Cairo

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Cairo is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (the regions which it conveniently straddles). It is also the 19th largest city in the world, and among the world's most densely populated cities. On the Nile river, Cairo is famous for its own history, preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and Coptic sites in Old Cairo. The Egyptian Museum in the city centre is a must see, with its countless Ancient Egyptian artefacts, as is shopping at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. No trip to Cairo would be complete without a visit to the Giza Pyramids and to the nearby Saqqara Pyramid Complex, where visitors will see Egypt's first step pyramid built by the architect Imhotep for the third dynasty pharaoh Djoser. Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society. The Midan Tahrir area situated in downtown Cairo, built in the 19th century under the rule of Khedive Ismail, has strived to be a "Paris on the Nile". There also are a number of more modern suburbs including Ma'adi and Heliopolis, while Zamalek is a quiet area on Gezira Island, with upmarket shopping. Cairo is best in the fall or spring, when the weather isn't so hot. A felucca ride on the Nile is a good way to escape from the busy city, as is a visit to Al-Azhar Park. Since the revolution in 2011 and the ongoing counter-revolution, tourists have fled Cairo to a large extent. This has created an opportunity for unique experiences of Cairo's and Egypt's cultural treasures without the crowds. Finding yourself alone inside a pyramid is now a real possibility. Prices are also lower. (less...) (more...)

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Points of Interest in Cairo

A selected list of Cairo highlights:

  • Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The only remaining monuments of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is the country's most famous tourist attraction.
  • Egyptian Museum (250 m north of Tahrir square),  +20 2 25796948. Located in the Midan Tahrir area and officially named Museum of Egyptian Antiquities but known the all as the Egyptian Museum, it hosts the world's premier collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.
  • Citadel and Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha, in Islamic Cairo. A grand castle built by Salah Al-Din. Also parts of the water pipes (Majra Al-Oyouon) are still there, these pipes used to carry the water from the Nile River to the citadel. Mohamed Ali is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt, the ancestor of the last King of Egypt, King Farouk.
  • Al-Azhar Mosque. One of the pillars of Islamic thought and home to the world's oldest university.
  • Ibn Tulun (مسجد أحمد بن طولون) (Close to Sayida Zeinab). Arguably the oldest mosque in Cairo, built between 868-884.
  • The Coptic Museum, in Coptic Cairo.
  • The "Hanging Church" (Church of the Virgin Mary), in Zabaleen Area (District of Manshiet Nasser) below Mokkatam Hills, not far away from the Citadel
  • Cairo Tower (185 m./610 ft.) on Gezira Island offers a 360-view of Cairo, along with the Giza Pyramids off in the distance to the west.
  • Al-Azhar Park. A recently opened landscaped gardens overlooking the Citadel
  • Khan El Khalily. Cairo's souk area where visitors will find many merchants selling perfume, spices, Gold, Egyptian hand craft.
  • Abdeen Palace. Located about one Kilometer away from the Midan El-Tahrir a five minutes walk, home of the last king of Egypt the exiled king Farouk.
  • Pharaonic Village. It is about twenty minutes driving from Downtown.

Tahrir Square

Saladin Citadel

Egyptian Museum

Muhammad Ali Mosque

Citadel

El Rifai Mosque

Sultan Hussan Mosque

Pyramid of Djoser

Cairo Tower

Midan Hussein Mosque

Cairo Opera House

Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar Park

Babylon Fortress

Pyramid of Userkaf

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Gayer-Anderson Museum

Hanging Church

American University of Cairo

Cairo University

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About Cairo

Climate

The best time to visit Cairo is during the winter from November to March, when daytime highs generally stay below 26°C (79°F), with night time lows around 10°C (50°F) with occasional rain showers clearing the air, but still, you do not need an umbrella, even the rainiest months of the year rarely top 10 mm (0.4 in).

If visiting during winter, be aware that not all buildings are equipped with heaters, including some hotels and hostels. Visitors should always pack a few warm jumpers (sweaters) and a warm jacket for evening wear. In Cairo, in indoor buildings without air-conditioning, temperatures are about 17°C (63°F) in the coldest winter days and about 34°C (93°F) in the hottest summer days.

The brief spring from March to May can be pleasant as long as there are no sand storms, but summer temperatures, on the other hand, can reach a searing 38°C (100°F). In September and October, the period of late summer and early autumn, farmers burn rice straw to ash after sunset near Greater Cairo and this makes the air smokey.

Activities

Coffee and shisha

Have a coffee, mint tea or Cola at El Fishawy's coffee shop in Khan El-Khalili. Smoke a shisha water pipe (try the "double apple" flavor) and watch the world go by. Great cheap entertainment.

Felucca

Ride a felucca along the Nile River. A great way to relax and enjoy a night under the stars in Cairo. Feluccas are available across from the Four Seasons Hotel in Garden City. To charter your own, negotiate a fair price of no more than EGP20-30 for about a half hour for the boat, or EGP50 for an hour, no matter how many people are on it. Pay after your ride, or you may get much less than you bargained for. Public boats with loud noisy music and a giggling crowd are also available for EGP2 for 1/2 hour, but are very uncomfortable.

Parks

Cairo has a shortage of parks, but a few of them exist.

  • The most famous is the Giza Zoo located in the Giza district of Cairo, right in front of the entrance to the Four Seasons Hotel in Giza. This is actually one of the oldest zoos in the world (it was built approximately 100 years ago).
  • Hadiqat Al Orman, translated (Al Orman Gardens). This is a fairly large park in the giza district, close to the Giza zoo, and it can be enterred by paying a daily ticket at the gate. It contains a variety of trees and flowers and is a nice place to escape the noise and traffic of the city. However, it may be very crowded with locals especially on weekends and public holidays like the Eid, etc.
  • Hadiqat Al Azbakiya, translated (Al Azbakieya Gardens). Another nice park to enjoy the greenery and scenery of trees and gardens, while remaining inside the city. It is located in the Azbakiya area of Cairo, and the best option is to take a taxi.
  • Genenet El Asmak, another park located in Zamalek. It is a nice park, which also includes several large caves containing water aquariums, where you can see different species of fish and underwater life through glass windows. Like other parks, a very cheap ticket enables you to enter and enjoy the day there. Genene El Asmak means Garden of the Fish in English.
  • Merryland, in Arabic (Genenet El Merryland), located in Heliopolis district near Roxy Cinema. Again, another park with trees and gardens and nice scenery, but in the last 5 years ago, a number of restaurants and cafes have also opened up inside the park, which means it is now a place where people can eat, drink, and enjoy the park all together.
  • El Hadiqa El Dawliya, in English this means (The International Garden), located in Nasr City district. It is one of the more recently opened parks, built when Nasr City district was built. Again, it is another park, with sections containing different copies of famous buildings from around the world. (The copies are much smaller of course and are like small statues that you can view (i.e. The Eiffel Tower of Paris, The Great Wall of China, The Windmills of Holland, etc.) Interesting to see.
  • Al-Azhar Park, is probably the newest and most recent park to open in Cairo, also with restaurants and entertainment available. It has a good vantage point of Islamic Cairo and the city skyline.

You can also take a stroll along the Corniche el-Nil, and there is a river promenade on Gezira Island.

  • Desert Park. Wadi Digla Protected Area is a 60 square kilometer environmentally protected park near Ma'adi, that offers opportunity for taking a trek, jogging, rock climbing, and cycling. Wadi Degla is also a good spot for bird watching, and viewing the various reptile species, plants, and deer that reside there. You can take a cab from Ma'adi to the entrance at Wadi Delga. Cab drivers in Ma'adi should know where to go.

Recreation

Other options for relaxation include visiting the Giza Zoo and the Cairo Botanical Gardens, or watching horse racing at the Gezira Club in Zamalek, or, when you need a break from city life, try a round of golf on the famous Mena House Golf Course overlooking the Pyramids, or The Hilton Pyramids Hotel tournament Golf Course and nearby Sixth Of October City, Ten minutes drive from Giza Pyramids.

Or if the family, and especially children are fed up looking at monuments and museums, a ten minute trip from the Giza Pyramids by micro-bus, taxi, or car, will take you to two of the biggest and best theme parks in Cairo, Dream-park, and Magic land, both in nearby Sixth Of October City.

Magic land is also part of The Media Production City complex, including The Mövenpick Hotel, where visitors can take a tour of the Egyptian TV and drama sets, and studios which house many of the Egyptian and other Arabic TV stations.

Shopping

Citystars is Egypt's premier shopping mall and is quite comparable to a foreign mall. It offers most international brands and most international food chains. It offers a cinema and amusement park. Mall of Arabia is a brand new spacious shopping mall in the suburb of 6th of October City. It is Cairo's other premier shopping destination, featuring many of the same American and European clothiers as Citystars.

Horseback riding

Go horseback riding in the desert from one of the Nazlet El-Samaan stables such as FB Stables (contact Karim +20 (0)106 507 0288 or visit the website : [10] ) in Giza. Ride in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or further afield to Saqqara or Abu Sir or camp out over night with a barbecue and fire. Popular with expats who keep their horses at livery, FB Stables is also great for a 'tourist' type ride to view the Pyramids from the desert. Longer rides to Saqqara and Abu Seer can be arranged in advance, as can sunrise, sunset and full moon rides. Other than the horses and good company, one of the best things about FB is their amazing rooftop terrace (with bbq) with unrivaled views over the Pyramids - a great place to relax with a drink whilst watching the Sound and Light show.

Music and culture

  • Sufi Dancing - The Al Tanura Troupe offers free performances every Saturday,Monday and Wednesday night at 8:30PM at the Al-Ghouri Mausoleum. This picturesque place is situated nearby the Khan el Khalili souk, on a narrow street between the Al Azhar and Al Ghouri mosques.
  • The Culture Wheel (الساقية Al-Saqia). The largest independent cultural centre in Cairo, offers concerts almost every night.
  • The Garden Theater. In Al-Azhar Park offers a range of musical performances. The venue is also a great place for an evening stroll.
  • Cairo Opera House. It hosted the Cairo International Film Festival in 2012 and screened some international films with very cheap subsidized ticket prices.
  • Egyptian Centre for Culture & Art (MAKAN) [11] Egyptian Traditional music.
  • The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Hussein El Me'mar Pasha street,  (+202) 2 576 80 86, e-mail: info@thetownhousegallery.com. Daily 10AM-2PM, 6PM-9PM, F 6PM-9PM, Closed Th.
  • Cairo Jazz Club, 197, 26th July Street, Agouza, Giza (From Zamalek, just before Sphinx Square),  (+202) 2 3345 9939. Daily 5PM- 3AM. Live entertainment from local and international musicians, a great food and beverage menu (happy hour from 7-9PM) and a relaxed atmosphere. 7 nights a week.
  • Housaper theater (مسرح الهوسابير). Mostly erroneously known and spelled as Hosabeer. A small theater which hosts cultural plays and concerts for independent artists. Address: El Galaa St, Kulali, near Ahmed Oraby Metro Station, behind the hospital of Egypt railway.

Food

Cairo has an enormous number of restaurants, catering to most needs. Ironically though, one may want to avoid any restaurants listed in popular guidebooks. Egyptian restaurants have a habit of after being listed, cooking up a special English menu with vastly inflated prices. That said, cheap food can be found everywhere in street restaurants and snack stalls. The top notch restaurants are often, but not always, found in hotels and Nile boats. The borders between restaurants and cafes are not crystal-clear in the Egyptian capital. In many places it is perfectly acceptable to just have a drink or sheesha. Medium and high-range outlets might have a minimum charge. Cheaper restaurants will normally not serve alcohol as well as some more expensive outlets.

In general, downtown is good for budget eating, while for higher quality eating you should head to Zamalek, Mohandiseen or any of the other more affluent parts of town.

Egyptian and middle eastern food

Traditional Egyptian staples are available almost everywhere. In stalls and street restaurants you will find traditional dishes like fūl (bean paste), falāfel, moussaka, koshari (rice, macaroni, lentils, chick peas and tomato sauce), feTīr (pancakes with different fillings) and shawarma (an import from Lebanon and Syria — pieces of roasted meat usually wrapped in bread). Cheaper places will only serve up vegetables and maybe beef hot dogs or corned beef. Eggs, fried potatoes and salads are also usually available. Hygiene varies wildly and the best advice is to go for the most visited places. Avoid empty restaurants as the food will be less fresh. Especially downtown, you can find many good koshari shops, including many outlets of the excellent Koshari Tahrir chain. Delicious and cheap fūl, falāfel, and shawarma sandwiches can be bought at the many outlets of popular Gad fast food chain dotted around Cairo. The average price for a tub of takeaway koshari is between 3 to 5 Egyptian pounds, fūl or falāfel sandwiches is between 1 to 1.5 Egyptian pounds, and shawarma sandwiches are between 4 and 8 Egyptian pounds.

In the medium and upper price range your choice of traditional Egyptian food will be more limited. Although the situation is improving, traditionally Egyptian gastronomical experiences are still mostly restricted to private homes. Quality chain restaurants like Felfela (several outlets), Abou El Sid (Zamalek, Maadi and Dokki), and Abou Shakra offer authentic Egyptian food.

Otherwise oriental or Middle Eastern restaurants tend to mix styles or completely go for more Lebanese-style eating, considered more stylish by rich Cairenes. The good side of this is that Cairo is blessed with many quality Lebanese outfits, from chains like Dar Al-Qamar to stylish restaurant establishments. Additionally, Turkish food and restaurants catering to Gulf visitors can be found.

Western and Asian food

Cairo has a growing number of Western fast food outlets available - these are, incidentally, some of the best places to see young Cairenes relaxing together, as fast food restaurants are apparently considered among the hippest places to hang out. McDonalds, Hardees, Pizza Hut, and KFC are spread about the city, but they are relatively more expensive. Most of these also offer free wireless internet.

The Tahrir Table 11 Tahrir square next to KFC. Owned by a Swedish lady, meals from locally inspired food to international dishes. View of Tahrir square in the second floor. Beer and wine served.

Mo'men chain, Cook Door the Egyptian equivalent of Mcdonald's has similar menu with similar prices and free wireless internet.

Lighter meals like sandwiches and salads as well as pastries can be found in western-style bakeries and cafes. Popular chains like Cilantro, Beanos, Costa, and The Marriott Bakery as well as individual outlets all offer more or less similar dishes. Most of these places also offer free wireless internet.

There is also a cute TGI Friday's on the Nile banks at the entrance of Maadi, serving beer but no wine. Gezira also has its very own Chili's. For burgers, you can also try Fuddrucker's [www.fuddruckers.com/] (Maadi and Mohandesseen) or Lucille's [www.lucillesrestaurants.com/] in Ma'adi (54 Road n° 9) which is owned by an American woman. Maison Thomas has several branches throughout Cairo, including Mohandiseen, Zamalek, and Maadi, and serves some of the best pizza in Cairo. There is an Italian place called the Mint in Mohandesseen 30 Gezirt Al Arab ST. open 9AM till 1.30 AM, which boasts a very stylish interior, however it's alcohol free. If you prefer more stylish international dining, Cairo offers a wide variety: Italian, Chinese and Japanese outlets in addition to the ambiguous continental cooking abound, especially in areas like Zamalek, Mohandseen and Dokki. Rossini fish restaurant 66 Omar Ibn El Khatab ST +202 2291-8282, Cedars 42 Gezerit Al Arab Mohandeseen +202 3345-0088, this Lebanese restaurant is a favorite with Mohandesseen's ladies who can order grills and salads in a specious outdoor terrace.

Hygiene and diet issues

For health reasons it is advisable not to drink tap water or eat unpeeled fresh fruits and vegetables—at least for the first few days of the visit. There are few solely vegetarian options, L'aubergine in Zamalek is a good restaurant for vegetarian food. Otherwise, Egyptian cuisine is dominated by vegetable courses, but be aware of "hidden" meat in stock, sauces and the like. One should also be cautious about sushis( slushees?) or ice creams sold outside of main hotels. Also, if served eggs, one should be cautious to ensure that they are fully cooked (sunny side up eggs may allow certain organisms to be transmitted).

Self-catering

The Metro chain and Alfa Market dotted around Cairo are convenient supermarkets. They often stock Western brands. Otherwise vegetables and fruit are plentiful and cheap. Bakeries such as The Bakery chain sell western-style bread and pastries. Organic food from the local ISIS brand is available at the supermarkets Metro and Carrefour and the Sekem Shop in Ahmed Sabri Street (شارع احمد صبر), Zamalek.

By far the cheapest and most satisfying option, buying from Souks and outdoor markets makes for a crash course in Arabic and haggling, not to mention that the produce is often superb! Bread can be found on nearly every corner and comes in two types - whole wheat aysh baladi and white flour aysh shami. Both are baked fresh daily and delivered by thousands of kids on bicycles to every corner of the city. Every neighborhood has a few streets dedicated to produce and other goods. Always wash fruit thoroughly before eating. Eating a fresh Roma tomato in the heat of Summer straight from a market seller after being washed is a delight, hard to match. The fruits and vegetables in Egypt may not conform to EU or US standards of size, but their taste is far superior.

Small bakeries (furne) sell every kind of baked good imaginable - ranging from Italian style bread sticks with nigella and sesame seeds to croissants, donuts and anything with dates in it. Fresh goods from these bakeries offers a nice alternative to the standard Egyptian breakfast of beans, beans, and beans, as well as the fact that this bread is very cheap.

Drinks

Cairo has a wide range of drinking options from the very traditional to fashionable and modern. At the other end of the scale, almost any street in Cairo has a traditional coffee house, ´ahwa, a traditionally male institution of social life tracing many hundreds of years back in history. Besides that you'll find everything from fruit stalls to patisseriés and bakeries and modern cafés whipping up all varieties of modern European coffee. In addition to the traditional Turkish coffee and shai tea, virtuall everywhere you'll find drinks like hibiscus tea kerkedeeh, served warm or cold depending on season, sahleb, a milk-based drink usually served in winter, fakhfakhenna (a kind of fruit salad), sugarcane juice, mango and tamarind juice, Tamr hindi.

Traditional coffee houses

Cairo remains one of the best cities in the world to sample the traditional coffee house culture of the region. They are called maqhâ in Standard Arabic, but in the local dialect this is turned into ´ahwa. The Turkish coffee remains an invariable ingredient in any Cairene coffee house, and water pipe (sheesha) and tea is even more popular. While considered "old fashioned" for a time, these places are again turning fashionable among younger crowds and even smoking a water-pipe is no longer a male-only pastime. Places vary from just a small affair—plastic chairs and tables put out on the street—to more elaborate cafes especially in upscale and tourist areas.

For many, the sheesha or water pipe, is the main attraction of any visit to a Cairene coffee house. It is usually available in at least two varieties, mu´assal, pure tobacco, and tofâh, apple-flavored. Other fruit varieties are sometimes available. Coffee houses range from the more elaborately decorated to a simple counter and some plastic chairs and tables spread out in the street. Foreigners are invariably made welcome, although women might feel uncomfortable visiting coffee houses in traditional, poor areas of the city. However, in downtown and the tourist areas of Islamic Cairo single or women-only groups should not expect anything more than the ordinary hassle.

Turkish coffee (´ahwe turki) is served either sweet (helwa), medium sweet (masbout), with little sugar (sukr khafeef) or no sugar (sâda). Sweet means very sweet. Tea (shai) is served either as traditional loose tea (kûshari, not to be confused with the Cairo macaroni-rice stample kushari), known as dust tea in English, or in a tea bag. Most coffee shops usually offer fresh mint leaves to put in your tea, upon request. A range of soft drinks are usually available. Most typically you will find hibiscus tea (karkadee), served warm in the winter season and cold during the warmer parts of the year.

Fruit juice stalls

During the hot Cairo summer, fruit juice stalls selling fresh juice (and occasionally fruit salads and other soft drinks) are a delight not to be missed. Basically these places sell fresh-pressed juice of whatever is in season. Typical choices include orange (bortoqâl), lemon (limon), mango (manga) and strawberry (farawla), guava (gawafa), pomegranate (Rummān). Prices and quality depend on season and availability. These places are spread out around the city and available at almost all the places tourists typically visit and in all local residential districts. Traditional coffee houses or fruit juice stalls might sell all or some of these drinks.

A health reminder Use extra care if you choose to consume beverages from fruit stalls. In general, food handling procedures are not up to Western food sanitation standards. It should also be noted that some vendors mix their fruit juices with less-than-perfect tap-water.

Modern cafes and pastry shops

Modern cafes and patisseries are spread out around the city. Typically they serve light food like sandwiches and salad in addition to espresso-based coffees and pastries. Many of these places are chains, like Cilantro, Beanos, Cinnabon, Orangette, The Bakery and Coffee Roastery. Most of these places, including all the chains mentioned above, offer wireless internet connection as well. International chains such as Costa Coffee and Starbucks are also widely available throughout Cairo.

Nightlife

For the capital of a Muslim country, Cairo is relatively liberal when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. A wide range of bars and dance clubs is available, basically in every major hotel, and some are open 24/7. If you would like to explore the less fancy drinking places in Cairo, Downtown is definitely the place to go. Upscale nightspots are found in and around the Zamalek area

Shopping

ATMs, are conveniently located in various places throughout downtown. A more secure option are the ATMs in the five star hotels. There also are numerous places that handle currency exchange, or you can try any major bank such as HSBC or Commercial International Bank for currency exchanges or redeeming travellers cheques. There also are a number of Citibank [14] branches in Cairo.

Foreign currencies can also be exchanged for Egyptian pound in all the Egyptian banks like Banque Misr [15], National Bank of Egypt [16], Banque De Caire [17], Arab African Bank [18], The United Bank [19], or the large branches of Bureau De Change.

Be aware that many merchants will try to scam you out of as much as they possibly can. A particularly common trick are the papyrus museums. They come in many different flavours, but they often call themselves galleries, museums or workshops. You will be given a brief talk or demonstration on how papyrus is made, and warned against cheaper shops that make their papyrus from banana leaf (though no matter where you go, no one has a sample to show you, questioning the legitimacy of this "warning"). The prices will be in the hundreds, and you will be offered what appears to be an excellent discount. If you look around, however, you will see most of what they offer is worth EGP1-5 at the most. Tour guides, taxi drivers and hotel staff are all in on this, and will often get a 50% commission if they lead an unwitting tourist into this trap.

  • The Khan El-Khalili bazaar is a giant souq in Islamic Cairo. The merchants here are ravenous and skilled, so don't fall for the hard sell and be prepared to haggle. This is a great place to buy rustic glassware and perfume bottles. Be choosy.
  • Zamalek has a number of small, but high-end shops, along with shops selling crafts, jewelry and other items. Fair Trade Cairo in Zamalek is a great shop selling high quality crafts made by local artisans. Nefertari, also in Zamalek, has wonderful organic cotton linens, skin care products, and the like. There is also Nomad, that has a small, charming second floor showroom in Zamalek, as well as Nagada, and Khan Misr Taloun.

Diwan, in Zamalek, is a very nice primarily English-language bookstore.

  • Midan Talaat Harb and surrounding streets, including Talaat Harb Street, are home to countless shops, selling everything from shoes and books to sweets.
  • The Midan Ataba area in Downtown Cairo is home to large bookseller markets, where you can find inexpensive books, as well as electronics and clothing markets, but be aware of the over crowding, as it is easier to pickpocket.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Cairo on Wikivoyage.

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