| 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
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.
Egyptian Tourist Authority
5 Sharia Adly,
Telephone number: (02) 391
Opening hours: Daily 0830-2000 hrs (0900-1700 hrs
There are also offices at the Cairo International Airport
(terminal 2/New Airport), the Pyramids and the
There are no tourist discount passes available in Cairo.
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.
Telephone number: (02) 575 4319.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1645 hrs.
E£20, E£40 (Mummies’ Hall).
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.
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,
Opening hours: Daily 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
(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,
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.
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,
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk
Admission: E£6 for the mosque
and baksheesh for the minarets.
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.
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: E£6 for each complex.
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,
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1600
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.
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am
to 5.00 pm (October to May), 8.00 am to 6.00 pm (June to September).
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,
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am
to 5.00 pm, closed Friday during midday prayer (11.00 am to 1.00
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
Opening hours: Daily from 8.00
am to 6.00 pm.
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,
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.
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.
Opening hours: Daily from 8.00
am to 5.00 pm (until 6.00 pm in the summer).
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
Opening hours: Daily 8.00 am
to 12.00 am.
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.
Opening hours: Daily 24 hours.
Admission: Free; E£6 (Mosque of Qaitbey).