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World > Egypt > Cairo
City Guide Cairo
General Information
Cairo, Egypt is one of the world’s largest urban areas and with 18 million inhabitants has the biggest population of any city in Africa. It is located in northern Egypt on the Nile, stretching along the river for 40 km. Egyptians refer to Cairo as “the mother of all cities” because of its grand scale and its important history. The city is made up of a number of sections, rather like cities or villages in their own right, such as Heliopolis, Nasser City, Maadi and Giza. Cairo is near to all of the ancient pyramids and home to many other monuments of ancient Egypt. It is a city of striking and exotic natural beauty, though by contrast also a noisy, chaotic and polluted one. Above all it is a fascinating city full of activity and a centre of culture, both modern and ancient.
The weather in Cairo is generally mild in winter, but scorchingly hot in the summer. Winter temperatures average between 10-20°C/50-68°F and in summer, temperatures of 35-38°C/95-100°F are common. The low humidity makes the heat more bearable, however. Summer and fall tend to be the dry seasons, and January and February have only occasional rain. Spring has more rainfall and sandstorms are also common, usually occurring in March and April.
The official language of Egypt is Arabic, and Egyptians speak a dialect that differs somewhat from other Middle Eastern countries. A significant number of people in Cairo can also speak English as well as French and/or Italian.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, and this religion includes between 90-94% of the population. Most Egyptian Muslims are Sunni. Most of the other religious people follow Coptic Christianity, the form of Christianity indiginous to Egypt. There is also small number of Protestants and an even smaller community of Catholics.
The currency used in Egypt is the Egyptian pound, made up of 100 piastres.
Baksheesh is the name given to the tradition of tipping in Cairo, and while its customs are second nature to Egyptians, the system can be very confusing for travellers. In airports, train stations and many other locations, porters will take your luggage for you or begin assisting you in some way. If the service is unwanted, it is necessary to state this clearly at the beginning. Otherwise, you need to tip them even if you did not ask for their help. For services such as carrying bags, between E£2-5 is appropriate. One thing to be aware of is that if more than one person assists you, you need to give each of them their own tip. Money given to one will usually not be shared with the other. In restaurants, a service charge of 12% is already added to the bill, but in sit-down restaurants with waiters, a small additional tip is expected. Make sure you have enough small bills with you to give as tips, because change for baksheesh will usually not be given. Also be aware that many people will ask tourists for tips for their services when in fact none is necessary. For example, you do not need to tip taxi drivers because the tip is already included in the fare, and it is not the custom to tip people who give you directions.
The standard rate of "The Sales Tax" in Cairo is 10%. However some goods are exempted and others in turn have higher tax rates. For commodities there is a service tax of 3% and for subjects with customs duties from 5 to 30%.
The country code for Egypt is 20, and Cairo’s area code is (0)2. Almost everyone in Cairo has their own phone, and payphones are somewhat rare. There are PTT offices (Post, Telephone and Telegraph), however, where you can make cheap long distance calls as well as local calls. Do not call internationally from hotel rooms as there is a high charge added to the bill.
Cairo has a number of internet cafés that usually remain open until 11 pm or midnight. Some of them are real cafés where you can order refreshments and others simply offer the internet connection. Prices typically range from E£8-10 per hour.
Emergency Numbers
Ambulance Tel.: 123 Tourist Police Tel.: 126, Traffic Police Tel.: 128, Emergency Police Tel.: 122 Fire Department Tel.: 180 Information (of current numbers) Tel.: 140 - Pharmacies and Health and Medical Services
Opening Times
Stores in Cairo are generally open from 9 am until 7 or 8 pm, though differ from shop to shop. Friday is the main day off in Cairo, and most businesses are closed. Some close on Saturday as well, and a few shops choose to close on Sunday instead of Friday. During the fasting period of Ramadan in October and November, opening times change. Attractions usually have shortened hours, while shops and restaurants often stay open until around 2 am.
Public Holidays
The following days are public holidays in Cairo. On these days, most businesses are closed and transportation may be more limited. · January 7th, Coptic Christmas · February 22nd, Union Day · April 25th, Sinai Liberation Day · May 1st, Labour Day · June 18th, Evacuation Day · July 1st, Bank Holiday · July 23rd, Revolution Day · September 11th, Coptic New Year · October 6th, Armed Forces Day · October 23rd, National Liberation Day · October 24th, Suez Victory Day · December 23rd, Victory Day
In general, Cairo is a relatively safe city and has a low crime rate. But like most cities, petty crimes and thefts are not uncommon, and care should be taken with personal belongings. Cairo has also been a target for terrorist attacks in the past as well as recently, which is something tourists should be aware of, though it need not deter anyone from visiting the city. Precautions to take are to always be aware of the surroundings and to avoid the tourist areas most densely packed with people, or to only visit the ones that have known security measures in place.
Discovering Cairo
Cairo has a fascinating array of sights, including ancient temples and tombs, the splendid pyramids, a variety of historic mosques and churches, and many different museums and monuments. Many neighbourhoods of the city are attractions in their own right, each with a distinctive character and some with histories going back thousands of years. Particularly interesting sections of the city include Old Cairo, the Coptic quarter where most of the city’s main attractions are found, and Islamic Cairo, a medieval quarter east of the centre with many winding streets full of distinctive Muslim architecture. There are two islands in the middle of the Nile, Roda and Gezira, that are also scenic and worth exploring. The latter contains an opera house and some art museums.
Giza Pyramids
These magnificent pyramids in the Giza desert were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and have been standing for 5,000 years. They are now Egypt’s most popular tourist attraction, located 18km southwest of the centre of Cairo. The pyramids are extraordinary for their scale, geometry and precision and were built as tombs to house the bodies of the pharoahs. They required tens of thousands of men to construct. The Great Pyramid of Cheops is the oldest in Giza, completed around 2600 BC, and is the largest pyramid in Egypt. Every night there are sound and light shows at the pyramids to bring their fascinating history to life. The shows begin with the story of the Sphinx, describe how the pyramids were built, and tell the stories of ancient Egypt’s most famous figures. Shows are given in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Arabic. Opening times: Daily 7 am -7.30 pm, but pyramid chambers close at 4 pm Times of sound and light shows: 6.30 pm, 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm in winter and 8.30 pm, 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm in summer Entrance prices: E£ 20 for each pyramid, E£ 44 during sound and light shows
Cairo Tower
This 187-metre tall tower is a distinctive modern landmark of Cairo. It was built in the 1950s on Gezira Island and offers stunning views of the entire city. Its shape and lattice-work are unusual and make it resemble a lotus plant. The 14th floor is a rotating restaurant and viewing room, where visitors can make use of a number of telescopes. One of the best times to visit the tower is just before sundown, to watch as the city fades into darkness and the lights come on. The pyramids and desert are clearly visible from the tower as well as the medieval quarter, the Muqattam Hills and the Nile Delta. A popular belly dancing performance is given every night in the nightclub at the bottom of the tower. Opening times: Daily, 9 am - 1 am
The Pharaonic Village
This unique attraction is a recreation of an ancient Egyptian village located on Jacob’s Island. There are a number of exhibits, some with live people, about the daily activities of the ancient Egyptians as well as a papyrus museum. Visitors are first taken on a barge through a network of canals and then allowed to wander around on their own to the various exhibits. Many of the trees, plants, and some of the wildlife on the island are types that were common in ancient Egypt but now rare or absent from the rest of the country. The reconstructions include a white stone temple, a Pharoah’s palace, homes and workshops of craftsmen and farmers, a nobleman’s villa, a marketplace, and a military camp. The village is always growing and new exhibits appear regularly. Permanent exhibits include ones about Tutankhamun’s tomb, Alexander the Great, Islam and Coptic Christianity. Opening times: Winter 9 am - 5 pm, summer 9 am - 9 pm Entrance price: E£ 65
City of the Dead
The City of the Dead is a huge cemetary located in Islamic Cairo around the Mosque of Qaitbey. It is a fascinating place full of finely carved monuments and intricate Islamic architecture. The finest examples are found in the northern part of the cemetary. The mosque has a splendid dome and a highly decorative interior. Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
The Religion Compound
This compound is a meeting point for the three main monotheistic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. There are a variety of monuments and religious buildings devoted to each of these denominations that are beautiful and architecturally interesting. Several of them have been recently restored. The compound is situated in a delightfully quaint area of old Cairo and built around the ruins of an old Roman fortress. Opening times: 9 am – 4.30 pm
Ibn Tulun Mosque
This mosque was built in 879AD and is one of the oldest in the city. It was inspired by Iraqi models and is the mosque pictured on Egypt’s five pound note. It is built out of mud bricks and wood and is a uniquely beautiful example of the Abbasid style. It has an unusual minaret that visitors can climb by way of a spiral staircase. From the top one is rewarded with a beautiful view of the whole Islamic quarter. The mosque is surrounded by courtyards, the walls of which are covered with intricately beautiful designs and inscriptions. These are written in Kufic, the earliest language of Islam. Opening times: 8 am - 6 pm Entrance price: E£6
el-Muallaqa Church
This church is also known as the “hanging church” because it was built on top of a Roman gate. It can be reached by a stairway next to the gate that leads into the courtyard. The church was probably built in the fourth century and is the oldest place of Christian worship in Cairo. It has a beautiful interior full of carved marble and has a remarkable altar of inlaid ivory and bone. Opening times: Dawn - 4 pm Masses: Friday 8 am - 11 am, Sunday 7 am - 10 am Entrance price: donations
An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque
This mosque was built between 1318 and 1335 and was at one time the main mosque of the Citadel. It is an excellent example of Mameluke architecture and is one of the best-preserved mosques built in this style. The mosque is distinctive in its Byzantine columns and its two minarets topped with large round domes and covered in blue Persian-style tiles. It has a simpler interior than many Egyptian mosques. Opening times: Daily 9 am – 4.30 pm
Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madra
This mosque was completed in 1356 and is one of the most beautifully constructed mosques in Cairo. It was built by the order of Sultan Hassan bin Mohammed bin Qualaun and he designed it to be a religious school for all four Sunni Muslim sects in addition to a mosque. The mosque began to deteriorate in the last centuries, with the dome and one of the impressive minarets collapsing, but it has since been restored to its former glory. Opening times: Every day 9 am - 6 pm
The Sphinx
This colossal statue has become legendary and is one of the most famous monuments in the world. It is a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man, 70m long and 20m high. It is possibly the oldest surviving structure in all of Egypt and is carved from a single massive block of limestone. It was most likely built under King Khafre, who also supervised the building of the largest of the Giza pyramids. The face of the Sphinx is said to be modeled after that of King Khafre. It is located near the pyramids at Giza. Opening times: Accessible 24 hours
The Citadel
The Citadel is a massive castle built in the 12th century by Salah al-Din. It is one of Cairo’s main attractions and contains a variety of museums and other attractions within, as well as offering wonderful panoramic views of the city. The citadel complex includes the Jewel Palace, Mohammed Ali Mosque, Sultan Al-Nasir Mosque, the Police Museum, Military Museum, and Archaeological Museum. Opening times: Every day 8 am - 5 pm
Al Azhar Park
Close to the Islamic Cairo this park is a beautiful place to have a rest from a tour through the city. The garden is located in the center of Cairo and therefore a very good vantage point to have a nice view about the city. Because of the dearth of green places in the city, Al Azhar is full of people and their activities like tree-lined paths and an amphitheatre. Adjunct to the park are a lot of nice bars and restaurants with various cuisines.
Sayyed Zeinab Cultural Park
Close to Old Cairo there is the “Sayyed Zeinab Cultural Park” which has a very extraordinary and fantastic design. Because of its structures, computer and painting sections the huge area is very child-friendly. For free admission you could spend a whole day in this park. Opening times: Daily 10 am – 5 pm, closed on Fr
Fish Garden
This modern “Aquarium Grotto Garden” is a very romantic meeting place. Located close to the downtown areas it is a quite place to relax from Cairo’s busy streets. This park is attractive for a lot of people like families, couples and students. Here you can gaze some fishes and also the attractive plants from the Nil and also Africa. Opening times: Daily 8 am - 4 pm