Beirut, Lebanon: The Paris of the Middle East 🇱🇧

Located on a peninsula along the eastern Mediterranean coast is the city of Beirut, Lebanon. This city, rich in culture, history, and cuisine, has been a hub of trade and commerce for thousands of years. From its ancient past to its modern present, Beirut has a unique character that draws visitors from all over the world.

Aerial view of Beirut, Lebanon

The city’s cultural heritage permeates its architecture, art, and music. A stroll through the streets of Beirut reveals a mix of traditional and modern buildings, each with its own story to tell.

Ancient ruins in the city

Lebanese cuisine is famous for its freshness and flavor, and Beirut is the perfect place to sample it. From mezze plates filled with hummus and tabbouleh, to savory dishes like kibbeh and shawarma, there is something for everyone.

Chicken batata in Beirut, Lebanon

History buffs will love exploring the many landmarks and monuments that dot Beirut’s landscape. And as Lebanon is a tiny nation, the city is also a stone’s throw away from every major city and site in the country. From the ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek to the seaside resorts of Sidon and Tripoli, everything is a quick day trip from Beirut.

Exploring an Ottoman bridge north of town

Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or cuisine, Beirut, Lebanon is a city that has something to offer. With its vibrant energy and welcoming people, it’s no wonder that many refer to Beirut as the Paris of the Middle East. It’s a wonderful energy I felt for myself as I explored with my guides Nico and Armando. Let’s dive into some of the amazing things you can do in Beirut, Lebanon!

Have a Lebanese Breakfast at Abou Hassan Restaurant

Lebanese food spread in Beirut, Lebanon

When in Beirut, do as the locals do. That means starting your day with a delicious Lebanese breakfast. One of my favorite spots in town is Abou Hassan Restaurant. After Nico and I watched the cooks prepare a phenomenal spread in the kitchen, we ate in their dining hall.

Lebanese food in town

One dish you must try is the ful, which is fava beans with chickpeas, oil, onions, and lemon juice. When eaten with fresh, fluffy pita, it’s an outstanding combination. I also recommend the father, a mix a bread and chickpeas in yogurt with butter and nuts.

Lebanese food in town

Another highlight is the mousabbaha. This dish is a somewhat runnier version of hummus that contains tahini and whole chickpeas. The kind we had was hot and flavorful and paired well with the pita. We also enjoyed fresh onion, tomatoes, mint, peperoncini, and pickled beets on the side!

Enjoy Fruit Cocktails

Fruit cocktail smoothie in Beirut, Lebanon

If you’re like me and prefer fresh juice over packaged and processed ones, stop by Cocktail Jabbour. This local favorite offers fresh fruit juices and smoothies made with fresh fruit.

Fruit cocktail smoothie closeup in Beirut, Lebanon

I enjoyed a smoothie that contained avocado puree, banana, kiwi, strawberries, and strawberry juice. It also contained a bit of whipped cream and honey. Because there was no added sugar, it felt pure and healthy.

Shop worker holding fruit cocktail smoothie

At another spot in town, I tried a refreshing drink made from carob, dates, rose water, and cashews. It sound a bit odd, but it was a nice, healthy alternative to the fried foods you’ll find in Beirut, Lebanon!

See the Ruins of Petit Serail in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon

Ruins of Le Petit Serail in downtown Beirut, Lebanon

In the heart of Beirut lies a large, rectangular pit of ruins visible from the street and surrounding buildings. These ruins are all that’s left of the Petit Serail, an Ottoman palace and administrative building built in 1881.

Le Petit Serail in Beirut, Lebanon

In its heyday, the important building even helped inspire architecture throughout Lebanon. But the city demolished the building in 1950 after the mayor sought to expand Beirut’s main square. Instead, the city built a pair of hotels on the site, which they later destroyed in the 1990s. It was then that they unearthed and preserved the palace’s foundations for all to see and enjoy!

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Dine at Le Chef

Lebanese food spread

One of my favorite restaurants in Beirut, Lebanon is Le Chef. This famous Lebanese restaurant boasts a unique and mind-blowing story. The original restaurant suffered extensive damage after a devastating 2020 explosion in the city’s port area. But a GoFundMe campaign enabled its reconstruction. Among its supporters was renowned actor Russell Crowe, who donated in honor of late travel host Anthony Bourdain.

Delicious Lebanese food in Beirut

Inside, we enjoyed a traditional spread. It consisted of loubieh (green beans in tomato sauce), maghmour/moussaka (roasted eggplant & chickpea stew), mujadara msufaye (rice & lentil paste with caramelized onions), and kibbeh labanieh (meat fritters with yogurt). They then brought us mahalabieh (orange blossom pudding) for dessert. We also enjoyed some meghli (rice flour pudding with cinnamon, caraway, anise, and nuts).

Kibbeh

The loubieh was light and chunky, providing a healthy start to the meal. The mujadara msufaye was grainy, and I loved the smokiness of the roasted maghmour. I also enjoyed the crunch of bulgur in the kibbeh labanieh . We ended with some thick, fluffy, and nutty meghli. Meanwhile, the mahalabieh was thick and cold, with a pleasant orange flavor. Amazingly, the entire meal cost us $10 USD!

Try Armenian-Style Shawarma at Basterma Mano

Armenian shawarma in Little Armenia, Beirut, Lebanon

If you visit Beirut’s Little Armenia neighborhood, seek out a popular spot called Basterma Mano. Known for offering some of the best shawarma in the city, Basterma Mano offers beef, chicken, and lamb shawarma at reasonable prices.

Eating Armenian shawarma

After layering pickles and tomatoes, they add the sujuk shawarma and either garlic sauce or mayo before toasting it in a panini press. I was even given a slice of meat to sample – the perfect balance of juiciness and mild spice!

Food vendor making Armenian shawarma

The sandwich was crispy with a refreshing burst of tomato. The savory beef sausage was the highlight, transporting me back to my time in Armenia. The cook’s addition of a creamy garlic sauce, called tarator, elevated the dish even further. And at $2.50 each, a visit to Basterma Mano in Beirut, Lebanon is a must.

Enjoy Falafel at Falafel Freiha in Beirut, Lebanon

Falafel Freiha

One of my favorite spots Nico took me to is Falafel Freiha, Lebanon’s top-rated falafel shop on Trip Advisor. It’s renowned for its exceptional falafels, which are chickpea and fava bean fritters blended with bulgur. You can eat them by themselves or in a sandwich.

Falafels at Falafel Freiha in Beirut, Lebanon

Our falafel sandwich contained fresh parsley, tomatoes, and white radish. They also added a tangy tarator sauce. The sandwich’s texture was delightful, with the falafel providing a satisfying crunch. The parsley and tomatoes added a refreshing touch. Even though the falafel are fried, the fresh ingredients make it not feel heavy and unhealthy!

Eat Basturma Sandwiches at Basterma Bedo

Basturma

Another popular eatery in Beirut, Lebanon is Basterma Bedo in Little Armenia. I recommend visiting if you enjoy basturma. This dried and aged beef is a staple in Armenia, and has a nice, peppery crust on the outside.

Vendors making basturma sandwiches

At Basterma Bedo, they make basturma sandwiches on toasted baguettes! They add vegetables, including pickles and tomatoes to add freshness and a vinegary pop of flavor. It’s tasty and tender, and a must for any meat lover visiting the city!

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Try Kaakeh at Kaakeh Square

Kaakeh bread in Beirut, Lebanon

Bread is an important part of the cuisine throughout the Middle East. There are many varieties, and one of the most popular in Lebanon is kraken. This traditional bread is fluffy and savory, and usually comes coated in sesame seeds.

If you visit Kaakeh Square in Beirut, you’ll find many varieties, including plain, rye, and even kaakeh with oats. You can eat it plain or get it stuffed with various ingredients to make a sandwich. I tried a variation stuffed with French white cheese and a spice blend called za’atar. It contains thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, coriander, and marjoram.

The fluffy and earthy bread mixed with the creamy cheese and herbaceous za’atar was heavenly! When you’re in Beirut, Lebanon, visiting Kaakeh Square is something you must do!

Meet the King of Shawarma in Beirut, Lebanon

Shawarma is a quintessential Lebanese street food. So when I heard about a local spot that’s known for having the best chicken shawarma in the world, I had to pay them a visit!

Restaurant Joseph won the award for best chicken shawarma sandwich in 2015! There, I met Joseph and watched the staff build my sandwich. I also saw their chicken, meat, and shrimp skewers, and their diverse sandwich toppings and buffet options.

The chicken shawarma sandwich came loaded with succulent chicken and a delectable garlic sauce. The bread had a satisfying crunch, and the pickles provided an enjoyable textural contrast. It was like a savory, herb-laden chicken salad enclosed within a bread shell.

The beef shawarma sandwich was equally delicious, with fresh parsley and tarator sauce. The addition of the juicy tomatoes blew my mind. Both sandwiches were tasty and affordable at less than $3 each. Now I know why it’s one of the top food spots in Beirut, Lebanon!

Admire Raouche Rock

Raouche Rock off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon

Just off Beirut’s coast on the western side of town is one of Lebanon’s most famous natural attractions, Raouche Rock. This beautiful arch-shaped rock formation, as well as the rocky monolith next to it, are a spectacular site.

Closeup of Raouche Rock in Beirut, Lebanon

On clear, sunny days, the turquoise waters and waves crashing against the rocks are stunning! It reminded me a bit of my time at the Blue Grotto on the island of Malta! It’s among the most beautiful sites in Beirut, Lebanon, and is worth the visit!

Try Savory Lebanese Pies

Lebanese meat, cheese, and vegetable pies

I’ve always been a fan of bite-sized snacks I can eat on the go. When in Lebanon, I recommend their various savory pies like fatayer, sambousek, and sfeeha. One of the best places to buy them is in the bakeries along Hamra Street.

Savory Lebanese pies

Nico and I got an assortment of pies, including a lovely spinach fatayer with a bit of lime juice for added acidity. Conversely, the fatayer bi jibneh with cheese and parsley was fluffy and herbal. But my favorite was the sfeeha, which is a crispy and doughy minced lamb pie from Baalbek. The flavors blew my mind!

Eat Lahmadjun in Beirut, Lebanon

Lahmadjun in Beirut, Lebanon

When in Lebanon, you must try lahmadjudn. Lahmadjun is a popular dish found throughout the Middle East and the Levant. It’s made with ground meat, tomato, onion, and spices spread on a thin dough, then baked until crispy. The dish is typically served with fresh herbs, lemon juice, and sometimes yogurt.

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Making lahmadjun in Beirut

Ichkhanian Bakery in Beirut, Lebanon offers lahmadjun and other favorites like subberek and manti. Their Lahmadjun is savory and rich, with a thin, crispy crust. The Syrian version of the dish adds pomegranate molasses, which adds a sweet and tangy element!

Other bakeries in town offer other varieties, including ones with mint, parsley, and cheese. I also tried a doughier one with vegetables and sumac. Seek out lots of varieties while in town and see which kinds you like!

Try Stuffed Saj Bread at University Sage

Delicious wrapped sandwich in Beirut

On the western side of Beirut, in front of the American University of Beirut, you can try a popular local flatbread. University Sage is the top spot in town to get a stuffed saj bread. It’s cooked on a dome-shaped griddle and stuffed with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, lettuce, chicken, corn, and more.

Food vendor in the city

Nico and I ordered chicken, lettuce, corn, fries, pickles, BBQ sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise. It was sort of like shawarma and almost felt like the Lebanese version of a burrito!

Eat Lebanese Crepes

A Lebanese crepe in Beirut, Lebanon

Elements of French language and culture have permeated Lebanon ever since France colonized the country in 1920. One of those elements is the prominence of French cuisine, including crêpes.

Eating Lebanese crepes in Beirut, Lebanon

To get a taste of sweet Lebanese crepes, head over to Tonino Crêpes and Waffles in western Beirut, Lebanon. They offer a variety of crêpes, but they’re not quite as thin or as crispy as the ones you’ll get in France. Instead, these crepes are thicker and softer, almost closer to an American pancake.

The sign for Tonino Crepes

Nico and I shared a plate of crêpes drizzled with white chocolate and strawberries. The phenomenal combination left me salivating and craving more. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t a massive fan of sweets! Also, at $2 USD, it’s practically a steal!

Dine at Za’atar w Zeit

Chicken batata in Beirut, Lebanon

You can’t visit Beirut, Lebanon without visiting one of the country’s most popular restaurants, Zaatar w Zeit! This fantastic restaurant offers modern Lebanese food in a casual setting. One of their most famous dishes is the chicken batata stir fry. It consists of chicken sautéed and served in a pan with potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, garlic sauce, and lime juice.

Eating chicken batata in Beirut, Lebanon

Like many Lebanese dishes, it comes with a side of flatbread! I suggest loading each piece with a bit of everything. The bread is slightly crispy but still chewy. The combination of chicken, tomato, chicken, and local spices is downright heavenly.

Chicken batata and pita

I recommend using some of the flatbread to sop up the oil, garlic sauce, and lime juice in the bottom of the pan. Best of all, it will only set you back $6 USD!

Visit Falafel M. Sahyoun

Falafel sandwich

If you’re looking to try a local favorite enjoyed by generations of locals, Falafel M. Sahyoun is the spot for you. This 100-year-old restaurant in downtown Beirut is often thought of as one of the city’s best falafel shops.

Freshly fried falafel

The falafel here comes with tomatoes, white radish, and parsley, along with tahini and a spicy sauce. It’s worth noting that these falafel have a slightly different flavor. They only contain fava beans instead of the classic chickpea/fava bean mixture. They’re crispy, golden brown, and flavorful without being too oily!

Try Lebanese Indian Food

Lebanese-Indian spread

I’m a sucker for good fusion cuisine that successfully blends flavors and ingredients from two different cultures. In Beirut, you can find some phenomenal Lebanese-Indian fusion food at Get Grilled Indian Fusion.

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Lebanese-Indian appetizers

Highlights from their menu include their aloo bonda with apricot chutney and aloo paratha with lime pickle. I also enjoyed their masala fries, which had a kick of heat to them. The cheese sambousek—similar to a samosa—came filled with mozzarella and ackawi cheeses. Don’t miss their salty mint-chili lassi!

Lebanese-Indian dessert

Their earthy dal makhani paired well with their fresh, crispy garlic naan. The butter chicken worked well with rice, while the vegetarian coconut curry took me straight back to Kerala! There was also a fantastic palak kofta and a dense coconut barfi for dessert.

Visit Sites Outside Beirut, Lebanon

Ottoman bridge north of Beirut, Lebanon

There are many sites in the Beirut area that are worth exploring. One such site is Jeita Grotto, not far from the city of Jounieh. The cave consists of two interconnected karstic limestone caves—an upper cave and a flooded lower one. Boat rides in the lower cave are available in the summer. It’s gorgeous, with lots of unique limestone formations. Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed inside.

Standing on a 500-year-old Ottoman bridge

You can find another unique site along the Nahr al-Kalb River, or Dog River north of Beirut. Near the base of Mount Lebanon are two stunning sites. One is a roughly 500-year-old Ottoman bridge, and just beyond it is an aqueduct! Further along the river are the ancient Stelae of Nahr al-Kalb, which include Egyptian, cuneiform, Roman, and Greek inscriptions!

Eat the Best Fried Chicken in Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanese fried chicken in Beirut, Lebanon

If you have a hankering for some fried chicken while in Beirut, Lebanon, you’re in luck! According to locals, Torino Chicken offers the best fried chicken in the city. The spot also holds a special place in Nico’s heart, as it’s where his parents had their first date!

Cook serving fresh Lebanese fried chicken

Nico had raved about this place to me throughout my trip, and after trying their half a chicken, I understand why! The chicken was crispy without being too oily. It came with a rich tarator sauce made only from garlic and oil. The flavor is potent, but it pairs well with the chicken. Use their fries and pickles if you need a palate cleanser!

Enjoy a Luxurious Lebanese Haircut in Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanese haircut in Beirut, Lebanon

I don’t have many rituals I follow when I travel, because each destination is its own unique thing. But one thing I usually try to do is experience a haircut from a local barber. I’ve done it everywhere from India to Nicaragua to Guyana to Spain, and they’re always unique experiences.

Lebanese barber shop in Beirut

In Beirut, I recommend Phil & Joe Barbers, who offer haircuts, shaves, massages, and facials. You can also buy items like shaving cream, brushes, beard oil, and other accessories.

Getting a shave in Beirut

My barber, Omar, began by applying warm Italian shaving cream to my head to give me a clean cut. I also got a nice shave, a facial, and a nostril waxing! But the head massage was the highlight of my experience. He expertly used his fingers to get rid of the tension in my forehead and temples. If you find yourself in Beirut, Lebanon, I highly recommend him!

Conclusion

Enjoying a meal with Nico in Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon is a city known for its diversity – from its cosmopolitan city center to its charming souks. Between its gorgeous natural sites, top-notch food, and historical sites, it’s a stunning destination for any traveler. It’s no wonder it’s called “the Paris of the Middle East!” Book a trip to Beirut today to experience its magic and culture for yourself!

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