My first trip to Cairo was in 2012, as part of business trip that was, as usual, extended to leisure! I went back last March to mix again the two!
My guide here will combine itinerary from my first visit and from my recent one last March.
When and How to get there
First, make sure to apply for your visa, if needed, at least two weeks ahead of time. Check the embassy in your country for the needed document.
Note that Lebanese citizens above 50 years’ old do not need a visa and in case you are visiting Sharm El Sheikh you will get it in the airport.
Cairo’s intl airport has many terminals, so make sure to check which one is yours especially for your return. It also has several security check points so you might want to arrive 3 hours before your flight. The duty free has many shopping and dining options so you will have what keeps you busy until departure!
While Summer months get hot and humid, preferably plan your visit between September and April.
Important things to know
While the spoken language is Arabic, you can still make your way if you speak English.
I would advise to be a bit conservative when it comes to dressing by respect to the culture.
Where to stay
During my first trip, I had a marvelous hotel stay in Omar Khayyam Mariott overlooking the Nile in Zamalek Area, tasty food, great service and perfect location.
This time I stayed in Intercontinental City stars. It is linked to the City Stars mall one of the biggest in Cairo, and which has high end as well as affordable brands, movie theaters, kiosks and dining options. The hotel has two towers and different restaurants as well as spa and a pool that invites you to lay down and relax (helas i did not have the luxury of time!)
The staff are always attentive to requests, the rooms are clean and complimentary water and fast internet are provided. I was a bit deceived when it comes to food however nothing to be said on the pastry chef who is an artist!
What to do and see
- Pyramids of Giza: in the end, they are Egypt’s pride. Around 30 minutes away from Zamalek, take a careem or arrange your taxi. Bare in mind that when you arrive, you will have many guides coming your way pretending to be from the Pyramids management and dictating your route. I would advise you skipping the Horse and Camel rides as they are only tourists scheme. I was with a friend and we were moving around with her car. I am not a fan of closed spaces hence I did not go inside the pyramids; in all cases, the mummies and all the Pharaohs are in the national and European museums. Note that with your ticket (20 Egyptian pound for arabs and 100 for Foreigners ) you can visit the pyramids and the museum. If you come after hours (they close at 4) you can watch the Light and sound show.
Proud Camel rider
- National museum: Where the Pharaonic treasures as well as other antiquities though many have been stolen and taken to international museum. It was built in 1901 and has two floors.
Be careful as taking photos is forbidden inside of it, so just let your eyes enjoy the discoveries such as the Gold Mask of Tutankhamun.
- Al Azhar and Azhar Parks: Not far from one another, you can visit the mosque which was built during Fatimid dynasty after the Prophet’s daughter Fatima Al Zahraa. Head their to pray and have some relaxing time in the parks. I would advise avoiding Friday and Saturday as it will be packed, unless you are heading for Friday’s prayer
- Saladin Citadel of Cairo: In a charming location overlooking Cairo and Azhar parks, the citadel was built by Salah El Din to protect the city form the Crusaders. It has different preserved mosques and museums, be sure to include it
- Al Hussein and Khan al Khalili: The beating heart of Cairo, where you will find faithful Muslims, curious tourists, merchants and more. During Ramadan, the area is flooded with people from the Maghreb to Fajr. A grand bazaar filled with souvenirs (funny thing is that most of course are Chinese made) however, if you go deeper to reach Muuiz street, you will find a vintage haven, and many copper handmade artisan’s items. Sit at one of the coffee shops, and sip tea with mint or if you are a fan of shisha. If you were lucky you can also stick till a live band play Arabic music. The most known cafés are Al fishawei and Oum Kulthoum, however skip the crowd and go to Wikalat al sehemy for a calmer ambiance.
Where to eat
During my trips, I had half board at the hotels, with much preference to Marriott vs Intercontinental. But here are some of the locations were I had meals out:
Out of practicality, I had lunch during my first and last day at these two spots. Whole meal Salads are my go to option and these were ok.
I had to live the Egyptian tea experience so I made sure to sit and sip mint tea, unfortunately I couldn’t stay till the live music performance
- Al Manzel
I wouldn’t call what I ate there Lebanese cuisine, a lot of work needs to be done on the menu. I didn’t like most of the plates served, the only winner was this ghazal ice cream dessert.
- Self Tucked in the Zamalek, this haven for healthy food and drinks should be on your list!
Unfortunately, I did not have time to experiment more in food, as I had some stomach pain, though I was not amazed by any of the food I had. I was short on time also to visit my Egyptian friends as home cooked meal is the best we can have.
What I learned from my travels is to go without expectations to the place you are visiting. And this is applicable the most to Cairo; unfortunately my trip came in the wrong time as I have just lost grandma, I wasn’t myself and I did not enjoy as I usually would, yet I tried to make the best out of it.
Until the next trip