Jewels on the Nile
From pharaonic treasures to modern delights
Chaotic and colourful, Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, where the clamour of car horns is nearly drowned out by the haunting call to prayer. Amid the fading 19th Century glamour, donkey carts still rattle down dusty side streets lined with immense Fatimid and Mamluk monuments, while the serenity of the Nile and proximity of the Pyramids reminds visitors that this city is still known as 'the Mother of the World'.
For a unique perspective climb to the top of the 12th Century citadel built by Salah Al-Din and take in the view of the urban sprawl. Explore the Al-Azhar Mosque dating to AD972 and the Coptic part of the city where Roman towers still stand and churches host early Christian art. In the Maadi district wander along Road 9, which is lined with every type of restaurant from sushi to traditional Egyptian street food. Lose yourself in Khan el-Khalili, Cairo’s big souq and discover antique shops and workshops selling leather-bound notebooks. Fortify yourself with a pigeon dish served at Farahat or call in at the equally revered El Fishawy, which has been serving hungry customers since the 18th Century.
You can equally escape the city clamour by sailing down the Nile on a traditional felucca boat. Don’t leave Cairo without sampling its unique coffee culture, best exemplified by cafes like Naguib Mahfouz, named after the Nobel-Prize-winning author – it’s a fine place to sip a Turkish coffee while people watching. Just outside the city, wander around the City of the Dead. Cairo’s necropolis has a series of cemeteries dating back to the 7th Century. Demonstrations still take place on Tahir Square, the epicentre for recent revolutions, yet the city remains relatively safe and calm. Taxis are cheap and plentiful but, in a city plagued by traffic, the Metro can be the quickest way to get around. Many stations have impressive murals while the women-only carriages can be a boon for solo female travellers. Get your flights to Cairo today and start exploring.
Carefully selected Cairo hotels
Best hotels in Cairo for all types of traveller
We have a great selection of quality hotels in Cairo to recommend. Set at the base of the pyramids is the Marriott Mena House Cairo. This five-star hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and an indulgent spa. The Ramses Hilton is a family hotel with fine views of the Nile offering a rooftop bar and lounge, an on-site casino and a heated outdoor pool with river views. The Fairmont Nile City offers a unique rooftop area, an award-winning spa and children’s pools. You’ll never be stuck for dining options at the Hilton Cairo Heliopolis as this family hotel offers no fewer than 15 restaurants, plus there’s an energising fitness centre and two outdoor pools. The Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza offers nine restaurants and lounges with dishes for every taste, all served alongside panoramic views across the Nile.
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Cairo holiday FAQs
Make the most of your Cairo holiday
To get a unique insight into Cairo’s history consider taking a tour of Islamic Cairo. This UNESCO-listed site contains more than 600 significant buildings. Specific highlights include the monumental 14th Century Sultan Hassan Mosque, its more modern neighbour the Al-Rifa’i Mosque and Bab Zuweila, the western gate that forms part of the old wall of the city.
What are the best things to do in Cairo?
- The Pyramids of Giza are the largest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, built over 4,500 years ago as tombs for the pharaohs and their queens. The three main pyramids on the Giza plateau were built over the span of three generations by the rulers Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The Giza pyramid complex includes the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu and built around 2580-2560 BC). It’s the oldest of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and the only one to remain largely intact. The smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) lies a few hundred metres to the south west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) sits a few hundred metres farther south west. For an additional fee you can go inside the pyramids.
- The Great Sphinx of Giza is a giant 4,500-year-old limestone statue situated near the Great Pyramid in Giza. Measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high, the Great Sphinx is one of the world’s largest monuments and the largest monumental sculpture in Egypt. The face of the Sphinx appears to represent the pharaoh Khafre. The sphinx’s nose has broken off and it remains unclear as to what caused this, though an archaeological study indicates this happened sometime between the 3rd and the 10th centuries AD.
- Enjoy gliding along the Nile River on board a special steamer boat for a lunchtime or dinner cruise. On your three-hour cruise you can expect to dine at an open buffet featuring Egyptian and international cuisine and to be entertained with a folklore and belly-dancing show while you cruise past Cairo’s many landmarks. It’s especially romantic by night when the city lights glimmer on the water.
- When it opens in late 2023 the Grand Egyptian Museum just outside Cairo near the Pyramids of Giza promises to be the crown jewel of Egypt and one of the world’s most important museums. Among its assemblage of 120,000 pharaonic items in its vast collections is the enormous 3,200-year-old statue of Ramses II that previously adorned Ramses Square and over 4,500 artefacts from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, including his death mask and countless mummies.
- The Valley of the Kings is where the pharaohs and their families were buried in elaborate tombs for over 500 years. The valley is located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the ancient city of Thebes, and contains more than 60 tombs, some of which are still unexplored. The tombs are decorated with colourful paintings and hieroglyphs depicting the lives and beliefs of the Egyptians along with their journey into the afterlife. Alongside the tomb of Tutankhamun lie those of various influential rulers including Ramses II, Seti I and Tuthmosis III.
- Often cited as the world’s greatest open-air museum, Luxor contains an awe-inspiring range of monuments and treasures of impressive grandeur recovered from the ancient city of Thebes. With a beautiful setting complete with the Nile River carving across the modern city and the West Bank necropolis, there’s an abundance of riches awaiting discovery, from the temples of Karnak and Luxor to the many temples and tombs lining the West Bank. Here you’ll find the Valley of the Kings and the exquisite tomb of Queen Nefertari among many others.
- To take in some ancient civilisation away from the tourist crowds, tour the Valley of the Queens where the wives and children of many great pharaohs were buried. There are over 90 tombs to discover, including the elaborate tomb of Queen Nefertari. It’s the prime resting place for many of the most influential queens of the 18th to 20th dynasties. Notable tombs covered by the standard admission ticket include those of Queen Titi, Prince Khaemwaset and Prince Amenherkhepshef.
Where to stay in Cairo
Founded in the 7th Century AD, Giza lies between the ancient cities of Heliopolis and Memphis and contains some of the world’s most significant ancient civilisations on the Giza plateau including the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Don’t miss a sound and light show when the great monuments are brought to life by a dazzling multimedia display. Beyond the pyramids, make time to visit the Valley of the Whales, an open-air museum of impressive fossils and the tranquil gardens and tapestries of the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre.
Nasr City, Cairo’s largest neighbourhood, is handy for the airport – you’ll often hear planes flying overhead. The multicultural 10th District is home to many immigrant populations covering Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, China, Malaysia and even the United States. Look out for the colourful street art around the road from Masjid al Salaam in the 8th subdistrict and the Unknown Soldier Memorial, which honours servicemen who lost their lives in the 1973 October War and is where the assassinated President Sadat is buried. There are also many falafel stands, shawarma restaurants and mosques. There are no fewer than eight shopping malls in the area, including City Star, one of Egypt’s largest, plus each district has its own souq. Some malls like Tiba Outlet Mall cater to families while others attract youngsters like the Geneina Mall with its bowling centre, billiards and nightclub.
Twenty miles west of downtown Cairo lies 6th of October City, a sprawling green suburb alive with cultural and culinary possibilities. Don’t miss the city’s many dining plazas for gourmet food and coffee. Swing by 30 North for a Nutella Cappuccino and frequent the hipsterfied food trucks on Capital Promenade, while the upmarket Arkan Plaza offers up Olivo Pizzeria and Ovio, which is probably the city’s most popular brunch destination. Then there’s the Instagram-worthy artisanal gelateria Dara’s Ice Cream. For a true fine dining experience call in at Izakaya, which serves a high-end fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. For nightlife hit up the Cairo Jazz Club 610, which plays a rich melting pot of sounds and genres, and the likes of La Taberna and the Tap West. The area is also home to several enticing shopping malls including the Mall of Egypt with its massive skiing and sledding centre, complete with its own resident penguins.
The chaotic heart of the city is its downtown area, modelled on the boulevards of Paris, where many of Cairo’s best hotels can be found. The main thoroughfare through Downtown is Talaat Harb Street, winding north east from Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square). The streets leading off from here are a jumble of travel agents, banks, shoe and clothing stores, malls, fast food stalls, juice bars and cafes. The main landmark is the Egyptian Museum, soon to be surpassed by its billion-dollar counterpart in Giza, but there are several cool contemporary art galleries including the Townhouse Gallery and the Mashrabia Gallery. Alongside western fast food you’ll find plenty of shawarma stands and koshary houses including popular local chains Felfela and Abou Tarek. There are many bars to enjoy, too. The northern side streets teem with seedy joints offering belly-dancing shows while you should check out the more respectable establishments such as the Odeon Palace Bar, a 24-hour rooftop bar and El Horreya, a bustling coffee shop that also serves beer.
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