If you haven’t been to Egypt, something is missing from your life. Whether you think so or know it or not. It’s the kind of place that almost seems to add a piece to life’s puzzle in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.
Cairo can’t be summed up in a blog post—its history runs too deep and its culture is too colorful. But since all I’ve got is a blog post, I’ll work with what I’ve got.
Contrary to popular concern, I felt very safe in Cairo. The city has had its unrest, but what city hasn’t? All any person I met wanted was for me to enjoy myself, return home and tell everyone I could that Cairo is OK. That it’s beautiful and they shouldn’t fear it. So, consider this me telling you.
I’m sure there are a million places to visit in Cairo that aren’t included here, mostly because there are a million places in Cairo I didn’t get to visit on my trip. But of those I did see, these are a few of my favorite things.
1. Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum is like an Indiana Jones cave. It’s filled with treasures. Some that look like they were just dug up, brushed off and put on display yesterday. Every corner of the museum is covered. According to one museum guide, there are 200,000 statues in the museum, and if you spend two minutes with each one, it would take you a little over nine months. What I liked best about the museum, though, was that it’s not perfect. Not everything is behind glass, not everything is even marked. Things are touchable (though you aren’t supposed to touch them), and this access to the treasures has a way of making the experience more intimate. If you have a guide like I had (read about him here), you’ll fall right in love with the history of Egypt and wish you could become an archaeologist just so you can be the one to discover Nefertiti’s still missing tomb. Start here before branching out to see the Pyramids in Giza or the tombs in Luxor, because it will all resonate more.
2. Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Ah shopping. And the best kind always happens in bazaars, where every alley holds a new host of treasures to find and the further in you go, the more you discover. That’s what Khan el Khalili was like. From rugs to lamps to jewels and perfumes, and of course, the more obvious King Tut statues, everything is before you to be found. And for a good price if you can haggle.
I even ate pigeon at the bazaar. Yes, as in, pigeon. I try to be adventurous when I travel. This little restaurant cafe spot in the midst of the bazaar, called Farahat, was where we found it. We dined outside in the alleyways of the bazaar, watching life pass by and eating something that’s generally a pest in most parts of the world. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t taste a little like chicken. But in the interest of not defaulting to a description people use for any untypical meat, let me try a little harder: it tasted like a skinny chicken made up only of dark meat.
3. Fresh Fruits for sugar cane juice
For all the countries I’ve been to that are big on sugar cane, including my own Trinidad & Tobago, I have never ever had sugar cane juice. And let me tell you. This juice alone would make a Cairo visit worth it. They don’t add anything to it either, just press the cane until it makes the sweetest (but not overly sweet) drink. Even better, one glass cost 2.50 Egyptian pounds, which amounts to a whopping 15 cents. The place is called Fresh Fruits and it’s right around the corner from the pigeon restaurant.
4. Sequoia for dinner on the Nile
There’s a little island on the Nile within Cairo called Gezira, and on Gezira there’s an area called Zamalek. In Zamalek there’s a sweet restaurant called Sequoia that sits right on the Nile with views from just about every seat in the house. Some say the place does better in ambience than food, but everything I ate was delicious. The food is Lebanese and Mediterranean with dishes like moussaka with bechamel, kofta, shawarma and um ali for dessert. There’s also shisha in a slew of favors, so sitting, eating, puffing shisha and feeling the breeze come off the Nile makes for a pretty Egyptian evening.
5. Nile Pharoah dinner cruise
OK. This is the one cheesy tourist thing I’m going to recommend. I hadn’t planned on doing this as I assumed it would be too cheesy and touristy for me (and it was a little bit) but I was invited on my last night and wouldn’t have passed it up. Which turned out splendidly. The dinner on the Nile Pharoah cruise was good, not mind-blowing, but good, and the entertainment was fun. There was a live band playing local music, which served as the background for a belly dancer and a whirling dervish, which I had never seen before. He twirled so much he made me dizzy! But what a unique dance that’s definitely worth seeing. After dinner, we went to the upper deck of the boat to watch night on the Nile.
*Visit the Pyramids
Technically, the Pyramids are in Giza, not Cairo, but since it’s about a 30 minute drive from the city with no traffic, it’s part of your Cairo list of things to do. Read my tips for visiting the Pyramids here.