The Beirut Mini Guide

Beirut is a city of layers. Over here, a Zaha Hadid original. Down there, the 1,600-year-old temple of Bacchus. And in between: a culture influenced by Phoenician, Roman, Greek, Arab, Ottoman, and European civilizations. Carved into a mountainside facing the Mediterranean Sea, the Lebanese capital is nicknamed “The Paris of the East” (the country was under French rule until 1943) for good reason. Whether it’s the architecture or the food, undertones of Paris are everywhere. And most Lebanese speak Arabic, French, and English fluently, sometimes even in the same sentence. At the same time, hallmarks of Arab culture—souks, street vendors, the sonorous calls to prayer—remind you that you are most certainly in the Middle East.

The history of the city is rich and powerful and often, violent. Beirut has survived years of serious conflict, which explains why its other moniker is “The City that Will Not Die.” Shells of destroyed buildings sit next to popular cafés filled with people smoking hookah. War has been part of life in Beirut, but for more than a decade the conflict’s been over. In that time, the city has rebounded. Scratch that. It has thrived.

For years, goop assistant beauty editor Margaux Anbouba, spent her summers here, so she shares her favorite spots as only an insider can.

TRAVEL NOTE: If you’re visiting religious monuments, dress conservatively (cover your shoulders and avoid shorts or short skirts). To get around, taxis and ridesharing services are everywhere, and there are drivers for hire for longer trips into the mountains.


  • Le Gray

    Le Gray

    With six bars and restaurants to choose from, plus an infinity pool overlooking the downtown skyline, and a full-service spa, this boutique hotel feels more cool Parisian than Middle Eastern. A cigar bar turns into a club at night (and has an impressive selection of Cubans).

  • Phoenicia Hotel

    Phoenicia Hotel

    Built in 1961, the Phoenicia is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Recently renovated, it exudes Middle Eastern glamour with indoor fountains, an enormous marble staircase, and an in-house Arab patisserie. The five restaurants, extensive contemporary art collection, and the Spa Phoenicia (get the gold facial sheet mask), are all over-the-top decadent.

Dinner, Drinks, Dessert

  • Em Sherif

    Em Sherif

    Chef MireiIle Hayek has opened some of the city’s most popular restaurants (La Parrilla, Yasmina), and her prix fixe menu at this locals-packed traditional Lebanese restaurant includes favorites like fattoush salad and hummus, alongside more unusual dishes like kibbeh nayeh (raw lamb mixed with wheat and spices) and sawda djej (chicken liver topped with pomegranate seeds). The ice cream with caramelized pistachios and spun sugar is just…there are no words.

  • Hanna Mitri

    Hanna Mitri

    Inside this bullet-riddled, semi-decrepit, since-1949 building is arguably the best ice cream in Beirut. The family-run shop makes “booza araibeh,” sticky, taffy-like ice cream made with mastic gum and salep. Ingredients are pounded with a giant wooden paddle until scoopable. There are only eight flavors, all of which sell out every day. The menu covers universal loves, like chocolate and strawberry and pistachio, as well as local flavors like rosewater and apricot with pine nuts.
 Image @elatnikova

  • Iris


    The Lebanese adore nightlife, and Iris is the pinnacle of Beirut’s: The sleek rooftop bar has incredible views of the sunset over the Mediterranean, and after dark, DJs from all over the world play until 2 a.m.

  • Loris


    One of the most romantic spots in Beirut, the Loris restaurant is named after a socialite who once lived there. Call ahead to reserve a spot on the patio, where you can smoke hookah (mint and apple mixed together is especially good) under twinkling lights. The chef’s modern twists on traditional Lebanese and Armenian dishes like manti (beef and pasta in a yogurt sauce) and muhammara (a spicy red pepper dip) are fantastic. You really can’t go wrong, even if you’re unfamiliar with the cuisine.


  • Orient 499

    Orient 499

    A perfectly curated selection of Middle Eastern-made items, from mother of pearl inlaid backgammon sets and hand-beaded eye clutches to incredible traditional fashion pieces (both men’s and women’s, vintage and modern). The entire space smells gorgeously of incense, and everything you buy will, too.

  • Sarah's Bag

    Sarah's Bag

    Up the winding staircase of an Art Deco apartment building in the Tabaris neighborhood of Beirut is the fantastic Sarah’s Bag. The chic handbag line employs at-risk local women to hand-craft the exquisite purses, totes, and clutches. There are pieces designed with everything from beaded Arabic calligraphy proclaiming “passion” and “my heart,” to hand-painted psychedelic prints and lucite clutches in the shape of Backgammon sets.

See and Do

  • Club Thermique

    Club Thermique

    The drive up to Club Thermique’s jump point is so steep and winding it can be nauseating, but who cares because the glide down is worth it. The tandem paragliding company has been sailing across the Beirut skyline for almost thirty years—it’s a serious adrenaline kick and a totally unique way to view the city. By the time you touch down on the beach miles below (about a 30-minute sail), you’re ready to go again.

  • Harissa


    Set on a 1,880-foot summit, the Notre Dame du Liban (also known as Our Lady of Lebanon) is a huge tourist draw for a reason: The panoramic view is spectacular. Thought to be the guardian of Beirut, the molten bronze statue of the Virgin Mary can be reached by car or gondola, and at the top, there’s a small chapel inside the statue, cute restaurants, and a saint-studded gift shop.

  • Jeita Grotto

    Jeita Grotto

    The first thing you notice when descending the stairs to the Jeita Grotto is the drop in temperature. The cooling sensation is almost instant and a little startling—until you look up and realize you’re inside a cave filled with Dali-esque stalagmites and stalactites. Since its rediscovery in 1853, Jeita has been a national monument, and widely considered one of the unofficial wonders of the world. The cave is divided into two sections: In the upper grotto, there are rock formations that resemble melted candles and giant mushrooms, best viewed from a winding pathway hundreds of feet above the bottom of the cave. The lower grotto has a freshwater spring that actually provides drinking water to the city; a boat ride below the head-skimming formations is the best way to see it.

  • Jubayl


    A 30-minute drive to the Mediterranean coast takes you to Jubayl, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and a former Phoenician port. Park your car at the marina and enter the walls of the old city, where there’s a castle built by 12th-century crusaders, an Ottoman mosque, and tombs of former Phoenician kings. It’s a scene straight out of 1,001 Arabian Nights; the best things to buy are handmade backgammon boards and traditional coffee sets.

  • The Blue Mosque

    The Blue Mosque

    It took six years to complete this blue-domed mosque that opened in 2008. Formally named the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, it’s especially awe-inspiring when lit up at night, and the aquamarine dome and 65-foot-tall minarets reflect the traditional Ottoman style. Dress modestly and be prepared to remove your shoes; inside, opulent chandeliers light up incredible ancient calligraphic art. (Note: It’s next to the city’s oldest Greek Orthodox Church, also worth checking out).

  • Zaitunay Bay

    Zaitunay Bay

    Perched on the edge of an active marina, the walking promenade on Zaitunay Bay has amazing shopping and incredible restaurants, all with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. It’s the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon lunch overlooking the port. Oh and while you’re there, rent a boat. You won’t be sorry.

You may also like