Posted on

Experiencing Cairo’s Amazing Sites Beyond the Giza Pyramids

Girl with camel near pyramids

The Many Wonders of Salah El-Din Citadel

Dripping with history and beauty, the Salah El-Din Citadel (or Cairo Citadel) is not only a critical component of Cairo’s history but one with as much visual splendor as anywhere else in the city. A 12th-century fortress built by Saladin (also sometimes called Salah El-Din), the series of buildings take visitors back to a crucial period of Cairo’s development, simultaneously offering some of the best views in the city thanks to their high pitch on the Mokattam Hill. One of the most popular things to do is to scale to the top for a panoramic glimpse of the region, with clear days offering views all the way to the Giza Pyramids just beyond Cairo’s modern cityscape.
Inside the Citadel is also a treasure trove of different landmarks, including the very famous Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Built in the first half of the 19th century, the Ottoman-styled mosque dazzles both inside and out, complete with its iconic dome, skyscraping Turkish minarets, and vintage clock tower that hovers over an alabaster-covered courtyard. With its apparent beauty and historical importance, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is one of the most popular spots in Cairo for a reason.
Outside of the mosque, there is no shortage of other features worth your time either, like the Al-Gawhara Palace that Ali built for his wife. There are also a series of other smaller mosques, museums, and sites of intrigue bundled within the medieval complex, and it’s large enough to spend an entire day absorbing the many features that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s.

The ancient roots of Coptic Cairo

You don’t have to be particularly religious to feel a connection to Coptic Cairo, where longstanding traditions, ancient architecture, and ancient folklore blend into a magnificent gathering spot for visitors. At Amr Ibn al-Aas, you can inspect the oldest mosque in Africa while down the street, within the ancient Babylon Fortress, sites like the Hanging Church and the Church of St. George are emblems of Christianity’s ancient roots. The Babylonian Fortress area of Coptic Cairo has also been a spot of strategic importance for millennia, dating back to its days as a crucial dividing point (and tolling station) between Lower and Middle Egypt. The Ben Ezra Synagogue, meanwhile, is whispered to be built on the spot where the pharaoh’s daughter brought Moses after scooping him out of the Nile, bringing an aura of ancient mystery to one of the newer constructions of Coptic Cairo.
Though knowing the context of Coptic Cairo will help you fully grasp the area’s appeal, it’s also a bustling and interesting experience in itself. The alleys in between the ancient stone buildings are loaded with vendors showcasing unique artwork and artefacts, giving visitors a glimpse of modern Cairo seamlessly blended into the oldest part of the city. You can easily spend a morning – or an entire day – wandering through the eternal network of religious sites and fascinating buildings, which collectively provide a blueprint to how the city itself developed out of the ancient world.

Start or end your journey at the Egyptian Museum

Chances are you’re at least moderately interested in the annals of history if you picked Cairo as a destination, which is why skipping the Egyptian Museum can be an epic mistake. Centrally located near the Sadat metro station, the museum is an ideal companion piece to a journey into the region’s past, complete with a King Tut exhibit that showcases the boy king’s iconic gold mask – one of the most famous artifacts of history. The ancient jewelry exhibit is also one of the most spectacular in the world and the sprawling museum is absolutely loaded with fascinating objects both small and large, transporting visitors to the mysterious world of the ancient Egyptians.
Though the King Tut exhibit is clearly the mainstay, there are some other popular main exhibits as well, including a mummy room that will provide detailed insight into a lost world that is equal measures enchanting and eerie. Although you have to pay a little bit extra to check out the mummy room, it’s a small price to pay for ancient Egypt enthusiasts. While a trip to the museum before heading to the pyramids will set the tone and help you appreciate the land’s most famous sites, the museum is also is an ideal swan song to wrap up an unforgettable journey.
Although the museum is a must-see for pyramid-gazers, a little planning is required to have the best experience. Because there is no air conditioning, it’s highly recommended to arrive close to its 9:00 a.m. opening and visitors should be ready to pay a few extra bucks to be able to take photos inside (it’s completely worth it). The museum is also in its final stages of prominence, as the massive and long-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in late-2018 at the edge of the Giza plateau will take over the main exhibits. Whether you make it to the old Egyptian Museum or the new one, however, taking a day to wander through time at one of the region’s state-of-the-art museums is one of the best ways to get in tune with the area’s famous ancestors.

Other archeological sites to consider

A city like Cairo and its neighboring regions have more than enough sightseeing to justify an extended holiday. For those with a little extra time, a trip south of the city to the pyramids of Dahshur can be a terrific day trip, taking visitors to a world often forgotten due to their infinitely more famous cousins in Giza. Although not as visually striking as the Giza pyramids, the Dahshur monuments (e.g. the Black Pyramid, Red Pyramid, and Bent Pyramid) all have a fascinating story of their own and the crowds are dramatically lighter.
Also just south of Cairo, Saqqara is worthy of an excursion as well, as the famous necropolis is where you can find the Step Pyramid of Djoser, ancient healing temples, and a wide range of different Egyptian statues and artifacts. Both Saqqara and Dahshur are very easily accessed from central Cairo via either bus, taxi, or a guided tour.
When traveling to Cairo, however, it’s also critical to take into consideration both the weather and the city’s regular schedule. Between June and September, you can expect intense sun and heat, making it crucially important to get going as early as possible to maximize your comfort at Cairo’s most popular sites. Being a Muslim-dominant city, many of the city’s greatest features (e.g. the Muhammad Ali Mosque) are closed on Fridays and have limited hours during high holidays like Ramadan. But with a little research and a plan, Cairo remains one of the world’s most fascinating cities and a must-see for anyone awed and inspired by the forever-evolving pages of history.

Posted on

Nile River Cruises: A Trip Through the Heart of Egypt

Cruising along the Nile River has been one of the top luxury cruises around the world since the days of the famous voyage of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. These days, the magic of the Nile remains intact as world-travelers shoot along the river to see some of the most beautiful spots in Egypt from the comfort of a world-class riverboat. Although there are plenty of ways to see the best that Egypt has to offer, a Nile river cruise will take a traveler deep into the historical roots of the region while promising unparalleled views and relaxation that will quickly make for the trip of a lifetime.

The entryway to the ancient world.

Egypt remains a world-class destination for one main reason: the awe-inspiring ancient pyramids of Giza and The Sphinx. Sitting just west of the Nile and a short trip from Cairo, the pyramids date to the 3rd millennium B.C. and continue to be among the top tourist destinations on the planet. The Pyramid of Khufu (or simply the Great Pyramid of Giza) is the only Ancient Wonder of the Ancient World to remain intact and is one of the most massive pyramids ever built, making it a natural starting point for any trip to Egypt.
The view of Khufu’s famous tomb—along with the equally impressive Khafre and Menkaure Pyramids—is also nothing short of breathtaking from the Nile, the lifeblood of both ancient and modern Egypt. From the river, visitors will see the marvels of Giza the same way that the ancients would have first seen the pyramids, as it was only with the Nile that most travelers were able to maneuver around Egypt’s Old Kingdom reliably. With Nile river cruises that tend to start and end in Cairo, travelers enjoy a terrific opportunity to see the pyramids from the river before a short day trip directly to the complex, providing direct access that makes planning as easy as possible.

Much more than just pyramids.

The pyramids are certainly not the only draws of the region, however, as you don’t have to be a history buff to fall in love with the remarkable ruins of Luxor. Only minutes north of Cairo, Luxor is a stunning combination of ancient ruins, temples, and monuments from the days that the town was known as Thebes, the one-time capital of Ancient Egypt. Known as the largest open-air museum in the world, Luxor is excellent for exploring on your own or in a small group with a knowledgeable tour guide who can unlock the mysteries of famous sites like the Luxor Temple, Karnak, and more.
Just across the Nile on the west embankment, the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens are two of the most renowned archaeological hot spots of the ancient world and together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Valley of the Kings is also the foundation for the mysteries of King Tutankhamun, the famed boy king whose tomb became internationally famous when British archeologist Howard Carter discovered it nearly a century ago. Though you might have to start as early as 5 a.m. to beat the heat in the summertime, stopping by the remarkable tombs of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs are nearly guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.
Other sites to see nearby:
Cairo itself has plenty to offer besides just being a launching point for the pyramids. Near the top of the list, the Cairo Citadel is stunning both inside and out and is famous for being the location of the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. Built directly on top of an ancient Roman-era fortress, the Hanging Church is also well worth a trip, as is the Egyptian Museum, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the enormous Cairo Tower, where you can glimpse the entire city from 187 meters above the ground.

Don’t forget Port Said and Suez.

Port Said is one of the unique locations that can easily fly under the radar in Egypt, bringing an exciting international feel while also providing exceptional access to the Suez Canal and the many features of the Mediterranean. Within Port Said, the El Nasr Museum of Modern Art is a great stop, and there is even a Central Perk in the middle of town, a favorite local café modeled after the coffee shop from the famous sitcom Friends. Getting a glimpse of the famous Suez Canal House on a free ferry ride over to Port Faud is also a great way to spend an afternoon around the Port Said region.
The main draw of Port Said, of course, is that it’s the perfect conduit to getting anywhere else in Egypt that you need to go. While there is easy transportation to Cairo-Giza, as well as a range of highly rated day tours, it’s also easy to hop on a cruise ship or ferry to enjoy the Suez Canal. A crucially important canal built in the 1860s, Suez links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and is excellent for a pleasure cruise or for making a trip down to port towns like Safaga.

The treasures further down the Nile.

The Luxor-Cairo-Giza region is rightly the centerpiece of most Egyptian adventures, yet anyone who has been down the Nile understands that pyramids and tombs are only a portion of what a Nile River Cruise has to offer. A destination that has become very popular is Safaga, a small Egyptian port town hugging the Red Sea that has become a haven for watersports enthusiasts. After seeing some of the main wonders of Egypt, Safaga is an excellent opportunity for kitesurfing, scuba diving, or to enjoy the black-sand beach the region is known for. It’s also the perfect starting location for sailing the Red Sea or up the Gulf of Suez to the Suez Canal and other destinations in northern Egypt. From the town of Qena along the Nile, Safaga is only an easy two-hour drive away, although many access Safaga through Port Said and the Suez Canal.

Final tips.

If you’re planning on seeing the best sites of Egypt, a Nile river cruise remains a perfect option to easily make the rounds to the most famous destinations in the country. Not only will you be awed by the vantage point of the pyramids, but you’ll have easy connections to a range of other underrated stopovers. Although Egypt can get a little toasty in the summertime as well as portions of fall and spring, the breeze off the Nile and amenities of a respected cruise line also help ensure that your trip will be as comfortable as it is inspiring.