Although Beirut’s international airport ( Beirut Rafic Hariri ) only lies 9 kilometres from the city centre, it can be a bit of a pain to get into central Beirut. There is no public transport to and from the airport, and taxi’s do not seem to be as regulated as they maybe should. So how do you make your way into Beirut? And maybe even more important: how not to get scammed while doing so.
Arriving at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport – things you should know!
Beirut Rafic Hariri international airport is not that big. The airport might even be smaller than Luton – but obviously not as small as Kerry International Airport. After a long walk through a white tiled hallway boasting pictures of the country’s most impressive sights, you end up in line for immigration.
The Lebanese are very thorough when it comes to immigration. You will receive an entry card on the plane, which you will need to have filled out before you get in line at the immigration desks. Lines can be long. Waiting will probably be lengthy. We were lucky enough to be the only plane arriving at that point – which still meant a 45-minute wait at immigration. The people whose plane landed after us and had to get in line behind us probably had to wait even longer.
Even though there is free wi-fi in the airport, I would advice against using it to kill time in line for immigration. You will only get 30 minutes of connection – it doesn’t matter if you use your phone for 30 minutes or not, once you are connected the first time, the timer starts to run. You will need this internet connection later on, so please be patient and do not use your 30 free minutes.
At immigration they will look through your passport. People who visited Israel will not be admitted into the country. They will also ask you some questions such as “What flight were you on” or “What is your profession” before taking your picture and your fingerprints.
Once you have claimed your luggage, you will go through to the arrivals hall. On your right there is a small little phone shop. You should normally be able to get a (data) sim card in the shop, and further down, in a little black nook, you will find the Hertz counter and a currency exchange desk. If you were unable to change money, or the counter is not open, you can always get money at the ATM in arrivals and break notes in the little green café selling bottles of water at extortionate prices.
Outside the door you will find a taxi rank where the driver of a white Mercedes will be happy enough to make you a ‘deal’
Taking a Taxi from Beirut Airport to Beirut City Centre
Once outside arrivals your big bags and clueless expression will probably attract a whole load of taxi drivers. That is exactly what happened to us. Taxi drivers holding out small dirty business cards call you over, people whisper at you as if they are trying to sell you some smack, men coming from nowhere will tell you they have a “good price good price! Taxi!”. It made my head spin – especially since the Taxi’s at the airport do not have little Taxi signs on their roof. How do you know they are legit? How do you know you are jumping into a Taxi? The area around the airport is not very safe (Still AMBER on the UK Foreign Travel Advise website) and I have read the horrible stories of “taxi brokers” taking money from unsuspecting tourists, pushing them in cabs, not informing the poor cabby of the deal they struck, and ultimately forcing the tourists to pay twice!
So I decided to as one of the soldiers outside the airport what Taxi to take. His English was non-existent, and although French is still a big part of Lebanese culture, he could not understand French either. We ultimately decided to negotiate a price with one of the white Taxi’s standing at the Taxi rank.
To Beirut city centre from here? $70. I literally laughed when I heard the price. Now, the problems was, you see, we arrived quite late. There were few taxi’s waiting in the Taxi rank, and we were so stupid to use our 30 minute free Wi-Fi. I shook my head and walked away to the next Taxi. He told us $50. Price was already going down. Keep in mind, this is a journey of less than 15 minutes, and I read online that you should not pay more than $25. But as there was a high demand and a limited supply, I ultimately agreed to $30.
Once we arrived in our street, I started taking the bags out of our car. The taxi driver was standing suspiciously close to my husband – who is about 1m86. The Taxi driver squared up, and I could feel from my husband’s half obscured body language he felt very uncomfortable. When I walked over, I noticed my husband taking out a $50 note even though we had more than enough small change. What was happening? “How much?” I asked the Taxi driver. “$70” he answered. I wasn’t having it. I told him flat out we agreed on $30 and that $30 was all he was going to get.” As a honking car had now appeared behind us, he nodded, took the fare I had now taken out of our wallet and wished us a pleasant stay in Beirut.
We never took a taxi again.
Taking an Uber from Beirut Airport to Beirut City Centre
I can honestly say that Uber and Careem are the easiest way of making your way through Beirut and maybe even Lebanon. Remember I told you to save up that 30 minutes worth of Wi-Fi? You might want to use it to order an Uber.
One of the great things about taking an Uber from the airport is that you do not have to negotiate your price and will not feel as if you got scammed. You will pay between $15 and $19 for the trip – or that is what we paid at 5am going from Hamra to the Airport, but you will have peace of mind, and that is worth a lot when you are tired and jetlagged.
Uber drivers are not allowed to park in front of the airport so you will have to negotiate with your Uber driver where he or she should pick you up. Crossing the street of walking down 200m will often be good enough – so it honestly is a piece of cake.
Uber drivers are mostly Taxi’s that also accept Uber and Careem rides. This means the cars are often very well kept and clean. Do keep a good eye on the number plate of the Uber (red with black letters) as other Taxi drivers will stop and try to get you in their car by beeping at you.
Arranging a private transfer from Beirut Airport to Beirut City Centre
If your hotel offers you a private airport transfer – go for it! It will probably be cheaper than taking an Uber, and you will be dropped off at the hotel without much hassle.
You can also book airport transfers online. These prices are more or less the same as an Uber, but for people who are not so savvy with the internet, they are a great alternative. If you are staying at an Airbnb, let the transfer drop you off at a nearby hotel.
Renting a car in Beirut
Another option to get around in Beirut and Lebanon is renting a car. Although renting a car would give you substantial freedom, driving in Lebanon as crazy. Lanes are optional, cutting people off is a national sport, and honking horns seems to be part of Lebanese culture.
Lebanon still has checkpoints – especially when exiting and entering Beirut and in close vicinity to the Syrian border. Soldiers do not always speak English or French but may want to ask you some questions when driving through.
Renting a car is an excellent idea if you are well acquainted with Lebanon and Beirut in general and if you can at least hold a conversation in Arabic.
The best way to get from Beirut International Airport to Beirut City Centre
If you ask me, the best way to get to Beirut International Airport to the city centre is by Uber or Airport transfer. Give yourself some peace of mind and ignore the hustle and bussle of taxi drivers hounding you for your custom – and probably ripping you off in the process.