Cairo is one of the most ancient cities in the world and is a mix of both old and new. In many ways, the focus on Cairo’s ancient roots when discussing the city can lead to a jarring experience for tourists who do not expect to be dropped into a very busy, very modern metropolis. Consequently, the city can be quite overwhelming for the inexperienced traveler, and even those who have traveled elsewhere in the Middle East may be surprised by what they encounter.
Huge flows of traffic, a confusing bus and metro system, and a large reliance on taxis can make many wish they had someone to help them make sense of it all. Fortunately, many Egyptians are willing to help out a confused tourist, though beware of unscrupulous taxi drivers that will run up the meter when you’re not looking, or touts that will segue helping you out into a visit to their souvenir shop. Naturally, a visit to the Pyramids is a must, however, the somewhat benign irritation experienced by people selling tourist wares is amped up to 11 the second your taxi crosses into the gates of the complex.
While this may be difficult to ignore, keeping a cool head and refusing to buy souvenirs and horse and camel rides is key in actually enjoying the sights, tempting as those things may seem. As the only remaining wonder of the ancient world still standing, the Pyramids of Giza is a wondrous site, and there are plenty of great spots to take pictures, including a view from which tourists may take panorama pictures of the complex. The Citadel of Muhammad Ali and the alabaster mosque named after the sultan is another “must see” on the list as well.
The Citadel also houses a police and military museum, which features an impressive array of different artifacts. The Muhammad Ali Mosque, however, is one the grandest structures in the whole city, and its architecture needs to be seen to be believed. If you’re looking to sate your need to souvenirs, the nearby Khan el-Khalili bazaar is probably your best bet, though negotiation is necessary to get reasonable prices; a command of basic Arabic is a huge plus. The best thing to do in the market, however, is a visit to El Fishawy, a cafe that has served many tourists and locals for centuries.
El Fishawy serves great drinks and shisha, which is the Arabic word for “hookah” to the uninitiated. Also, while there are plenty of people plying their wares while you relax, the aggressive manner of tchotchke selling that you encounter at the Pyramids is virtually non-existent. Of course, these are merely the tourist “greatest hits,” there’s a lot more to see and do in the city, but you may have to discover that for yourself! Also, try the lemon mint juice, it’s good.