Travelling to Egypt during Ramadan can be a little intimidating for some tourists. Knowing that the Muslim holy month involves fasting throughout the daylight hours may prompt many to question if it is an ideal or even appropriate time to visit Cairo. In fact, it can be one of the most exciting times to visit, but there will be a few differences in how you should approach a trip to Cairo.
A key element of Ramadan involves abstaining from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours, so you may wonder how this will affect your trip. We recommend holding off on guzzling water in your taxi at 3PM and you’d be considerate not to snack on the street. And while a number of street-food stands will not open until the evening, you will have no problem finding cafés and restaurants that are happy to serve you throughout the day. Most of Cairo’s hotel restaurants will be operating as usual and neighbourhoods like Maadi and Zamalek have plenty of options for midday dining.
While Egypt is predominantly Muslim, Cairo has a Christian population as well as a large number of expat residents; so restaurants are used to accommodating non-fasters throughout the month. As long as you aren’t publicly imposing the sight of your consumption on fasting Muslims, you should have no problem continuing your regular eating patterns while you travel.
The Ramadan fast is not just one of food and drink. This is also a time of spiritual cleansing; so it is advisable to dress and act modestly during the month. While ladies in shorts will always attract some unflattering attention in Cairo, it is undoubtedly a faux-pas during Ramadan. To limit uncomfortable comments or looks, women are recommended to wear trousers or knee-length skirts. Leggings are also popular in Cairo; just be sure to pair it with a shirt or a tunic that sufficiently covers your thighs. Bare shoulders are rather scandalous on the street; so bring a scarf or light sweater to cover up.
Certain areas of the city will demand a more modest dress code than others. For example, a tour of Cairo’s mosques should be attended with arms and legs covered out of respect, while a modest t-shirt and skirt can be worn to an evening shisha outing in Zamalek.
Seeing the Sights
This is the aspect of your trip that will be most affected by visiting Cairo during Ramadan. With very few exceptions, museums, art galleries and tourist sites remain open during Ramadan, but operating hours will differ from the rest of the year. You should verify the hours of each point of interest with your travel agent or hotel concierge. However, it is safe to say that the earlier you plan to see many of the sights; the better off you’ll be. Galleries, museums and guided tours will operate in the morning hours and then many will head home in the early afternoon before the sunset breaking of the fast. Afternoon traffic is a source of much frustration during Ramadan; so to make the most out of your stay, take a cue from the locals and have an active morning before retiring to your room for a few hours of rest.
Night-time during Ramadan is full of cultural activities and by far the best time of the year to catch a variety of performances celebrating Egyptian heritage. Cultural centres and galleries host festivals filled with musical concerts, Sufi dancing, storytelling, special art exhibitions and crafts bazaars. Weekend nights are especially packed with a number of venues throughout Cairo offering free or inexpensive entertainment.
If you’re hoping to visit one of Cairo’s popular nightclubs, Ramadan is not the right time for your visit. As locals are prohibited from consuming alcohol during Ramadan, the majority of clubbing venues close their doors. However, foreigners are free to drink as long as they carry their passports, and all hotel bars in Cairo continue to serve alcohol throughout the month.
Even if you can’t drink, this doesn’t mean dull nights in Cairo. On the contrary; the city is alive and bursting with energy every night of Ramadan. In addition to performances and festivals, the nights are made jovial by excessive amounts of food. At sunset, hotels and restaurants offer expansive fetars of oriental grills, salads and sweets. This is a great chance to sample some of the region’s best cuisine.
After fetar and well into the night, Cairo is at its most social: sidewalk cafés and Ramadan tents are filled beyond capacity with families and friends smoking shisha and eating foul, taameya and eggs. At the tents, live music usually accompanies these long evenings of filling up on food before the next day’s fast.
With some careful planning and a bit of consideration, travelling to Egypt during Ramadan need not be a vacation to avoid. It is an incredible time of year to catch amazing shows, eat massive portions of regional cuisine and see Cairo decorated to the nines for the celebratory month.