I barely made my flight out of JFK; thank goodness for online check-in. I recommend it in case you are caught in traffic and arrive after the one-hour cut off (when a flight can get closed out at the main check in counter).
The temperature in Beirut must have been 100 degrees when I arrived quite a change from the mild-to-cool days of December (when I was last here).
When leaving the airport, take a taxi to your hotel. But beware: they don’t use meters. Negotiate the rate. Thirty dollars for a decent car with a/c is normal. I paid 25 dollars and went with a guy who owned a 25-year-old Mercedes. Without a/c it was a very warm ride!
Don’t be alarmed by the dilapidated buildings you’ll pass on the way into town. The city’s south suburbs, a Hezbollah area, are very poor, but the center and other areas are much nicer. (By the way, I always wondered why local people wear pants in this summer heat. I know this has to do with custom, but I wonder why more don’t rebel against tradition.)
This trip I chose to stay at the Palm Beach Hotel, a trendy boutique hotel perfectly located near the sea. I recommend it as a great-value pick, especially in summer (since it has a nice rooftop pool, and various beach clubs are across the street).
Last time I was here I stayed at the 5-star classic InterContinental hotel, the Phoenicia, which I also recommend. The Palm Beach is a less expensive 4-star property, has character, boasts an attractive design, and is an overall good choice but the service could stand some improvement, and the rooftop club noise can be a problem for some higher-floor rooms. No doubt the Palm Beach is the place for a younger set. Hotel Le Gray, a new luxe property from the Leading Hotels of the World collection, is opening soon. Another option is the French-colonial-styled Hotel Albergo, in Ashrafiya, a trendy part of town that makes a good base for evening activities.
I ate at Abdulwahad, one of the best traditional Lebanese restaurants in Beirut (along with Gemayze Cafe and Munir). Eat out on the upper-floor terrace and don’t go before 9:30pm. Nearby is Monot Street, which has many stylish bars and clubs.
On day one, my friend and I chose to visit the St. George Hotel and Yacht Club to lay by the pool (actually they have several). The better “beach clubs” (real pool clubs) in Beirut include the St George, Riviera, and La Plage.
On day two, we sampled the Oceana Club, about 30 minuted south of Beirut. There are several areas at Oceana, but La Suite has the nicest digs with a pool, a restaurant, and beach access. It attracts a young, attractive set.
Back in the city for dinner, Casablanca is a good choice. After dinner, go for an evening stroll along the corniche. Lots of people will be milling about the promenade fishing, smoking the “hubble bubble” (tobacco water pipe), or having tea (which oddly enough can cool you down on a hot night).