Cairo is a bustling, vigorous city and touring it feels like a journey through time. A modern city with ancient roots, it straddles the River Nile, blending the old and modern in exhilarating and surprising ways. With so much to see and do, we thought a few helpful suggestions would come in handy. Here are just some of Cairo’s exciting attractions.
The Great Pyramids
Great Sphinx and iconic Pyramids of Giza are the foremost reason people come to Cairo. Those huge and amazing stone constructions, which are the only surviving wonders of the Ancient World, put you in awe of what the ancient ones achieved! They are not very far from the city centre. Go early in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat cause you want to have time to explore the chambers within the pyramids without being jostled.
Cairo wasn’t built in a day! It took many centuries to come together and Fustat, founded in the 7th century AD, was the first Arab settlement in Egypt. The remnants are on display in the Museum of Islamic Art. They reveal just how influential that period was on today’s Cairo.
The Nile – Life-giver
For all its wonderful sights and monuments, nothing defines Cairo like the mighty Nile. For thousands of years this waterway shaped and nourished civilizations and people; created a history and culture that is absolutely unique. Herodotus called Egypt ‘the gift of the Nile.’ The river attracts romantic lovers to its banks every evening while visitors from far and close drift down on it in modern ferries, brightly lit cruisers or ageless feluccas. A sunset viewed from a vessel on this timeless river; the soft glowing lights from countless minarets; a quiet time just drifting or enjoying a lovely dinner will give you a sense of what the Nile means and has meant to countless generations of Egyptians. A generous giver indeed!
Mosques & Minarets
You just cannot miss out on the Al-Azhar Mosque. This magnificent complex with a vast marble paved interior courtyard and several iconic minarets exemplifies the very best in Islamic art and culture. It also houses the Al-Azhar University of Cairo, the second oldest university in the world and an influential Islamic institution. Islamic Cairo has the greatest concentration of historical monuments of Islamic architecture in the world. The hundreds of mosques are the reason why it is nicknamed “the city of a thousand minarets.”
Treasure Chest of History
Everything about The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, commonly known as the Egyptian Museum is incredible. It is the largest treasure house of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world. No visit to Cairo and Egypt is complete if you have not been to the Museum and gazed on the priceless, haunting golden face mask of Tutankhamen and other relics of a glorious past.
The Living Dead
This is like no housing colony you have ever seen! Qarafa or the City of the Dead, a Necropolis is an amazing four mile area of tombs and mausoleums in Cairo. Uniquely, the area is inhabited by a sizeable community of people. It is not a creepy place to explore; rather it is quite an eye-opener.
Old Cairo – Really Old!
The Romans came, saw and made their mark. Inveterate builders they left behind the Fortress of Babylon, the oldest structure in the city. The Fortress sits in Coptic Cairo, which is at the very core and most intriguing part of Cairo providing a distinctly different environment that contributes and enhances Cairo’s diversity.
Symbol of Power
First built by Saladin between 1176 and 1183, the Cairo Citadel is a massive and imposing structure. Originally it was the site for a pavilion to catch the cool breezes. The Citadel has gone through numerous changes, improvements and renovations – each one adding to its splendour and glory. Its walls that once enclosed Cairo and Fustat, still dominate the Cairo skyline. It is the most visited and impressive non-pharaonic monument. A half day spent in its massive corridors and passages is well worth the time and effort.
Shop the Traditional way
Khan el-Khalili is an ancient bazaar dating back to 1385. It is the most well-known and historic market in Africa and the Middle-East. The intricate network of streets, lanes and alleyways are the romantic template of what a souq should look like. Khan el-Khalili had such a stranglehold on the spice markets, that circumnavigators like Columbus were motivated to find alternate routes for goods from the East. You will find everything from jeans and essential oils to expensive and cheap jewellery made of gold and silver. You can pick up traditional Egyptian glass, accessories, T-shirts and unique souvenirs. Remember to bargain and you will come away a very satisfied shopper.
Cairo is not just about pharaohs, tombs, pyramids and mosques. There is a tasty side to the city. The cuisine, a product of geography, relies heavily on vegetables, legumes and grain grown in and around the Nile. Egyptian food is justly famous because it incorporates contributions from all the different peoples and civilizations that came here. It was then made it deliciously Egyptian.
For example Kushari, considered to be Egypt’s national dish is made from pasta, tomato sauce, rice, lentils, caramelized onions, garlic and chickpeas. For over a hundred years, it has been the most popular food in Egypt. However, it was brought in by the British army and relies on pasta from Italy, tomatoes from South America and rice from Asia. The Egyptians mixed them all together into one amazing dish. Similarly there are many, many such combinations and permutations. Oh, the deserts, sweets and cakes are to die for.