La Capital of Egypt is a chaotic city, with a lot of traffic, but cheerful and full of life, and despite the considerations that can be made on safety, there are many things to see and do in Cairo.
Soon, the old Egyptian Museum will be relocated near the Pyramids of Giza
Still, many tourists arriving or departing for the Nile cruise they spend little time in this fascinating city: believe me, you couldn't make a worse mistake!
The whole region around the city has been continuously occupied for over 6.000 years and is rich in history and culture (both modern and ancient). This is why it is worth taking at least 3 days for all the things to see in Cairo: 2 to dedicate to the city and one for a trip to the surrounding area!
Premise: is Cairo a dangerous city?
If you are wondering if the Cairo is a dangerous city, do not worry, before leaving I asked myself too.
Moreover, in our media, it seems that the news fromEgypt they arrive only and always when something bad happens: bombs, earth attacks and so on.
Just in 2017, recently, on Palm Sunday there were two simultaneous attacks in Tanta and Alexandria, and 44 people lost their lives.
So to the question: but Cairo is a dangerous city? In conscience, as a person who writes on the web, I could not answer you: on the one hand to say “no, it's super safe” would be a bit simplistic, on the other hand to say that “yes it is” would be at least unreal.
After all, I would say that no one could ever answer this question in an absolutist way.
But if I have to rely on my experience as a traveler who visited Egypt a July 2018 (so not so long ago) I would be tempted to say that in Cairo it is more dangerous to cross the street than to die blown away by a bomb: the streets and tourist sites are manned day and night by the police forces and in general, walking through the streets. you never get the feeling that something dangerous is about to happen.
As usual, the only recommendation I have is to use common sense, stay away from potential messes and demonstrations, check the recent notices from the government embassy and the Farnesina and absolutely take out travel insurance.
Spoiler: from the news I receive, it seems that 2019 will again be the year of the tourism boom in this country.
What to see and do in Cairo
1 - Pyramids of Giza
Although it is almost always understood that the Pyramids of Giza are part of Cairo, that's not true.
Even if the distinction is subtle (Giza and Cairo are practically a single city, separated only by the Nile) I decided to include them among the things to see in Cairo and not among the 1 day or half day trips.
ORGANIZED TOUR TO THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA, SAQQARA AND MENFI
State offre un tour in English with an Egyptologist guide at a very competitive price (more or less what you pay with a local agency).
Do not you believe it? Check out this link!
Le pyramids of Giza they are an unmissable attraction. Right on the edge of the city, these Fourth Dynasty burial temples have wowed travelers for centuries and continue to be one of the country's main highlights. Despite the heat, the dust and the tourist hustle and bustle, you cannot fail to visit.
La Pyramid of Cheops (also called the Great Pyramid or Khufu Pyramid) is the largest pyramid and can also be visited inside even if in the end there is nothing apart from narrow passages and the mortuary with an empty sarcophagus: not recommended for those suffering from claustrophobia .
Directly behind the Great Pyramid lies, in a horrible shed, the Solar Boat Museum, showing one of the ceremonial solar barrels found in the area which has been carefully restored to its original glory.
Further south on the plateau is the Pyramid of Chephren (this can also be visited inside), and the smallest Pyramid of Mycerinus (Pyramid of Menkaure). Protecting these mortuary temples is one of the iconic monuments of the ancient world: the great sphinx, with the body of a lion and the head of the pharaoh.
If you want (I did it and it was worth it) you can also see it light and sound show at the pyramids!
THE BEST HOTELS NEAR THE PYRAMIDS
Close to the Pyramids of Giza (and with exceptional views over them) there are several hotels, from the luxury ones to the slightly cheaper ones.
Among luxury hotel stands out Marriott Mena House, which offers, in addition to the rooms with a view, a wonderful terrace, swimming pool, 40 acres of surrounding park and SPA.
Between cheaper ones, but always high-end, instead there is the Hayat Pyramids View Hotel, also with a spectacular view and shuttle to and from the airport.
2 - Enjoy the panorama of Cairo from the Citadel
La Cairo Citadel it is a complex built inside high walls on a hill overlooking the city.
Built by Saladin during the 12th century, to protect it from Crusader attacks, it is worth visiting mainly for two reasons: the first is that there are no cars and therefore it is a place of absolute peace from the chaotic traffic of Cairo, the second is that you have a magnificent view over the city.
On a clear day, if you look closely, you can see all the way to the Pyramids of Giza from here.
There are several points of interest located within the walls of the Citadel, including three mosques, the Egyptian military museum with a display of fighter planes outside, the Police Museum and Palazzo Al-Gawhara.
The main point of interest of the Citadel is certainly the Muhammad Ali Mosque with its two twin minarets, the elegant alabaster-covered courtyard and interiors illuminated by light bulbs suspended from the ceiling.
In my opinion it is not worth spending more than a couple of hours there, although the Grand Mosque is a good place to escape from the heat and to make friends with the locals.
The Muhammad Ali Mosque is probably what the Blue Mosque is in Cairo Istanbul.
However, I would also recommend visiting the nearby one Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad mosque, older and less majestic than Muhammad Ali, with a blue-green dome and arched interior, and hardly anyone visits.
Bizarre fact: the walls of the mosque are covered with limestone taken from the pyramids!
3 - Marvel at the Egyptian Museum
Everyone's reaction as soon as you enter the Egyptian Museum of Cairo (whose real name would be Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) is to roll your eyes: although it looks like an old dusty warehouse, with things stacked up for good and better, the quantity of treasures it contains is unimaginable and one cannot fail to be impressed by the pure majesty of the exhibits. I believe that not even one life is enough to see everything.
The museum was founded in 1857 by the French Egyptologist August Mariette and moved to his current home - in the characteristic powder pink building in central Cairo - in 1897.
The museum is, from the visitor's perspective, quite a nightmare. It's more like a warehouse with no proper sign-ups and seems without any logic - it's practically impossible to find what you're looking for.
Il best advice that I can give you is to take one professional guide (preferably someone who has studied Egyptology) to guide you around the museum.
If you decide to follow my advice and are looking for the best English speaking guide in Cairo Write me an email and I'll put you in touch!
Note: starting from 2018 part of the collection is about to be transferred to the new Egyptian Museum in Giza. The new museum will be finished in 2022, but will be partially open from December 2018.
Certainly the central hall on the ground floor leaves you speechless for the impressive statues and sarcophagi, but if you don't have much time I recommend running away to the second floor to see the Tutankhamun Galleries, pharaoh who died at the age of 18.
The treasures on display here have all been found in Tutankhamun's tomb, the only tomb found entirely intact, as on the day it was sealed.
The tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, contained the largest and richest treasure ever found. Highlights of the visit include the death mask of Tutankhamun (in solid gold) and the sarcophagi (Room 3), the throne of the pharaoh's lion (Room 35) and the fascinating amount of amulets and gold necklaces that the mummy wore between the layers of bandages.
Finish the visit with the Hall of the royal mummies (Room 56 & 46) where you can "say hello" in person to Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis II, Ramses II and Seti I (with an additional ticket).
The Egyptian Museum is located right next to Midan Tahrir, the central square of Cairo. The easiest way to get here is to take the Cairo Metro to Sadat Station (on Midan Tahrir) and follow the signs for the museum exit.
4 - Contract in the kaleidoscopic Khan El Khalili
Visiting Cairo without visiting at least one souk (Arab market) would be “almost” a mortal sin.
Khan el Khalili it is a labyrinthine collection of narrow alleys and was born and "raised" around a caravanserai, built in 1382 by the Sultan.
During the Ottoman period, it was known as the Turkish bazaar and since then it has always attracted merchants from various parts of the world: Persians, Jews, Armenians and Arabs. It is not surprising that today it is the most touristic bazaar in Cairo: perfumed oils, (fake) Egyptian finds, souvenirs, jewels, in short, here you will find really everything.
For shopaholics, the main street of the souq is Al-Muski Street (called Gawhar al-Qaid Street at the eastern end). The gold and silver workshops are mainly concentrated north of the intersection of this street with Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Street, while the spice market section is to the south.
The market is surrounded on the eastern side by the neo-Gothic mass of the Sayyidna el Husein mosque, built in 1792 to honor the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The vendors here are a bit aggressive with tourists and the innocent invitations to go into the shops for a cup of tea actually hide a much more materialistic purpose: to sell something.
So escape from the main streets to the surrounding alleys, and the small shops and cluttered shops are some of the best places to buy traditional products in Egypt.
All in all, however, I would say that Khan el Khalili alone represents a real adventure in itself: here you can in fact challenge your ability to endure and bargain.
Read More: Learn to bargain like a pro in Khan el Khalili.
The entrance to the Khan el-Khalili area is across the street from the Al-Azhar Mosque.
5 - Take a break from the chaos in Coptic Cairo
This small group of winding streets is located within the walls of ancient Babylon, where the Roman emperor Trajan built a fortress along the Nile.
Much of Cairo's appeal comes from its mixture of religions and cultures and in Coptic Museum it is a testimony.
Founded in 1908, the museum houses Coptic art, ranging from the early days of Christianity in Egypt to Islam.
With the inlaid wooden mashrabbiyyas overlooking the courtyards, the museum's galleries contain sculptures showing traces of the Ptolemaic period, rich textiles and entire walls of frescoes.
The first floor houses the oldest psalms book in the world, i Salmi at David, with the two original wooden covers.
After spending a couple of hours in the museum rooms, the ruins of the Roman fortifications and the Suspended church from the XNUMXth century built over them
For many Christian travelers, however, the real attraction of this area is the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, Abu Sarga, where local legend says that the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus and the family took refuge during the massacre of Herod's male children.
Further on in the neighborhood, there is also worth a visit Ben Ezra synagogue, which is said to have been built near the spot where baby Moses was found in the reeds of the river.
Just outside the neighborhood, you can also visit the Amr Ibn al-As Mosque, the first mosque built in Egypt.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAIRO DOWNTOWN
Se you want to sleep in downtown Cairo choices are wasted. The cheapest accommodations (a few euros) and which are generally called hostels are rooms rented inside the apartments of the locals.
They cost very little and are not the best in luxury, but they are a good choice if you are traveling low cost and if you want to get in touch with the locals.
We slept at Nile Plaza Hostel paying a few euros and we were satisfied with the location (near Tahir square and the Cairo Museum) and the kindness of the owners.
If you want something instead of a real hotel, try to take a look at the Tahrir Plaza Suites Hotel which has great reviews and a truly great location.
7 - Get lost in the narrow streets of Islamic Cairo
In reality, the term "Islamic Cairo" has nothing to do with religion: the Islamic term in fact refers to the fact that this neighborhood originated during the Arab conquest of the country and has no reference to the Muslim religion.
When you are talking about Islamic Cairo in reality it means "Medieval CairoWhich by the way is a very large neighborhood that also includes the citadel.
However, the most interesting part is the one that roughly includes the streets located between the gates Bab-Futuh e Bab-Zuwayla, among which we find important historical monuments including the Al-Azhar Mosque, the souk of Khan el Khalili and many other places of interest in Cairo.
The street plan still closely follows that of the Middle Ages: think of narrow streets with very little sunlight, madrasahs and mosques narrow next to each other, with shop windows and open-air markets occupying every inch of the available space.
It's the kind of place where maps are absolutely useless, where you can decide to follow a perfume, a cat or a random person and see where it takes you, after all, you will find the right path, sooner or later.
If you are hungry, grab a taameya or a stuffed sandwich, the best option for a very local lunch.
8 - Do something alternative: visit the Monastery of San Simone
If you want to find a place in Cairo where tourists absolutely do not go, but which is worth a visit, ask some local agency or taxi driver to take you to the Monastery of San Simone, also known as “Cave Church”, the Church of the Grotto, which is found carved out of the mountain Mokattam in southeastern Cairo.
Do not fool yourself, it is very difficult for someone to agree to accompany you there because the Monastery is located in an area that is known as City of Waste due to the large population of Zabbaleen who live there.
The Zabbaleen are descendants of peasants who began migrating from Upper Egypt to Cairo in the 40s in search of work and set up makeshift settlements around the city. Initially, they stuck to their tradition of raising pigs, goats, chickens and other animals (which they still keep on house terraces today), but eventually found manual collection and sorting of the city's waste more profitable.
To get to the Monastery, which is very beautiful, you have to go through this area where the normal inhabitants of Cairo do not like to go.
The Church was founded in 1975. Several other churches have been built in the Mokattam caves, of which the Monastery of "San Simon the Tanner" is the largest, with a capacity of 20.000 seats which makes it the largest church. of the Middle East.
Note: 90% of the Zabbaleen, also known as "Garbage Collectors" are of Coptic Christian religion and it is one of the largest communities in all of Egypt.
Curious fact: some evenings, concerts are held in a marvelous theater dug into the mountain a stone's throw from the Monastery and on other evenings, exorcisms.
9 - Take a breath of fresh air at Al-Azhar Park
Il Al Azhar park, located in the Old City of Cairo and a short distance from the Citadel, is an oasis of 28 hectares full of greenery, flower beds and water features. The design is inspired by ancient Islamic gardens - the park is a much-needed breath of fresh air in one of the world's most densely populated (and most polluted) cities.
Al Azhar Park attracts over 2 million visitors a year and has wonderful views of the Citadel.
10 - spend the evening at the Sky Garden bar on the Cairo Tower
La Cairo Tower it is 187 meters high and is the second most famous landmark in Cairo after the Pyramids.
Commissioned in 1961 as a stylized lotus plant, the tower's 360-degree views are best enjoyed in the late morning, through the smog of the city below. Visitors can also book a table at bar Sky Garden, which is located one floor lower than the observation deck and offers great views during dinner.
Day trips from Cairo
I love Cairo because in just 2 hours you can go from the sea to the desert! here it is 3 trips from Cairo that you can do in just one day.
1 - Memphis and the Saqqara Pyramids
In just one day from Cairo you can combine a visit to Memphis and at pyramids of Saqqara.
Memphis it was the capital of ancient Egypt, built in a strategic position to be able to control the communication routes between Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt.
Unfortunately, the annual floods of the Nile have not left us much wiping out the ancient mud buildings, but it is worth a visit.
The area has been fenced and transformed into a garden. The two highlights of the collection are the colossus of Ramses II (a must see, it is impressive) and the alabaster sphinx.
Il Saqqara funerary complex, on the other hand, it is most famous for the great step pyramid of Zoser.
Not to be missed, not far away, is the mastaba di akhti-hotep and the others close.
A gem: the small but very precious Imhotep museum where you can see the only small statuette that portrays the famous Egyptian architect!
If your guide is good (contracted first) let us also bring you to the red pyramid of Dahshur!
2 - Deserto El Fayoum
Last but not least, about 2 hours drive from Cairo you can reach theoasis in El Fayoum with its enchanting Magic lake and pottery factories.
This is one of my favorite places in all of Egypt because, in addition to being very special, it is also one of the places where you can try Sand Boarding!
TOUR AL FAYOUM
Civitatis offers day tours at a great price (better than what they did to me on site and more with English speaking guide. You can find the details at this link.
Just outside the oasis is the beautiful deserto at Wadi el Hitan (the valley of the whales) e Wadi el Rayan, where you can ride beautiful dunes, camp for a night under the stars and see the fossils of marine plants and fish that lived there when the desert was once an ocean… what a charm!
3 - Alexandria of Egypt
Unlike some cities that have very famous monuments such as Athens with its Acropolis, or Rome with The Colosseum, Alessandria has a more "intimate" dimension.
But just think that the great Alexander the Great is buried here, or that Cleopatra committed suicide here, or that the legendary library, that it is understood that historically Alexandria is no less important than other cities.
To begin with, you should visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a huge library built in 2002 with a unique design to reincarnate the ancient library that used to be in the same place.
Also visit Montazah Palace, have a picnic or take a tour of the royal quarters.
The third stop, if you go with a tour will probably be the Qaitbay castle.
I advise you last this tour in English which includes Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza with an Egyptologist guide which also includes tickets, the Cairo Museum and a tour to the elusive Khan El Khalili.