Lebanon is officially open for business to UAE nationals as of today, which means security concerns have been replaced with holiday planning, hotel bookings, and going beyond the obvious in the capital city.
After all, you’ve visited Sursock Museum, caffeinated at Café Younes, shopped at Aïshti and Orient 499, taken countless selfies with the Pigeon Rocks in the background, roamed around the Roman Baths, and taken a day trip to Jeita Grotto – so now what? It’s time to discover a side of Beirut that no guidebook will show you. Here, Savoir Flair reveals ten must-visit hidden gems that even the city’s locals may not know about.
Meat the Fish
If You Need a Break from Falafel
Rich and buttery black cod, freshly shucked oysters, delicious lobster tacos, and more – if you’re looking for a break from the (mostly wonderful) selection of Lebanese staples like hummus, tabbouleh, and falafel, Meat the Fish is the place to dine at. It’s also the perfect excuse to make a pit shop at Saifi Village, an upscale district with plenty of art galleries, multi-brand boutiques, and wellness centers.
If You Rate a City by Its Ice Cream
Dubbed “the best ice cream in the world” by Beirutis, Hanna Mitri is a must-try if you’re someone with a sweet tooth. This compact ice cream parlor has been around since 1949 – even staying open during the civil war – and serves regional flavors like rose water, pistachio, lemon, and apricot with pine nuts. Patrons recommend pairing the milk (made crunchy with homemade almond brittle) and chocolate (rich and deep in taste) varieties together for the ultimate treat.
The Grudge Building
If You've Suffered Sibling Rivalry
If you have a love-hate relationship with a sibling, this one’s for you. The city’s thinnest building is known as The Grudge, a sliver-thin structure that measures at just over 13 feet at its widest point, and roughly two feet at its narrowest.
It is the result of two feuding brothers who couldn’t agree on how to split the land that they inherited from their father, with one constructing this building on his oddly shaped half in order to block his sibling’s ocean view. The Grudge building isn’t delineated, but can be found just north of the old lighthouse in Manara.
If Authors Are Your Rockstars
Strong coffee, artistic stationery, indie magazines, and the kind of stunning coffee table books that will make you toss your travel budget aside can all be found at Papercup, an intimately sized bookstore located in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood. Specializing in subjects like art, architecture, design, photography, and travel, it feels like a literary secret that only you (and a select few locals) are privy to.
BEYt Garden Café
If You Want Tea and a Time Out
Another brilliant spot in which to escape the frenzy of Beirut is BEYt, a blissfully lush garden café located one floor up on Armenia Street. The desserts here are homemade and worth each and every single calorie – especially the orange-blossom rice pudding – and pair beautifully with the Turkish coffee. Come hotter weather, the ginger and mint lemonade is a must-order menu item.
Metro Al Madina
If You're on a Culture Quest
Hamra is considered the heart and soul of Beirut, and hosts Metro Al Madina – easily the city’s best underground cultural venue – as one of its many colorful residents. Here, you can catch everything ranging from theater performances and live music to cabaret acts inspired by the 1930s, with old-fashioned cinema seats, clear tables, and hipster types setting the scene.
If You're a Loud-and-Proud Luddite
Regardless of the genre, music fans in Beirut always wax lyrical about Chico Records – and for good reason. The store has been in business since 1964, amassing a highly covetable collection of vinyl and related accessories.
Besides stocking the likes of Diana Ross, Paul Anka, and The Rolling Stones, it also boasts what is considered the finest collection of Arabic music in the world, especially as most Lebanese titles were damaged during the civil war. You’ll also find a dizzying array of films and documentaries for sale – all in mint condition.
'Connection' by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada
If You're a Street-Art Aficionado
It’s no surprise that Beirut enjoys a thriving art scene, and works that are politically charged in nature is what the city does best. One immensely powerful work is entitled ‘Connection’, ironically created by a Cuban-American artist named Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada. The mural is painted across an abandoned, bullet-ridden building in the district of Bachoura and depicts a young boy playing with a circuit board in order to emphasize the effect of violence on children and their education.
Located in Kanda’ El Ghamiq – a street that served as the front line during the civil war – ‘Connection’ isn’t easy to find, but well worth the trouble. Just use the Built by Associative Data office (it comes up on Google Maps) as the nearest landmark and ask a passerby for help to steer yourself in the right direction.
If You're Intrigued by Beirut's Past
Another iconic structure bearing the wounds of war is Beit Beirut, a.k.a. the “Yellow House”, in Sodeco. The building was constructed by the wealthy Barakat family and is currently slated to open as Lebanon’s first publicly funded museum documenting the country’s volatile past. Sitting at an intersection on the former “green line”, this ochre-colored gem is one you’ll want to linger around, thanks to its breathtakingly beautiful – and solemn – facade.
If You're Seeking Unique Souvenirs
While keychains and fridge magnets make for acceptable travel trinkets, Plan Bey has souvenirs down to a fine art – literally. This cross between an art gallery and a bookshop sells paper goods in the form of hand-painted notebooks, art books, postcards, cardboard coasters, wall stickers, and more created by established and emerging Lebanese artists.
What makes the selection even more appealing is the fact that everything is limited-edition and high in quality, yet refreshingly affordable. The best bit? There are two locations to choose from.