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Cairo - Land of the Pharaohs

The capital of Egypt and the largest city on North Africa, Cairo is known as The City of a Thousand Minarets, referring to the abundance of traditional Islamic architecture seen throughout it.

Built along the banks of the Nile and established as a the regional centre for political and cultural life in the 10th century, the area pre-dates back to Ancient Egypt due to it's proximity to the pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza.

Egyptians locals often refer to Cairo as Maṣr which is the Egyptian Arabic pronunciation of the name for Egypt itself, thus emphasizing the city's national and cultural importance.

The city has an approximate population of 6.8 million spread over an area of 214km² making it the largest metropolitan area in Africa.

Air pollution in Cairo is poor due to the heavy volume of traffic in and around the centre. To address this issue, the government built and are expanding the city metro system which currently sees 700 million passengers annually.

Due to it's close proximity to the Giza Plateau, Cairo is a popular tourist destination for budding Egyptologists and people who enjoy camel rides!

Top 10 things to do in Cairo

Pyramids/Sphinx at Giza

Of course one of the primary reasons for any tourist trip to Cairo is to visit the pyramids and the Great Sphinx.

These are located on the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, southwest of the city centre.

There are many pyramids on the plateau in varying states of ruin, including of course the three Great Pyramids namely, Great Pyramid (aka Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu), Pyramid of Khafre and Pyramid of Menkaure.

Tourists are forbidden to climb any of the pyramids except the steps up to the entrance of the Great Pyramid.

Alongside the pyramids is of course the Great Sphinx statue of a reclining lion with a human head.

It is the largest monolith statue in the world, standing 73.5m long, 6m wide, and 20.22m high.

It is the oldest known monumental sculpture, and due to findings of ancient water erosion on the statue, is now believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians of Old Kingdom in 2555 BC to 2532 BC.

Opening times for the pyramids plateau are from 08:00 to 17:00 (summer), 08:00 to 16:30 (winter) and 08:00 to 15:00 (Ramadan). You will need to purchase a ticket to enter the area and then a further ticket to enter the Great Pyramid. Only around 300 tickets for entry to the Great Pyramid are sold each day, 150 at 08:00 in the morning and then the last 150 at 13:00 in the afternoon.

Egyptian Antiquities Museum

Originally built in 1835 at Boulaq and later moved to it's present location at Tahrir Square, Cairo, it houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, and many treasures of King Tutankhamen.

The museum has a staggering 107 halls with over 120,000 items, although not all are on display to the public.

The items are displayed in chronological collections from the pre-historic period through Tutankhamun to the late period.

The Museum also comprises a photography section and a large reference library.

More than a million and half tourists visit the museum annually, in addition to half a million Egyptians.

Opening times are from 09:00 to 14:00 daily. Ticket prices vary with additional costs for the use of photography, flash photography and video cams within the museum.

Al-Azhar Park

As part of a multi-million dollar project, this park is claimed to be one of the top 60 parks in the world.

The park covers a huge 30 hectares with walks, gardens, a lake, children's area and luxury restaurants. The entrance is on Salah Salem Street.

The park also has a raised area called The Telescope which offers 360° panoramic views over the park and on a good day, most of Cairo city horizon too.

Along with the creation of the park, ancient monuments and buildings within the immediate area were also restored including the 12th century Ayyubid wall and the 14th century Umm Sultan Shaban Mosque.

The northern end of the park is under development and will include shops and cultural facilities.

Khan El Khalili (bazaar)

The souk (market) was built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili in the heart of the Fatimid City, and is one of Cairo's most popular attractions. It's often referred to by locals as simply The Kahn.

In addition to the many small shops, there are also coffee houses, restaurants and street food vendors throughout the souk.

Visit the area both during the day and in the late afternoon to sample the different atmospheres.

Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara

Saqqara is a vast ancient burial ground for Ancient Egyptian rulers, nobels and high officials located near the Old Kingdom capitol of Memphis.

There are numerous pyramids in the necropolis with the most famous of these being the stepped pyramid of Djoser built by the royal architect Imhotep. It is believed to be the first stepped (or raised) pyramid built for the purpose of housing a tomb. Prior to this, rulers were buried under a large raised rectangular base.

Some of the pyramids are open for entry, however many of the entrances and passageways are extremely narrow at points so if you are claustrophobic you may prefer to stay above ground and explore the many tombs and temples in the area.

Tours of the area can be arranged from travel firms in any major Egyptian city and range in scope and price.

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Mosque of Ibn Tulun

The Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Ţūlūn is the oldest surviving original style and largest area mosque in Cairo.

Construction of the mosque started in 876 AD and was completed three years later in 879 AD. It was built on a small hill called Gebel Yashkur which means The Hill of Thanksgiving. Local legend has it that Noah's Ark came to rest here after the Great Flood, instead of Mount Ararat.

The mosque is constructed around a courtyard, with one covered hall on each of the four sides, the largest being on the side of the qibla, or direction to Mecca. A distinctive sabil with a high domed roof was added in the central courtyard at the end of the 13th century.

James Bond film enthusiasts should recognise this area as parts of the The Spy Who Loved Me were filmed here and at the nearby Gayer-Anderson Museum.

Citadel (al-Qal'a)

Also known as the The Saladin Citadel of Cairo this is a very popular tourist attraction in Cairo and very prominent in the skyline due to it's location atop Muqattam hill near the city centre.

To protect the city from crusaders at the time Saladin set out to build a wall that would surround both Cairo and Fusta. The Citadel would be the centrepiece of the wall.

Although the citadel was completed between 1183 and 1184, the wall was still under construction in 1238 long after his death.

To supply water to the Citadel, Saladin built the Well of Joseph, which can still be seen today. This well is also known as the Well of the Spiral because its entrance consisted of 300 stairs that wound around the inside of the well.

The Citadel is sometimes referred to as Mohamed Ali Citadel, because it contains the Mosque of Mohamed Ali (or Muhammad Ali Pasha), which was built between 1828 and 1848.

There are another two mosques in the complex along with Al-Gawhara Palace, the National Military Museum and the Police Museum.

Lit up at night the Citadel offers a great photo opportunity.

Pyramids at Dahshur

Dahshur is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile approximately 40 kilometres south of Cairo. It is known chiefly for several pyramids, two of which are among the oldest, largest and best preserved in Egypt.

The Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid were constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Snofru, father of Khufu of the Old Kingdom.

The unusual shape of the Bent Pyramid is unique, and represents a transitional pyramid form believed to have been the result of an engineering crisis encountered during its construction.

The Red Pyramid is thought to be the world's first true smooth-sided pyramid, although there are those who consider the Great Pyramid at Giza to be much much older, circa 2255 BC like the Sphinx.

There are several other pyramids in the area but at present only one has been fully excavated.

If you're looking for a more relaxed and less busy atmosphere to take in some large pyramids then Dahashur is ideal being only a short drive from Cairo and not on the major tourist circuit.

Mosque-Madrasa Sultan Hassan

The mosque is considered to be the smallest or most-compact and finest of it's type in Cairo.

Constructed over a seven year period between 1356 AD to 1363 AD it is said to be one of the masterpieces of Mamluk architecture.

The building was commissioned by Sultan Hassan bin Al-Nasir Muhammad bin Qalawun however the Sultan was assassinated before the mosque was completed and his body was never recovered.

The magnificent burial chamber that was intended for him holds his two sons instead.

The mosque is located near the Citadel, in Salah El Din Square, sometimes referred to as Qala's Square.

It's best to check at the site with officials as there is some conflicting information as to whether tickets need to be purchased or not to gain entry.

Felucca Boat Ride on the Nile

If you're tired and weary after visiting all those tourist spots then what better way to finish off your visit to Egypt by cruising the Nile on a traditional Felucca.

These traditional wooden sailing boats have room for approximately 10 passengers along with the 2-3 crew and are still in active use as a means of transport in Nile-adjacent cities like Aswan or Luxor.

The sail-powered boats are extremely popular with tourists who can lay back and quietly take in the marvelous sites of the Nile Delta.

If you're visiting Cairo during the busy summer period It's best to arrange a cruise as soon as possible when you get there to ensure you get the date you want.

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