• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Egypt Travel Guide: 48 Hours in Cairo

ByKeith M. Jones

Oct 11, 2022

Capital of one of the most glorious empires in the world, Cairo is a sprawling metropolis located along the banks of the Nile. Characterized by Roman, Arabic and Ottoman architecture, it is known for its unprecedented ancient monuments, luxurious hotels, desert heat and notorious traffic. Like most cities, Cairo is a place of contrasts where centuries of history collide with the present.

Things have been tough over the past decade since the Arab Spring uprisings, counter-revolutions and the covid pandemic, but a city that’s been around for 1,000 years has already had its ups and downs. And next month, in November 2022, the world’s most anticipated new archeology museum is set to open in Giza. If you are planning a trip, here is what you cannot miss in Cairo. Discover the best places to visit, eat and sleep in Egypt’s bustling capital.

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Visit the pyramids

The pyramids are some of the recognizable icons in the world. Although ancient Egypt had more than 100 pyramids, the most famous are located at Giza, a 30-minute drive west of Cairo. Built as grand tombs for pharaohs during Egypt’s Old Kingdom (2700 – 2200 BC), they are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world and an impressive feat of human ingenuity to marvel at in real life. Visitors can explore three pyramids at Giza, built for Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure, and smaller pyramids for the queen consorts located nearby.

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Hidden under desert sand for thousands of years, the Great Sphinx of Giza is another highlight. Limestone statue representing the head of a human and a lion, it is one of the oldest monumental sculptures in the world and still shrouded in mystery. Egyptologists believe it was created by Pharaoh Khafre around 2500 BC and its nose was intentionally broken between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD (although the reasons are still unknown).

The imminent opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum at the foot of the Giza pyramids will be yet another reason to plan a visit to Egypt. Designed to be the largest archaeological museum in the world, it will feature over 45,000 artifacts, including the full collection of relics discovered in King Tutankhamun’s tomb (which will be moved from the Egyptian Museum).

Taste the local cuisine

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Although Egyptian cuisine lacks the global recognition of other Middle Eastern countries, the country has a rich gastronomic heritage that shares familiar flavors with its eastern and western neighbors. Dishes like hummus, baba ganoush and baklava are ubiquitous, although Egypt has its own take on classics like falafel, locally called “taameya” made with fava beans instead of chickpeas, and tagines served with béchamel for more flavor and comfort.

stop Zööba, a hip restaurant serving Egypt’s most popular street food, has half a dozen locations around Cairo (as well as franchises in New York and Saudi Arabia). We love the cozy enclave of Zamalek, a cute residential area on an island in the Nile. Taameya sandwiches, stuffed with fried bean patties, marinated salad and creamy tahina dressing, steal the show.

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Another Egyptian staple is koshari, a surprisingly tasty mix that contains a variety of carbs to keep you energized throughout your visits. This simple and hearty staple includes pasta, rice, and lentils with a savory chili-infused tomato sauce, garlic vinegar, and fried onions. As a food and travel writer living in Italy, I was skeptical, but the end result is more delicious than it looks. This specialty is also accidentally vegan and very affordable at 30 EGP (less than $2). Try this dish at Abu Tarek which has been serving Cairo foodies for decades and was also visited by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations in 2008.

Admire ancient art

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Egypt has attracted visitors for its legendary art and culture for millennia, and the best collection of ancient antiquities can be found in the Egyptian Museum. Dating back to 1902 and located in Tahrir Square, this neoclassical building traces the history of ancient Egypt in more than 120,000 treasures, including golden funerary masks, intricately painted coffins, stone statues, ancient jewelry and even more. Visitors should not confuse this museum with others in the capital.

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Some of the highlights of the Egyptian Museum, including 20 royal mummies of kings and queens, have been moved to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in 2021. And the priceless contents found inside Tutankhamun’s tomb – which includes his famous death mask and two coffins – will be moved to the new Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) soon.

Wake up to views of the Nile

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Located at the northern end of the Cairo Corniche, offering mesmerizing views of the Nile and the posh island of Zamalek, Fairmont City of the Nile is an oasis away from the busy streets of the capital. A glitzy retreat with an art deco aesthetic, the hotel has 542 rooms and suites, as well as the capital’s only 360-degree swimming pool at 25e floor. If you look behind the skyscrapers on the horizon, you can even see the pyramids from here.

To pamper yourself, it’s worth upgrading to a Fairmont Gold Room for perks like private check-in and access to the exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge. This chic lounge serves an elaborate breakfast each morning for a small selection of guests, as well as a free afternoon tea and pre-dinner buffet featuring traditional Egyptian recipes and international dishes.

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The food can be mouth-watering, but you’ll want to save room for dining at Fairmont Nile City’s many restaurants. Choices include Italian favorites at The Ulivetopan-Asian dishes in Saigon and a taste of high-end oriental dishes accompanied by live music and belly dancers Bab El Nile. But it’s hard to compete with the new opening of the hotel, gingko, a leafy Mediterranean-Asian bistro set on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Nile. Here, you can sample saffron-infused sea scallops served with caramelized peaches and sip a spicy passion fruit martini as the sun goes down, bathing the entire city in a golden glow.

Buy souvenirs

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As a trading center for thousands of years, the Egyptians have perfected their skills and the art of negotiation. The culture is known for its haggling, a skill visitors can practice in the country’s many markets and bazaars. The popular Khan Al-Khalili, located in the heart of Islamic Cairo, dates back to 1382. Stroll down El-Moez Street past mosques and minarets to browse colorful spice stalls, woven tapestries and marble miniatures of the Egyptian pyramids. Head to El Fishawy Cafe which has been serving tea and coffee for over 200 years, or take a seat at Umm Kalthoum Cafe, an establishment lined with photos of the beloved ‘Voice of Egypt’ – an active icon between the 1920s -70s.

For more contemporary design items, go to Zamalek Market, a craft fair and farmer’s market that takes place on the island of Zamalek every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. First launched in 2017, this pop-up features local makers selling home decor, fashion accessories and natural skincare, as well as freshly baked treats and seasonal produce. Makraa line of natural clay pots made according to ancient Egyptian tradition, worth picking up to prepare stews and tagines at home.

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Soak up art and culture

Located in the pretty Cité-Jardin by the river, the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza is an elegant oasis located in a strategic position to explore the capital. Surrounded by embassies, restaurants and chic cafes, it is a short drive from the Egyptian Museum and the island of Zamalek, home to the 20e the opera of the century and the iconic Cairo Tower, 187 meters high and covered with 8 million mosaics.

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The property has 365 rooms (including 100 spacious suites with private balconies), three pools, and a world-class spa. With an impeccable modern design and luxurious furnishings, it is an elegant hotel that prides itself on its artistic and cultural offerings. As soon as you enter the grand lobby, you can admire the hotel’s moving in-house art collection with 200 works by Farouk Hosny, an abstract painter and Minister of Culture of Egypt between 1987-2011. The Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza also supports the local Tawasol Foundation, a local NGO with a performing arts and skills development program that helps foster social integration and maintain Egyptian craftsmanship.

The property offers a myriad of dining options in beautifully decorated spaces. The Egyptian Zitouni serves a sumptuous buffet of local specialties, while 8 brings Cantonese dishes to the capital. Two Italian restaurants allow guests to enjoy Mediterranean cuisine during their stay: French Rivierainspired by coastal cuisine, and Bulloona sleek and sexy restaurant showcasing contemporary Italian artwork and illuminated by hundreds of candles each evening.

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