True fact: anyone who’s lived on the island of Zamalek long enough will find it very hard to leave. Zamalek is centrally located, charming and lively, and full of boutiques and art galleries. With everything in walking distance and the streets lined with trees and semi-decent pavements, Zamalek is a shady, walk-friendly area.
Zamalek is also very safe. The neighbourhood is divided by 26th July Street into two sides, both of which are dominated by embassies, consulates and the residences of diplomats. So, there are security check points on several street corners; which means that it’s quite safe to walk around on late nights. Plus, micro-buses and trucks are prohibited from entering the island until very late at night, which means traffic is a little smoother.
Where to Walk: While 26th of July Street is your basic downtown street with car fumes, traffic noise and flashy shops, a detour to either side of the street will lead you to shady streets full of beautiful buildings and old palaces. Abul Feda Street is a great jogging route to take in the mornings (think 6AM to 8AM) before the morning traffic hits. Avid joggers take the street from Sequoia all the way until the Ahly Club and then back again; it’s a good 6KM or so run. Dog owners and joggers will love Gezirah Club’s running track, which mysteriously stops about 3/4 of the way and you have to turn around and run back again. However, it is a social hot spot for dog owners and dog lovers, and many a successful liaison has been made through walking one’s dogs. If you don’t have access to the club, try the Gezirah Youth Centre’s 400-m running track next door for just 15LE.
The Best Views: Montazah Street is a quiet Nile-side street off Mohamed Mazhar, and it’s a popular couple’s spot with the best ground view of the Nile and Nile City Towers in all its splendour at night. Nile Zamalek Hotel’s rooftop is another popular spot with ok shisha and cold drinks, and an amazing view of the Nile at night. Sequoia has an unparalleled view of the Nile from the other side of Zamalek, and you can dine while watching fishermen boats float by.
Artsy Fartsy: there’s always something artsy to do in Zamalek; because it’s full of art galleries, from the always busy Safar Khan to Lot 17. El Sawy Cultural Centre offers concerts, exhibitions and workshops almost every day, and a cool nile-side concert hall under the 15th May bridge. On the tip of Zamalek, the Cairo Opera House offers classical concerts, operas, theatre plays and ministry-sponsored art exhibitions.
Where to Shop: While Zamalek lacks malls and major brands (H&M, Zara, etc.), the neighbourhood is full of charming little shops and boutiques, mostly focused on clothing and home accessories. There’s Villa Baboushka, 69, Loolie’s, Mounaya, Ghazl Banat, L'Oiseau Du Nil, Katr El Nada, Market Mix, Fostok, The Little Shop, Clara and Mom’s, to name a few. The Faculty of Art’s stationery shop, Alwan, has the best art supply collection in the neighbourhood, while Baraka Optics on 26th July Street offers the best designer deals.
Eating Out: While Sequoia is a popular evening lounge spot, locals head to Pub 28 on weekend afternoons for family lunches or the Cairo Marriott’s garden for a late Friday brunch. L’Asiatique, Mori and Makani cater to our sushi craves, while Le Caire 1940 and Abu El Sid offer fine Egyptian cuisine. Sugar n' Spice offers cupcakes for the sweet-tooth-inclined, while Mandarin Koueidar makes the best frozen yoghurt with berry in Cairo. L’Aubergine and The Cellar provide quiet watering holes, while Eurodeli and the Crave cater to easy, quick and delicious bites.
Working Out: Visitors can use the Gezirah Club’s facilities for 30LE (100LE for foreigners) as long as they’re accompanied by a member; and it’s best to avoid weekends as front-door policy seems to be tough on visitors. Try their Olympic swimming pools, tennis courts or gym. FDA in Yamama Centre boasts two floors of gym machines and equipments, as well as workout classes like spinning. Otherwise, there’s Ashtanga Yoga by Mira Shihadeh in her studio behind Beano’s, and several pilates instructors including Reform Pilates on Taha Hussein Street.
Where (Not) To Rent: Zamalek is the third most expensive neighbourhood to rent in after Mohandiseen and Dokki. Don’t bother asking doormen if they have any vacant flats in their buildings; they’re all in cahoots with the area’s simsars (real estate brokers), and you’ll merely be sent their way. Most simsars will take you to the Metro Market building complex on Gezirah Wusta Street. If this happens to you, take our advice and run. Although it’s quite a popular choice for expats and year-abroad students, the building is overpriced, dirty and unsafe at night with severely over-intrusive doormen. We recommend ERA, a professional real estate company that is contractually bound to find you flats for six months if you don’t like anything they show you. If you’re craving a Nile view or a prime location such as Bahgat Ali or Mohamed Mazhar, be prepared to pay at least US$1000 and upwards.
Where to Park: Zamalek is notorious for not having any parking spots; so you’ll just have to be best friends with all the doormen in the area. Your best bet is to double park and leave your key with a doorman or sayes (concierge), which you can usually find outside a restaurant like Mori’s, Abu El Sid, La Bodega or The Crave. There’s also an adequate parking spot under the bridge across from La Bodega, while the area around the Cairo Marriott usually has free parking spots. Word of advice: stop trying to park on Merashly Street in front of Café Tabasco. There’s always some clamp-happy policeman lurking there, so try and park in a neighbouring sidestreet. Since Zamalek is quite small and easy to walk around, park your car wherever you can find a spot and walk the rest of the route. Trust us; it’s better than getting clamped.