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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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...

Complex of Amir Shaykhu

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Flanking Shar'a Saliba, this mosque and khanqah were built by the commander in chief of Sultan Hassan's forces and form a well-integrated...

Gayer-Anderson Museum

  • Museum/Gallery

Also known as Bayt al-Kiritliya, the museum consists of two Ottoman houses joined together, restored, and furnished by Major Gayer-Anderson...

Madrasa and Mausoleum of Taghribardi

  • Building/Architectural Site

This small but impressive complex was built in 1440 by the executive secretary to Sultan Jaqmaq. Fitting the standard minaret, entrance...

Madrasa of Sarghatmish

  • Building/Architectural Site

Completed in 1356 by the emir who succeeded Shaykhu, Sarghatmish was probably designed by the same architect who designed Sultan Hassan.

Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan

  • Building/Architectural Site

Built between 1356 and 1363 by the Mamluk ruler Sultan Hassan, this is one of the largest Islamic religious buildings in the world. Historians...

Mosque of Ibn Tulun

  • Building/Architectural Site

This huge congregational mosque was built in 879 by Ahmad Ibn Tulun with the intention of accommodating his entire army during Friday...

The Citadel

  • Building/Architectural Site

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...