24 hours in Beirut

Top Stories

24 hours in Beirut
A car decorated in the colors of the Lebanese flag drives down a street at the start of the summer season for the Mediterranean city (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A slightly alternative guide to Lebanon's capital

By David Light

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Sat 12 Sep 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 2 Jan 2017, 2:14 PM

So you've landed in the 'Paris of the Middle East,' what's the first thing you do? If you're lucky enough to be staying at one of the city's premier hotels, Le Gray, you'll be picked up at the airport and whisked to your classically appointed Martyrs' Square based room for a very luxurious stay. Le Gray is definitely at the higher end, although with an offer at the moment including a free upgrade to an Executive Suite, breakfast at Indigo on the Roof and a three-course dinner for under Dhs1500, it may be worth a splurge.
It's time to eat. Beirut is home to some of the best restaurants in the Middle East. From the highfalutin to the modest street vendor, a decent meal is never far away. For this 24-hour jaunt, we're trying to bring you as different experience from the UAE as possible, which is why the Hamra area's Abou Elie is perfect. The outlet dedicated to Che Guevara and his fellow leftist contemporaries is full of atmosphere, a friendly clientele and the tastiest chicken wings this side of the Atlantic.
It's great when museums are completely random and you can't get better than the 'Souffleur' maritime collection of collectibles on Graham Street in Ain El Mreisseh. Owner Ibrahim Hajem is a former professional diver who built up his haul of treasures from beneath the sea during a 30-year career. Everything from ships' bells to rifles to old mobile phones are randomly displayed. Ibrahim will only let you in if he likes you and you're not too much trouble, so be polite!
If you like your street art then Beirut is the place for you. There aren't many walls that don't contain a slogan, picture or message of hope and most of them are quite decorative. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Paint Up projects around the city. Paint Up is an NGO dedicated to brightening the streets. Two of their most famous undertakings are the painting of public stairways in Saqyet Al Janzeer and on Mar Mikhael street.
Dinnertime and if you're in the Mar Mikhael area after looking at the stairs then the Junkyard restaurant is one to check out. Right at the top of Armenia Street, the place is exactly what it says it is...a junkyard. The décor is completely recycled rubbish, although thankfully the food is not. Barbeque and cocktails are this place's speciality.
Just up the road from Junkyard is the legendary Gemmayzeh area where all the alternative nightlife sits. At least it used to. Ask any Beiruti and they'll tell you the hype is long over and to stay in Mar Mikhael. While there were still a few grungy places left in Gemmayzeh, we had to agree and wandered back to indie club Radio Beirut.
Pose the question, 'where can I find the city's best lahm bi ajin (meat pie) for breakfast?' and there's only one answer. The Armenian Ichkhanian Bakery is a solid favourite among locals situated on the Rue Hussein Beyhum in Zoukak El-Blate. Pop in, pick up your pie and scoff it down while it's still hot.
Now for something completely different. For the rest of your morning, before flying home, you've got a chance to see the other side of Beirut. Yes, you may head to the city for fun, but you can't ignore the social situation in which it finds itself. The evidence is on every street and the subject of many conversations. A haven for numerous regional communities, Beirut can hold its head high in the knowledge that when people have been in need they have always been able to find shelter in its bosom. It's not always easy, but the city continues to thrive.
A 30-minute drive outside the centre stands the sprawling Shatila Refugee camp, home to an estimated 22,000 people. The Children and Youth Centre (CYC) is a homegrown project for the camp's young people. A visit and donation can make all the difference for residents and lead to a better understanding of the city's various dynamics for visitors. 

A car decorated in the colors of the Lebanese flag drives down a street at the start of the summer season for the Mediterranean city
A car decorated in the colors of the Lebanese flag drives down a street at the start of the summer season for the Mediterranean city

More news from