DIY Walking Cairo
Contrary to first impressions, Cairo is an excellent city for walking. The terrain is level, the scenery changes quickly, and you’ll never accidentally wander into a ‘bad’ neighbourhood. We encourage getting a little lost in Cairo’s back lanes, and, at least once, accepting a stranger’s invitation to tea. These are some of the best places to stroll over the course of a day.
Islamic Cairo in the Morning
Start before 7am with tea at Fishawi’s cafe and watch the Khan Al Khalili slowly wake up. Take a stroll down Bein Al Qasreen to admire the buildings without the crush of commerce, then follow Sharia Al Muizz Li Din Allah south and at Bab Zuweila take a left towards Darb Al Ahmar and Al Azhar Park, roughly following the old walls built by Saladin. Tiny workshops here produce shoes, parquet flooring, mother-of-pearl inlay boxes and more. But it’s also a residential district, where families on upper floors run baskets down to the ba’al (grocer) for supplies, and knife-sharpeners and junk traders (the men who shout ‘Beee-kya!’) roll through the lanes. Keeping your bearings with the park to your left, you can wander all the way to the Citadel. To loop back to Sharia Al Azhar, go via Sharia Al Khayamiyya.
Garden City at Twilight
The interlocking circles that form the streets of Garden City are maddening if you want to get anywhere, but they’re perfect for admiring the crumbling mansions in this colonial-era district. The best time to visit is the hour before sundown, when the dust coating the architectural curlicues turns a warm gold and the starlings shrill in the trees.
Start at the north end (get the brutalist concrete Canadian embassy behind you right away!), keeping an eye out for wrought-iron dragons on cobwebbed gates, a rare Turkish-style wood-front home and the last real garden in Garden City, behind the Four Seasons hotel. Nearby at 10 Sharia Tulumbat is Grey Pillars, the British residency during WWII, with a beautiful birdcage elevator inside. Stop for a coffee at the peaceful Falak cafe. You wind up, conveniently, near the Dok Dok felucca landing stage for a sailboat ride.
Downtown at Night
A jaunt Downtown is less walking than cafe-hopping. After dark the air is cool and the streets are thronged. Start at Midan Orabi, where you can perch on any random planter and someone will come and sell you tea. From here Sharia Alfy and the smaller streets on either side are your playground for snacking and shisha smoking. A more contemporary cafe night scene is found at Eish + Malh on Sharia Adly, directly opposite the beautiful imposing facade of the Shar Hashamaim Synagogue. No matter how late you’re out, you can wind up the night at the 24-hour Odeon Palace Hotel bar.
One of the most pleasant things to do on a warm day is to go out on a felucca, Egypt’s ancient broad-sail boat, with a supply of beer and a small picnic just as sunset approaches. Because it’s near a wider spot in the river, the best place for hiring is the Dok Dok landing stage, and the dock just to the south, on the corniche in Garden City, across from the Four Seasons. Subject to haggling, a boat and captain should cost between LE70 and LE100 per hour; your captain will appreciate additional baksheesh.
Once night falls, light-festooned party boats crowd the docks near Maspero, the east bank of the Nile north of 6th of October Bridge. A 45-minute or hour-long ride usually costs LE20 or so per person, and boats go whenever they’re full.
Finding a place to cool off in the city can be difficult. Cairenes who can afford it swim in members-only clubs. Some hotels do allow day use for nonguests, but most are pricey. The best bargains are in Mohandiseen, where a minimum charge at the cafes at Atlas Zamalek Hotel and Nabila Hotel give you access to their small rooftop pools. Much nicer, and still very affordable, is the sculpted dip pool with a Nile view at the Hilton Zamalek Residence.
For a bigger day outing, Mohamed Ali Club is a major social scene – a mix of foreign residents and Egyptians – with house music, good Lebanese food and beers. It’s located 3km south on the Nile's west bank, about even with Ma’adi.