Places a tourist MUST visit in Cairo, Egypt
Cairo provides great culture, including art galleries and music halls as well as an incredible selection of shopping, leisure and nightlife activities. Being the seventh most populous metropolitan area in the world, with around 16 million citizens, it's a city of contradictions — chaos, bustle, pollution, sophistication, history and culture. Shiny black European cars mingle with donkeys, goats and camels in the main streets and palatial hotels stand next to mudbrick houses.
The Egyptian word for both the capital and the country as a whole is the same: Misr, and at times, when they refer to the city, they add the phrase "the mother of the world" (Um el-dunia). This reminds us that in medieval times Cairo was the world's largest city, and that its university, Al Azhar, is the oldest in the world.
Egypt’s capital city is an absolute must-see experience. It's often an ideal starting place for travelers since it’s also the closest city to the pyramids, the oldest and only remaining structure of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
If you don´t have that much time, here´s a few tips for 'not to miss while in Cairo'; if you have some more time to spend, take a peak at the honorable mentions.
Pyramids of Gizeh
It is impossible to visit Egypt without including the pyramids as one of your must see destinations. Although the construction of the pyramids was only an episode in the long history of the pharaohs, this period has left us some of the most impressive monuments that can be seen. The Pyramids of Gizeh consist of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre a few hundred meters to the south-west and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex, facing east. Besides the three giants of Gizeh, more than 70 pyramids can be counted along the Nile.
Luxor & Karnak Temple
The Nile Valley abounds with architectural and historical riches and Luxor, the site of the ancient city of Thebes, is home to some of the world’s most glorious relics. Though Ramses II's triumphant twin statues stand sentry at its entrance, it was Amenhotep III who built the bewildering Temple of Luxor. Over the years, several of Egypt's legendary rulers added to the glory of the Temple of Luxor, from Tutankhamun to Alexander the Great.
Karnak was the most important place of worship in all Egypt during Theban power. It was built, dismantled, restored, enlarged and decorated by several pharaohs. It's a complex of sanctuaries, obelisks and pylons, dedicated to the glory of the pharaohs. It's a gigantic site: 1.5km by 800m (one mile by 875 yd). Impossible to describe, this immense monument has to be seen, to be believed.
If you visit Luxor, you'll find most tombs are empty; what the looters didn't take home with them, ended up at the Egyptian museum. It's renowned for holding the finest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world, with over 136,000 items on display, not mentioning the hundreds of thousands in the basement. The Tutankhamun Galleries is the most famous and houses over 1,700 items including Tutankhamun's famous tomb, discovered in the Valley of the Kings in West-Thebes, opposite modern Luxor.
The museum is open from 9am to 5pm daily.
More info: http://www.egyptianmuseum.com/
Citadel of Salah Al Din
Pay a visit to Salah El Din Citadel, which was constructed by Salah El Din on the Moqattam hills in 1183 AD to defend Cairo from the armies of Crusaders. After that, visit Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque which was designed by the architect Yousif Boushnaq, a Turkish man who came specially from Istanbul and built this great mosque for Mohamed Ali, the ruler of Egypt (1805-1849) who ruled over 45 years.
Western Desert Oases
Most Western tourists have romantic visions of what an oasis looks like and they will not be disappointed. It runs for over 621 miles (1,000 km) through spectacular desert landscape and is punctuated by four oases situated in a depression: Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga.They are all great starting points for excursions into the desert but, of themselves are still worthy of a visit. These days oases contain hotels as well as hot springs, shops and cafes that will satisfy every need.
HONORABLE MENTION: MORE OF CAIRO
If you have more than a few days to spend in Cairo (in my opinion well worth it), I think the activities below are definitely worth a visit.
Golf on the famous Mena House course
Mena House is the only hotel in Cairo with its own golf course. The golf club is one of the oldest in Egypt and is situated right below the pyramids at Giza. The 18 holes course is played on 9 fairways with two tees and overlooks the Pyramids: to tee off in such surroundings is really spectacular.
Dinner at the Al Tannoura restaurant
Dinner at the Al Tannoura restaurant at Wikalat al-Ghouri is a special experience. During your dinner you can see a show that demonstrates the Sufi (mystic) practice of whirling, Egyptian style. Sufi whirling is a religious ceremony involving a lot of symbolism and spinning, where several dancers spin around a middleman, who represents the solar system. A lot of hand gestures, which indicate God, man, and scriptures.
Khan al Khalili Souk
The Khan al Khalili market was built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili in the heart of the Fatimid City and is one of the highlights of a visit to the old town section of Cairo.One of the old original gates guards the entrance to the original courtyard which lies midway down Sikkit al-Badistan (street). There are a multitude of lanes, shops and onsite workshops at the bazaar, some of them steeped in history such as Fishawi's café.
Coffee and Sheesha at Café El Fishawy
Fishawi's is quite an experience.The traditional teahouse has been open 24/7 over the last 200 years and is located in the heart of the old Khan AL Khalili bazaar. Furnished in 19th-century European style, they offer all sorts of drinks and small snacks. If you are looking for tea, they have two types: the Egyptian tea, a dark flavor filled tea and for those who like coffee there is ‘ahwa’, which is a type of Turkish coffee popular in Cairo. If you are not sure what to get, ask for ‘shai ala bosta’...Lipton tea for the postman. Fashawi's is crowded, chaotic and noisy but captures the Egyptian spirit for those who really want a taste of it.
The freestanding, concrete Cairo Tower on El-Gezirah Island, provides a panoramic view of the entire city from the 360 degrees revolving restaurant, located at the top of the tower. As night falls, the sparkling 187 meter (614 feet) high tower changes from pink to puce to aquamarine. The phallic column was built from 1956 to 1961 and is 43 metres (141 ft) higher than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The tower was designed by the Egyptian architect Naoum Chebib.
Tip: don't visit on foggy days !
Open from 9am to 1am daily. More info: http://www.cairotower.net
Al Azhar Park
The 30 hectare (74 acre) public Al Azhar Park park functions as a ‘green lung’ because of its enormous potential, being located at the center of a historic location.
After an 80's study found that the amount of green space per inhabitant was roughly equivalent to the size of a footprint, one of the lowest proportions in the world, his highness the Aga Khan decided to donate a park to the citizens of Cairo.
But before work started, Al Azhar was a municipal rubbish dump named Al Darassa. Builders had to clear a 500-year-old accumulation of fill and debris, the equivalent of more than 80,000 truckloads of material which built up here over the centuries. Many interesting discovering we made, like the 12th century Ayyubid city wall of Cairo.
The park finally opened in 2005; in 2006 the British Prince Charles and his wife were welcomed in the park by the Aga Khan where they started their 5-day tour of tour.
Dina´s Belly Dance at Semiramis
If you bought a belly-dancing outfit at Khan el Khalili, this is where to see it done properly. Dina, Egypt’s most famous belly dancer, performs at the Haroun el Rashid Club in the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel in Cairo.