Beirut is not exactly a popular tourist hub. Western media have been working on its bad reputation for decades. It’s time for a change, I said to myself, while strolling around Gemmayze two months ago. Beirut, pictured by many as a grey zone worn off by the Civil War, is a vibrant metropolis with fascinating street art scene and numerous galleries hidden in narrow alleys.
I’ve dreamt of Lebanon for a long time. I haven’t known much about the place, but it was calling my name. Untold promise of the best food on the planet made me wonder about it even more. When I finally found a scandalously cheap first-minute ticket, I booked it without thinking. I mean I booked a flight to Middle East ten months in advance without telling anyone. I know, I know. This region is like a box of matches. Something might always happen to your plans. It might, but it didn’t. I spend ten incredible days in Lebanon this spring.
I blogged about my journey a little before, but I’m not finished yet. There is much more I want to tell you about my time in Beirut and some of the trips I’ve taken. Even before I boarded that plane, I knew I would have to write an article for solo female travelers that have Lebanon on their lists. I realize there are too many articles on solo female travel on the internet. Except, try to google solo female travel in Lebanon.
Yes, you are right. Not much has been written about it. Not yet.
When I was strolling around Beirut’s downtown area on my first day, I noticed I was the only tourist, awkwardly blond and glued to a map. I could have looked a bit lost. Honestly, I’m so directionally challenged that I often look lost in my very own hometown. Nothing too creepy happened though. It was rather cool, to have it to myself.
While wandering around I kept asking myself questions. Where are all the tourists? Is it really that underrated? Are people really scared to pay Lebanon a visit? Was it silly of me to come?
No, it wasn’t silly. I loved my time in Lebanon and I’d recommend it to other female travelers. Here are some tips.
I’m not that naïve; I won’t tell you Middle East is always safe, because we all know it might not be. Before planning your trip, research the situation. Western media and your embassy website shouldn’t be your only sources. Try to talk to a local to get a big picture. If you decide to buy a first-minute ticket, check on the situation once more before your departure. I cancelled some of the planned daytrips, as my local friends advised me not to go to the areas bordering Syria. I really wanted to see the magnificent monuments of Baalbek, but I decided to listen to the locals. Someone who lives in a country is always wiser than you.
Choose a central location
Central location is crucial in Beirut. The traffic in Lebanon is crazy and the public transportation system is scarce. I usually don’t mind staying in the outskirts of cities when I travel, but that simply doesn’t work in Beirut. I chose a hostel by the harbor, ten minutes walk to the downtown and my very favorite Gemmayze area. I must say Beirut is not the most walkable city in the world. Be prepared, crossing streets here is not as simple as you might think. Also, the drivers won’t stop honking, no matter how many times you curse them.
I’d also recommend you to stay in a hostel. Beirut doesn’t offer many budget accommodation options, but you can find a hostel in downtown for around 15 USD/night in a female only dorm. Hotels in central districts are ridiculously overpriced. As I said, location is the key to comfort in Beirut, so I guess the choice is easy.
Eat, eat, eat
I swear, Lebanon has the best food on this planet. A vegetarian will be happy there, too. I could easily eat falafel from Araz three times a day, and I would be content enough. I’d do anything to have a scoop of ashta ice cream right now. And the coffee, it’s so strong and delicious; it will keep you going through the day. If you are into street food I’d recommend you a culinary detour to the Bourj Hammoud area aka Little Armenia. I know, I tend to get overexcited about all the things Armenian, but I promise you that this time you won’t be disappointed, even If you don’t have emotional ties with that tiny, landlocked republic in South Caucasus. One more reason why you should go for street food: eating out is kind of expensive. You need at least 20-30 USD to dine in a restaurant in downtown and don’t feel silly. That’s not a budget option, huh.
I grew up in Europe. During my childhood I pictured Lebanon as a warzone (well, it was a warzone back then). If a Lebanese person was on TV, it was a terrorist. Now, Lebanon only gets noticed occasionally. Like when ISIS steps too close, or when Hezbollah does something that annoys the West. Growing up in Europe, I never heard of all the gems of architecture Lebanon has to offer. I could never imagine how cool the nightlife is. I would never guess how good the contemporary art galleries are. I never thought I’d be so comfortable strolling around downtown late in the evening. I got fooled into seeing one side of the coin, the one that media in my region wanted to show me.
The art scene is great
You like art? Good. Beirut is a place for you then. The city offers you both a vibrant street art scene and a rich choice of contemporary art galleries. A street art lover should explore Gemmayze and Mar Mikhail. A little degustation of what can be found there is available here.
Beirut is home to too many galleries to explore in a limited time I could spend in the city, but I put together a short list of places that can serve you as a point of reference while there. I linked the websites for you, so it would be easier to find exhibitions you might be interested in. Check out these places:
Beirut could easily be a party destination. Honestly, I have no idea why it isn’t. Partying might be a bit pricey, but a nightlife culture there is definitely something you should experience. All the pubs and bars are on Mar Mikhail street, Gemmayze might be worth checking out, too. I’d recommend you to take a stroll there one evening, and just enter any pub that catches your eye. There is too many of them to even list any. Remember that many pubs in the area have a happy hour from 7 PM to 8 PM. 50% off, does it sound good to you?
I don’t speak a word of Arabic. These two or three phrases I picked up in Morocco wouldn’t work in Beirut anyway. I was a bit concerned about the language barrier. Luckily, I was wrong. Of course, if you go to the countryside it will be a problem, but in the capital English is widely spoken. Besides, nearly everyone is fluent in French.
One day trips
Lebanon is small, which basically means that you can go on a day trip from Beirut to practically any other place in the country. Some of the most popular spots like Byblos and Harissa are right outside Beirut, and you can visit them in one afternoon. If you fancy a longer trip I truly recommend Saida and Mleeta.
I hope this post will help solo female travelers who are planning to visit Beirut one day. If you have any questions about traveling to Lebanon leave me a comment or send me a message.