48 hours in Cairo
With a population of more than 20 million in Greater Cairo, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the Egyptian capital is one of the most chaotic cities in North Africa. It is a melting pot of cultures, religions and traditions, and can feel like complete sensory overload for any first-time visitor. With notoriously bad traffic and packed streets, this isn’t a place for the faint-hearted; however, since most of the trips we design start here, we at cazenove+loyd, ensure every moment in Cairo is as exciting and memorable as possible. After all, it is home to some of the world’s most renowned archaeological treasures. While we usually recommend two days here, for culture vultures, three might be better.
If you haven’t been already, the best way to start a short stay here is to get up bright and early on the first morning to go to the 4,500-year-old Pyramids of Giza. The world’s only ancient wonder still standing should undoubtedly be at the top of everyone’s bucket list. We arrange for our clients to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds and to make the most of the cooler temperatures. We can even set up incredible private access if you wish to have these magnificent monuments all to yourselves.
Next, for those looking to delve a little deeper into Ancient Egypt’s history, we would recommend stopping by the vast cemetery of ancient Memphis, Sakkara, an active burial ground for more than 3,500 years and one of Egypt’s largest cultural sites.
After a full morning exploring, you may wish to relax in the afternoon and head out in the early evening to Cairo’s 14th-century, lively medieval Khan el Khalili Bazaar and the quirky streets of the Islamic Downtown area. The highlight of this is a stroll along the characterful El Moez Street, which is where the historic city walls stand and makes a charming walk when everything begins to light up.
Today, only the spice dealers, coppersmiths and gold sellers have their individual sections of the market but this is a great place to wander around and get lost in the narrow alleyways, purchasing anything from stained-glass lamps and incense to handmade souvenirs along the way. If I had to name one place to stop for lunch, dinner or an Egyptian coffee, it would be Naguib Mahfouz Café. This atmospheric and authentic restaurant, named after Egypt’s most famous author, is one of the city’s oldest. Given its small size, we always pre-book tables in advance for our guests.
We suggest a visit to the Citadel, an ancient Islamic fortress that sits high above the city and has fantastic panoramic views of the sprawling metropolis below, including the Pyramids of Giza in the distance. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali inside is an architectural feat, with an intricate courtyard that feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
No one can possibly leave Egypt without going to the resplendent Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, with the highlights being the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Royal Mummies. With more than 12,000 antiques, there is just so much to see, which is where one of our top accompanying Egyptologists comes in extremely handy. For smaller private groups, we can arrange exclusive access to the museum both pre or post the normal opening hours.
If you have an extra day or two in Cairo, there is plenty that we can arrange to keep you interested. You could visit the enormous Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, best seen in the morning sunlight. This elegant edifice, constructed between 1356 and 1363, is supposedly one of the city’s best examples of early Mamluk architecture. In addition, if you enjoy theatre, music and art, we suggest spending a few hours at the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, which houses an impressive collection of 20th- and 21st-century works, and then make your way to the Cairo Opera House for a spoiling evening’s entertainment, where we can secure you the best seats.
Cairo is the gateway to one of the most fascinating countries in North Africa, playing an important part in setting the scene for what you will experience in Upper Egypt. Now, more than ever, is a great time to rediscover the splendour of this glorious capital.
We strongly recommend that you stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza, the bigger and newer of the capital’s two Four Seasons. We always request a room with a view of the Nile for our clients, so you can watch the feluccas drift past from your balcony.
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