Article & Photos by: Yuri Nesen
Beirut is a city I have very fond memories of. Growing up, I would go there once a year to visit family and reconnect with my heritage. I have always admired the city and its people for their generous hospitality, love of life, exceptional food, beautiful culture, and resilience throughout history. Beirut is such a dynamic city with so much to offer that it can sometimes get dizzying, so I compiled a guide of my favorite spots and highlights to spark some serious wanderlust for this unique city.
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Runs: St. Nicholas Stairs
If you find yourself really missing the step machine at Yates, then you should definitely go on a morning run on the colorful St. Nicholas Stairs in the Gemmayze neighborhood, the longest stairway in the Middle East.
This Anthony Bourdain-featured restaurant in the Gemmayze neighborhood is a go-to spot for no-frills eats and boisterous Lebanese hospitality. If you’re having trouble finding your way to the restaurant, listen to the staff shouting “Welcome!” at the top of their lungs and let that guide you there. Get classic Lebanese dishes like kibbeh (baked ground beef with bulgur), hummus, fattoush (a mixed salad), and lentil soup.
ARTLAB is one of the main exhibition spaces in the city. Unlike its counterpart, Haven for Artists, ARTLAB focuses primarily on Syrian artists, who have crossed the border to Lebanon following the outbreak of civil war in Syria. Here, they have found a space to share their Syrian contemporary art. Their pieces are a truly breathtaking display of artists channeling the atrocities and struggles they have faced into their work.
Beirut’s street food scene is full of flavor and variety, so don’t be afraid to catch street food vendors, who usually carry out business on bikes. Try classics like kaak (ring shaped bread with sesame seeds filled with cheese or nutella), falafel, jallab (fruit syrup drink topped with raisins and pine nuts), and manne’ish (flatbread topped with zaatar). The best street food is a street corner away from where you’re staying — you can’t go wrong.
Venture to Abdel Wahab to experience meze, a huge collection of small dishes that accompany arak, an alcoholic anise-based drink. Meze is a hallmark of Lebanese culture and community — it’s how Lebanese friends and families get together. Sit out on the restaurant’s terrace and share these small dishes with good friends for a good time.
Just because you’re in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have to give up your weekly brunch ritual. Liza offers a Lebanese twist on our most beloved meal with dishes like zucchini, cumin, and pine nuts eggs, batata meklie (Lebanese fries), fried halloumi cheese, and of course, mimosas.
This museum, a collection of local and international art held in an ornate building in the Achrafieh neighborhood, is a cultural epicenter in Beirut. It was recently renovated and is better than ever. To learn more about Lebanon’s artistic heritage and history, head to this beautiful museum and check out its latest exhibits.
Librarie Antoine is like a trilingual Barnes & Noble, selling a wide variety of books in Arabic, French, and English. Stop by its ABC Mall Achrafieh location to pick up a coffee table book on Lebanon or Middle Eastern art as a gift for a friend or maybe a novel from classic Lebanese writers like Khalil Gibran or Amin Maalouf.
A twist on the typical antique store, Histoire-Geo offers an extensive collection of heritage items from Lebanon and the world such as craft tools, modern and classical paintings, ethnic jewelry, vintage toys, and discs. Owner and my personal family friend, Akram Nehme, has many stories to tell and gives great recs for Beirut during your visit.
Mosques, Churches, and Synagogues
Beirut is a very spiritual city — you can feel it in the air. Religion plays a significant role in its residents’ lives, and different beliefs coexist within the city’s limits. To experience the importance spirituality in Beirut yourself, be sure to visit different religious sites in the city. In Downtown Beirut, visit the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque and St. George Maronite Catholic Church, which stand side by side. Also in downtown Beirut is the Maghen Abraham Synagogue, the main Jewish temple in Lebanon.
Indulge in the Lebanese love of shopping and go on a spree or do some window shopping at the Beirut Souks in the Central District, which has an enormous roster of stores from Zara to Yves Saint Laurent to Adidas.
Tawlet, which means “table” in Arabic, is gem of a restaurant that is only open for lunch. Its chefs are all local Lebanese women from various areas of the country. Each day, a woman from a different region combines her community traditions and cooking experience to create authentic Lebanese food with warm hospitality. This co-operative restaurant is a must for foodies who want to learn more about Lebanon’s diverse traditions dare to go beyond the mainstream eats.
Haven for Artists
Haven For Artists is a concept and space for underground and up-and-coming artists in Beirut to exhibit or perform their work to their peers and the broader community. This site is a testament to the value of art and cultural exchange in Lebanon, and is worth visiting to absorb the essence of Beirut through its poets, graffiti artists, painters, and actors.
This pastry and ice cream shop is something of a legend among locals. Everyone in Beirut knows about Hana Mitri, the late owner, who ran the store through thick and thin, keeping it open for business even when bombs were falling during the Lebanese Civil War. Come for the insanely good, floral, and artfully crafted Arabic ice cream, which comes in flavors like milk with caramelized almond brittle, rose water, and apricot paste. If you can get your hands on one, try the maamouls, semolina shortbread cookies filled with dates, walnuts, or pistachios. But beware — people reserve these cookies months ahead for Easter or Ramadan!
SIN EL FIL
As a huge knefeh fan, I can testify that this is the place to go to enjoy this syrupy, cheesy Middle Eastern equivalent to cheesecake, which is eaten after meals or for breakfast, because why the hell not? I judge knefeh based on its cheese-pullability, texture, and balance between sweet and savory. Sea Sweet’s knefeh definitely meets these standards.
Runs: West Beirut & Raouche Rocks
Put on your sneakers and go running on the Corniche, a promenade in the Central District with a scenic view of the Mediterranean and the iconic Raouche, or Pigeon Rocks.
This outpost of the iconic LA-based, egg-centered restaurant is a new addition to the Beirut food scene. This is the place to go if you find yourself craving breakfast sandwiches on the other side of the planet.