In March of 2023, my wife and I decided to embark on our long-awaited journey through Egypt, and spent the first three days in Cairo.
This page is dedicated to our experiences in Cairo, the capital of Egypt.
Like most Middle Eastern cities, Cairo is a beautiful mix of old and new. It is possible to find an ultra-modern hotel next to an old building on the same street.
It is also a mix of people and religions, and this is most obvious in the old city, with historic mosques, churches, bazaars, and citadels.
Everywhere you go, too many people are roaming the streets, shopping, going about their daily lives, and driving.
No one seems to follow traffic laws - they are more like suggestions than laws.
Despite this organized chaos, life seems to run smoothly, people are generally friendly and helpful, and visitors should expect a great experience.
Important Warning: Don't drive in Cairo. The locals know how to navigate the nightmarish traffic, but it would be a challenge to visitors. Taxis are available everywhere, but Uber and Lyft are not.
Everyone speaks English and many other languages. If you look like a tourist, expect vendors, beggars, and tour guides to address you in your language. Of course, most of them only know a few words needed for their trade. I was addressed in Italian, German, and English in one market.
Interesting Facts: The longest river in the world, the Nile, runs through Cairo.
Tourist attractions are generally traffic-controlled with a barricade. Expect to be stopped and asked a few questions. If you are with a tour guide, they will interact with the police.
Tip: You will encounter many beggars in crowded areas – some are small children. If you want to help, have small currency denominations (5 Pound notes = $1.5) in your pocket to quickly hand out.
Our guide met us at the airport, arranged for transportation, and provided detailed and informed narratives about the sites we visited. They were also well-versed in English.
I am thrilled with both tour companies and will definitely use them for future travel.
Western-style, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants are found in all major cities, but I advise you to try traditional Egyptian and Middle-Eastern cuisine. Ask your guide to arrange for an authentic culinary experience.
The currency conversion rate is very favorable for Western travelers. One dollar will get you 31 pounds, and a Euro will get you 33 pounds. The locals call their currency "Geneh".
A filling bowl of Koshari (a local traditional dish) will cost 35 pounds, around 1 dollar. A gourmet Moroccan dinner for two with a Nile view is 1860 pounds, around $60.
Where to stay
The service was excellent, and the room was spacious and comfortable.
Breakfast was included, so we started every day with a trip to the buffet line. They had a large variety of dishes and an omelet station.
Although we were promised wifi, it was non-existent. So, if you are here for a business trip and need wifi, find an alternative.
Interesting Facts: From all of the ancient seven wonders of the world, namely the Statue of Zeus at Olympia in Greece, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, only the Great Pyramid of Giza still existsnear Cairo.
There are plenty of other accommodation options in Cairo. If you want a luxurious stay, try St. Regis Cairo or Four Seasons Hotel Cairo on the Nile – both with amazing views.
Another good choice is Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah, which is also on the Nile and has several great restaurants. We enjoyed a delicious Moroccan dinner right on the Nile with a beautiful view of the Cairo skyline, sailboats, and a fountain.
If you are going with a tour company, let them suggest the best accommodation. They know your budget and the best places for tourists.
Do you prefer to be close to the Pyramids? Many hotels and resorts are a few steps away from the Pyramids.
One of my favorites is the Hayat Pyramids View Hotel, with a great view of the Pyramids from rooms and restaurants. They can also arrange for tours of the Pyramids and Saqqara.
What to see and do
Of course, we were anxious to visit the great Pyramids and Saqqara in Giza, but first, we had to explore Cairo, its history, and its people.
Walking around town
Cairo is a bustling city with cars and pedestrians intermixing and creating what I like to call organized chaos. So it isn't easy to figure out the best walking places. Do your research and ask your tour guides for advice.
I always wanted to walk along the Nile. On our first day in Cairo, we took off from our hotel on foot, headed towards a traffic circle called Majdan al-Dzala (or El-Galaa Square), over the Glalaa bridge, and into Zamalek island.
This island is located in the Nile River between downtown Cairo and Giza and is characterized by upscale hotels, restaurants, embassies, plush homes, and pleasant gardens.
Important note: Avoid taking pictures around embassies and government buildings.
The island also has excellent photo opportunities around famous landmarks like the Cairo Tower, the 26th of July Street, the bridges, the opera house, and the All Saints' Cathedral.
Interesting Facts: Cairo hosts many unique & vibrant festivals throughout the year. Festivals like Cairo Bites, where visitors can taste national and international cuisine, the Cairo jazz festival, the Fashion Festival of Cairo, the International Film Festival, and others.
It is possible to circumnavigate the whole island by walking along the Nile. Check this trail guide for more information.
For a shorter walk, turn left on Um Kalsom Street after you cross the Glalaa Bridge and keep going on Um Kalsom.
Keep going until you reach the Golden Flamenco Hotel. You can then turn back or keep going to follow the full-circle trail.
Along this route, you will have great views of the Nile on your left and several landmarks on your right.
Looking for more great walks? See this guide.
Old Cairo is a historic area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area includes the site of a Roman-era fortress, the Christian settlement of Coptic Cairo, and the Muslim-era settlements pre-dating the founding of Cairo proper in AD 969.
Walking around this old town, you cross generations of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history.
We began walking from the Mary Gerges Street metro station with St. George Shrine on the right and the old Cairo Bazaar on the left.
After a short walk, we turned into a narrow alley full of street vendors and small shops that led us to the Hanging Church.
We had to climb 29 stairs to get to the entrance. A glass floor shows how high the church is above ground – around 6 feet.
We then visited St George's church, the Greek cemetery, and the Greek seminary.
Interesting Fact: There is a beautiful Virgin Mary portrait in the cave. Walk around it while gazing at her eyes. It will seem that the Virgin's gaze is following you.
It is widely believed in Egypt that Joseph, Mary, and newborn Jesus were hidden in this cave for three years to save the Divine Infant from the massacre of the innocents ordered by Herod.
Lunch was at Tajoury Oriental Restaurant, close to Old Cairo, where we enjoyed more traditional Egyptian dishes. We tried the Lamb Tagin and Fatteh and finished with Kenafeh for dessert. The restaurant also has a nice view of the Nile.
There is still a lot to see in Cairo and its suburbs. You must visit places like the Egyptian Museum, Saladin Citadel, Mohammed Ali Mosque, and Khan El-Khalili Bazaar and take a Nile Cruise on a Falawka.
Falawaka Cruise on the Nile
Cruise the Nile on one of those small sailboats and enjoy the Cairo Skyline, fountains, and party boats passing by.
Our cruise started from Garden City Marina next to the Four Seasons Hotel at Nile Plaza. Our timing was perfect as the sun began to set and the city lights ignited.
Our captain spent 90 minutes going up and down the Nile, pointing out the famous landmarks.
Before the cruise, we stopped at the popular Abu Tarek restaurant for the traditional Koshari dish with a classic rice pudding dessert.
Interesting Fact: Koshari is made out of rice, lentils, elbow pasta, chickpeas, and grilled onions and is served with tomato sauce and hot sauce.
After the Falawka, we stopped for a cup of sugar cane juice. Sugar cane is a major Egyptian crop; special presses make it a deliciously sweet drink.
On our second day in Cairo, and after we enjoyed a busy day in Giza, we stopped for dinner at La Palmeraie Moroccan Restaurant inside the Sofitel Hotel on a terrace overlooking the Nile.
Important Note: Credit and Debit cards are accepted everywhere, but almost no one accepts American Express.
We enjoyed the view and tasted their lamb with dried fruit and chicken with potatoes tagine. The service was exemplary, and the prices were reasonable.
The Egyptian Museum
The museum houses over 120,000 items, with a representative amount on display.
Interesting Facts: The museum resides in the infamous Tahrir Square – the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution. During the chaos it was broken into, and two mummies were destroyed.
The building was built in 1901 and is the largest museum in Africa. A newer Grand Egyptian Museum is built in Giza and is expected to open in late 2023.
Among its masterpieces are Pharaoh Tutankhamun's treasure, including its iconic gold burial mask, widely considered one of the best-known works of art in the world and a prominent symbol of ancient Egypt.
The museum has two main floors: the ground and the first.
On the ground floor is an extensive collection of large-scale works in stone, including statues, reliefs, and architectural elements.
These are arranged chronologically clockwise, from the pre-dynastic to the Greco-Roman period.
Tip: The museum is very popular and can get very crowded, so try to go in the afternoon. It is open on Thursday evenings from 5-9 pm, which is the best time due to fewer crowds.
Also, on the first floor are artifacts from the final two dynasties of Egypt, including items from the tombs of the Pharaohs Thutmosis III and Thutmosis IV, as well as many artifacts from the Valley of the Kings.
In the garden adjacent to the museum building is a memorial to famous Egyptologists of the world. It features a monument to Auguste Mariette, surrounded by 24 busts of other Egyptologists.
The gift shop is a great place to stock up on some souvenirs and books, and the café next door is a good place to relax and enjoy drinks and snacks after a long journey through time.
Our visit to the museum was educational and entertaining, but the crows put a damper on our enjoyment. I think the museum administration needs to enact a reservation system and limit the number of people visiting simultaneously.
Its location on a high promontory overlooking Cairo gives it a strategic position used by many rulers and armies throughout history.
It was among the most impressive and ambitious military fortification projects of its time when it was constructed. It is now a preserved UNESCO historic site with mosques and museums.
Interesting fact: Cairo has only two main seasons across the year. There are roughly eight months of summer and four months of winter.
In the first half of the 19th century, Muhammad Ali Pasha demolished many of the older buildings and built new palaces and monuments, and spectacular mosques throughout the site, giving it much of its present form.
Today, the Citadel complex is open to the public and offers a unique journey through Egypt's history and a commanding view of Cairo and the Pyramids beyond.
Mosque of Muhammad Ali
He was considered the founder of modern Egypt, and at the height of his rule, he controlled all of Egypt, Sudan, Hejaz, and the Levant. Read about Mohamed Ali Pasha here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali_Pasha
During his rule, he demolished some old Mamluk buildings to make room for his grand mosque, built in the Ottoman (Turkish) architectural style.
He died before finishing the project, so his sons completed it in his honor.
Tip: To preserve the mosque's floor and out of respect, wear a provided plastic cover over your shoes before entering. Removing your shoes is no longer required.
Under the domes, many chandeliers and circular light structures illuminated the grand hall and the stained glass windows. Some windows had beautifully crafted wood frames.
A shrine for Mohamel Ali sits in the corner of the mosque.
Like many Middle Ages mosques, it has a large courtyard with a place for cleansing before prayer. It is reminiscent of the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.
Papyrus factory and museum
During our tour of old Cairo, our guide suggested we visit the Old Cairo Papyrus Museum to learn how ancient Egyptians created and inscribed paper. You can watch a demo here.
The staff greeted us and started with a demo of how papyrus was turned into paper by the ancient Egyptians.
We then admired the extensive collection of completed artwork that included many styles. My favorites were the pharaonic styles.
Tip: Be warned; haggling about the price is expected, so don't hesitate to start low and negotiate your way to a reasonable price.
Khan El-Khalili bazaar
The bazaar (souq) was established as a trade center in the Mamluk era. Nowadays, this shopping district has become one of Cairo's main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike.
Interesting Fact: You will notice many unfinished buildings as you explore the city. That is because owners don't have to pay taxes on incomplete buildings. The parliament is considering changes to those tax laws.
The place is overcrowded, and expect to be accosted by roaming vendors trying to sell you their wear.
I applaud their entrepreneurship in finding ways to make a living, but sometimes it becomes too annoying.
Even though we entered the souq intending only to observe, we bought several souvenirs, including handmade carpets.
Several cafes and restaurants are located at the main entrance of the bazaar, and a beautiful mosque occupies one corner.