Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids- 5 Off-The-Beaten Path Travel Experiences in Cairo
During your travel in Egypt consider these 5 Off-The-Beaten Path Travel Experiences. Home to the Great Pyramid, the iconic Egyptian Museum (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities), and the Khan el Khalili grand bazaar, Cairo is famous for it’s must-see bucket list experiences. When traveling to Egypt, Most travelers stay long enough to snap a selfie with the Sphinx, marvel at the wonders of the Great Pyramid, shop for souveniers at the Khan el Khalili and hang with King Tut (at least his funerary goods) at the Egyptian Museum. But relatively few travelers go beyond Cairo’s classic sites to visit it’s unique, unbelievable and incredible off-the-beaten path experiences.
Looking to spice up your Cairo stay, go beyond the classic sites, and see a different side to Cairo? Check out these not to be missed experiences to bring the culture and history of Cairo to life.
Learn About the Living At The City of The Dead
Spend half a day learning about the Cairenes living in the Northern and Southern Cemeteries. A city (or suburb of Cairo) the City of the Dead (or el’arafa as locals call it) that is as much about the people living in and amongst its tombs and mausoleums as it is about the history of the dead that also reside here. Hire a knowledgeable local guide and explore this interesting juxtaposition.
Founded in 642 AD by the Mamluk sultans and emirs, the cemetery offered these new Egyptian rulers plenty of space to build their lavish tombs. It is estimated over 50,000 people live within the cemeteries. Some of the living locals are the paid guardians and their families, who lived in the tombs for generations. While other residents moved into the tombs o avoid living in poor neighborhoods of Cairo or because they had no where else to live.
Visiting: It is best to visit with local guide. The streets of the Cairo Necropolis are a twisting labyrinth, ease to get lost in. While some areas of safe to visit, some of the more rundown areas of this vast area are not safe – guides know where to go. Traveling with a local guide also brings to life the complex history of this area and they often know the locals living in many of the tombs. Early morning around 9am is the best time to visit, while people are beginning their day. The City of the Dead can be reached by taxi, usually 20 – 30 LE.
Garbage City – Home of Cairo’s Best Recyclers
Located at the base of Muqattam Hills, Cairo’s Garbage City is home to the zabbaleen – Cairo’s garbage collectors. They collect the garbage around Cairo, sort it, and make their living re-selling the salvaged materials and reusing the organic waste to feed their pigs (which are also eventually sold). While termed Garbage City, this area and it’s workers are in fact so much more – recyclers, reusers and entrepreneurs. They mange about 40% of Cairo’s waste a day and recycle 80%-85% of what they collect. Pretty impressive numbers. The neighborhood now boasts workshops where men and women re-purpose thrown away items into arts, crafts, jewelry, home accessories, and almost anything they can dream up and sell (mostly through non-profits).
Visiting: Best visited with a guide. As of April 2018, Garbage City was closed to visitors, but this could change at any time. It’s worth inquiring when visiting Egypt with local guides.
Friday Morning Stroll Through Garden City
An often ignored or forgotten travel secret for experiencing a traffic free Cairo is to hit the streets on Friday Mornings. Friday for Muslims is their holy day of the week – they gather together, pray and spend time with family. With much of Cairo’s population in prayer and visiting family on Friday, it’s the perfect morning for travelers to enjoy the quiet streets and stroll through the leafy boulevards o Garden City. A wealthy residential neighborhood located in Central Cairo, Garden City is comprised of 2 primary streets – Qasr al-Ayni Street and Nile Corniche Street. Wide leady boulevards, French colonial architectural facades mix with elegant classic Arabic features, modern cafes, and upscale restaurants make Garden City a wonderful location for a quiet morning stroll – something generally not associated with the hustle and bustle of busy Cairo.
Visiting: Wake up early and enjoy the quiet morning hours strolling through Garden City. If you are not staying the neighborhood take a taxi to the Canadian embassy – this is a good landmark and starting point.
Sunset at Leafy Green Al-Azhar Park
Another unexpectedly location is Al-Azhar Park – a quiet, leafy green park overlooking the Citadel and Islamic Cairo. A former garbage dump, Al-Azhar was transformed in 2005 into Cairo’s first large park. Cool ponds of water with misting fountains, canopied trails, long expanses of soft green lawn and gardens dotted with brightly colored flowers make Al-Azhar Park a relaxing place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Visiting: The park is open 9am-night. Cost is 5 LE Mon-Wed and 7LE Thu-Sun (though this maybe change at any time). Excellent location to photograph the Citadel and Islamic Cairo at sunset.
Meet the Artisans of Islamic Cairo
While most travelers’ experiences with Egypt and crafts involve the hard sell from shop owners, if you know where to go in Islamic Cairo travelers can get behind the scenes and meet Cairo’s artisans. Glass blowing studios are located north of Bab al-Futuh, Inlay artisan workshops are located in Darb al-Ahmar, and Darb al-Ahmar is also home to leather workers. Take a stroll through these areas, learn how traditional crafts are made, have a chat with the artisans and see a different side to craftsmanship in Cairo.
Visiting: While it’s easy to visit this area on your own, to gain an extra level of experience and local connection hire a knowledgeable local guide to teach you about Cairo’s artisan traditions and help translate with the artisans.
Visit Egypt: Experience the wonders of Egypt on ArchaeoAdventures’ Egypt: Treasures of the Nile Tour in Spring 2019. Learn more here.