28 July 2012

* Beirut replaces Abu Dhabi as most expensive city in Middle East

The Middle East sees its ranking fall in Mercer's 2012 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey due largely to a drop in rental prices.

The survey found that Beirut is the most expensive city to live in this year within the Middle East, moving up eight notches to number 67.

Mercer's survey factors in the cost of living for 214 cities globally. The consultancy compares the price of more than 200 factors in each location, including housing, transport, food and clothing costs.

Abu Dhabi, the most expensive city in the region in last year's survey, is the 76th most expensive city in the world to live in this year, which is down from 67 last year. The cost of living in Dubai has also fallen, with the city ranking 94th overall this year compared with 81 last year. 

However, the UAE is nonetheless still the most expensive place to live in the GCC, Mercer's report noted. In addition to the lower accommodation costs across the UAE, the fall in Abu Dhabi and Dubai's ranking has come about as a result of several other factors that range from slower increase in the prices of goods and services in the country relative to the base city, New York, to the stabilisation of the real estate market in the Middle East.

Tokyo, meanwhile has taken over as the most expensive city in the world for expatriates, displacing Luanda, Angola, which dropped to second place. Further, the top ten most expensive cities continue to be predominantly led by those located in Europe and Asia.

Following are the top 5 most expensive cities, globally, for 2012:

1 Tokyo, Japan

2 Luanda, Angola

3 Osaka, Japan

4 Moscow, Russia

5 Geneva, Switzerland

The top 5 most expensive cities, in the Middle East, for 2012 are:

1 Beirut, Lebanon

2 Abu Dhabi, UAE

3 Dubai, UAE

4 Amman, Jordan

5 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.