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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Cairo Sightseeing
Cairo Sightseeing Guide -TravelPuppy.com
With its layers of history and density of streets, one could spend months in Cairo and still not manage to see all of its mosques and minarets, souks, Coptic churches, small museums and many other places of interest. Just to visit the top attractions will require a stay of days if not weeks. Some sections of Cairo are attractions in themselves, including the narrow streets ofIslamic Cairoand Old Cairo are lined with ancient homes and buildings that can provide hours of fascinating wandering.

The Khan al-Khalili, Cario ’s main market, with its silk and spice merchants, haggling and steady stream of Cairenes from all walks of life, is one of the best places to soak up the local colour of the city. People watching is a rewarding activity. Western women may feel self-conscious at the several sidewalk cafés, as Egyptian women do not visit them (apart from those in the market), but there are plenty of restaurants with outdoor dining that afford a respite from the bustle of the streets and the ability to watch the world passing by.

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is situated downtown near the central square, Midan Tahrir. To the north is Bulaq, a district with appealing mosques and medieval back streets along the Nile, which butts up against the modern offices of the World Trade Centre. In the south, is the suburb of Garden City, a tree-lined former British enclave during the wartime years. Many of the main attractions are situated in Old Cairo, the Coptic quarter where the Hanging Church and Coptic Museum are located, and Islamic Cairo, a huge maze-like medieval quarter peppered with minarets and domes that lies to the east of central Cairo and downtown. The towers of Bab Zuwayla, the Gayer Anderson House, the Citadel, and the Islamic Art Museum are among the sights here. There is an official website for Cairo’s Islamic monuments.

The famous Pyramids are located in Giza, 18 kilometres (11 miles) from Cairo city centre. Other areas worth exploring include the 2 Nile islands. Roda includes the residential Manial district on its northern end, while Gezira, the largest island, is split into 2 distinct districts: Zamalek, home to diplomats, wealthy foreigners, luxurious villas and trendy bars and restaurants, and Gezira proper with its Opera House and art museums.

Public transport on the overcrowded Cairo buses is not advised and, as such, no transport details for the attractions are given below. Regrettably, the metro does not serve many of the main tourist spots. Mari Girgis is the stop for Old Cairo, Sadat is the metro stop for Midan Tahrir in downtown Cairo. The simplest and quickest way is to take a taxi to the 1st destination of the day and walk to nearby sights from there. Please note that most museums are closed during midday prayers on Fridays, approximately 11.30 am to 1.30 pm.

Tourist Information
Egyptian Tourist Authority
5 Sharia Adly,
Midan Opera

Telephone number: (02) 391 3454.
Website: http://touregypt.net
Opening hours: Daily 0830-2000 hrs (0900-1700 hrs during Ramadan).

There are also offices at the Cairo International Airport (terminal 2/New Airport), the Pyramids and the Railway Station.

Passes

There are no tourist discount passes available in Cairo.

Key Attractions

Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

With more than 100,000 artefacts spanning Egyptian history from the earliest dynasties to the Roman era, the Egyptian Museum represents the largest collection of its kind and it would take several months to see every exhibit. A minimum of 3 to 4 hours is necessary to take in the highlights and, if time allows, the museum is best appreciated on succeeding half-day visits. The collection was 1st assembled by the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette during 1858.

The top attractions are the Royal Mummy Room, which contains the corpses of 11 of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs including Seti I and his son Ramses II and the Tutankhamun Galleries, which display the gold and gem-inlaid funerary mask and 1,700 other treasures found in the tomb of the Boy King.. Room 27 displays elaborate models of ancient life on the Nile during the Middle Kingdom, while the Old Kingdom Rooms contain statues and death masks from Saqqara and Giza. The Akhenaten Room, Jewellery Rooms and animal mummies are also worth seeing.

Midan Tahrir
Telephone number: (02) 575 4319.
Website: www.egyptianmuseum.gov.eg
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1645 hrs.
Admission: E£20, E£40 (Mummies’ Hall).

Pyramids of Giza

1 of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and now one of the wonders of the modern world too, the Pyramids of Giza are 1 of Egypt’s prime tourist attractions. First impressions can disappoint, partly because many visitors find them smaller than anticipated, but the longer the visit, the more influential the pyramids become.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops was completed in about 2600BC and is the the largest in egypt and the oldest on the site. It stands 136.4 metres (447.5 feet) high and is made from an estimated 2.5 million limestone blocks and was built to house the sarcophagus of King Cheops, although it is not known whether he was ever actually buried here. Nearby are 3 smaller pyramids built for the king’s queens, and beyond are the 2 other large pyramids, those of Chephren and Mycerinus. Chephren was the son of Cheops and well known belief has it that he had the idea of building the Sphinx, to stand close by his own tomb and that of his father. Archaeologists say that this is not the case, and that the Sphinx may even be some 2,600 years older than the pyramids themselves.

Pyramid Road, 18 kilometres (11 miles) southwest of central Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 7.00 am to 7.30 pm, pyramid chamers daily 8.30 am to 4.00 pm.
Admission: E£20 (per pyramid).

Coptic Museum

Located in a lovely garden in the former Roman fortress of Babylon-in-Egypt, the Coptic Museum features Coptic art from the Christian era (AD 300 to 1000). Among the highlights are the exquisite Coptic textiles, papyri with text from the Gnostic gospels of Nag Hammadi, carved ivories, and Nubian paintings from flooded villages of Lake Nassar. The rooms are decorated with beautiful fountains, mashrabiyya (carved wood) screens and painted ceilings.

Sharia Mari Girgis,
Old Cairo
Website: www.copticmuseum.com
Opening hours: Daily 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Admission: E£16.

El-Muallaqa Church (the ‘Hanging Church’)

Possibly dating back as far as the 4th century, el-Muallaqa is the oldest Christian place of worship in the city. It is called the ‘Hanging Church’ because it is built on top of a Roman gate and reached by a stairway that leads to a courtyard. The beautiful interior features altar screens of inlaid ivory and bone and an exquisite,3 barrel-vaulted aisles, carved marble pulpit supported by 13 pillars representing Christ and his disciples.

Sharia Mari Girgis,
Old Cairo
Opening hours: Daily from dawn to 4.00 pm, Coptic masses Friday 8.00 am to 11.00 am and Sunday 7.00 am to 10.00 am.
Admission: Donations.

Bab Zuwayla

The southern gate of Bab Zuwayla is all that's left of the Fatimid city of el-Qahira, executions took place here in Mamluk times but in the 19th century it acquired a better-off reputation when a local saint, Mitwalli, performed miracles close to the gate. To this day, people seeking healing nail a lock of hair or piece of clothing onto the gate in hopes of receiving divine aid. Rising above the gate are the minarets of the Mosque of el-Muayyad, which offer some of the most beautiful panoramic views in Cairo from the top. The mosque contains the mausoleum of the Sultan el-Muayyad and his son, who began building the mosque during 1415, as well as a shady courtyard.

Sharia Darb el-Ahmar,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk (mosque).
Admission: E£6 for the mosque and baksheesh for the minarets.

Bayn al-Qasryn

In medieval times, Bayn al-Qasryn was the leading public square in the city, bustling with market stalls and entertainers. Today, it is lined with 3 Mamluk palace complexes, which form a harmonious and impressive façade. The Madrassa and Mausoleum of Qalaun is the most excellent and also the earliest, completed during 1279. The mausoleum is beautifully decorated with ornate coffered ceilings, an elaborate stucco arch bearing stars and floral motifs, and stained glass. The Madrassa and Khanqah of Sultan Barquq (1386) and the Mausoleum of an-Nasir Mohammed (1304) also boast fine architecture and decoration. Incidentally, a khanqah is a monastery and a madrassa is a theological school.

Sharia el-Muizz,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: E£6 for each complex.

Bayt el-Suhaymi

Behind an unassuming façade is 1 of Cairo’s finest houses, Bayt el-Suhaymi. Dating from the Ottoman era, it offers a glimpse of the lifestyle of well-to-do merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries. The maze of rooms on different levels feature an ornate 1st floor harem with mashrabiyya screens overlooking the gardens and an impressive ground floor reception room where men were entertained with dancers and music.

19 Haret Darb el-Asfar,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1600 hrs.
Admission: E£20.

Citadel (el-Qal’a)

Nothing remains of Salah ad-Din’s original 12th century palace but the mosques and palaces atop this limestone outcrop reflect seven hundred years of Cairo history. The fortifications were 1st built to repel the Crusaders and became the royal residence for sultans into the 19th century. The Mohammed Ali Mosque, with its large central dome and 4 semi-domes, towers over the city. The enclosure also contains the Mosque of al-Nasir, Yusuf’s Well. The views over Cairo from the Citadel are breathtaking.

Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am to 5.00 pm (October to May), 8.00 am to 6.00 pm (June to September).
Admission: E£20.

Gayer-Anderson House (Bayt el-Kritliya)

The Gayer-Anderson House was the home of an English doctor to the royal family, who resided here from 1935 to 1942. He restored 2 16th-century houses, joined them together and filled them with exquisite decoration, furniture and other oriental objects. The mashrabiyya-screened women’s gallery overlooks the magnificent reception room with its central fountain, the finest in Cairo.

4 Midan Ahmed Ibn Tulun,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, closed Friday during midday prayer (11.00 am to 1.00 pm).
Admission: E£16.

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Of all the mosques in Cairo, Ibn Tulun Mosque is the one that should not be missed. Completed during 879, it is the oldest intact mosque in Cairo. The huge structure, built of mud-brick and wood, covers 2.4 hectares (6 acres) but is uncomplicated in decor. It is an individual example in Cairo of classical Islamic architecture inspired by Iraqi models, having been constructed by Ibn Tulin, who was sent to rule Cairo by the caliph of Baghdad and the pointed arches are the 1st of their kind. The views from the top of the spiral minaret are excellent.

Sharia el-Salibah,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm.
Admission: E£6.

Islamic Art Museum

This museum houses one of the world’s largest and finest collections of Islamic art, dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The rooms contain carved woodwork and columns, metalwork, mosaic fountains and other architectural exhibits salvaged from crumbling mosques and mausoleums throughout the country with some of the finest pieces are located in the central hall.

Midan Ahmad Mahir (Bab el-Khalq),
Port Said Street,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, Friday 9.00 am to 11.00 am and 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm.
Admission: E£16.

Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan

Covering 7900 square metres (85,000 square ft), this is 1 of the largest mosques in the world and the finest early Mamluk structure in the city. It was built between 1356 and 1363 and consists of a stunning courtyard, 4 madrassas (theology schools) and a mausoleum flanked by huge doors. Visitors should go in the morning as the sun lights up the dark mausoleum.

Sharia el-Qal’a,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm (until 6.00 pm in the summer).
Admission: E£12.

Further Distractions

Wikala of al-Ghouri

A wikala, also known as a caravanserai, is a medieval merchants’ hostel that catered for the travelling traders. They stabled their animals on the ground floor, slept in the rooms above and haggled with clients in the courtyard. This is 1 of the best preserved of the handful of Cairo’s remaining wikalas. The stables now house artists’ studios, while the courtyard is used for concerts and theatre. Around the corner is the striking striped al-Ghouri complex, with a mausoleum and mosque-madrassa. The mausoleum now serves as a cultural centre, offering twice weekly Sufi dancing performances.

Sharia el-Azhar,
Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am to 12.00 am.
Admission: E£6.

City of the Dead

Some tourists may feel squeamish at the thought of visiting the City of the Dead, but dozens of ‘tomb squatters’ have made it their home and other Cairenes come to visit and picnic at the graves of their relatives, an antique tradition.

This large necropolis is divided into the southern and northern cemetery on either side of the Citadel and contains some outstanding Islamic architecture. The finest monuments are located in the northern cemetery. The Mosque of Qaitbey, a Mamluk ruler, has an intricately carved dome, the finest in the Muslim world, while the splendidly decorated interior surrounds a serene courtyard. Tourists are advised to stick to the main streets in the cemeteries for safety reasons.

Islamic Cairo
Opening hours: Daily 24 hours.
Admission: Free; E£6 (Mosque of Qaitbey).