At first glance, Beirut may seem to you like an overwhelming city: it’s by far not as walkable as you might have imagined, many sights and attractions are somewhat scattered around town and traffic is generally chaotic. However, once you get used to navigating around Lebanon’s capital city, you will see what an incredible cultural heritage Beirut has to offer with diverse places and different vibes.
In this post, I’ve listed 15 unique spots in Beirut that you should check out once you’re there. Some of these attractions are conveniently located inside the downtown area or in a district nearby. Visiting all of these places will definitely give you an understanding of Beirut’s cultural and religious diversity and an insight into modern everyday life in Lebanon.
As for traveling around town, I recommend using Uber to cover vast distances and to get from one side of the city to the next. Otherwise, within the different districts, it’s super easy to walk.
Located in the east of downtown, Achrafieh is one of Beirut’s most charming districts featuring many restaurants, cafés, pubs, and nightclubs. On top of that, it is home to some of Beirut’s oldest buildings with both Ottoman and French architectural influences. You can find most of its hidden gems on a self-guided or organized walking tour.
Beirut Central District
Beirut’s historic downtown area was mostly destroyed during the civil war and reconstructed in the most extensive urban redevelopment project of the 1990s. Today, the Beirut Central District is once again the commercial and administrative center of Lebanon and home to many both domestic and international institutions, company headquarters, religious buildings and historical sites, such as the Martyr’s Square and the Roman Baths.
Like many other places in downtown Beirut, the once very authentic medieval souks were subject to destruction during the war. In the 1990s, Beirut’s shopping district was rebuilt into a large glamorous shopping arcade with more than 200 shops, international clothing outlets, and a department store.
If you are looking for a traditional Middle Eastern souk with narrow lanes, handicrafts, spices, and fabrics, you’ll have to go on a day trip to either Tripoli or Sidon.
Bourj Hammoud (Little Armenia)
Located north-east of Beirut’s city center is Bourj Hammoud aka. Little Armenia. The district took its name from its residents, most of whom are of Armenian descent. Over the past years, an increasing number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as Asian guest workers, have also settled here making Bourj Hammoud a place of cultural diversity and one of the most densely populated districts in the Middle East. Visiting Bourj Hammoud is an excellent opportunity to buy handicrafts, spices and to get to know Lebanon’s subcultures.
Centered around Rue Gouraud, Gemmayzeh in the Achrafieh district is probably one of Beirut’s most authentic and liberal neighborhoods. The area features narrow streets and numerous Ottoman-era houses that survived the civil war. With more than 100 trendy bars, restaurants and cafés, it is home to the city’s culinary scene and a nightlife hub. Walking through Roue Gouraud, you will also come across the famous St. Nicholas Stairs.
One of the main streets in the city and often referred to as the Champs-Elysee of Beirut, Hamra Street became the center of intellectual activity in the 1960s when it was full of theatres, sidewalk cafés, and restaurants. Today, other parts of Beirut are considered more trendy neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the district around Hamra Street remains a liberal melting pot of multiple religions and political views.
Stretching for almost 5 km along Beirut’s coast, the Corniche is a gorgeous seaside promenade lined with palm trees. Locals come here to work out, socialize and watch the sunset at night. On Beirut’s western seafront, strolling along the Corniche, you will pass the famous Pigeon Rocks (s. Raouche Rocks) and eventually end up at the sandy Rafiq Hariri Beach.
Mar Mikhael Neighborhood
Located east of Gemmayzeh, Mark Mikhael is most famous for being the new hipster neighborhood. Art galleries, antique furniture stores, trendy boutiques and fine dining make this a fashionable area frequented by art-enthusiasts as well as Beirut’s in-crowd. Street art lovers will also love this place as it has various colorful buildings great for photography.
Martyrs’ Square is Beirut’s largest town square and a popular congregation point. The name dates back to the 19th century when Lebanon was occupied by the Ottomans. Back then, the name was chosen to commemorate the martyrs executed during the Ottoman era. Alongside the iconic statue, you will also find the old opera house and Mohammad-al-Amin Mosque.
Built between 2002 and 2007 by former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, this blue-domed mosque has become an essential landmark of Beirut over the last few years. The Mohammad-al-Amin Mosque is located right next to a massive cathedral. Both religious buildings are situated on the former border between the Christian and Muslim part of Beirut and welcome everybody regardless of their religious beliefs. If you get the chance, be sure to visit the interiors as well – the calligraphy and detailed artwork, as well as the magical lighting effects added by the stained glass windows, make the inside absolutely worth a visit.
National Museum Beirut
Situated right on the former border of east and west Beirut, this museum is the jewel of Lebanon’s cultural heritage. Extensively restored after it had suffered severe damage during the war, the National Museum hosts an incredible collection of artifacts from all over the country.
This offshore rock couple is approx. 60 meters high and one of Beirut’s most romantic spots, especially during sunset. Located on Beirut’s western-most tip, you can easily reach this place while walking on the seaside promenade. Locals also offer boat trips through the arches of and caves next to the Pigeons’ Rocks.
On the eastern slope of Serail Hill in downtown Beirut, the remains of an ancient Roman bath complex were discovered in 1968. The ruins were cleaned and excavated in the 1990s. Today, parts of the complex are occasionally used for open-air concerts and plays.
Located inside a beautifully designed Venetian white villa in the Achrafieh district of Beirut, Sursock Museum hosts an extensive collection of modern and contemporary art. With both permanent exhibitions and annual foreign exhibitions, the Sursock Museum is definitely a must-see attraction for art enthusiasts.
St. Nicholas Stairs
With 125 steps and a length of 500m, St. Nicholas Stairs in Gemmayzeh are the longest staircase in the Middle East and an iconic landmark in Beirut’s downtown area. The stairway is lined with houses, small coffee shops and is often referred to as the Stairs Of Art.
Staying here is one of the most scenic experiences in Beirut. And, believe it or not, it’s even possible on a small budget at the laid-back Grand Meshmosh Hotel, which even has dorms available for little money.
What else is there to see?
If you have more time in the country, I also recommend taking a few day trips to see some of Lebanon’s other jewels, including coastal towns like Byblos or Sidon as well as the rural mountain landscapes in the north and Qadisha Valley.