For an alternative weekend destination just a short distance from Cairo, why not visit Ismailia? Located on the West Bank of the Suez Canal, Ismailia is a fun destination that’s only an hour away!
Did You Know: Named after Khedive Ismail the Magnificent, the city and governorate of Ismailia were founded in 1863, it was also the original location for New York City’s Statue of Liberty. Almost one million people live in Ismailia alone and the governor has a drop box outside his office for residents to file their comments and concerns in to.
Getting There: There’s no reason why you can’t visit Ismailia just for a day! By car, Ismailia is only an hour away and if you can manage to get lost on the one road that takes you there (the Cairo-Suez road), you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway. Expect the 10LE trip to take an hour and a half if you’re travelling by bus; you can catch a bus from the Almaza bus station in Heliopolis. It’s best to get an early start; so start your day off right with an early morning breakfast in Heliopolis before hitting the road.
Take a Look Around: As you enter, find some humour in the odd mélange of statues around. In the town’s centre, the well-groomed Colonial streets are lined with bougainvillea flowers, and sprawling lawns accompany the charming British and French-styled cottages; serving as a reminder to Ismailia’s past. Don’t miss the local art: proudly displaying the city’s culture, tiled mosaics are dispersed around Ismailia and the street graffiti is equally exciting.
Head to the Corniche: When you think of Ismailia, the Suez Canal is often the first thing that comes to mind. The water’s edge is the perfect place to take in a little sunshine; a new awareness finds you breathing regularly and the Cairo noise pollution is nonexistent here. Kiosks and cafés line the street where summer chalets are dispersed intermittingly. For a tea and shisha, head to Cute Café, where delicious pear shisha costs a mere 5LE. FYI: If you’ve got a bicycle, bring it along! The canal’s corniche makes for a great place to take a ride.
Hail a Rowboat: A picturesque scene of fisherman out on their daily trip might have you aching for a boat of your own. You can head out onto the canal only until 11AM, but otherwise, the lakes are open for use all day long. Rent a rowboat (20LE for 30 minutes) and relax for a while; it’s quiet, serene and a beautiful way to take in the town’s atmosphere and have you daydreaming.
Did Someone Say Fish? Going to Ismailia and not eating fish is nothing less than a travesty. There are several seafood restaurants along the corniche serving fish fresh out of the canal. Fish Land (Abdel Moneim Emara St.) had us in food hysteria when it was all over. They serve heaping piles of deliciously fresh fish. And don’t underestimate their dessert, either; we forced our gluttonous selves to make room for some crème caramel.
For The History Buffs: On Mohammed Ali Quay Street, the Ismailia Museum contains over 4000 objects from the Pharaonic to Greco-Roman times, including statues and canal records. Don’t miss the 4th century AD mosaic featuring intriguing mythological characters. The museum is small and usually empty, making it a convenient stop. Doors open at 8AM and admission costs around 6LE.
Take it Downtown: After catching the sunset, head downtown and enjoy the quaint shop fronts and small-town atmosphere. Don’t miss George’s (Thawra Street), the only bar in town. The British pub ambience is true to style and feels as cosy as your favourite pair of slippers. Expect to pay no more than 60LE for a cocktail with imported liquors. We hear that their food is pretty outstanding as well. This just might be one of the coolest bars in Egypt!In Case You’re Too Sleepy: If you take a little too much liking to George’s or are just too tired to head back to Cairo, the Mercure Forsan Island provides serenity and a beautiful view. Located just down the street from George’s, the Crocodile Inn (approximately 75LE per room) is a no-frills hotel and an ideal location for exploring the old European quarters of Ismailia.