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Destinations · Asia · lebanon · Beirut · Things to do ·

Things to do

Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS

Things to do

- Beirut is definitely walkable. Begin a walking tour at the CENTRAL SQUARE, by the HAMIDIYYEH CLOCK TOWER, built in 1897 for the tenth anniversary of the coronation of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The tower, at 23 metres, was once the tallest structure in the city. The bell weighs 300 kg and the clock faces were created in France. Next, head for HAMRA STREET. This area first flourished in Beirut's 1950s and 60s heyday. Boutiques, bars, cafés and restaurants line the streets. Next to Bread Republic (a popular place for breakfast), if it's a Tuesday, you can find the EARTH MARKET (Alley connecting Hamra Str with Makdissi Str) and obtain a sampling of the local farmers' bounty. Take a side street down to the Mediterranean.

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The RROMENADE along the sea, known as the Corniche here, could as easily be in Nice, Cannes, or Miami. The only reminders of where you actually are include the many Arabs in traditional dress, the cafés offering water pipes, and the bustling construction sites of Beirut's boom. Two great choices for dining, which you choose dependent on your mood, are Rawda (Chouran St, Seaside Manara), a café by Luna Park that is beloved among locals and won't empty your wallet by any means, and La Plage (Cafe d'Orient, Ain el Mreisseh), a restaurant with a lovely terrace where gazing out at sea and eating seafood is idyllic on a sunny day.

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- If on the first day you've had a chance to take in the city's centre and have walked to one of the most photographed places in Beirut, PIGEONS' ROCK (actually two gigantic rock formations), your second day would be well spent visiting the ARMENIAN QUARTER, BURJ HAMMOUD.

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This is a totally different Beirut! At the time of the Armenian genocide, many refugees found a home here. The Lebanese capital remains one of the largest centres of the Armenian diaspora to this day.

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Unlike in central Beirut, there is plenty of historic architecture here and the narrow streets are lined with small shops and restaurants. Many businesses have signs in Armenian and the sense of being in an olden Armenia is paradoxically more palpable than it is in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where there are almost no ancient buildings to be found.

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When returning, if you'd like a little taste of the contemporary art scene in the city, ask your taxi driver to take you to the SEIF- SEMLER GALLERY. It's currently one of the most prestigious galleries in Beirut and becoming well known for its role in international arts events. Its location is a bit odd - the middle of nowhere, on the fourth floor of the Tannous Building, in the middle of a construction site.

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- Two days are sufficient for getting an overall impression of the city, so a third day might best be used for an excursion. BYBLOS is close by. It's one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities, founded in the fifth millennium B.C. On the way there, a visit to the JEITA GROTTO is a must; its stalagmites and stalactites will awe you, the site being a serious candidate for the updated seven wonders of the world.

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Byblos, its name related to "papyrus" because the ancient trade route for papyrus led through the city; the name was given by the Greeks. The Citadel in Byblos is the centre of attention, its temple ruins likely dating to the second century B.C. A charming, compact port, Byblos is easily seen on foot.

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BAB EL MINA is the place where you simply must have lunch; located at the old harbour and offering seafood beloved by locals as well as visitors.

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Repast here is best followed by a half hour's trip to the SAINT CHARBEL MONASTERY, one of the holiest places for Lebanon's Christians. The panorama visible from the courtyard could knock you off your feet!

- If you've already been to Byblos, a first-rank must, then BAALBECK (two hours away) is as high on any list as Byblos but a bit further away - it takes about two hours to get there. A crossroads on the ancient Silk Road, famous for its Phoenician
and Roman ruins, the engineering secrets of which are as shrouded in mystery as those of the Great Pyramid, it's a living legend. The oldest part dates to two millennia B.C. and is dedicated to the sun god. The eastern wall, dating to Roman times, includes three massive monoliths that weigh a thousand tonnes each and are among the heaviest worked stones from the ancient world. The temple of Jupiter also has imposing stones, and how they were put into place at such a mountainous site remains inexplicable.

Baalbeck hosts one of the premier cultural events in the region, the BAALBECK FESTIVAL (, in July or August every year. The event began in 1956 and has drawn stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Rostropovitch, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Bob Wilson and Sting in the past. Every year brings fresh stars and the backdrop - the temples of Bacchus and Jupiter - is unforgettable.

- You may not think of the Middle East as wine country, but the great vineyards of Lebanon are worth a visit. The oldest and most renowned is CHATEAU KSARA, which has a century and a half of history behind it. Only three-quarters of an hour from Beirut at a small town called Zahle, the area is also famous for its far harder beverage, arak. The "tears of the Virgin," arak is half alcohol and derived from the sweet white grapes in this locale. MASSAYA and CHATEAU KEFRAYA are also notable vineyards, and all of these marvelous wineries have turned Sunday brunch into a tradition.

- Finally, if you can spare three hours and have the stomach for some red tape (many can get a visa on the border - check this carefully with your foreign ministry and Syrian government sites), DAMASCUS is mind-boggling and only three hours away. In theory, you could do a day trip, but it makes much more sense to spend a night in that most fabled of cities so that you can at least take in a sunset from Qassioun, the mountain dominating it.

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