Having moved to Abu Dhabi a little over a year ago with the intention of travelling, we’ve surprised even ourselves by just how much of the world we’ve been able to see.
The United Arab Emirates are an ideal base from which to explore and with a long weekend just gone, there was no chance of sitting around at home – Lebanon was calling!
I made the trip with Olivia (who you may recognise from our Egypt posts) and as it was such a last minute trip on the back of my visit to India and Nepal, saving money was the name of the game. We managed to pick up reasonably priced flights and found apartment accommodation to be well priced for a major city which made the decision to head away an easy one.
Read on for information to help you plan your visit to this energetic and unique city.
We flew from Abu Dhabi (via Muscat in both directions) at a total cost of AED760 each return (USD205 or NZD285). With only a long weekend direct flights would have been our preference but the other flight times and prices didn’t agree with us so it was worth doubling back on the flight – having flown from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, we then flew over Abu Dhabi again as we made our way to Beirut. It was a round about way to get there but it made the difference between going or not!
If you’re looking to book the same itinerary, we flew on Oman Air, departing Thursday night at 5.25pm, arriving at 11.25pm. Our return flight was early on Sunday morning (at 1.30am) which had us arrive into Abu Dhabi that same morning at 9.45am, giving us time to relax before heading back to work the following day.
Whenever we travel to a new area we compare the price of booking an Airbnb with a hotel (occasionally we’ll throw a hostel or camp ground into the mix too) and we generally find that Airbnb comes out on top. This trip was no different and due to our budget, we made the decision to book into an apartment in Mar Mikhael.
The apartment set us back NZD144 (USD105) for the two nights (in total) which was fairly well-priced for what we received though the photos do make the apartment look better than it really was. In reality, it was much more tired-looking than it appears online, it was missing a toilet seat and had slow wifi. The location was pretty good though I think it’s fair to say we were on the outskirts of the nice part of Mar Mikhael. All in all, it was a solid option if you’re travelling on a budget but you may be able to find something better for the same amount of money elsewhere in the city.
Though parts of the city are walkable, to really make the most of Beirut and the surrounding areas, you’ll want to secure a rental car. The road rules are practically nonexistent but it’s all a part of the adventure – drive with caution and expect every two-lane road to turn into three and you’ll be fine.
As we booked our trip so late, we had a hard time securing a rental car before-hand and had to rely upon picking one up at the airport. When we arrived, the cost had doubled so we decided to taxi into town to get a car the next day – the taxi cost us just shy of NZD70 (or USD45 between us) which cut a long way into the cost of a rental car. In the end, we paid USD90 for a rental for the two days but could have got one online for about USD70 (and avoided the cost of the taxi) if we’d been able to book in advance online. If you’re headed to Beirut, don’t hesitate to book your rental in in advance!
What Can I do in Beirut?
Beirut (and its easily accessible surrounding areas) offer plenty for everyone to do. Beautiful beaches, towering mountains, little towns that have a clear French influence, ancient ruins, buzzing bars and restaurants; you won’t be bored here!
Stay tuned for more detailed posts but in the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of what we did (and would recommend you do too):
- Day One
- Explore Byblos – This beautiful township has a distinctive French feel about it which, when combined with traditional Arabian souqs, makes for an interesting stop. Whilst in the area, check out the gorgeous old forts and church (all free of charge).
- Visit The Lady of Lebanon up at Harissa. The view from this statue is incredible – the best in Beirut! To get up to the state, you have the option of taking the cable car from the bay below, or do as we did and drive yourself up (free of charge).
- Shopping! It turns out Beirut have a number of discount shopping options so as we made our way back to the city, we stopped off and picked up a few bargains.
- Stop by Trainstation. This spot it the epitimy of cool which says a lot in a city as funky as Beirut is. Fortunately for us, the Beiruit Restaurants Festival was being held during the period of our visit, which meant we got to enjoy the most delicious food, desserts and drinks under the light of the moon, fireworks and fairylights whilst hanging out arond an abandoned (and now converted) railway station – it was absolutely magical.
- Day Two
- Admire the Jeita Grotto – One of the real highlights of Lebanon for us. These caves are perfectly lit up, allowing a good view of their natural beauty whilst maintaining a sense of peace and quiet. This will cost you 18,150 Lebanese pounds (or USD12 / NZD16.50) and includes a cable car ride, mini train ride and entrance to both of the grottos (including a boat ride inside the lower gotto), along with a movie (which we missed due to limited times available in English).
- More shopping?! On our way back from the Grotto, we stumbled across the most fabulous discount shop, Basic. If you’re in Beirut, be sure to swing by – we both walked away with a decent sized bag of quality clothing for next to nothing.
- Find peace at the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (or Blue Mosque). Neither of us are Muslim but there’s something amazingly peaceful about spending time in a mosque. This one is particularly beautiful and conveniently located in the middle of town – coverups are available outside at no charge so you don’t need to worry about the suitability of your clothing when planning a visit.
- Swing past the fancy part of town and stop for a photo at the ‘I love Beirut’ sign, because you almost definitely will fall in love with the city.
- Admire the Pigeon Rocks (AKA Raouché). This view is surely one of Beirut’s most iconic – you won’t need long there but it’s definitely worth the trip across the city.
- … and last but not least, challenge yourself in the best possible way to some escape room fun! We visited Escape Games Beirut where Olivia had a go at her first-ever escape room (the Hangover). This game is a great option if it’s your first time playing or if you’ve got a small group as it was the perfect combination of challenge and fun, both of which are essential to an enjoyable escape room experience! If you’re a bit more experienced or have a larger group, you have another three other amazingly themed rooms to choose from too. Once Liv was well and truely hooked on these real-life puzzle rooms, we visited Escape the Room to try out their new room, the Castle. We were a bit spoilt as this room hasn’t yet been opened to the public and it certainly was a treat. We can’t give too much away but the idea behind this room and the theming was impeccable, made all the better by their innovative integration of technology into the game. We absolutely love escape rooms (you can read our last post, outlining the concept here) and highly recommend both of these options in Beirut.
Beirut was a vivacious and interesting city full of incredible juxtapositions. Both Olivia and I really enjoyed our time exploring and would return in a heart-beat. Sure, it’s not the place for everyone but if you head there with an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience, your gamble will pay off.
Final Costings per Person (based on twin share)
Flights (Abu Dhabi via Muscat, return) = USD205.00
Accommodation (for two nights) = USD52.50
Rental car (for 48 hours) = USD45.00
Fuel = USD23.00
TOTAL = USD325.50 each (NZD450 or AED1,195)
I’m not going to account for food or activities as this can cost as much or as little as you’d like it to. Most of the activities we did were free or low cost and we had a ball so you don’t have to go with a lot of additional cash if you don’t want to.
Is Lebanon worth spending your hard-earned money on? Absolutely!
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