Is It Safe to Travel to Beirut?

This question has been popping up on my radar recently. Some friends cancelled a plan to visit because of concerns over safety. A US-based reader of my blog contacted me to ask me if I found it safe. On the Facebook page of a fellow expat in Lebanon, I saw the same question posed by one of his friends. Every time I’m back in Seattle, it’s the first question my mother’s friends ask, clucking over me and my family with worry.

Here’s my short answer:

If my posts are still coming from Beirut, I still feel safe here.

The seaside restaurant we ate at our first evening in Beirut. We dined here again last night, to commemorate our arrival to Lebanon.

Yesterday my family celebrated three years of life in Beirut (!!!). To date, the situation felt really dicey only once so far in those three years, back in the fall of 2013, when Obama was threatening Syria with air strikes (everyone was worried what the spillover into Lebanon would be).

The rest of the time, life is surprisingly normal, almost mundane. We go to restaurants and the movies, take hikes in the mountains and swim on the shore. The kids go to school and gymnastics classes, I write, hubby heads to the office. For the most part, incidents that make headlines happen far from central Beirut, where we live.

A friend of mine recently post to Facebook a video of people dancing in the street at a festival in the hipster neighborhood of Mar Mikhael. This was how my friend answered the question:

BeirutSafety2

While some cities and countries are safer than others (of course!), there is hardly anywhere that is perfectly safe all the time. We’ve seen mass shootings everywhere from a movie theater in Colorado to a youth camp in Norway, terrorist attacks in cities from Mumbai to Nairobi to New York, and “regular” violent crime, well, nearly everywhere.

Beirut’s violence is infrequent, but when it occurs, it is headline-grabbing spectacular. Like airline accidents, a car bomb is incredibly unlikely to occur, but the dramatic and heartbreaking results leave their imprint on us and, as terrorists hope, instill fear.

So is it safe to travel to Beirut?

Here is how the American who found my blog expressed her fears:

“My concern is primarily risks that I would face because I’m American. The crazy stories of kidnappings are the biggest fear factor, though I know those kinds of things are rare, especially in Lebanon.”

And my answer:

“While there are never any guarantees, Beirut is really totally fine, as is much of the country.

Kidnapping of foreigners is not an issue in Lebanon. So don’t stress about that. Not even pickpocketing is an issue. The worst case scenario is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But things are calm enough now that even that is not a reason that I feel is worth getting dissuaded over.

There’s plenty to see in Beirut – the downtown area has a couple of nice mosques, the Robert Mouawad museum and the National Museum are interesting, and you can’t miss a night on the town in Mar Mikhael, the current hipster center of Beirut. Rooftop bars are opening soon too, and those are world-famous. Byblos is a must-see, and not far from Tripoli. As I mentioned, your colleagues would be best suited to tell you how safe Tripoli is. They know their own city well, and would be able to ensure to keep you out of the sketchy neighborhoods. If there is any kind of flare-up in Tripoli, an alternative could be to meet them in Byblos, which is only a 20 minute drive away, but VERY safe at all times.

If you have a day to spare, you may want to consider visiting the Roman ruins of Baalbek. They are absolutely amazing, but a 3-hour drive away. If you’re on your own, you can book a day trip through an agency like Nakhal or Kurban travel.

And if you’re traveling in the next few months, pack a swimsuit, because it’s beach weather here now!”

IMG_0086

Staff prepare a waterfront cocktail bar for the evening guests.

So if you’re thinking about visiting Beirut, here’s my advice: leave your fears behind, and come!

We’ll be here, soldiering on. 😉

Note: No matter where in the globe you find yourself, it pays to seek out and heed local advice on safety questions such as where to go and where to avoid, how late at night to stay out, and how well you need to hide valuables when out and about.

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18 thoughts on “Is It Safe to Travel to Beirut?

  1. […] established in my last post that yes, you should come visit Beirut, your next question may be what to do while here. So I’ve put together a list of a few of my […]

  2. Norman MacDonald says:

    I’m planning to visit the end of October, and also planning to transfer to the new kempinski there, I have a lot of friends who visit Beruit and i’ve always wanted to go, Is it expensive to live there

    • cupcakeamy says:

      I guess “expensive” would depend on your point of reference. It’s not cheap, that is for sure, but it is possible, as in many cities, to live cheaply or extravagantly, according to your budget. I find groceries more expensive than US/Europe, but not exorbitant, especially if you avoid imported products. Housing is definitely expensive, but not as much as say, New York. Enjoy your visit!

      • Norman MacDonald says:

        Thank you for letting me know,
        I like to party and i hear the night life is amazing there, much better than Dubai

  3. Ashley says:

    Would you still say it’s safe to travel there? I want to go after the first of the year but like you stated the media blows up everything and the travel warnings online concern me also.

    • cupcakeamy says:

      Hi Ashley, yes, things are still stable here and personally I wouldn’t hesitate to book travel early in the next year. The big problem these days is what to do with the trash, which as annoying and awful as that is, it’s not something putting a visitor at some kind of personal risk. The travel warnings have been there the entire time I have been living here. There were a couple of months during the fall of 2013 that felt really unstable and tense, and I wouldn’t have recommended people visit at that time. But things have been calmer throughout 2015 than in 2013 and 2014 both.

      • cupcakeamy says:

        Well, I obviously spoke too soon because there was a bomb today in Beirut that killed at least 16 people. It seems to take much more than a bomb to destablize Lebanon, but it couldn’t hurt to wait a couple of weeks to actually buy your ticket.

  4. Maya says:

    Thanks guys I was worried I need to visit Beriut in December 2015 to see my husband since he is still waiting for his visa since 2013 I need to be with him till immigration decides to give him a visa they let every one here with no problem but for good people like us poor him they are taking there sweet time to approve his visa thanks guys I will go and risk my life cause I know God will be with me and with all good people that has family in Beirut ..

    • cupcakeamy says:

      Glad to hear that you will visit. Personally, I wouldn’t describe living or visiting here as “risking my life” – I have no interest in being a martyr, and if I felt my life or my kids’ life was at immediate risk, I would have left long ago. Sadly, as we see every day on the news, safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere – whether the risk is terrorism or from crazy guys with guns and a chip on their should (referring here to US shootings, not the Paris attacks which were clearly terrorism). Enjoy your trip!

  5. Kelly says:

    Good morning – and Thank you for your blog! We are living in New Orleans – and will be on a month long honeymoon through Hungary, Turkey Lebanon Jordan and Israel. (June) Beirut is difficult to find much current travel info/reviews on – we are in our 40s – so all night party days are long gone – but seaside restaurants are right up our alley! can you give some sound advice on what neighborhoods to look to stay while in Beirut?

    • cupcakeamy says:

      Sounds like a great trip! Will you visit the countries in the order you mentioned? Sounds perfect.
      The restaurant in the picture is Sea Salt, at the beginning of the Corniche. Fantastic setting. Karam al Bahr at Zeitounay Bay has especially good seafood.
      Even if you don’t want all night partying, if you simply want easy access to bars and restaurants, then staying in Hamra or Mar Mikhael is convenient. Hamra has plenty of hotels at a variety of price points; in Mar Mikhael there is a nice B&B called Baffa House. For sightseeing the downtown area is a must-see of course, the National Museum is small but good, there are interesting art and design shops in Mar Mikhael, and Hamra is interesting to walk around. Take a day to head north of the city for the ruins of Byblos, and visit the beach either near Byblos or Batroun. Take another day to head to the hills, I suggest Deir el Qamar and Beiteddine Palace, with lunch at someplace nearby. Enjoy!

  6. Sarah says:

    Hello!
    I will be visiting my husband’s family in a couple days…I took some notes on the places you mentioned that would be nice to visit in/near Beirut. Will you place share your opinion of the Zouk Michael / St. Michael neighborhood of Beirut? In terms of safety, places to see, what to avoid…to advice would be so appreciated! thank you!

    • cupcakeamy says:

      Hello Sarah, I am sure you will have a great trip! Beirut is absolutely gorgeous right now with all the Christmas decorations everywhere.
      There is a Zouk Mikael which is a suburb of Beirut, about 15 mintues drive north of the city. It is charming and completely safe. THere is a renovated “souk” there with a few handicraft shops that is cute.

      But I wonder if you meant Mar Mikael (which translates to Saint Michael) which is a neighborhood within Beirut? That is the super-happening area with tons of little shops, restaurants and bars. Very lively, also totally safe, although if you are out at bars late at night I always watch my purse carefully (I think this is a good piece of advice just about anywhere). If you will have internet access on your phone, you can download this app http://mobile.zawarib.net/ which has locations of restaurants and shops – the paper version of this map is available as a free handout at many shops also. Be sure to stop by Plan Bey, Paper Cup and Artisan du Liban (the latter is located basically where Mar Mikael and Gemmayze meet).

      There are a lot of Christmas activities planned for the Beirut Souks downtown this weekend, and Byblos is super decorated for Christmas, so be sure to visit both.

      In terms of safety, the places to avoid are unlikely to be the ones that you would visit anyway. There are certain areas of Dahiyeh (the southern suburbs) that do have a greater risk of a bomb as they are areas targeted by ISIS. But that said, you’d also have to be really unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – there has only been that one bombing (Nov 12) in all of 2015.

  7. […] my May 2015 post on safety in Beirut is my most popular ever, I wanted to post an update on the situation. Some of […]

  8. DP says:

    Hi,
    Have been looking at different areas of Beirut to those that you’ve mentioned (more ‘normal’ aread) to visit during a trip later this year. Can u tell me anything about the el nabaa neighbourhood?
    TIA

    • cupcakeamy says:

      Hmmm, I wonder if you mean the Ras el Nabaa area? If so, it is a middle-class neighborhood near Sodeco Square, pretty centrally located. Not really any sights for tourists, maybe you will visit someone there? I have friends that live in that neighborhood, and I have always felt comfortable and safe there.

  9. […] thus, if you want to have a more detailed insight regarding travelling and visiting Lebanon I think this article (which I found well written and quite objective) might give you the answers you are looking for. […]

  10. […] someone living in Beirut? Petty crime rates are low here, and school shootings are unheard of. See this earlier post and this one for more about safety in Beirut.) But the challenges facing the U.S. today are also a […]

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