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

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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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Abd El Rahman Harraz Seeds, Medicinal, and Medical Plants

  • Store/Shop/Mall

Near the Museum of Islamic Arts is this fantastic shop (with Bab Zuwayla at your back, it's on the right); it has an incredible selection...

Al-Azhar Mosque and University

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Originally built in AD 970 by the conquering Fatimid caliph al-Mu'iz, al-Azhar is the oldest university in the world. Although the Fatimids...

Al-Ghuriyya

  • Memorial/Monument/Tomb

This medieval landmark was the last great Mamluk architectural work before the Ottomans occupied Egypt. Built by Sultan al-Ghuri, who...

Al-Rifa'i Mosque

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Although it appears neo-Mamluk in style, this mosque was not commissioned until 1869, by the mother of Khedive Isma'il, the Princess...

Bab Zuwayla

  • Building/Architectural Site

Built in 1092, this is one of three remaining gates of Fatimid Cairo. It was named after members of the Fatimid army who hailed from...

Bab al-Futuh

  • Viewpoint/Scenic Overlook

To the left, inside the entrance to the Mosque of al-Hakim is a small passageway that leads to a stairway up to the roof of the mosque.

Bab al-Nasr

  • Building/Architectural Site

This gate is similar to Bab al-Futuh, except that two square towers flank it. On one of the towers is the inscription: "tour corbin,"...

Banque Misr

  • Building/Architectural Site

Colonial Cairo emulated the French, was run by the British, and was built largely by Italians. Yet for all that colonial layering, its...

Bayt al-Suhaymi

  • House/Mansion/Villa

Considered the best example of domestic Islamic architecture in Cairo, this coolly luxurious 16th-century merchant's house is huge (more...

Ben Ezra Synagogue

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Originally the Church of Saint Michael, the synagogue is named after the 12th-century rabbi of Jerusalem who obtained permission to build...

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