There’s never a dull moment for an expat living in Beirut – just ask Amy E. Robertson, a Seattle native and travel-obsessed freelance writer who moved to Lebanon's capital in 2012. Amy blogs about life in Beirut at Gardenias in Beirut, and you can also follow her on Twitter @traveler0603.
The historic mosque
Al-Omari Mosque "encapsulates Beirut’s history in a single structure," Amy says. "The building began as a Byzantine church that was built on the ruins of Roman baths. It was converted into a mosque in 635, which lasted until the Crusaders turned it into the Cathedral of St. John in 1115. It was turned back into a mosque by the Mamluks in 1291 and remains a lovely mosque to visit, with its old stone walls and beautifully painted ceiling."
The mosque is located less than a 20-minute walk from our Radisson Blu Martinez Hotel, Beirut. "It welcomes visitors," Amy adds, "and has a rack of hooded black robes available at the entrance for female tourists who may not have arrived appropriately attired."
The perfect souvenir
“While the streets of Hamra are filled with stereotypical kitsch such as t-shirts and jangly belly-dancing scarves, those looking for a more creative memento of Beirut should head back to Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael during the day,” Amy says. Her top picks for shopping in these neighbourhoods are Plan Bey, an arts and culture concept store, which sells postcards of images from the civil war, modern prints and graphic novels by local authors, and hand-printed notebooks. Their neighboring exhibition space offers an ever-changing supply of souvenirs, such as Kurdish-Syrian kilims and hand-painted ceramics. Artisan du Liban – brimming with hammered pewter plates, ancient fish fossils and hand-painted Arabic coffee cups – is my go-to shop when I’m preparing to bring presents back home.”
Meals as good as Grandma's
"Lebanon is famed for its food, and like everywhere else in the Mediterranean, it tends to be at its best when prepared by someone’s mom or grandma," Amy explains. "Those of us who don’t have relatives here can head to restaurants like Achghalouna, where underprivileged women prepare a traditional lunch that is served in the garden of a lovely old Lebanese house, or Tawlet, where women from different parts of Lebanon come to share their regional specialties."
Tawlet is located across the street from the office headquarters of Souk el Tayeb, a weekly open-air farmers market that maintains the feel of a traditional souk while focusing on the products of small-scale farmers.
Nightlife in Beirut
"In a city famed for its nightlife, the choice of where to go out can get overwhelming," Amy admits. "Mar Mikhael is the current 'it' neighborhood, and two of my favorite spots are Internazionale, a classy but unpretentious cocktail bar whose crowd spills out onto the street on warm evenings, and Junkyard, a restaurant made of repurposed shipping containers, whose mood and crowd are far more glam than grunge. I love its cocktails and the retro bartenders in vest and tie."