The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to Beirut's southern suburbs.
If you’re looking for the real East-meets-West so talked about in the Middle East, you need look no further than Beirut. Fast-paced, fashion-conscious and overwhelmingly friendly, it's not a relaxing city to spend time in – it's too crowded, polluted and chaotic for that – but its energy, soul, diversity and intoxicating atmosphere make it a vital, addictive city. A couple of excellent museums are the key sights, but exploring the character of the different districts, strolling the waterfront and diving into the city's wonderful restaurant and nightlife scene are major attractions. As Lebanon is so small, and day trips easy, some travellers base themselves here for their entire visit.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Beirut.
Located on the former Green Line, this is Beirut's major cultural institution. Its impressive, magnificently displayed collection of archaeological artefacts offers a great overview of Lebanon’s history and the civilisations that impacted this cultural crossroads. Highlights include the famous, much-photographed Phoenician gilded bronze figurines found buried near the Obelisk Temple at Byblos; a series of human-faced Phoenician sarcophagi and a frescoed Roman tomb, these latter in the outstanding basement, reopened in 2016.
Under the St Joseph university, this atmospheric and beautifully designed museum presents an extraordinary collection of exquisitely selected and presented minerals. The otherworldly colours and forms produced in the earth's hidden recesses are astonishing. No less so is a room of fabulous fish fossils from Mémoire du Temps in Byblos, as well as a rare, perfectly preserved pterosaur. Interactive and innovative displays add to the experience. It's very close to the National Museum, accessed via the university's main glass doorway.
When a bomb fell on the Orthodox cathedral in 1975, the only silver lining was that it revealed these ruins beneath. Though the area is small, an excellent and atmospheric archaeological display outlines elements from different parts of the city's history: Seleucid to medieval, with the highlights being Byzantine mosaic floors and a number of spooky tombs. There are good information panels and a seven-minute documentary giving an informative overview of the cathedral’s history.
This privately owned contemporary-art museum is housed in a 1912 mansion located in one of Achrafiyeh's most attractive streets. After a major facelift that added underground exhibition spaces, it's looking very spruce indeed. Temporary exhibitions are the major artistic drawcard, but the permanent collection includes interesting and varied pieces from the important Salon d'Automne exhibitions as well as earlier-20th-century portraits (moustache and fez de rigueur) and landscapes. Rest your legs in the plush Arab salon.
Now the city's major landmark, this huge, striking amber-coloured blue-domed mosque near Martyrs Sq was opened in 2008 and has four minarets standing 65m high. Slain former prime minister Rafic Hariri was instrumental in the project and is buried here. The soaring main hall holds 3700 (male) worshippers; there's a real community feel here as people read or nap on the carpet between prayer times. The women's prayer hall is entered on the other side.
Luna Park is a rickety old amusement park, with all the attendant charms and nuisances, at which most Western tourists turn up their noses. Bypass the cheesy attractions and head straight for the Ferris wheel for one of the best views of Beirut you can get outside an aeroplane. If you don’t investigate the wheel’s ageing mechanics too closely (and aren’t afraid of heights), this may be a favourite Beirut memory.
These limestone outcrops just offshore are prime selfie territory and a Beirut landmark. They are impressive; one has an archway eroded through it. A couple of cafes here do awful food but are decent spots to sit and admire the view with a shisha or beer.
The world would be a poorer place if it didn't host idiosyncratic cultural institutions such as this one. Conceived and funded by jeweller and collector Robert Mouawad to showcase his magnificent and eclectic collection of art, furniture, carpets and antiquities, it is housed in the former home of the late Lebanese politician and art collector Henri Philippe Pharaoun, and set in lush gardens. At time of research, it was closed for extensive refurbishment and no date had been set for reopening.
The AUB Museum was founded in 1868 and is one of the oldest in the Middle East. On permanent display is its collection of Lebanese and Middle Eastern artefacts, including weapons, tools, flints, figurines, pottery and jewellery, along with a fine collection of Phoenician glass and Arab coins dating from as early as the 5th century BC. Turn right once through the main university entrance. Note that the museum is closed during university holidays. Audioguides can be hired for LL3000.