Chaotic, crowded and dusty, Cairo's charming biblical streets are where charismatic locals drive a hard bargain but always with a smile on their faces. It's easy to lose yourself in Islamic Cairo's medieval lanes, and the vast Egyptian Museum with Tutankhamen's dazzling burial mask takes some navigating, but that's half the fun in this unmissable metropolis.
Things to Do
It's easy to be dwarfed by the immense Giza Pyramids, guarded by the Sphinx and a multitude of camel drivers. Visit the more-recently-discovered pharaohs' cedarwood boat on which the kings' bodies were transported down the Nile. In Islamic Cairo, take a peaceful evening stroll along Al-Muezz el-Din Allah street to absorb intricate 15th-century spot-lit mosques and tombs. View the largest collection of Egyptian Christian artifacts in the world at the Coptic Museum. But Cairo isn't all about the ancient: Over the Nile in pumping Zamalek district, contemporary art is on display at Almasar Gallery, in a restored colonial townhouse.
It's hard to get the better of traders along the crowded lanes at the medieval Khan el-Khalili market, heart of Islamic Cairo, but you can try haggling for hand-blown muski glass goblets and hand-made leather slippers. You can also choose your favorite attar (fragrant essential oil) to fill delicate perfume bottles. Shoe shops line Talaat Harb street in Downtown, and in fashionable Zamalek, local jewelry designer to the stars Azza Fahmy dazzles with her hand-made filigree silver necklaces and bold gold pendants.
Nightlife and Entertainment
An evening Nile cruise on a felucca boat is a perfect antidote to Cairo's frenetic tempo, where the sounds of the call to prayer waft across the water. Cairenes love to socialize in ahwa coffeehouses. Join them at Naguib Mahfouz Café in Khan El-Khalili where traditional musicians play as you sip refreshing mint tea with a fruity sheesha pipe. The city's trend-setters head to busy bars along 26th July Street in buzzing Zamalek for a glass of chilled Egyptian wine.
Restaurants and Dining
In busy Downtown, fill up on an essential dish for locals: koshary, a hearty mix of lentils, pasta, rice and crispy onions, best sampled in Abou Tarek diner. Egyptian traditional dishes like molokheya (soup with Egyptian greens) take on a contemporary twist at sleek lounge bars and restaurants in Zamalek, although most meals start off with a meze selection to share. Or for international dishes, Nile-side favorite Sequoia serves sushi to diners elegantly sprawled on plump cushions and stark-white sofas.