J’ai écrit ce mail pour un ami qui va bientôt au Liban. Peut être utile pour tout le monde. Merci F. pour l’aide. Guide subjectif bien sûr mais qui a l’avantage d’être écrit par des gens qui connaissent.
First, it is useful to know that there are a number of neighborhoods in Beirut where everything is oncentrated (I will refer to them in the restaurants/bar sections). It is also pleasant to walk in these neighborhoods during the day.
Abdel Wahhab: a traditional neighborhood with architecture from the Ottoman and French mandate periods, unfortunately progressively replaced by hideous super modern buildings. I recommend to wander in the small streets and discover antique shops and galleries, have a chat with their owners. You can easily spend half a day. Start at Sodeco, then take Addel Wahhab Inglizi street and maket sure you explore all the small streets mainly at your left when you’re coming from Sodeco.
Hamra: Was known as the Champs Elysées of Beirut before the war (with a typical sense of Mediterranean exageration). Recently Hamra is witnessing a revival. Lots of bars. Great for a drink after dinner. The parallel Bliss Street is nice as well during the day. The American University of Beirut campus is there. This campus is worth visiting.
Gemmayze: Basically one long street, Rue Gouraud, named after a general of the French mandate, plus more and more streets around it, in particular Rue Pasteur a parallel to rue Gouraud. THE street where all the bars are. Restaurants are not fantastic (some suggestions below) but bars are cool, and bar hopping a national sport.
Downtown: Renovated after the war, the historical downtown is beautiful but a bit artificial. The place does not have a soul yet. Mainly for shopping during the day. Around Aishti, the leading department store, all the international luxury brands (Chanel, Dior, LV, etc.), in a nice environment with no cars. Restaurants are touristic and generally pretty bad. Lots of tourists but should be visited at least once.
Saifi village: Small cute village for billionnaires in the heart of Beirut. There are a couple of restaurants for a quick lunch + trendy souvenir shops, local craftsmanship.
Raouché Corniche: A 6 Km Sea promenade. Must do, either early morning or in the afternoon, in a nice sunny day all along the year. Ideal for a jogging except in July and August, too hot unless you go at 5 or 6 am.
Mar Mikhael: Extension of Rue Gourand and Rue Pasteur, a number of bars and restaurants have opened in this popular neighborhood.
Restaurants: (**: places I recommend)
Preferable to book at least a week in advance.
** Albergo: this is our preferred place, in a gorgeous boutique hotel in Abdel Wahhab. Dinner at the terrace on the top floor is a must. If it’s raining or it’s too hot in July/August, it is also possible to have dinner inside. Locals have dinner or drinks in Albergo before going out. +9611339797
** Casablanca: good cuisine and a cool atmosphere in Raouché. You should take the octopus as a starter. Prefer a mix of starters, all very good, asian/mediterranean fusion style. Booking in advance required. +9611369334
La centrale: Overrated for the food (average) but superb bar after dinner +9613915925
Balthus: Parisian style brasserie. Good tartare de boeuf (raw meet). +9611371077 Expensive. You meet the local bourgeoisie in this place.
Rouge: In Gemmayze. There are a lot of average to bad restaurants in Gemmayze, most of them last for a year or two. This one is simple and tasty. +9611442366
La plage: By the sea in Raouché. Crowd is a bit (or even a lot) show off but the place is nice + 9611366222
Chez Sophie: An expensive high-end French restaurant in Mar Mikhael with a French chef. I did not test it. Good reviews from friends. +9611835218
The gathering: steak house + italian in a nice outdoor setting with old Lebanese houses, strangely just on the highway… but you get used to it.
Burgundy: which gets the “Best restaurant in Beirut” label, and also the most expensive one. It’s located in Saifi village. I didn’t try it. Tel: +9611999820.
Lebanese (good food but the places are not very trendy in general):
Abdel Wahhab: In Abdel Wahhab + 9611200550 (huge and noisy place, reservation not necessarily required)
Al Mayyass: In Abdel Wahhab. Cosy place, nice for a dinner for two. Lebanese with a twist from Aleppo, a city in Syria renowned for its cuisine +9611215046
Falamanki: Animated traditional chicha joint.
**Tawlet: In Mark Mikhael. For lunch. A trendy buffet canteen with authentic Lebanese cuisine. Food you eat at home in Lebanon. +9611448129
**Fadel: one of the best restaurants in the mountain (one hour from Beirut). Good food with a more limited menu than the traditional Lebanese restaurant. For Lunch. +9614980979
Chez Sami: Lebanese seefood cuisine, located in Jounieh, on the sea shore. +9619910520. Expensive. For many, the best Lebanese restaurant. http://www.chezsamirestaurant.com/
Japanese restaurants are average in Beirut. There are a number of commercial and usually tasteless sushi places. Two restaurants are above average.
Yabani: Near downtown +961 1 211113
Sushi bar: near downtown +9611338555
Al Dente: In Abdel Wahhab. Ground floor of hotel Albergo. +9611202440/1
La Posta: Pleasant to have dinner outside, on the terrace. Food is OK, place is beautiful in the heart of Abdel Wahhab + 9611970597
SO. It’s not a Michelin, but food is correct (European, Italian, and Japanese!). It’s located in Achrafieh – SOFIL area. +9611336644
International chains are a safe choice (Phenicia Intercontinental, 4 seasons, Vendome Intercontinental in particular). For a different experience that the classical international chain, The Gray is a boutique hotel downtown (I have mixed reviews from friends who stayed there) or the special Albergo a charming boutique hotel in the heart of Abdel Wahhab.
** Bar hopping: Gemmayze and Hamra. Just walk around after 10 or 11pm and enter into the bars. My preferred place in Hamra is Ferdinand +9611 355955. I also like Pacifico (+ tex mex food) +961 1 204446 in Monot street, the old bar street. In Gemmayze, I like Joe Pena’s : +9611449906 with tex mex food.
The Torino in Gemmayze is an institution, a hole in the wall ideal pre-dinner at 7pm. If you don’t smoke, avoid entering or sit outside. The place is an ashtray.
Behind the green door: Named after a famous porn movie of the seventies, this old garage shop is a new trendy bar. Only for smokers, the place is not ventilated and everyone smokes (similar to these tiny places in airports for smokers only). Classical option: take a drink and sit on a car outside to have a chat with friends.
** Music hall: There is a musical show and it is a night club. +9613807555
Mandaloun: same ideas as Music hall, different shows (there are also restaurants/cafes called Mandaloun, to be avoided. This is where pretentious locals meet and continuouly smoke the cigar just next to you, even while eating): 9611565333
** BO18 : A mythical nightclub. Must do. Usually an after. +9613800018
** Skybar: Objectively one of the best night clubs in the world. Open sky. 9613939191
White/Iris: SkyBar challenger in Dora.
Le capitole: Downtown open air lounge bar. In the same building as the Buddha bar. Nices vistas (views and girls).
Buddha bar: Downtown. Never been. Mixed reviews. Too big.
Le Zinc: One of the first to open after the war. Live music. A friend owns the place and I like it, but some people complain the music is too loud. +9611612612
From June to mid-July and from September to November or December. To be avoided in August.
Edde Sands: One hour north of Beirut. Great to have lunch in the Lebanese restaurant and then just relax by the sea. Close to the historical town of Byblos. +9619546666. To be avoided in the summer period and in week-ends. Often overcast during summer.
Lazy be: 45min to one hour, south of Beirut. They lately added a special pool for kids. +96170950010
BAMBOO Bay, one of the first (new style) beaches, located in Jiyeh, southern Beirut. It has been renovated. +9613513888
In Beirut, beaches are not nice but there are complexes with a pool like Riviera. I am not a big fan (men with cigars and women with silicon)
**Jeita grotto (half a day, 45 min from Beirut), Byblos with ruins of all sort (1 hour from Beirut, can be coupled with Edde Sands for lunch and relaxing by the beach).
There is also a very nice and renowned souk in Byblos with touristic shops. Day or night (better at night).
If you go to Byblos, I recommend that you ask the driver to take you to Batroun a village 30 minutes from Byblos and to take the coastal road that is pretty with fewer concrete buildings than everywhere else. If you go there, try the local lemonade, it’s famous.
** Baalbeck is an overwhelming roman ruins site but the road to reach it is very tough. 2 hours from Beirut, bumpy and mountain road. Not pleasant. A good idea is to go for one day to the region where the ruins are (called Bekaa valley). On the way you can stop at the Ksara vineyards (+ wine tasting). Jesuits have founded the place in the 19th century and also have lunch at a town called Zahlé, known for the Lebanese cuisine on the Berdawne river. Also ask the driver to stop in Chtaura, on the way back (or in the morning) to buy renowned local food (labneh and jebneh).
Cedars forest: 1:30 from Beirut in the Mountain. The scenery on the road is nice and the forest as well. Unfortunately there are fewer and fewer trees. Close to another gorgeous place called Qadisha valley. You can couple the two.
Ehden: An authentic Lebanese Northern village, on the way to the Cedars (it’s 2 to 3 villages away from the Cedars).
There is a beautiful Natural reserve and a trekking path in Ehden. It is well preserved area, where you can find wild birds and animals. It’s called Horsh Ehden Nature reserve (http://www.horshehden.org/)
** Beiteddine: In the mountains south of Beirut, 60 min from the city, good road, nice scenery. Palaces to visit with nice gardens. Strongly recommend a hotel called Mir Amine for lunch. Relaxing, calm and beautiful.
** Deir el Kamar: It’s the last village before reaching Beiteddine. Lebanon’s first capital. It’s an authentic Lebanese mountain village which had a great influence in shaping Lebanon’s history. Very interesting center (Mosque and Church side by side, 200 yrs old houses, etc.), and a beauuuutiful promenade.
**Barouk’s Cedar reserve: Beautiful Cedar forest, half hour far from Beiteddine. You can buy also local product from the reserve (Honey, etc).
Check out the website: http://www.shoufcedar.org/
Metn: less spectacular but nice scenaries, you can visit the villages of (from Beirut) Beit Mery (nice small ruins, nice village and lebanese houses), Broummana, Baaddate, Bikfaya, Naas (where the restaurant Fadel is and you can have lunch there), and go up to Sannine, the highest mountain in Lebanon with superb views.
I don’t really like Saida and Sour although there are ruins. The cities are not really nice. I would not prioritize Tripoli in the North neither. There is a fortress but the city is average.
All major brands are present. There is one shop that has most of the brands, called Aïshti.
I would also add the BEIRUT SOUK, located and built on ancient downtown souk. They left some of the old trademarks of Beirut souk inside the mall. In fact, it’s an open air mall. Not bad for shopping and walking.