Beirut, Lebanon: explore somewhere new
Working in Cairo, we had a long weekend to play with. After visiting skyscaner.net it was one of the cheapest flights available. With that being the case, we booked it no less than 24 hours before it was time to fly. What did we expect? There were no expectations. What did we experience? One of the best long weekends ever!
Arriving into Beirut
Having only been given time off work 24 hours before our flight was booked, we ended up taking a 23:00 flight from Cairo. We landed in Beirut at 01:30 to be greeted by the driver who had been sent by our hotel. The journey to the hotel was short and although dark, there were a thousand differences between here and Cairo. The city had a real European feel to it and the driver was well-informed telling us about where to go, what to see and what to do during our stay. We stayed at the Mayflower Hotel which we had found on booking.com. Whenever I visit a new city for the first time, I never stay in a super fancy place as I'm there to see the sights, not stay in the room. When I return, I will definitely stay somewhere with more frills. However, the Mayflower was perfect for what we wanted - a spot in the central of the originally Islamic end of town - Hamra, now famed for its shopping and bars.
Further afield: Jeita Caves and Byblos
We hired a driver to take us to Jeita Caves and Byblos. Byblos is renowned for its friendly, relaxed, seaside atmosphere and has an old castle which is open to visitors.
Jeita caves are probably the most amazing caves I have ever seen. The entrance fees are $12 (18150 Lebanese) and this includes taking a cable car to the upper grotto, a train to the lower grotto (though walking is possible), a boat through the lower grotto and the cable car back down. For more information, click here. We paid $175 for the driver for the whole day. He stopped off at various other points of interest along the way which was a nice touch. Just outside Beirut, we boarded a cable car from sea level and it took us ALL THE WAY to the top of a mountain. We went between apartment buildings, across the motorway and other roads. It was incredible! And all for less than $5 each. From the top, you can see Our Lady of Lebanon and amazing views of the city below.
We had quite an 'executive' experience and it is possible to do this same trip from just $125. Alternatively, you can take public transport but it was a little complicated so we opted to take the easier option with our private driver.
I have no pictures from the caves as cameras are not allowed and they are very strict about this. You must leave them in lockers at the entrance to each section of the cave and there are heavy punishments for anyone attempting to break the rules. Nevertheless, the caves are absolutely worth seeing, even if you're unable to capture the memory!
Raouche Rocks and the Waterfront
As Beirut is located right on the seafront, there is a promenade which you can walk the entirety of the city along, known to the locals as the Coriche. It's a lovely walk dotted with great views, cafes and places to sit and watch the world go by: one of my favourite past times.
We started our walk from Raouche Rocks as the views from there. Be careful with people selling boat rides as they may agree $20 to take you out but have been known only to bring you back to shore for $100!! We spent our time sipping milkshakes in the sunshine and watching (with envy) the fitness fanatics working out, stretching and jogging past.
There is a fairground situated right on the waterfront. Though very old fashioned, the Ferris Wheel offers fab views of the city from the top. We took a ride at sunset and were the only people there so the operator actually stopped the ride for us at the top so we could take photographs. The cost for three of us to ride was about $5!
We walked to the famous mall: Beirut Souks where we were amazed at the modern way in which it had been designed. Like a traditional souk with alleyways littered with shops, this had all the feel of an oldy-worldy souk with the cleanliness and modernness of shops like Victoria's Secret, Sunglass Hut and an extensive food court too.
Exploring the city
Waking up in Beirut there's one thing you certainly notice after living in Cairo for four years. The sound. It was so peaceful! We took a map from the concierge and headed off for the pedestrianised area in the CBD. It was a pleasant walk and as we had no real plans, we were able to veer off to investigate side streets, alleyways and stop for some lovely photo opportunities.
At the time of our visit there were protests happening so much of this pedestrianised area was cordoned off by the army. Nonetheless, it's an extremely pleasant city to walk around, perfectly safe and very arty. I recommend a visit to Mar Mikael and surrounding areas as the relaxed atmosphere, quirky cafes and street art are to be admired. We also spent an hour trying to Escape the Room. A thoroughly enjoyable activity for $25. I highly recommend taking part and having a go to see if you can battle the challenges and find the answers!
The nightlife of Beirut surprised us greatly. With a large student population there are cheap eats, bars and clubs to suit anyone's taste. Hamra is well-known for being the life and soul of Beirut wih its collection of cocktail bars, night clubs and English style pubs. We sampled a few places around our hotel but couldn't resist heading downtown for a more luxurious experience. We visited the Four Seasons Rooftop which offered amazing views of the city, as well as reasonably priced drinks and tapas.
No matter where you choose to spend your evenings, no late night is complete without a visit to one of the many waffle or crepe establishments. We visited a hole-in-the-wall place on Bliss Street (with many outlets all over the city) and experienced some of the best crepes we've ever had. If nothing else, you must eat at Tonino.