If you’re into architecture and views for days, head straight up to the Citadel as soon as you hit Cairo. Located on the top of Mokattam Hill in the centre of the city, the Saladin Citadel is a fortress that’s almost 1000 years old. Originally built to protect the city from Crusaders, it now houses many different mosques and museums. Just FYI: you’ll need to grab an uber or a bus to get up the mountain. Once you’re inside the fortress walls, it’s easy spend hours wondering around the complex, learning about the middle period of Egyptian history. And thanks to its unique location, the Citadel has some seriously sweet views of the city.
Visit Muhammad Ali Mosque and Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque
Within the walls of the Saladin Citadel, you’ll find two of the most important mosques in Cairo: the Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque. Built between 1830-1848, the Muhammad Ali Mosque takes its name from its commissioning ruler. Situated on the summit of the Citadel, this beautiful building was designed in the Turkish-Ottoman style, and is completely covered in alabaster. Unlike most mosques, you’ll also find the tomb of Muhammad inside. Right next door is the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, which was built in the 14th century by sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad. Unlike the giant dome next door, this mosque is completely open, and seems more like a courtyard than a place of worship.
Climb Bab Zuwayla Minaret
Bab Zuwayla is one of the three remaining gates in Old Cairo, which was originally built back to the 11th century. This place has been at the centre of many historic events, including the great battle against the Mongols in the 13th century. With the Mongol messengers halved at the waist and hung on top of this gate, it’s safe to say Bab Zuwayla has seen some things. But it’s not all war and gore: the top of the minarets of Bab Zuwayla was also where the sultan would watch the hajj every year, which is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Follow the footsteps of the sultans and climb right to the top of this tower for an amazing view of the city.
Tour the kaleidoscopic Khan el Khalili
No doubt one of the biggest draw cards for Western tourists to the Middle East are the souqs, their amazing marketplaces. When it comes to bazaars, Cairo definitely delivers. The Khan el Khalili marketplace is the biggest, and one of the most beautiful, in the city. What was originally a burial site for sultans and rulers, the architecture of the marketplace gives us glimpse into what they were once like: the intricacy of this grand mausoleums makes you feel like you’re shopping in a huge temple complex. Having been transformed into a commercial quarter in the 16th century, wander around Khan el Khalili to find amazing lamps, textiles, jewellery and fragrant spices.
Explore the unique atmosphere of Coptic Cairo
While most of the Egyptian population is Muslim, did you know that Egypt is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world? As one of the early global centres of Christianity, Coptic roots run deep in this city. Once you enter Coptic Cairo, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into biblical times: between the old churches, the dusty road and Christian art and symbols hanging in local shop windows, you’ll feel the vibe shift in these parts. Visit the Hanging Church – which was built on the site of the old Babylon Fortress – before weaving through narrow passage ways to get to Abu Serga. This church is believed to be built on top of the caravan where the Holy Family stayed at the end of their journey to Egypt.
Things to do in Cairo
Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival
Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival is a contemporary arts festival that takes place over three weeks between March and April each year, at multiple sites in Downtown Cairo. The festival includes artworks, films, dance and music performances by artists from Egypt, the Arab world, and beyond. You can find installations and performances all over the city, including alleyways and religious sites. Get amongst it.
Walking through the gates of Cairo Bites looks like you’re walking into a major music festival. This annual festival is a celebration of all things edible. Browse hundreds of vendors selling different products and flavours. Once you’ve eaten your fill, chill out on beanbags and Persian rugs as you listen to the sound of local singers, musicians and DJs. Cairo Bites happens in May each year.
Egypt Fitness Fest
Having only run for a few short years, the Egypt Fitness Fest is already making waves. This celebration of sports and fitness brings together fitness enthusiasts from all over the country. With Zumba, boxing and weightlifting classes, as well as a bunch of other activities and events, this festival usually happens one weekend in October.
Cairo Jazz Festival
Everyone loves a bit of jazz. This annual music festival celebrates eclectic jazz styles from all over the world. It also attracts jazz musicians and enthusiasts from across the globe, will performances that range from solo gigs to big bands and blues vibes. Catch a show or join a workshop if you find yourself in Cairo in October.
Top 4 Festivals in Cairo
Egyptians love a good party, so they’ll always find something to celebrate. Who doesn’t love that?! From delicious amazing festivals, energetic art and music performances, to active events for spot and fitness lovers, here are five festivals in Cairo that you should check out.
Even if you’re not a history buff, a visit to the Egyptian Museum is an absolute must. As soon as you set foot in Egypt, you’ll get a deep sense of the locals’ connection to their ancient ancestors. The stories of Ancient Egypt come to life in this national museum, which is told through art, artefacts and, of course, sarcophagi. Get your antiquity fix here.
Get a taste of the opulence of former Egypt at the Manial Palace and Museum. Built during the time of the Ottoman Dynasty, this incredible palace is located on Rhoda Island, in the middle of the Nile. Spend a day here admiring the intricacy of its stunning architecture and breathing in the beauty of its Persian gardens.
Dating back to the Roman era, the Coptic Museum tells the story of Christianity in Egypt. Walk through halls covered in decadent Coptic and Orthodox art of the style of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions. Here, you’ll dig up stories of where one of the biggest religions of the world began.
The former royal Palace, Abdeen Palace is now the headquarters of the Egyptian Government and the workplace of the President. While the upper levels are reserved for official Government business and housing foreign dignities, the lower levels are open to the public. Here you’ll find the history of the former Royal Family, Presidential gifts, as well as a silver and Arms museum.
Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum
After you’ve gone to check out the pyramids, hang out for a while in the Giza district. Here you’ll find the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Art lovers, listen up: this museum is considered one of the best art galleries in the country. Named after a former politician and art collector, his extensive collection is housed in a Western-style palatial villa.
Top 5 Museums & Galleries in Cairo
Between astonishing lives of the Pharaohs, the mysteries of their ancient beliefs and the spirit of post-revolution change that still sweeps the streets, it’s difficult not to learn a thing or two in Cairo museums. Dish up ancient and not-so-ancient secrets in some of Cairo’s best ones.
One of Egypt’s favourite street foods, you’ll find locals lined up at every lunchtime for Koshary. Born out of a need to feed people en mass, this hearty dish is made up of rice, lentils, chickpeas and pasta, topped with fried onions and a spicy tomato sauce. For some of the best Koshary in Cairo, head to Abou Tarek restaurant.
Best eaten at Abou Tarek, Helwan, Al Inshaa WA Al Munirah, El-Sayeda Zainab
Every meal is a feast in Egypt and breakfast is no exception. Ful Mudammas is the go-to breakfast in Cairo. Made of fava beans, garlic, onions, cumin and lemon, the ingredients are crushed to a paste-like consistency and served in a warm bread roll with a heap of tahini. Pick some up bright and early at Gad Restaurant.
Best eaten at Gad Restaurant, 26 July St, Al Fawalah, Abdeen
One of the staples of Egyptian cooking is squab, or baby pigeon. This bird has been enjoyed by many culture for centuries, but the way the Egyptians do it is special. Hamam Mahshi, or stuffed squab, is stuffed with freekeh, onions, lemon, mint and spices, then poured over with delicious stock. Get your fix in Cairo at Farahat Restaurant.
Best eaten at Farahat, 122 Al Azhar, El-Gamaleya, Qism El-Gamaleya
Get ready to stuff your face with some Mahshi. The Arabic word for “stuffed,” this delicious dish fills hollowed eggplants, zucchinis and capsicums with a fragrant mixture of rice, onions, garlic and tomatoes, cooked to perfection in stock and spices. These babies are best enjoyed with a view of the Nile from Om Dahab Restaurant.
Best eaten at Om Dahab, Ismailia, Qasr an Nile
Known as Egyptian pizza, fiteer is made of layers of filo dough that’s cooked in a woodfire oven. Similar to Bosnian burek, fiteer can be either sweet or savoury: choose from varieties stuffed with meat and cheese, or served with syrup and sugar. Fatatri El Tahrir is the place in Cairo for fiteer. This restaurant isn’t exactly fancy, but you’ll leave feeling damn satisfied.
Best eaten at Fatatri El Tahrir, 92 El Tahrir, Ad Dawawin, Abdeen
Food in Cairo
Egypt is the capital of hospitality, and that means every corner of Cairo is packed with phenomenal food outlets. From stuffed vegetables and squabs, to carby-treats, you’ll never go hungry here. Vegans and vegetarians rejoice: there are plenty of meat-free options on Egyptian menus. Here’s what we’ll be eating in Cairo.