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Cairo Travel Guide

Cairo Travel Guide

Cairo is a busy, messy, noisy delight of a city which enchants visitors with its ancient treasures and challenges them with its modern riotousness. The 'Mother of all Cities' is full of great restaurants and thrilling archaeological sites; it is the doorstep to one of the most intriguing tourist destinations in the world.

Warning: Protests in Cairo are common as conservative religious groups and the military clash over the formation of a new government and the way forward for the country. Visitors should avoid downtown Cairo, including Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, as the protests have turned violent and clashes with police are frequent. Also note that embassies are often the target of protests and the US Embassy in Cairo, in particular, has been the site of multiple violent protests in September 2012.

Egypt is most renowned for its historical sightseeing, and Cairo certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard: it is the city of the pyramids, the sphinx, the Colossus of Ramses II. The ancient Egyptians left their mark on this city and their presence can still be felt. There is also more recent history on show in Cairo and tourists should not limit themselves to ancient relics. Old Cairo, also called Coptic Cairo, is the meeting place of three religions and boasts remarkable churches as well as synagogues and mosques; The Hanging Church is a favorite with visitors.

Cairo is also well-situated for excursions to various ancient sites, including the Western Desert Oases, which offer visitors a taste of the immensity and beauty of the Egyptian desert.

The city is bursting with people, colours, smells and tastes and travellers will be thrilled by the experience of the Egyptian markets and coffee houses, not to mention the mouth-watering array of quality restaurants in Cairo. For those keen to do a little late-night exploring the Cairo nightlife is also worth investigating.

Best time to visit Cairo

Cairo is hot and dry all year and only has two seasons: a swelteringly hot summer between May and October, and a mild winter between November and April. The best time to visit is in the cooler winter months when the heat is less overwhelming. The nights can get cold in Cairo so visitors should bring something warmer for the evenings. Read more on Cairo's Climate and Weather.

What to see in Cairo

-Spend a few hours, or a few days, in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities.

-Explore the breathtaking Saladin Citadel with its many mosques, museums and wonderful views.

-Shop in the labyrinthine Khan al-Khalili market, one of the largest in the world.

-Visit the domed Coptic Church of St. George in Old Cairo.

What to do in Cairo

-Take a ride around the famous Pyramids of Giza.

-Treat the kids to a tour of Dr. Ragab's Pharaonic Village.

-Visit the shining world of the Asfour Crystal Factory to shop for souvenirs.

-Take an excursion out to the ancient cities of Memphis and Saqqara to explore the temples and museums.

Beyond Cairo

Cairo is often the starting point of an Egyptian holiday and is a useful travel hub for the rest of the country. Tourists can easily visit Alexandria on the nearby Mediterranean coast, and the numerous Red Sea resorts offer all the sun, sand and sea you can handle, as well as world-class diving destinations. The ancient treasures of cities like Aswan and Luxor are accessible from the famous Nile River Cruises, which are a popular way of exploring the country.

Getting there

Cairo International Airport, the biggest airport in Egypt, is situated 14 miles (22km) from Cairo. Flights to Cairo arrive from major cities all over the world. It takes about 45 minutes to reach central Cairo and visitors can take taxis, airport shuttle buses or public buses to get there. It is also possible to hire a car and a driver at the airport. Get more information on Cairo International Airport.

Did you know?

-Cairo is the largest city in Africa.

-In Arabic Cairo is known as 'Al-Qahirah' which means 'The Triumphant'.

-The legal drinking age in Cairo is 21.

-The Al-Azhar University of Cairo is thought to be the oldest university in the world.


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Sphinx at Giza, Cairo ©

Africa's largest city, with a population of nearly 18 million, Cairo is a chaotic mixture of sights, sounds and smells. It is heaving with life, volatile, polluted and boisterous, with an intensity that both exhausts and invigorates the visitor. It is also distinctive with its ancient monuments in juxtaposition to the modern and cosmopolitan. The congested streets of Islamic Cairo are full of donkey carts, traders and mosques, while camels weave their way haughtily between the crumbling pyramids on the outskirts. Taxis clamour for attention and pedestrians elbow their way past busy coffee houses, where those seeking a brief escape from the hustle and bustle sit sipping at a strong cup of coffee while contemplating the smoke rings of a 'hubbly bubbly' water pipe - in true Egyptian style.

Visitors can also practice the age-old art of bargaining for trinkets, spices and perfume in one of the world's largest bazaars, or pay a visit to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which houses treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb and is one of the country's main attractions.

Situated on the Nile, Egyptians arrogantly refer to Cairo as the 'Mother of all Cities'; many visitors who have experienced its unruliness would perhaps describe it in less endearing terms. But no matter how it goes down there is no doubt that Cairo is as beguiling as it is messy, and its charm lies in the blend of African, Arab and European influences, the timelessness of the old, and the energy of the present.

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