi over to the swanky shopping district of Hamra on the west side of the city. Grab lunch at any of the cobbled streets there and spend the early afternoon poking in some of the stores.
Afterwards, walk down towards the sea and pay a visit to the American University in Beirut, one of the region’s best looking schools. Look around the campus for a while before calling it a day.
Or, skip shopping for some culture to take the afternoon for an adventure outside the capital. Head to the Cola bus station and grab a microbus bound for Baalbek, home to some of the most impressive Roman ruins in the Middle East.
After the almost two-hour drive, your bus will drop you a stone’s throw from the ruins. Head in. Wander the temples of Jupiter and Dionysus. Here you’ll find the largest Roman pillars in the world.
After you take in the sights, grab a superb shawerma sandwich from one of the street side vendors in town and grab a microbus back to Beirut.
Enjoy Beirut’s international fare when you head for dinner. Go to Rue Gouraud and stroll the street up and back before choosing whether you want tapas, steak, Mexican, pizza, or sushi. It’s all top-notch.
Take your time over dinner because the evening entertainment won’t start until midnight.
Just before the witching hour, run back to downtown to a place called Music Hall. There, you’ll indulge in some of the best western cocktails while a number of singers regale you, cabaret style. Singers, each performing for 20 minutes (with DJ music in between), will give you a taste of Sinatra, Aerosmith, Cuba, various part of the Arab world, and more.
By 4 am, your voice lost and your feet sore, you’ll head back to the hotel for a short night’s sleep.
The next morning, grab a cab to the airport. Your jaunt to Beirut is over.
But remember, at only an hour and a half by flight, it’s closer to Cairo than Egypt’s north coast. So go back often – that’s if you can afford it.