Into the Catacombs

Alexandria’s historic sites make a great day trip

By: Allison Rost

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 beautiful.

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 the line.

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. Cavafy.

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 Egyptian sun.

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
European menu
56 Midan Saad Zaghloul

Tea house with ocean views and yummy desserts
46 Sharia Saad Zaghloul

Metropole Hotel
Classic hotel oozing with glitz
and glamour
52 Sharia Saad Zaghloul

Kom Ash-Shuqqafa Catacombs
Located in Carmous, this Roman relic can’t be missed.48-45-800
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Adventure Travel JDS Africa Middle East JDS Destinations