Whistle-stop Cairo



Description:

Crazy as it may sound, many people only get to spend one day in Cairo! This could be because they come on a business trip, and can afford to spend only one day taking in the sights. Alternatively, lots of tourists come to Egypt on a package tour to a Red Sea resort, and will only drag themselves away from the beach for one day, primarily to see the Pyramids. There are no rights and wrongs when it comes to how you spend your time whilst travelling, so this Whistle-stop Cairo trip is for all of you who – for whatever reason – are only spending one day in Cairo. Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, with a wealth of things to see and do. However, provided you are willing to start early, move quickly, and not spend too long at each site, you can actually see most of the highlights in one long, jam-packed day! The Whistle-stop Cairo trip manages to cover the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo, the Citadel, and Khan al-Khalili … all in one day! Ready?

Author: Nicholas Rowlands


Bab Zwayla

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Location:

Sharia al-Muizz el-Din Allah Street
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

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Location:

In front of al Ghouri Mausoleum
Islamic Cairo
11728 Cairo, Egypt


Church of Abu Serga (St Sergius)

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Location:

Near Mari Girgis Street
(Downtown)
11728 Cairo, Egypt


Day 1 - Cairo


First up, you are going to need to hire a driver for the day. If you are staying at a hotel, ask at reception about hiring a car. If you don’t have any accommodation, then flag down a taxi on the street, and arrange a price to hire the car for the day. A fair price is around 150 LE (you could get it cheaper than this, if you really wanted to, but it’s not a competition). Make sure your driver speaks enough English for you to communicate effectively, that his car is in good condition, and that he seems genuine, and not too pushy.

Aim to arrive at the Egyptian Museum by 8.30 am. They sometimes open the doors at 8.00 am, so it may even be worth turning up early. Aim to spend no more than one and a half hours in the museum. For a museum covering such a huge amount of history, this is not very long. However, it is plenty of time to see the main exhibits. Make sure you don’t miss the diorite statue of Chephren in the Old Kingdom section on the ground floor, and the only known statue of Cheops, builder of the Great Pyramid (ironically, it’s tiny). After marvelling at the bizarre Amarna art at the centre of the ground floor, head upstairs to the Tutankhamun exhibition. If you have time, check out the mummy room (100 LE extra), or have a quick look at the crazy animal mummies.

You want to be at the Pyramids by 10.30 am. Spend some time wandering the site and taking photos. You should have time to either enter one of the pyramids (it’s usually Chephren’s that is open) or visit the Solar Boat Museum. If you are super-quick, you could probably do both. Then have your driver take you down to the Sphinx: make sure you get the obligatory cheesy photos of you kissing the Sphinx, and patting him on the head!

Ideally, you want to leave the Giza Plateau by 12.30 pm. Stop at nearby Felfela to pick up a sandwich for lunch (your driver will know where this is). You can get tasty falafel, fuul, or shwarma sandwiches to take away (and so save some time).

Next stop is Coptic Cairo, the old Christian quarter. All being well, you’ll arrive by 1.30 pm. An hour to an hour and a half is enough time here to whizz around the Coptic Museum – which traces the development of Christianity in Egypt – and check out some of the serene churches in the area. Particularly recommended are the Hanging Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church of St George. If you are so inclined, you may just be able to squeeze in the church in which the Holy Family are said to have stayed, when they fled Palestine.

Leave Coptic Cairo by 3.00 pm, in order to get to the Citadel before it shuts. The Citadel is the fortress built by Salah ad-Din, and it dominates the Cairo skyline. There are three very different mosques here, which are all worth a visit. Start with the simple Mamluk Mosque of an-Nasir Mohammed, and then head to the back of the compound to visit the beautiful Ottoman Mosque of Suleiman Pasha. Finally, visit the Mosque of Mohammed Ali: large, ornate, and yet slightly decrepit at the same time. You’ll either love it or hate it, but you must see it! Also keep your eyes open for the large iron clock in the courtyard, that was a gift to Mohammed Ali Pasha from the King of France, and which has never worked! Arguably the best reason for visiting the Citadel is for the spectacular view out over Cairo. You can see much of Islamic Cairo really well, and it’s easy to understand why Cairo is known as the City of 1000 Minarets! On a clear day, you will even be able to see the Pyramids.

You can now slow down a little bit. Have your driver take you to Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Along the way, you could visit the spectacular Ibn Tulun Mosque if you were so inclined. It’s very near to the Citadel, and is one of the most impressive, and elegant, mosques in Cairo.

Once at Khan al-Khalili, you could let your driver go if you wanted. Provided everything has gone smoothly, make sure you give him a tip: he’s done a great job getting you here on time! Spend some time wandering the cramped, colourful alleys of the Khan, shopping for souvenirs and bantering with the boisterous vendors. If you are not suffering from mosque-fatigue, al-Azhar Mosque is well worth a look. It’s home to one of the oldest universities in the world, and is the most significant mosque in Egypt, as well as being stunningly beautiful.

A good place to have dinner is at the Egyptian Pancake House. You can get traditional savoury and sweet feteers: like a cross between a pizza and crepe, feteers are cheap, filling, and very tasty.

If you still have the energy, a nice way to end your speedy sightseeing tour is to head south from the Khan along al-Muizz li-Din Allah street. Cross al-Azhar street, and pass by the Mosque-Madrassa of al-Ghouri (perhaps take a minute to pop inside, if it’s still open). Continue on down through the lively local market until you reach Bab Zwayla, the South Gate of medieval Cairo. Through the gate, and you’ll find yourself in the Street of the Tentmakers: home of artisans who still practise a traditional form of hand-crafted appliqué work. The artists here are very friendly, and happy to discuss their work. You can pick up some unusual, colourful souvenirs here at a fraction of the cost of Khan al-Khalili.

At this point, you can carry on all the way south to the end of the road, through an intoxicating, chaotic local food market, and pick up a taxi at the main street. Or, if you’ve had enough, retrace your steps to Bab Zwayla and head west to the main road, to grab a taxi there.

Spend your evening bar-hopping in Downtown. Good places to try are the Greek Club, and Estoril. Both serve food if you are still feeling peckish. Make sure you end up at al-Horeya, Downtown Cairo’s coolest watering hole. This is the perfect place to meet locals and expats, and brag about the crazy, action-packed day you’ve just had! Hopefully your whistle-stop tour of Cairo has whetted your appetite to return again, one day, and visit the sights at a more leisurely pace.


2

The Great Pyramid

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Location:

Giza Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


3

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


4

Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus)

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


5

The Sphinx

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Location:

Giza Pyramids Plateau
12561 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 383 8823


6

Felfela

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Location:

Talaat Harb Street
11111 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 2392 2833


7

The Religion Compound

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Location:

Mari Girgis Street
Old Cairo
11728 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
fax: +20 2 285 4363 (Tourist Information)


8

The Coptic Museum

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Location:

Mar Guirguis Street
In the center of Old Cairo, across from the exit from the Mar Girgis Metro stop
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 362 8766 / + 20 2 363 9742


9

The Hanging Church

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Location:

Mar Girgis Street
Coptic Cairo
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
fax: +20 (0)2 285 4363 (Tourist Information)


10

Greek Church of Saint George (Mari Girgis)

Location:

Mar Girgis Street
Coptic Cairo quarter
Cairo, Egypt


11

The Citadel

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Location:

Salah Salem Highway
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 2 512 9619


12

Citadel: An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque

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Location:

The Citadel
Salah Salem Highway
11211 Cairo, Egypt


14

Citadel: Mohammed Ali Mosque

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Location:

Citadel Historic Complex
Salah Salem Highway
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


15

Ibn Tulun Mosque

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Location:

Off 'Abd al-Magid al-Labban (Al-Salbiyya) Street
Ibn Tulun Street
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)


16

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

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Location:

Off Hussein Square
(Across from El Azhar Mosque)
11211 Cairo, Egypt


17

Al-Azhar Mosque

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Location:

Al-Azhar Street
Opposite El-Hussein Square
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 59 3893
fax: +20 (0)2 59 3893


18

Egyptian pancake house

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Location:

Midan Hussein
Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: 2024505871


19

Street of the Tentmakers

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Location:

Souq Al-Khiamiyya
Bab Zwayla
Cairo, Egypt


20

Greek Club (The)

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Location:

21 Mahmoud Bassyouni Street
Midan Talat Harb
11111 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 2575 0822


21

Estoril

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Location:

12 Talaat Harb Street
11111 Cairo, Egypt

Contact:

tel: +20 (0)2 25743102


22

Horeya

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Location:

Midan el-Falaki
Bab el-Louk
Cairo, Egypt


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