Tuesday, 21 April 2009
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. It is also the 13th largest city in the world, and among the world's densest cities.
Situated on the River Nile, Cairo is famous for its own history, preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and Coptic sites in Old Cairo. The Egyptian Museum in the centre of town is a must see, with its countless Ancient Egyptian artifacts, as is shopping at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, to nearby Saqqara.
Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society. The Midan Tahrir area, built in the 19th century under the rule of Khedive Ismail, has strived to be a "Paris on the Nile". There also are a number of more modern suburbs including Ma'adi and Heliopolis, while Zamalek is a quiet area on Gezira Island, with upscale shopping. Cairo is best in the fall or spring, when the weather isn't so hot. A felucca ride on the Nile is a good way to escape from the busy city, as is a visit to al-Azhar Park.
• 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.
• 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
• Cairo Tower (185 m./610 ft.) on Gezira Island offers a 360-view of Cairo, along with the Giza Pyramids off in the distance to the west.
• Coffee & Sheesha: 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
• Felucca: 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.
• Horseback riding: Go horseback riding in the desert from one of the Nazlet El-Samaan stables in Giza. 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.
• Parks: Cairo has a shortage of parks, but you can take a stroll along the Corniche el-Nil, and there is a river promenade on Gezira Island. Al-Azhar Park near Heliopolis is a good place to escape, with a good vantage point of Islamic Cairo and the city skyline. Wadi Digla Protected Area is a 60 square kilometer, near Ma'adi, that offers opportunity for taking a trek, jogging, rock climbing, and cycling. Wadi Digla is also a good spot for bird watching, and viewing the various reptile species, plants, and deer that reside there.
• Recreation: Other options for relaxation include visiting the Zoo and the Cairo Botanical Gardens, or watching horse racing at the Gezira Club. Or when you need a break from city life, try a round of golf on the famous Mena House Golf Course overlooking the Pyramids.
Cairo has a tremendous range of accommodation, from low-rent budget hotels downtown to five-star palaces along the Nile. You can easily book a hotel on medestino.com.