Welcome back to the second part of my Cairo blog! I will be sharing with you all the amazing places to explore and visit in Cairo. Home to one of the oldest and most influential civilizations on the planet, Cairo is a treasure trove of history and culture with so much to see and explore.
Whilst exploring Cairo you can see the various different times in its history from the Ancient Egyptians, to the Romans and then Ottoman Egypt. The streets and architecture of Cairo are such a varied mix reflecting the different dynasties that have ruled.
There are a number of different neighborhoods in Cairo including Downtown, Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo. Downtown is home to the Egyptian Museum and modern political landmarks like Tahrir Square. Islamic Cairo represents the part of the city built by its Fatimid founders. It is a maze of mosques, souks, and beautiful Islamic monuments. The oldest neighborhood is Coptic Cairo, the site of the Roman settlement of Babylon. There is also the more affluent Heliopolis and the island of Zamalek which are both known for their restaurants and upmarket hotels.
Things to do and see: Of course, the most iconic site in Cairo are the pyramids of Giza. There are actually lots of pyramids around Cairo and Egypt, but the most famous are those within the complex in Giza. Giza is about a half an hour drive from Cairo. There are a number of local sightseeing companies who will arrange visits to Giza or you can just jump in a taxi. Once you are in Giza you can explore the pyramids, visit the sphynx or go on a camel ride. I personally did not visit the pyramids, but I have heard it is very busy there and there are lots of people selling tours and experiences.
I did want to mention that there are some differences in opinion in Islam regarding visiting the pyramids. From my own personal research into the matter, I decided not to visit. I visited Cairo with a large group of people, some within the group choose to visit the pyramids and some others choose not to. I know this isn’t going to be a popular opinion but I would recommend researching the permissibility before visiting and then deciding accordingly. I personally felt there was so much to see in Cairo that not visiting the pyramids did not really make any difference to my trip or experience.
One of my favorite places to visit in Cairo was The Citadel. The Citadel is a medieval Islamic-era fortification built by Salahadin in 1176 and then further developed by subsequent Egyptian rulers. It was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years. It is located on a hill in the middle of the city, strategically placed to offer views of the city below. Within the walls are Masjids and museums of the different rulers. The Citadel is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is easy to travel to via taxi and costs 100 Egyptian pounds to enter and takes a good few hours to explore.
Another historic site in Cairo is The Qalawun complex , built by Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun in 1285. It includes a hospital, a madrasa and mausoleum. It is widely regarded as one of the major monuments of Islamic Cairo and of Mamluk architecture, notable for the size and scope of its charitable operations, as well as for the richness and beauty of its architecture. The design and architecture of Qalawun Complex is really stunning and costs 100 EGP to visit.
Cairo is home to some absolutely beautiful Masjids, some new and modern and some very old and historic. The Majids in Cairo are numerous and spread out all across the city, giving the city the title of “the City of a Thousand Minarets”. There are a few special Masjids I wanted to mention in this post. The first is Masjid Amr ibn al-As. It is said to be the first Masjid ever built in Egypt and the whole of Africa. It dates back to 641–642 AD.
Another beautiful Masjid is the The Muhammad Ali Masjid, which is found within the walls of the Citadel. Opposite the Citadel is Al-Rifa’i Mosque and the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan.
Then, of course, there is the famous Al Azhar Masjid located in the middle of the city and where we choose to pray the Friday Jummah prayer. It is a very popular Masjid with locals for Jummah so I would recommend getting there early.
Although Cairo is now a majority Muslim country it is home to a small Christian and Jewish population. In the city you will find historic significant sites for both Christians and Jews. This includes one of the oldest churches in Egypt called the Hanging Church and also the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
There are lots of museums in Cairo, with the most popular museum being the Egyptian Museum which is home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Tickets costs 60 EGP, with additional costs to have a guided tour or visit the mummy room. I would recommend getting a guided tour in order to learn and explore the details and significance of the artifacts as there isn’t much information around the museum. In the mummy room, you can see the body of Pharoh said to be from the story of Musa or Moses.
Another popular museum is the Museum of Islamic Art with an exceptional collection of rare artifacts from all over the Islamic world.
Al-Azhar Park is a public park in Cairo with gardens, fountains. It is very popular with local families, especially on the weekends. Parts of the park are hilly and offer views of the city sprawled out below. The park was developed on what used to be a rubbish dump for the city. The park now provides a lush, green space for the city that houses play areas, cafes and the historic Ayyubid wall.
Another great view point in Cairo is the Cairo Tower. The Cairo Tower is a free-standing concrete tower. At 187 m, it has been the tallest structure in Egypt and North Africa for about 50 years. The tower costs 60 EGP for adults and is free for children. A lift takes you to the top of the tower, where you can enjoy 360-degree views of Cairo.
Cairo is a shopper’s paradise, and there are a tons of different souks and bazaars to explore. The most famous is Khan el-Khalili, the biggest bazaar in the center of historic Cairo. The bazaar is said to date back to 1382 and is located close to Al Azhar Masjid. The bazaar district is one of Cairo’s main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike and sells all kinds of trinkets, souvenirs and antiques.
The new, modern districts on the outskirts of Cairo are home to modern malls with restaurants and well-known stores including Cairo Festival City Mall.
Cairo sits on the Nile River, the world’s longest river. I would highly recommend going for a walk along the Nile, both during the day and in the evening. Along the Nile you will find boats and floating restaurants to enjoy.
Due to it’s location, Cairo also offers the chance to take a short drive to one of the nearby beach resorts. Cairo is located about an hour and a half drive from the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. We hired a local driver to take us to Cairo’s nearest beach town called, Ain Sukhna. Ain Sukhna is home to a string of holiday resorts and private villas, stretching about 60km along the Gulf of Suez.
We visited the Tulip Elite Residence & Aqua Park for the day. The day pass cost £20 and allows you to use the beach, pool and water play area. You can also use the changing room and shower. There is a cafe and restaurant where you can order food to the beach or poolside. There are also opportunities to go fishing or jet skiing.
You can also visit other cities and towns near Cairo including Alexandria or Luxor.
Final Thoughts: Cairo can be an overwhelming place, but with so much history and culture it is such a fascinating place with so much to offer visitors. Whether you stay in Cairo for a few days or a few weeks there is so much to see and explore.