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Cairo, Egypt

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Cheops Pyramid (aka Great Pyramid) is the world’s tallest (450 feet) and covers 13 acres.
  • There are 5.5 million registered cars in Cairo.
  • Tahrir, the name of the square made famous by the 2011 Arab Spring, means Freedom in Arabic.
  • By 1340, Cairo — with half a million people — was the largest city west of China.
  • In the seventh century, today’s Islamic Cairo was under the Nile River.

City of many layers

Just about the first thing any visitor notices about Cairo, the Egyptian capital, is its size. It is the largest city in Africa or the Middle East, with a greater-metro population of nearly 22 million

The other thing visitors notice quickly — probably during the ride from the airport — is how long it takes to get around town. Tourists effectively make a bargain with themselves along these lines: It’s worth the price in traffic congestion plus pollution and maybe hot weather (depending on season) to experience all this vibrant city has to offer, as follows.

  • Cairo proper sits east of the Nile and on two islands in the river. Giza, a suburb west of the river, is home to the Sphinx and three famously gigantic pyramids, the oldest more than 4,500 years old.
  • The ancient capital Memphis and its necropolis Saqqara are 20 miles from Cairo and offer still-older pyramids and tombs but without big crowds. Egyptophiles also discover the treasures at Abu Sir, Abu Ghroub and Dashur. Much more can be found in area museums, especially the mind-boggling collections in Cairo’s Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
  • Before the seventh-century Arab conquest of Egypt, Christians settled in the area of a Roman fortress. Today, the Christian Coptic Quarter, location of the city’s oldest churches and the Coptic Museum, is part of Old Cairo south of downtown. The city’s oldest synagogue and oldest mosque are here, too.
  • Islamic Cairo, east of downtown and dating from the 10th century, is the site of historic mosques, the Khan el-Khalili bazaar and the 12th century Citadel, built by Saladin to protect the city from crusaders.
  • Modern Cairo, as a physical place, refers to downtown, much of which dates from the time, in the 19th century, when the Suez Canal was built. As something to experience, modern Cairo means upscale eateries or simple coffeehouses, a dinner cruise or floating in a felucca, shopping in a bazaar or visiting a mall plus entertainment such as Sufi dancing, belly dancing or jazz. Nowadays, interest in modern Cairo also draws tourists to attractions or activities that focus on the 2011 Arab Spring and beyond.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Ride a camel. Arrange this with the aid of a reliable guide so the price quoted before you climb aboard is the same fee you pay at the end.
  • Sample a range of Egyptian foods. Then, take a few puffs on a hookah, an option at some restaurants and cafes.
  • Climb up inside the Great Pyramid. It is a hot, claustrophobic experience, but unlike any other.
  • For rooms with a view: 1) Carry a flashlight, tip the caretaker and climb to the top of the minaret at the Mosque of Sultan Hassan. 2) Visit the City of the Dead (in the daytime). Climb one of the minarets at the Mosque of Qaitbey for another view of Egypt’s capital. 3) For views the easier way, take an elevator up the Cairo Tower.
  • Take an overnight excursion into the nearby desert. Or spend a day surfing the Al Kataniah Dunes, 50 miles southwest of the city.
  • Sign on for a class in belly dancing. Or learn to play a musical instrument called the oud.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend a service at St. Mark’s Coptic cathedral, described as Africa’s largest cathedral.
  • Bone up on the 2011 Egyptian revolution, then spend a little time in Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands gathered seeking a change in government.
  • If a show is on during your stay, see a performance by Sufi dancers (aka, whirling dervishes).
  • During your de rigueur visit to the Giza Pyramids, allow time for a cedar funerary boat, as old as the pyramids, which is housed in the Solar Boat Museum next to the Cheops Pyramid. If you want more archaeology, include Memphis and Saqqara in your itinerary.
  • Sail in a felucca on the Nile by day. Or, take a dinner cruise on the Nile. Or both.
  • See the Tutankhamen and countless other pharaonic treasures at the Egyptian Antiquities Museum; pay an extra fee and see mummies of the ancient pharaohs.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Stay at the Mena House Oberoi at Giza. From its windows, you can look out on the pyramids. Winston Churchill stayed here.
  • Tour Coptic Cairo and walk into several of the area’s oldest churches, including the Hanging Church, built on the remains of a Roman fortress, and the fourth century Abu Serga Church, which marks the spot where members of the Holy Family is said to have taken refuge during their flight from King Herod.
  • Shop, and bargain, in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. Then, have tea at Fishawy’s Cafe, one of Cairo’s oldest coffeehouses, with an ornate interior, located inside the bazaar.
  • See the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx at night, at the sound-and-light show.
  • Get a good look at the Giza Pyramids in the (sometimes hazy) distance and a lot more of the Cairo skyline from the 12th century Citadel in the city’s medieval quarter (aka Islamic Cairo).
  • Play golf at the Gezira Sporting Club. Built in 1882, it may be the oldest golf club in the Middle East.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Egyptian Tourist Authority at www.egypt.travel