Cairo. It’s one of the world great cities, with a street-life that swiftly sweeps you up in its merry hubbub and monumental sights that quicken the pulse of even the most world-weary traveller. We asked our Destination Manager Ryan Turner for his top to-dos when he’s in town.
An early morning wander through Islamic Cairo
The city at its most atmospheric. Take an aimless ramble through the streets as the dawn chorus starts its cry – the call to prayer, traders setting up for the day, coffeehouses busying up. Muizz Street is the main drag, and is great for a stroll to check out the medieval architecture, but head into the alleyways and lanes to really get a feel for the area, and its meeting of modern cosmopolitan living and medieval trades. Grab a breakfast pita, ideally full of fuul – mashed broad beans – and let curiosity be your guide.
An evening at Khan el Khalili
The Khan el Khalili bazaars collectively comprise the city’s commercial heart. The seemingly endless winding maze of cobbled walkways, packed with traders and an assault on the senses, is a mandatory stop during daytimes, but evenings are just as good. First, flex the bartering muscles with a spot of night shopping, then head to a cafe or two for the holy trinity of Egyptian pastimes: shisha, tea and people-watching. Guaranteed entertainment thanks to the ceaseless activity of the streets, and always a sociable buzz in the coffeehouses and restaurants.
Unoriginal choice? Maybe, but I defy anyone not to be astounded by them. No matter how many times you visit the city, they’ve got an irresistible draw. They’re Egypt’s Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House all rolled into one – and they’re more impressive than any of them.
Relax by the Nile
Cairo’s a city with a relentlessly quick pulse, so you need your places of sanctuary. Heading to the river is a pretty good bet, and the upstairs of one of the buildings that line up alongside Cairo’s stretch of the Nile. On many rooftops you’ll find restaurants and bars with the city’s best views. Head there as the sun sets for million-dollar day-and-night views, grab a table and start exploring the country’s fantastic cuisine.
This teeming metropolis, this friendly and vocal, welcoming and intimidating place, is catnip to any curious traveller. Culture shock can be instant and profound in a way that few other places can match. You can’t expect to explore much of Cairo in a single visit, but to take a bite out of it, I recommend going a bit random. It’s a great walking town, so I wouldn’t be afraid of heading out with no fixed plans and seeing what happens. Pick an area, put on your walking shoes and get going. One further tip: talk to the locals. It’s a travel cliché to talk about how friendly locals are, but here it’s definitely true – Egyptians prides themselves on their humour and hospitality. Ask someone for a recommendation for coffee or food and you could end up happily chatting to them for hours, with a guided tour and meal at their home thrown in!