Difference between revisions of "Beirut"
Revision as of 12:09, 26 June 2012
Beirut (Arabic: بيروت Bayrūt, French: Beyrouth) is the capital city of Lebanon with a population of approximately 2.1 million people in its metropolitan area. The city is on a relatively small headland jutting into the east Mediterranean. It is by far the biggest city in Lebanon. Due to Lebanon's small size the capital has always held the status as the only true cosmopolitan city in the country, and ever since the independence, has been the commercial and financial hub of Lebanon. 20km to its North is Jounieh, a city very closely associated with Beirut.
Charles Helou Station lies approximately one kilometer east of Nejmeh Square, on Charles Helou Avenue, facing the Beirut Port. From there you can take the city buses or hop onto the larger coaches that link Beirut with the neighboring cities.
Beirut has survived a rough history, falling under the occupation of one empire after another,. Originally named Bêrūt, "The Wells" by the Phoenicians, Beirut's history goes back more than 5000 years. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman civilizations.
Following World War II, Lebanon gained its independence from France and Beirut became its capital in 1943 - Bechara El-Khoury and Riad El-Solh, Lebanon's first president and prime minister respectively, are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and national heroes. Beirut thrived as a major commercial and tourist center of the Middle East. It was a top destination among wealthy Arabs and European tourists, due to Beirut's unique geography, climate, diverse culture, and freedom. Beirut was seen as the "European gateway to the Middle East" and vice versa, and was often called the "Paris of the Middle East".
Beirut is and was home to over 10 recognized religious sects. Religious tension between the Christian and Muslim factions sparked a brutal civil war in 1975. The conflict lasted nearly a decade and a half, ravaging the city. The central area of the city, previously the focus of much of the commercial and cultural activities, became a no-man's land. Throughout the war, the city was divided between the Muslim west part and the Christian east, and tensions between different sects remains to this day.
Since the end of the war in 1989, the people of Lebanon have been rebuilding Beirut. The city has undertaken an aggressive rebuilding policy. The city is working hard to regain its status as a tourist, cultural and intellectual center in the Middle East which it has lost to Cairo as well as a center for commerce, fashion and media which is dominated by Dubai and other rich Gulf states. However Beirut with the rest of the Middle East has gained momentum.
Some areas of Beirut have a friendly atmosphere, and some Beirutis have a reputation for being very sociable and outgoing. The locals are used to the sight of foreigners and would be happy to show you around the city, if you ask them.
Secterianism is still prevalent in Lebanon, as a result of the French colonial legacy of divide and rule, which leads some Christian Lebanese to identify culturally with Europeans, particularly the French, and some denying Arab identity altogether; preferring to identify themselves as Phoenician (referring to their ancestral roots in ancient Phoenicia.) Many Muslim Lebanese identify culturally and ethnically with other Arabs and Muslims of the Middle East.
It is helpful to display some basic courtesies. A simple Bonjour when entering a cafe or shop can work wonders, and might even get you a special rate, or when hopping into a taxi, might just keep the driver from overcharging you. Say Merci when given or offered something, and if you'd rather not accept, then say La'a merci and smile; otherwise you might be taken as rude, even though you're not.
Most Beirutis love going out. If (and when) you go out at night, depending on the venue, dressing up well will most certainly get you some respect. The locals like to see that foreigners are doing what they can to fit in. Expect to be offered a drink or a cigarette. Alcohol is very cheap in shops and supermarkets, yet in night venues, prices can rise up to European standards (aka: 8,000L.L/Beer, 15,000L.L/Cocktail))
Smoking is very common in Beirut, a large portion of the people smoke both outdoors and indoors. Most restaurants have special smoking areas that are ventilated, so make sure you ask whether a particular restaurant or cafe is smoking or not, and ask for a non-smoking table if you don't want to sit around smokers.
Beirut enjoys Mediterranean climate. Come in April to June for warm, dry days and long, cool evenings (19–25°C). Temperatures in July and August rise to around 30°C and humidity can be somewhat overwhelming – make sure your hotel has air conditioning. The wettest months are December to February so bring a good coat and umbrella, the rain can sometimes be heavy. Lebanon's ski season runs from December till early April.
Despite the diverse climate that changes noticeably per season, the weather is very predictable; the weather forecast, on radio and TV stations are normally very accurate, so you normally shouldn't find yourself caught in a sudden downpour in the winter months.
Due to Lebanon's diverse religions and sects, many public holidays are celebrated, some of which more than once: New Year's Day, Armenian-Orthodox Christmas (6 Jan), Eid al-Adha – Feast of Sacrifice, celebrating the last day of Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Al Hijrah – Islamic New Year, Feast of St Maroun (9 Feb), Eid Milad Mnabi – Prophet's Anniversary, Good Friday and Easter Monday (Apr), Labour Day (1 May). Martyrs' Day (6 May), Liberation of the South (25 May), Assumption (15 Aug), Eid al-Fitr - Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, All Saints' Day (1 Nov), Independence Day (22 Nov), Christmas Day (25 Dec). Based on the lunar calendar, Islamic holidays move forward approximately 11 days every Western year.
Anything goes in Beirut. Shorts and T-shirts are perfect for the summer heat, for both men and women, while heavier clothing is necessary during the winter. You should cover up if visiting religious sites, such as mosques and churches. Some neighborhoods are more conservative than others, so bear that in mind when exploring the city. Going out at night is a smart affair, so dress fashionably to fit in, although this does not mean dressing up in a suit; you will find many men in sporty t-shirts, dark jeans, and smart running shoes at even the trendiest nightclubs.
Beirut is very culturally diverse, and thus, multilingual. Lebanese Arabic is the native language but everyone speaks Standard Arabic, the official language, while English and French (especially the former) are also spoken by most people.
Shop signs are in both Standard Arabic, English and French. Most restaurant menus, event listings, and such are also in English alongside Standard Arabic and sometimes in French. Road signs, however, are in Standard Arabic and French.
Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport  (IATA: BEY), is the country's only international airport and the hub of Lebanon's national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA ). Most international airlines have daily flights between Beirut and the major European capitals. The airport is located 7km south of Beirut, and is roughly a 10 to 15 minute drive from the city center.
Car parking is available at the airport for around 2.5 USD per hour. Please note that when the parking time is rounded to the upper hour (i.e. 1.1 hours ~= 2 hours).
At the moment, there is no public transportation to or from the airport. The following options are available for transportation.
They are plentiful and comfortable taxis that are authorized by the airport are parked next to the terminal in the arrivals level and have an airport logo on the side (official airport taxi fares ). Although these taxis claim to be regulated by the airport authorities, they are definitely not honest in their rates.
They are also available and are located a little farther from the airport, but these are not guaranteed and are to be used at your own risk. The aproximate rate Airport - Hamra street is LL 25000. However, the so-called regulated taxis' drivers, will ask you anywhere between $ 30 to 50 for any downtown locations. So, start bargaining from $10 and stop at $15 as the upper limit, both ways to and from the Airport. Considering this is only a 7 km long drive, and gas price is approx $ 1.5 / litre in Beirut, this price is definitely a rip off that taxi drivers would not miss.Taxi types are wildly changing, so pick the best and newest looking ones to guarantee aircon, and collision safety in Beirut traffic.
They depart from the 2nd (departure) level. These are white small buses (majority are Kia Besta) with red plates, which pickup airport service people and bring them to Beirut. The fair Airport - Martyr's square (Downtown) is just LL 2000 (May 2011)
All major car rental companies have booking offices inside the airport. More information can be obtained through the airport's webpage on the issue: 
There are four border crossing points between Lebanon and Syria:
You can travel between Lebanon and Syria by private/rental car, bus, private taxi, or service taxi. Visa are not issued at the border but can be obtained from the Syrian Embassy, located in Hamra.
Buses from Damascus and regions south of Beirut drop passengers off at an intersection adjacent to the Cola bridge\overpass, which is located in the southern part of the city (Mazraa) a couple of km south of Hamra and southwest of downtown. From here, you can get a private taxi to Hamra or Center Ville for LL10000 or a shared "service" taxi for LL2000. Be clear with the taxi driver if you want service [ser-vee-s]. If the taxi driver asks you to pay 2 or 3 service, they are asking for you to pay for two or three spots in the cab, which is usually unnecessary. Just wait for the next cab. There are about a dozen government bus routes, but service taxis are typically easier and just as cheap.
There are two types of taxis in Beirut; the old (often) battered hail-taxis, and the prebooking taxis.
Keep in mind the names of the landmarks around the city, as they will come in handy when traveling by public transport (some drivers aren't that good at orienting!).
The more common form of transport, especially with daily commuters, as they are cheaper than the taxis, but ironically, are in fact the same. Service [ser-vee-s] are shared-taxis, the same taxis as above but shared between four or more people. The biggest advantage with the Service system is that the price of the ride is fixed at 2,000 L.L (€1). They come with drawbacks of course, and apart from having to share a small car with three other complete strangers (great for meeting new people actually), Service drivers may choose not to take you if you are not going in the same direction as them. Hailing a service or taxi usually entails yelling your destination to the driver if he slows down, then chasing the name of your destination with either 'taxi' (for private taxi 10,000 L.L. should you want one.)
It is important to remember that if you want a service, give the name of the general district you want and not a specific address. When you get close the driver will ask you where you want to get out. If you recognise the area you want to be in say just ask to stop. AFTER you have paid you and the driver asks you, can give a more specific address like "Crowne Plaza" (a landmark on Hamra St.)and the driver will drop you as near to it as he is going, often pointing out where you have to walk to get there. When you get in to a service pay the 2000L.L. for each person right away. If you fail to do so, the driver will assume you asked for taxi, and will overcharge you at taxi-rate when you want to get out. However if the driver stops to ask for other fares or picks up another passenger only pay the Service rate of 2,000 L.L.
Taxi drivers in Beirut are notorious for overcharging tourists much more so than neighboring Syria. Most will demand absurd fares and demanding 2-3 times the service rate is very common. If you're pressed for time paying 2 service may be a compromise (4000 LL), otherwise you may have to wait a bit to find an honest cab driver willing to take you for 2000 LL. Always get a price BEFORE leaving otherwise the driver will most definitely rip you off. Also, virtually no one tips cab drivers unless some extraordinary service has been rendered, like a very long wait time while you run an errand or something. Some drivers will ask you for a tip particularly near holidays. Payment is usually at the end of the journey.
There are currently two public transport companies. The OCFTC  that operates a fleet of blue and white city-buses, and the LCC  with a fleet of red and white minibuses; Bus fares cost either 500LL (OCFTC bus 24) or 1000LL ($0.33 to 0.67). The service is very efficient and the buses come very often, to get onto a bus you must stand at the side of the road and signal with your hand as a bus approaches; the buses will stop anywhere.
Driving in Beirut is not to be recommended for much of the day, particularly in the city center. Traffic is heavy, and impossible during rush hour. There is so much to see and being stuck in a traffic jam is the last thing anyone would want to spend their time doing. Walking around the city is much more of an experience, and is in fact necessary in the very center since that part of the city is a pedestrian area.
It can be difficult to find parking other than in multi-story and off-street car parks. On-street parking, if you are lucky enough to find one, is allowed for a short time of two hours. Tickets must be purchased through the parking meters usually located at either end of a street. They can be paid by either cash or card. Overstaying your time may get you a ticket. Enforcement of the parking limit isn't done very efficiently, but obviously the last thing anyone would want to find is a ticket that will ruin their day and set them back financially.
Renting a car is recommended if you're planing to visit neighboring towns and cities such as Jounieh, or if you're planing to go out late at night when public transport isn't operating, or maybe simply to enjoy the Lebanese "see-and-be-seen" lifestyle. Car rental prices range from economical 40.000L.L/day (€20.00/day) to luxury and exotic standard prices. Those can change according to season, so make sure you contact the car rental company beforehand to check prices as well as pickup/drop-off locations.
If you are traveling to the country during high season make sure to book your car rental in advance since it is normal to find that all rental companies are completely booked.
Driving in Beirut is on the right-hand side of the road.
Only the central areas of Beirut have traffic lights operating, though plans have been made to cover all of the city.
As the city is quite compact, walking is the best way of getting around, and perfect for getting off the beaten track to find unexpected surprises. Most people however will not walk throughout the city, rather they will walk within certain districts and take cars/taxis to get from one district to another. Streets are generally well signposted, but few Beiruti locals would know how to navigate according to their names, directions are usually given by building placement ("straight down the road until you reach building X, turn left there, then right..."), and many streets have local nicknames that wouldn't match the map. That said, if you find yourself lost in the streets, simply ask any passer-by for directions; no one will refuse to help! Otherwise you can stop at the nearest hotel or shop and ask. Hotel concierges and shop keepers will most definitely speak some limited English.
Some roads in Beirut are in poor condition. Not so much in the center, but the farther you get from downtown the more road works you will most probably find. So take care!
You can always check out a Beiruti-run walking tour called Walk Beirut. They offer weekly tours around the city.
Beirut was once the self-proclaimed "Paris of the Middle East". It still has an outdoor cafe culture, and European architecture can be found everywhere. Many Beirutis (as well as other Lebanese) speak French and/or English, to varying degrees, along with Arabic.
Each district has its own sights and places to visit. The following listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Beirut. The complete listings are found on each individual district page.
Museums and galleries
Parks & Squares
Festivals & Events
There are many things to do in Beirut. Check the different districts to find out what each has to offer. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights:
Clothes and fashion - Beirut is the fashion capital of Lebanon and the region, with many prominent Lebanese designers located here, including (Elie Saab , Basil Soda , Pierre Katra  and Robert AbiNader .)
There are several shopping districts around the city.
Flea markets are surprisingly hard to find, occasional organized markets are held that are made to resemble flea markets.
Lebanese cuisine is a mix of Arab, Turkish, and Mediterranean influences, and enjoys a worldwide reputation for its richness and variety as well as its Mediterranean health factor. Olive oil, herbs, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables are commonly used, as well as dairy products, cereals, fishes and various types of meat. A visit to Beirut includes the traditional Lebanese Mezze (Meza), an elaborate variety of thirty hot and cold dishes. A typical Mezze may consist of salads such as the Tabboule and Fattouch, together with the caviars: Hommos and Moutabal, and some patties such as the Sambousseks and finally, the stuffed grape leaves, with of course the Lebanese flat pita bread which is essential to every Lebanese Mezze.
Beirut's different cultures brought different tastes for food, and restaurants of all different origins have opened all around the city. Restaurants have different price ranges, depending of course on the quality of the ingredients used; check the different districts for the listings.
If you're on a tight budget, or if you simply miss the food that you can get back at home, fast food is your best option. All major international fast food restaurants have opened chains in Beirut (KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee's, TGI Fridays, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Dunkin' Donuts, Subway etc...), but many local fast food restaurants have sprung up to compete with the major franchisers.
Nightlife: Alcohol is readily available in Beirut. Many of Beirut's districts have their own fair amount of cafes, bars, and clubs, although many areas are "dry" or, while serving alocohol, do not have a vibrant nightlife. This said, two of the hotter nightspots, with the highest concentration of pubs and nightclubs, are Gemmayze (mostly pubs) and Monot St (mix of nightclubs and pubs), both located within close range in the Ashrafieh district. Hamra is also seeing a revival in it's nightlife, with over a dozen new pubs and bars open there now. The best way to find out what's in and whats not is by checking the local press or simply going there and seeing for yourself. There is no curfew in Beirut, thought expect most pubs and bars to empty by 2:00am, and most nightclubs to empty between 4:00am and 4:40am.
During the summer, Monot tends to be much less busy, as many open-air clubs outside of the area tend to dominate the nightlife in Beirut. Gemmayzeh remains popular year-round.
Locally brewed beer include Almaza and Laziza (non-alcoholic). There is also a microbrewery that started producing several styles of more flavorful beer in 2006, called "961 Beer". In 2010, a new beer was launched called "LB Beer", which is brewed without the use of any corn or rice. it has gained a large following by the younger, independent minded crowd and is a regular staple at locally organized parties. All are worth a try when visiting.
There are lots of hotels in Beirut's metropolitan area, ranging from cheap hostels to luxury suite hotels. Prices and quality vary across the spectrum, but if you look well enough, there's bound to be the perfect hotel inside whatever budget you set. Check the different districts to find places to sleep.
Since 2009, Lebanon has become a safe place and the number of tourists is dramatically increasing (more than 2 million in 2009), although the number has peaked since then. The US government's warning to travelers visiting Lebanon was lifted in mid-September 2009. The violence in Naher al-Bared has ceased. If you choose to visit Lebanon, visit the touristic cities like Jounieh, Byblos, Tyr and Tripoli. Beirut itself is safe.
Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut are approachable, but try to bring a local. She/he will be worth a lot when it comes to logistics and safety. Camps vary in size and appearance (the camps in Beirut are worse than some rural camps, which can resemble more open villages). Most refugees however are both civil and open in the encounter with foreigners. The key is of course openness on your part as well. Of course, Downtown Beirut will always be a more safe alternative, but for the most part you won't encounter any problems while in a refugee camp.
Photography of military personnel and installations is prohibited. You should also be careful in taking photographs in the Dahiyeh (the southern suburbs), if you don't want to get in contact with Hezbollah. The safest thing is to ask an official nearby for permission, although your request will very likely be turned down. Keep your camera in a purse just for safety. If a Hezbollah official approaches you, seeing your camera, he can't know if you've been taking pictures before that. Should you be taken in for questioning (because of taking pictures), remain calm. It might take a long time getting out of it, but it's highly unlikely that things should escalate or turn ugly. Bottom line: consider not bringing your camera at all. A trip to Dahiyeh is way too interesting and different to be spent getting questionined by the authorities.
Avoid any governmental or military convoys that may be passing by. Lebanese people have adapted to all those situations.
Tourists (including Lebanese expatriates) are especially vulnerable to scams in Beirut, and often these relate to overpricing. There is a broad perception that all foreigners have a wealth of riches, and more disturbingly, that they are powerless to complain in the event of being ripped off. A lack of regulation for many basic services in Lebanon (e.g., public transport) mean that the threat of a complaint will do little to set things straight, and your best bet is to be as vigilant as possible in the first place.
Public Transport and Taxis
When traveling in Beirut, always:
1. Let someone know where you are going and have someone expecting you on arrival. Try to avoid traveling alone.
2. Always carry your mobile phone in an easy to reach spot.
3. If traveling by taxi, always agree to the fare in advance, and pay only on arrival.
4. Ask for local recommendations on cab companies/operators - people are less likely to give you a bad experience if there's reputational damage involved.
5. In cabs, always pretend to be interested in the services of your taxi driver for future use (e.g., day rates, extended private touring) even if you are not - entertain this by asking for a contact number and tell your driver you'll "get back in touch, maybe (insert random day here) next week". If you have a good experience, it might even be a handy number to have.
You may be warned about carjackings by your car rental company; a known trouble spot is the Emile Lahoud Autostrade linking Mt Lebanon (Bikfaya area) with Beirut. Heed any recent advice.
Street signs in Beirut are generally poor, and those placed on motorways often provide insufficient notice of an impending junction or exit. Unless you're certain about your route, try to avoid driving at night, which can lead to hours of frustration.
While the Lebanese are an affectionate (and genuinely friendly) lot, beware of anyone random introducing themselves to you on the street with a hug or a handshake that draws you in to an embrace - often with a line like "oh, its you! how are you!". The assailant then threatens the victim to hand over money/wallet/phone/jewelery in a way that avoids public spectacle.
If you are unlucky enough to fall ill, head straight for the American University Hospital - aka 'the AUH' (near the AUB campus) - you will need to pay around $40 USD upfront (cash or major credit card) and be reimbursed later by your insurer.
Pharmacies in Lebanon are able to prescribe drugs on-the-spot. While this is likely to be a boon for a minority of travelers, it can leave you even more ill than when you came in to begin with. Don't chance it - see a doctor first.
Escaping to the mountains near Beirut is a good option for those about to burn-out. Aley and Beit Mery are both near enough to the city (20-30 minutes) and are generally clean and green.
Radio in Beirut is quite popular, particularly with the younger people who listen to the English-spoken stations as all events and concerts are advertised through those. Arabic and French broadcasted stations are plentiful, and are worth a listen if you'd like to experience the traditional culture. Below are radio stations that are broadcasted in English:
Official Newsboxes can be found throughout the commercial areas in the city, mainly in Sassine Square ashrafieh, Verdun st. Verdun, Concorde st. Hamra. All Minimarkets/Supermarkets/Hypermarkets distribute newspapers and magazines as well.
There is a huge variety of Arabic newspapers of all sorts, as well as ethnic newspapers such as the Armenian Aztag Daily.
Many cafes and restaurants provide free WiFi to customers. Internet Cafes are plentiful in Beirut, and they should all provide printing and copying services as well as web surfing. The inner-city internet cafes tend to be more expensive (approx $2-3/hr) than those in the residential areas (approx $0.50/hr), but are also usually 'nicer' eg: providing a faster internet connection with new fast computers:
Payphones  can be found on all main streets all around the city, however, they can only take smart cards called Telecarte which provide a specific amount of prepaid calling time and can be used from any payphone. Telecarte denominations come in 10.000L.L (€6.6) and 30.000L.L ($20.00). Telecarte can be purchase at OGERO Sales Offices and MoT offices (most Minimarkets/Supermarkets/Hypermarkets as well as Mobile phone stores sell them).
Once you leave Beirut, visit any of the other cities in Lebanon. The country is relatively small, so no single journey to any other city should take more than two hours. Depending on the season visiting, you can go skiing in one the six mountain resorts, or go to the beaches in Tyr or one of the beach resorts in Jounieh. Visit the national heritage sites around Lebanon; every city in the country has at least some form of ancient or historic site.
Buses that head to the North city of Tripoli or to Syria and Jordan operate from the Charles Helou bus station, which is also the station for long-distance taxis that link Beirut to neighboring cities as well as Syria and Jordan. Charles Helou is located next to Port of Beirut. It can be difficult to understand the main bus routes at first but you can always ask, bus drivers are like everybody else in Lebanon, friendly and may be able to communicate in English or French.
Buses that head South -- to Sidon or Tyre -- leave from the Cola intersection.