To go or not to go alone in Cairo is often the question solo travelers ask first when contemplating a vacation anywhere in the Middle East. There is no denying that tourists have occasionally been caught in politically and religiously motivated violence in various locales throughout the region, including Cairo. But by and large, Cairenes have been warmly welcoming visitors for centuries, and it is well known that they place a high and protective value on their tourist trade.
Anyone interested in Egyptian antiquities will, at least, pass through Cairo while coming or going, but there is every reason to linger awhile. This city easily rates as one of the most interesting on the planet because of its unique setting at the crossroads to European, Middle Eastern, and African cultures.
With a little forethought, an up-to-date guidebook, and a go-with-the-flow attitude, you should do fine on your own in Cairo, although it's always a good idea to check current travel advisories before making a decision.
Tourist police: A section of the police force is assigned specifically to help tourists in difficulty. Offices are located at major entry points and near tourist attractions.
Tourist offices are located in Cairo International Airport and at Ramses Railway Station where you can pick up a basic map, attractions, and event information.
Midan Tahrir (Square), in Central Cairo, is the main point of reference. A five-minute walk to the west of Midan Tahrir takes you to the east bank of the river Nile and the large hotels lining the Corniche (embankment). The must-see Egyptian Museum is just to the north.
The River Nile (Bahr el-Nil, or simply El-Nil) flows northwards through the city straddling two prominent islands, Gezira and Roda, and the bridges that connect them to the Corniche on either side of the Nile.
On the west bank of the Nile, the district of Giza stretches to the desert, site of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
Northeast of Midan Tahrir, downtown Cairo is a ten-minute walk via Sharia Talaat Harb where many small hotels, travel agencies, and restaurants are located. The city's main railway terminal, Ramses Station, is further north beyond downtown at Midan Ramses.
Islamic Cairo is about two km east of Midan Tahrir.
Just south from Midan Tahrir, you'll find the leafy Garden City district of embassies, government buildings, and large international hotels. About three km further south lies Old Cairo.
Black and white taxis. Most tourists find it easiest to get around by taxi. Plentiful black and white taxis can be hailed on the street for a single ride. Wave and shout your destination. Sharing is common. >>Ask hotel staff to jot down your destination and hotel addresses in Arabic. >>Inquire what fare would be appropriate and have that amount in hand to pay as you exit, and avoid haggling by walking away quickly. Stop and reconsider only if the driver seems unduly annoyed. Carry plenty of small Egyptian pound notes and piastres, as expecting change back will only prompt more haggling over the fare.
Service taxis. Hotels also operate more expensive service taxis to popular routes.
Metro: Currently, two lines run from central Cairo to suburbs. Line 1: Helwan-El Marg. Line 2: Shoubra-El Mounib. NOTE: The first two cars are reserved for the exclusive use of women (according to Islamic law), and many independent female travelers enjoy taking this opportunity to mingle with local women. A third line, serving the International Airport, was begun in September 2008.
Metro Stations of interest to tourists:
Garden City House, 23 Shariah Kamel ad-Din Salah. Popular pension near US embassy, centrally located for sightseeing and the Metro. Basic rooms in an age-worn building.
Longchamps Hotel, 21 Sharia Ismail Mohammed, Zamalek. Longchamps Hotel is located in a quiet upper-class neighborhood on Gezira island in the Nile. It's about 10 minutes by taxi to central Cairo and Midan Tarhir Metro. Shopping and restaurants are nearby in Zamalek.
Victoria Hotel, 66 Sharia Gomhouria. Character colonial-style hotel with spacious rooms, quirky plumbing. Restaurant, bar, and lounge on premises. Handy for Ramses Railway Station.
Khan el-Khalili, the great bazaar in the heart of Islamic Cairo. Find everything
from junk souvenirs to gold jewelry, perfume, spices, papyrus, leather,
silver inlay, brass/copper ware.
Get there: Taxi to Midan Ataba and approach on foot via the Mouski Bazaars and souqs.
Coptic Cairo, Old Cairo. About 5.5 km south of central Cairo, this district
was once a Roman fortress town called Babylon. Coptic Christianity developed
here from the 1st century AD, and many churches and monuments remain, including
the Fortress of Babylon and the Coptic Museum.
Nearest Metro: Mar Guirguis
Cairo Tower, Zamalek, Gezira Island. This famous landmark is the place
to go for great views. On clear days the Great Pyramid of Giza can be seen
from the observation deck.
Get there: Taxi from Midan Tahrir.
Egyptian Museum, Midan Tahrir. This museum exhibits over 120,000 objects,
including artifacts from the royal tombs of the Middle Kingdom found at
Dahshur in 1894; contents of the royal tombs of Tuthmosis III, Tuthmosis
IV, Amenhotep III and Horemheb, the tomb of Yuya and Thuya as well as 3,500
artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Nearest Metro: Sadat.
Islamic Cairo; Citadel. Dress respectfully and take a walking tour of this
historic district legs, arms, and shoulders covered, and women don head
scarves upon entering mosques. This area has many ancient mosques, mausoleums,
and bazaars. A few notables are: Al-Azhar Mosque & University, seat of
Islamic learning for 1,000 years; Mohammed Ali Mosque; the famous Khan
al-Khalili bazaar; Souq al-Attarin spice bazaar; the Mamluk necropolis,
City of the Dead; the Museum of Islamic Art, and the spectacular medieval
fortress above Midan Salah ad-Din, the Citadel.
Nearest Metro: Ataba.
Sail the Nile in a faluka (traditional boat). Boats are docked in front of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Garden City area. Negotiate the price. 50 EGP ($10) for an hour is a reasonable price.
Roda Island and Manial Palace. Roda Island is a three kilometer-long island
in the Nile with the Manial Palace situated in the middle. A tranquil getaway
from city din, this palace was built in 1903 by Prince Mohammed Ali.
Get there: Taxi or minibus from Midan Tahrir
Pharaonic Village. Visitors witness activities of ancient Egyptians. The
village is located on the West bank of the Nile, on Jacobs Island at 3
Sharia Al-Bahr Al-A'zam, about ten km from the center of Cairo.
Get there: taxi.
Stroll the Corniche. Walk to the Qasr el-Nil Bridge and watch the lively activity along the river Nile.
Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are situated about 18 km west of central
Cairo. Despite the tourist-trap atmosphere, this site rightly deserves
to be among the great wonders of the world. There are three pyramids built
between 2,600 and 2,520 BC, Chephren, Mycerinus, and Cheops, the largest.
The best time to visit is early morning before the heat gets oppressive,
or in the evening in time for the sound and light show. You can have your
picture taken on a camel here, but be careful to inquire about a reasonable
price beforehand for negotiating purposes.
Nearest Metro: Giza.