"The Nile does not change. Indeed I know of no place where everything changes as much as it does here and nothing is ever changed... you feel quite at home."
Henry Adams describing Cairo, 1898
Cairo the capital of Egypt is also the 13th largest city in the world. Situated on the River Nile, Cairo is famous for its own history - preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and in Old Cairo - and for the ancient, Pharonic history of the country it represents.
By day, modish visitors can lose themselves amongst the 120,000 relics of the Egyptian Museum, or spend time shopping - either for jeweler and leather goods at Khan El Khalili, one of the oldest souks in the world and the busiest in the Middle East, or for high end fashion from international designers at First Residence Mall, Cairo's most exclusive shopping mall.
A sunrise horse-back ride to the Great Pyramids at Giza gives added "cool" to a visit to this mind-blowing attraction and Cairo's stunning skyline provides a great backdrop for a game of golf at one of the city's luxurious golf courses, such as Katameya Heights Golf Resort.
Its charm lies in the blend of African, Arab and European influences, the timelessness of the old, and the energy of the present. Modern Cairo has a history as old as time. Mosques, churches and museums compete for attention with shisha pipes, a pulsating nightlife and belly dancers. Cairo is all worlds in one- it is ancient and modern; fast and slow with nightlife like nowhere else on earth. It is truly a city that never sleeps!!
Top 10 to do in Cairo:
1.) The Egyptian Museum – In excess of 100,000 antiquities are to be found in the Egyptian Museum. As there is so much to see you need to pace yourself and possibly spend a couple of days here. However the one exhibit that you must see is that of Tutankhamun, the boy pharaoh’s treasures, including his solid-gold death mask is a sight to behold.
2.) Islamic-Cairo should definitely be on your list of things to do. Hardly different from hundreds of years ago, the streets twist and turn until you feel you’ve stumbled into some giant maze, but take your time and admire the architecture telling tales of times past. If you plan on visiting any of the mosques (and you should!) please dress appropriately and show the expected respect. Remove your shoes before entering prayer halls, and take note that most are closed to the public during actual prayer times.
3.) Khan Ali-Kalili is Cairo’s biggest open air market. Virtually unchanged since the 14th century some of the people here have been in the Khan Market business for generations. Located in the heart of Islamic-Cairo, tourists amble through rows and rows of exotic jewelry, spices, perfumes and souvenirs. Be sure you’ve honed your haggling skills and put them to good use here, no price is ever fixed!
4.) From here, head north up the side of the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, one of the most sacred Islamic sites in Egypt, toward the old northern gates for more sites of historical note. Directly South of the market you’ll find a busy market street running down to the gate of Bab Zuweila, the sole surviving gate from the old city's southern wall dating back centuries.
5.) You must not miss the Citadel in Cairo. This massive stone fortress was built by Salah ad-Din in the 12th century. It was later crowned with the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. It now offers amazing views of the city and in the distance, if the haze has lifted, even the pyramids. The Citadel continues to serve as a historical monument to Egypt’s tumultuous past.
6.) The Pyramids, These are the most well known of the ancient Egyptian pyramids. They are the only survivors of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. While during the day they are impressive, the evening Sound and Light show are even more spectacular. Lit up with brightly colored spot lights and ambient music, it brings a new life and meaning to the ancient structures.
7.) Along with the Pyramids, the Sphinx is one of the most renowned monuments in Egypt. While admittedly very touristy, the Sphinx (minus beard and nose) still guards the Giza Plateau with dignity and allure.
8.) For lunch or dinner stop by Felfela which serves local traditional cuisine infused with Middle Eastern and African tastes, textures and methods of preparation. Vegetarian and other lifestyle diets are well accommodated for, and the menu is extensive with its options.
9.) If you’re able to go during the month of November, Cairo hosts the Arab Music Festival which features some of the best Middle Eastern-influenced musical concoctions.
10.) If you’re seeking shelter from the bustle of the city streets, head to Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo established exclusively as a garden reserve in the midst of desert and city life. Arrive there around dusk and watch as the sun sets to a deep pink/purple and take a stroll past Baron Empain’s, the Baron’s Palace which is notoriously modeled on the temples in Cambodia.
Christian Cairo | Top
This area is the oldest part of Cairo, and predates what is now modern Cairo. It is believed that there was a settlement here as early as the 6th century BC. Later, the Romans built a fortress here which we know today as "Babylon". Some of these Roman walls still exist today.
After the spread of Christianity throughout Egypt, it became a Christian stronghold, with as many as twenty churches built within an area of just one square mile. Now only five remain, along with the earliest mosque ever built in Egypt. After the fall of Jerusalem in around 70 AD, the area saw an influx of Jews, and its here where Egypt's oldest synagogue, Ben Ezra is located.
The Hanging Church (al-Mu'allaqa)
Originating in the 4th century, the Hanging Church was built over the southern Gate of the Fortress of Babylon. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, its treasures include a 14th-century wall-painting of the Nativity.
Church of St. Sergius and St.Bacchus
A 5th-century basilica, built over a crypt where the Holy Family are believed to have stayed during their flight into Egypt.
Church of St. Mercurius (Abu Sefein)
A unique collection of Coptic art including 175
icons representing scenes from the Old and New Testaments, wall paintings and stained glass.
The Convent of St.George(Mari Girgis)
In the oldest part of Cairo, the chapel is reached through a Fatimid hallway and contains the relics of St.George in a cedarwood casket.
The Coptic Museum
The finest collection of Coptic art and antiquities in the world, including illuminated manuscripts, icons and textiles.
Islamic Cairo | Top
The Citadel of Salah al-Din
Built between 1176 and 1182 AD, the Citadel fortress provides a panoramic view of Cairo from the Moqattam Hills."... the living world spread out close beneath one's feet..." The Citadel complex includes the Alabaster Mosque.
The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
A masterpiece of Mamluke architecture it includes bronze doors inlaid with gold and silver, marble panelling, and a fountain that used to run with sherbet on special occasions.
The first Fatimid mosque and the oldest Islamic University in the world, founded in 970 AD.
The Blue Mosque (Mosque of Aqsunqur)
Famous for the indigo and turquoise tiles that decorate the interior.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Built between 876 and 879 AD in the classical courtyard style this is one of Africa's oldest, intact mosque, still in use today. Next door is the Gayer Anderson House, the Ottoman-style residence of an eccentric British major restored and furnished in period style and filled with his collection of Islamic art.
The Islamic Museum
Includes works of art from all over the Islamic world, ranging
from large architectural pieces rescued from mosques to ceramics,
manuscripts and tapestries.