American University in Cairo, Egypt
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Travel in Cairo
The desert heat, the
noisy streets and the sheer size of Cairo
will leave even the most adaptable traveler
with a serious case of culture shock. The
constant bombardment of street vendors, the
inescapable aroma of livestock and the
seemingly chaotic way of life will joggle
the senses. But be patient. Take some time
to relax over a cup of tea, to wander the
ancient streets and to watch the sun lower
over the mighty Nile River. It won't take
long for the city's treasures to reveal
Most visitors flock to Egypt's capital to explore the wonders of the ancient world, following the footsteps of the pharaohs. But there are two sides to Cairo; the city's residents embrace their history and rejoice in their progress. The ancient pyramids of Giza, Dahshur and Saqqara fight with the trendy bars of the Zamalek and Heliopolis neighborhoods for spotlight. Honking taxi cabs vie for space with braying donkeys in the narrow streets. And the traditional Islamic call to prayer, lounge music and boisterous banter can be heard simultaneously. The only way to get a true sense of Cairo is to take the old with the new.
Things to do in Cairo
Coptic Cairo (Old City)
This neighborhood in southern Cairo is the oldest part of the city, with twisting alleyways and ancient churches that are several centuries older than the ornate mosques of Islamic Cairo. According to legend, it was St. Mark who introduced Christianity to Egypt, and it was here that Africa's first Christian church – the Coptic Church of Egypt – thrived. To learn more about Coptic Cairo's rich history, check out neighborhood attractions like the Coptic Museum and the ninth-century Hanging Church, which are housed within an ancient Babylonian fortress. You'll also find significant Jewish and Islamic locales here, including the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aas – the oldest mosque in Africa – and Ben Ezra Synagogue – the alleged site where the pharaoh's daugher found Moses floating in his basket.
This sprawling neighborhood in eastern Cairo encompasses a labyrinth of twisting alleyways and a spattering of awe-inspiring architecture. The atmosphere here will take some getting used to: The streets are crowded, noisy and littered with animal droppings. But if you take the time to adjust to Islamic Cairo's chaotic environment, you won't regret making the trek.
Pyramids of Giza
Cairo's most popular attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, draw thousands of visitors every year. As one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, these pyramids have stood the test of time, remaining intact for roughly 4,500 years. You'll find three primary pyramids, the best known being the Great Pyramid – affiliated with Khufu, the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh buried there. Khafre, Khufu's son, lies entombed in the nearby Pyramid of Khafre. The third structure, the Pyramid of Menkaure, stands as the smallest of the Pyramids of Giza and was constructed by Khafre's successor to the throne, Menkaure.
One of Cairo's must-see
attractions is the Great Sphinx, the world's
oldest monumental sculpture. Situated by the
Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx impresses
with its size – it measures 66 feet high and
234 feet long – and unique appearance. The
monument depicts a part pharaoh, part lion
being, but archeologists are not sure who
the figure is modeled after or when it was
built. Two temples, one from the Old Kingdom
and another from the New Kingdom, sit next
to the sphinx.
Past travelers said the best way to see the Great Sphinx is to sign up for a bus tour. Some prearranged tours – including those offered by Memphis Tours and Love Egypt Tours – will give you special access to select areas of the site, plus admissions fees are included in tour rates. You'll also gain more insight about the monument than you would without a guide. If you'd rather have a quintessential Egyptian experience, pay extra to explore the area by camel.
The best way to follow up
your trip to the pyramids is by visiting the
Egyptian Museum. This massive facility
contains more than 100,000 artifacts from
ancient Egypt, including sarcophagi, jewelry
and pottery. It would take almost a year to
explore the museum in its entirety. To save
you some time, we recommend sticking to a
few notable galleries. The main attraction
here is the Tutankhamun exhibit, which
features treasures from King Tut's tomb,
including his golden funeral mask. And
although it costs an additional 100 Egyptian
pounds (or $11) to enter, the Mummy Room
should be high on your list of museum
Though the Egyptian Museum's fees are a bit steep, recent visitors said the impressive collections more than justify the property's prices. If you want to take photos inside, bring extra cash since travelers with cameras are charged an additional 50 Egyptian pounds ($6). Also, this museum does not have air conditioning, so plan to visit early in the morning.