From political walking tours of a once-divided city to raucous nights out in Mar Mikhael; here are the best things to do in Beirut, Lebanon!
It used to be that Beirut was a byword for devastation. A 15-year-long civil war, followed by Israeli invasions and endemic political instability will do that to a city, but in the 2000s, it seemed that tourism was once again picking up as Lebanon returned to some semblance of stability.
Then, in 2019, the dream of a new golden age was shattered, as the country was rocked by a financial crisis that saw the Lira become worthless. And in 2020, the Beirut Port Explosion devastated the capital, killing hundreds and leaving thousands more injured and homeless as the Lebanese people endured yet more suffering.
But Beirut should be a byword for resilience, hospitality, and ancient history. There’s a remarkably liberal Middle Eastern culture that allows Christian Maronites to mingle freely with Hezbollah supporters in downtown bars, while the Lebanese capital’s intrigues can be explored through unique walking tours that aren’t afraid to tell you how it is.
Beirut will always be a raw, but welcoming destination. I visited in May 2022, and I instantly fell in love with the place. Leave your preconceptions at the departure gate, because here are the best things to do in Beirut, Lebanon.
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The best things to do in Beirut, Lebanon
Explore ancient history at the National Museum of Beirut, admire the natural beauty of Pigeon Rocks, visit the Beirut Farmer’s Market, or just gorge on endless plates of Mezze. Keep reading, as we list the best Beirut things to do.
1. Join an ‘Alternative Walking Tour’ of Beirut
‘Alternative Beirut’ offer a unique, off-the-beaten-path perspective of the city, going beyond the conventional historical sites and attractions. These tours aim to immerse you in the local history and politics, giving you a deeper understanding of Beirut’s complex history, socio-political climate, and daily life.
The tours often focus on areas such as Hamra, Mar Mikhael, and Gemmayzeh, Beirut districts known for their colourful street art, contemporary galleries, and nightlife.
The guides are all locals or long-term residents who share personal stories and experiences from their time in the Civil War, their thoughts on hyperinflation, and much more; providing invaluable insights into the city’s transformation, contemporary issues, and local traditions.
You’ll stroll through the different neighbourhoods, visit local markets, and explore creative spaces often overlooked by mainstream tour groups. You’ll also get a chance to appreciate the city’s architectural diversity, ranging from Ottoman-era buildings to modernist architecture.
2. Delve into ancient history at the National Museum of Beirut
The National Museum of Beirut stands as a testament to Lebanon’s diverse historical past, housing an extensive collection of archaeological artefacts from different eras. The museum was initially opened in 1942 and showcases over 100,000 objects, of which approximately 1,300 are displayed.
The exhibition is chronologically arranged, starting from prehistory and moving through the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Hellenistic period, Roman times, Byzantine Era, and up to the Mamluk period. This progression allows visitors to walk through time, understanding the development and cultural shifts of the region.
Some of the museum’s highlights include the magnificent Phoenician gilded bronze figurines found buried near the Obelisk Temple at Byblos, the marble statue of a child carrying a bird, and the collection of well-preserved sarcophagi from different periods.
The National Museum of Beirut itself has a significant history, having suffered extensive damage during the Lebanese civil war. It was meticulously restored and reopened to the public in 1997, before being damaged yet again during the Beirut Port Explosion. The museum is a beacon of cultural preservation and is an essential stop for anyone visiting Beirut to understand the historical context of this intriguing region.
3. Step into the past at the ruins of the Roman Baths
The Roman Baths in Beirut offer a glimpse into the city’s rich historical tapestry. Unearthed in 1968 during a construction project in the city centre, these public baths are a testament to Beirut’s ancient past, dating back to the Roman era when the city was known as Berytus.
The baths are divided into different sections, similar to traditional Roman bathhouses, including the frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and caldarium (hot bath). Additionally, you can see remnants of the underfloor heating system that was used in the baths – a true marvel of ancient engineering.
Today, the site is beautifully landscaped with a sunken garden, making it an urban oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Beirut. The Roman Baths offer a fascinating insight into ancient leisure activities and public life, making it a must-visit spot for history enthusiasts touring Beirut.
Read more: Bathing with the Romans
4. Visit Martyrs’ Square
Martyrs’ Square is one of the most important historical and political landmarks in downtown Beirut. Known as ‘Sahet Al Shuhada’ in Arabic, the square gained its name following the execution of several Lebanese nationalists by the Ottoman authorities during World War I. A statue, erected in 1960, stands in the centre of the square in memory of these martyrs.
During the Lebanese Civil War, Martyrs’ Square became a demarcation line between the divided city sectors. Post-war, it has often been the site for various demonstrations and political gatherings, symbolizing the unity and resilience of the Lebanese people.
Today, Martyrs’ Square, along with the adjacent Downtown area, is an important hub of social, cultural, and commercial activities. While the Martyrs’ Statue still bears the scars of the civil war, it remains a potent symbol of national sacrifice and unity in the face of adversity.
Read more: 13 Things to Do in Batroun, Lebanon
5. Walk the Green Line
Beirut’s dividing line, known as the ‘Green Line’, is a significant symbol of the city’s recent, turbulent history. During the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the Green Line was a demarcation separating predominantly Muslim factions in West Beirut from the Christian East.
The line was so-called because nature took over the uninhabited zone, causing vegetation to grow amidst the abandoned streets and buildings. Today, the Green Line is no longer visible as such, but you can still trace its old route through the capital.
Following the end of the civil war, significant efforts were undertaken to heal the divisions in the city and rebuild the areas affected by the conflict. The area previously known as the Green Line now includes a number of important sites and commercial districts, such as the Downtown area with its shops, restaurants, and historical sites.
Read more: The DMZ Spy Tour
6. Admire the view at Pigeon Rocks
Pigeon Rocks, or Raouché Rocks, are one of the most iconic natural landmarks in Beirut, Lebanon. Located in the Mediterranean Sea just off the city’s western coast in the Raouché neighbourhood, these majestic sea stacks stand as sentinels to the city.
This natural geological formation consists of two towering rock structures, one with a large arch, often compared to a bridge reaching out into the sea. The site offers breathtaking views, especially during sunset when the rocks are bathed in warm, golden light.
The promenade alongside the Pigeon Rocks is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering a range of cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy Mezze or a beer with a view of the rocks and the sea. Boat rides are also available for those who wish to get a closer look at these geological formations.
7. Take a walk along the Beirut Corniche
The Beirut Corniche is a beloved seaside promenade that stretches for approximately 5 kilometres along the Mediterranean coastline in Beirut, Lebanon. Lined with palm trees and dotted with street vendors, the Corniche offers beautiful views of the sea, making it a favourite spot for both locals and visitors.
The Corniche provides a unique vantage point to observe Beirut’s daily life. From early morning joggers and fishermen casting their lines to families strolling in the afternoon sun and couples enjoying the sunset, it’s a place that truly comes alive with the rhythm of the city.
Notably, the Corniche passes by the iconic Pigeon Rocks, offering an unbeatable view of this natural landmark. A number of cafés and restaurants along the way allow visitors to sit, relax, and soak in the panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Read more: 23 Best Places to Visit in Lebanon
8. Gorge on the best Lebanese Mezze
Beirut has long been celebrated for its culinary scene, which offers a tantalizing blend of Mediterranean flavours and traditional Lebanese dishes. A gastronomic adventure offers something for every palate, and it’s one of the most fun things to do in Beirut.
Starting with the basics, no trip to Beirut would be complete without trying iconic dishes like hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, and shawarma. Also, don’t miss out on tasting ‘Manouche’, a local favourite best described as Lebanese pizza.
For an authentic experience, head to one of the city’s bustling food markets, like Souk el Tayeb (the Beirut Farmmer’s Market), where you can find fresh, locally-sourced produce and traditional food prepared by local chefs.
Seafood lovers should venture to the coastal parts of the city for freshly caught and perfectly cooked fish. For meat lovers, ‘mashawi’ (grilled meat) is a must-try.
When it comes to sweets, Lebanese pastries like baklava and kunefe (a sweet cheese pastry) are delightful treats. Round off your meal with a traditional Lebanese coffee, which is strong and often flavoured with cardamom.
Read more: 10 Things to Do in Tyre (Sour), Lebanon
9. Try local dishes and countryside produce at the Beirut Farmer’s Market
Souk el Tayeb in Beirut is more than just a market; it’s a celebration of Lebanon’s culinary traditions and community spirit. Established in 2004 as Beirut’s first farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb brings together producers and farmers from across Lebanon, promoting local, sustainable agriculture and preserving food traditions.
Held every Saturday in Mar Mikhael, the market buzzes with energy as vendors showcase a vibrant array of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, local cheeses, olives, and artisanal bread. It’s a great opportunity to taste the seasonal produce of Lebanon.
What sets Souk el Tayeb apart is its emphasis on community. It’s a place where food knowledge and stories are shared, and where the diversity of Lebanese cuisine and culture is celebrated.
Throughout the year, the market hosts events such as cooking demonstrations and communal lunches prepared by guest cooks, often using ingredients sourced directly from the market.
Visiting Souk el Tayeb is an immersive experience, allowing you to engage with local food culture, meet the producers, and enjoy some of the freshest flavours that Beirut has to offer.
10. Dine at Le Chef
“Welcome to Lebanon!” says the owner of Le Chef, over and over again as he serves up Lebanese classics. Situated in the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood of Beirut, this beloved institution is famed for its home-cooked food.
This cosy, family-run restaurant has been serving locals and tourists alike since the 1960s and was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favourite places to eat. Le Chef was badly damaged during the Beirut Port Explosion, but was saved after a large crowdfunding campaign and a sizable donation from actor Russel Crowe, whose photograph now greets you by the entrance!
Often frequented by celebrities, artists, and writers over the years, Le Chef has earned a reputation as one of Beirut’s culinary landmarks. Its resilience despite various challenges, including wars and economic crises, reflects the enduring spirit of Beirut.
11. Tackle the St Nicholas Stairs
The St. Nicholas Stairs, also known as the Escalier de l’Art, is a charming and iconic feature of Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighbourhood. This long staircase of 125 steps connects the Gemmayzeh district to Sursock and has become a popular hang-out spot.
Once a year, the staircase hosts the “Fête de la Musique,” transforming into an outdoor venue for concerts and performances. Strolling up the stairs offers glimpses of picturesque houses, quaint boutiques, and art galleries. This area perfectly captures the essence of Beirut – a blend of old-world charm and contemporary urban culture.
12. Party the night away in Mar Mikhael
Mar Mikhael is the nightlife hub of Beirut, offering an electric mix of bars, clubs, and live music venues that cater to a diverse crowd. This lively neighbourhood is packed with energy as the sun sets, transforming into a hotspot for partygoers late into the night.
The main artery of this district is Armenia Street, lined with establishments ranging from chic cocktail lounges to Harry Potter-themed pubs (yes, you read that correctly!). An evening in Mar Mikhael offers a chance to sample locally brewed craft beers, enjoy innovative cocktails, and savour Lebanese wines, which are garnering international acclaim.
Music is an integral part of Mar Mikhael’s nightlife, with many places hosting live bands performing a wide range of genres, from indie rock to traditional Lebanese music. The district’s nightlife isn’t just limited to bars and clubs – the area is also known for its thriving art scene with numerous galleries often staying open late into the evening.
Despite being just a mile away from the epicentre of the Beirut Port Explosion which rocked the city in 2020, Mar Mikhael encapsulates the spirit of Beirut’s nightlife – resilient, dynamic, and full of life. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed evening or a night of dancing, Mar Mikhael is always a memorable night out in Beirut.
13. Spend your money in Beirut’s many shops and souks
Beirut’s souks, or marketplaces, offer a delightful blend of history, culture, and commerce. Known for their labyrinthine layout and lively atmosphere, these souks present an immersive experience of Beirut’s commercial and social life.
The ‘Beirut Souks’, located in the heart of the city, is a modern shopping hub home to a variety of high-end shops, boutiques, restaurants, and cinemas. This area has been a commercial centre since ancient times and has been carefully rebuilt after the civil war, retaining its historical relevance.
For a more traditional experience, the souks in neighbourhoods like Bourj Hammoud and Hamra offer an array of local shops selling everything from spices and produce to clothes and jewellery.
Read more: Beautiful Pictures From The Muscat Souk!
14. Walk through history in Achrafieh
The Achrafieh district is one of the oldest in Beirut, characterized by its historic buildings, narrow winding streets, and an array of boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. It presents a perfect mix of Beirut’s past and present.
A stroll through Achrafieh is a walk through time. It’s not uncommon to see French colonial buildings standing next to contemporary architecture, reflective of the city’s layered history. The district is known for its numerous art galleries and cultural centres, making it a hub for the city’s creative scene.
The famed ABC Mall, one of Beirut’s most upscale shopping centres, is located in Achrafieh, as is the renowned Sursock Museum, home to a significant collection of modern and contemporary art.
15. Admire art and architecture at the Sursock Museum
The Sursock Museum is a beloved cultural institution on historic Sursock Street in Beirut. This stunning villa-turned-museum, built in the late 19th century, showcases an eclectic blend of Ottoman and Venetian architectural styles, marking it one of Beirut’s most aesthetically pleasing buildings.
Home to a unique collection of contemporary and modern art, the museum primarily focuses on works from Lebanon and the wider Middle Eastern region. It also hosts rotating exhibitions, presenting a dynamic platform for emerging and established artists.
The Sursock Museum goes beyond a traditional art space. It fosters a creative community by offering educational programs, workshops, and lectures. Its elegant garden, charming café, and upscale store selling unique local design items contribute to a holistic cultural experience.
The museum was significantly damaged in the Beirut port explosion of 2020 but has shown resilience, reflecting the spirit of Beirut itself. It remains a key attraction for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in Lebanon’s artistic scene.
16. Unleash your creative side at the Beirut Art Center
Beirut Art Centre is a non-profit institution that plays a central role in the vibrant art scene of Lebanon’s capital. Opened in 2009, it aims to promote contemporary art and culture in the country and the broader Middle East and North Africa region.
Housed in a minimalist, industrial-style building in the Jisr El Wati area, the Art Centre provides a platform for local and international artists to showcase their work across a range of mediums, including visual art, film, video, and performance.
Exhibitions at Beirut Art Centre are frequently changing, ensuring a fresh and dynamic experience for visitors. The Centre also offers educational programs, workshops, lectures, and film screenings, nurturing a dialogue between artists and the community.
17. Go Scuba Diving
Yes, you can go scuba diving in Beirut. Lebanon has a beautiful coastline along the Mediterranean Sea, and diving in these waters offers the opportunity to explore an underwater world rich with marine life and shipwrecks. There are numerous diving centres and schools in and around Beirut that offer a range of services for both beginners and experienced divers.
Some of the most popular dive sites near Beirut include the Amchit and Jbeil sites, where divers can explore underwater cliffs, caves, and a variety of marine life. Wreck diving is also popular, with several sunken ships and planes accessible to divers.
The diving season in Lebanon typically runs from April to October, with sea temperatures ranging from 18°C in the early season to 28°C in the summer months.
Read more: The Shipwrecks of Amed
18. Visit one of Beirut’s many mosques
Beirut is home to numerous mosques of spiritual significance to the different Islamic groups that live in the city.
Arguably the most iconic is the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, located in the heart of the city. Known for its Ottoman-inspired design and blue-domed architecture, this mosque is an icon of Beirut’s skyline. Its impressive interior, adorned with intricate mosaics and chandeliers, is equally unique.
The Al Omari Grand Mosque, another significant site, was originally a Crusader church that was transformed into a mosque. Its architecture reflects its layered history, embodying a fusion of different styles that have merged through centuries of conquest.
19. A spot of dark tourism at the Holiday Inn
The Holiday Inn Beirut is an iconic symbol of the city’s past. Located in the central district, this 26-story building, once a five-star hotel, was completed in 1974, just a year before the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. The hotel, due to its strategic location and height, quickly became a militarized stronghold for various factions during the war.
The building was heavily damaged and has remained in its war-torn state, standing as a haunting reminder of Beirut’s turbulent history. Despite numerous discussions about its future, including proposals for renovation or demolition, the Holiday Inn remains untouched.
Once a symbol of Beirut’s prosperity and growth, the hotel now represents the city’s resilience in the face of adversity. For visitors to Beirut, the sight of the Holiday Inn provides a stark contrast to the city’s vibrant life and serves as a potent reminder of the country’s history.
Read more: 16 Things to Do in Saida (Sidon), Lebanon
20. Be humbled by the devastation at Beirut Port
Beirut Port has long been a significant commercial hub in the Mediterranean region. Acting as one of the traditional gateways between Europe and the Middle East, the harbour has played a crucial role in Lebanon’s trade and economy for centuries.
The port has been continuously expanded and modernized to accommodate the growing needs of maritime trade, however, it gained global attention due to a devastating explosion that occurred in August 2020, causing massive destruction and loss of life.
The event impacted not only the port but large parts of the city, leading to a large-scale humanitarian and reconstruction effort. The damaged grain silos still stand as a dark tribute to the mismanagement and poor policy-making that led to the disaster.
Where is Beirut, Lebanon?
Beirut is the capital city and largest urban area of Lebanon, a country in the Middle East. The city is strategically located on the country’s central coastal strip along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
Beirut is approximately in the middle of the Lebanese coastline, halfway between the northern and southern borders of the country. Geographically, it’s about 77 kilometres (48 miles) north of the Israeli border and roughly 88 kilometres (55 miles) west of the Syrian border. Its central position, both within the country and the wider region, has contributed to its historical and ongoing significance as a crossroads of various cultures and civilizations.
To visit Beirut, first, you need to check visa requirements. Many nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival, but it’s always wise to verify before travelling. The Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport, the country’s only operational commercial airport, is well-connected with major international cities. Beirut is also accessible via road from neighbouring countries like Syria, although it’s less common due to regional tensions.
Map of the best things to do in Beirut, Lebanon
Here’s a map of the best places to visit in Beirut, Lebanon:
Day trips from Beirut
Beirut’s central location makes it a great base for exploring other fascinating regions in the country. Here are some of the best day trips to take from Beirut:
1. Byblos (Jbeil): About an hour’s drive north of Beirut, Byblos is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Explore the ancient ruins, enjoy the picturesque old harbour, and wander through the traditional souk.
2. Baalbek: Known for its impressive Roman ruins, including the Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. It’s approximately a two-hour drive from Beirut.
3. Jeita Grotto: A short half-hour drive from Beirut, Jeita Grotto houses stunning limestone caves with extraordinary stalactite and stalagmite formations. You can explore the caverns on foot and by boat.
4. Sidon and Tyre (Saida and Sour): These southern cities, each about an hour’s drive from Beirut, boast significant historical sites such as the Sea Castle and the Roman Hippodrome.
5. The Chouf Mountains and Beiteddine Palace: About an hour southeast of Beirut, this region is home to the beautifully preserved Beiteddine Palace and the largest nature reserve in Lebanon, the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve.
6. Faraya: If you’re visiting in the winter and enjoy skiing, take a day trip to Faraya, Lebanon’s most popular ski resort, about an hour’s drive from Beirut.
Read more: 15 Things to Do in Byblos, Lebanon
Is Beirut Safe?
Beirut endures periods of political instability and sporadic incidents of violence. The city also suffered a devastating explosion in its port area in August 2020. Therefore, it’s critical to stay updated on the current situation and travel advisories issued by your country’s foreign affairs department or embassy. I regularly check the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office updates, for example.
That being said, I felt perfectly safe during my stay, particularly in popular areas like Mar Mikhael. I found Lebanese people to be hospitable and eager to help tourists enjoy their visit, perhaps because they see so few visitors these days. However, petty crime is on the rise, largely due to the country’s financial crisis, so remember to stay safe when walking the streets!
Here’s a quick FAQ on the best things to do in Beirut:
Q1: What are the must-visit historical sites in Beirut?
A1: Some of the top historical sites include The National Museum of Beirut, The Roman Baths, and The Beirut Souks, which provide a fascinating look into Lebanon’s rich historical past.
Q2: What kind of food should I try in Beirut?
A2: Beirut offers a plethora of culinary delights. Try traditional dishes like hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, and shawarma. Also, don’t miss out on sampling Lebanese wines.
Q3: Can you recommend any art galleries or museums in Beirut?
A3: Beirut Art Center and the Sursock Museum are must-visit places for art enthusiasts. Both exhibit exceptional local and international contemporary art.
Q4: Where can I experience Beirut’s nightlife?
A4: The Mar Mikhael district is famous for its vibrant nightlife, with numerous bars and nightclubs. For a more classical evening, consider a performance by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra.
Q5: What natural sites should I visit in Beirut?
A5: The Corniche, a scenic promenade along the Mediterranean Sea, and the iconic Pigeon Rocks are two natural sites you shouldn’t miss. A short drive from the city will also take you to the beautiful Lebanese mountains.
Q6: Is it possible to go shopping in Beirut?
A6: Yes, Beirut is known for its shopping experiences. The Beirut Souk offers high-end boutiques, while areas like Hamra Street provide a more local shopping experience.
Q7: Are there any outdoor activities I can do in Beirut?
A7: Yes, Beirut offers numerous outdoor activities. Walking tours around the city’s diverse neighbourhoods and hiking in the nearby mountains are popular choices. Also, don’t forget the beautiful beaches in and around Beirut for swimming and sunbathing.
There we have it, the best things to do in Beirut, Lebanon! Let us know your favourite things to do in the comments below!