Beirut: Beirut’s cityscape just got an exciting new addition: Red double decker tourist buses.
At monumental landmarks and ancient monuments such as the National Museum, Roache Rock and Martyrs Square in the heart of the Lebanese capital, crowds of enthusiasts and fascinated residents have been spotted watching or taking photos of those famous red hop-on hop-off buses.
“We started operating officially on May 15. We have three buses running daily from 9.30am till 5pm. The turnout has been tremendous so far. We have had tourists from different nationalities but mostly Europeans … who are familiar with this concept. The routes provide tourists the chance to explore the most attractive sights in the city within 90 minutes,” Viviane Nasr Founder and CEO of Savi SAL, the official operator of CitySightseeing Beirut, told Gulf News.
Nasr explains that the idea came from Europe because whenever she travelled she used the Sightseeing bus to know the cities better.
“It is the easiest way to visit and know the history of the city. I wanted to show the hidden treasures of Beirut to the whole world because it has 5,000 years of history and it has been rebuilt 7 times after wars and earthquakes. It took me one year before starting the operation officially,” she explained.
The hop-on hop-off bus starts its route from the Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut.
Considered the most iconic landmark in the capital, Martyrs’ Square was named so in 1931.
It was set up to honour those martyrs, who were executed by Ottoman rulers during their protest to end their mandate over Lebanon.
It then jets off to the Saint Elian and Gregory Cathedral on its second stop.
The Cathedral of Saint Elias and Saint Gregory the Illuminator is a cathedral of the Armenian Catholic Church in Debbas Square in downtown Beirut.
Constructed in 1928 by Pope Pius XI, it is the cathedral of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Cilicia.
Other important stops include Beirut National Museum and the Roache Rock.
The National Museum is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon.
It was officially opened in 1942 with collections totalling up to 100,000 archaeological artefacts that offer an overview of Lebanon’s history and the civilisations that impacted this cultural crossroads.
Meanwhile Roache Rock is a natural landmark located at Beirut’s westernmost tip.
A popular touristic destination, the two huge rock formations stand like gigantic sentinels.
The final stop is at the Garden of Forgiveness that is located close to Martyrs’ Square and the wartime Green Line.
It is surrounded by places of worship belonging to different denominations and reveals many layers of Beirut’s past. Tourists can listen to history of the city in six languages: French, English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. German will soon be available.
“When it was first introduced, Lebanese residents, who are not familiar with this touristic concept, thought the red buses were for public transport. Europeans who are mostly familiar with this concept have been booking their tickets online before coming in for their holidays,” Nasr told the newspaper on Saturday.
The project was championed by Lebanese MP Nicolas Sehnaoui.
Speaking to Gulf News, he said that there was tremendous potential to attract tourists to Lebanon: Beirut in particular, with its rich history.
“We should build the proper infrastructure to attract tourists. The first customers should be the Lebanese themselves and that is why internal tourism is so important,” Sehnaoui said.
Gulf News met and spoke to a variety of tourists during one of the bus tours.
American tourist, Melissa said it was her first time to ride the hop-on hop-off bus.
“I like it. It is very nice to hear about the country’s history,” she said.
British holidaymaker Graham Archer was on the upper deck sitting with his wife Julie.
“The route is easy and comfortable. The information is useful to us as tourists,” he said.
Wife Julie said it is a good and comfortable experience.
Egyptian college student, Farah Ihab, said: “I tried this bus tour in New York but it was too crowded. Here, it is simpler and nicer.”
Her friend, Nehan Ezz, also enjoyed the tour but suggested the narration be more lively instead of it sounding like it was just “reading out the news”.
The bus attracts approximately 50 tourists per day but Nasr says they are aiming for more.
She also says Savi SAL is planning to extend the routes to outside of Beirut, including Lebanon’s famous Jeita Grotto Cave, the Jonieh Mountain Cable Cars and the Ancient Phoenician city of Byblos.