Top Places to Visit in Cairo
1) Pyramids of Giza
Constructed some 4,500 years ago, The Giza Pyramids were built under Pharaoh Khufu's instruction as a tomb for the Egyptian pharaohs' bodies in preparation for their afterlife as gods. The Great Pyramid is the largest in Giza and contains an estimated 2,3 million stone blocks. The Sphinx limestone monument, a cross between a lion and a pharaoh, was seen as a guard for the tomb complex.
2) Khan El-Khalili Bazaar
Khan El-Khalili is Cairo's most famous 'souk'. Dating back to 1382 and located in Cairo's old Islamic district. Unlike a lot of the other souks I've visited in other countries (e.g. Morocco or UAE), I've never visited a souk on such a large scale and as energetic as this one. And just like all souks which gradually develop into a tourist destination, be prepared for the almost inevitable, incessant harassment from overly-keen shopkeepers. You can find souvenirs, spices, perfumes, jewellery, traditional lamps, textiles and clothing etc here.
3) Downtown Cairo
Downtown Cairo is not your average 'downtown' city area. The intensity of the city is an assault on all your 5-6 senses, it's hard to not feel overwhelmed by it all. I don't think I have experienced such a chaotic orchestration of architecture, traffic, infrastructure and human interaction simultaneously and in your face - and I mean it in the most perfect way. Cairo is an incredibly beautiful melting pot between old and new. These are some of the (iconic) sights you should not miss out:
- Tahir Square
- Egyptian Museum
- The Citadel
- Nile River
Heliopolis is one of the most ancient cities in Egypt, with beautifully crumbling buildings and an abundance of cafes and shops. The neglected, soon-to-be-demolished tram track also brings nostalgic vibes to this part of town. The El-Korba district is probably the main highlight of the Heliopolis neighbourhood. Founded early last century by a Belgian baron, the architecture combines both Islamic and Art-Deco architectural styles - a definite must-go for anyone interested in architecture! If you plan to visit, I would spend a few hours walking around El Korba's marketplaces and shops.
4) Zaton ('Zah-tun') market
Considered as one of the more rural parts of Cairo, the Zaton neighbourhood can be found a stone's throw away from Heliopolis. Visiting this part of town definitely gave me a better perspective of local life in smaller communities in Cairo, although it's also not the safest place to visit. It was difficult to take photos in this area because the people living in Zaton were adverse to having their picture taken, believing in superstition about how the camera can "take away someone's soul". I definitely felt like an unwelcomed guest as I walked through this conservative part of town. At the same time, I kind of understood that I was intruding their privacy by stepping into a conservative and exclusive bubble where not many locals, let alone foreigners, usually tread on.
5) Al-Azhar Park
Al-Azhar is one of the most unreal city parks I've ever seen, like from a computer game. This park with its beautifully manicured grass and world-class landscaping is situated on slightly higher ground in the middle of the city which grants its visitors an epic bird's eye view of the endless Cairo cityscape, plus the dramatic, towering grand Mosque of Muhammad Ali in the distance.
In a hectic and chaotic city with unceasing traffic and chatter such as Cairo, Al-Azhar is seriously a much needed space for its locals to find respite and solace.
6) Cairo Festival City Mall
For all your shopping needs and more, Cairo Festival City Mall is an excessively HUGE shopping establishment where you can probably find anything you want. The mall is complete with a huge water fountain display in its outdoor courtyard, and also has an outdoor bazaar selling handmade goods.
Top Places to Eat in Cairo
1) Naguib Mahfouz Cafe
Khan al-Khalili, 5 al-Badestan La., Cairo, Cairo, Egypt
Naguib Mahfouz Cafe was named after an Egyptian writer who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. The cafe is one of the most memorable dining places I visited in Egypt - a rustic hidden gem behind a set of closed doors in one of the many marketplaces in the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar. The local crowd that gathers here for food, drink and live music are also from a noticeable wealthier class. The interiors are a modern-take on Arabic design, and the waiters here are all clad in traditional uniforms and wear a red, tassled, felt cap (also known as 'Fez').
We came here for drinks and shisha for a quick break away from the hustle and bustle from the Khan Al-Khalili market. I also had a delicious traditional Egyptian hot milky drink (with chopped almonds, raisins and date syrup was it?!) but unfortunately I can't remember what it was called. The sudden transition from the casual market streets into a clean and relatively posh venue, the intoxication from the shisha and the traditional Egyptian music coming from the live band made us feel like we were being transported into a whole other universe!
2) Andreas Mariouteya
New Giza Rd, Giza 11511, Egypt
I was taken here by Adam's cousin who swears by Andreas serving the best oven-roasted chicken in Egypt! First of all, we liked the casual and modern alfresco dining area. We ordered a few whole chickens to share, along with little dishes of cold mezze, including my favourite Warak Inab (stuffed grape vine leaves). For me, the highlight was the homemade oven-baked bread baked by a few middle-aged ladies who literally roll the dough from scratch, and watch over the baking process of the bread in the oven.
3) Abou Tarek
26 El-Shaikh Marouf, Marouf, Qasr an Nile, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
A traditional Egyptian dish, Koshari is made of lentils, rice, macaroni, chickpeas, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, oil and vinegar.
Abou Tarek is the most famous restaurant serving these little boxes of Koshari, where you will see both locals and tourists eating here.
4) Alain Le Notre
Alain Le Notre serves Arabic/ Mediterranean cuisine, and this was definitely one of the more expensive (but still affordable if you compare it to London prices) meals that we had in Cairo. I was intially quite disappointed when I heard that it wasn't 'Mango Season' when I visited Egypt. Egyptian Mangoes are said to be the pride and joy of the country as far as fruit is concerned. Bigger restaurants, though, are capable of freezing their fruit so you can enjoy juices whatever the season. We went for the fresh Guava and Mango juice - absolutely divine! We also ordered Adam's favourite Molokhia - a thick and watery leafy green soup which is unique to Egyptian cuisine.
126 Al Azhar Street
Faharat is most well known for its famous stuffed baby pigeon, Although I didn't order it, most of the people dining at Farahat (99.9% locals) were ordering it - so it must be good?? Other than that, this restaurant serves traditional Egyptian cuisine - mostly spiced meats and sausages and freshly stone baked Mahlab bread and Flatbreads, accompanied by delicious cold mezze like hummus and roasted eggplant matbucha. The menu is entirely in Arabic (that's how authentic it is), so unless you can read and speak Arabic, you might need help from a stranger or a local friend.