Photo by Ramon Perucho on Pixabay
Going to Egypt and not visit Cairo is like going to a Sushi restaurant and not eating Sushi. If you are like me and are a huge fan of Arabic movies, series, and music, then you definitely need to visit Cairo! And even if you are not like me, you have to visit this place. Egypt is truly magical and what I love the most is that throughout time some places never changed. You can still feel the authentic atmosphere in the capital of this country. Every corner of every street has a story to tell about a dynasty of many years ago.
In the Arab world, they call Egypt, ‘Um-Al Dunya’ or in English ‘Mother of the world’, because of the country’s achievements throughout history. Every place and city in Egypt is beautiful and has its own character. If you decide to travel to this country, then a visit to Cairo is an absolute must! Trust me, you will not get disappointed. The delicious food, warm people, historical sights, and the Nile are just a few of many. Therefore, discover 10 great tips for your visit to Cairo.
The Pyramids of Giza
The first thing you think of when visiting Cairo is the Pyramids of Giza. During the taxi ride to the pyramids, I encounter chaotic streets crowded with cars, people driving at high speed, food carts, and pedestrians trying to cross the roads in between the chaos.
I am surrounded by high-rise buildings, shops, restaurants, residential areas and suddenly it all disappears and I find myself in front of these giant pyramids. It just blows my mind while looking at them. I feel the hot sun touching my bones, but knowing I’m visiting one of the Seven Wonders makes me forget about everything.
The pyramids are in the middle of a desert. Taking a camel ride, in the hot sunny desert, all the way to the pyramids is the best feeling there is. I am literally feeling like Indiana Jones going to discover a treasure in one of his movies. Maybe you can see that in the picture below.
Fences protect the area around the pyramids and I have to pay at the entrance gate to enter this beautiful place. If a camel ride does not appeal to you, you can also pay for a carriage ride with horses or simply walk to the pyramids (for free).
Climbing the pyramids to the top is not permitted. This is sadly due to a history of suicides at the pyramids (as I understand from my travel guide). If the guards are in a good mood, you may be allowed to climb up a few blocks of the pyramids, just to take a picture.
I feel so small next to the pyramids and it is amazing to be here at this place! The magic continues at night because you can attend a light show and enjoy some music. So don’t forget to visit it in the dark.
Khan el-Khalili and Al-Muizz street
A visit to Khan el-Khalili in Cairo is highly recommended. It is just like the pyramids, if you haven’t seen Khan el-Khalili than you haven’t seen Cairo. It is considered to be the biggest souk (Arabic market) in the world. You will find souvenirs, water pipes, jewelry, clothing, spices, and much more while you are strolling through the narrow streets of the souk.
Even if you are not a fan of shopping, you will definitely love this unique place with its history, narrow streets, cafés, restaurants, hookah smoke, and street cats. The sellers have a special way of convincing people to enter their stores and to buy their stuff but don’t forget to bargain.
Also, Al-Muizz street is the longest street in Cairo that is located near Khan el-Khalili. It is considered one of the ancient streets with different mosques and shops. Walking in Khan el-Khalili and Al-Muizz street will make you feel like you are in the movie Aladdin.
There are a lot of products that are just for commerce, but if you look around carefully you will also find handmade products. I adore these kinds of souvenirs or gifts.
El-Fishawi: the oldest cafe in Cairo
El-Fishawi cafe is the oldest and most famous cafe in this city. It is open since the 18th century and you can find it at the Khan el-Khalili market. It first started as a gathering place for a group of friends to drink coffee and then it got expanded and more choices were added to the menu.
In the 20th century, it became a famous place for the intellectuals, writers, like the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Naguib Mahfouz. Also the legendary singer Umm Kulthum was a regular customer. I feel that the time has stood still at this place. The fruit-flavored shisha smell welcomes me when I enter the cafe. I close my eyes and imagine the voice of Umm Kulthum in between the crowd, the sound of the tea glasses on the copper tables, and the wooden chairs moving around. A moment I will never forget.
Groppi cafe: for the high class
Giacomo Groppi, who was born in Switzerland, opened Groppi, a pastry/cafe, in early 1900 in downtown Cairo. This cafe was a special meeting place for royals, politicians, and celebrities. It might not be as it was many years ago, but Groppi is one of the most famous cafes in the Arab world because of the black and white movies. Before visiting Cairo, I knew I had to go to Groppi cafe. According to the movies, this place was for the higher class. Nowadays all kinds of people come and drink some coffee or eat ice cream.
Fesikh (fish plate), hamam mahshi (pigeon stuffed with rice), and shakshouka (eggs with tomatoes and vegetables), are a few of the most famous dishes in Egypt. You don’t have to worry about the food here, because in almost every corner you will find something to eat. If you can’t find a restaurant, than for sure you will see a food cart passing by. The Egyptian cuisine is similar to Middle-Eastern cuisine. For example, kebab, shawarma, and rice stuffed vegetables can often be found in restaurants.
One of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world is the Nile River. The Nile is a source of life for the Egyptian people.
There are many sailing options. Renting a private boat, a public boat, or going out on a Nile River Cruise is a great way to experience the famous Nile River. Eating fresh fish from the river is usually included (and highly recommended).
My family and friends decide to take a small boat and have a tour over the Nile. We sail past some celebrity villas. The sailor takes us to a small island that looks like a farm somewhere far away from the busy town. We can walk around and enjoy the environment or we can go fishing on the edge of the island. Of course I want to go fishing in the famous river. This is my first time fishing and I love doing it. I’m actually good at it. I enjoy the catch, but eventually, I release all the eight fishes I have in my small bottle. We continue our journey and the sailor provides us a fresh meal on the boat. This little trip is printed in my mind forever! I can’t wait to go back to Egypt and do this all over again.
Another option is to sail the Nile River on a party boat that has belly dancers. This is a great opportunity to appreciate the art of belly dancing which is entrenched in the Egyptian culture.
The Egyptian Museum
If you are hungry for more history while visiting Cairo, then a stop at the Egyptian Museum will satisfy your appetite for history. The museum has a huge collection of Egypt’s history. The Tutankhamun’s death mask, which you can find in the museum, is one of Egypt’s most famous artifacts. You will also find the golden chest of Tutankhamun and many more art treasures.
Religious places in Cairo
A visit to the various religious sites in Cairo is a must. There are no shortages of mosques, churches, and synagogues in Cairo and Egypt overall.
For instance, the Citadel of Cairo with its different mosques, which were built by Salah Al-Din. They offer amazing views of the city. Also, the famous Hanging Church that belongs to the Coptic Orthodox is nearby. The roof of the church is in the shape of Noah’s ark. Furthermore, you will encounter beautiful Jewish synagogues in the same area.
If you had enough of the crowded markets and you are searching for brands than you can go to The First Mall at the Giza District near the Nile. You can cool off from the warm weather outside and relax at the café in the middle of the mall or visit stores like Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, a famous Arabic brand that has more than 150 years of expertise in Oud and perfumes.
There is so much more to discover in Cairo and it is easy to fill all your days, but don’t forget to visit other cities in Egypt like Luxor or Alexandria. Every single one is unique in its own way. It is easy to travel around by airplane, train, bus, or taxi. If you are interested in Alexandria then you can read my article ‘Alexandria: Like being in an Arabic movie‘ and discover more about this special city.
Extra tips while visiting Cairo
– The weather in Egypt is really hot in the summer. I love the hot weather so July and August are great for me, but I know that some people would prefer other months in the year. The best time to visit Cairo is in March, April, October, or November.
– When you arrive at the airport different men approach to help you out with your luggage. However, they don’t do this for free. So just tell them no, thank you, if you don’t want to use their services.
– The most important thing you should know when traveling to Egypt, in general, is that sellers are known for their “quick and easy talks”. They know how to “talk you/ handle tourists” into buying stuff or even convince you to participate in a tour or even take a taxi. It is best to research in advance before venturing out to explore. Do not hesitate to politely say “no”.
– It is really hard to make plans before your trip because you will definitely bump into surprises; the bus won’t drive today or the ferry is getting repaired etc. If you have a plan, you will stress and not enjoy your stay. The best thing to do is to be flexible and go with the flow.
– The sense of time in Egypt might also be different from your country. Like most Arabs, when they say 5 minutes they sometimes mean one hour. And sometimes the person you will meet won’t show up.
Extra tips: transportation
– When you exit the airport different taxi drivers will approach you to choose them. So be prepared for that.
– Taxi drivers drive really fast in Egypt. Whether the streets are empty or full, it does not affect the speed of cab drivers. So, be prepared for a roller coaster ride in taxis. Also, be prepared for a lot of traffic.
– You can travel easily by bus or train from Cairo to Alexandria or the other way around. A one-way train ticket won’t cost you more than € 10 per person. It is really cheap to travel by public transport.
– If you want to travel around the country be prepared for long journeys. Egypt is very big and the destinations might be very far away.
You can watch this short video about Cairo, to get in the mood…
Did you visit other places in Cairo? Let me know in the comments down below.