A Quick Guide to Beirut For the Foreigners

Two of my best friends from graduate school will be arriving this week to attend the wedding, and while I would love to play tour guide and show them around the country, pinpointing what I love and what makes it what it is, I don’t exactly have the time. So they’re going to have to make do on their own.

Of course, there’s only so much that guidebooks can tell you. They can’t truly depict the whole scene no matter what, so I’ve prepared this handy post for Samar and Lina to keep as a reference should they need it.

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On the road to the South
  • Beirut is a beautiful, but very crowded city. Get ready to get stuck in traffic for a while. If your journey isn’t that long, you can often get there by foot in the same amount of time.
  • Speaking of crowding, don’t count too much on the public transport system. Our bus system is erratic to say the least, we don’t have trains, and the “best” form of transport is a service or a shared taxi. To use one of those, just stand by the side of the road and you’ll find them stopping for you, loudly honking. Loudly respond with your destination and if the driver is going in that direction, he’ll let you in. If he’s not, he’ll just drive off. The fare is fixed at 2,000 Lebanese Liras for anywhere within Beirut so don’t let them overcharge you! If you much rather prefer being on your own and reducing the time it takes to load and unload passengers, tell him you want a TAXI.
  • On the subject of things we don’t have? 24 hours electricity. Darkness is familiar to us Lebanese, as is the sound of humming generators that can be heard all over the neighborhoods. Be prepared to not know where the power is coming from and always have a flashlight handy!
  • I can talk for ages about the food. This is a country that is known for its cuisine and especially its mezza. You’d be hard pressed to go someplace that doesn’t serve good food, even though the quality and the compliance with food regulation standards is hit and miss. As a rule of thumb, if there’s a crowd, then it’s probably okay. And you can never go wrong with everyone’s favorite: Barbar
  • Good luck finding your way around the city and say goodbye to street names and building numbers that you’re so used to. Here we give directions based on landmarks, some of which don’t even exist anymore! Our latest prefered landmark of choice: trash piles
  • Oh, we’re drowning in our own garbage. You may have heard that our trash is not being picked up and with the first rains hitting, this can only spell a public health crisis. But don’t let that deter you from how beautiful the country is.
  • You may have heard that there are protests are going on in the city because we’re quite fed up with the corruption and the ruling class. But what you’ll be surprised to know is that life is going on normally, people are all over malls, and you’ll be hard pressed to find places to sit in restaurants.
  • Hi, Kifak, ca va, we’re proud of our trilingualisim and we are not afraid to flaunt it.
  • Shops don’t close before 10 PM (take that Europe) and the nightlife only begins to kick off then. Anywhere you’ll go you’ll find something, no matter what your style is. My favorite areas are Mar Mikhail, Hamra, and Urugway Street in Downtown
  • Don’t let what anyone says about the country stop you from having a good time. Go out and have a great time, explore, see all the tiny elements that make Lebanon what it is. You may have to look hard But you’ll find it .
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