North Africa has a fascinating belt of countries that played a very important role in world history. Egypt is the home of one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Egypt was my next destination as I was interested in the famous Pyramids of Giza. As I researched the country, it turned out to be a sea of history and that made me more curious. I landed in the capital Cairo late at night and had few surprises at the airport, such as lack of money exchangers, phone network providers etc. I somehow survived the waves of hawkers outside the airport and reached my hostel in downtown Cairo. I will write more about my trip to Egypt in a series of posts in future. I spent a few days in Cairo and in this post, I will quickly list all the things to do in Cairo if you planning to travel there.
Islamic District of Cairo
Arabs invaded Egypt and Islam was introduced in the country. I was thinking downtown Cairo was the old Cairo, but there is another district of Cairo that is from the Islamic era of Egypt and home to the famous glittering souk Khan el Khalili and some of the 10th and 11th-century mosques like Al-Hakim Mosque, Hussein Mosque and Al-Azhar Mosque. From downtown, you can reach this district by metro. Get down at a station called Attaba and then take a small local bus, called ‘Suzuki’ by locals, from just outside the metro exit. It’s a must visit attraction in Cairo because the region is the core of Islamic history in the country and has some great sights and local food shops that you must try.
In my 10-day trip to the different cities in Egypt that were related to Pharaonic history (3500 BC – 332 BC), I was told at many important locations that the bits and pieces of every important artefact have been taken from all over the Egypt and placed in the Cairo Museum in Cairo. When I went to the museum, I could see what they really meant. The ticket for the museum was 80 LE and if you are planning to use the camera, it’s 50 LE extra. I saw the Cairo museum at the end of my trip, because what I learned and saw all over the Egypt was finally going to help me get a better perspective. All the missing pieces of the puzzle were here. The vast museum has different sections covering different eras of Pharaonic History. The most important one is the 2nd floor where the famous treasure of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun is showcased. Tutankhamun was the youngest Pharaoh in ancient Egypt and his tomb was found in absolutely pristine condition. Among all the treasures showcased in the museum, the most famous one is the 11 kg pure gold mask that was found on the mummy of Tutankhamun. It’s an absolute gem to see the museum, there is the separate section for mummies and it costs an extra 100 LE.
Across the Nile on the other side of the city, there is the 187-meter high Cairo tower that can be seen from any part of the city. If this doesn’t sound interesting enough, let me put it this way: it’s higher than the tallest pyramid in Giza. It costs 80 LE to go up and it gives you the good panoramic view of the Cairo city. There is not much space on the top and you won’t need to spend more than 15- 20 minutes there. It’s a quick stop but you can choose to skip it if you don’t want to spend 80 LE just to get a view.
Cairo Opera House
The hub of Cairo art and culture is the famous Cairo Opera house. Lots of cultural events and concerts are organised regularly in the main hall of the Opera house. Unfortunately, the only concert planned that day was already sold out so I couldn’t get in. I spent my time watching many art exhibitions and visited the modern art museum in the same compound. It’s something you can choose to do on a good day when you not in the mood to do anything too exhausting.
This is something that you won’t be able to miss even if you want to. Downtown is the heart of the city and in other words the real Cairo. Life in downtown is just as casual as one can expect. Roadside cafes with locals smoking sheesha and sipping the tea, narrow roads crowded with cars and so on. The crazy driving skills of the people will amaze you and you’ll realise its normal day in Cairo. Downtown is best explored at night when thousands of shops on the busy roads light up and make the whole area look like Christmas. Old buildings, exotic street food and a strong smell of sheesha in the air are the trademarks of the region. The most famous square and landmark of the city is Tahrir Square.
Cairo is not limited to Old Islamic sights or century-old buildings and busy streets of Downtown. There is another face of the city known as New Cairo. The modern buildings, huge shopping malls and developed areas represent the new Cairo. I was supposed to see New Cairo with a friend, but for some reason, she couldn’t make it. I visited the Cairo Festival mall in 5th Settlement. Yes, 5th Settlement is the name of the area and don’t be surprised with the unusual names of the places in Cairo, for example, there is a flyover called 6th October Flyover.