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A Travel Guide to Cairo, Egypt

Introduction, When to Go and What to See in Cairo


Sphinx and Pyramid of Chephren in Giza, Egypt
John Wang/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Visiting Cairo, Egypt's capital and Africa's largest city, can be an overwhelming experience. More than 16 million people call it home; it's chaotic, exotic, smelly, dusty, and also beautiful. This travel guide to Cairo will help you make sense of the chaos and give you information about what to see in Cairo, when to go to Cairo, how to get around Cairo, where to shop in Cairo, a guide to the Pyramids and how to get there and where to stay when you visit Cairo.

Cairo has probably never been described as dull, so in my opinion it is worth spending more than just a couple of days. There is a lot to see in Cairo. You can enjoy the numerous historic buildings of the city's many rulers - Arab, Roman, Greek, Turkish, British, French - spanning over five millennia. And of course there are the Pyramids and the Sphinx just outside Cairo, in Giza. Cairo is also a great place to shop and soak up some Islamic culture.

When to Go:

As with most destinations in Egypt, the weather really determines the best time to go because it gets very, very hot in the summer. The best time to visit Cairo is in the cooler months between November and March. For Cairo's current temperatures and annual averages click here. For a list of holidays see Egypt: Travel tips before you go.

What to See in Cairo

Old (Coptic) Cairo

Coptic Cairo (Masr al-Qadima) is the oldest part of the city, and is the original site of Roman built Babylon. This part of Cairo has been inhabited for more than 2000 years. It is the center of the Coptic Christian community and where you'll find most of Egypt's churches. Highlights include the Hanging Church which is the center of Coptic worship and the Ben Ezra synagogue, Egypt's oldest synagogue. Roman remains and old cobbled streets make this area very interesting for the historians among us. The Nile Guide has more information on the sights of Old Cairo.

Islamic (Medieval) Cairo

Worth exploring for its warren like streets and bazaars, Islamic Cairo is where you'll get to see many mosques, the Citadel and the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar (see shopping). The major mosques worth visiting include the Mosque of Mohammed Ali (named after a 19th century ruler, not the boxer). The Ibn Tulun is one of the largest mosques in the world and the Al-Azhar mosque houses the oldest university in the world (from 970AD). TourEgypt has a very detailed article about Islamic Cairo's many sights as well as an informative feature on ancient mosques. Islmaic Cairo makes my list of Top Ten Attractions in Egypt.

Egyptian Museum

If you visit Luxor you'll find most tombs are empty and what the looters didn't take home with them, ended up here at the Egyptian museum. Along with mummies, sarcophagi and many other ancient relics this museum represents Egypt's archaeological glory. The Egyptian Museum makes my list of Top Ten Attractions you should see when you visit Egypt. The objects taken from Tutankhamen's tomb should not be missed. The boy-king's death-mask made of solid gold has been described as the most beautiful object ever made. The museum is open from 9am - 5pm daily. More about the Egyptian Musuem...

City of the Dead (Qarafa)

This may not sound like the liveliest part of Cairo to visit, but this huge necropolis on the East side of Cairo is in fact home to several million Cairenes. A vast 'living cemetery' as it were makes it a fascinating place to visit. Ornate tombs have become the living quarters for many of Cairo's poor and their place of business too. .

A Falucca on the Nile

Tired of breathing exhaust fumes and getting asked to buy a carpet? Head for the peace of the Nile. You can rent a Falucca (an ancient sail boat) by the hour. Take a taxi or walk to Garden City opposite the Meridien Hotel for your launch. (More about Nile cruises ...)

Whirling Dervishes

Free performances by Sufi dancers take place at the Citadel and on Wednesday and Saturday nights at the Mausoleum of Al-Ghouri in Islamic Cairo. By all accounts these are amazing performances and will not disappoint.

Cairo Tower

A good place to enjoy a panoramic view of the city while sipping a beer in a slowly revolving restaurant. Located on Gazera Island (Zemalak) it is open from 9am-1am every day.

A Guide to Cairo

Page Two: Shopping in Cairo

Page Three: Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara

Page Four: Getting Around Cairo and Where to Stay in Cairo

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