When I told people I was planning on visiting Lebanon, the immediate first question was is it safe and why? When I was in middle school or high school, I recall watching an episode of the Fresh Prince and Uncle Phil saying something about Beirut. I’m sure at the time I didn’t even know where Beirut was but it’s something I’ve always remembered for some odd reason. Since then, Beirut has been a place I’ve wanted to visit due to reading how it’s considered the Paris of the Middle East. Lebanon has somewhat of a tumultuous past due to a history of civil war and political instability. Most of the safety concerns associated with Lebanon are related to the Israel or Syria border. The entire time I was in Lebanon, I felt completely safe. Due to the history of conflict with Israel, if you have a passport stamp from Israel you will not be admitted into the country and you could possibly be detained. Going through customs in Lebanon, was the first time I had seen someone literally check every page of my passport.
The descent into Beirut was absolutely captivating. As you descend, you see the colorful buildings, the Mediterranean Sea, and the landscape of the city. I was in awe of its beauty from the first moment I laid my eyes on the Lebanese shores. The people of Lebanon were extremely welcoming and friendly. Almost everywhere I went, the people greeted me saying “welcome to Lebanon.” Unlike other countries in the Middle East, there is a large Christian population in Lebanon. As a result, despite the fact Ramadan was occurring, you could still find several restaurants open throughout the day. Typically during Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise until sundown. Beirut is especially known for its nightlife and due to Ramadan, some of the nightclubs were closed.
There are sections of the city which are predominantly Muslim, which you can tell by looking at the windows. If a home has the curtains drawn or shutters closed; you can assume it may be a Muslim household because the privacy will allow the women to walk around freely without a need to be covered. There are also communities where Sunni Muslims and Shiites live alongside each other. I really admired the cultural and religious diversity of Lebanon. I often feel in the U.S, Christianity is the primary religion which is not constantly under attack. On a consistent basis, there are accounts of how Muslims in the U.S are discriminated against and harassed. Even if you don’t agree with Islam, Christianity or are perhaps agnostic, we should still treat each other with respect.
As a person of color, I always look for people who look like me when I’m abroad. There’s something about how seeing someone who looks like you, makes you feel less of an outsider in a foreign place. I did not see many black people in Lebanon but the black women I saw appeared to be the nannies for Lebanese families. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to learn more about this particular phenomenon.
Beirut is a relatively walkable city. Uber is also widely available and is inexpensive.
What to do
Beirut Walking Tour- Excellent way to learn about the culture and history of Lebanon while exploring various neighborhoods in Beirut.
Baalbek Ruins- We booked a tour via viator which included a visit to the Ruins, lunch, and a wine tasting at the Ksara Winery. The tour starts around 9am and you return around 4pm. For lunch, we stopped at a local Lebanese restaurant. Hands down it was the best meal I had in Lebanon. Tour Cost $95 (USD)
Beirut Souks- shopping area in downtown Beirut which boasts several restaurants and cafes.
Gemmayze Street- popular neighborhood full of bars, restaurants and cafes.
Hamras Street- Main street in Beirut full of sidewalk cafes, theaters, restaurants and cafes.
Raouche Rocks- Beirut landmark
El Amin Mosque
Where to stay
Where to eat
Barbar- listed as the number one Kebab restaurant by CNN. The small yet filling shawarma (lebanese gyro) is soooooo delicious, you may be tempted to order two.
Al-Falamaki– Rooftop restaurant overlooking the Raouche Rocks
Bay Rock– Restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Have you been to Lebanon? What was your experience like?