Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon. Greater Beirut is the third-largest city in the Levant region. The city is situated on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coast. Beirut has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years, and was one of Phoenicia's most prominent city states, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. The first historical mention of Beirut is found in the Amarna letters from the New Kingdom of Egypt, which date to the 15th century BC.
Beirut is Lebanon's seat of government and plays a central role in the Lebanese economy, with many banks and corporations based in the city. Beirut is an important seaport for the country and region. Beirut was severely damaged by the Lebanese Civil War, and its cultural landscape underwent major reconstruction.
Beirut's economy is service-oriented with the main growth sectors being banking and tourism. With its seaport and airport—coupled with Lebanon's free economic and foreign exchange system, solid gold-backed currency, banking-secrecy law, and favourable interest rates—Beirut became an established banking centre for Arab wealth, much of which was invested in construction, commercial enterprise, and industry (mostly the manufacture of textiles and shoes, food processing, and printing). The economy of Beirut is diverse, including publishing, banking, trade and various industries. During that period, Beirut was the region's financial services centre. At the onset of the oil boom starting in the 1960s, Lebanon-based banks were the main recipients of the region's petrodollars.
Beirut is the focal point of the Economy of Lebanon. The capital hosts the headquarters of Banque du Liban, Lebanon's central bank, the Beirut Stock Exchange, the head office of Lebanon's flag-carrier Middle East Airlines, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the Union of Arab Banks, and the Union of Arab Stock Exchanges.
Banking The Banking System is the backbone of the local economy with a balance sheet of $152 billion at the end of 2012, nearing 3.5 times the GDP estimated at $43 billion by the IMF. Bank deposits also increased in 2012 by 8% to 125 billion dollars, 82 percent of the sector's assets. "Banks are still attracting deposits because the interest rates offered are higher than the ones in Europe and the United States", says Marwan Mikhael, head of research at BLOM Bank.
Beirut's foreign reserves were still close to an all-time high when they reached $32.5 billion in 2011 and analysts say that the Central Bank can cover nearly 80 percent of the Lebanese currency in the market. This means that the Central Bank can easily cope with any unforeseen crisis in the future thanks to the massive foreign currency reserves.
The Lebanese banking system is endowed with several characteristics that promote the role of Beirut as a regional financial centre, in terms of ensuring protection for foreign capital and earnings. The Lebanese currency is fully convertible and can be exchanged freely with any other currency. Moreover, no restrictions are put on the free flow of capital and earnings into and out of the Lebanese economy. The passing of the banking secrecy law on 3 September 1956, subjected all banks established in Lebanon as well as foreign banks' branches to the "secret of the profession". Both article 16 of law No. 282 dated 30 December 1993 and article 12 of decree No. 5451 dated 26 August 1994, offer exemptions from income tax on all interest and revenues earned on all types of accounts opened in Lebanese banks. On the first of April 1975, decree No. 29 established a free banking zone by granting the Lebanese government the right to exempt non-residents' deposits and liabilities in foreign currency from: the income tax on interest earned, the required reserves imposed by the Banque Du Liban by virtue of article 76 of the Code of Money and Credit, the premium of deposit guarantee imposed on bank deposits to the profit of the National Deposit Guarantee Institution.
Tourist Industry The tourism industry in Beirut has been historically important to the local economy and remains to this day to be a major source of revenue for the city, and Lebanon in general. Before the Lebanese Civil War, Beirut was widely regarded as the "Paris of the Middle East," often cited as a financial and business hub where visitors could experience the Levantine Mediterranean culture. Beirut's diverse atmosphere and ancient history make it an important destination which is slowly rebuilding itself after continued turmoil. However, in recent times, certain countries, such as the United States, have frequently placed Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, on their travel warnings lists due to the many car bombings and orchestrated acts of political violence.
According to the 2012 tourist statistics, 34% of the tourists in Beirut came from states within the Arab League, 33% came from European countries (mainly France, Germany, and Britain), and 16% from the Americas (about half of which are from the United States).
The largely pedestrianised Beirut Central District is the core of the Beirut tourism scene. The district is a cluster of stone-façade buildings lining arcaded streets and radial alleyways. The architecture of the area is a mix of French Architecture and Venetian Gothic architecture mixed with Arabesque and Ottoman Architecture. The district contains numerous old mosques and crusader churches, as well as uncovered remnants and ruins of the Roman era. The District contains dozens of restaurants, cafes and pubs, as well as a wide range of shopping stores mainly in Beirut Souks. High-rise hotels and towers line the district's New Waterfront, marina and seaside promenade.
Another popular tourist destination in Beirut is the Corniche Beirut, a 4.8 km (3 mi) pedestrian promenade that encircles the capital's seafront from the Saint George Bay in the north all the way to Avenue de Paris and Avenue General de Gaulle south of the city. The corniche reaches its maximum height above sea level at Raouché, a high-rise residential neighbourhood rising over a giant white limestone cliff and facing the recognisable off-shore Raouché Rocks.
Badaro is one of Beirut's most appealing neighbourhoods, a lovely place to stroll during daytime and a destination for going out in the evening. Badaro is within Beirut's green district with a 75-acre (30-hectare) public park (The Beirut Pine forest) and a 50-acre (20-hectare) hippodrome. It is a neighbourhood on a very human scale with small groceries around every corner. The neighbourhood residents, a mix of old impoverished Christian bourgeoisie, bohemian style people in their 30s and well-established urban professionals, are loyal to local bakery and pastry shops. Because of the blossoming café and bar scene it has become lately a hip destination for Beirut's young and restless but old Beirutis remember that Badaro was already Beirut's version of the Village in the swinging sixties. Groceries and eateries can be found on almost every street of the area. There are dozens of restaurants, pubs and footpath cafés of virtually every style. Badaro "Village" thrives on local residents, day-trippers and hipsters from all over Beirut, office employees and many expatriates.
Hamra Street is a long cobblestone street connecting the Beirut Central District with the coastal Raouche area. The street is a large concentration of shopping stores, boutiques, restaurants, banks, street vendors, footpath cafes, newspaper kiosks, and a booming nightlife spurred by students from the neighbouring American University of Beirut. The AUB campus is another popular visitor destination, composed of a cluster of 19th century red-roofed buildings dispersed on a wooded hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. Gemmayzeh is Beirut's artistic bohemian quarter, full of narrow streets and historic buildings from the French era. It is located East of the Beirut Central District, bordering the Saifi Village. The neighborhood is well known for its trendy bars and pubs, cafes, restaurants and lounges; most are directly located on Rue Gouraud, the main thoroughfare that cuts through the middle of the district. Travel + Leisure magazine called Gemmayzeh "SoHo by the Sea," due to its colorful and chic cafés amid 1950s apartment buildings and hole-in-the-wall shops. However, Gemmayzeh received the most damage by the Beirut explosion in 2020.
Beirut is a destination for tourists from both the Arab world and West. In Travel + Leisure magazine's World Best Awards 2006, it was ranked the 9th best city in the world. That list was voted upon shortly before the 2006 Lebanon War broke out, but in 2008 The Guardian listed Beirut as one of its top ten cities in the world. The New York Times ranked it at number one on its "44 places to go" list of 2009. 2011 MasterCard Index revealed that Beirut had the second-highest visitor spending levels in the Middle East and Africa, totalling $6.5 billion. Beirut was chosen in 2012 by Condé Nast Traveller as the best city in the Middle East, beating Tel Aviv and Dubai.
Many of the tourists are returning Lebanese expatriates, but many are from Western countries. Approximately 3 million visitors visited in 2010; the previous record was 1.4 million in 1974.
Like other forms of tourism, medical tourism in Lebanon is on the rise recently. Although visitors from neighbouring Arab nations make up the bulk of medical tourism patients here due to its proximity, Beirut is strongly trying to woo more Southern Europeans, Asians and North Americans to its land. Its Agency for Investment Development in Lebanon reports that growth in the medical tourism industry is growing by up to 30% a year since 2009. The country's tourism ministry is working closely with the medical sector and top-class hotels to create an organised, quality medical destination. Major hotel and spa chains work with local clinics, travel agencies and the tourism ministry to create comprehensive healthcare and recuperation packages for foreign visitors. The government is highly involved in this industry and strives to make the process as easy as possible. Cosmetic surgery is a major component of medical tourism in Lebanon. Most of the foreign patients come for routine operations like plastic surgery, dental or eye surgery, and Beirut's hospitals are also capable of performing specialised procedures such as internal bypass surgery and other technical treatments. Its top clinics and hospitals like Sahel General are equipped to handle the full range of surgical procedures. Beirut-based Clemenceau Medical Center (CMC), affiliated with Johns Hopkins International, was ranked one of the world's top ten best hospitals for medical tourism in 2012.
Beirut is rated Beta + by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network (GaWC) which evaluates and ranks the relationships between world cities in the context of globalisation. Beta level cities are cities that link moderate economic regions to the world economy.
Beirut is rated D+ by the Global Urban Competitiveness Report (GUCR) which evaluates and ranks world cities in the context of economic competitiveness. D+ cities are strong regional hub cities. Beirut was ranked #173 by the Nomad List which evaluates and ranks remote work hubs by cost, internet, fun and safety. Beirut has a population of over 361,400 people. Beirut also forms part of the wider Beirut metropolitan area which has a population of over 2,200,000 people.