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 postindependence 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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Abu Sir 1

Dahshur 1

Memphis 1

Saqqara 9

The Fayyum 5

The Wadi Natrun Monasteries 4

Islamic Cairo North: al-Husayn Mosque to Bab al-Futuh 16

Islamic Cairo South: al-Azhar to Bab Zuwayla 11

Downtown and Bulaq 10

Coptic Cairo (Mari Girgis) 9

The Citadel and Sayyida Zaynab 8

Giza 3

Rodah Island and Garden City 2

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Local Interest–Sight 3

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Religious Building/ Site/ Shrine 30

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Scenic Drive/ Tour 1

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Tour–Sight 2

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Cairo Sights

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Al-Ghuriyya

  • Castle/Palace/Chateau

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

Complex of Qalaun

  • Building/Architectural Site

One of the early Mamluk rulers of Egypt, Mansur Qalaun was originally a Tartar (Mongol) brought to Egypt as a slave. Mamluks (literally,...

Dahshur

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

Named for the pinkish limestone of which it is made, the Red (North) Pyramid belonged to the 4th-Dynasty pharaoh Sneferu (2575–2551...

Great Sphinx

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

Carved from the living rock of the pyramids plateau during the 4th Dynasty, the enigmatic limestone Sphinx is attached to Pharaoh Khafre's...

Madrasa and Mausoleum of Sultan al-Salih al-Ayyubi

  • Building/Architectural Site

Although it does not appear to be very significant from the street, this building occupies an important place in Cairo's history as a...

Mastaba of Kagemni

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

This tomb adjoins the mastaba of Mereruka and is also well decorated. Presumably the artist or atelier responsible for decorating the...

Mastaba of Mereruka

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

Shared by Mereruka's son and his wife, this is the largest mastaba tomb in Saqqara. It dates to the 6th Dynasty (2323–2150 BC) and...

Mastaba of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

This tomb is considered one of the "new tombs" that have been excavated in Saqqara since the late 1990s and shares a separate admission...

Mastaba of Ti

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

This tomb is architecturally different from the mastabas of Mereruka and Kagemni in that it has a large courtyard that contains a stairway...

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...

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