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A guide to Beirut – sacred mosques, vast mountains and bustling nightlife

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A shining jewel in the sand, Beirut is a fascinating deviation from what you might expect in the Middle East. It’s a city of bewildering contradictions, mixing turbulent history with lavish, contemporary ambition. Vast areas of regeneration have rejuvenated the capital’s once flourishing tourism industry, offering a refreshing opportunity for visitors to sample both new and old traditions.

George Mahfouz

My Destination local expert on

Beirut

Achrafieh

 

Ideal for intellects and arts lovers, Achrafieh is brimming with a vibrant artesian scene.  Chock full of independent exhibitions, visitors can wander the tiny streets and ancient stairs whilst taking in the local culture. In August, Gemmayzeh Street plays host to the popular festival upon the Saint Nicolas Stairs, where several days of music, dancing and plenty of food and drink bring the area to life.

 

Hamra

 

Regarded by many as the beating heart of the city, Harma Street historically was the epicenter for Beiruiti intellectuals who gathered in many clandestine cafés to discuss cultural affairs. Today, the identity has shifted towards attracting a younger crowd. Bustling throughout the day, the many shops, restaurants and bars have become a stronghold for the city’s vivacious social scene.

 

Ras Beirut/Ain El Mraisseh

 

Bathed by the warm waters of the Mediterranean and soaked in sunshine, Ras Beirut sits proudly on the westernmost part of the city. Once a scene of devastation during the civil war, the area is now resurgently awash with luxury hotels offering a touch of glitz and glamour to any stay. The nearby Corniche boardwalk is one of the area’s most popular attractions, where 5km of pedestrian-friendly pathways make home to rollerbladers, joggers, families and those watching the sunset.

 

Downtown

 

A diverse mix of old and new, Downtown Beirut says all you need to know about the capital’s resilience. Modern regeneration has kept one eye firmly on the past, with many of the modern buildings being built in the same limestone that the city was founded upon. From ancient mosques to the extravagant apartments, shops and restaurants that reside in the new Zaitunany Bay, visitors are generously spoilt for things to see and do.

 

Karantina

 

A vibrant and up and coming neighborhood, Karantina, which was once the scene of some the capitals worst fighting, is in the midst of repainting it’s spots. Located in the northeast, along the Beirut River, the derelict industrial buildings have been transformed in to pop-up art galleries, exhibiting Beirut’s edgy underground scene. Perhaps a deviation from the typical tourist trail, Karantina is the place to go if you’re looking for something a bit unique and full of energy.

 

Mazaar/Ceders Ski Resort

 

For something both entirely different and totally unexpected, why not head to the snowy slopes of Mazaar or Cedars Ski Resort. Easily accessible from the capital, these rugged ranges, whilst not the first place you might think of for skiing, offer a welcome contrast to the heat of the desert further south, and lay claim to the old cliché that you really can swim and ski in the same day.