secret cairo places

Secret Cairo: Discover the hidden gems of the Egyptian capital


Much is known about Cairo’s world-famous landmarks, from the Pyramids of Giza to the Egyptian Museum. But what of the city’s other highlights and attractions? The ones few are familiar with, but which do a better job of capturing the authentic and local side of the city.

To give you an honest glimpse into the highlights of the Egyptian capital, we’re taking a look through Cairo’s hidden gems and lesser-known delights – from Khan Al Khalili Bazaar to the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun.

Cultural Landmarks

Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun

cairo Al-Azhar Park

The Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun is one of Cairo’s most impressive landmarks, and it’s beloved for its extraordinary examples of Islamic artefacts and heritage. The mosque, which was established in the 7th century, sits at the heart of Cairo’s ancient Islamic Quarter, and provides a respite from the bustling, narrow streets. Visit Ahmad Ibn Tulun, and you’ll see historic hammams, sculptures and fountains which tell the story of Islamic Cairo, as well as get the chance to explore Al-Alzhar University ­– one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious Islamic colleges.

Al-Azhar Park

cairo secret gems

Green spaces are quite rare in Cairo, but where there are pockets of greenery, they’re well worth seeking out. As is the case with Al-Azhar Park, one of Cairo’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. Located 20-30-minute walk from the Citadel, this sprawling city park features several acres of landscaped gardens, interspersed with ornate fountains and colourful flowerbeds. With beautiful views to enjoy of the city in the distance and a tangible feeling of ‘old Egypt’, Al-Azhar is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon or enjoy a picnic of local delicacies.

Cairo Citadel

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Built by Saladin in the 12th century to defend Cairo during the Crusades, the Citadel is a sprawling hill-top fortress, which features some wonderful examples of Islamic architecture. Though not ‘hidden’, many people neglect to visit the Cairo Citadel because of its position slightly outside the city centre. You shouldn’t let this put you off, however, as the fortress’ hill-top location grants extraordinary views across the city. There’s lots of heritage to enjoy here, too, and the quiet, car-free streets are a world away from the hubbub of Cairo’s city centre below.

Coptic Cairo

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Coptic Cairo is easily one of the most underrated neighbourhoods of the Egyptian capital, and an essential must-see on your visit. This is the oldest part of the city, with some buildings dating from at least the 6th century BC, and is seen as a stronghold and sanctuary for Egyptian Christians. The great thing about the Coptic district is that most of its streets are too narrow to permit traffic, so you can wander without worrying about cars. Don’t miss the Hanging Church, built on top of an old Roman fortress, as well as the Monastery and Church of St George, a Greek Orthodox church with a colourful history to tell.

Saqqara

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While the Great Pyramids of Giza tend to hog the limelight when it comes to notable antiquities of Cairo, the pyramid of Saqqara is also worthy of your attention. Recently, archaeologists made one of the finest discoveries in recent memory within the pyramid, encountering an ancient tomb that’s believed to have remained untouched for over 4,400 years. Rich in hieroglyphics and sculptures, the tomb is one of the oldest of its kind to be discovered in recent history, cementing Saqqara firmly on Cairo’s illustrious cultural map.

Shops and Markets

Khan el Khalili Bazaar

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An unmissable highlight for many who visit Cairo; Khan el Khalili Bazaar is the largest and oldest souk in the city, and the perfect place to search for authentic local wares and try your hand at bartering, Egyptian style. From ornate silverware to colourful bowls of spice, there is so much to see and experience in this historic Egyptian bazaar, it’s a feast for the senses. Travel to Egypt with Emerald Waterways, and you’ll visit Khan el Khalili with an experienced local guide – learning first-hand the history and legacy of this beloved street market.

Lehnert and Landrock Bookshop

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Founded over 90 years ago by acclaimed travel writers Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock, Cairo’s Lehnert and Landrock Bookshop is now something of an institution – attracting visitors from far and wide. This is the type of bookshop you could spend hours exploring, with a vast collection of books ranging from Egyptian history to travel writing. It’s dusty and ramshackle, but this only adds to the charm, and we’d strongly recommend paying it a visit if only for the nostalgia.

Birqash Camel Market

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The intrepid among you would do well to head out of Cairo to visit the historic village of Birqash, which is located 20 miles to the north west of the city. For hundreds of years, Birqash has been at the centre of Cairo’s camel trade, and one of Egypt’s biggest camel markets still takes place here every week. Bustling, loud and energetic, the Birqash camel market is one of Cairo’s great cultural spectacles, showcasing the very best of rural life on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital.

Mohammed Ali Street

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Established in the 1860s and named after the founder of modern Egypt, Mohammed Ali Street is one of the great commercial thoroughfares of Cairo, with a whole host of shops, cafés and vendors selling authentic local wares. For decades, Mohammed Ali Street has been known for its trade of musical instruments, and there are still several stores specialising in the sale and repair of instruments, including bone clappers and lutes. It’s also renowned for its belly-dancing culture, with local cafés and bars regularly hosting this form of historic Egyptian entertainment. 

Bars, Restaurants and Street Food

Experience the Wonders of Cairo with Emerald Waterways

Experience the Wonders of Cairo with Emerald Waterways

History, culture and enchanting local customs combine to make Cairo a must-see destination on your journey through Egypt. At Emerald Waterways, we work with local guides to bring the Cairo of your imagination to life, providing you with a deeper and more immersive experience of the Egyptian capital.

Find out more about our unforgettable Nile river cruises in our Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Nile River brochure or call us now on 0808 274 5982.

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