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Cairo Travel Guide
Get Your Bearings in CairoWhere to Stay
Unfortunately, the best hotels in Cairo tend to be located far away from many of the sights and downtown. There are many five star hotels in the suburb of Heliopolis and at Giza by the Pyramids, and you can find some very nice spots along the Nile, but you still are a ways from old Islamic Cairo and often not conveniently near a metro station. If you are just in town for a night or two and will be visiting the Pyramids, then staying out there is a better option.
Hot Tips: Cabs are cheap in Cairo and a good way of getting around if your hotel is out in the suburbs.
What to Eat
From elegant sit-down spots to simple street food, Cairo offers the best of eating in Egypt. Fresh orange and other fruit juices are sold on every corner, and it won't take long to find a fuul (beans) and kebab seller in any neighborhood. The suburb of Zamalek has plenty of fancy international restaurants, but make sure to try some local places as well. Kushari, a mix of lentils, rice, noodles, onions, tomato sauce and spices, is an Egyptian specialty and most folks think that Abu Tarek downtown makes the best in the country.
Be Sure to Sample: Kushari, fuul, fresh juice.
Things to See
Everyone goes to Giza to see the Pyramids and downtown to see the Egyptian Museum. But for a real slice of Cairo life, make sure to walk around old Islamic Cairo. Attractions like the Khan el Khalili Bazaar has plenty of tourists, but get out on its fringes to experience the medieval version of Cairo. It's also worth it to pay a sunset visit to the large Al Azhar Park, just east of Islamic Cairo, which overlooks the city and is a great spot to hear all the mosques go off as the sun goes down.
Avoid: Water sellers and other hawkers inside the Pyramids. You will pay an absolute fortune for their wares.
Take It or Leave It: "Baksheesh" (or tipping) is a way of life in Egypt, and it 's common to give a bit of change when someone unlocks a door for you or shows you a good viewpoint, but keep it to change or ask locals what is appropriate.
Hot Tips: Your Pyramids ticket is good all day. Come in the morning while it is cooler, with better light for photographs, then go out for a long lunch break, and come back in to finish off what you didn't see in the afternoon.
Places to Party
While Cairo is not famed for being a partying capital, plenty of young folks do like to get out and drink, but there are some good live jazz and other nightlife spots along with excellent bars in all the international hotels. The local bars downtown tend to be pretty male oriented, so women may not feel overly comfortable or welcome in them. Far more popular than alcohol are the hundreds of tea shops and cafes that are found throughout the city; many of them are chic and popular with the ladies, too.
Caution: Women should dress conservatively if going out at night; wearing a scarf is a sign of courtesy and respect and will ensure far less potential hassle.
Where to Shop
For the shopping trip of a lifetime, head to the Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo. This labyrinth of shops has been selling goods since the 1300's and has everything from jewelry to spices, leather, perfume, copper and bronze, and just about anything else you might be interested in, not to mention being one of Cairo's premier sights. For more conventional shopping, the downtown area around Tahrir is full of department stores, designer goods, and all of the present fashions.
Best Local Souvenir: Essential oils and perfume, papyrus, leather, spices.
Ready for Your Dream Vacation?
The thing about Cairo is that it stimulates on so many levels. Say, for example, that history's your thing; does the whole, vast scope of the subject hold any phenomenon more fascinating than the pyramids? Or, if Egyptology doesn't grab you and you just want to shop, in this city you can flash your cash in upscale department stores or make hardened street bazaar traders offers they can't refuse. The most seasoned creatures of the night will raise an approving eyebrow at the breadth — and depth — of this city's nightlife. Those with a world view will observe how religions and cultures don't clash in Cairo but co-exist respectfully. As for the vibe, the 16 million people who live here create a whole lot of energy — why not plug into it?