Lebanon - I'm surprised about modern Beirut

Beirut is totally ready for tourists as it safe

After two days in Jordan, I went back to Lebanon for the remaining time of the long weekend.  Heavy advertisements for tourism, already in the plane, made me realize that Lebanon is striving to sell its country to potential new mass tourism.

The marketing videos showcased an array of attractions - pristine beaches, World War II scuba diving spots with wrecks, and hiking-friendly mountains. A co-passenger, a friendly lady, likened Lebanon to the “Switzerland of the Middle East” in terms of its mountainous terrain and skiing opportunities (maybe it's true, but I did not see it). While my brief visit didn’t allow me to fully explore the country, I can share my impressions of Lebanon, specifically Beirut, based on my experiences.

Before my visit, my perception of Lebanon was dominated by images of war, warlords, guns, destruction, refugees, danger, and evil.

However, after my visit, my perspective shifted dramatically. I now associate Lebanon with friendliness, tranquility, cleanliness, progress, cosmopolitanism, and a surprising array of international fast-food chains like KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wimpy, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks.

Map of Beirut

Tourist Hot Spots

Saturday - From Jordan to Lebanon

Coming from Jordan with a direct flight, but with a big detour into Syria airspace. I wasn’t aware of that but I figured out that between Syria, Lebanon and Israel might be some dispute around the borderlines. That was the reason the plane avoided the Israeli airspace or avoided getting close to it at all.

Obtaining a visa stamp at the airport was a breeze, with no fee to pay and absolutely no hassle. The only minor inconvenience was the money exchange process, as there is only one bank at the airport with limited operating hours. However, what really took me by surprise was the taxi fare from the airport to Beirut’s city center.

At around 20 USD for a 15-minute ride, it was a stark reminder that Lebanon, and especially Beirut, is not as budget-friendly as some other Middle Eastern countries.

Street in Beirut
StreetStreet toward the harborBusiness District in Beirut

My hotel was located in Hamra, a bustling city center area known for its shopping malls, restaurants, and fast food chains.

What surprised me the most was the presence of Western fast-food chains. It wasn’t just Burger King, but a full array of options including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Wimpy, Starbucks, and KFC. 

I hadn’t expected to find these familiar brands in a Middle Eastern country, particularly one so close to Syria and Saudi Arabia. However, after engaging in a few conversations with locals, I discovered an interesting fact: Lebanon is likely the only country in the world with an equal ratio of Muslims to Christians.

Sunday - A normal Sunday in Beirut

Knowing I hadn’t too much time in Beirut because of the early sunset. So I had to find a strategic route to walk to see most of it. There aren’t too many sites and monuments and that was good for me in that matter.

With Liban number plate

After a few hundred meters I saw already a few buildings with bullet holes and restoration in progress.

Snipers occupied the tower to overlook the city in the Beirut War Beirut was the epicenter back in the last century in the civil war and terrible destruction happened there. But that ended in 1990. There is one tower called El Murr, it is the tallest tower in Beirut and overlooks the whole city. Back in the war, it was full of snipers. Nowadays it is a military base and heavily protected. Tried to talk to some soldiers and guards in the front if I could get up there to take photos:

“Sorry, but this is an army building, you cannot go in there, normally. Its only possible with an entry ticket.”

Hmm, I didn’t see any ticket office. A few sentences later I knew exactly what he was supposed to be the vending machine for an "entry ticket" and only required some cash. But I didn’t want to bribe a soldier in the middle of Lebanon after only a few hours of walking around.

Also, the building was 40 levels high and had no elevator and so I skipped trying to get up.

Lebanon Flag with tree
75th independence day was two days agoRight beside the El MurrBuilding beside Lebanese Red Cross

The road brought me to the Place l’Etoile, the Mohamed al Amin Mosque and to the Martyrs State. This area is very new, all newly built and modern big buildings.

Is few meters from the Mohamad al amin Mosque
Also called the Nijmeh SquareJust beside the Mosque and the christian cathedralAncient pieces at El Maarad

It's clearly visible they want to create here something that lasts for the next hundreds of years and conserves some culture.

However, locals seem to avoid this area somehow as I didn’t see many of them walking here or sitting in cafes or restaurants. Is it maybe too expensive? Could be, at least it makes the impression.

Surrounded by modern and new buildings in Beirut
After a 15 year long civil warIs it Beirut Souks?

At the bay area is a long walkway for kilometers, all nicely done and clean and tidy.

It's called the Corniche and leads basically all around the Beirut Coast. The north coast of Beirut is made for fishing and bigger boats or yachts… yes, yachts.. many of them in Beirut.

A long stretched walking street right at the coast
Huge flag pole at Fakhreddine CornerLeads from the McDonalds up until the LighthouseWalking along the Paris AvenueNot a sandy beach but is good to play sportsIs popular in Beirut due to easy access

My time here in Beirut consisted of lots of walking.

Really a lot, but it was nice and I was surprised to feel so comfortable and safe with many restaurants and coffee. Also, I didn’t notice even only one sirene of police or ambulance during my whole stay for almost two days in Beirut.

The west coast is more for walking as the entrance to the water is limited to the strong current along the street reefs.

A long beach with resorts
At the Ramlet al-Baida Public BeachLeads from the Raouche Rock to the LighthouseMe infront of the Plaza BeirutIts a modern city, no war at allSoldiers do not like when I make photos of itTowards the PARIS Avenue

There is this prominent rock called "Raouche", a huge landmark that is also the starting point for all the resorts and hotels along the west coast beach areas.

Natural landmark called the Pigeons' Rock
Right beside upscale apartment buildingsLocated at Beirut's westernmost tipArea with oldest evidence of human existence

Now I'm going to watch a recent movie from the cinema, which is called “Beirut”.

It's a thriller about the Beirut civil war. I hope it won't restore my negative stereotype thinking about Lebanon again.

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