Things to Do in Cairo
Is it safe in Egypt? It’s question often asked these days. The answer is yes and no. Travelers who visit the capital Cairo and the touristic hotspots in Egypt will likely not be in an unsafe region, though the recent attacks near the Giza pyramids proves that anything can happen anywhere. Therefore it is wise to check recent developments before your departure.
Cairo is the largest city in the Arab world, a chaotic place with more than 20 million inhabitants and the beating heart of Egypt. With the noise, crowds, pollution and maddening traffic, it may not be a place to stay long, but we still recommend to spend a few days here before traveling further.
The ‘city of the thousand minarets’ however offers a wealth of sights and experiences that you will not encounter anywhere else. You travel back in a history that spans many centuries. Just south-west of Cairo are the famous pyramids, one of the seven wonders of the world. In the city itself you will find ancient monuments, glittering mosques, exciting archaeological sites and markets full of colors and smells. And then there is modern Cairo, with skyscrapers, excellent restaurants and stylish clubs.
Pyramids of Giza
Without any doubt Cairo’s main landmark is the Pyramids of Giza: the Pyramid of Cheops, the Pyramid of Chefren, the Pyramid of Mycerinus and the three smaller “queen” pyramids. The largest is the pyramid of Cheops, with an awe-inspiring height of 139 meters and a weight of 6.25 million tons. It is also the largest of all 90 pyramids built in Egypt. The nearby Chefren pyramid seems higher, but that is because it is built on a larger hill. The complex is directly on the outskirts of the city. Access to the site is only allowed when you pay an entrance fee. At the complex you will be confronted by camel drivers who allow you to explore the complex on a camel in exchange for a (hefty) payment.
The Egyptian Museum is the most visited landmark in Cairo after the pyramids. It is a treasure trove of the pharaohs with at least 120,000 objects from Egyptian antiquity. On the ground floor of the pink mansion you will find an extensive collection of papyrus and coins used by the ancient Egyptians. On the first floor there are artifacts from the last two dynasties of ancient Egypt and also many artifacts from the Valley of the Kings to see.
Highlights are the jewels from the tomb of Tutankhamun and the fascinating Royal Mummy Room with 27 royal mummies from the time of the pharaohs. Actually you see in every corner of the museum a beautiful work of art or sculptures that would be among the highlights in other museums. The Egyptian Museum has existed since 1858 and is located near the Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo.
The Al-Azhar mosque is one of the most beautiful religious structures in Cairo. The mosque was completed in 972 AD and is one of the oldest existing mosques in the capital of Egypt. It is also one of the oldest universities in the world. It received this status as early as 988. Today, Al-Azhar University is still one of the most important theological centers in the Islamic world. The architecture of the mosque consists of different architectural styles, influenced by the numerous dynasties that ruled the region.
The mosque has also expanded considerably over the past thousand years. There are five minarets, the oldest dates back to the 14th century. The beautiful white marble courtyard belongs to the original decor. In addition, there is a prayer room of 3000 square meters and there are two madrassas (religious schools).
Khan El-Khalili Bazaar
Cairo is a paradise for shoppers where hundreds of different souks and bazaars can be explored. The most famous of these is Khan El-Khalili, a vast market with a maze of narrow streets in the heart of Islamic Cairo. Already in the 14th century, the first market traders tried to sell their goods here. You can go here for various merchandise, from tourist souvenirs and toy camels to silver jewelry and exotic spices. During a break you can drink a cup of traditional tea or suck a shisha pipe in one of the many cafes in the market. The Khan El-Khalili Bazaar is open from early morning to sunset. The market is closed on Friday morning and Sunday.
The presence of the Romans has ensured that there are relatively many Catholics living in mainly Muslim Egypt (about ten percent). In Cairo these copts, as the Catholic movement in Egypt is called, can be found mainly in the Coptic district, or Old Cairo (Masr Al-Qadimah). Here you will find the most beautiful churches of Cairo and also one of the first mosques in the country, the Amr Ibn Al-‘As mosque. Another point of interest in the Coptic district is the Coptic Museum, where you can view the only remains of the former Fort Babylon.
The Citadel, situated on a hill, was the residence of the rulers and sultans of Egypt for 700 years, until the 19th century. The medieval fortress was built around 1176 by Salah ad-Din to protect Cairo from the Christian crusaders. On the fort you will find a collection of palaces, mosques and palaces, but you also have a fantastic view over the city. If you are here on a clear day, you can even see the pyramids in the distance. The most famous monument of the Citadel is the Mohammed Ali Mosque, which was built between 1830 and 1848. The white stone mosque towers high above the city with its enormous dome and slender minarets. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul served as an example for this construction.
The thousands of kilometers long river Nile is the most important lifeline of Egypt and Cairo. Thanks to the Nile, life in the desert and the city is possible. The river is also a recreation spot in Cairo. Especially at night brightly lit tour boats with lots of music cruise the Nile. On the permanent floating palaces along the banks of the island of Gezira you can eat, drink and smoke sisha (water pipe).
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