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Cairo Travel Guide: What to Do and See

Cairo Travel Guide: What to Do and See

Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the pièce de resistance of the many historical and architectural masterpieces embedded in this megacity.

Marked as the 7th most populous city globally, Cairo is not alien to traffic, pollution, and the sheer hubbub of a modern town. But after you pass the noise, the rich and beautiful history of this land of thousand minarets will indeed offer a confounding revelation.

For planning the perfect trip and making the best of your limited time in Cairo, let’s dive into its fascinating history, top attractions to marvel at, and activities you can enjoy alone or with your friends and family.

Iconic Cairo Tower in Egypt
Iconic Cairo Tower

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History

Cairo is called al-Qahirah in Arabic, which means “The Victorious.” This name is derived from the planet Mars, as it was rising on the day this city was founded in 2000 BC.

The city’s oldest structure is the Babylon Fortress on the Nile, built by the Romans around the 1st century. By the 10th century, the Fatimids established Cairo as the City of Fustat, leading to a spell of constructions like the Al-Azhar Mosque.

Like Saladin and Mamaluks of the 12th and the 13th century, respectively, Rulers commissioned more buildings and promoted Islamic learning. But the 16th century Ottomans took over Mamaluks and made Constantinople their capital, disregarding Cairo. Cairo came under the grasp of the black death, and thousands fell.

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Cairo was revived by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century, who ensured massive constructions and economic reforms., only to fall back under British rule in 1882. Late but influential, the Egyptian Revolution approached in 1952, and Cairo grew under the iconic Nasser. Today is one of the most prominent Islamic cities and a beacon for tourism.

How to visit

Cairo International Airport is the second busiest international airport in Africa and has round-the-clock operational airlines going to and coming from places worldwide. Located northwest of Cairo, the airport is 22 km away from the city center. Take a taxi, rent a private car or use bus 111 and 382 to reach the city center in about 45 minutes. The local bus cost 5 EGP, and the official yellow taxis cost 150 EGP. While the metro is the most preferred public transport, you can also use car rental services for Cairo’s no-budget elite travel experience.

Cairo Ramses Railway Station
The oldest Ramses Railway Station in Cairo

Best time to visit

You can probably imagine the burning heat in Egypt during summers, which makes winters the best time to take a trip to Cairo. The day gets warm and sunny in winters, and the nights get cold and breezy. However, you will have to stay ready to battle the heat.

But for those who hate the seasonal crowd of tourists or want to skip the high prices of hotels, the perfect time would be from March to April and October to November. The weather is welcoming in between December to February, but you can expect a swamp of travelers from around the world and can say goodbye to all your savings.

Places to visit

Here are more than 20 places you can visit and go sightseeing with your friends and family.

  • Marvel at the Pyramids

The Pyramid of Giza and other pyramids like Saqqara and Dahshur are the main tourist attractions of the Greater Cairo in Giza. The Pyramid of Cheops is the largest among all. Step Pyramid in Saqqara is one of the most popular, along with Dahshur’s Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid.

 

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  • Admire the beauty of the Mosques

Starting from the Gate of Barbers from the northwest, you directly reach the central courtyard of the Al-Azhar mosque. You can gasp at the view of the five minarets from here. Sultan Hassan Mosque, Ibn Tulun Mosque, and the Mosque of Al-Hakim are popular tourist magnets.

First African Amr ibn al-As Mosque
First African Amr ibn al-As Mosque in Cairo
  • Great collections of Museums

The Egyptian Museum is founded by the French Egyptologist August Mariette is filled with staggering antiquities like the Tutankhamun collections. Next, the collection of pharaonic mummies is found in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) and the collection of middle eastern artistry in the Museum of Islamic Arts.

Egypt tour itinerary - The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
Egyptian Museum
  • Old Cairo

Inside the walls of Old Babylon lies the twisty laneways and cluttered churches. Here the Roman Emperor Trajan built the oldest standing architecture in Cairo, The Fortress along the Nile.

Cairo's Coptic Neighbourhood - Babylon Fortress
Babylon Fortress in Cairo’s Coptic Neighbourhood
  • Other Famous Destinations

Bab Zuweila gives an astounding rooftop view of the city. City at the Citadel is famous for the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street is filled with fine Mamluk buildings. When you get tired, rest at the Al-Azhar Park. The Nile Island of Gezira in Zamalek, The Manyal Palace of Roda Island, The ruins of Medinet Madi of Al-Fayoum, the architecturally rich Downtown Cairo, Day Trip to Tanis, and Ancient Heliopolis and El-Matariya are some other fascinating places to wander in Cairo.

Festivals in Cairo

  • The Internationally recognized Cairo Book Fair in January
  • The Contemporary Arts Festival in Downtown from March to April
  • Belly Dance Festival of Cairo around June
  • Cairo’s International Music Fest in August
  • The Experimental Theater Festival in September
  • Cairo International Film Festival in December

What to Eat in Cairo?

Al Saraya Floating Restaurant on Nile Corniche
Al Saraya Floating Restaurant on Nile Corniche in Cairo

Like Indo-Asian cuisines, the food in Cairo is rich in spices, includes meat and its products, and adds rice plus vegetables to the mix. Some of the most famous dishes are made by the fusion of African and Mediterranean flavors. Local and exotic restaurants are spread across Cairo serving traditional Egyptian food like:

  • Koshary: Abou Tarek

    Koshary from Koshary El Tahrir
    Egyptian cuisine Koshary from Koshary El Tahrir in Cairo
  • Tamiya
  • Hummus & Falafel: Al Khal Egyptian Restaurant
  • Molokhia: Bab Al Qasr

What and where to shop?

Maze of Khan el-Khalili offers one of the world’s best shopping experiences in a single place. Find locally woven textiles and metalworks in the beautiful streets filled with silversmiths. Don’t miss Cairo’s famous coffee shop, coffee shop, El Fishawy Café. Next, jump into the boutique shops and jewelry shops of Cairo’s Zamalek district for beautiful souvenirs and ornaments.

Iconic Khan El-Khalili Souk in Cairo
Iconic Khan El-Khalili Market in Cairo

Accommodations

Luxury Hotels:

  • Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah: If you fancy a view of the Nile from your window, then look no further. Built at the south end of Gezira Island, Sofitel Cairo is a beautiful five-star hotel inclusive of an infinity pool.
  • Kempinski Nile Hotel: Accommodated with luxury rooms, restaurants, suites, river view pool, and five-star amenities, it is the best hotel in the Garden City district.
  • Four Seasons: A spacious hotel with multiple restaurants and spas, the Four Seasons also overlooks the Nile. Three heated pools and spectacular views swiftly draw tourists to this hotel.

Budget Hotels:

  • The Golden Hotel: If you love basic rooms with continental breakfast, which feels light in your pocket, this hotel is it for you. Located downtown, it is fully air-conditioned as well.
  • The Osiris Hotel: The rooms are traditional and comfortably packed with all basic amenities.
City View Hotel overlooking Egyptian Museum
Budget-friendly City View Hotel overlooking Egyptian Museum

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • The Hotel Longchamps: Looking for a hideaway from the city noise? Hotel Longchamps is a relaxing place with peaceful and friendly staff members. Although the size of rooms is average, it is jam-packed with modern facilities.
  • Steigenberger Hotel El Tahrir: A good bargain at a mid-range price, this hotel has the most comfortable rooms and amenities in downtown Cairo.

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