Ancient history is the obvious draw to Egypt and a trip to its capital to see the age-old Pyramids will perhaps be the first item on most people’s agenda.
But Cairo offers so much more than the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. It has a thriving art and live music scene, the allure of the Nile and its streets bustle with as many as 12 million people calling the city home. At night, Cairo and its markets, bars and cafés truly come to life. If you know where to look, you’ll discover the real charm of this fascinating city.
Giza, Saqqara, Egyptian Museum
As the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing, Khufu’s Great Pyramid of Giza is a must-see. Get there early and watch as the sun crosses the tip of the colossal tomb as it nears midday. Climb the 4,575-year-old structure, into its entrance and journey through the narrow passageway that leads to the centre of the tomb where the (now empty) sarcophagus of Khufu lies.
Later, make your way over to the Pyramids of Menkaure and Khafre, outside which the Great Sphinx of Giza stands. Locals operate camel rides from here, a great way to manoeuvre between the three giant structures that will afford some holiday snaps of a lifetime.
Saqqara, just 33km south of Cairo, is also home to a complex of some of the city’s most impressive pyramids. Don’t let the fact that some look like huge mounds of dust deter you from exploring inside, where, unlike at the Pyramids of Giza, you’ll find orderly inscriptions in hieroglyphics neatly etched into and covering entire walls as well as the ceilings. And they are extremely well preserved. Saqqara is also home to the Step Pyramid, built for Pharaoh Djoser by his chief minister, architect, astrologer and physician Imhotep. It is the first pyramid ever to have been built, and along with the remains of its complex of walls, it is the oldest stone structure known to exist.
If you still have an appetite for ancient history, a trip to the Egyptian Museum should satisfy it. The building houses all the treasures of the boy king Tutankhamun, including his stunning solid gold sarcophagus and death mask that he was buried in. It makes for popular viewing, so arrive early.
El Sawy Culture Wheel, the Nile and After Eight
No trip to Cairo is complete without sitting by and taking in the majesty of the mighty River Nile. Do this at night from the creative hub that is El Sawy Culture Wheel, set on Gazira Island in the upmarket Zamalek district. Rock and jazz bands, traditional Nubian artists and everything in between can be heard here. There are also plenty of festivals, photography shows and art exhibitions.
Take a break from it all and reflect with a coffee, sitting on the banks of the Nile. When you’re ready to part ways with this mystic river, head downtown to Felfela restaurant, which serves traditional Egyptian food and perhaps the best falafel in town.
Round off the evening at one of the coolest clubs in Cairo, After Eight, which showcases the cream of the city’s underground musician crop – Nubian folk singer Basheer plays here regularly and is amazing live. This music venue offers a good introduction to the Cairo nightlife scene, which is impressively diverse. You’ll get an eclectic mix of the traditional, contemporary, folk, rock and altogether avant-garde styles of music showcased here.
Where to stay
Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa
This five-star, Pyramids-facing property in Giza is comfortable and reasonably priced, with an outdoor pool, bar and a 24-hour café. It’s the perfect base from which to explore the area. And you can wake up to a view of the Pyramids.
Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah
Splash out and stay in this five-star property on the banks of the Nile. It’s set on Gazira Island in the affluent Zamalek district and features a luxury spa, four bars, six eateries and a stunning pool.
Emirates and Egypt Air both fly directly from Dubai to Cairo in about three hours. Emirates flights can cost you as little as Dhs1,600 return, while the Egypt Air option could save you around Dhs100. There are seven flights a day – four with Egypt Air and three with Emirates.
Public transport is easy to use and very affordable in the city. If taking a taxi, you should agree the price first, as many of the drivers do not use meters.
A taxi into downtown Cairo from Giza should cost around EGP80-100 (Dhs33-41) and will take between 30 and 50 minutes depending on the traffic.
There’s also the Cairo Metro, which runs throughout the city and costs from EGP2 (Dhs1) for a single trip.