View of the Citadel from Al-Azhar Park

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Al Azhar Park

Top choice in Cairo

With funds from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, what had been a mountain of garbage, amassed over centuries, was in 2005, almost miraculously, transformed into the city’s first (and only) park of significant size. Cairenes stroll through a profusion of gardens, emerald grass and fountains, or sit beside the lake or on the terraces of one of the restaurants, admiring the superb views over Cairo. It’s most fun on weekends, when families day-trip with picnics.

Depending on your outlook, the park is a gorgeous respite or a middle-class playground. This was offset slightly when the Bab Al Mahruq entrance, through a medieval gate in the old Ayyubid walls, finally opened in 2009. This granted easier access for residents of the lower-income Darb Al Ahmar district. You can enter here before 6pm, but after dark you can only exit through the main park gates on Sharia Salah Salem (taxis wait but overcharge; microbuses go to Ataba for LE2). If you enter from Darb Al Ahmar, check out the ongoing excavations of the Ayyubid walls – one major achievement was the rediscovery of Bab Al Barqiya, which had long ago been lost under the trash heap.

In addition to a couple of small cafes and the open-air theatre El Genaina, the restaurant Studio Masr in the northern section of the park capitalises on the views across the medieval city and beyond. The Lakeside Cafe, on the other side of the park, has a tranquil lake-edge setting.

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