Visiting Cairo - What to See and Do
(Cairo International Airport CAI, Egypt)
Change is afoot in Egypt's buzzing capital Cairo
, and most of it is good. The Arab world's largest city is still as chaotic, dusty and as irresistible as ever, but now there's a palpable energy in the air that adds some real zest to the already amazing energy and attractions of this 1,000-year-old metropolis.
Various changes of government don't affect the pyramids or the Sphinx, and a cruise aboard a traditional felucca boat on the Nile is just as marvellous as it ever was. Visitors to Cairo today, however, have the chance to witness recent history as well, in hot spots like Tahrir Square.
The backstreets of the city is where the magic carries on, in the medieval Khan el-Khalili market and downtown's Talaat Harb Street. Between Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo, the mysterious and the spiritual come together to give shape to the rich heritage of this corner of Africa
. The city's museums are as intoxicating as you would imagine, but architectural wonders are also found in the city's churches, mosques and bazaars.
Ten things you must do in Cairo
- Whether you join a guided bus tour or make your way independently, Cairo's three hulking pyramids are absolutely worth a visit. The entire complex is well organised and inspiring to explore, and a photo in front of the Sphinx always looks great.
- With in the region of 120,000 artefacts and attractions on display in the Egyptian Museum, you may want to plan a return visit to really absorb it all. Conveniently located right downtown, you can marvel at the treasures of the Tutankhamen exhibit or remind yourself of the Greco-Roman era. The exhibits seem endless.
- There is no better way to get a sense of the ancient working lifestyle of Egyptians than with a cruise on a traditional felucca boat. The Nile River is the lifeblood of Egypt, and Cairo would not even exist without this mighty river. Hire your own boat at the dock next to the Hyatt Hotel and soak in the rural riverside life as it is been going on for millennia. Cruises are particularly sweet at sundown.
- Of the many Islamic mosques in Cairo, one of the most impressive is Ibn Tulun. It is actually the core of a 9th-century city that thrived for a short while. Its courtyard is enormous and there are some unique features, like the wood carving of the Koran that runs for over one mile around the perimeter of the mosque.
- From Bedouin rugs to elegant silver jewellery, the city's markets have been wooing consumers for millennia. Two of the best are the Khan al Khalili and the Kheimeya, filled with stalls selling unusual things you'd expect to find in Egypt. Don't expect any price stickers in these local markets. Hone your haggling skills or prepare to get taken for a ride.
- Cairo's other unmissable museum is the Coptic Museum, dedicated to preserving the truly ancient heritage of Egypt. Here, nearly every aspect of ancient Egyptian life is presented in excellent detail, with some rare treasures like the Gnostic Gospels and Pharaonic sun discs.
- The coffee house is the city's equivalent of the local pub. These ubiquitous cafés (ahwas) are where Egyptian society comes together for conversation, games of chess and hookah pipes. They are on every corner, so don't miss the chance to linger over a few cups of tea or coffee and soak in the unmatchable atmosphere.
- Of the many day trips possible from Cairo, the necropolis of Saqqara is one of the best. This royal city of the dead features dozens of tombs with wonderfully painted walls, a huge stepped pyramid and other interesting structures. A new museum is also onsite to help put the role of ancient Memphis into perspective.
- In contrast to the rather touristy feel of Khan al Khalili, the Friday market epitomizes the chaos, noise and colour that makes Cairo so annoyingly engaging. Though this locals market is open all week, Friday is when the place really buzzes. You may not find anything that you actually want to buy (like camel feed), but the shopping scene here is as real as it gets in the capital.
- The Museum of Islamic Art is absolutely magical. The artistry of the Islamic decorative realm is uniquely sublime, as no human images can be used. Instead, swirling lines and geometry create works of art that truly aspire to heavenly heights.