Cairo, Egypt

An evening view across the Nile River of eastern Cairo from Cairo Tower on Gezira Island

A fine view over central Cairo and the Nile River from Cairo Tower on Gezira Island. Photo by flyvancity.

How to visit Cairo

Any visitor to Cairo with a spark of adventure needs to do some walking, to see the squalor, the chaos and the magnificence side by side and understand that this is not an ancient Pharonic city – that was Thebes (Luxor) or Memphis. Cairo was originally Africa’s Babylon, founded by Coptic Christians and captured by Arabs in 641.

Cairo city is packed with stunning old architecture, dirty, dishevelled and in desperate need of maintenance it’s true but still stunning stuff, if you can drag the eyes away from the kids playing in the noxious gutters, the crippled cats and the dead Fiats.


Cairo's Khan el Khalili market district, Egypt

Cairo’s Khan-el-Khalili market district. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

Khan el Khalili bazaar is a tourist must-do, the best souq in Africa, but considering the narrow streets and individual interests, this is a must-do in pairs or very small groups.

This fascinating shopping area, arguably the world’s best souk (better than Fez or Marrakesh) is a large area of attractive old buildings filled with a huge range of wonderful goodies as well as terrible neo-Nefertiti trash. And no, it’s not dangerous. Some of the better items are: gold and silver jewellery, glassware, leather, rugs, lamps, cotton clothes and spices.

Muhammad Ali Mosque

The Muhammad Ali Mosque, aka The Citadel, Cairo, Egypt

The Muhammad Ali Mosque, aka The Citadel. Photo by Olaf Tausch

We all liked Cairo very much particularly the old Coptic and Arabic quarters which are still very much lived in and full of life. We visited many mosques from the oldest mudbrick mosque of Ibn Talun, built in the 9th century, to the more refined and visually stunning mosque of Mohamed Ali built in the style of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in the mid 19th century. However, the most interesting for us was the Al Azhar mosque as students from all over the Islamic World come here to study.

The fountain in Muhammad Ali mosque courtyard, Cairo, Egypt

The fountain in Muhammad Ali’s courtyard, the place for Muslims to cleanse before prayers. Photo by Mahmoud383.

We entered the mosque just after the mid-day prayers. It was cool and had a relaxed atmosphere so we just sat down to get the feel of the place. Small groups of young men from different nationalities were quietly talking to each other. A couple of young lads approached the girls and gave them some leaflets on the rights of women in Islam and on how it was a peaceful religion and against terrorism. It was all done in a very politely and in a friendly way.

Egyptian Museum

Cairo, Egyptian Museum, Egypt

Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, not very well organised but housing some outstanding artefacts such as Tutankhamun’s gold death mask. Photo by Olaf Tausch.

Cairo, Tutankhamun gold mask, Egyptian Museum, Egypt

Tutenkhamun’s gold death mask

Cairo tourism

Al Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt.

Al-Azhar Park, conceived and funded by the Aga Khan. Photo by Yasser Nazmi.

Most Egyptian visitors tread the same basic Cairo tourist trail of mosques – especially Mohamed Ali mosque, Khan el Khalili bazaar (souk), the incredible exhibits in the quite disorganised Egyptian Museum.¬†¬†Also perhaps the City of the Dead and Heliopolis if they’re a bit adventurous, and of course the pyramids and Sphinx on the edge of the city at Giza.

Then it’s off to Luxor after an evening of Stella beer, stuffed pigeon and belly dancing.
Bad move. This way travellers end up surrounded by tourists all day long in a very crowded, artificial and stressed, anti-holiday environment.
The cure? Ensure you have enough time to head off to lesser-tourist locations where 5-day tour parties fear to tread.

Cairo is a very exciting, vibrant and rapidly developing city with lots of things going on. Women dressed in black and covered from head to toe rub shoulders with modern young teenagers wearing jeans and colourful head scarves. The traffic is noisy and polluting and refuses to stop at traffic lights, yet we saw few traffic jams and no accidents. There is some sort of order in what looks like chaos, which is probably the best way I can describe Egypt.


Cairo’s northern suburb (in Arabic Misr al Gedida or ‘New Egypt) is spectacularly different from the rest of the city.
It was conceived as a luxury city in 1905 by a Belgian industrialist, Baron Empain, with unusually broad streets, green areas and a unique architectural style, a mixture of Moorish, Arab and European design ideas combined into the delightful and successful ‘Heliopolis Style, ‘ visible in the images above and throughout the area.

Water pipes

In case you ever wondered whether Egyptians (and by the way, most of these people do not consider themselves to be Arabs, they are a breed apart, Egyptians) smoke hashish in the water pipes such as those pictured above, the answer is no.

Water pipes with long flexible tubes are called shisha and used exclusively for tobacco, usually mixed with honey. Hash pipes are called goza and are much smaller with short bamboo stems that do not collect the psychoactive fumes en route to the smoker’s lungs.