The sight of the incredible Pyramids in Giza.
The beautiful calls to prayers from the mosques during prayers.
The scent of the spices in the souk.
The dust from the crazy Cairene traffic.
The flavours of the delicious Egyptian cuisine.
Love it or hate it, Cairo is going to assault all your senses. Home to over 20 million inhabitants in the metro area and the biggest city in Africa as well as the Arab world, Cairo may seem scruffy at first glance but beneath this surface lies a soulful vibrant city.
There is no excuse not to visit Giza Pyramids for any visitor to Egypt. This is where having a good tour guide greatly adds to the experience of visiting a place. All tour guides in Egypt are trained archaeologists; you can learn through them about the incredible Ancient Egyptian history which went back as far as 5,000 years.
The Egyptian Museum is another must-see attraction to understand more of Ancient Egypt. Home to over 120,000 artefacts from that period, the most famous one is the solid 11-kg death mask made of gold belonging to King Tutankhamun. It is one of the most recognizable artefact from Ancient Egypt. As King Tutankhamun was a relatively obscure king in the 14th century BC and died young at 19, its tomb didn’t attract the tomb raiders’ attention over the centuries and when it was discovered in Luxor in 1922, the archaeology team was very impressed with the well-preserved tomb.
Moving on from the ancient Egyptian history, contemporary Cairo shows you the side of Egypt which builds on its history and constantly evolving. Over the centuries, the Nile River has made the land on its banks fertile and allowed civilization to thrive. However, the Nile also used to flood annually during the summer since antiquities and it was only until after the completion of Aswan High Dam in 1970 when floods could be effectively controlled. It explained why Historic Cairo with its important Islamic sites such as Ibn Tulun Mosque are located a distance from the river while the more modern buildings are found along Nile. Khan El Khalili, the main souk in Cairo, is also in historic Cairo area and is an ideal place to test your bargaining skills or just people-watch at leisure.
Although Egypt has been a majority Muslim country since the 12th century, a group of indigenous Christian community known as the Copts is a sizeable community which maintains its unique identity and religion. The Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo is considered centre of the community and the best place to learn about this community. Unlike other Christians who have their day of worship on Sundays, Coptic Orthodox Christians worship on Friday, the same day as Muslims and the start of the weekend in Egypt.
It is easy to dismiss the notion that Middle Eastern cuisine are all the same; however, Egypt does have some unique dishes which are not found in other parts of the region. Being the capital, Cairo naturally is the best location to sample some of them.
One of this unique items is Egyptian falafel, also known as Ta’ameya. Unlike other falafel such as those in Levant, Egyptian version is made with dried fava beans instead of ground chickpeas. It is best served in a pita bread with other condiment such as tomatoes, onions and tahini and is widely available everywhere as a popular street food. Another must-try item is koshari, Egypt’s national dish. Rice, lentils, pasta are mixed together with a spiced tomato sauce and additional garnishes such as chickpeas and fried onions. If you eat meat and are more adventurous, you can also try Haman Mahshi or stuffed pigeon with rice. While these Egyptian dishes may look unassuming, they are full of flavours and are a good representation of how the country is.