Cairo Sights

Cairo is big: just how big you'll see on the drive in from the airport, which sometimes takes so long you'll think you're driving to Aswan. And what you see on the way into town, amazingly, is only half of it—Cairo's west-bank sister city, Giza, stretches to the Pyramids, miles from Downtown. But if you are the sort of person who instinctively navigates by compass points, exploring Cairo will

be a breeze because the Nile works like a giant north–south needle running through the center of the city. If not, you might find the city bewildering at first.

Taxi drivers generally know only major streets and landmarks, and often pedestrians are unsure of the name of the street they stand on—when they do know, it's as often by the old names as the post-independence ones—but they'll gladly steer you in the wrong direction in an effort to be helpful. Just go with the flow and try to think of every wrong turn as a chance for discovery.

Thankfully, too, you don't have to conquer all of Cairo to get the most out of it. Much of the city was built in the 1960s, and the new areas hold relatively little historical or cultural interest. The older districts, with the exception of Giza's pyramids, are all on the east bank and easily accessible by taxi or Metro. These districts become relatively straightforward targets for a day's exploration on foot.

Old Cairo, on the east bank a couple miles south of most of current-day Cairo, was the city's first district. Just north of it is Fustat, the site of the 7th-century Arab settlement. East of that is the Citadel. North of the Citadel is the medieval walled district of al-Qahira that gave the city its name. It is better known as Islamic Cairo. West of that is the colonial district. Known as Downtown, it is one of several—including Ma'adi, Garden City, Heliopolis, and Zamalek—laid out by Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries. (The west-bank districts of Mohandiseen and Doqqi, by comparison, have only sprouted up since the revolution in 1952.) The most interesting sights are in the older districts; the newer ones have the highest concentrations of hotels, restaurants, and shops.

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Side Trips from Cairo 17

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Dahshur 1

Memphis 1

Saqqara 9

The Fayyum 3

The Wadi Natrun Monasteries 3

Islamic Cairo North 15

Islamic Cairo South 10

Coptic Cairo (Mari Girgis) 9

The Citadel and Sayyida Zaynab 8

Downtown and Bulaq 8

Giza 3

Rodah Island and Garden City 1

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Archaeological Site/ Ruins 3

Arts/ Performance Venue 1

Building/ Architectural Site 23

Castle/ Palace/ Chateau 2

Educational Institution 1

Historic District/ Site 1

House/ Mansion/ Villa 3

Market/ Bazaar 1

Memorial/ Monument/ Tomb 18

Museum/ Gallery 5

Religious Building/ Site/ Shrine 27

Restaurant–Sight 1

Store/ Shop/ Mall 3

Town/ Village 3

Viewpoint/ Scenic Overlook 1

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Cairo Sights

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Sayyidna al-Husayn Mosque

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

One of the holiest sites in Egypt, the mosque was originally built by the Fatimids in the 12th century as a shrine and is said to contain...

Sednaoui

  • Store/Shop/Mall

A spectacular building modeled on a store in Paris, Sednaoui is on a back corner of Ezbekiyya near Ataba Square and is now largely forgotten...

Serapeum

  • Memorial/Monument/Tomb

This is site of the burials of the Apis Bulls. The Apis was a bull that was regarded as a manifestation of Ptah, a creator god. During...

Step Pyramid

  • Memorial/Monument/Tomb

The pyramid complex was built in the 3rd Dynasty (2649–2575 BC) for the pharaoh Djoser by his architect Imhotep, and it has been undergoing...

The Citadel

  • Museum/Gallery

Until Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi arrived in Cairo in 1168, local rulers had overlooked the strategic value of the hill above the city. Within...

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum

  • Museum/Gallery

On the north end of Maydan Tahrir, this huge neoclassical building is home to the world's largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The Hanging Church

  • Building/Architectural Site

Known in Arabic as al-Muallaqah ("the suspended"), the church is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. Originally built in the 9th century—and...

Tomb of Suleiman al-Faransawi

  • Building/Architectural Site

Suleiman, a Frenchman, was born Octave de Sèves in Lyons, France. An officer in Napoléon's army, he came to Egypt when Muhammad 'Ali...

Trieste

  • Building/Architectural Site

Designed by the architect of the Banque Misr but even more intriguing, this 1910 building is rich in Islamic sculptural elements. Long...

Wikala of al-Ghuri

  • Arts/Performance Venue

This handsome building with its strong, square lines seems almost modern, save for the ablaq masonry, a clear indicator of its Mamluk...

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