Visiting Lebanon should be on everyone’s bucket list. But instead of boring you to death with how much I love exploring it (again), I will introduce you to not just a few, but all of my favourite places in Beirut. Take out your notebooks and see whether some of the fascination jumps over to your side of the screen.

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Café culture 

Dawawine is a cinema/library/cafe/restaurant/workspace in Gemmayzeh. Anyone can come for any of the above activities. The cool thing is: It’s still pretty much a secret spot and you won’t have to share your delicious homemade Lebanese lunch or that independent French movie with anyone else if you don’t want to. The wifi connection is pretty good compared to the national average (disastrous).

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There’s Bar Tartine, a bakery in Mar Mikhael. I live opposite it so fresh orange juice and a chocolate croissant, followed by a manooshe around the corner tends to my first action of the day.

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Urbanista is great for speedy wifi and a relatively quiet location for interviews etc. The prices however are ridiculously expensive and 90% of staff are consistently unfriendly and arrogant but you somehow can’t avoid it. Felt a little too Western. Check out Vyvyans because its bartender was the very first friend I’ve made there, Cafe Internazionale to meet and greet Mar Mikhael’s stoned artists, Cafe du Prague in Hamra, and Frosty Palace for some American diner vibes, burgers and milkshakes. For a local dinner alternative, check out the coolest project in town, Junkyard, it’s only recently re-opened and words just don’t describe the creativity and thought that has gone into designing the interior and garden. Tawlet also is a Lebanese restaurant that only uses local ingredients and aims to give back to the community. That idea is becoming pretty big in all of Lebanon at the moment which sets a beautiful to the rest of the world.

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Weekends and nights

Walk back onto Armenia Street and stumble into Radio Beirut for awesome gigs but: Do not drink their wine! Lebanon’s Bekaa valley has some truly tasty grapes so usually Lebanese wine is a good idea but not in this case! The Old Train Station has been my favourite open air club, people are so relaxed and have a very inclusive clubbing style if that makes sense, you’ll immediately be part of the game… which won’t be the case in London or Berlin.

The Saifi Village in downtown is an excellent place to witness the Beiruti clash between decay and fancyschmancy first-hand, the latter still outweighs the rest though. Visit Saifi Urban Gardens (a ten-minute walk from Saifi village) to pretend to learn Arabic but sing karaoke with fellow travelers instead while surrounded by street art and flowers.

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And here are some weekend activities: Catch a cooking class at KitchenLab, wander around Achrafieh for spots where you can see the entire city and mountains, hit the souk (market) next to the Beirut Souks shopping centre on Saturdays, visit an art exhibition at the Beirut Exhibition Center and hang out at Papercup, a beautiful magazine and book store that will be your quick fix in all things art, design, architecture and photography.

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Hiking in summer really is the best thing you can do to escape the urban heat. Organisations like Liban Trek and Vamos Todos offer different trips each weekend. When choosing an organisation make sure they have a license and that you’re insured. Eco tourism is seen as an easy income and you don’t wanna hike with a dodgy group that isn’t in touch with the Lebanese military or Hezbollah in the South to enquire about the current security situation. 

Although it seriously annoyed me how people from abroad who had never been to the Middle East tried to educate me about security issues, it is true that political tensions in Lebanon can change quickly. If you’ve never been, make sure you’re with a local and/or check English speaking news media like The Daily Star or Twitter for timely updates. Again, don’t let yourself get freaked out by folk who have no idea what they’re talking about. Lebanese people know exactly how to behave in tricky situations and what areas to avoid during clashes, so just listen to them instead.

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Getting around

Getting around in Beirut can be a bit of an adventure as walking usually isn’t an option. There’s just too much traffic and too few rules. Jump in a service taxi, ask/shout “Service!?” instead. That means you’ll get a reduced fare (2,000L.L./$1) but will have to share the cab with other passengers. If you going out of town, find out what bus number to get (the blue guide below has them in, you can find it in nearly every cafe) and good luck jumping on the right one. A general rule, be careful in whose car you’re getting, drivers can be reckless. Taxis have to have a big red number plate, otherwise ignore them. If you have a weird feeling about the driver, just shake your head and get the next one.

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Rents and prices

A few practicalities: You can pay everywhere with US dollars. There’s only one airport in the whole country, order a cab when you’ve arrived, don’t take a bus or a random cab that’s not booked. You can find some pretty cool flats via the usual suspects like Airbnb. Saifi (the language school, remember?) also is a pretty cool hostel and there’s almost no limit on the luxury end of things in downtown. Rent is expensive, expect to pay $500 a month but restaurants and especially markets that sell fresh fruits and incredible food are very affordable (if you don’t let yourself get ripped off that is). The food is ridiculously awesome and it will make you never want to leave this country, trust me.

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Don’t drink tap water, mini markets sell bottles of 5L which should last you for two or three days in summer. Bring sun screen, drink sports drinks (Gatorade seriously saved my life during the first days), be careful with alcohol if you’ve just arrived and your body’s not yet used to getting tipsy in 40°C. The biggest supermarket chain is Spinney’s which sells products from all over the world so you might well find your favourite jam or tea in there!

If you need some more help with all things history and culture, I can highly recommend the Beirut guide by Carole Corm and Beyroutes which isn’t really guide but still gives you a pretty (if pessimistic) insight into what walking the streets of this grand city’s districts feels like.

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Are you planning to pop by Beirut anytime soon? Have you been? What were your favourite places? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

All photos taken by Caroline Schmitt