Cairo is a huge and chaotic city but that is part of its charm. Accommodation is spread out around the city and caters to all budgets. A good area with a few budget hotels and lots of good cheap restaurants is Orabi, 1km south of Ramses Train Station. Getting around Cairo is much easier than you would imagine thanks to an efficient metro service. Although it does not cover the whole city it does get at least close to most of the main sites and attractions in Cairo. The system is easy to navigate once you get used to it, the service is cheap and the trains run frequently. Tickets cost between 3LE (0.20USD in 2020) and 7LE (0.44USD in 2020) for a ride.
Trains to the south leave from the Ramses Train Station. You can get there on the metro, the stop is called Al-Shohadaa. Buying your train ticket can be a bit confusing as there are different ticket offices for different trains. Ask around and be patient. It is also better to buy tickets a day or two in advance. The train to Luxor takes 11 hours and costs 195LE (13USD in 2020) for a first class seat. To Aswan it takes 15 hours and costs 235LE (15USD in 2020).
Cairo Nilometer Sight
Since ancient times the Egyptians have depended on the annual flooding of the Nile to make the land fertile allowing it to be cultivated. But the flood was unpredictable. Too much water washed away crops and houses, too little caused drought and famine. The Egyptians therefore began measuring the Nile’s water level in order to predict the harvest. At first these records were little more than marks on the river bank, but later more and more complex nilometers were built. The royal priest monitored the level of the river and kept records. It was his duty to announce the awaited arrival of the summer flood. The ability to predict the volume of the coming inundation became part of the mystique of the Ancient Egyptian priesthood.
Although a Nilometer has existed in the Cairo area since the Pharaonic Period the one that exists today was built by the Umayyads in about 715 AD. It has been restored several times but remains mostly original. The Cairo Nilometer is a more sophisticated instrument than earlier Pharaonic and Roman examples, such as the one on Elephantine Island at Aswan. It consists of a large well that extends below the level of the Nile, connected to the river by three tunnels at different heights (the tunnels are now blocked off). There are 45 steps leading down to the bottom of the well. In the center is a marble octagonal column divided into 19 cubits (approximately half a meter). An ideal flood filled the Nilometer to the 16 cubit mark.
Egypt’s ancient nilometers continued to be used by later civilizations until the 20th century when the construction of the Aswan dams put an end to the Nile's annual floods, rendering the nilometers obsolete.
The Nilometer is located on the southern tip of Roda Island in Cairo. The closest metro station is Mar Girgis. From there it is a short walk to the river and over the foot bridge.
Entrance 40LE, plus 20LE for a camera (2020)
The Giza pyramid complex is the site on the Giza Plateau in Greater Cairo that includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with the Great Sphinx of Giza. The Great Pyramid is the largest of the three and is the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the World. Khafre's pyramid, the one in the middle, appears larger than the Great Pyramid because of its more elevated position and the steeper angle of its sides, but is in fact smaller in both height and volume. The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx measuring 73 m long and facing directly East. Originally cut from the bedrock, much of the original shape has been restored with layers of stone blocks.
The pyramids are mysteries. What was their purpose? How were they built with such precision and on such a grand scale? Are they even older than we think and who actually built them. Much has been written about the various theories and many claim to have the answers, but the fascinating mystery remains unsolved. For now just enjoy their awe-inspiring presence and wonder at all the unanswered questions.
The site is located about 13 km southwest of Cairo city center. It is possible to get there from downtown Cairo using local transport. Behind the Egyptian Museum, beneath the overpasses, there is a collection of bus stations. The one nearest to the river has buses running to the pyramids for 15LE one way (in 2020). The bus will drop you at a crossroad about a 20 minute walk from the entrance. Buses leave from the same spot for the return journey. Alternatively you can take the metro to the Giza metro station, 9 km from the pyramids. Minibuses to and from the station cost 3.5LE one way and stop at the same crossroad as the bus.
Entrance to site 200LE (2020)
Entrance to Great Pyramid 400LE (2020)
Baron Empain Palace Cairo
The Baron Empain Palace, also known as the Hindu Palace, is a bizarre building, looking completely out of place in the northeastern suburb of Cairo where it stands. It was built between 1907 and 1911 by the Belgian millionaire Édouard Louis Joseph Empain. Empain made his fortune building railways in Belgium and France including work on the Paris Metro. He went on to build railways across the world, travelling to India and South East Asia where he was inspired by the architecture of the Hindu temples, especially of Angkor Wat and Orissa. He later moved to Egypt where he purchased a large area of desert from the British colonial government. Here he constructed a luxurious city with the Baron Empain Palace at its center. The exterior of the palace is covered with statues of Hindu deities, mythical creatures and elephants. It is believed that palace’s iconic tower was once able to rotate so that the Baron could enjoy 360º views of the city he had created.
However, soon after taking up residence in the palace the baron’s wife fell to her death from one of the tower windows. Just a few years later, his daughter too was found dead in one of the basement rooms. Locals say that their ghosts continue to haunt the palace. Following the Baron’s death in 1929, the Palace was inherited by his son and was eventually sold in 1952. The new owners failed to maintain the palace and it fell into disrepair. In the 1990s there were rumors that satanic rituals and orgies were held there in the underground chambers, from which a tunnel is said to lead to a nearby Catholic church.
The palace was bought by the Egyptian government in 2005 and opened to the public, but closed again 2 months later without explanation. Only recently have the authorities begun renovating and restoring the palace. When we visited in February 2020 it was not yet open.
The nearest metro station is Al Ahram. When you exit the station look out for the tall red spire of the palace. The only obstacle in your way is one of the busiest roads we have encountered in Cairo. Cross with caution or you may become the next victim of the palace's mysterious curse!
Obelisk Al Masalla Egypt
Heliopolis was one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt. It expanded under the Old and Middle Kingdoms but today is mostly destroyed, the stones from its great temples were scavenged for the construction of medieval Cairo.
The 21 meter high red granite obelisk weighs 120 tons and is one of the major surviving remnants of Heliopolis. The obelisk was part of the Temple of Ra-Atum erected by Senusret I and still stands in its original position. The site also contains a small collection of hieroglyphs and statues found in the area.
Senusret I was the second king of the 12th Dynasty and ascended the throne after the murder of his father, Amenemhet I. Sensuret built numerous shrines and temples throughout Egypt and Nubia during his long reign. He rebuilt the important temple of Re-Atum in Heliopolis which was the center of the sun cult. He built two red granite obelisks there to mark his 30 year jubilee.
The obelisk is a 15 minute walk from the Ain Shams metro station through an area of Cairo where few foreigners go. Alternatively you can take a tuk-tuk from the metro station to "Masalla".
Entrance 60LE (4 US$ in 2020)
Old town Cairo
Bab is the Arabic word for gate. There are three remaining gates in the walls of the old city of Cairo. Bab al Futuh (Conquest Gate) facing north was finished in the year 1087 AD the other two remaining gates are Bab al-Nasr (Victory Gate) in the north wall and Bab Zuwayla (Gate of Zuwayla) in the south.
It is a short walk from the Bab El Shaariya metro station to Bab El Futuh. When you pass through the gate you will find yourself in medieval Cairo with its small alleys, mosques, old buildings and noisy salesman.
Obelisk Al Masalla Egypt
Coptic Cairo is the oldest part of Cairo and was built upon the remains of the Roman fortress of Babylon. The area has a concentration of Christian churches and other sites that date from the centuries between the decline of the pharaonic religion and the arrival of Islam, when Egypt had a Christian majority.
The Coptic Museum here holds the largest collection of Coptic Christian artwork and artifacts in the world. There are also six churches that date back to the early Christian era. The Hanging Church, or the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built in the 9th century. Even older churches include the Church of St. Sergius, which dates from the 5th century and was supposedly built upon the site of a crypt where the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) took shelter during their time in Egypt. The area is also home to the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Cairo.
Old Cairo is located south of downtown Cairo right beside the Mar Girgis metro station.
Entry to all churches and synagogue is free (2020)
Museum Cairo Egypt
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is one of the most famous Archaeological museums in the world and contains a spectacular collection of artifacts and treasures from ancient Egypt. The museum is for the most part chaotic with often unlabelled displays crammed into every available corner. Some of the more famous artifacts are better displayed such as the treasures of the tomb of Tutankhamun including the iconic golden death mask. As for the rest it is fun to just wander through the jumble of displays and see what treasures you come across.
The museum is located on the east bank of the river in downtown Cairo. The closest metro stations are Sadat or Nasser.
Entrance 200LE (2020)
Camera 50LE (2020)
Obelisk Al Masalla Egypt
The Cairo opera house hosts a range of performances from Egyptian music, dance and theater to western classical music, operas and ballets. Ticket prices start from 110LE for a balcony seat (with full view of the stage). A jacket and tie is required for men and non casual clothes for women.
The opera house is located on Gezira Island close to downtown Cairo, a few minutes walk from the Opera metro stop.