Cairo is the capital of Egypt, and one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East with a population of over 16 million. Best known for its history, various tourist sites can be found amongst the districts of the now sprawling city. To help you better plan your trip, we’ve outlined a few of them below!
Islamic Cairo is not more or less Islamic than the rest of the city, but it’s the area of the city which holds the most, the greatest and the most famous Islamic monuments. A huge, bustling center of worship, trade, shopping and commuting – it’s a must-see for any visitors and deserves at least a couple of days exploring. Attractions include: The Citadel, Khan El Khalili, Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque, Al Azhar, Sultan Hassan Mosque, and the Gayer-Anderson Museum.
Downtown Cairo is the commercial heart of the modern city of Cairo. Although lacking in obvious tourist “attractions”, Downtown is nonetheless the convenient location of many smaller hotels, retail outlets, travel agencies and restaurants that would be of interest to the traveler. The district’s central location makes it, together with Midan Tahrir, a natural “jumping off point” for exploration of the city. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities for a look at hundreds of thousands of priceless Egyptian artifacts – including the Royal Mummies.
The Old City (Coptic Cairo)
Old Cairo is the home of Cairo’s Coptic Christian community. The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its founding to Saint Mark the Apostle in 42 AD, and is thus arguably the world’s oldest Christian denomination. While the majority of Egyptians converted to Islam in the 12th century, the Church has survived through centuries of persecution, not only from hostile Muslim rulers such as the Fatimids, but also at the hands of the Crusaders, who viewed the Coptics as heretics. Today, Egypt has some 12 million Copts, but the narrow alleyways of Old Cairo still have the feel of an island set apart from the rest of the city. Visit The Roman Fortress of Babylon, Ben Ezra Synagogue, Saints Serguis and Bacchus Church and the Coptic Museum for a look into Cairo’s intriguing past.
Of course, no trip to Cairo is complete without a visit to the Pyramids. The Pyramids of Giza are a short drive west of the heart of Cairo, with the Step Pyramid of Djoser on the Saqqara Necropolis, or the Bent Pyramid at Dhashur just 30 km outside of the bustling city.
Cairo is home to a modern metro system, which is fairly good at getting you where you need to go – especially when you consider that departures are frequent and a ticket costs just 1 LE. Trains run from 0600 until just after midnight. Don’t be put off when trying to get to the ticket window to purchase a ticket. Egyptians do not understand the concept of queuing, so be prepared to assertively navigate your way through the crowed to the ticket booth.
The city also has two different buses with extensive routes that also provide an affordable means of transport around Cairo. The large red, white and blue public buses cover the entire city and are much cheaper, but are usually crowded. However, there are the similar air-conditioned buses that charge 2 LE for the trip and prohibit standing on the bus. They can be found in the main squares in Cairo. Also found in main squares are the smaller mini-buses that are usually orange and white or red, white and blue. Because of problems with sexual harassment women travelers are advised only to take the small micro-buses and buses which prohibit standing.
Taxis are a convenient means of transportation and are readily available in Cairo. However, the meter is not normally used (any Cairene knows how much the driver expects depending on time and distance spent in the car) and communication can be an issue. As a tourist, you may prefer to state a price before getting into the cab. This may prevent rip-offs but know that by doing so you may need to quite a price slightly higher than the local rate to get a quick nod. In addition, it’s best to ensure you have the exact amount for the fare when using a taxi, as taxi drivers tend to dislike giving change.
Sample taxi prices
- Short trips within one area – LE5
- Downtown to Midan Hussein – LE7
- Downtown to Pyramids – LE25
- Downtown or Zamalek to Airport – LE40
Never continue traveling in any vehicle which you deem to be unsafe or the driver to be driving recklessly, specially in the dark on unlit roads, or in single track highways where overtaking is dangerous. If you fell unsafe simply tell the driver to slow down, if he does not do this immediately ask him to stop and simply get out and walk away.
You can walk around the main streets anytime you feel like roaming. It’s fairly safe and you will always find lots of people around smiling and offering to help. The biggest danger you’ll likely face in Cairo is trying to cross the street – traffic lights are generally disregarded, so pay extra attention and cross when there is a small break in traffic.
Women alone can expect to be the target of an excessive amount of catcalling, but it rarely, if ever, goes beyond that. You should bear in mind that around the more touristy locations there is an abundance of ‘helpful’ people, but be careful who you go with and under no circumstance let anyone push or guide you anywhere you don’t want to go! If you get lost look for the security and police officers. Many speak a little English, and most know their local area very well, as well as the tourist spots.
Additional Tips for Travelers
When traveling to Egypt, it’s best for both men and women to wear modest clothing. With the exception of beaches or hotels, it is considered disrespectful to walk around with bare knees, shoulders, backs or cleavage showing and will likely make you a victim of unwanted attention and stares.
Don’t walk into a mosque with shoes on, and avoid walking in front of persons in prayer. It is however quite acceptable for visitors or Christian Egyptians , to carry on as normal in the streets or shops during the prayer time.
Student Travelers – bring your student card! Cairo generally cuts admission costs to historical sites (including the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum) by 50% for students with valid student ID.
As with elsewhere in Egypt, be careful with what you eat and drink in Cairo to avoid an upset stomach. Drink only bottled water (say ‘no thanks’ to ice in drinks) and avoid eating raw leafy vegetables, egg-based dressings or minced meat.