The island of Zamalek is located between Downtown Cairo on one side and Dokki, Agouza and Mohandiseen on the other.
The island can easily be dubbed the Manhattan of Cairo as it’s known to be one of Cairo’s most affluent neighbourhoods and is a popular spot for both Egyptians and expats alike.
Because of the high density of embassies around it is also one of the safest neighbourhoods.
Zamalek is reachable through several bridges namely; Kasr El Nil Bridge, 6th of October Bridge and 15th of May Bridge.
The metro line is number 3 with a station by the Cairo Opera House; Zamalek is also easily reachable by public transport. Making use of the surrounding Nile, there is a ferry that runs between Abou El Feda Street and Imbaba.
The island was once called ‘Jardin des Plantes’ because of its great collection of exotic plants, some of which still exist today.
Throughout history Zamalek was also known as El Gezira.
Nowadays though, the southern part is usually referred to as El Gezira while the northern part is called Zamalek.
The most popular theory about the origin of the name is that a tribe of fishermen named Zamalek had once inhabited the island; it’s believed to be a Turkish word dating back to the Ottoman Empire.
Most streets in Zamalek have changed names over time.
What is now 26th of July Street was once called Avenue Farouk and had a tram line going all the way to the Pyramids; Hassan Sabry Street was once called Gabalaya Street.
Back in the day mostly the rich and wealthy inhabited Zamalek and a lot of their palaces are still intact today, though most have been turned into embassies, schools and hotels.
The Marriot hotel for instance was originally a summer palace belonging to the royal family.
A central part of Zamalek is the Gezira Sporting Club, founded in 1882; it is Cairo’s oldest club.
The club takes up almost half of the island and is still a popular place for leisure and sporting activities.
To the south of Gezira club is Cairo Opera House which is a large complex; holding several museums and theatres – it hosts a lot of national and international artists and shows.
For an all round view of Zamalek head to the Cairo Tower located on the same part of the island; on a bright day you would be able to see the Pyramids.
Another notable area is the Aquarium Grotto Garden, better known as the Fish Garden. This park used to display an extensive collection of tropical fish but nowadays it isn’t as easy to find them.
The Fish Garden is probably the most ideal spot for a picnic.
Zamalek is a popular place to go out with numerous cafés and restaurants.
A popular spot is Sequoia, located on the northern tip of the island by the Nile; it boasts incredible views and is perfect for lunch on a sunny day. The recently opened 33 complex on Abou El Feda Street, by the Nile, hosts quite a few outlets that are perfect for breakfast or a midday snack.
On a Friday morning head to the Om Kalthoum area of Zamalek, where the legendary singer’s villa once stood and a statue of her remains today, for popular hangout spots such as Coffee Bean, Pottery Cafe and Cilantro. All of these venues have terraces, perfect for outdoor lovers.
The nightlife scene is very much alive in Zamalek. The all-time favourites are without a doubt La Bodega, Aperitivo and long time regular Pub 28 – one of the few places that serves alcohol during Ramadan. Just off Brazil Street there is L’Aubergine, where they serve a great food menu.
Other frequented bars include Five Bells, Deals and Don Quichotte; there are also quite a few clubs, mostly located on boats by the Nile, which include Risas, Mojo, Purple, Johnnies and Opium.
Zamalek is also a great location for shopping. The area is home to an endless array of funky shops that sell home accessories, art pieces and other knick knacks; many of them influenced by local culture. There are also countless clothing shops and boutiques, but they mostly sell high-end brands.
The art scene is very vibrant in Zamalek. Apart from Cairo Opera House there are a lot of art galleries, studios and cultural centres. Found adjacent to and below the 15th of May Bridge there is the increasingly popular El Sawy Culturewheel.
The centre was built on what was once a garbage dump and has lots of activities going on daily; from lectures to concerts and festivals. The Greater Cairo Library is located on Mohamed Mazhar Street.
There are a lot of schools in Zamalek. It is said that at the time of the ’52 revolution, Gamal Abdel Nasser confiscated villas and palaces from the wealthy to turn them into public schools out of spite.
This is in no way a fact; however with the unbearable traffic these schools cause daily, one can’t help but wonder if it might be true.
You will also find the Fine Arts School and the Faculty of Music Helwan University located on Ismail Mohamed Street; it is possible to take courses there.
The atmosphere in Zamalek is very relaxed and it is one of the few areas in Cairo where strolling in the street is enjoyable, with lots of trees and greenery around. The best part, however, are the architectural highlights.
Many buildings, like the Baehler mansion and the Victoria building, are famous worldwide because of their impressive designs.
People in Zamalek are a mixture of classicism and modernity; where older, perfectly groomed generations are integrated with the younger, more hip ones. Zamalek is very animal friendly where you are likely to see owners out walking their dogs.
It’s advisable to walk around Zamalek instead of taking a car; finding a parking spot is very difficult. Zamalek is a great neighbourhood and it isn’t difficult to understand why kings and queens once took up residence here.