The best way to get to know any city is by walking, and this is especially true of Beirut. The labyrinthine nature of its streets and alleys makes for a truly quixotic experience as one roams between neighborhoods, between skyscrapers and ruins, mansions and hidden gardens.
There are an estimated 300 buildings and houses in the greater Beirut area that classify as traditional, and many neighborhoods are signposted as “Rue à Caractère Traditionnel,” designating high concentrations of classic architecture. Sursock and Clemenceau still boast quite a few old residences that are still inhabited, and the quiet back streets of Manara have lovely, ornate apartment buildings leading to the old light house and the famous Rose House, just beyond it. Down the hill is the thinnest building in Lebanon; an extremely acute wedge of a structure, the result of a land dispute between brothers.
Fairouz’s childhood home is in Zqaq el Blat, and the infamous Dr Dahesh’s mansion is located there. Charles de Gaulle lived in a building in Karakol el Druze—a plaque commemorates it. Burj Hammoud is dense and close with alleys and overhead wires, while Sodeco presents a line of old cemeteries, one each for communities of Christians and Jews. The side streets of Gemmayze and Mar Mkhael are full of grand old residences and gardens planted with gardenias, the flowers of which waft fragrance into the streets as if from nowhere in the spring. A walk from any direction down from Sassine Square will lead you to a unique little niche, and you won’t want to miss spots like the Holiday Inn. Of course, it’s always lovely to wrap a long jaunt around Beirut with a stroll down the corniche.
The point here being, walking the streets of this rich cluster of histories, cultures and contradictions is the surest way of making your trip to Lebanon truly unique. Everything you see has a story.
Several companies in the area offer guided walking tours of Beirut, as well.