To many, Egypt means antiquities the temples of Luxor, Aswan and
Abu Simbel, the pyramids at Giza. But there is much to see in
Egypt’s bustling urban life as well. Cairo is the largest city in
Africa over a quarter of Egypt’s population lives here, and more
than 4 million tourists visit each year. With its diverse
neighborhoods, sites and considerable international population,
Cairo is a destination in its own right. Find out what makes this
city the playground of the Arab world.
Zamalek & Gezira
This affluent island, located on the Nile between Giza and
downtown Cairo, is split into northern and southern districts. To
the north is upscale Zamalek, home to foreign embassies and a
considerable expatriate population. On the south is the leafier
enclave of Gezira, which features some of the city’s most famous
landmarks, like the Cairo Opera House and the Cairo Tower. Thanks
to tree-lined streets, the island offers a break from Cairo’s
Here, clients are most likely to see women comfortably strolling
in Western-style garb, like blue jeans and T-shirts. Zamalek and
Gezira are ideal for Western travelers, as its residents are
accustomed to foreign habits.
Uninhabited until the mid-19th century, the island features
several opulent palaces that were built under the auspices of
British rule. Now, they are home to other institutions. The palace
of Khedive Ismail is now the Cairo Marriott, while Prince Amr
Ibrahim’s palace is the site of the Ceramic Museum.
Because of its upscale population, Zamalek offers some of the
best shopping and dining in Cairo. Stroll down 26th of July Avenue
and you will find vendors selling imported scarves and knickknacks,
as well as native textiles and silver goods. On the avenue, there
are also plenty of cafes to enjoy, including Abu El Sid, one of
Cairo’s finest Egyptian restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to
sample mulukheiya, a traditional leaf stew served with white rice
and rabbit, or to smoke one of the ubiquitous shishas.
For a more authentic flavor of Egypt’s capital, visit Islamic
Cairo, one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities. Founded in the
10th century, this was once the cultural, spiritual and
intellectual center of the Arab world. Though dusty and quite
decrepit now, the district is thoroughly enchanting and still
maintains its other-worldly air. Surrounded by walls dating to the
Middle Ages, you will see ancient mosques, hammams (bathhouses),
palaces, fountains and ornate harem windows while strolling
The quarter can be intimidating for travelers poverty is
visible, activity is somewhat chaotic (it is not unusual to see
vendors selling livestock or donkeys pulling carts), and the area
is not heavily trafficked by tourists. But to walk the streets is
an unforgettable experience.
In addition to the innumerable ancient sites, you will also find
some of the most beautiful and reasonably priced Egyptian
handicrafts in Cairo. Although Khan Al-Kalili, or the Khan, is the
city’s best-known market, you will get better deals (and perhaps
better merchandise) in the more remote areas of the neighborhood.
Sharia Al-Muski is a lively, well-known market street and Sharia
al-Khayamiyya (the street of the tentmakers) exhibits handmade
fabrics, bedspreads and wall-hangings in a covered marketplace.
A short 2½-hour bus ride from Cairo is Alexandria, Egypt’s
Mediterranean city. There are plenty of tours leaving Cairo for
Alexandria on a daily basis, making this an excellent day trip
destination. Fishermen docked along the seashore provide excellent
eye candy for the casual observer and outstanding fish for
Alexandria’s famous seafood restaurants. The Biblioteca Alexandrina
is a striking example of modern Egyptian architecture, whereas the
Roman Amphitheatre (Kom-Al Dikka), the only amphitheatre in Egypt,
is one of the few remaining examples of the city’s Roman past.
About 60 miles southwest of Cairo is the Al Fayoum Oasis,
home to some of Egypt’s most fertile lands and heady archaeological
sites. Noteworthy are the ruins of the pyramid of Meidum, the first
pyramid attempted in Egypt, as well as some of the most beautiful
Greek funerary portraits unearthed anywhere, now on display in
museums around the world.
Ain-as-Siliyiin, a site of healing springs, lush gardens and local
farmers selling their wares, is another worthy destination that
showcases the fruits of the land.
Getting there from Cairo:
Alexandria: Superjet buses from Cairo to Alexandria cost about $5
depending on the time of day. The journey is 2½ hours.
Al Fayoum: Buses for Al Fayoum from Cairo leave every 30 minutes
between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. from the station at Kubri al-Misalla.
Once at Al-Fayoum, hiring a taxi for half a day to drive you around
(it will be necessary) will cost about $10.
Salah Mohammed Abdel Hafez Full-day tours
20-298-0650, 012-313-8446 (cell)
Masr Travel Half-day tours
20-393-0168, 20-392-4440 (fax)
American Express Travel Half-day tours
Dress: When traveling in Egypt, women should be
dressed modestly. Long skirts or pants are recommended. If your
arms are bare, keep a scarf handy so you can cover yourself at a
Mosques: When touring mosques, you will be asked
to take off your shoes upon entry choose footwear that can be
Tipping: Here, the culture of baksheesh, or
tipping, thrives. From mosque attendants to taxi drivers, make sure
that you have plenty of single-pound notes for your helpers along