Cairo Guide: Things to Do While Visiting Cairo
With the current political and economical climate, visiting Cairo may not be high on everybody’s agenda. However, with just a small amount of research, we’ve managed to list some of the most wonderful and unique reasons to holiday in Egypt; cultural sights are aplenty, there’s an abundance of eateries, both old and new, unique shops, as well as non-stop events and activities. Amongst the hustle and bustle of the city streets, you’re guarunteed to find a multitude of hidden gems in and around Cairo.
Firstly, if you don’t want to risk some fairly hair-raising driving, you’re going to need to know how to get around; you could flag down an often rickety hontour, a floating felucca, or even bag yourself a camel at the weekly camel market. However, unsurprisingly the most popular forms of transport tend to be either taxis or for a swifter and more ‘cultural’ journey, try the metro.
You don’t have to be a tourist to appreciate the remarkable history of the city, although we often take it for granted. Cairo is home to one of the most mind blowing, mesmerising Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramids, and a surprising number of Egyptians have never actually visited the pyramids, let alone been inside them. Also in the vicinity is the Solar Boat museum where you can learn about the quest of archaeologists to successfully piece together a dismantled boat that was found buried next to the pyramids, using just rope as binding.
Delve further into the fascinating history of Egypt by visiting the legendary Egyptian museum or the lesser known Mahmoud Mukhtar museum, where you can re-visit historical events through the eyes of a talented sculptor. Since the ancient times, art has played an important role in Egyptian society; observe its transitions at the Egyptian Textile Museum or the Museum of Islamic Art. If you’re still unconvinced, think of all the hand-made treasures at Cairo’s most renowned market, Khan El Khalili before taking a wonder down Muezz El Din Street – effectively Cairo’s very own, open air museum.
Not too far away in Mokattam, there’s the ancient fortification of the Citadel which houses a number of beautiful mosques as well as the nostalgia inducing, slightly eerie, National Military Museum. Other religious sites include Coptic Cairo, the City of the Dead and Cairo’s oldest and largest Mosque, Ibn Tulun.
If you fancy a short getaway, you don’t even need to go far. The Nile sits right at our doorsteps and can be used to an advantage; a cruise to Luxor or Aswan, or even just a short felucca ride can serve as a relief from the busy streets of central Cairo. Just 25KM into the countryside, Gianaclis Winery offers tours of their tranquil working vineyard. The peaceful acres of Al Azhar park also offer some relief from city life, boasting incredible views and tranquility at two of their picturesque restaurants; Al Azhar Lakeside cafe and Alain Le Notre.
It’s hard to imagine that once upon a time, the entirety of Egypt was vast, dry, desert land. However, venture out towards Maadi to find Wadi Degla’s natural protectorate, and spend the day in total isolation from Cairo’s busy streets. Alternatively, clubs such as the Sakkara Country Club offer quad biking and horse riding desert excursions, whilst the Jump Riding Academy in Zamalek offer horse riding lessons in the safety of a school.
If you’re more of an indoor person, find some home comforts in one of Cairo’s many state of the art malls. Amongst others, Citystars, Sun City and the Mall Of Arabia provide days out and retail therapy for the whole family. You’ll find plenty of international and local brands in and out of such collossal buildings.
If you’re looking for slightly more authentic shopping, visit traditional treasure troves such as O-M, Moon Flower and Turath in Zamalek, or Diwan Abaza in Maadi. The art of design and remarkable handiwork can be observed almost everywhere in Cairo, and has resulted in a number of designers opening their own showrooms; look out for Egyptian jewellery designer boutiques such as Zainab Khalifa’s, Dina Maghawry‘s and Azza Fahmy’s to find some perfect, hand-made, original accessories. Another forgotten art – the art of toy making – is still present in Cairo today; quality, original and unique custom-made toys can be found at hidden gem, Graffiti Artistoys.
Both men and women need pampering once in a while. Many of the top hotels in the city offer day use of their pools and similar facilities; the Sofitel Cairo El Gezira boasts a luxurious infinity pool, as well as a lush spa, ‘So Spa’, the Novotel offers a no-frills experience, whilst the Fairmont Nile City step up to the plate in terms of leisure. The JW Marriott artificial beach is most certainly worth a visit for an almost-authentic city break.
Evidently, new restaurants pop up all the time, but it takes something special to replace old favourites. With beautiful views, trendy Sequoia is a fail safe for just about every occasion. Abou El Sid and Taboula are known for their authentic Egyptian dishes, whilst some say that Cairo Kitchen and Abou Tarek make some of the best koshary there is. Unearth some traditional eateries by venturing to the Yemeni restaurant or Niema – they might not look like much, but for the price of a packet of chips, you’ll eat like a king. Don’t forget, the majority of eateries in the capital are not only open for a late night visit but will also deliver straight to your door. Of course we mustn’t forget the abundance of sweet teeth in Cairo. For dessert, grab some of the yummiest, eastern sweets at Mandarine Koueider or, as Egypt is known for its ripe and delectable fruits, wonder the streets of Zamalek with a fresh fruit smoothie from Lychee.
The Cairo Tower may not be everybody’s first choice in terms of food, however, the 360 views of Cairo it offers are almost unchallenged – if it wasn’t for the fine-dining Revolving Restaurant in Garden City’s Grand Hyatt.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Cairenes love a spot of shisha, and you’ll rarely find yourself at a loose end. Shisha cafés line even the smallest of streets; Ahwan Bustan can be found amongst the hundreds in a downtown alleyway, or, alternatively, local favourite Wel3a provides a breazy, Nile-side smoking spot.
Ever wonder why Cairo’s referred to as the ‘city that never sleeps’? Roof-top night-spots Tamarai and Roof Bar might have some answers, whilst Amici‘s amazing cocktails keep us dancing all night long; O Bar and Stage One are decent competitors for the glamorous crowds on a Thurday or Friday night, too. We can’t deny Bar D’O’s charm, or Alchemy‘s quirky, individual décor either. Downtown’s Arabesque and Mohandessin’s Almaz entertain old school style over dinner with surprise, belly dancing acts at the weekend. All time favourite Cairo Jazz Club always have a jam-packed calendar of live acts before customers spill out into Regina, Bamboo or another of the notorious after-hours clubs around town.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you that Cairo’s the place to be, check out the Cairo360 events calender for an endless list of art exhibitions, bazaars and nightlife. In a city with so much to offer, it’s near impossible to get bored!