Home to the last remaining wonder of the ancient world and one of the planet’s oldest civilisations, Cairo is a mishmash of chaotic souqs, iconic architecture and modern monuments, and it’s a dream for photographers. Cairo is as busy by day as it is at night, making every moment worth capturing. Here are the top spots to get an Instagram-ready snap in the city.
Pyramids of Giza
It would be madness to visit Cairo and not see the Pyramids of Giza, one of the world’s most enduring and famous constructions. With the highest pyramid measuring more than 140m, capturing them from afar is ideal. Haggle with the touts offering horse and camel rides (or head to a stable south of the Sphinx, such as FB Stables or NB Stables) and saddle up for a ride into the desert. Ask to be taken to the quiet spot where the three pyramids are in full panoramic display.
Top tip: Set your alarm clock early. The morning sun casts a beautiful light on the pyramids, and the site will be nearly empty if you’re there at 8am for opening.
Khan Al Khalili
Khan Al Khalili is a paradise for photographers, and of course for shoppers too. Step into this Aladdin’s cave of a market to capture authentic Cairo, with merchants hawking their wares throughout the maze of stalls. You’ll find everything from tacky souvenirs to colourful galabeyas (full-length robes) and some of Cairo’s best places to buy silver. Leave your map behind: these alleyways are ancient and usually unmarked, so part of the fun is getting lost while finding the perfect photo-op.
Top tip: Locals flood the market on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays), so avoid this time if you’d prefer it quiet. Merchants don’t usually mind being photographed, but it’s best to ask first. A few jewellery shops do not allow photos.
If you need a break from Khan Al Khalili, grab a seat in Qahwet Fishawi (Fishawi’s Café) for mint tea and shisha with a side of people-watching. One of Cairo’s oldest coffeehouses, Fishawi is usually packed to the gills with both Egyptian and foreign tourists, but it has still retained its old-world atmosphere and charm with dark wood furnishings, ochre-coloured walls and middle-of-the-market buzz.
Top tip: Don’t miss the iconic sign scrawled with Arabic calligraphy hung in the middle of the shop.
Qasr El Nil Bridge
The nearly 2km-long Qasr El Nil Bridge promises Cairo’s most romantic views of the Nile. Stroll across the bridge, which connects Tahrir Sq to Gezira Island and was a major site of public demonstrations during the 2011 revolution, to capture reflections of buildings on the water. Two larger-than-life lions, installed in 1933, proudly stand guard on each side of the bridge, and ornate rails and lamps will light your way if you visit at night.
Top tip: For minimal traffic and spectacular natural light, visit the bridge at the crack of dawn or at sunset when the sky blushes with pink.
View from Cairo Tower
Once the tallest structure in North Africa, the Cairo Tower is the only place to get a full panoramic view of the city. The 187m-tall latticed column, planted on Gezira Island in the middle of the Nile, is meant to resemble a lotus. Take a lift up to the observation deck first thing in the morning for the clearest light or towards dusk when the twinkling lights make the banks of the Nile sparkle.
Top tip: There’s a cafe and restaurant a few floors below the observation deck if you want to soak up this view for longer.
Al Azhar Park
An escape from the bustle of the city, Al Azhar Park boasts some of the best views in Cairo. Combining gardens with traditional Islamic architecture, this public park is the only one of its kind in Egypt. Conveniently located near Islamic Cairo and the Saladin Citadel, it’s prime territory for taking a break from sightseeing. The bright green of the trees and grass contrast with the muted, dusty tones of the fountains and the surrounding city.
Top tip: For a longer stop, head to the Lakeside Cafe where the Citadel becomes more visible alongside the old mosques, all reflected on the calm waters of the lake.
Mosque of Mohammed Ali
An emblem of Cairo’s Ottoman architecture, the Mosque of Mohammed Ali was once the largest mosque in the world, and it’s still visible when you approach Cairo from any direction, as it sits on the high summit of the Citadel of Cairo. Grandiose doors lead inside the mosque, where colourful carvings and symmetrically placed lamps line the walls supporting the stacks of domes.
Top tip: If you have a wide-angle lens or a GoPro, this is the place to use it.
Once the watering hole of choice for Cairo’s academics and activists, Café Riche is one of Cairo’s oldest restaurants, and it’s seen, and been a stage for, more than a century of the city's history. At night, an orange glow radiates from the blocks of floor-to-ceiling glass, framed by the dark-wood-panelled exterior. Inside, watch history go by over a glass of wine or a mint tea.
Top tip: The dining room isn’t the best place to take photos, so as soon as you get inside, turn right and head to the cultural salon, where intellectuals would hold their meetings.