Meaning “the victorious city,” Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in Africa, populated by more than 18 million people. Filling both banks of the Nile River in the north of the country, Cairo has been home to numerous Egyptian civilisations as far back as 6,000 years and is only a short distance from the world-famous pyramids of Giza. Known locally as “Misr,” the Arabic word for Egypt, the city is central to Egyptian life and is home to a fascinating mix of old-world tradition and modern technology.
1. Felucca Ride on the Nile
One of the best ways to experience the river that has nourished Egypt’s population since its inception is by sailing on a felucca. The flat-bottomed felucca is an ancient Egyptian traditional sailing boat, and its billowing white sails can be seen smoothly gliding along river all over the city.
2. Pyramids and the Sphinx
No trip to Cairo would be complete without a visit to nearby Giza to gawk at its giant ancient monuments. While undoubtedly crowded, they are an unforgettable sight. Remember to bring your water and some sunscreen, as there is little respite from the sun’s scorching rays in this area.
3. Egyptian Museum
The gallery of artifacts in this collection can at first seem overwhelming: not only are they historically priceless, but the sheer number of pieces can be mind-boggling! Opened in 1902, the Egyptian Museum contains 107 chronologically divided halls featuring mummies, jewels and other pieces from ancient ages. Try to find a guide that will lead you on a tour of the awe-inspiring highlights.
4. Bab Zuweila Gate
Slightly beyond one of the most sacred sites in Egypt, the Sayyidna al-Hussein Mosque, is a bustling street market full of treasures. Located within this market is the gate of Bab Zuweila, the only gate remaining from the southern wall that bordered the old city. A paradox of old and new set against each other, this gate serves as a meaningful reminder of the city’s ancient origins.
5. Khan Ali-Khalili
Cairo’s biggest open-air market, the Khan Ali-Khalili bazaar, features row upon row of souvenirs, spices, perfumes, jewelry and more. Established in the 14th century, the market plays host to vendors who have been in the business for generations. The price on the label is never fixed, so hone your bargaining skills and come explore.
A favourite for locals and travelers, the restaurant Felfela is a chain that features delicious Egyptian cuisine in a well-maintained, authentic atmosphere. Known for its friendly wait staff, expert chefs and extensive menu options, Felfela provides a memorable culinary experience for tastes that range from tame to the most adventurous of palates.
Located in the neighbourhood of Midan al-Hussein, Al-Hussein Mosque is easily one of Cairo’s most beautiful. Join slow-walking pilgrims who often circle the shrine to Hussein, chanting their daily prayers, before stepping inside to admire high vaulted ceilings, gray marble pillars and hanging chandeliers.
8. Old Cairo
Also known as Coptic Cairo, this quiet neighbourhood features two important sites: the crypt of the Holy Family under St. Sergius Church and the Nunnery of St. George. Also of particular interest in this area is the Ben Ezra Synagogue, rumoured to be the exact spot where baby Moses was hidden among the reeds in the Bible’s Old Testament. A visit to the Old Cemetery completes an afternoon of quiet reflection on this city’s diverse ethnic heritage.
9. Babylon Fort
This fort serves as the entrance to Coptic Cairo, the area settled by the very first Arab armies. Named Kheraha in ancient times, the city was eventually re-dubbed Babylon, and Persians built the fort to protect their city from invading Romans. All that remains today are the large towers that guarded the fort’s entrance, the vestiges of which are visible to the left when facing the Coptic Museum. The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George is built atop the ruins of the second tower to the right.
10. Arab Music Festival
Each November, Cairo is home to a carnival of Middle Eastern-influenced artists. Housed in the Cairo Opera House, concerts include classic, traditional and orchestral selections with Western and jazz influences.
When to Go
Cairo experiences two seasons per year: a relatively warm winter from November to April, and a scorching summer that begins in May and extends until October. Your best bet is to travel to the city between November and March to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Cairo receives very little rainfall, so no need to worry about a rainy season.