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The best things to do in Cairo: a first-timer's guide to ancient and modern Cairo

Destination(s): Cairo

Cairo is the largest city in Africa, and one of the most exciting cities in the world. For the first time visitor, Cairo can be a bewildering and sometimes frustrating experience. This trip will help you get the most out of a week’s visit to Cairo. It includes all the best Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic sights, as well as advice on more modern-day activities such as visiting galleries and cultural centres. It also includes some less well-known sights and activities, that not many tourists get to experience. Cairo is a huge, chaotic city, and it’s important to find time to relax. The trip has been designed with this in mind. One of the best things to do in Cairo is to let serendipity be your guide: Egyptians are very friendly, and you never know who you might meet around the next corner, or what incredible, half-forgotten monument you might stumble across. The issue of where to stay in Cairo is always a contentious one. This author’s opinion is that it’s best to stay Downtown, in the thick of things. This makes the logistics of transport around the city much easier. An alternative is to stay in one of the plusher, more expensive resorts near to the Pyramids. The disadvantage of this, though, is that you are quite a way out of town. This trip assumes you are staying Downtown. Note that it's sensible to dress conservatively at all times in Cairo. This is essential, however, on days when you will be visiting mosques or churches. read more about The best things to do in Cairo: a first-timer's guide to ancient and modern Cairo

The Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid

What can be said about the most iconic, and controversial, building in the world? The Pyramid of Khufu, most commonly known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, is the only one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world that is still standing.

It is believed to have been built during the reign of 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (known as Cheops in Greek), and completed round about 2560 BC. Constructed from an estimated 2.3 million blocks of sandstone, and with an estimated total mass of nearly 6 million tonnes, the Pyramid of Khufu has to be seen to be believed. Awe-inspiring does not even come close to describing the Great Pyramid, and it is still not known how the ancient Egyptians built it (assuming they even did)!

Furthermore, many researchers don't believe it was a tomb after all – other explanations include astronomical observatory, centre of cult initiation, and representation of the earth's physical properties. Decide for yourself as you soak up the magic and majesty of this timeless monument.

Along with the Pyramids of Khafre (Chephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus), and of course the Sphinx, the Pyramid of Khufu is part of the Giza Pyramids Complex. Make sure you also find the time to check out the Solar Boat Museum next to the Pyramid of Khufu.

The best way to visit the Giza Plateau is by taxi. read more about The Great Pyramid

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

  • Off Hussein Square
  • (Across from El Azhar Mosque)
  • Cairo, 11211

Established in the 14th Century, and in constant use since then, Khan al-Khalili (or more simply, The Khan) is Egypt at its most intoxicating. Cairo has always been an important trade centre, and this tradition continues today in the bustling maze of alleys that forms Khan al-Khalili Bazaar.

The Khan itself is relatively small, and is largely devoted to tourists. There are souvenirs here for every taste and budget: spices, jewellery, inlaid mother-of-pearl boxes and backgammon sets, water pipes, scarves, lamps, delicate perfume bottles (and the perfume to go in them)… you can even get yourself a singing, dancing camel!

Be warned, though, the traders here are black belts at haggling – so be firm, but maintain your sense of humour and enjoy the experience for what it is: the raucous, beating heart of commerce the old-school way.

When the banter gets too much, relax in al-Fishawi Coffee Shop with a water pipe and a strong Turkish coffee. This café has been open 24 hours a day since 1773, and Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz is said to have visited every day up to his death in 2006.

At the east end of the Khan is al-Hussein Square, home to the beautiful al-Hussein Mosque. The western end is bound by Muizz li-Din Allah Street. You can head north to Bab al-Futuh, past Islamic monuments such as al-Aqmar Mosque and Beit al-Souhaymi, or south towards Bab Zwayla and the Street of the Tentmakers. Leading west from Khan al-Khalili towards Ataba is al-Muski Street, a crazy local market that is well worth exploring.

To get to Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, take a taxi to al-Azhar Mosque and cross the road via the underpass. The more adventurous traveller can walk up to the bazaar from Ataba Metro station, along al-Muski.
read more about Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

The Citadel

The Citadel

  • Salah Salem Highway
  • tel:+20 2 512 9619
  • Cairo

The Citadel is one of Cairo's most popular and readily identifiable attractions. In the 12th Century AD Salah ad-Din (known as Saladin in the west) recognised that Cairo needed a fortress to help protect the city against attack by the Crusaders. He chose this prominent limestone spur, that is now on the edge of what is known as Islamic Cairo, for his stronghold. It later became the seat of government, until the middle of the 19th Century. It has always maintained some sort of military garrison, even up to the present day.

The Citadel offers some of the most spectacular views of Cairo, and it's great fun trying to identify sights from here that you have already visited. You should even be able to make out the Pyramids!

It also contains three mosques that represent very different architectural styles: the Mamluk an-Nasir Mohammed Mosque, the Ottoman Suleiman Pasha Mosque, and the Mohammed Ali Mosque. The latter is huge and opulent, and its spires dominate the skyline of Cairo.

As well as the views, fortifications and mosques, the Citadel has a number of museums: the Military Museum; the Police Museum; al-Gawhara Palace Museum; and the Carriage Museum.

The Citadel is best reached by taxi. Just next door are the Sultan Hassan Mosque and al-Refa'i Mosque, and it's also possible to walk towards Ibn Tulun Mosque and the Gayer-Anderson Museum, or even to Khan el-Khalili bazaar. read more about The Citadel

Memphis

Memphis

  • 24 kilometres south of Cairo
  • Memphis
  • Memphis

Legend has it that Memphis was founded by King Menes around 3100 BC, when he unified Upper and Lower Egypt. Memphis was the capital city of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and remained an important religious and administrative centre throughout the whole of the Pharaonic period. Memphis is a Greek name; the ancient Egyptians knew the city as Ineb Hedj ("The White Walls"), and later as Ankh Tawy ("That Which Binds the Two Lands").

No-one knows for sure how large the city was, with population estimates ranging from 6000 to 30,000. It is known to have been advanced, cosmopolitan, and teeming with palaces, temples and gardens; given the size of the associated necropolis, stretching from Dahshur to Giza, Memphis itself was probably very large.

Sadly, most of the city now lies under fields, Nile silt and nearby villages – and only a few ruins hold testament to the ancient splendour that was Memphis. Although there is not much here anymore, the incredible significance of the site might justify a visit. As well as pretty gardens and the odd statue and temple fragment, there is a huge colossus of Ramses the Second, and a large alabaster sphinx ascribed to Thutmosis III.

The present-day site is about 20 km south of Cairo, and is best visited by taxi. If you are going to go, it's a good idea to combine it with a visit to nearby Saqqara. read more about Memphis

Babylon Fort

Babylon Fort

  • Mar Girgis Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo

The remains of the Babylon Fort mark the gateway into what is known as Coptic Cairo. People often refer to the area as Old Cairo, or Fustat, since this is where the first invading Arab armies settled. The varied nomenclature can be confusing, and misleading. In fact, there was a city called Kheraha here in ancient Egyptian times, that was an important regional capital. When, how and why the name changed to Babylon is debated, but it appears that the Persians built the first fort here, some time in the 6th Century BC. At that time Babylon Fort stood on top of the cliffs (probably the Muqattam Hills), but when the Romans invaded, they rebuilt the fort in its current position, which would have been right next to the Nile (the river's course has changed significantly over time). The Babylon Fort protected an important garrison town, which by the time of the first Arab invasion in the 7th Century, had a successful port as well as a canal linking the Nile to the Red Sea (constructed in pharaonic times). The original Arab city, Fustat, was actually built just outside the walls of Babylon Fort; interestingly, many of the churches in the area were not built until after the Arab conquest. All that really remains of Babylon Fort now are the remnants of the huge round towers that guarded the entrances to the fort. As you face the Coptic Museum, you can see the skeletal remains of one tower to the right; the Greek Orthodox Church of St George is built on top of the remains of the second tower, to the left. read more about Babylon Fort

Manyal Palace Museum

Manyal Palace Museum

Manyal Palace Museum was set up by Prince Mohammed Ali Tawfiq, father of King Farouk, in 1899. It was intended to commemorate Islamic Art, as well as to act as living quarters for the Prince and his family.

The architecture, decorations and furniture cover a range of Islamic styles, including Moroccan, Persian and Syrian. The sheer opulence of the dwelling is overwhelming. The Manyal Palace Museum is set in a large garden, populated by rare trees and plants from all over the world. It's a nice place to catch some shade, and perhaps have a bite to eat.

The most interesting part of the Manyal Palace Museum is the Hunting Museum, which exhibits possessions and conquests of King Farouk. This museum is totally bizarre, and not for animal lovers or the politically correct. It includes over 100 stuffed and mounted Ibex heads, lots of very pretty insects and butterflies, a diorama of a lobster attacking a crab, and even some huge elephant tusks. Pride of place must go to the photograph of the hermaphroditic goat, or to the ostrich head – complete with feet, but no body!

The Manyal Palace Museum is situated on Rhoda Island, and so is just about within walking distance of Sayeda Zeinab Metro station; as always, however, taking a taxi is the safest bet. read more about Manyal Palace Museum

Abou Tarek Koshary Restaurant

Abou Tarek Koshary Restaurant

  • 16 Champollion Street, on corner of Maarouf Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2577 5935 / +20 (0)2 2576 1911
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Abou Tarek is one of the most famous restaurants in Cairo, if not the whole of Egypt. It's not the sort of place you go to for a lingering, four course meal, because it really serves only one thing: koshary.

Koshary is the best contender for Egypt's national dish, and it's certainly the food that Egyptians living abroad miss the most. Koshary is a carbohydrate bomb: a mixture of different types of pasta, mixed with lentils, chickpeas, fried onions and a sort of tomato salsa. You then season it to taste, with a combination of chilli sauce and a surprisingly fiery lime juice and garlic concoction. It's fast food at its best: cheap, filling, and surprisingly tasty.

While you can get koshary on pretty much any street corner in Cairo, the koshary at Abou Tarek is particularly tasty. There's a high turnover of customers, so it's always freshly made, and pleasingly moist. As befits this no-frills dish, Abou Tarek restaurant is a simple affair: long metal trestle tables, with a splash of greenery about the walls.

Service is very quick, and the staff are used to tourists and are pretty welcoming. The only choice you have to make is whether you want a small or large dish of koshary, and what the best drink is to counteract the burning throat induced by a reckless dollop of chilli sauce! read more about Abou Tarek Koshary Restaurant

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)

  • Giza Pyramids Plateau
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

The Pyramid of Chephren (or Khafre, in ancient Egyptian) is the second largest of the three pyramids at Giza, and is sometimes known as the Second Pyramid. It appears larger than the Pyramid of Khufu, but that is because it is built on higher ground and the peak is still intact. It is believed to have been built during the reign of 4th dynasty pharaoh Khafre, thought by most archaeologists to be Khufu's son.

Unlike the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre still has the remains of the limestone casing stones at the top – these would have protected the pyramid and given it a brilliant iridescent glow that could allegedly be seen from the mountains of Israel. The pyramid is linked by a causeway to the Great Sphinx – you can walk down this causeway, though you can't enter in to the compound of the Sphinx from here (you have to skirt around the outer wall).

You can usually go inside the Pyramid of Chephren for a small fee, and follow a steep and claustrophobic passage all the way down to the burial chamber. There is not much to see, but the sensation of being inside such a huge physical mass is an incredible experience.

The best way to visit the Giza Plateau is by taxi. read more about Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)

Egyptian pancake house

Egyptian pancake house

  • Midan Hussein
  • tel:2024505871
  • Cairo

The Egyptian Pancake House is situated in on the edge Khan al-Khalili bazaar, and is a good place to eat in the area.

Egyptian pancakes (sometimes referred to as pizzas or pies) are actually known as feteers, and are sort of like a pizza topping stuffed inside a crepe. They are a perfect quick and tasty filler.

The Egyptian Pancake House offers various savoury and sweet feteers, and the best thing to do is to take a selection, and share. They aren't the best in Cairo, but they are authentic, and compared to a lot of the overpriced rubbish served up in the bazaar area, if you do need to eat, this is a good bet.

The spicy sausage feteer is particularly good, as is the honey, nuts and cream. Watch how the chef makes the pastry, slapping it on the counter and swinging it around his head to stretch the dough.

At the Egyptian Pancake House, you eat your feteers sitting at plastic tables and chairs balanced on the busy pavement, with a stream of vendors and the occasional tour bus parading past. This organised chaos, so typical of Cairo, is a big part of the fun! read more about Egyptian pancake house

Citadel: An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque

Citadel: An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque

  • The Citadel
  • Salah Salem Highway
  • Cairo, 11211

The an-Nasir Mohammed Mosque is the oldest of the three mosques in the Citadel. It's a Mamluk mosque, built by an-Nasir Mohammed in 1318, and then re-built in 1335. The an-Nasir Mohammed Mosque used to be the royal mosque of Cairo, where the sultans would pray, and would have been one of the most magnificent in the city. However, its original dome collapsed some time in the 16th Century, and the Ottomans stripped the mosque of much of its marble.

Nowadays, although an-Nasir Mohammed Mosque has been restored, it still feels rather austere. The courtyard and the mihrab are very simple, although the interior of the mosque does have a row of unusual, arched windows.

The most interesting thing about an-Nasir Mohammed Mosque is the minarets. The minaret to the north, which would have faced the dwellings of the officers and soldiers garrisoned in the Citadel, is very plain. The minaret to the west, however, faced the Sultan's residences. It's elegantly carved in a zigzag pattern, and has a tip that is unique in Cairo: a small dome resting on a solid, tapered stone column, that looks a bit like a king's sceptre. It's decorated with blue, green and white glazed tiles, that are known as faience mosaics, and were popular in Persia at the time. read more about Citadel: An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque

Step Pyramid of Saqqara

Step Pyramid of Saqqara

  • North Saqqara
  • (32 kilometres south of Cairo)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

This is where it all began! The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is the oldest complete cut-stone building in the world. It was designed by the high priest and architect Imhotep for the 3rd dynasty pharaoh Djoser (about 2667 – 2648 BC).

Before this pyramid, the pharaohs were buried beneath rectangular tombs known as mastabas (which means "bench" in Arabic). Imhotep (who was later deified) stacked 6 mastabas on top of each other to create the first ever pyramid, which served as inspiration for the later structures at Giza and beyond.

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is a truly incredible achievement, and despite standing for nearly 5000 years it is still pretty much intact. It is part of a much larger site that acted as a necropolis for the ancient Egyptians for over 3000 years. The whole area is littered with other pyramids and mastaba tombs, such as the Pyramid of Unas, the Serapeum, and the Mastaba of Ti. Some of these other monuments are open – check at the ticket office when you arrive.

Despite its significance, Saqqara receives a disproportionately small number of visitors, and is a very atmospheric place to wander around and explore on your own. There is isn't much shade, so make sure to cover up and take plenty of water.

The best way to get here is by taxi, and it's possible to combine your visit with nearby Memphis. read more about Step Pyramid of Saqqara

The Coptic Museum

The Coptic Museum

  • Mar Guirguis Street
  • In the center of Old Cairo, across from the exit from the Mar Girgis Metro stop
  • tel:+20 2 362 8766 / + 20 2 363 9742
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

The Coptic Museum houses the largest collection of Coptic artefacts in the world, with over 16,000 pieces on display. Copt comes from the Greek word for Egypt, and Coptic Christians are Egyptian Christians. Mark the Evangelist is credited with introducing Christianity to Egypt in the first century after Christ, and with similarities to aspects of ancient Egyptian belief, it quickly took hold.

The Coptic Museum traces the development of Christianity in Egypt from its beginnings to the present. The museum is housed in a beautiful old building in the precinct of the old Roman Babylon Fort, and artefacts are spread out over two floors. The objects displayed are varied, and include art in various mediums such as metal, stone and wood, as well as manuscripts and textiles.

A large part of the appeal is that the Coptic Museum forges a link between the worlds of ancient Egypt, Christianity and Islam. For example, it is fascinating to see how the ankh symbol of Egypt gradually evolved into the Christian cross known today. The museum also includes very beautiful gardens that provide a wonderful place to relax.

The Coptic Museum is situated in the heart of Old Cairo, amongst the other buildings that make up the Religion Compound. As well as by taxi, it is easy to get here by Metro – get off at Mar Girgis station, and the museum is directly opposite. read more about The Coptic Museum

Arabesque

Arabesque

  • 6 Qasr el-Nil Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2574 8677, +20 (0)2 2574 7898
  • Cairo
Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus)

Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus)

  • Giza Pyramids Plateau
  • tel:+20 2 383 8823
  • Cairo, 12561

The Pyramid of Mycerinus (or Menkaure, in ancient Egyptian) is the baby of the three Pyramids of Giza, if you can call something 108 m long and 67 m high a baby! Like the Pyramids of Khufu and Chephren, the Pyramid of Menkaure was built during the 4th dynasty, and so is well over 4000 years old! Not much is known of Menkaure, though he was believed to have been another of Khufu's sons, and successor to Khafre.

The Pyramid of Mycerinus is set back from the other two pyramids, about a 15 minute walk away. It therefore receives fewer visitors than its two bigger brothers, but is well worth checking out. Many observers claim that, when viewed on its own, the Pyramid of Mycerinus exudes an almost palpable sense of power – far more than that of the other two. Because it is smaller, and so easier to comprehend, the effects of the geometry are magnified. Make sure you go to experience this example of pyramid power for yourself!

The best way to visit the Giza Plateau is by taxi. read more about Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus)

Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

  • El-Fishawi Alley
  • (Khan al-Khalili)
  • Cairo

Located in the heart of Khan al-Khalili, al-Fishawi is Egypt's most famous, and most exciting coffee shop. Al-Fishawi has been open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for hundreds of years, and used to be a favourite haunt of artists and writers such as Nobel prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz.

The so-called "cafe of mirrors" extends along the side of one of Khan al-Khalili's narrow alleyways, and has a gorgeous, carved wood (mashrabia) interior. These days, the sheer volume of people visiting al-Fishawi means rickety wooden tables and chairs spill out in to the alley itself, with the effervescent waiters fighting a constant battle to squeeze the extra bodies in somewhere. The atmosphere is chaotic, with a heady mix of tourists, locals, shop-keepers and trinket-sellers variously drinking, shouting, and pushing their way through the throng.

Al-Fishawi serves the standard range of sodas, juices and hot drinks, as well as various flavours of shisha (water pipe). It's a great place to take a break from shopping in Khan al-Khalili - though don't expect it to be relaxing! read more about Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

The Hanging Church

The Hanging Church

  • Mar Girgis Street
  • Coptic Cairo
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo

The Hanging Church is also known as The Saint Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. It is the most famous Coptic church in Cairo, and one of the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt that is still in use.

The Hanging Church was probably built towards the end of the 7th Century AD, though it is believed there was an earlier church here dating to the 3rd or 4th Century. By the 11th Century AD it became the official seat of residence of the head of the Coptic Church (the Patriarch of Alexandria).

It is part of the Religion Compound of Old Cairo, and is known as the Hanging Church because it is built over the gate of the southern tower of the Roman Fortress, Babylon on the Nile. Its nave is suspended over the passage (the church is known as al Muallaqa in Arabic, which means "the suspended"). Make sure you look down through the plastic viewing ports in the floor to see the proof that you are not actually on the ground!

The Hanging Church is lavishly decorated, with a beautiful vaulted wooden ceiling, marble columns and pulpit, and lots of ebony and ivory screens. It also contains over 100 religious icons, the oldest of which dates to the 8th Century. Services still take place here in the ancient Coptic language, believed to be related to ancient Egyptian.

The Hanging Church can be reached by taxi, or take the Metro to Mar Girgis station and the church is just in front of the station entrance. read more about The Hanging Church

Beit Al Souhaymi

Beit Al Souhaymi

  • Darb al-Asfar Street
  • Around Bab el Futuh
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Beit al-Souhaymi is part of the lovingly restored Darb al-Asfar district of Islamic Cairo, situated down an alleyway just past al-Aqmar Mosque. Beit al-Souhaymi is a typical example of the family mansions built in Cairo from the Mamluk period all the way to the 19th Century. It costs 30 LE to enter, but is well worth it. You emerge in to a pretty, tree lined open courtyard complete with singing birds, around which the rest of the house is based. In fact, the Beit al-Souhaymi complex actually merges with two other houses to the west. The whole area is a maze of stairs, passageways and hidden rooms, all of which have been restored, and many of which are wonderfully decorated. Spend some time poking around the nooks and crannies, and you will find rooms with colourful marble mosaic floors, vividly painted wooden ceilings, exquisite mashrabia lattice work (to allow the women to observe the goings on in the house without being seen), and ornate mother of pearl chests that have clearly been the inspiration behind many of the souvenirs sold in Khan al-Khalili. You could easily get lost for an hour or two exploring Beit al-Souhaymi; just make sure you finish your visit in the second, even greener, open courtyard, and take a rest before rejoining the hustle and bustle of the outside world! read more about Beit Al Souhaymi

Mashrabia Gallery

Mashrabia Gallery

  • 8 Champollion Street
  • (Off Tahrir Square)
  • tel:+20 2 578 4494
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11728
The Sphinx

The Sphinx

  • Giza Pyramids Plateau
  • tel:+20 2 383 8823
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

Like the Pyramid of Khufu, the Sphinx (often known as the Great Sphinx) is simultaneously one of the best known and yet most controversial monuments in the world.

With the body of a lion seamlessly blending in to a human head, the Sphinx is carved from a single piece of in-situ rock 73 m long and 20 m high. It is sublimely beautiful, and has struck wonder into the hearts of visitors through the ages. It is believed to be a solar symbol, possibly representing the unity of matter and consciousness, the physical and spiritual realms.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the Sphinx was constructed by Chephren (builder of the Second Pyramid), and it is true that the Valley Temple next to the Sphinx is linked to the Pyramid of Chephren. However, an alternative view – backed by geological evidence – suggests the Sphinx is much older than the normal 4th Dynasty date ascribed it, perhaps having been built as early as 10,000 BC. Adding to the mystery, a number of esoteric groups believe that the mythical "Hall of Records" is located beneath the Sphinx, containing the secret knowledge of the ancient Egyptians.

Whatever the truth of these claims, the allure of this moving monument will continue. The best way to visit the Giza Plateau is by taxi. read more about The Sphinx

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque

  • Al-Azhar Street
  • Opposite El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 59 3893
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al Azhar Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in Egypt, if not the whole world. It was established in 972 AD, the first Fatimid monument built in Cairo. Its name means "the most blooming", after one of the prophet Mohammed's daughters.

Al Azhar Mosque has been renovated and extended over the years, and it reflects a number of architectural styles. The large main courtyard is a particular highlight: 275 by 112 feet, made of glistening white marble, and home to hundreds of ancient columns. The five minarets are particularly elegant, and can be seen from much of Cairo. It is possible to climb some of the towers, though they are often locked and you should remember to give the porter a little something for his trouble.

Al Azhar Mosque is also arguably the most significant in the whole of the Sunni Muslim world: it is home to the second oldest University in the world, established in 975 AD, which specialises in all forms of Islamic studies. The scholars of the university are very well respected, and are often called upon to issue fatwas, or religious rulings.

Al Azhar Mosque is situated in the heart of Islamic Cairo, opposite Midan al-Hussein and Khan al-Khalili bazaar. It is best visited by taxi, though you could also walk up from Ataba Metro station. read more about Al-Azhar Mosque

Citadel: Mohammed Ali Mosque

Citadel: Mohammed Ali Mosque

  • Citadel Historic Complex
  • Salah Salem Highway
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

The Mohammed Ali Mosque was built over a period of about 20 years in the early part of the 19th Century, and was completed in 1848, though its domes had to be entirely rebuilt during the 1930's. Also known as the Alabaster Mosque, the Mohammed Ali Mosque was built in the classical Ottoman style, and its huge domes and soaring minarets are the most famous landmark of Cairo's skyline. It is not, however, particularly graceful from up close, and it has received a lot of criticism. It has even been likened to a fat cat and a huge toad! The interior of the Mohammed Ali Mosque is grand, bordering on garish: great chandeliers illuminate the huge, domed space, and cast light on the technicolour marble walls. There is colourful, gilded wood and gold in abundance. No matter what you think of its artistic, the Mosque of Mohammed Ali is undeniably spectacular! The great man himself is buried in an ornate, white marble tomb to the right of the entrance. The courtyard of the Mohammed Ali Mosque is also interesting: there is an elaborately decorated marble fountain with carved wooden roof in the centre of the huge, square courtyard. At the west of the courtyard is a large iron clock that was given to Mohammed Ali by King Louis-Philippe of France, as a thankyou for the ancient Egyptian obelisk that stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris. The clock has never worked! read more about Citadel: Mohammed Ali Mosque

Greek Church of Saint George (Mari Girgis)

Greek Church of Saint George (Mari Girgis)

  • Mar Girgis Street
  • Coptic Cairo quarter
  • Cairo
Hakim Mosque (Al)

Hakim Mosque (Al)

  • Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al-Hakim Mosque was built in the 11th Century by al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, one of Egypt's most insane, and sadistic rulers. He persecuted Christians, Jews, merchants and women, banned or destroyed everything that annoyed him (including all the city's dogs), and would stand on the heads of his enemies whilst one of his slaves sodomised them. He even had a group of women boiled alive in public. It's ironic, therefore, that the mosque which bears his name is so beautiful! Joining the northern walls, al-Hakim Mosque looks quite plain and solid from the outside, with square towers and an odd style of minaret. There is some delicate Arabic stone filigree work on the arches outside. Inside, however, is a huge open courtyard of blinding white/cream marble, with a deep red marble fountain with white veins running through it. It's simple, but actually quite moving. The main prayer hall still has some original wooden beams, but much of the rest of al-Hakim Mosque was restored in 1980 by a group of Shi'ite Muslims from Brunei. The main mihrab is of pale marble, with beautiful gold trim and calligraphy. You used to be able to climb on to the city walls from al-Hakim Mosque, but that has been officially banned. That does not mean, however, that you can't ask the caretakers: for a little baksheesh, they may find that they can discover the necessary keys after all. read more about Hakim Mosque (Al)

Townhouse Gallery

Townhouse Gallery

  • Hussein El Me'mar Basha Street
  • (Off Mahmoud Basyouni Street)
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2576 8086
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11728
Solar Boat Museum

Solar Boat Museum

  • Giza Pyramids Plateau
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

The ancient Egyptians believed the dead pharaoh would join the Sun God in his solar boat to sail through the underworld. In 1954 an actual solar boat (or barque) was found in a sealed pit next to the Pyramid of Khufu. The boat was made of cedar wood and almost perfectly preserved, although disassembled in to over 1000 pieces. A team of archaeologists spent over 10 years reconstructing the boat, which is now on display in the Solar Boat Museum, next to the Great Pyramid.

The boat is a remarkable feat of engineering – about 40 m long and with a displacement of around 400 tonnes! It is not known whether the boat played a purely symbolic function, or whether it actually served as Khufu's ship of state. There is some physical evidence that suggests the boat actually sailed at sea!

The Solar Boat Museum houses a number of artefacts found in the pit, as well as the reconstructed boat itself. It also has an interesting photo exhibition detailing the immense amount of work that went into the salvage operation. The best way to visit the Giza Plateau is by taxi. read more about Solar Boat Museum

Al Hussein Mosque

Al Hussein Mosque

  • El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo

Al-Hussein Mosque is one of the most beautiful Cairo mosques. Situated in Midan al-Hussein, next to Khan al-Khalili, al-Hussein Mosque is named after the Prophet's grandson, who was killed by the Umayyads in Iraq in 680 AD during a battle over the succession of the Caliphate. It was this conflict that caused the schism in Islam that gave rise to the two main subdivisions of Sunni and Shia: with the Sunnis recognising the legitimacy of the Umayyad claim, and the Shi'ites maintaining that only a blood relative of Mohammed could be the Caliph. Hussein is revered as a martyr in the Shi'ite world, and although Egypt is predominantly Sunni Muslim, Hussein is still regarded as a saint here too. His head is buried inside al-Hussein Mosque. Technically, the mosque is closed to non-Muslims, though the caretakers will sometimes let you in if you appear respectful enough. Al-Hussein Mosque is elegant and restrained: a huge prayer hall with hundreds of light grey marble pillars, tasteful hanging lamps and chandeliers, and high vaulted ceilings. The mihrab is gorgeous: white, blue, grey and black marble arranged in to traditional geometric designs. The shrine to Hussein is a huge engraved silver affair surrounded by shining white marble, and offset by soft, almost otherworldly green lighting. You will often see pilgrims from all around the Muslim world at Hussein's shrine, walking slowly around it, chanting. read more about Al Hussein Mosque

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Ibn Tulun Mosque

  • Off 'Abd al-Magid al-Labban (Al-Salbiyya) Street
  • Ibn Tulun Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

This beautiful mosque is considered to be the oldest in Cairo that has survived in its original form, and is the third largest in the world by area. Completed in 879 AD, Ibn Tulun Mosque was built by Ahmed ibn Tulun, founder of the Talunid dynasty that was ruling Egypt at the end of the 9th Century.

The mosque consists of a huge open courtyard, including fountain, and is surrounded on three sides by enclosed wings known as ziyadas. The art and architecture of Ibn Tulun Mosque has a distinct Iraqi flavour (Ahmed Ibn Tulun was born in Baghdad) – make sure you check out the crenulated tops of the walls, which look like the paper-chain dolls that children cut out.

Interestingly, a local legend claims the mosque was built on the hill where Noah's Ark landed after the flood, and that the floral frieze that runs around the arches was originally carved on to the ark. Finally, a trip to Ibn Tulun Mosque is not complete without climbing its minaret. With the staircase spiralling up the outside of the tower, the minaret is unique in Cairo, and offers fantastic views of the city.

Ibn Tulun Mosque is next to the Gayer-Anderson Museum, and a short hop from the Citadel and the other sites of Islamic Cairo. The best way to visit is by taxi. read more about Ibn Tulun Mosque

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ti

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ti

  • North East of Serapeum, Saqqara
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

Northwest of Zoser's funerary complex in Saqqara, near to the Serapeum and amongst a field of 3rd dynasty tombs, lies the Mastaba of Ti. Ti was an important court dignitary during the early 5th Dynasty, whose wife was of noble blood, and whose children were therefore recognised as being of royal descent. His main function was as one of the pharaoh's chief hairdressers, though he was also responsible for maintaining farming land and stock. The Mastaba of Ti was discovered in 1865 by Auguste Mariette, and has provided a wealth of information about life in the Old Kingdom. This large tomb consists of a main room with a shaft leading down to the burial chamber, and a passageway leading to two other rooms. Much of the Mastaba of Ti is covered with remarkably preserved, colourful reliefs of scenes from daily life, such as hunting and fishing, boat building and tannery. The reliefs have been used to infer much information about Old Kingdom times, though it's likely their true significance is allegorical, and related to ancient Egyptian belief systems and symbolism. It is possible to go down the shaft in the Mastaba of Ti to view the burial chamber: the shaft is cramped and you will need to bend over double, but it is very short. The burial chamber contains Ti's plain sarcophagus, though there is nothing else to see. Note that although you do not have to pay extra to visit the Mastaba of Ti, the caretakers will expect a little baksheesh for taking you down the shaft to the burial chamber. read more about Saqqara: Mastaba of Ti

Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius)

Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius)

  • Near Mari Girgis Street
  • (Downtown)
  • Cairo, 11728
Bab el-Futuh

Bab el-Futuh

  • El Muizz El Din Allah Street
  • Facing Al-Banhawi Galal Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

In 1087 AD the original mud brick walls of al-Qahira were rebuilt from stone, to protect the city from the menace of the Turks. This explains why Bab al-Futuh, one of the two remaining north gates, looks more like it belongs at the entrance of a castle than a city. Joining with the city walls and al-Hakim Mosque, Bab al-Futuh consists of two huge rounded castle-like turrets, bristling with ramparts and defensive arrow-slits, and decorated with a finely carved floral arch. Traditionally, the caravans returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca would always enter the city through Bab al-Futuh, welcomed by huge crowds of people that had been unable to make the journey themselves. Interestingly, Bab al-Futuh was actually built from masonry scavenged from ancient Egyptian Memphis, as the carvings on some stones that comprise the building testify. read more about Bab el-Futuh

Estoril

Estoril

  • 12 Talaat Harb Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 25743102
  • Cairo, 11111

Estoril is a cosy restaurant/bar tucked down an alley in Downtown. It's a small place, and although the smart tables are close together, it still feels quite intimate. The lighting is soft, and the atmosphere muted. There is no music, so soft conversation provides the aural backdrop.

Estoril is decorated in a restrained, classy fashion: modern Arabic paintings adorn the walls, and there are a few mashrabia screens dotted about. The end of the room is dominated by a heavy wooden bar, complete with mashrabia panelling, and an ornate, gilded mirror.

The staff are usually very welcoming, and the service is generally good: attentive and efficient, without being fussy. The menu at Estoril consists of classic Arabic dishes, many of which have been given a French twist. Start your meal with a selection of hot and cold mezze, and move on to a main of chicken, beef or veal. The chicken with molokheiya is pretty good. There's also a good selection of seafood, and – unusually for Egypt – a decent choice of quality veggie dishes. Finish with fresh fruit salad, or a traditional sweet mihallabiya.

Don't feel rushed to leave after your meal – grab a stool next to the beautiful bar, and linger over a drink or two.

Note that Estoril can be rather hit and miss. Sometimes the food and service is great; other times it's mediocre at best. And some nights, especially at weekends, the bar can be rather boisterous, whereas other nights it's all but dead. It's worth turning up to see what's going on, because there are lots of other places nearby like The Greek Club and Le Grillon.
read more about Estoril

Cairo Tower

Cairo Tower

The 187 metre high Cairo Tower is arguably Cairo's second most famous landmark (no prizes for guessing number one)! It is the fourth largest tower in the world, made of granite, and styled to look like a lotus plant (the symbol of Upper Egypt).

The Cairo Tower offers fantastic views of the city, and on a clear day you can see all the way from the Pyramids in the west to the Muqattam Hills in the east. The River Nile looks particularly spectacular from this far up, and there are telescopes available to enhance your city-gazing. You ascend the tower in a lift, and there is a revolving restaurant and a café at the top.

The Cairo Tower was completed in 1961, and was caught up in the politics of the age. It was built with American money, and some say that it was actually Russian engineers that designed the tower. Locals believe that as well as a lotus plant, the tower represents the 'middle finger' directed towards the USA, for blocking Nasser's request for a World Bank loan to build the Aswan High Dam.

Whatever the truth of these claims, the Cairo Tower is an unforgettable landmark with spectacular views, and is therefore well worth a visit. It is particularly pretty at night, when lit up by a shifting display of coloured lights. Situated on Gezira Island (more commonly known as Zamalek), the tower is best reached by taxi. read more about Cairo Tower

Wikalet al-Ghouri

Wikalet al-Ghouri

  • Muhammad 'Abduh Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo, 11211

The Wikalet al-Ghouri, in Islamic Cairo, was built in the 16th Century by Qansuh al-Ghouri, the penultimate Mamluk sultan. A Wikala was a warehouse and merchants hostel, and the Wikalet al-Ghouri has been carefully restored. You have to pay 15 LE to enter.

It is very complete, with a huge open courtyard and a maze of stairs and passageways leading around the different floors. There is a marble fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Many of the old rooms have been turned into miniature crafts centres, and it's possible to see workers producing leather ware, jewellery, paintings and so on. The combination of dark mashrabia windows on each room, and the striped marble building materials, is very effective; and although the Wikala al-Ghouri is very simple, it is deceptively beautiful.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evening there is a free Sufi dancing show held in the courtyard. The show begins at 8.30 pm, though if possible you should arrive when the doors open at 6.30 pm, to make sure you get in.

The show is incredible: the dancers spin in place, whipping their brightly coloured skirts into a mesmerising kaleidoscope of patterns. At the end of the dance, they simply walk off without a wobble, as if they haven't just been spinning around in a circle for ages. It's dizzying just watching them!

Wikalet al-Ghouri is just behind al-Azhar Mosque, pretty much opposite Khan al-Khalili and a short walk away from the Street of the Tentmakers.
read more about Wikalet al-Ghouri

Gayer-Anderson Museum

Gayer-Anderson Museum

  • 4 Maydan Ibn Tulun
  • Ibn Tulun Street
  • tel:+20 2 364 7822
  • Cairo

The Gayer-Anderson museum is formed from two houses of the 15th and 16th centuries joined by a bridge. The houses use the outer wall of Ibn Tulun Mosque for support, and were nearly knocked down in 1928. Luckily, they were so well preserved that they were spared, and in 1935 a British Major called John Gayer-Anderson was given permission to move in. He oversaw restoration of the houses, and filled them with his own personal, eclectic collection of art and furnishings from the Near East. The Gayer-Anderson Museum is jam-packed with Islamic history of all kinds, and even includes an interesting section inspired by ancient Egypt. Like the adjacent Ibn Tulun Mosque, the Gayer-Andersen Museum was used as a location in Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me; and it is said to be protected by the spirit of a Muslim sheikh who will blind would-be robbers! As with most sites in Cairo, it's easiest to get here by taxi. read more about Gayer-Anderson Museum

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ankh-Mahor

Saqqara: Mastaba of Ankh-Mahor

Coptic Cemetery of Old Cairo

Coptic Cemetery of Old Cairo

  • Religion Compound
  • Mari Girgis
  • Cairo, 11728
Zizo's

Zizo's

  • 1 Midan Bab al Futuh
  • tel:2025926530
  • Cairo

Zizo's, situated opposite one of the north gates (Bab al Futuh) of Islamic Cairo, is one of the city's best kept secrets.

Founded by colourful owner Abdel-Aziz Mustafa Hamzah (aka Zizo) in the 60's, Zizo's specialises in spicy sogoq (beef sausage) sandwiches, Alexandria style. The sandwiches are incredibly tasty, and dirt cheap, though be warned that they have quite a kick. Zizo's is also renowned for the quality of its offal, and the brains are particularly well regarded. For dessert, grab a halawa bil eshta sandwich (halawa is a sweet made of sesame paste and sugar, and eshta is cream) for the ultimate sugar rush!

Zizo himself still runs this tiny, spit and sawdust-type restaurant, as well as making the amazing pickles that accompany his food. He's a very friendly character, that loves to welcome and chat with his guests.

Zizo's is very near Khan el Khalili, so is the perfect place to refuel after a spot of shopping, perhaps before heading to the nearby cities of the dead. read more about Zizo's

Horeya

Horeya

  • Midan el-Falaki
  • Bab el-Louk
  • Cairo

Horeya is without a doubt one of the coolest bars in Downtown Cairo. It is not, however, somewhere you come for a quiet drink in nice surroundings! It's essentially an old coffee shop that also serves Stella beer. It has high ceilings, vomit yellow walls and pillars, and a dirty grey stone floor that is littered with fag butts and bean casings the same colour as the walls.

Horeya is crammed full of Stella-sponsored tables and rickety wooden chairs, and patrolled by a handful of serving staff who almost aggressively thrust bottle after bottle of Stella at you. These bottle stay on the table, and are used to calculate your tab when you finally stagger out.

The best thing about Horeya is the clientele: you literally rub shoulders with Egyptians from all walks of life, expats, the occasional tourist, and lots of earnest students from the American University in Cairo practising their Arabic. Even if there were music, you wouldn't be able to hear it over the chaotic hubbub of conversation. Talking to random punters is compulsory!

The most bizarre part of Horeya is that in the corner, separated from the beer drinkers by an imaginary force-field, are groups of old men drinking Turkish coffee and playing chess. It's entirely typical of Horeya that they even manage to do this boisterously! read more about Horeya

Al-Sawy Cultural Centre

Al-Sawy Cultural Centre

Al-Sawy Cultural Centre, at the west end of 26th July Street in Zamalek, is a gem. This progressive and modern cultural centre has a number of halls and exhibition areas given over to cultural activities.

Each month there are different art exhibitions, from traditional Arabic calligraphy to watercolour landscapes. They also host photography exhibitions and craft fairs, and run a number of courses. Fancy learning a bit of yoga, or how to play the tabla? Al-Sawy Cultural Centre is the place to ask, since even if they don't offer the course themselves, they'll know a place that does.

Al-Sawy Cultural centre also has live music each week, from local heavy metal to classical oud, and sometimes performers from abroad. The centre is open to non-members, and many exhibitions are free. You have to pay for the music and the courses, though prices are very low, and discounted for members.

Al-Sawy Cultural Centre also has a pleasant garden area, and a simple café with free Wi-Fi. Unusually for Cairo, the whole of the premises is non-smoking! read more about Al-Sawy Cultural Centre

Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

  • In front of al Ghouri Mausoleum
  • Islamic Cairo
  • Cairo, 11728

Qansuh al-Ghouri was the penultimate Mamluk sultan of Egypt, and ruled for the first 16 years of the 16th Century. The area where the southern half of Muizz li-Din-Allah street meets al-Azhar street contains a number of monuments built by him, including the Wikala al-Ghouri, the Mausoleum al-Ghouri, and the Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri. The impressive Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri has been beautifully restored, its outside decorated with horizontal bands of dun and cream marble, Arabic stonework calligraphy and geometric patterns. The entrance to the Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri is an incredibly ornate niche doorway of black and white marble, that looks almost like a strange, fractal mountain range. The mosque itself is not that big, but feels light and spacious nonetheless, and has beautiful marble floors, ornately carved stone walls, and the black, white and dun coloured marble banding so typical of Mamluk architecture. The Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri also boasts some splendid stained glass arch windows, a gold coloured carved wood ceiling, and even a large, gothic-looking iron chandelier. As with most mosques, for a little bit of baksheesh you are able to climb the minaret. A thoroughly recommended mosque! read more about Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

After Eight

After Eight

After Eight is a lively bar-restaurant that plays regular host to some of Cairo's hottest live music acts. While the food is OK, people come here for the music, and most acts start around 10 pm. The music policy is varied, and includes modern and oriental Jazz, Nubian music, and even Rai (a sort of North African blend of pop and traditional music). They sometimes have a DJ, and host a regular karaoke night. After Eight can get quite crowded and smoky, and it's best to get there before the music starts if you want to eat. An over 25's policy is enforced, and couples are preferred. Reservation at After Eight is necessary.
read more about After Eight

Giza Pyramids: Sound and Light Show

Giza Pyramids: Sound and Light Show

  • Giza Pyramids Plateau
  • tel:+20 (0)2 386 3469 / +20 (0)2 385 2880 / +20 (0)2 285 4509 (Egyptian Tou
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561
Ben Ezra Synagogue

Ben Ezra Synagogue

  • Coptic Cairo quarter
  • Coptic Cairo
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Al Azhar Park

Al Azhar Park

  • Salah Salem Street
  • Al Darassa
  • tel:+20 2 510 3868 / +20 2 510 7378
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11562

Covering an area of about 30 hectares, al-Azhar Park is the largest expanse of green in Cairo. Established by the Aga Khan Trust For Culture in 1984, it was built over the top of a huge pile of rubble that had been turned in to a rubbish tip. Don't let this put you off: al-Azhar Park is a peaceful oasis on the edge of the chaos that is Islamic Cairo.

Paths meander through idyllic gardens, and you are never far from one of the many water features. It's a great place to relax, and many people take a picnic. If you'd rather be waited upon, there are four restaurant/cafes located in the grounds. Because al-Azhar Park is on a hill, you get amazing views all over Cairo. On a clear day you can even see the Pyramids!

As with much of Cairo, the best bit is people-watching: old men reminiscing on benches, children playing leapfrog, and daring young lovers holding hands as they stroll through their own little world. If history is your thing, then check out the 800 year-old Ayyubid wall that has been partially restored. If music is more your scene, then ask at the information desk about up-and-coming concerts; many of them are free!

Al-Azhar Park is a perfect place to chill out after you've tackled some of the nearby sights of Islamic Cairo, such as Khan al-Khalili or the Citadel. You can get here by taxi, or even walk up from Khan al-Khalili. read more about Al Azhar Park

Felfela

Felfela

  • Talaat Harb Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2392 2833
  • Cairo, 11111

Beloved of tourists and locals alike, Felfela is a Cairo fast food institution. On the right as you head up Talaat Harb street towards the midan, Felfela is a simple, brightly coloured and brightly lit restaurant that offers a whole range of Egyptian street food classics.

You can get koshary (with or without meat), chicken or beef shawerma, different types of taamiya and felafel sandwiches, all sorts of fuul... simply name your staple!

Although it's a bit more expensive than the proper dive restaurants offering this food, Felfela is still cheap, and reassuringly hygienic.

The way it works is easy: you order and pay at the cash desk, and the staff will give you a ticket. (Felfela has menus in English, and the staff speak English too.) You take your ticket to the appropriate part of the restaurant (the staff will tell you where to go if you aren't sure), and swap it for some food!

You can either eat amongst the other customers, standing up at the waist-height counters, or take your food to go. Either way, it's delicious!

Felfela is set right amongst the action of Downtown Cairo. Afterwards, why not head to the nearby Stella Bar, Horeya, or Odeon Palace Bar, and grab yourself a local beer to wash your food down!

There is also a proper sit down version of the restaurant just around the corner on Hoda Sharaawy Street. read more about Felfela

Mausoleum of al-Ghouri

Mausoleum of al-Ghouri

  • Al-Muezz el-Din Allah Street
  • Near El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Cairo Jazz Club

Cairo Jazz Club

  • 197, 26th July Street
  • Agouza
  • tel:+20 (0)2 3345 9939
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

The Cairo Jazz Club does not just play jazz. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere on the border of Agouza and Mohandiseen, the Cairo Jazz club plays every type of music... along with the occasional night of jazz!

It puts a different night on each day of the week. Sometimes it will be a DJ spinning the latest hip hop and R&B, other times it will be 70's cheese. At least twice a week there are live bands, from unknown cover bands to well-established outfits such as the super-lively Wust al-Balad.

The bond that ties this eclectic policy together is coolness. Not of the acts, which – to be fair – vary greatly. No, it's the crowd at the Cairo Jazz Club that's cool. Rich young Egyptians and foreign AUC students make up most of the clientele, though the occasional expat might stumble in after work, and tourists sometimes find their way too. Despite being ultra-hip, the atmosphere is very welcoming, and as you dance the night away amongst the sweaty, heaving masses, you feel as though you could be in any city in the world.

There is no entrance fee, though there is a door policy of sorts: if the bouncers don't like the look of you, they won't let you in! If you look like you've made some sort of effort, and you are friendly and polite, then you should have no trouble. What the Cairo Jazz Club loses in entrance fees, it makes up for in drinks prices. You'll probably find you are having such a good time, though, that you'll forget about the bar. Food is also served. read more about Cairo Jazz Club

Saqqara: Mastaba of Kagemni

Saqqara: Mastaba of Kagemni

  • Beside Step Pyramid
  • Saqqara
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561
Amr Ibn el-Aas Mosque

Amr Ibn el-Aas Mosque

  • Sidi Hasan al-Anwar Street
  • Fustat
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Abou el Sid

Abou el Sid

  • 157, 26th of July Street, just down from Diwan book store
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2735 9640 / +20 (0)10 100 8500
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Abou el Sid, located on Zamalek, offers excellent, authentic Egyptian cuisine in very atmospheric surroundings. Décor is traditional Arabesque, heavy on the mashrabiyya wooden panelling, but the atmosphere is lively and down to earth. A word of warning though - the staff can be incredibly rude, and the service isn't always great.

Don't let this put you off though, because Abou el Sid is an excellent place to share a selection of mouth-watering mezzes, and offers a wide range of traditional Egyptian mains. Try the Rabbit with Molokheiya for a real taste of rural Egypt, their old-school fish Sayadeya, or opt for Egypt's national dish, Koshary (a mix of pasta, lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce). Abou el Sid also serves a range of alcohol, and Egyptian water pipes (shishas).

Abou el Sid gets very busy, so it's advisable to book in advance. If you can't get a table, L'Aubergine and La Bodega are near by, or you could try the Abou el Sid branches in Mohandiseen, Maadi or City Stars. read more about Abou el Sid

La Bodega

La Bodega

  • 157, 26th of July Street
  • Balmoral Hotel
  • tel:+20 (0)2 27362188 - +20(0)2 27350543 - +20 (0)2 27356761 - +20 (0)2 273
  • Cairo

La Bodega restaurant is on 26th July street, Zamalek. With its quality Mediterranean food, expensive drinks and classy surrounds, it's long been a mainstay of the dining and nightlife scene. Enter through the street level doorway that still has a sign for the Balmoral, and either climb the stairs or take the old-school ornate iron lift to the first floor.

La Bodega bistro has a restrained atmosphere of efficiency and sophistication, with dark wood furniture, subdued lighting, and classical paintings adorning the walls. The menu is Mediterranean with a French bias, and La Bodega is renowned for its steaks. Although the food is expensive, it is good quality, and the service is excellent. The restaurant also offers a wide range of set menus that are great value, though you have to arrive early in the evening to qualify.

You don't have to eat in the La Bodega bistro. Many people choose to head around the corner and prop up the huge, copper plated bar. You'll often find groups of professional expats and Egyptians here, catching up over a cocktail or a glass of wine. The serving staff are very knowledgeable, and can make a good range of cocktails. You can even find Caipirinha, though don't expect it to taste like it does in Brazil!

La Bodega is a classy place, so it's best to dress up before you go. A word of warning, the "welcoming" staff in the marble lobby who check your reservation can be incredibly rude, and will often refuse entry to groups of single men.

If you fancy something a little less pretentious, Deals and L'Aubergine are just around the corner, as is Aboul Sid if you are looking for classy Egyptian cuisine. read more about La Bodega

Bab Zwayla

Bab Zwayla

  • Sharia al-Muizz el-Din Allah Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Bab Zwayla is the only surviving southern gate of the medieval Fatimid city of al-Qahira. Built in the 10th Century, Bab Zwayla is as beautiful as it is imposing: a solid arch framed by chunky round turrets, with graceful minarets piercing the sky. It looks more like the entrance to a castle than to a city! The city wall to the west of the gate is still intact, and you can clearly see the zigzagging battlements with their finely carved decorations. During the Mamluk period, the area in front of Bab Zwayla was used for public gatherings, and dancers and snake charmers performed here. It was especially popular for the macabre entertainment of executions. For a small fee you can enter the western Bab Zwayla gate tower, and climb on to the roof and the city walls. You can even climb most of the way up one of the minarets, and get spectacular views out over Islamic Cairo and the Citadel. Just south of Bab Zwayla, is the Street of the Tentmakers. read more about Bab Zwayla

Saqqara: Mastaba of Mereruka

Saqqara: Mastaba of Mereruka

  • Step Pyramid of Djoser
  • Saqqara
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509 (Tourist information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 12561

Just to the north-west of the Pyramid of Teti in Saqqara is the Mastaba of Mereruka. Mereruka was the pharaoh Teti's highest court official, during the 6th Dynasty. Covering an area of over 1000 sq m, and with 32 separate chambers, the Mastaba of Mereruka is the largest known tomb belonging to a court official in the Old Kingdom. There are pillared hallways, offering rooms, and the burial rooms themselves. Mereruka's wife, who was a priestess of Hathor (and daughter of Teti), was also buried in the Mastaba of Mereruka, as was his eldest son. The Mastaba of Mereruka contains the usual range of daily life scenes, especially of hunting and farming, and some of the reliefs are very well preserved. The main, columned offering hall in the Mastaba of Mereruka contains a life-sized statue of the vizier emerging from a false door to receive the offerings left for him. read more about Saqqara: Mastaba of Mereruka

L'Aubergine

L'Aubergine

  • 5a Sayed El Bakry Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 20 27380080
  • Cairo, 12151

L'Auberine restaurant, on Zamalek, is a favourite hang-out of rich young Egyptians. Downstairs is a dimly lit, slightly cramped restaurant, that used to be the only purely vegetarian restaurant in Cairo. Nowadays, meat is also on the menu, although there is still a wide variety of half decent veggie fare. Prices are a little on the high side, and if the serving staff are not always that friendly, at least they are efficient.

The real action at L'Aubergine, though, is in the bar upstairs. Even more cramped and dingy than the restaurant, the bar is the province of the younger Cairo jet set, but has a great atmosphere. It actually feels like being in a Western style bar, especially since you have to pay at the bar for each drink you buy, which is unusual in Egypt.

There is live music at L'Aubergine each week, and it's also a popular place to watch the football. Don't expect to get a seat though, and warm your vocal chords up thoroughly before entering: you're going to have to shout to be heard! read more about L'Aubergine

Abou Shakra

Abou Shakra

  • 69 Kasr El Einy Street
  • tel:20 (0)2 2531 6111, +20 (0)2 3531 6222
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Cedars Restaurant

Cedars Restaurant

  • 42 Gezirat el Arab
  • tel:+20 (0)2 3345 0088 / +20 (0)2 3347 2537 / +20 (0)2 3344 5108 / +20 (0)
  • Cairo

Cedars restaurant in Mohandiseen offers up good quality Lebanese food in relaxed surroundings. It's very popular with locals, and always busy, though you can sometimes find a quiet(ish) corner.

Cedars has a great range of mezzes - the artichoke hearts, hummus with meat, sogoq (spicy Arabian sausages), and vine leaves are particularly good. Mains include a typical range of grills and sandwiches, and lots of offal. Their halloumi sandwich is wonderful, as is the fattah.

Cedars doesn't serve alcohol, though they have a wide range of delicious seasonal juices - the watermelon is particularly good if you catch it.

Cedars is famous for its shisha pipes (the Egyptian water pipe), and with loads of waiting staff, the service is excellent. They also have a patio you can dine on. read more about Cedars Restaurant

Greek Club (The)

Greek Club (The)

  • 21 Mahmoud Bassyouni Street
  • Midan Talat Harb
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2575 0822
  • Cairo, 11111

Situated just off Midan Talaat Harb in Downtown, the Greek Club is open to everyone. Non-members have to pay an entrance fee of 5 LE, and there is a cover charge of 1 LE and a minimum charge of 30 LE.

You get far more than you pay for, however, because the Greek Club is in some ways one gorgeous contradiction. The dining room is minimalist elegance personified: an open, almost breezy space with high, vaulted ceilings and ridged columns. The colour scheme is yellow and cream with deep red trim, which also extends to the tables dotted about the vast room. The walls are livened up with the occasional colourful painting.

At odds with the sophisticated surroundings of the Greek Club, is the informal vibe. The staff are very friendly, and the atmosphere can border on the raucous. The high ceilings do nothing to swallow the babble of voices, which even drown out the traditional Greek music playing through chunky speakers.

The menu at the Greek Club is not that comprehensive: there are some mezze, a suitably delicious Greek salad, chicken escallops, and a fair bit of seafood (the calamari is divine), but no moussaka. The food is cheap and cheerful, and for a downtown bar, the drinks prices are criminally low. As well as beer and wine, ouzo is also available. read more about Greek Club (The)

Makan

Makan

  • 1 Saad Zaghloul St.
  • El Dawaween
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2792 0878
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11461