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Romantic Cairo: what do do with your lover in Cairo

Destination(s): Cairo

Cairo is an exciting, exotic, and endlessly fascinating city, yet not necessarily one of the most romantic: it’s simply too chaotic. Having said this, some of the tourist sights are quite romantic, especially if you have a thing for ancient history, and are lucky enough to avoid the huge crowds. There are also some high end restaurants that can offer the level of service and intimacy that a couple might be looking for. More than anything else, though, it’s the activities you do that determine the romance factor. This trip assumes you are in Cairo for the first time, and so want to see all the main sights, but that it’s just as important to spend some quality time with your loved one. In particular, the trip ensures you are in the right place at the right time each day to enjoy one of the most romantic experiences of Cairo – the spectacular sunsets. For a couple, the best play to stay in Cairo is in one of the expensive resorts out near the Pyramids. This trip assumes you are staying out that way. Note that parts of Cairo are very traditional, and it’s sensible to wear conservative clothing when out in public. If visiting mosques, churches or local markets, this is particularly important. read more about Romantic Cairo: what do do with your lover in 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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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)

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

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 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

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

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

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

Greek Church of Saint George (Mari Girgis)

Greek Church of Saint George (Mari Girgis)

  • Mar Girgis Street
  • Coptic Cairo quarter
  • Cairo
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-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

Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius)

Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius)

  • Near Mari Girgis Street
  • (Downtown)
  • Cairo, 11728
Andrea

Andrea

  • 59-60 Marioutiya Canal, Kerdasa Rd, Harem
  • Shara Kerdessa, al-Haram
  • tel:+20 (0)2 3383 1133
  • Cairo
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

Naguib Mahfouz Cafe

Naguib Mahfouz Cafe

  • 5 El Badistan Lane
  • Khan El Khalili Bazaar
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2590 3788
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11211
Ben Ezra Synagogue

Ben Ezra Synagogue

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

Scarabee

Scarabee

  • Corniche el-Nil Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2794 3444, +20 (0)2 2794 3198
  • Visit website
  • Cairo, 11511
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

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
Citadel View Restaurant

Citadel View Restaurant

  • Al=Azhar Park
  • Gizeh
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2510 9150, +20 (0)2 2510 9151
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Felucca Ride on the Nile

Felucca Ride on the Nile

  • Maadi ferry, next to Grand Café
  • Maadi Cornice
  • Cairo

The Greek historian Herodotus described Egypt as the "gift of the Nile". One of the best things to do in Cairo is go for a sail on the Nile on a felucca. A felucca is a traditional Egyptian sailing boat, that can be crewed by just one man.

Sailing the Nile on a felucca is one of the few ways to escape the chaos of Cairo, and actually get some peace and quiet! All you can hear is the gentle lapping of the water against the hull, and the flapping of the sails (OK, you will probably still hear some traffic, but it will be muted)! Time ceases to have any meaning, since you are at the mercy of the elements.

There are a number of places to do a felucca ride in Cairo, such as from opposite the Grand Hyatt hotel, but the best place is down in Maadi. There are no bridges here to interrupt your sailing, and it is a lot more peaceful. You can pick up a felucca from the local ferry port on the cornice, next to the Grand Café.

The standard charge for tourists is 60 LE for an hour, though you can certainly bargain this down. Note that you should also tip the captain on top. You can do a felucca ride at any time of day or night, but by far the best time to do it is for sunset. read more about Felucca Ride on the Nile

Camel Ride by the Pyramids

Camel Ride by the Pyramids

  • FB stables
  • Gamal Abdul Nasser St
  • tel:20 (0)16 5070288
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Many people who visit the Pyramids choose to do a camel ride around the enclosure there. A better idea is to do a camel ride into the desert behind the Pyramids. You get fantastic views of the Pyramids, and can imagine you are part of an old trade caravan, travelling across the desert to sell your wares in far off, exotic locations.

There is nothing quite like a camel ride in the desert: you will really start to appreciate the power and beauty of these haughtily majestic creatures, as you sway from side to side on the camel's back, lulled both by the hypnotic motion and the monotonous beauty of the desert.

Many stables near the Sphinx can offer camel rides. FB Stables are highly recommended: they are used to dealing with tourists, are friendly and responsible, and their camels are in good shape. You can organise any sort of trip with them, from a one hour jaunt around the desert, to a multi-day safari.

One of the best times to do a camel ride is for sunset: as well as a magnificent view of the Pyramids, you will hear the beautifully mournful evening Call to Prayer from hundreds of mosques at the same time. Pure magic! read more about Camel Ride by the Pyramids

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.
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Grand Cafe

Grand Cafe

  • Merryland Gardens
  • near TGI Friday
  • tel:20 2 451 2316
  • Cairo
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
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

Moghul Room at the Mena House Oberoi

Moghul Room at the Mena House Oberoi

  • Mena House Oberoi
  • Pyramids' Road
  • tel:20 2 33 77 3222
  • Visit website
  • Cairo