The Interesting City of Cairo in Egypt.
Visiting and wandering around Egypt's capital City of Cairo with it's many mosques, churches, museums and markets.
Travelling to Cairo - Cairo Airport.
Cairo's airport is situated in Heliopolis - around 22 kms away from Downtown Cairo and 40kms from the Giza
Pyramid area. For most non-Egyptian nationals arriving in Cairo you have to fill out a couple of information cards and subsequently buy a visitor's visa which you
can do at Arrivals (USD - Euros - Pounds Sterling are quite acceptable). It's worth noting that as far as buying your Egyptian currency (The Egyptian Pound - LE) is concerned it seems
that there are pretty much "money market" rates available just by the Visa office at the Misr Bank money exchange. These are much better rates than you
will be offered at for instance Heathrow Airport on your way out to Egypt. Remember to get some small denomination notes by the way - a decent supply of LE 5s, 10s
and 20s are pretty useful because Egypt is big time tip and baksheesh territory and for some reason Egyptians such as taxi drivers never seem to have any change
for LE 100s or 200s. Anyway once through this you get to the Arrivals Hall outside of which you will find bus services, limousine services and taxis all over the place - welcome to Cairo!.
If not travelling as part of an organised tour group then the next task is to get to your hotel without being too ripped off in the process. You will almost
certainly be approached by taxi-touts - it is best to have your hotel and it's address clearly written on a piece of paper to show them where you want to go
and then get a firm agreement on the price. Almost certainly the touts will be initially asking perhaps up to 50% more than what a reasonable rate is for a ride Downtown - just pretend to walk away since they will soon bring a bit of realism into the price
with a bit of bargaining. **Do not part with any money - only pay once you have been delivered to your correct hotel.**
Cairo's Environment i.e. smog.
The air pollution in Cairo is appalling - dense smog often occurs first thing in the morning and this can sometimes last all day. The smog and fumes are really bad enough to make breathing quite difficult at times. From our room halfway up the Sheraton which faced directly onto The Nile we often as not could only just see the far side of the river only a few 100 metres away.
Cairo - Tipping & Baksheesh
is endemic in Cairo - everybody you come across expects to receive something extra from you - for instance the taxi quote mentioned above does not include the driver's tip which should be probably about LE15 or LE20. Cairene's are
expert at looking really disappointed at the amount being offered - their facial expressions and body language clearly say that you are being mean and not appreciating their service. Offer an Egyptian LE50 he will be very sad and
may have the nerve to ask for more. If your intention is to give a LE50 tip then initially offer around LE30 and let him do his "making you feel guilty" thing and get another LE20.
Cairo - getting around. Cairo's traffic is unbelievable - many of the taxis, cars and buses are very old and just about
falling to bits and pour out black exhaust. There is so much traffic going nowhere - especially Downtown and on the several bridges which cross The Nile -
that the subsequent air quality is truly horrible i.e. Cairo really suffers severely from smog. The mid afternoons and quite late into the evenings are
particularly bad on the roads - if you are staying Downtown and have to get to the airport you might need to allow at least 90 minutes for the trip.
Cairo's Ring Road is often at a standstill as well so there is no improvement if trying to get from Giza to the airport either.
Fridays can be an exception as can Saturdays as both are generally days off for Cairenes thus the roads are much emptier.
There are lots of buses and arabaya around which are very cheap to use - however they always seemed to be totally
crammed with people and probably not an ideal choice for getting around. There are several types of taxis plying for trade in Central and Downtown Cairo - Black and Whites are everywhere and with these you agree a price beforehand for your journey. In and around Downtown you should only need to pay around LE 15 to 20 but a trip from say Galaa Square up to the Citadel will probably be around LE30 or so. The other main type of taxi around are White Taxis - these are often much newer cars and charge on a meter basis - we generally used Black and Whites as we prefer to know our fare before setting
out. The third type of taxi are the new fuel efficient Yellow cabs which run on a meter basis but there never seems to be many of these around - they are meant to be slowly replacing the Black and Whites.
Apart from just walking (which in parts of Cairo can anyway be much quicker than sitting in the traffic jams) another method of transport is by using tuk-tuks. You do
not see these around Heliopolis and Downtown but there are lots of them whizzing about elsewhere in the City and it's outskirts. Tuk-tuks are of course not only
very efficient at getting through dense traffic but are also great fun. Important
- although there are zebra crossings for
pedestrians anyone using them is totally ignored. Cars etc will drive at you, around you and so on with horns blasting away - so crossing the roads is quite
an adventure. There are however quite a few traffic police about especially on intersections and roundabouts so don't be shy about asking them for help to cross - they will happily assist.
Egyptian railways do have stations serving parts of the city but the carriages are appalling so not really an option one would think - apart from which we
believe that some routes are not available for use by foreigners. The Cairo Metro is new and modern and inexpensive to use but sadly does not yet serve too great an area - once/when/if it is extended more widely it will be a good option of course.
Getting Around - longer trips.
Hiring a car and driver is a good and not too expensive way to get out to visit the old pyramids
at Saqqara or perhaps for a day out towards Alexandria to look at several of the lovely monasteries at Wadi Al Natrun. Rates really do vary enormously - avoid
using your hotel travel services especially if it is 5 star as the price will almost certainly be outrageous - similarly just outside hotels you will
probably get offers for trips at about half the hotel's price. People offering these know how much the hotel is charging and cut their rates
accordingly to make them seem a real bargain - however they are probably still double what you can get if you just ask around at a
nearby shop or drinks kiosk or spot a local travel or limo/hire car business. Someone in Cairo always knows someone who will do or get what you want i.e. a day's car and driver hire in
this example. When hiring a car and driver ensure you agree exactly where you want to go to, that the driver knows a little English (unless you speak
Arabic), the price is for all of you and not per person and that any tolls/parking/police baksheesh are included in it and believe it or not that
the price includes the RETURN journey (assuming you are on a day trip). A little effort in finding a good price is worthwhile - for example a full day trip from Downtown
to Wadi Al Natrun, waiting around for us at each monastery and then back was quoted as:- Hotel LE 1550, immediately outside the hotel was quoted at LE 900 and finally via the local bakery for LE 350 (we probably still payed too much). Never pay any money in advance - only settle up once the trip has been completed satisfactorily.
There are some extremely expensive hotels around the Heliopolis area of Cairo and quite expensive ones Downtown -
these are usually shown as 5 star though of course the number of stars is meant to indicate facilities as much as quality. On the web our Sheraton room (large nice room with excellent River Nile views) plus breakfast cost 91 UK Pounds/night but this was by booking via an
online hotel search before travelling. The hotel itself when asked direct wanted 145 pounds a night without breakfast and am not too convinced that if you
actually just turned up at one of these hotels that you would get a low price even should they have plenty of rooms available. From what we could tell Cairo
hotels have a price range as above type with nothing particularly mid-range so your next option is quite low range and associated quality. Some hotels we
recognised from our previous web searches looked rough to say the least. Always check when quoted a rate that the variety of taxes applicable in Cairo are included since 10% then 12% and then possibly 2% could be added on.
Cairo Hotels and Eating Out.
It's quite difficult to
find reasonably priced restaurants in Downtown Cairo - of course there are plenty of hotels around the area which contain sometimes 5 or 6 different
restaurants but being hotels these are generally really expensive to eat in. If you are hungry try the Nile Sheraton (El Dokki) fixed price - masses
of salad choices, various meat and fish etc followed by some excellent cakes and pastries - this is eat as much as you want. The Nile-side boat restaurants are just as pricey as the 5 star hotels if not worse - some
of the floating restaurants do meander around out on The Nile during your meal. We found several almost restaurant/cafes which were not too bad to use but you can forget
anything like the variety of restaurants etc. which are easily found in for instance English towns and cities. Try the Cafe Riche which is on Sharia Talaat
Harb off Midan Tahrir Square - this is quite inexpensive and has a reasonable choice plus you can get beer if you want. There is also a KFC takeaway on one
side of that roundabout. There are several other cafes in this area but these are totally exposed to the fumes from the heavy traffic and did not look too
desirable. The upshot of all this is that it might be worth considering booking half board when choosing your hotel via website hotel search sites since you can invariably get a full evening meal as part of the package way cheaper than trying to do the same once in Cairo.
Cairo's Gardens. There are quite a few gardens alongside the River Nile and around the City which are perfect for a break from Cairo's traffic and noise. The
gardens are only a few Egyptian Pounds to enter and kept beautifully clean and tidy. Often you will find a toilet area, sometimes a cafe and they all have lots of seating dotted around the plants, trees and shrubs as well as
lots of birds.
The photos shown here are from Bustan al-Horeyya gardens on Zamalek Island close to Tahrir Bridge. They feature different statues situated amongst the flower beds and there are good views of Cairo Opera House and Cairo Tower.
Shops, Supermarkets, Bakeries and Markets in Cairo. The ones we mostly know about and used were in El Dokki fairly close to the Nile Sheraton (for directions purposes this assumes starting from that hotel's main entrance).
Firstly Markets - there are plenty around if that's what you want - every time you get in a taxi the driver seems to be certain you want to go to a market
rather than/or on your way too where you ask for. This is all about commission of course - you will also find many drivers (including car and driver hires)
will want to take you to carpet shops and so on - you have to be firm.
Cakes (you can get some lovely cakes by the way), Bread, Savouries - go to El Tahrir Bridge and cross the incredibly busy road then go across El Nile St.
There is a limousine hire company there so walk past that and then right down Nuqtat As Surta for about 80 metres where there is a small but good bakers on the right. Another place where you can get cakes, pastries and various hot
choices like pizza slices etc. is a little way into El Dokki area along El Tahir Street.
Supermarket - there is a quite large well-stocked Alfa supermarket located just off Galaa Square roundabout on S as Sadd Al Ali - this is open 24 hours a day.
Touring Cairo's local sights and going on longer Day Trips from the city. There are quite a few bits and pieces to do whilst staying in Cairo. The obvious
sightseeing visits are of course touring the Pyramids at Giza and at Saqqara. However trips to take a look around Coptic Old Cairo and The
Citadel are very much worth the effort - including if you have time a walk from The Citadel down through past the ancient cemetery area where there are quite a
few really nice Mosques to admire. A day trip out into the desert to Wadi Al Natrun to visit the monasteries is also practical from Cairo - this could
perhaps be coupled with getting your driver to return via the Nile Barrages so to see the nice old bridge and the locks there.
The Egyptian Museum.
The Museum is located close to the River Nile and adjacent to Corniche El Nile in Tahrir - the nearest Metro
station is Sadat. With much information about the museum on the web we see no point in replicating - try taking a look at their
(does not always work) or have a look at this
one. During it's opening hours (these seem to vary so check at your hotel for advice) the area around the Museum is totally inundated with us
tourists, dozens of coaches, taxis and so on. Admission when last visited was LE60 for adults and there is an extra charge if you want to go into the Royal Mummy room - the Tutankhamen and Ramses displays are now available to see as part of the ordinary admission fee.
Enter the Museum grounds and the Ticket Office is on the right - also you are not allowed to take cameras inside and have to leave them at a booth which is
located on the left of the first entrance. In front of the main door to the Museum there is a pond which has the famous blue Lotus plants (lillies) - the
area and Museum building does look extremely impressive if you can see it through the crowds. There are security scanners at the main entrance door and
they will stop you if you try to sneak your camera etc. in. There are toilets available at inside the Museum. Inside some of the area is just chaos - obviously many people make a beeline for the Tutankhamen exhibition where the tombs and facemasks etc are located and it
can be truly difficult to see anything much most of the time. However the Museum does have lots of other areas to look round where fortunately the "tightly
scheduled" tour groups don't seem or have time to get too - including a nice display of carriages and beds, a pretty good Ancient Greece display and seemingly thousands of mummies and sarcophagus.
- These are some of our items about Egypt which may be of interest:
- Touring some of the various local Sights and Places in Cairo
- Trip to the Nile Barrages, wandering around Old Cairo, Coptic Cairo, The Citadel, mosques, Northern Cemetery.
- Day trip to look at the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza and Saqqara
- Visiting Giza and Saqqara Pyramids: Great Pyramid, Queens Pyramid, Mycerinus, Chephren, Cheops Pyramids, Memphis.
- Visiting Wadi El Natrun Monasteries in Northern Egypt
- Touring Deir Anba Bishoi, Deir el-Baramus and Deir al-Suryani Monasteries at Wadi el Natrun in Egypt - Photos.
- Aswan Touring and Holiday Guide and Photos
- Visiting The southern Nile City of Aswan in Egypt - travelling to Aswan, hotels, restaurants, markets, things to do.
- Luxor Egypt Holiday and Sightseeing Guide and Photos
- Luxor is the starting point to see some of the world's most amazing archaeological sites and lots to see.
- Egypt touring and travel guides and Photos Our Home Page - shows all of our topics about Egypt.
Please visit our Resources Page
for other destinations for which we have travel and holiday guides - Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Myanmar, India, New Zealand, Cyprus, lots of Greek Islands, The Algarve and several Canary Islands