While there are many interesting attractions in Cairo, the city is
unsettled for us to recommend touring it or even walking from your hotel to
get a sense of the city. If you are going anywhere in Cairo, do it with a
tour group or ask your hotel to arrange transportation to and a return from
The "must see" attraction in Cairo is the Egyptian Museum.
Often a trip here is combined with a tour to the Citadel and the Mohamed Ali Mosque.
While a visit to the Citadel is not compelling, the ride across the city is
a good way to "see" Cairo.
Although Tahir Square is a name now emblazoned in the history of the Egyptian
Revolution, we suggest that any viewing of the area be done from a tour bus while you are on your way to somewhere else. Rallies and violence and common at Tahir Square and events in Cairo can be unpredictable. Although the experience of witnessing this location is quite powerful, Tahir
Square is a relatively plain empty space within Cairo that is filled with
traffic and has little to recommend it. It is particularly
unsafe location for women, even those accompanied by others. You will
likely pass near Tahir Square on your way to the
Egyptian Museum or the Citadel.
Dating from 1902, the Egyptian Museum at Midan el-Tahir
in Cairo (down the block from the now famous Tahir Square), houses the
world’s most important and comprehensive collection of Egyptian
antiquities. No photography is allowed in the museum and you must leave
your camera at a kiosk near the entrance (to the right of the ticket booth
as you face it). You will be given a wooden token with a number that will
allow you to reclaim your camera when you exit. Providing a small tip
(baksheesh) for the staff of the kiosk is recommend. Note that you will
pass through security (including a metal detector for you and an x-ray
scanner for anything you are carrying) at the entrance to the grounds, and once
again a few feet later when you enter the museum proper.
Click the image above for a brief photo tour of the Egyptian Museum
The museum has not been maintained at a high level and the enormous
number of items in the collection on display almost defies categorization. During our
maps to the collections on the two floors of displays were not
available, nor were many displays labeled (either in English or Arabic), which
can be somewhat confusing since over 120,000 pieces are on display.
There is a map of the facility painted on the wall inside of the main
entrance that may help guide you around.
that you buy one of the printed guides to the Museum after you enter, as
these contain maps and recommendations on the masterpieces of the Museum.
Alternatively, shortly after you enter the Museum grounds, near where you
buy your tickets (currently 60 Egyptian Pounds ($16), you will find a gaggle
of guides who speak numerous languages and claim to know the museum inside
and out. Generally they will be willing to accompany you and tell you what
they know about the museums for around 100 Egyptian pounds ($16). We
highly recommend seeing the Egyptian Museum on a formal, arranged tour,
which we have found to be the best way to enjoy and make sense of its many displays.
For most visitors, the highlights of the Museum are the
stunning "Treasures of Tutankhamen" (included in entrance fee) and the two
rooms housing the collection of Royal Mummies including that of Ramesses II
(separate fee 100 Egyptian Pounds ($16)). Both of these unique exhibits are located the first floor, which
is above the ground floor. While visitors are drawn to
these two attractions, the Egyptian Museum is filled with interesting and
important antiquities that represent some of the best of the Old, Middle and
New Kingdoms, as well as those of the Ptolemaic (Greek) and Roman periods.
While you might be tempted to rush through the displays, there are
unexpected treasures everywhere you look, While examining one of the
many display cases, we found that its three inch tall sculpture of Cheops (of the Great Pyramid at Giza)
was the only image of this pharaoh that exists in the world.
Be sure to see
the Jewelry collection on the first floor (above the ground floor) and note
that many of the larger pieces of statuary from various monuments are found scattered throughout
the ground floor.
We visited the museum twice, once with a guide and once without. To
be honest, one visit just was not enough to begin to sample the amazing
treasures of the Museum. We recommend you read a guidebook to the
museum that includes a map and a list of the highlight attractions before
A new museum for antiquities is being built in Giza, but it is
not expected to be completed until August 2015 at the earliest. When
the new museum opens, we suspect that tourists may skip Cairo
and take a room at one of the hotels near the Giza Plateau to see both the pyramids and the Egyptian
If you have any interest in Saladin, whose defeat of the Crusaders in
various battles led to their departure from the Holy Lands, you
might want to take a peek at the Citadel he built in the 12th century after being declared
Sultan of Egypt (and ruler of a wide swath of the Middle East). Perched
atop the only significant hill in Cairo, the Citadel was Saladin’s
attempt to protect and fortify the capital city of Egypt. The Citadel covers a large area,
mostly comprised of impressive battlements.
The Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha crowns the Citadel and offers extraordinary views
of the city from the terrace that surrounds it. The attractive mosque is
situated at the top of the Citadel was built by Mohamed Ali, in memory of
his son Pahsa. Mohamed Ali is regarded by many as
the founder of modern Egypt. In the mid-19th century he led the
country by weaving a careful route through potential aggressors from Europe.
Ali was responsible for many efforts at modernizing the country and
streamlining its inefficient bureaucracies. The mosque reflects an Ottoman sensibility, It has a large central
dome, two extremely tall minarets and a considerable
amount of alabaster was used in its construction. The mosque was built over
the ruins of former Mamluk palaces (the Mamluks were a military caste
in Egypt composed of people who were or non-Arabic origins who ruled Egypt
during the Middle Ages).
Click the image above for a photo tour of the Citadel and the Mohamed
In the courtyard outside of the mosque is a somewhat dilapidated clock tower
containing a rusted
clock that the Egyptians claim never worked. The clock was presented to Egypt by King Louis
Philippe of France. In turn, France received the fabulous obelisk from
the Temple of
Luxor that now graces the
Place de la Concorde in Paris. Citizens of
Cairo are quite fond of saying “We want our Obelisk back”, as Egypt clearly
was shorted on the exchange of gifts.
The views from the Citadel, especially from the area
around the mosque, are quite striking . Several well-known and nearby
mosques (the Mosque of Sultan Hassan and the El Rifai Mosque) can be
observed from the terrace.
Also, visible is is the modest skyline of Cairo, intertwined with areas of
There are other mosques and museums to
see at the Citadel, but the if you have followed our itinerary, you will
likely have exhausted your interest.
Khan el-Khalili Souk
The 600 year-old Khan el-Khalili souk is one of the
most well-known bazaars in the Arab world. It features shops, coffee houses,
restaurants and several impressive workshops where craftsmen create high
quality goods for your purchase. The market was the scene of two terrorist
attacks in the last decade, which has caused it to lose some luster with
visitors. Tour organizers have been quietly avoiding this area and we
suggest you follow their lead. If you are determined to visit, you will
find a wonderful selection jewelry and the decorative arts, but few real
While somewhat of a misnomer, since Cairo’s residents
predominately practice the Islamic faith, Islamic Cairo is an older section
of the city that is typified by neighborhoods that seem misplaced in time. Winding lanes, street vendors, local markets and numerous mosques
mark this landscape which is mainly to the east of the center of modern
Cairo. Not many tourists wander this area and we do not recommend a visit at
Click the image above for a few candid shots of street life in the Cairo
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