Cairo has many faces. If you think that you will understand it at a glance, then you are very wrong. It will make your head spin, and take you on unexpected journeys. Ask those who came to Cairo from all over the country about their first days here, and listen to their stories with an open mind and attentive eyes.
It is crucial to understand that traffic jams are one of the main characteristics of the city. So try to stay close to everything, in other words, stay in Downtown. Here you will find expensive hotels and cheap hostels, as well as transportation that takes you all over Egypt. Your best choice is the Carlton Hotel, one of the old hotels with a beautiful view. The Carlton alongside the High Court building are features in so many movie shots. Try to remember how many times you saw Ahmed Zaki walking here.
In the morning go to Khedivial Cairo. Find a Fool cart that seems good to you and eat away. You can also head towards the Nile, more precisely to the Malim cart, an authentic Fool place. Ask for Wahed Helou (a ‘sweet one’, meaning with corn oil), and if you have faith in your stomach, ask for it spicy. While you eat the peppers, the greens and the bread in the breeze, the Nile will be presenting you with the day’s program: on the eastern bank lies the old Cairo, a place that was urban before the city became the first Islamic capital in Egypt. To the left and towards the south you will see the Mamluk Cairo, and behind that, Mahrousa, or the Fatimid Cairo where the day will end.
But before we start, we will not leave the Nile before passing by the Rawda, where you can have hot Balila decorated with nuts, or rice at Tajouri. If you feel like a cup of tea and a shisha you can also stop at one of the cafes next door.
Head towards the Al Azhar park in the morning, it is an elevated green space that overlooks the city. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the city as it wakes up, take a selfie with all the different periods in the background and know that in the evening you will be on the other side, at the top of the Mokattam mountain looking onto the Corniche watching how the city welcomes the night.
Now you are half tourists, and half locals, so follow us as we take you to the Cairo we seek when we are looking for calm.
Get out from the back gates of the Al Azhar park, and head down towards Shaghlan alley. From there head to Darb al Ahmar, passing by the Khayamiah covered alley. You will be overwhelmed by the smell of liver, Alexandria sausages, and Koshari. Walk alongside palaces of people such as Prince Taz, to reach the ornamented Om Abbas alley.
Ask for Bibo, and when you find him, order some Koshari and do not hesitate to top it off with some hot sauce.
At the end of the Al Saliba street, you will find half a kilometer of history, and the most beautiful mosque in the whole of Egypt: Al Sultan Hassan Mosque which is featured on the Egyptian one pound note. Next to it is the Al Rifai mosque. Order some Ennab or tea with mint from the cafe overlooking the southern end of the Saladin castle where you can see the Ottoman mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha.
Take a tour of the amazing city of Cairo with us!
Take a journey in histroy, listen to music, and dance to the sounds of Cairo!
After some rest, head to Huria cafe in Bab al Louq. It is the only remaining cafe that serves beer in Cairo. Milad is not as annoying as he might seem. He will bring you an Egyptian Stella beer as you are surrounded by European students, and their friends from the American University of Cairo, as well as intellectuals and underground artists, and all that downtown has to offer in the form of energy, power and pride.
Do not be late for the loud Zar party at the Place des Arts where music is a spiritual remedy. Live it the Egyptian way, or dance with a Mazaher band, and enjoy the soothing and warm voices with the other listeners sitting on the carpet.
You can also head towards the Damma or Mestaba theaters close to the Abedeen palace where Al Orabi stood to launch his rebellion. There you can open up your soul to some happiness on the sound of Port Said’s Tamboura band.
Al Nasseria is now close by. Check out Beha or Beja or “Habayeb el Sayeda” where you will find all kinds of meat parts and Egyptian Fatteh. You should not miss visiting Al Karnak, not the temple of course, but the place where the “bomb” was invented, not the nuclear bomb, something less fatal: it is layers of fruit slices with Kenafa, Basbousa, and cream, with at least three kinds of juices. No you will not be able to conceive of the mix because you will be overwhelmed with all the colors. Leave some space, because close by there is the Sit Zaynab area. Order a glass of sweet Soubia, or Mozaz with coconut, and if you are lucky you will come during the Mouled, but even if you don’t, make sure to listen to Al Layla Al Kebira while you walk around the area.
And now off we go to fancy Zamalek, the neighborhood of Pashas and the greatest artists of Egypt. Here you will find many upscale restaurants, some of which overlook the beautiful Nile. One thing not to miss is Amm Farhat, a dark spot in Baba Sharo street, where you will sit along with those listening to Ahl Al Hawa, and discuss Um Kulthum with them. Just listen and Amm Farhat will greet you with a green Stella to enjoy what you are hearing.
Cairo really never sleeps. Cooking and grilling will not stop after dawn, and people will still be playing backgammon, smoking shisha, and sitting in cafes. In Rawd el Farag neighborhood, people will point you to Kaber Sobhi, where delicious grilled meats are served with side orders of Tajin, onion, tongues, and Bamya.
Have a walk on the Nile Corniche where lovers are sitting together, listening to popular songs coming from the boats on the river. Some of these party boats are cheap others more expensive, but all have a lot of dancing. There are also the floating restaurants where you can have a glass of wine and watch a dancer move.
And speaking of dancing, do not miss visiting the famous Al Haram street, where all the night clubs are. If you like riding horses, go to Nazlet Al Saman under the pyramids, to ride off to the Sahara City.
And then there is Fatimid Cairo, the Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz and Hassan Imam, Si Al Sayyed and Khan Al Khalili, the Fishawi cafe and Al Azhar, Sayyidna Al Hussein and the Gamalia. On the other side you will find the largest open museum in the world, with Um Kulthum’s cafe and many old houses that are now turned into cultural and art centers.
There is a bit of history in every step you take here, and the street ends with the Zoweila gate, where the Mamluks used to hang the heads of Tartars and where now many heads from all social classes are looking forward to getting their food. If you want to join the crowd try Zizo!
Come back soon!