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


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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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...

Church of Saint Barbara

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Named for a young Nicodemian woman who was killed by her pagan father for converting, the church was originally dedicated to Sts. Cyrus...

Church of Saint Mercurius

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Yet another Roman legionary, Mercurius, or Abu Sayfayn ("of the two swords"), dreamed one night that an angel gave him a glowing sword...

Church of Saint Sergius

  • Building/Architectural Site

Known in Arabic as 'Abu Serga , this church is dedicated to two Roman officers, Sergius and Bacchus, who were martyred in Syria in 303.

Convent of Saint George

  • Building/Architectural Site

This convent's namesake holds a special place in the hearts of Copts. The remains of this Roman legionary who was martyred in Asia were...

Coptic Museum

  • Museum/Gallery

Housing the world's largest collection of Coptic Christian artwork, this museum provides a link between ancient and Islamic Egypt. Remember...

Mosque of 'Amr Ibn al-Aas

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Built in 642 following the conquest of Egypt, this was the first mosque on the African continent. Because the original structure probably...

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...