What are the best things to see and do in Cairo?

The best things to see and do in Cairo include a mix of historic landmarks, dating as far back as early Pharaonic times, and recreational spots that give you insight into the city’s daily life. Check out Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the top five can’t-miss Cairo attractions.
 
1. The Pyramids of Giza. Perched on a desert plateau on the west edge of the city, the Pharaonic tombs par excellence are the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. A visit early in the morning, before the heat sets in, is a glorious way to see these ancient icons. Don’t forget to pose for a Sphinx-kissing photo.
 
2. Egyptian Museum. Cairo’s great storehouse of antiquities is a worthy complement to the Pyramids. It’s crammed full of treasures, from grand statues to delicate jewelry, including all the gold King Tut was buried with.
 
3. Khan al-Khalili. Cairo’s main souk, in operation since the medieval period, is a warren of alleys and historic buildings. Much of it is devoted to souvenir sales, but it’s a great starting point for exploring the surrounding medieval quarter, commonly referred to as Islamic Cairo.
 
4. Al-Azhar Park. For relaxation — you’ll need it after intense sightseeing — head to this green space on the east edge of Cairo. Perched on a hill above the medieval quarter, it has great views across the city and on weekends, families come here with picnics, making it a nice (and rare) spot to see Cairo at leisure.
 
5. Felucca ride. For the best view of Cairo at dusk, hire a felucca (a traditional sailboat) for a cruise on the Nile. The din of city traffic recedes as you float on the water, leaving only the twinkling lights. Bring snacks and your own beer (and some to share with your captain) and you have a perfect picnic.

  • On June 24, 2013
    Ilona Kauremszky answered the question: Ilona Kauremszky

    What is the best thing to bring home from Cairo?

    I still can’t get over the symbolism behind a simple papyrus flower.

    And there’s nothing easier to ship home than a painting of an Ancient Egyptian scene on some papyrus paper.

    Outside the Great Pyramids of Giza along Pyramid Street or Al Ahram there are several papyrus paper shops.

    The one I visited is the government-approved Merit Papyrus Shop.

    The exterior seems unassuming but once inside the store take a closer look at the intricate framed paintings many of which are reproductions of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

    Watch a free demonstration chronicling the history of papyrus papermaking and discover the strong connection the Ancient Egyptians had toward the revered papyrus. They saw it as a holy plant.

    The radiating flower represented the sun’s rays and was used in perfume making and the stem was used in most everything else.

    For me it was the word ‘papyri’ which means baby’s skin that had me hooked. How delicate, strong yet fragile it is. The other wonderful discovery is the papyrus stem. When cut the triangular shape looks like the Egyptian Pyramids.

    Watch this demonstration to learn more about the Egyptian history behind the elusive papyrus.

  • On June 24, 2013
    Ilona Kauremszky answered the question: Ilona Kauremszky

    What is the best thing to bring home from Cairo?

    I still can’t get over the symbolism behind a simple papyrus flower.

    And there’s nothing easier to ship home than a painting of an Ancient Egyptian scene on some papyrus paper.

    Outside the Great Pyramids of Giza along Pyramid Street or Al Ahram there are several papyrus paper shops.

    The one I visited is the government-approved Merit Papyrus Shop.

    The exterior seems unassuming but once inside the store take a closer look at the intricate framed paintings many of which are reproductions of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

    Watch a free demonstration chronicling the history of papyrus papermaking and discover the strong connection the Ancient Egyptians had toward the revered papyrus. They saw it as a holy plant.

    The radiating flower represented the sun’s rays and was used in perfume making and the stem was used in most everything else.

    For me it was the word ‘papyri’ which means baby’s skin that had me hooked. How delicate, strong yet fragile it is. The other wonderful discovery is the papyrus stem. When cut the triangular shape looks like the Egyptian Pyramids.

    Watch this demonstration to learn more about the Egyptian history behind the elusive papyrus.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Ilona Kauremszky answered the question: Ilona Kauremszky

    Where is the best shopping in Cairo?

    Don’t let the smooth talking souk vendors let you go home with stuff you didn’t plan to buy.

    But often it’s from those coy one-on-one exchanges where you’ll depart with the most illustrious scarves, pendants, and alabaster scarabs.

    I find the Khan El Khalili Souk in Cairo perfect for this. Start by the al-Hussein Mosque in Khan el-Khalil teeming with inseparable Cairo moments.

    The coffee houses opposite the mosque are a perfect place to soak in this action too. There might be a woman dressed in a gold threaded galabeya applying henna tattoos on a young tourist’s arm.

    Now get ready to work your way past the pyramid stacks of pita bread and dancing children playing in the dusty street to enter the warren of narrow alleys rife with vendors.
    In the souk you can find anything your heart desires and everything is for sale.

    Be prepared for some major league bartering.The willful exchange just might get you some neat souvenirs.
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  • On June 24, 2013
    Ilona Kauremszky answered the question: Ilona Kauremszky

    Where is the best nightlife in Cairo?

    If Antony and Cleopatra were around today, chances are pretty good they’d be hanging by the tony districts of Zamalek and Heliopolis where Cairo’s nightlife rocks.

    In this post-Arab Spring world, young and restless hearts are thrashing to a new Cairo beat. Meanwhile the capital seems to forever float between the ancient and the modern like the Nile itself.

    Head to the Buddha Bar  in Zamalek on Gezira Island. Located in the luxe Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah minutes from the Cairo Opera House, the hotel’s opulence will make you feel like a pharaoh. The Asian-themed watering hole is an ideal spot for the international jet setter who likes to while away time in this timeless city. It’s a perfect place to sip cocktails and mingle with Cairo’s corporate elite or visiting celebs. The mood is Orient meets the other Orient (you’ll often hear Egypt referred to as the Orient).

    Meanwhile the Roof Bar in Heliopolis showcases Cairo debauchery. Hit the heavenly dance floor at this DJ-friendly haven. I like how close this bar is to the airport (about 10 minutes) plus it’s located by one of Cairo’s most affluent neighbourhoods in a new cosmopolitan boutique hotel called The Gabriel. The mood is oh so SoHo-ish.

    But the ritzy properties along the Nile River by Le Corniche are also attracting after hours buzz.

    The Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza opened its Grafitti Bar. Amazing how western-inspired graffiti has gone main stream. Prepare for the ultimate night out with the city’s upper crust wielding bling encrusted Smartphones.  The mostly 30 something crowd mix with business suited foreigners in the city’s hottest new lounge.

    With chi-chi nightclubs and ample sheesha bars popping up as of late, you can party like it was 1999.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best historic sites in Cairo?

    Of course, if you’re visiting Egypt, you’re already headed for the Pyramids of Giza — but there are plenty more amazing historic sites in Cairo. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend the following places to complete your visit to this ancient city:
     
    1. “Medieval Cairo” is the broad term for the city built before the colonial period. Don’t miss the area called Bein al-Qasreen (sometimes translated as Palace Walk — an area depicted in one of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels), where several mosques and houses have been beautifully restored and are free to enter. If you continue south along this street, you’re walking along the historic backbone of the city, and eventually reach the medieval gate of Bab Zuweila, where you can climb the adjoining minaret for a great view.
     
    2. The area known as Coptic Cairo is a collection of churches and monasteries, some dating from the very earliest days of Christianity, south of the center of the city. The area is easily reached by metro, and the beautiful Coptic Museum displays art by early Coptic artisans as well as more recent work — all unique to Egypt.
     
    3. If you prefer even older relics, just outside of Cairo and easily accessible on a day trip are the sprawling ruins of Saqqara, where the step pyramid of Djoser is another icon of ancient Egypt. A trip here usually also visits the pyramids of Dahshur, where you can clamber inside the enormous Red Pyramid — and you’ll likely be the only person around.
     
    4. Don’t discount the historical appeal of downtown Cairo. This area was built up in the 19th century and its buildings, under all the caked-on dust, show beautiful colonial-era details.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best thing to bring home from Cairo?

    Egypt’s souvenir trade has improved a lot in recent years, and the best things to bring home from Cairo are distinctly local handicrafts, say our Forbes Travel Guide editors. The most popular item by far is papyrus paintings, on sale virtually everywhere, but it can be varying quality — it’s best to buy from a shop, rather from street vendors. In Khan al-Khalili’s gold souq, you can get a pendant with your name in hieroglyphics or Arabic script, made to order within hours. Nearby, the venerable bookbinder Abd el-Zaher, in operation for centuries, sells beautiful leather-bound blank books, diaries and more, with free gold monogramming. For something a little different but still beautiful, Egyptian colorful appliqué festival tents are works of art, and the tentmakers’ skill can be had on a smaller scale in complex pillowcases, bedspreads and more.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best Cairo food experiences?

    Eating in Cairo offers some tastes you won’t find anywhere else. Typical Middle Eastern dishes like hummus are here, of course, but so are Egyptian-only specialties. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite food experiences in Cairo:
     
    1. Foul. The real Cairo food experience starts first thing in the morning with a bowl of hearty foul — stewed fava beans. The rib-sticking beans are mashed slightly and seasoned with cumin, lemon juice, chopped tomato and more, depending on the vendor. You can get them from street vendors as well as fast-food restaurants like Gad, with branches all over town.
     
    2. Ta’amiya. Another iconic Cairo snack, eaten all day, is ta’amiya — almost exactly like falafel, but made with dried fava beans rather than chickpeas and usually bright green due to a generous amount of fresh cilantro. The light, crispy patties are served as pita-half sandwiches at shops all over town; ask for fried eggplant slices as well, for extra local flavor.
     
    3. Kushari. You can’t leave Cairo without tasting kushari, a carbohydrate bonanza of black lentils, rice, chickpeas and pasta bits, all tossed together and topped with spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. The meat-free meal is cheap and filling, and remarkably satisfying — especially once you ladle on the garlic-vinegar and hot chili sauce at the table.
     
    4. Fiteer. “Egyptian pizza” is the typical translation of fiteer, another common casual meal — but this doesn’t capture all the magic. The base of fiteer is actually fine, flaky dough that is stretched and shaped into layers, then topped with savory items such as cheese, green peppers, tomato, olives and spicy meat. There’s a dessert version as well, with apricot jam, coconut and soft fresh cheese.
     
    5. Stuffed squab. For a more substantial meal, be sure to try the Cairo classic of roasted stuffed squab. The little birds are filled with a mix of rice and freekeh (cracked green wheat), briefly boiled, then roasted until they’re perfectly brown and crisp. Eating them is a bit of a mess and requires you use your fingers, but it’s worth it. On the side, you’re served a mug of the peppery broth from boiling the birds — delicious on a cool winter night.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best nightlife in Cairo?

    Cairo is an up-all-night city; the best nightlife isn’t necessarily in bars and clubs (though there are plenty of those), but out on the streets downtown. Younger artists and activists congregate in the pedestrian areas around the stock exchange (al-Bursa), and the cafés around Midan Orabi are popular with families and couples on dates. If you want a beer in traditional surrounds, head to Cafeteria Horreya, an old-fashioned coffeehouse-turned-bar, with soaring ceilings, fluorescent lights and avid chess players. For a more upscale evening, head to Arabesque, which has a belly-dancer floor show on weekends and a cool mod-Oriental interior. For the biggest names in belly-dancing, you’ll need to head to the hotel clubs, where the party starts after midnight and the audience is encouraged to hurl money at the undulating stars.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best way to see Cairo in one day?

    For the most efficient sightseeing — if you must pack all of Cairo into one day — we suggest getting an early start and making use of the city’s excellent metro system. Cairo doesn’t cover a huge area, but its traffic makes it difficult to cover easily. Be at the Pyramids before the site opens at 8 a.m., and don’t linger long — the traffic back to the Giza metro stop may take up to an hour. Then take the metro back to Midan Tahrir and the Egyptian Museum, before carrying on to medieval Cairo — Bab al-Shaariya on the Line 3 (which opened in early 2012) is the closest stop, putting you near the north side of the old walled city and Bab al-Futuh. From here, it’s an easy walk down to Khan al-Khalili, past some of the city’s most beautiful medieval monuments. Afterward, take a taxi to Al-Azhar Park nearby, for an evening meal and a grand view — in fact, if the air is clear, you can see all the way back across the city to the Pyramids where you started.
  • On July 26, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in Cairo?

    The best places to eat in Cairo aren’t always the fanciest, although all the best hotels typically have excellent restaurants. But you can’t go wrong with any of our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ suggestions for the five most memorable meals you’ll have when in Cairo.
     
    1. Abu El Sid. The first restaurant in Cairo to serve traditional Egyptian food in a stylish setting, Abu El Sid is now a mini-chain across the country and a popular stop for visitors as well as chic locals. Over-the-top Orientalist décor is matched with hearty dishes like roast squab and moulukhiya, a garlicky green soup. It’s also one of the few places you can wash down your Egyptian fare with a creative cocktail, such as sugarcane juice and tequila.
     
    2. Osmanly. The Turkish restaurant in the Kempinski Nile hotel is one of the city’s most elegant places to dine. The beige setting is a bit austere, but it’s offset by luxe touches such as jasmine-scented water and warm towels to wash your hands at the start of the meal. The royal Ottoman cuisine is refined, with plenty of vegetable dishes and fresh salads — a nice counterpoint to heavier Egyptian food. 
     
    3. Hati al-Geish. This unpretentious midrange restaurant is popular with families out for a splurge. It specializes in grilled meats — the lamb chops are especially good. And though the dapper waiters in vests don’t serve alcohol, you can wash your feast down with a fancy glass of fresh mango juice, for the real taste of Cairo.
     
    4. Arabesque. This fun option doubles as a lounge and nightclub and on Fridays, it’s typical for big groups to book a table here around 9 p.m., feast on an array of mezze (small plates) and cute modern treats like shwarma sliders, then settle in for the belly-dancing show. Other nights of the week, the scene segues into a DJ and dancing.
     
    5. Citadel View. For a quiet meal, an impressive vista and a mouthwatering spread, the most lavish restaurant in Al-Azhar Park is hard to beat. The Egyptian-Levantine menu offers more obscure dishes, and the clientele on weekend evenings is Cairo’s chic set.
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