The capital of one of the world’s most glorious empires, Cairo is a sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Nile. Characterized by Roman, Arabic and Ottoman architecture, it is known for its unrivaled ancient monuments, luxurious hotels, desert heat and notorious traffic. Like most cities, Cairo is a place of contrasts, where centuries of history meet the present.
Things have been difficult over the past decade since the Arab Spring uprisings, counter-revolutions and the Covid pandemic, but a city that has existed for 1,000 years has seen ups and downs before. And next month, in November 2022, the world’s most anticipated new archeology museum is set to open in Giza. If you are planning a trip, here are some things to do in Cairo that you shouldn’t miss. Discover the best places to visit, eat and stay in Egypt’s bustling capital.
Visit the pyramids
The pyramids are some of the most recognizable icons in the world. Although ancient Egypt had over 100 pyramids, the most famous are in Giza, a 30-minute drive west of Cairo. Constructed during the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2700-2200 BC) as grandiose tombs for the pharaohs, they are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world and an impressive feat of human ingenuity to be admired in real life. Visitors can explore three pyramids at Giza built for Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure, as well as smaller pyramids for the queen consorts nearby.
The Great Sphinx of Giza, hidden beneath desert sands for thousands of years, is another highlight. One of the oldest monumental sculptures in the world, this limestone statue with the head of a human and a lion is still shrouded in mystery. Egyptologists believe it was built by Pharaoh Khafre around 2500 BC. and that its nose was deliberately broken off sometime between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD (although the reasons are still unknown).
The upcoming opening of the Great Egyptian Museum at the foot of the Pyramids in Giza will be an additional reason to plan a visit to Egypt. Conceived as the largest archaeological museum in the world, it will hold over 45,000 artifacts, including the full collection of relics discovered in King Tutankhamen’s tomb (which is being moved from the Egyptian Museum).
Try the local cuisine
Although Egyptian cuisine does not have the global recognition of other Middle Eastern countries, the country has a rich gastronomic heritage that shares familiar flavors with its neighbors to the east and west. Dishes like hummus, baba ganoush and baklava are ubiquitous, although Egypt has its own take on classics like falafel, locally called “taameya” and made with fava beans instead of chickpeas, and tagines, served with béchamel for added flavor and convenience will.
Come round Zoeba, a hip eatery serving Egypt’s favorite street food, has half a dozen locations in Cairo (along with franchises in New York City and Saudi Arabia). We love the cozy enclave in Zamalek, a pretty residential neighborhood on an island in the Nile. The taameya sandwiches, filled with deep-fried broad bean patties, pickled lettuce and creamy tahina dressing, steal the show.
Another Egyptian must-try is koshari, a surprisingly tasty concoction packed with a variety of carbohydrates to keep you energized for all your sightseeing. This easy, filling staple consists of pasta, rice, and lentils with a flavorful tomato sauce infused with chili, garlic vinegar, and fried onions. As a food and travel journalist lives in Italy, I was skeptical but the end result is more delicious than it looks. This specialty is also accidentally vegan and very affordable at 30 EGP (less than $2). Try this dish About Tarek which has been serving Cairo’s foodies for decades and was also frequented by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations in 2008.
Admire ancient art
Egypt has attracted visitors for its legendary art and culture for millennia, and the best collection of ancient antiquities is in the Egyptian Museum. This neoclassical building dates back to 1902 and is located right on Tahrir Square. It traces the history of ancient Egypt through over 120,000 treasures, including gilded funerary masks, intricately painted coffins, stone statues, ancient jewelry and more. Visitors should not confuse this museum with others in the capital.
Some of the Egyptian Museum’s highlights, including 20 royal mummies of kings and queens, have been moved to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in 2021. And the priceless content found in Tutankhamun’s tomb – including his famous death mask and two coffins – will be moved to the new one Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) soon.
Wake up to a view of the Nile
Located at the northern end of Cairo’s Corniche, the hotel offers mesmerizing views of the Nile and the posh island of Zamalek. Fairmont Nile City is an oasis away from the busy streets of the capital. A dazzling retreat with Art Deco aesthetics, the hotel has 542 guest rooms and suites, plus the capital’s only 360-degree pool on April 25th Floor. If you look behind the skyscrapers in the skyline, you can even see the pyramids from up here.
For the ultimate in pampering, upgrade to a Fairmont Gold room with perks like private check-in and access to the exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge. This chic lounge serves a full breakfast each morning for a small selection of guests, along with free afternoon tea and an aperitif buffet featuring traditional Egyptian recipes and international dishes.
The food may be tempting, but save room to dine at Fairmont Nile City’s many restaurants. Choices include Italian favourites L’UlivetoPan-Asian dishes in Saigon and a taste of fine oriental dishes accompanied by live music and belly dancers Babylon el Nile. But it’s hard to compete with the hotel’s latest opening, gingko, a green Mediterranean-Asian bistro on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Nile. Here you can feast on saffron-infused scallops served with caramelized peaches and sip a tangy passion martini as the sun sets and bathes the entire city in a golden glow.
A millennia-old trading center, the Egyptians honed their craftsmanship and negotiation skills. The culture is known for its haggling, a skill visitors can practice at the country’s many markets and bazaars. The popular one Khan Al-Khalili, located in the heart of Islamic Cairo, dates back to 1382. Stroll down El Moez Street past mosques and minarets to browse stalls selling colorful spices, woven tapestries and marble miniatures of Egyptian pyramids. Make your way to El Fishawy Café, which has been serving tea and coffee for over 200 years, or take a seat at Umm Kalthoum Café, an eatery lined with photos from the popular Voice of Egypt – an icon who was active between the 1920s -70s.
For more contemporary design goods, see Zamalek market, a handicraft and farmer’s market held every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the island of Zamalek. First launched in 2017, this pop-up features local manufacturers selling home accessories, fashion accessories and natural skincare, as well as freshly baked goodies and seasonal produce. macroa number of natural clay pots made according to ancient Egyptian traditions are worth a visit to make stews and tagines at home.
Immerse yourself in art and culture at the Four Seasons
Located in the pretty garden city on the banks of the river Four Seasons at Nile Plaza is an elegant oasis in a strategic position to explore the capital. Surrounded by embassies, posh restaurants and cafes, it’s a short drive to the Egyptian Museum and Zamalek Island, home of Cairo’s 20th Century Opera House and the iconic Cairo Tower which is 187m high and covered with 8 million mosaics.
The property features 365 rooms (including 100 spacious suites with private balconies), three swimming pools and a world-class spa. With impeccable contemporary design and luxurious furnishings, it is an elegant hotel that prides itself on its artistic and cultural offerings. As soon as you step into the grand lobby, you can admire the hotel’s moving in-house art collection of 200 works by Farouk Hosny, an abstract painter and Egypt’s Minister of Culture between 1987 and 2011. The Four Seasons at Nile Plaza also supports the local Tawasol Foundation, a local NGO with a performing arts and skills-building program that helps promote social inclusion and the preservation of Egyptian handicrafts.
The property offers a variety of dining options in beautifully decorated rooms. The Egyptian Zitouni serves a lavish buffet of local specialties while 8th brings Cantonese dishes to the capital. There are two Italian restaurants where guests can enjoy Mediterranean cuisine during their stay: Rivierainspired by coastal cuisine and Bullonaan elegant, sexy restaurant with contemporary Italian artwork, lit by hundreds of candles each evening.