Alexandria is a gem of a city, a beachfront getaway on the
shores of the Mediterranean. But less than a mile from the
shoreline, you can find relics of previous civilizations surrounded
by neighborhoods where children react to you as though you’re the
first Westerners they’ve ever seen. This contrast makes Alexandria
a fascinating place to visit on a tour through northern Africa just
as long as you navigate the city correctly.
My friend and I visited Alexandria on a day trip from Cairo.
Armed with Arabic instructions carefully penned by our hostess, we
made our way to the main station in Cairo and boarded a Faransawi
train. These trains take about three hours, and with a first-class
ticket costing about $5, the ride is very comfortable. It’s scenic
as well the outskirts of the city and the agrarian countryside are
Just remember when disembarking in Alexandria, there are two
train stations. Getting off at the first one by accident sent us
scrambling for a cab. Advise clients to stay on until the end of
When clients arrive in Alexandria, the Midan Saad Zaghloul is a
good place to start. The Midan, which is like a town square, abuts
the Corniche, the road that travels right up against the shoreline.
The broad boulevard is lined with palm trees and provides a
pleasant walk along the Mediterranean with an even better view that
spans from Fort Qaitbey in the west to the eastern lip of the
harbor. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not far away.
Our first stop was Trianon, a charming cafe on a nearby corner.
The menu is European and the service is exceedingly cordial. The
cafe was also once the second home of the poet Constantine P.
The area exudes 1930s beachfront charm, which makes for a
walkable city, especially compared to crowded Cairo. Of all the
historical sites to visit the Greco-Roman Museum, the new
Alexandria library we chose the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa,
which are not to be missed.
The walk there started out easily enough, but with the
combination of heat, overzealous cab drivers and some unsavory
areas between the Corniche and the catacombs, it ended up less than
pleasant. Just let it serve as a hearty recommendation for a guided
tour of the city.
Admission to the catacombs is about $2, and cameras are not
allowed. The sights you see when descending the staircase
underground look like an “Indiana Jones” movie. Tombs and chambers
are cut into every possible surface, with the principal tomb
surrounded by the likenesses of gods from various civilizations.
There’s a triclinium where grieving relatives held funeral feasts,
and the rotunda that the staircase follows is the passage through
which bodies were transported into the mass grave. Clients
interested in the macabre will be particularly interested and for
others, the catacombs are also a respite from the punishing
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the Midan to visit
Delices, a tea room with desserts and a chatty clientele one
Egyptian expatriate, in town to visit his parents, told us about
his time living in the United States. It was a great way to wrap up
our day, though we regretted we couldn’t stay longer to sample the
renowned Alexandria seafood for dinner.
Historic cafe with delicious
56 Midan Saad Zaghloul
Tea house with ocean views and yummy desserts
46 Sharia Saad Zaghloul
Classic hotel oozing with glitz
52 Sharia Saad Zaghloul
Kom Ash-Shuqqafa Catacombs
Located in Carmous, this Roman relic can’t be
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.