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  • Overview

    One of Africa's largest cities - with a population of close to ten million in the city proper and a further 10 million living in close proximity - Cairo is a chaotic mixture of sights, sounds and smells. It is heaving with life, volatile and boisterous, with an intensity that both exhausts and invigorates visitors. The congested streets of Islamic Cairo are full of donkey carts, traders and mosques, while camels weave their way haughtily between the crumbling pyramids on the outskirts. Taxis clamour for attention and pedestrians elbow their way past busy coffee houses, where those seeking a brief escape from the hustle and bustle sit sipping at strong cups of coffee while contemplating the smoke rings of Shisha water pipes.

    In Cairo, visitors practice the age-old art of bargaining for trinkets, spices and perfume in one of the world's largest bazaars, or pay a visit to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which houses treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb. They wander the streets of Coptic Cairo, visiting places of worship that are centuries old, and marvel at the massive pyramids that loom just beyond the city. Sunsets are enjoyed overlooking the mighty Nile River and the restaurants promise flavoursome Egyptian cuisine and all sorts of international delicacies. The city is challenging but its treasures are myriad and it is the doorstep to the wonders of one of the oldest and mightiest human civilizations.

    Situated on the Nile, Egyptians proudly refer to Cairo as the 'Mother of all Cities'. It is an ancient hub of human endeavour, populated since about the 4th century, when the Romans established the fortress of Babylon. The city holds an enduring fascination for travellers. It is as beguiling as it is messy, showcasing an exciting blend of African, Arab and European influences, the timelessness of ancient heritage, and the energy of the present.

    Khan al-Khalili

    Buzzing with enthusiastic buying and selling, Khan al-Khalili is one of the largest markets in the world. Situated within Islamic Cairo, the World Heritage Site attracts travellers and locals alike. On the northern corner of the bazaar is the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt. The market is the best place to soak up the colour of Cairo and to people-watch and the streets themselves are charming with arches, carvings and mosaics. You will get many amazing photo opportunities wandering the labyrinthine little streets, just be sure not to get lost!

    Traders have been bargaining in these alleys since the 14th century and it is possible to buy almost anything, from exotic perfume bottles to everyday Arabic clothing. There is, of course, a lot of junk as well but treasures and great bargains can be found. Be prepared to barter as the prices originally stated will always be much too high and the merchants expect you to negotiate. Although some of the traders are delightful others can get pushy and rude. Unfortunately, women travelling alone will almost certainly have to put up with a certain amount of harassment. No matter how many times you visit this vibrant market you will always find something new and enchanting, just keep a careful eye on your wallet.

    Khan al-Khalili Khan al-Khalili juliegomoll
    Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

    With over 100,000 artefacts in 107 halls, the Egyptian Museum provides days of exploration. Inside are treasures from ancient Egypt, including priceless finery taken from ancient royal tombs, and one of the museum's masterpieces, the statue of Khafre (Chephren). The most popular attraction is the Tutankhamun Gallery where exquisite treasures from the tomb of the iconic Boy King are displayed, including the famous solid gold death mask. Another top attraction is the Royal Mummy Room containing mummies of some of the most powerful Pharaohs in Egypt dating from the 18th to 20th dynasties (there is an additional cost for this room). The museum also contains collections of artefacts including coins, papyrus scrolls, scarabs and sarcophagi. There is a cafeteria, bank, post office, gift shop and library at the museum and taped audio guides are available in English, French and Arabic. Visitors should be aware that photography is not allowed.

    Although a trip to Egypt would feel incomplete without a visit to this incredible museum, its location on Tahrir Square means that foreigners must be cautious visiting during periods of unrest. If there are demonstrations on the square it is best to avoid the area.

    Address: Mariette Pasha Street, Tahrir Square
    Opening time: Open daily 9am to 7pm (9am to 5pm during Ramadan)
    Egyptian Museum Egyptian Museum Dan Lundberg
    Pyramids of Giza

    The pyramids are the earth's oldest tourist attraction and the Great Pyramid of Khufu (also referred to as the Great Pyramid of Cheops) is the only remainder of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Throughout history the pyramids have fired human imagination, with much speculation as to their origin and purpose. The most compelling theory is that they were built by the ancient Egyptian civilisation as tombs or great monuments in which to bury their kings and nobles; a place to start their mystic journey to the afterlife.

    The oldest and largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid, is thought to have taken 20 years to build and is made of about two million blocks of limestone. No one knows how the two-ton blocks were moved into place, but it was known to be the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 40 centuries. The Great Sphinx, known as the Abu al-Hol (Father of Terror), stands in front of the Great Pyramid and is thought to be older than the pyramids themselves.

    Tours of the pyramids are conducted by many tour operators in Giza. Access to the interior of the pyramids is restricted, and at least one is closed for renovations at any given period. While climbing the pyramids was once a popular activity, the practise has now been banned. The best time to visit the Pyramids of Giza is early in the morning, before the tour buses descend on them. While unofficial 'tour guides' lurk around the site to demand tips, better-informed guides can be booked in advance from Giza. It is often best to ask your hotel's advice on guides.

    Address: Pyramid Road, 11 miles (18km) southwest of the centre
    Transport: Bus 8 from Midan Tahrir
    Great Pyramid of Giza Great Pyramid of Giza Nina Aldin Thune
    Old Cairo

    Once known as the Roman stronghold of Babylon, Coptic Cairo is the oldest part of the city and the heart of the Coptic Christian community. Home to 5 original churches alongside Egypts first mosque and oldest synagogue, these ancient walls house three of the major religions of the modern world in one special area. It is a peaceful place to wander around and a respite from the busy city centre.

    Churches of interest are the Al-Muallaqa (Hanging Church), the oldest Christian place of worship in the city, and St Sergius where the Holy Family reputedly sheltered during their flight to Egypt. You can take the metro into Coptic Cairo from Tahrir Square. It is useful to have a guide when exploring the area as there is so much history to discover and so much to see. However, visitors who chose to explore alone will feel the power and age of the place and should still be able to find all the major attractions.

    Old Cairo Old Cairo David Stanley
    Coptic Church of St George (Mari Girgis)

    The only round, or domed, church left in Cairo, the Greek Church of St George features a long set of steps that lead up to the church, where visitors will find a relief of St George and the dragon wrapped around the outer brickwork of the tower. The original church dated back to the 10th century, or earlier, but this ancient structure largely burned down and the current church replaced it in 1904. For centuries, the church alternated between Coptic and Greek ownership, but since the 15th century it has remained Greek Orthodox, and the adjoining monastery of St George is now the seat of the Greek patriarch. Despite this, the Moulid of Mari Girgis, a large Coptic festival celebrating St George, is celebrated at the church each April.

    The St George Church is most famous for its beautiful wedding hall ( ), which dates back to the 14th century. St George was a warrior saint imprisoned and martyred near the church, which is built on an ancient Roman tower. Sadly, this wonderful building is often not included in tours of Coptic Cairo but it is well worth the visit and very easy to find. The church and monastery are visible from Mari Girgis Station.

    Address: Mari Girgis Street, Old Cairo
    Coptic Church of St. George Coptic Church of St. George Francesco Gasparetti
    Hanging Church

    The Hanging Church in Cairo derives its name from its location on top of the southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress, with its nave suspended over a passage. It is the most famous Coptic church in Cairo with the earliest mention of the church being a statement in the biography of the patriarch Joseph, who lived in the mid-19th century. It went on to become known to travellers as the 'staircase church' during the 14th and 15th centuries, because of the twenty-nine steps that lead to the entrance.

    The visual impact of the church's elevated position has been reduced due to the rise of land surface by around 20 feet (six metres) since the Roman period, not to mention the rise of tall buildings around it, but it is still an impressive and beautiful church. The Roman tower upon which it is built remains mostly buried below ground. It is calm and peaceful inside and visitors are not pestered here as they may be at many other Cairo attractions. Among the highlights of the church are the intricate carvings and mosaics which decorate the walls, windows and doors.

    Address: Shara Mari Girgis Street, Old Cairo
    Hanging Church Hanging Church David Berkowitz
    Asfour Crystal Factory

    The Egyptians were the first people to develop the art technology to manufacture glass and cut it into beautiful shapes. This ancient civilisation started making crystals 5,000 years ago. Asfour Crystal was established in 1961 and the Asfour Crystal Factory Showroom is one of the largest and most respected crystal factories in Egypt and provides crystals to many countries across the globe. They are said to be the world's single largest employer of skilled crystal workers. Products range from jewellery to 3D laser gifts, figurines and a selection of chandeliers and other light fittings. The jewellery is not quite of the same standard as Swarovski crystal but some lovely pieces can be picked up at the factory at prices up to 60 percent cheaper than what you'll find at retail shops, and there are some beautiful, creative pieces on show. Asfour Crystal is most famous for their crystal chandeliers and there is a vast array to choose from. The hundreds of shining lights and glittering crystals in the showroom make it a magical space, worth seeing even if you don't purchase anything. There is also a small display detailing the manufacturing process, and helpful and knowledgeable sales staff available to help. A tax certificate is given with all purchases.

    Address: Industrial Zone: 5 Asfour Crystal, St. Shoubra Al Kheima.
    Crystals Crystals Alexander Baxevanis
    Saladin Citadel (Al-Qalaa)

    The Saladin Citadel is a massive stone fortress, set in a beautiful tropical location, built by Salah ad-Din in the 12th century. Visitors have the freedom to roam the castle, which remains in pristine condition, and which boasts incredible views of Cairo. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day you will be able to see all the way to the pyramids. The execution room is particularly interesting but just wandering around this ancient citadel is fascinating. The Mohammed Ali Mosque (also called the Alabaster Mosque) crowns the citadel and this magnificent place of worship is the highlight of the fortress. It was built between 1824 and 1857 and modelled on the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul. There are two other mosques within the Citadel: the 13th-century Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad, and the 16th-century Mosque of Suleyman Pasha. As always, women visiting the mosques must wear loose clothing and be prepared to cover up (there are scarves available at the entrance for this purpose if you do not bring your own). The Al-Gawhara Palace, National Military Museum and Police Museum can also be found inside the Citadel.

    Address: al-Qalaa, Shara Salih Salem
    Saladin Citadel Saladin Citadel Ahmed Al Badawy
    Ramses II Statue

    Discovered in 1882 during excavations, the giant statue of Pharaoh Ramses II was cut into six pieces in the 1950s and moved to Ramses Square in central Cairo where it stood for a further 50 years. In 2006 the statue moved to a new, temporary museum a few miles outside of Cairo, as there were growing concerns that heavy pollution was damaging the 3,200-year-old statue, which weighs 83 ton and stands 36 feet (11 metres) high. The moving of the massive statue was a technological challenge and has been covered in a documentary by National Geographic.

    Ramses II, who ruled Egypt for more than 60 years during the 19th dynasty of pharaohs, was one of ancient Egypt's most prolific builders and there are a number of statues of him remaining in Egypt. However, none are as impressive as the colossus. All in all, the statue is beautifully preserved although one side is discernibly less perfect as it was exposed to the elements for centuries before its re-discovery in 1882. The expression on his face is serene and quite enthralling.

    The famous statue was moved for the final time in January 2018. It now takes pride of place in the entrance hall of the Grand Egyptian Museum. This 650,000-square-foot museum is currently under construction and will have capacity for up to 100,000 artefacts upon completion in 2020.

    Ramses II Statue Ramses II Statue Barrylb
    The Pharaonic Village

    This living museum is a fabulous attraction for the whole family to enjoy. Visitors sail down a network of canals in motorized barges where a cast of actors and actresses work to recreate ancient Egypt. All the characters from pharaohs and fishermen to slaves and potters are represented and even moments in history are recreated. Apart from the faithful reproductions of ancient Egyptian buildings, clothing and lifestyles, there is a complete replica of the tomb of Tutankhamen and a number of museums and interactive exhibits covering different periods of Egypt's history.

    Exhibits and activities change regularly making it a different experience every time you visit, but favourites include the mummification exhibit and the Cleopatra exhibit. There is a small amusement park, a restaurant, shops and an art centre, as well as boat hiring facilities. The experience is fun and educational and will take a family at least a few hours to fully appreciate so be sure to allow sufficient time.

    Address: 3 El Bahr El Aazam St, Cairo.
    Opening time: 9am to 5pm daily. Open until 7pm in the peak summer months.
    Cleopatra Cleopatra Tanna Valentine
    Magic Galaxy

    This indoor amusement park spans two floors and features a handful of big rides, more than 100 games, and even a Baby Zone section for very young visitors. Kids can enjoy rides such as the Moon Buggy or Falling Star, and family rides like the Comet Coaster and Demolition Derby. They can spend hours ensconced in games and fun activities, or even let off some steam in the Soft Play Room. This is a fantastic attraction for the whole family, and a great way to beat the Egyptian heat for a while, or take a break from historical sightseeing. The focus of the amusement park is on children aged between two and 12 but there is fun to be had for all age groups.

    Upon entry you will get a Magic Galaxy Card which is prepaid for use of games and rides and can be recharged with fresh funds whenever needed. The cards also accumulate points from certain games and you can pick prizes according to how well you have done. If you happen to go on your birthday you'll get a whole bunch of nifty discounts.

    Address: 4th & 5th floor Helioplis City Stars Centre, Omar abn El khatab Street
    Bumper cars Bumper cars Lesley Parker
    Dream Park

    A trip to Dream Park is a must for children of all ages and makes a great day out for the whole family. Featuring rides, shops, fun activities and simulators, the 160-acre Dream Park is also encircled by a train, making access easy. Visitors can enjoy a number of stomach-turning adventure rides, or a selection of mellow family rides, as well as two theatres and one of the largest concert areas in Cairo. Numerous restaurants provide refuelling stops, and there is a selection of gift shops for souvenirs. The Dream Park claims to be the largest and most unique amusement park in the Middle East and can host up to 30,000 visitors. It was designed by the same people who designed Universal Studios.

    Address: Oasis Road, Cairo.
    Opening time: 10am until at least 7pm.
    Dream Park Dream Park Sebastien V

    Attracting droves of travellers interested in Ancient Egypt and archaeological treasures, Cairo, at first glance, may not seem like the best place to travel with children. After all, it's hot, dry, crowded and full of ancient temples and structures that children may find hard to relate to. However, Cairo does have a little something to offer its younger visitors.

    Obvious attractions such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx will amaze visitors of all ages. Riding a camel or Arabian horse round these spectacular attractions is a fantastic activity for the whole family and a good way to keep the kids interested. Older children might enjoy the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, but a great way to teach the younger ones about Ancient Egypt is to take a barge ride through The Pharaonic Village where they can enjoy history being acted out. There are plenty of amusement parks in Egypt to enjoy too, such as Dream Park or Sindbad where children can enjoy plenty of rides and activities.

    For days when the heat is scorching and going outdoors with the children is not an option, take the kids to an indoor playground or amusement park, such as Magic Galaxy, which offers something for children of all ages and even a baby zone for the youngest visitors.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Egypt has an arid, desert climate and the weather in Cairo is always warm, or hot, and the nights cool. There are only two seasons: a very hot summer, with average temperatures reaching 95°F (35°C) between May and October, and a mild winter from November to April. Cairo is very dry, receiving on average only about a centimetre of rain a year, but it does have high humidity levels in summer due to its location by the Nile River. The city occasionally experiences dust storms in March and April. The best time to visit Cairo is in the cooler winter months between November and April, when the temperatures average between 66°F (19°C) and 84°F (29°C) during the day, and between 41°F (5°C) and 52°F (11°C) at night. December, January and February are the most popular months to visit as they are the most comfortable and visitors avoid both the worst of the heat and the chance of desert winds and sandstorms.

    Diners in Cairo should take advantage of the unique, plentiful, and very cheap restaurants serving Egyptian favourites. By sitting down in the neighbourhood café and enjoying some light eats and sweet drinks travellers can easily immerse themselves in the local dining culture. This is also a great opportunity for people-watching and mingling with the locals. Favourite Egyptian meals to try include falafel (made out of crushed fava beans), kushari (a tasty mixture of staples like rice, lentils, pasta and caramelized onion) and fattah (a meat, bread and rice dish similar to Biryani).

    Although Egyptian cuisine is worth investigating and has a lot to offer, some of the best restaurants in Cairo have an eclectic international focus. Previously largely restricted to hotel restaurants, everything from sashimi to cheeseburgers is now prepared by top chefs in trendy venues. Even traditional local food is getting a creative facelift.

    For your pick of the trendiest restaurants in Cairo, Zamalek is a dining hotspot. The downtown areas near Khan al-Khalili are great for cheap local haunts.

    In Cairo it is considered unclean to eat with the left hand, and visitors should remember that alcohol is usually not served unless at a hotel restaurant. It is considered good manners to leave food on your plate, as it shows that the host has been generous. It is considered impolite to stare at another person's food in a restaurant. During Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, many restaurants are closed and, again, travellers should head to a hotel restaurant and avoid eating in public.

    Sequoia

    This tent restaurant has become a popular relaxation spot with trendy locals and expats and for good reason. On the high banks of the Nile the restaurant has a commanding spot atop the city. Perfect to relax with flavoured tobaccos and traditional Egyptian and Lebanese mezze food although there are other options for light western dining. More of a lounge during the day, the place becomes a club when the sun sets.

    Address: 3 Abou Feda Street
    Cortigiano

    Delicious food and an inviting, cosy atmosphere have made this Italian restaurant one of Cairo's favourite eateries. Soft lighting and tasteful décor create the perfect atmosphere to dine on such dishes as creamy onion soup, veal cordon bleu stuffed with mushrooms and topped with cheese and tomatoes or thick crust pizzas loaded with toppings of your choice. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations essential.

    Address: 44 Michel Bakhoum Street
    Bua Khao

    With authentic ingredients flown in from Bangkok and a highly skilled Thai woman at the helm, it's no wonder the food at Bua Khao keeps guests coming back for more. Renowned for serving the best Thai food in Egypt, the and curries are to-die-for and the (chicken and coconut milk soup) is a great way to start things off. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.

    Address: 9 Road 151, Maadi
    Website: buakhaorest.com
    The Revolving Restaurant Grand Hyatt

    Towering above the city 41 floors high, diners can enjoy truly panoramic views of the city below as the scenery circles by. Besides taking in the Nile, the city and the pyramids an open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant puts on a show serving up an eclectic range of multi-national menu choices. A slightly formal setting is perfect for romantic evenings and a reprieve from the congestion 41 floors below. Reservations are advised.

    Address: Corniche El Nile
    The Fish Market

    Gone are the days of travelling to Alexandria for good fresh fish. Nowadays, those looking for decent sea fare can book a table at the Fish Market, situated on the upper deck of a boat permanently moored on the west bank of the Nile. With no menu and just a display of some of the freshest fish Cairo has to offer, diners pay by weight and choose their own fish, shrimp, calamari, crabs and shellfish, which is beautifully prepared by the kitchen as you like. Couple that with a slew of Middle Eastern salads and deliciously home baked bread and you have a recipe for success! Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.

    Address: 26 Shara al-Nil, Giza (on the American Boat)
    Kandahar

    Overlooking Maydan Sphinx and complete with exquisite woodwork detailing, the lavish dining area in Kandahar features authentic Indian furnishings. The food tastes as good as the restaurant looks. The (creamy smoked eggplant baked in a clay oven and perfect for dipping fluffy Naan bread in) is an absolute must and (spiced chicken kebabs marinated in yoghurt) is a firm favourite. Service is excellent. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.

    Address: 3 Shara Gameat al-Dowal al-Arabiya, Mohandiseen
    Koshary Abou Tarek

    Consistently ranked as one of the most popular restaurants in Cairo, Koshary Abou Tarek serves up a uniquely Egyptian dish, koshary (sometimes spelled koshari), best described as an Egyptian-style chilli, in large portions for prices even the most budget-conscious travellers will love. As ubiquitous in Egypt as curry is in India, Koshary is available at nearly any street vendor in Cairo, but Abou Tarek's koshary is among the best in the city.

    Address: 16 Maarouf, Shamplion Street
    Cairo International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 13.7 miles (22km) from central Cairo.
    Time: Local time is GMT + 2.
    Transfer Between Terminals: The three terminals are about two miles (3km) apart and are linked by a free shuttle, which departs about every half an hour.
    Getting to the city: There are taxis outside the main arrivals hall; the journey to central Cairo takes around 45 minutes. The Airport Shuttle bus is a convenient way to get from the airport to downtown Cairo and along the Pyramids Road in Giza. Public buses and air-conditioned coaches also leave regularly from Terminal 1.
    Car Rental: Car hire companies at the airport include Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis may have fare meters but are unlikely to use them. Fares vary and should be negotiated up front. Cairo taxis are black and white.
    Fascilities: Facilities include a restaurant and several cafeterias, banks and ATMs, a bureau de change, pharmacies, an internet café in Terminal 1, five-star lounges for business and first class passengers, smoking rooms (Terminal 1), tourist information desks and travel agencies. Duty-free shopping is also available.
    Parking Parking is available adjacent to Terminal 1, at a rate of EGP 5 per hour.

    Useful Contacts:

    Summer Mouleds

    The most prominent religious festivals which tourists experience in Egypt are the 'mouleds'. These are incredibly lively processions that take to the streets of Cairo on the birthdays of various holy men. Although the festivals are not officially part of the Muslim faith, mouleds are extremely popular in Egypt, particularly 'Mouled El Naby', the celebration of Prophet Mohammed's birth. The occasions are celebrated by exchanging sweets, decorative lights, music, dance, and ritual chanting, as well as street parades and performances.

    In some conservative Muslim circles the mouleds are considered 'unIslamic' but for the most part they are enthusiastically celebrated. The mouleds generally take place in summer, and blend religion with folklore, usually including wild dancing accompanied by music, chanting and fireworks. Citizens were often banned from holding mouleds under the Mubarak regime, which cited safety issues as an excuse to avoid large gatherings of people. Egypt is now trying to revitalise these events and draw tourists back into the festivities as part of the country's attempt to regain its reputation as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

    Venue: Streets of Cairo and other towns and villages
    Mouled celebration Mouled celebration Faris Knight
    Cairo International Film Festival

    Cairo enjoys a reputation as the 'Hollywood of the Middle East', with a cinematic tradition dating back as far as the 1930s. The Cairo International Film Festival began in 1976 and is accredited by the same prestigious organisation that accredits the Cannes, Berlin, and Venice film festivals.

    Held every year to high acclaim, the festival now faces increasing competition from other impressive events like the Abu Dhabi, Marrakech, and Tel Aviv film festivals. In 2011, it was cancelled due to revolutionary upheaval and an apparent lack of funds.

    The Cairo International Film Festival is a big event on the Egyptian calendar and usually attracts visitors from all over the world.

    Venue: Various
    Website: www.ciff.org.eg
    Cairo International Film Festival Cairo International Film Festival Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

    Cairo nightlife swirls around the aromatic social centre of the city, the coffee shop. The , as they are called, are day and night social gathering spots for locals. Many Muslims don't drink alcohol (although some do) and the ahwas serve the same social purpose as the bars and pubs in many other countries; they are great places to mingle or relax and take a break from frenetic Cairo. In the night hours some cafés also sell alcohol to a select local crowd and foreign visitors are usually welcome.

    Most large hotels house a pub, bar or large club. These are very popular spots with locals as well as visitors, and bookings for club tables may need to be made in advance. Clubs usually have relaxing lounge or restaurant atmospheres, often centred around a performance of music or dancing. While this can be great entertainment, some belly dancing shows and clubs in Cairo are fronts for prostitution and travellers should be wary. Large hotels have reputable shows as well as popular western-style discos, usually with an Egyptian-themed twist.

    Westerners are generally welcomed everywhere, although women should dress a bit more conservatively than they might at home. During Ramadan, alcohol is only served in 'foreigners only' establishments and drinking and eating in public during the day is frowned upon.

    Shopping in Cairo is fun and distinctive, characterised by market haggling and the pursuit of antiques, or at least, souvenirs that look like antiques. Many visitors to this vibrant city will have a wonderful time just wandering through the souks (markets) taking in the diverse sights, sounds and smells.

    Just about everything can be bought at the largest market in Cairo, the Khan al-Khalili. Most visitors dare not venture deep into the interior as the market can be intimidating, with very persistent touts and a mind-boggling maze of stalls and shops. Bartering is an essential skill when in Cairo and a good rule of thumb is to halve the first asking price and start haggling from there. While haggling, visitors should try to stay unruffled and retain a sense of humour but should still be firm. If you feel you aren't getting a good deal it's always a good idea to show your willingness to shop around. The markets, especially those most popular with tourists, are frequented by petty thieves and conmen so travellers should be on the alert. Women in particular may find that they experience a lot of harassment in Egyptian markets - it is best to dress conservatively and explore in groups. Many travellers prefer to hire guides to give them tours of the markets and help them negotiate with merchants. Hotels can usually recommend reputable guides for this kind of service.

    Popular souvenirs in Cairo include painted papyrus scrolls embellished with hieroglyphics, copper and bronze items, jewellery, carpets and leather goods, which can be found away from the main tourist drags. The quality is normally excellent. The Wekalet al-Balah is a must for lovers of beautiful fabrics and Egyptian cotton.

    Most shops opening hours depend on the season and shops in tourist areas generally keep longer hours. The majority of stores open at 9am and close at 7pm during the winter months, while during the summer stores often stay open later but close for an extended lunch hour during the day. Opening hours during summer are usually about 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 9pm. During Ramadan opening times can be disrupted.

    The most efficient and reliable public transport in Cairo is the Metro, which has the added advantage of being very cheap. The route connects Helwan in the south of the city to the north. There is also a subway line between Giza and Shubra. The first two carriages are reserved for women only.

    The streets of Cairo are well supplied with taxis, which may have fare meters but are unlikely to use them. Fares vary and should be negotiated up front and are usually shared. Taxis from hotels tend to cost double that of hailed taxis.

    The bus and minibus services operating in the city are considered risky for tourists because of overcrowding and the potential for pick pocketing. Buses also require at least a working knowledge of Arabic to navigate.

    Walking is a fairly good option for taking in the atmosphere of Cairo, but be warned, streets are not marked and maps are not much help, so it is easy to lose direction. Driving in Cairo is not for the faint-hearted as few road rules are adhered to, traffic is heavy at all times, and streets are poorly signposted.

    One only needs to look to the pyramids on the skyline to be reminded that Cairo's ancient attractions are part of the city's fabric rather than mere tourist exhibits.

    Cairo has been attracting tourists for thousands of years, and the Pyramids of Giza, alongside the Sphinx, are some of the oldest and arguably most impressive attractions in the world. One would think other attractions in Cairo would pale in comparison to these ancient treasures but visitors often find that some of the best sights in Cairo are more ordinary things, like markets, coffee houses and places of worship. Not least among these is Khan al-Khalili, a central and much used market which gives visitors a chance to experience the city bazaar much as it was 700 years ago. Another is Old Cairo, an ancient Coptic Christian community from Roman times. Nearby these old churches, the 12th-century Saladin Citadel looms over Cairo, boasting a number of stunning mosques.

    Tourists shouldn't discount the museums either, particularly the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which houses mummies and treasures from the tombs of the pharaohs. It should just be noted that this world-class museum is located on Cairo's notorious Tahrir Square, which is an interesting landmark and worth a visit but tends to be the main stage for the city's protests. Travellers would be well advised to avoid this part of downtown Cairo at times of political turmoil.

    Tourists in Cairo often find that they are persistently pestered by touts at major sites. Hiring a reputable guide or joining a group tour helps mitigate this.

    Western Desert Oases

    From Cairo it is possible to experience Egypt's finest journey on offer, the Great Desert Circuit. It runs for over 621 miles (1,000km) through spectacular desert landscapes and is punctuated by four oases situated in a depression: Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. The first two have hot springs and palm groves, Farafra being the more traditional and rural of the two.

    To experience the remoteness of the desert travellers can spend an unforgettable night in the White Desert between oases. Dakhla and Kharga are surrounded by old ruins and villages from the times of the ancient caravan routes to Sudan. The Great Desert Circuit is a fascinating journey and really allows travellers to grasp the enormity of the Egyptian desert and appreciate the history of exploration in the region. The roads are in good condition, with hardly any traffic on them, and the whole circuit can be done in anything between 16 hours and a week (you can linger as you please). Some of the oasis towns are lovely places to spend a night before setting off on your road trip again.

    Transport: The circuit takes between a day and a week depending on desired schedule and can be travelled using public or one’s own transport, or visitors can book a tour. It is also possible to hire a local guide with a 4x4.
    The White Desert The White Desert Vyacheslav Argenberg
    Memphis and Saqqara

    Memphis and Saqqara are small towns today, but in ancient Egypt they were great cities and seats of power, a legacy still traceable in the ruins and relics in each. Memphis is home to the Temple of Ptah, which includes the Colossus of Ramses II, a 33-foot (10m) statue near the entrance, and a small museum. Memphis was once the capital of Egypt and you can still tell how impressive it once was.

    Less than two miles (3km) away is the plateau of Saqqara. Here visitors will find the vast Saqqara Necropolis, containing many cemeteries, pyramids, mastabas and private tombs, including the Mastaba of Ti, the Pyramid of Teti I, and the Unas Causeway and Pyramid of Unas. One of the most famous structures in Saqqara is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base. Saqqara is also home to the Imhotep Museum.

    Memphis and Saqqara together make a popular excursion from Cairo. There isn't much in the way of entertainment, dining, or accommodation at these sites, however, so most visitors don't overnight.

    Pyramid of Djoser Pyramid of Djoser Charles James Sharp
    Dahshur

    One of the most worthwhile things to see and do in the Cairo area is take an excursion to Dahshur, a royal necropolis in the desert, where the oldest true pyramid, the Red Pyramid, can be found. Some of the burial sites and pyramids date back to the Old Kingdom of the 4th dynasty and the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid were built by Sneferu in about 2600 BC. The Bent Pyramid is so-called because the angle of its sides is not quite straight, probably the result of an ancient engineering mistake. The Red Pyramid, made out of red limestone, was built after the Bent Pyramid and is thought to have been the first true, straight-sided pyramid in Egypt. The famous Pyramids of Giza were modelled on this design. You can usually climb into the Red Pyramid and descend down a tunnelled ramp into its three interior chambers which is a rare privilege. There are other tombs of interest scattered around the area and you can't walk far without stumbling on some wondrous ancient ruin.

    Dahshur is about 20 miles (32km) from Cairo and makes for a fascinating excursion from the city. The drive takes under an hour and follows a scenic route which passes through date orchards. Dahshur is far less crowded than most other big tourist attractions and visitors experience far less of the hassle from locals and touts that they do at Giza. At this site you can still get the thrill of an explorer discovering something mysterious and ancient.

    However, the empty nature of this famous archaeological site is partly due to occasional sectarian violence in the nearby town of Dahshur, so travellers are advised to check out travel alerts to gauge how safe it is before they visit.

    Dahshur Dahshur Daniel Mayer
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