- The capital of Egypt and the largest city in Africa, with a population of about 9.1 million.
- Founded in in 969 AD, it is located on the Nile river delta.
- It is Africa’s economic and industrial centre, as well as the headquarters for the oldest film and music industries in the Arab world.
- Nicknames: City of a Thousand Minarets, Victorious City.
- Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP)
- Spoken languages: Arabic, though English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
- Best time to visit: from September to February to make the most of the mild climate and to escape the arid summer weather. Note: March and April can be very dusty with sandstorms.
- Arriving via airport: Cairo International Airport (CAI) has an array of efficient transport option to the city centre, from the Shuttle Bus delivering to Heliopolis all the way to Haram for (fares start at LE44) to limousine service offering fixed prices (starting at LE110). CTA buses depart from Terminal 1 with fares of LE2 for Tahrir Square and a supplement of LE1 for luggage. Taxis charge LE70-90 for runs to Downtown Cairo.
WHERE TO STAY
It doesn’t get any more central or convenient than the garden district of Zamalek, an island on the Nile that connects downtown Cairo with Giza. Midan Tahrir or Tahrir Square is superbly located near major transportation terminals, interesting mosques and a swath of midrange accommodation and eating options, while Dokki is a nice upscale neighbourhood with plenty Cairenese attractions and wide boulevards.
- The Metro system in Cairo is Africa’s only service of its kind. Tickets cost just LE1 for the whole network, making it by far the cheapest method of transportation. Note: The first two cars in the Metro are reserved for women.
- CTA buses pass through every major public square, with routes stretching all the way from Downtown to the Pyramids. While they can be hailed from the street, be forewarned that they never bear signs of their destination – simply ask the driver where he’s headed. Tickets start at LE1.
- There are two types of taxis operating around the city: White taxis and black & white taxis. The former have air-conditioning and are generally better maintained (and always use the meter), while the latter are usually older models. For short distances it’s advised to take black & white taxis, as they tend to find the shortest route possible to save on their own expenses.
- Drinking age is 21, and last call is 5 AM.
- Maadi is a serene district perfect for kicking off an evening, starting with dinner and drinks at hip hang outs.
- Midan Orabi sees plenty of action at its baladi – bars which are the preferred venues for belly dancing and cabaret shows, popular among the young professional crowd. For traditional ahwas or coffeehouses, find a spot in Midan el Hussein.
- Downtown is the place to be for dancing, with After Eight taking all the honours.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Out of the 93 pyramids found in Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza are not only the most famous, but also the remaining monuments named in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
- Built in 1825, the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities has a collection of more than 120,000 artefacts in exhibit – making it the largest of its kind in the world.
- Masjid al-Sultan Hassan is considered to be among the finest stylistically in the whole of Cairo. The mosque and former madrasa were built over 3 years of non-stop work.
- Al-Qalaa is the massive citadel once home to Egypt’s rulers. Its crowning glory is the Muhammed Ali alabaster mosque, built in Ottoman style.
- The Hanging Church is the oldest in all of Cairo, built on what used to be called the Fortress of Babylon.
- Idyllic Al-Azhar Park, just off the Citadel, affords great views of the city. Check out one of its intimate cafes for a leisurely lunch, and consider getting a golf cart tour of the grounds.
- Khan El-Khalili is a truly authentic Arab souk. Spices, souvenirs, jewellery, and ceramics are expertly traded around the bazaar.
- Sharia al-Khayamiya is also known as the street of tentmakers, a covered stretch of textile workshops dating back to the Mamluk era.
- Souq al-Gamaal in Birqash is an intimate look into the camel trade: the market is swarmed by thousands of owners practicing the centuries-old custom.
- The Nile can be enjoyed in two ways: by Felucca for a cosy sailing boat experience, or by river cruise for dinner overlooking Cairo from the waters.
- Learn to say “La Shukran” like a local. It is a polite “No, thank you” that can and will come very handy.
- Women should take care not to expose their upper arms, chest and midriff area, especially when entering religious sites.
- Always remove shoes before entering a house or a religious site.
- When eating, use only the right hand, sing praise for the meal and take a second helping.
- Where to find good cheap eats: Haram is the go-to district for Egyptian cuisine minus the fuss; Downtown for budget eateries also catering European dishes, and Mohandessin for home-style cooking.
- Dangerous areas: just like any big city, Cairo has its fair share of dingy streets and louche areas. Protests and manifestations tend to turn violent, so avoid the main squares where they are held, specifically Tahrir.
RECOMMENDED CAIRO GUIDE BOOKS
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days