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Cairo Egypt

Cairo (القاهرة al-Qāhirah) is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (which regions it conveniently straddles) - it is also the 13th largest city in the world. Situated on the River Nile, Cairo is famous for its own history - preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and in Old Cairo - and for the ancient, Pharaonic history of the country it represents. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, to nearby Saqqara, or to the Egyptian Museum in the center of town. Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society.

Situated along the Nile, Cairo has ancient origins, located in the vicinity of the Pharaonic city of Memphis. The city started to take its present form in 641, when the Arab general Amr ibn al-As conquered Egypt for Islam and founded a new capital called Misr al-Fustat, "the City of the Tents", in what is now Old Cairo. The Tunisian Fatimid dynasty captured the city in 969 and founded a new city, al-Qahira ("The Victorious") just north of al-Fustat. Al-Qahira gave the city its English name, Cairo, but the locals still call it Maşr (مصر), the Egyptian dialectal version of Amr's Mişr. Confusingly, this also the Arabic name of the entire country of Egypt!


Cairo is vast: with more than 17 million people, it's the largest city in Africa and the Middle East. The downtown core consists of the following districts:

  • Midan Tahrir - the very centre of the modern city: big hotels, transport nexus and the Egyptian Museum
  • Downtown - the commercial heart of the modern city from Midan Talaat Harb up to Midan Ataba
  • Midan Ramses - Cairo's main railway station and a burgeoning retail and accommodation zone
  • Garden City - an upmarket "garden suburb" close to the city centre and the Corniche el-Nil

Beyond the downtown core lie the older parts of Cairo:

  • Islamic Cairo - the centre of historic Cairo, located east of downtown; the Citadel, Khan el Khalili (the main Cairo souq / market), historic mosques and medieval architecture
  • Old Cairo - located south of downtown, includes Coptic Cairo and Fustat (Cairo's historical kernel)

Around the core also lie a number of more modern suburbs:

  • Dokki and Mohandiseen - located on the west bank of the Nile, with upscale restaurants and shopping
  • Gezira and Zamalek - upmarket suburbs on an island in the Nile, with hotels and the Cairo Tower
  • Giza - a sprawling western district of the city and the site of the Pyramids
  • Heliopolis and Nasr City - an upmarket residential and retail area close to the Airport
  • Ma'adi - a suburb catering to many foreign ex-patriates, accessed by the Ring Road


A selected list of Cairo highlights:

  • Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The only remaining monuments of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is the country's most famous tourist attraction.
  • Egyptian Museum, on Midan Tahrir. The world's premier collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.
  • Citadel, in Islamic Cairo. A grand castle built by Salah Al-Din. Also parts of the water pipes (Majra Al-Oyouon) are still there, these pipes used to carry the water from the Nile River to the citadel.
  • Nilometer South end of Roda island, Nile. Dating back to 861, the Nilometer was used to measure the level of the Nile was measured and therefore the tax rates for the farmers fixed. The Nilometer became obsolete when the Aswan Dam was built.
  • Al-Azhar Mosque. One of the pillars of Islamic thought and home to the world's oldest university.
  • Ibn Tulun, close to Sayidna Zeinab. The oldest, and maybe most beautiful mosque in Cairo.
  • The Coptic Museum, in Coptic Cairo.
  • the "Hanging Church" (Church of the Virgin Mary), in Zabeleen Area (District of Manshiet Nasser) below Mokkatam Hills, not far away from the Citadel


  • Ride a felucca along the Nile River. A great way to relax and enjoy a night under the stars in Cairo. Feluccas are available across from the Four Seasons Hotel in Garden City. To charter your own, negotiate a fair price of no more than 20 to 30 LE for about a half hour for the boat, or 50 LE for an hour, no matter how many people are on it. Pay after your ride, or you may get much less than you bargained for! Public boats with loud Arabic music and a giggling crowd are also available for LE 2 for 1/2 hour.
  • Go horse riding in the desert from one of the Nazlet EsSamaan stables like FB Stables. Ride in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or further afield to Saqqara or Abu Sir or camp out over night with a barbecue and fire.
  • Have a coffee, mint tea or Cola at El Fishawy's coffee shop in Khan el-Khalili. Smoke a shisha water pipe (try the "double apple" flavor) and watch the world go by. Great cheap entertainment.
  • When you need a break from city life, try a round of golf on the famous Mena House Golf Course overlooking the Pyramids, watch the horse racing at the Gezira Club or visit the Zoo and the Cairo Botanical Gardens.
  • NB Stables, Gamal Abdul Nasser St (from Sphinx), Giza ((Turn left after the sphinx KFC, then right in Gamal Abdul Nasser Street. NB is one of the last stables on the left)), (+20) 016 507 0288. Friendly family-run stables with well-cared for horses. Popular with expats who keep their horses at livery, NB Stables is also great for a 'tourist' type ride to view the Pyramids from the desert. Ask for Nasser. Longer rides to Saqqara and Abu Sir can be arranged in advance, as can overnight rides with barbecue in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Other than the horses and good company, one of the best things about NB is their amazing rooftop terrace with unrivalled views over the Pyramids - a great place to relax with a drink whilst watching the Sound and Light show.



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