Luxurious Destinations
Africa
Destinations Within Africa

Africa Trip Itineraries

Mosques of Cairo

Destination(s): Cairo

Cairo is known, amongst other things, as “the city of 1000 minarets”. In fact, there are many more than 1000 mosques in Cairo, though nobody knows for sure exactly how many. The Mosques of Cairo trip has been designed with mosque lovers in mind, and will introduce you to some of the most important, most interesting, and most beautiful Cairo mosques. To visit these Cairo mosques is to travel through time, since the trip includes mosques from all periods of Islamic history in Cairo, from the 7th Century all the way through to modern times. It’s important for both men and women to be conservatively dressed when visiting the Cairo mosques, and women may be asked to cover their head. Since you must remove your shoes to enter, footwear that you can easily slip on and off is convenient. Finally, most mosques are free to enter, though it is expected that you will tip the attendant who watches your shoes. read more about Mosques of Cairo

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

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
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

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

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

The Religion Compound

The Religion Compound

  • Mari Girgis Street
  • Old Cairo
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo, 11728

The Religion Compound is one of the most picturesque and charming areas in the whole of Cairo. It consists of a small area built around the remains of the old Roman fortress of Babylon on the Nile, and contains pretty much all of the tourist sights of Old Cairo (also known as Coptic Cairo, and Fustat).

The Religion Compound is littered with monuments from all three of the main monotheistic religions, as well as the Coptic Museum and the Coptic Cemetery. Some of the more famous churches here include the Greek Church of St George (one of the few round churches still in existence in the region) and the Hanging Church (with its famous suspended nave). The Amr Ibn el-Aas Mosque is located just north of the compound, and was the first mosque ever built in Egypt (although it has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times).

Make sure you head down the passageway to the left of the Church of St George: it takes you in to a maze of exquisite cobbled lanes that wind past numerous other religious buildings. Must-see monuments here include the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (believed to be the oldest in Cairo, and built on the spot where Jesus and his family rested after their flight to Egypt), the Church of St Shenuti, and the beautiful Ben Ezra Synagogue.

The Religion Compound can be reached by taxi (ask for Fustat) or by Metro: Mar Girgis Station is directly opposite the Coptic Museum. read more about The Religion Compound

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

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

Sayeda Zeinab Mosque

Sayeda Zeinab Mosque

  • Al Sayeda Zeinab Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo
Aqmar Mosque (Al)

Aqmar Mosque (Al)

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

Built during the 12th Century, al-Aqmar Mosque was the first Cairo mosque to have a decorated façade. The façade of al-Aqmar Mosque is beautiful, delicate and very finely detailed: a series of arches and niches are carved in to the stone, and look almost like sea-shells. By contrast, the simple minaret looks old, careworn and plain, and looks rather like a rolling pin. The interior of al-Aqmar Mosque is also quite plain: simple marble columns with Corinthian heads, pale yellow walls in the prayer room, and a neat, slate grey mihrab. Most of al-Aqmar Mosque is constructed from a pale grey stone, much of which is finely carved with Arabic calligraphy. This explains the mosque's name: al-Aqmar means "the moonlit", and the stones are said to take on a beautiful shimmering hue at night. read more about Aqmar Mosque (Al)

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

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

Abou Shakra

Abou Shakra

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

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

Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa

Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa

  • El-Qalaa Street
  • (Beneath the Citadel)
  • Cairo

The Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa, built over the latter half of the 14th Century, is one of the largest and most imposing mosques in Cairo. It costs 25 LE to enter, and initially feels like walking in to a castle, through a huge entrance decorated in red, white and blue. You emerge from a dim vestibule into an immense open courtyard, with red, blue and cream marble floor slabs arranged into geometric patterns. There is a huge central fountain, complete with domed roof, and four giant, vaulted niches known as liwans, complete with hanging lamps on incredibly long chains. Each liwan was used to teach one of the four versions of Sunni Islamic law, and were linked with madrassas. The mihrab in the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa is a work of art: as immense as the rest of the mosque, but decorated with fine gold calligraphy and pieces of blue, white, orange and yellow marble fitted together in a jigsaw-type pattern. The whole effect is set off by elegant grey marble columns. Behind the main mihrab of the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa is a dimly lit room housing the mausoleum of Sultan Hassan: a surprisingly restrained marble tomb, set in a room with a huge domed ceiling of gilded woodwork, that looks a little like melting chocolate. The walls here are also comprised of coloured marble, arranged in to rectangular patterns. read more about Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrassa

Zamalek

Zamalek

  • Northern tip of Gezira island
  • Cairo

Technically, Zamalek is the northern half of the island Gazira, although most people refer to the whole island as Zamalek. The southern tip hosts the Sofitel hotel, Opera house, Planetarium and Museum of Modern Islamic Art. The middle of the island is taken up by the greenery of various private members clubs, such as the exclusive Nadi al-Gazira, and also the bizarre Fish Garden park. The northern half of the island is, by Egyptian standards, a relatively green and peaceful residential area. The area is affluent, popular with expats, and hosts a number of foreign embassies. There are lots of good quality shops in Zamalek, selling western style and designer clothes, jewellery, and some exquisite and original crafts. The main branch of Fair Trade Egypt is also on Zamalek, and well worth a visit. The staff are very knowledgeable, and have lots of information about the community groups they work with around Egypt. The Sawy Cultural Centre is also on Zamalek, at the western end of the busy 26 July street. They always have interesting art exhibitions going on, host lots of concerts, and even have a non-smoking café! Finally, Zamalek is home to tons of trendy and quirky restaurants, bars and cafes. Best of the bunch are probably La Bodega, L'Aubergine, and Sequoia; competition is fierce, and the list ever-growing. read more about Zamalek

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

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

  • Al-Muizz el-Din Allah Street
  • Next to Bab Zwayla
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque is a huge mosque next to Bab Zwayla, that joins with the city walls. From the outside it looks more like a fortress, and is often known as the Red Mosque because of the reddish hue of its pink and brown striped exterior. Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque was built in the 15th Century on the site of the prison that the founder was formerly locked up in, for plotting against the Sultan of the time. The entrance is a huge niche with multicoloured marble geometric patterns and a massive bronze door. Al-Mu'ayyad and his son are buried just before the main part of the mosque, underneath large marble cenotaphs. The main prayer hall is quite ornate, with a mix of marble columns, some of which have Corinthian style heads. There is the standard profusion of Mamluk white, red and black marble arranged in rectangular geometric patterns, as well as lots of beautiful carved wood, especially the finely wrought doors, and calligraphy. The gilded ceiling is in fantastic condition, and there are beautiful, simple stained glass windows in red, yellow, blue and green. The courtyard is huge, with carved walls and impressive rows of columns, and "Fleur de Lis" type crenulations on the tops of the walls. The minarets of al-Mu'ayyad mosque are actually tacked on to Bab Zwayla: they are intricate and delicate, and look almost like a spire-shaped wedding cake! read more about Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

Al-Refa'i Mosque

Al-Refa'i Mosque

  • El-Qalaa Street
  • Beneath the Citadel
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al-Refa'i Mosque, opposite Sultan Hassan Mosque, is one of the most spectacular Cairo mosques, and well worth the 25 LE entrance fee. It was completed in the early 20th Century for the mother of Khedive Ismail, and is built in a mock Mamluk style. Al-Refa'i Mosque is absolutely stunning inside: not only is it incredibly ornate, it is in very good condition. The floors and walls are covered in bright marble in differing colours and patterns, and ample gold leaf garnishes everything. The high ceilings are dark wood embossed with mother of pearl, looking similar in design to the boxes sold in Khan al-Khalili! Beautiful wooden Arabesque doors, incense, stained glass, chandeliers – you name it, and it graces the al-Refa'i Mosque. The mosque also houses ornate marble tombs of various luminaries: including King Fouad and his mother, King Farouk, Khedive Ismail and his harem, and even the last shah of Iran. The tomb of Sheikh Ali al-Rifa'i, founder of the Rifa'i sect of Sufis, is also housed in the al-Refa'i Mosque: a grey marble tomb housed behind an ornate mashrabia screen, the tomb is decked with plastic flowers and softly lit by other-worldly green lighting. The overall effect manages to be both solemn and slightly tacky at the same time. Because al-Refa'i Mosque is so large, and with so much to explore and marvel at, you should try to allow an hour or so to visit it. read more about Al-Refa'i Mosque

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

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

Street of the Tentmakers

Street of the Tentmakers

  • Souq Al-Khiamiyya
  • Bab Zwayla
  • Cairo

The Street of the Tentmakers is a beautiful covered market that extends a hundred yards or so south of Bab Zwayla. Souq al-Khiamiyya, as the Street of the Tentmakers is also known, is the only covered market left in Cairo, and dates back to the 17th Century.

Walking down the narrow alleyway feels like stepping back into medieval Cairo, with each simple stall hewn in to solid stone walls, and fronted by a wooden shutter. The tentmakers here have plied their trade for hundreds of years, hand-crafting the colourful appliqué wall-hangings that were traditionally used to decorate Arabic tents. With the demise of the nomadic lifestyle, this noble craft is also dying out, but the Street of the Tentmakers is one of the few places in the Arab world where it still survives.

There aren't so many actual tents on sale now, but this is the best place in Cairo to buy wall hangings, cushion covers, bedspreads and the like. As well as more traditional geometric patterns, you can also find pharaonic designs and other pictures. Almost everything here is bold, brightly coloured, and made by hand.

Best of all, although you are only about a twenty minute walk from the bustle of Khan al-Khalili, prices in the Street of the Tentmakers are much lower. As a final bonus, the craftsmen in the bazaar are really friendly, and more than happy to sit and chat about their work. read more about Street of the Tentmakers

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

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

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

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

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

Aqsunqur Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Aqsunqur Mosque (Blue Mosque)

  • Bab el-Wazir Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

The Aqsunqur Mosque was originally built during the 14th Century, though it has been added to a number of times since then. It was founded by Shams al-Din Aqsunqur, who was heavily embroiled in Mamluk palace politics, and came to the inevitable sticky end – garrotted by his own brother-in-law. The Aqsunqur Mosque contains a leafy open courtyard, and a beautiful prayer hall. The Aqsunqur Mosque is often known as the "Blue Mosque", because of the gorgeous blue, indigo and violet tiles with floral motifs that grace the walls of the prayer hall. They are not original features, but are believed to have been imported from Syria or Turkey and added some time in the 17th Century. The original, circular minaret has been restored, and offers fantastic views of Islamic Cairo and the Citadel. However, the Aqsunqur Mosque is undergoing restoration work, and is closed to visitors. It's hoped it will re-open towards the end of 2009. read more about Aqsunqur Mosque (Blue Mosque)

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

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

Maridani Mosque (El)

Maridani Mosque (El)

  • Bab Al Wazir street
  • Near Shari El Ahmar, Darb al-Ahmar district
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509
  • Cairo

Built in the 14th Century, al-Maridani Mosque is one of the most peaceful Cairo mosques. The mosque looks very plain from the outside, though with a pretty minaret, and you enter in to an open courtyard complete with palm trees and singing birds. The stone water fountain looks like it has seen better days, and has a wood covering that looks like a beehive. From inside you can make out the al-Maridani mosque's huge onion dome. The prayer room is separated from the courtyard by huge mashrabia screens, and supported by various stone columns: some Mamluk, some Roman, and some allegedly of from the Pharaonic period. There are some gorgeous stained glass windows in beautiful, bright colours, and the decaying red and brown wood ceiling is resplendent with the glory of times past. The overall effect of the al-Maridani Mosque is one of simplicity and tranquillity, with a slight echo of faded grandeur. It's a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the chaotic outside world of Islamic Cairo. read more about Maridani Mosque (El)

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