Since the end of the civil war, in 1990, Lebanon has been back in the game for the more adventurous travelers. The capital of the country was once called The Paris of the Middle East and has a lot to offer. Visitors in 2019 can experience an ancient and rich culture, the most delicious Mediterranean culinary, luxurious shopping and a surprisingly bustling nightlife. The Lebanese are beautiful, interesting People, warm-hearted and welcoming who’ll certainly make for a memorable trip.
Is it safe?
Safety is the first concern for who is traveling to a country mostly surrounded by war. Lebanon is pretty safe, though. Beirut is rated as a safe city by western governmental bodies like the British Foreign Office
There is virtually no urban violence in Lebanon. I’ve been living in Beirut since early 2018 and I feel certainly safer here than in many European capitals, not to mention the American continent.
The best time to visit Beirut is in April or May, right after the mild Mediterranean winter, and before the scorching heat of the summer. The days in Beirut are to be sunny and warm while the nights will be clear and refreshing. During the spring, it is still possible to see the snow in the surrounding mountains and go skiing on a day trip. As the Lebanese like to brag: you can start your day skiing and end it with a drink by the beach.
The Lebanese regard themselves as the carriers of an older tradition. They are the descendants of the Phoenicians, one of the first-ever recorded civilizations in History. The rich Lebanese story is very well displayed in the fantastic National Museum of Beirut, a rather small museum that flirts with greatness. The collection basically covers the story of humanity: from the first civilizations, through empires, until the civil war – which is well represented by the hole a guerrilla man dug in a thousand-year-old Phoenician mosaic, during the war, when the museum building was taken over and used by different fighting factions.
The official language of Lebanon is Arabic. But never have I visited a place where people spoke more languages. English is practically a second official language, and you can speak in English everywhere, at least in Beirut. Most Lebanese, especially the Christians, speak French as well. And it’s not uncommon for Lebanese to speak a 4th language.
The interesting part is that at least Arabic French and English are often spoken alternately in the same sentence. The traditional greeting in Beirut is uttered in all three languages: “Hi, Kifak? Ça va?” (literally: Hi, how are you, is it going? in English, Arabic, and French).
Lebanon has 18 different confessions. The two main religions are Christianism and Islam, but these are fractured in Lebanese society. Christians can be Orthodox, Maronites, Catholics, Syriac, Armenian, Greek. Islam has the traditional Sunnis and Shias, but also Alawites and the Druze, who are not always considered to be part of Islam. Judaism is officially recognized as one of the 18 sects, but it is not clear if there are in fact still jews living in Lebanon.
I once heard that Olive oil is a defining cultural phenomenon. Everywhere Olives grow, you can find similar food: the Mediterranean cuisine, which is based in great amounts of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, zucchini, eggplants, and herbs. When we talk about Mediterranean cuisine, we often think of Spain, Italy, and Greece, but in my opinion, Lebanon had the most outstanding and rich cuisine of the whole Mediterranean.
Lebanese culture, Lebanese relations, Lebanese Politics, peace and war, everything revolves around a table. And this table is filled with Mezze, traditional Lebanese appetizers like Kebbe, Moutabal (eggplant and tahini mash), Hommos (chickpea and tahini mash), Labneh, Fatoush and Tabouleh (parsley salad). Once in Beirut, eating is mandatory. From street food to fine dining, everything is worth it. And if a Lebanese invites you to dine at his/ her house, please take the chance. And go on an empty stomach, as no Lebanese will ever let you walk out before tasting everything.
Bars and Nightlife
Unlike most countries in the Middle East, alcohol is legal and widely available in Beirut – and most cities in Lebanon. There are no laws against public consumption of alcohol in Lebanon and certain areas of Beirut – like the Christian neighborhood of Mar Mikhael – are packed with bars where you can get a table at the sidewalk and enjoy a cocktail of craft beer while people watching.
The upscale cocktail, wine, and craft beer scene is booming in Beirut as well as rooftop bars where one can enjoy beautiful views of this exotic and enticing city. There are also a fair amount of clubs where Beirutis dance the night through to the sound of local and international DJs. And, in case you are like me and will just want a cool local beer, there are lots of small bars and convenience stores open 24 hours a day selling beer for who wants a cheap drink to have while walking, or seated in the sidewalk or in the stairs – Beirut has lots of charming urban stairways.