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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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

  • Educational Institution

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...


  • Castle/Palace/Chateau

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

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...

House of Gamal al-Din al Dhahabbi

  • House/Mansion/Villa

The second right after al-Ghuriyya along al-Mu'iz leads to a small alley named Shar'a Khushqadam. Fifty yards up on the right, look for...

Mosque and Tomb of Qijmas al-Ishaqi

  • Memorial/Monument/Tomb

Restored in the early part of the 20th century, this complex was one of the jewels of Mamluk architecture. Its decorated facade reflects...

Mosque of Altunbugha al-Maridani

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Featuring fine examples of virtually every decorative art in vogue in the 14th century, this mosque was built by a son-in-law of Sultan...

Mosque of Mu'ayyad Shaykh

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

The Sultan Mu'ayyad chose this site because he was once imprisoned at this location. During his captivity, he swore that he would build...

Mosque of Wazir al-Salih Tala'i

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Built in 1160, this is one of the last Fatimid structures constructed outside the city walls, and is also one of the most elegant mosques...

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...