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Cairo Travel Guide

About Cairo

Beacons of tourism since the dawn of history, both Egypt and its capital possess an enduring appeal. Just southwest of Cairo, a patch of Giza desert offers nothing less than the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World in Khufu’s Great Pyramid, plus the iconic Sphinx.

Meanwhile, amongst the clutter of the Egyptian Museum’s bygones lies the breath-taking tomb of Tutankhamun, the original boy-king of bling. For an attraction of biblical proportions, there’s Coptic Cairo, home to some of the earliest Christians and many historic churches.

Yet, while ancient splendour is the main draw, many tourists miss what modern Cairo has to offer. With some 10 million inhabitants, this is the Arab world’s largest city. Baladi drinking dens, bustling markets and countless museums (all served by an impressive metro system) make engaging with locals a rewarding experience.

Few can have failed to notice the Egyptian protests that started in 2011 and brought about two revolutions in as many years. But rather than avoid the country’s defiant capital, there’s much to be gained from meeting the city at a historic crossroads. Demonstrations still regularly feature on Tahrir Square, but even they can make a fascinating daytime experience.

In spite of this, Cairo is generally calm and safe. But ‘calm’ is a relative word in this city. Locals’ lives are sound tracked by noisy traffic on notoriously congested roads, while central streets are often crowded with shoppers, diners and businessmen. Brace yourself for insistent offers of mint tea from salesman.

For an overview of the city, climb to the 12th-century citadel looming above the urban sprawl. Built by Salah Al-Din, Cairo was effectively governed from atop Mokattam Hill for the next 700 years. Before that, Cairo was a cornerstone of Islamic civilisation. As such, the old Islamic quarter has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Whenever you need a break from the cacophony of the city, it’s possible to sail down the Nile on a traditional felucca boat. The lifeblood of Egyptian civilisation for aeons, the river reminds that Cairo is known as the ‘Mother of the World’ for good reason.

Key facts

Population:
19,500,000 (2017)
Latitude:
30.059115
Longitude:
31.250914

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Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza

This Cairo hotel offers 366 luxury rooms, including 101 suites, all with wonderful views of the Nile, the city and citadel, and many with private terrace. Facilities include a rooftop pool deck with adult and children's pools, and an excellent beauty and wellness spa. The hotel has six restaurants, headed by the seafood restaurant Aqua.

Le Riad Hotel De Charme

Located on a charming street in Islamic Cairo, this brand new boutique hotel has been converted from an Ottoman house, complete with architectural features like domes, arches and mashrabiye (latticed wooden shutters). Elegant suites are filled with antiques, plus modern touches like free laptops and Wi-Fi.

Mena House

Originally the palace of the Khedives Ismail, with fabulous views of the pyramids, this is one of the most glamorous and romantic hotels in Cairo. Since opening in 1887, it has hosted kings, emperors and movie stars, with four luxury suites enhanced by antiques, murals and tapestries. Try and book a pyramid-view room.

Hotel Longchamps

Very popular small family-run hotel in a relatively peaceful area, this Cairo hotel has been going strong since 1953. Comfortable rooms are bright and clean, with a hint of a colonial flavour, and the real gem are the two leafy terraces. Always busy, so advance booking is essential.

Cairo Marriott Hotel

The hotel's twin towers are a distinctive landmark rising 20 stories high and providing magnificent views of the Nile and six acres of gardens. This former palace offers 977 updated rooms, 111 elegant suites, 15 restaurants and a world-class casino - it's got all the bases covered.

Hotel El-Hussein

If you want to be in the thick of Khan el Khalili, this is the place. Overlooking the mosque Al Hussein, rooms are basic, but large. Water is usually hot, and there is a ceiling fan but the air-conditioning – when working – is noisy, and bathroom might be a little grubby. However the real draw is the huge balconies overlooking the square, a fantastic spot for watching the world go by. Service can be surly, especially for the (very basic) breakfast, but overall it’s great value.