Are you planning a trip to Beirut, capital of Lebanon and one of the cultural gems of the Middle East? Find out where to stay in Beirut!
The capital of Lebanon, Beirut is an incredibly diverse and resilient city and one of the oldest in the world, with a history spanning 5000 years. Sitting on a peninsula, protected by cliffs overlooking the sea and large hills, Beirut has still been besieged, invaded and captured countless times, each new occupying power leaving its mark on the city. From the Romans to Crusaders to the Ottoman Empire, Beirut has been a coveted prize for centuries.
A French protectorate, Beirut developed into a shining beacon of intellectual and cultural prowesses but during the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was split in two and its renowned downtown became a devastated buffer-zone between Muslim West and Christian East. Today Beirut has found peace and has been steadily rebuilding while preserving its tattered history of Mosques, Cathedrals and Churches, old and new. Stroll on its famed Corniche to admire the Mediterranean Sea and the bullet-ridden palm trees, a symbol for this injured but still proudly standing city.
With 12 quarters and 60 sectors, Beirut is a rich and diverse city with many things to do and see. These are our favorite places and our recommendations on where to stay in Beirut.
Maarfa – Downtown
What is commonly called “Downtown Beirut” spans across several quarters and sectors, mainly, it refers to an area that was rebuilt after the war in a distinctive neo-ottoman architectural style. To the North, the Beirut Central District which spans to the sea and Zaitunay Bay with its brand new luxury apartment buildings and marina. To the South, big renovated avenues lead to government buildings, ancient cathedrals and new mosques.
If you stay in Downtown Beirut you won’t want to miss Nijmeh Square. The square faces severe safety restrictions as it goes up to the Lebanese Parliament and a few blocks away stands the Grand Serail, the office of the Prime Minister, however, you can still admire the clock tower even if the security barricades are up. All the security measures and high cost of life have driven away locals and the area is usually rather quiet, it is even compared to a ghost town as a result.
Right to the East of the Plaza, a minute away, is one of the most iconic sites in the city : all located on the same plaza, sometimes back to back, Mohammad al amin Mosque, Saint George Maronite Cathedral, St Elias Greek Catholic Cathedral and Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral are a testament to the amazing diversity and rich but fragmented history of Beirut.
Ras Beirut quarter
To the West of downtown Beirut, Ras Beirut quarter is a young and lively area with lots to offer, from Hamra sector and its illustrious past to Raoucheh sector and its seizing scenery.
Hamra is one of the most prestigious areas of Beirut. Formerly nicknamed the Champs-Élysées of Beirut, Hamra was the home of the intelligentsia. Professors at the nearby American University of Beirut would meet in its many cafes for debates with artists and writers and the whole area was a trove of intellectual activity. This subsided with the war but Hamra remains an exceptionally diverse and active neighborhood and a great are to stay in Beirut. Walk on its well-named Bliss Street to capture it all.
If you continue far enough on Bliss Street, you will find the coast and the Corniche, which will lead you straight to the Raoucheh sector. With its stunning cliffs and view of the ocean, Raoucheh is a very popular spot for sightseeing and for joggers who run up and down Avenue de Paris. You can’t miss the Rock of Raoucheh, at the center of the controversial development of new seaside resorts.
East Beirut – Gemmayzeh, Mar Knoula and Mar Mikhael sectors
East of Downtown Beirut and its massive renovation in the 90s, Gemmayzeh has progressively modernized as well and has gentrified until Mar Mikhael took over as the new place to be.
Gemmayzeh has developed exponentially in the last decades and had become the new destination for hipsters until gentrification made the prices soar and other cheaper neighborhoods to the East were preferred. Gemmayzeh remains a modern neighborhood with lots to offer in terms of nightlife and activities and has recently started growing again. It is a central place to stay in Beirut and where you will find Martyr’s Square and its iconic monument. Gemmayzeh will have a large choice of accommodation available, is close to downtown but retains a soul and lots of charm.
Just East of Gemmayzeh, you will enter the Mar Nkoula sector. You will quickly find some calm and you’ll be able to browse among the numerous Art galleries and studios that adorn Pasteur and Gouraud Streets. Just minutes away to the South are villas built for the powerful families that governed the affairs of Beirut throughout the centuries. Of these marvels, Sursock Palace has remained a family home to this day while others have become museums such as Sursock Museum.
Mar Mikhael is a great place to take in the nightlife, sip on cocktails and dance to visiting DJs in its reclaimed industrial surroundings. The hotspot for hipsters and the newest gentrified neighborhood of Beirut, Mar Mikhael replaced Gemmayzeh at the cutting edge of hype.
Because of this influx of party goers and its industrial setting, Mar Mikhael isn’t the best place to stay in Beirut. We recommend the quieter and more central Gemmayzeh and Mar Knoula to stay in.
The South East of Beirut – Achrafieh and Mazraa
Achrafieh quarter is a quiet residential area where you will find embassies and gorgeous villas. Built on a hill, the area is a stark change from busy downtown Beirut where you can enjoy the National Museum of Beirut, shop on Sassine Square or admire Villa Tueni Bustros. Achrafieh is a nice place to stay in Beirut if you need a break from the constant activity of its thriving center.
Mazraa quarter is home to the Badaro area, a young and dynamic neighborhood surrounded by quieter residential areas. It is a nice alternative place to stay in Beirut if you want to avoid the crowds, stay here to enjoy the thriving local scene of trendy cafes and bars. To the South you will find the largest park in Beirut, Horsh Beirut, reopened in 2015 after years of being shut down to preserve its beautiful pine forest. While there don’t miss the French Embasy, the Pine residence.
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