With its ancient monuments, medieval city, and modern skyscrapers, Cairo's timeline spans almost all of human history, and makes for one of the most exciting cities in the world.
With 17 million inhabitants, it is one of the most populous cities in the world and its position on the crossroads between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa has contributed to a diverse and thriving culture.
You may come for the fabulous Pyramids at Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but Cairo has even more to offer. You will be charmed by Midan Tahrir, known as the "Paris on the Nile", and fascinated by Old Cairo, home to Egypt's Coptic Christian community.
To soak up the atmosphere, try one of the traditional coffee houses or indulge in the famous local Sheesha water pipes. In summer, refresh yourself with a delicious drink from one of the countless fresh fruit juice stalls.
No visit to Cairo would be complete without a visit to perhaps the most famous man-made structures in the world. Also featuring the enigmatic Sphinx, the Giza complex is easily one of the world's premier tourist destinations.
Saqqara has some of Egypt's oldest pyramids and is the site of the very first step pyramid, built by the famous ancient Egyptian architect Imhotep. It provides a stunning contrast to the Giza pyramids.
Most Egyptian artifacts have been removed from their original sites and the collection at the Egyptian Museum in the Midan Tahrir district has the world's most impressive collection of these treasures.
The Nile is the lifeblood of Cairo and provides visitors with a cooling break from the hot city. You can choose from a luxury cruise lasting days or just a short trip on one of the many 'Felucca' boats, which can be chartered for 30 minutes or longer if desired.
Riding out to the pyramids at sunset is a truly memorable experience. Many stables also offer overnight camping trips complete with barbecues and camping out under the stars.
The most popular time to visit Cairo is during the winter months, from November to March. During this time, the temperatures in the city are more moderate, ranging from 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The spring months of March to May are a little warmer but are still pleasant for a visit. Fall temperatures are also reasonable but this is when the city's air pollution issues are worst. Summer temperatures can be searing but this is recognized by some discounted deals on hotels and resorts.
Cairo International Airport (CAI) is the city's main airport and the second largest in Africa. It is well served by a number of international carriers as well as Egyptair and some budget airlines, and lies around 12 miles to the northeast of Cairo city center. Public transport buses into the city can be difficult to navigate but there plenty of official white meter taxis and, now, Uber too. You can also book a limousine or a micro-bus to take you directly to your hotel for a fixed fee.
Egypt has a reasonable rail network with Cairo as its hub. The main train station in the city is Ramses Station at Midan Ramses, which connects conveniently with the metro system. Regular train services connect the city with most major cities, including Alexandria, Aswan, and Luxor. Tickets should be booked in advance to guarantee a seat and visitors should reserve at least a second-class ticket, or preferably a first. Note that trains are almost always 15 minutes late or more and there is no train connection to the airport.
It is possible to rent a car and drive to Cairo but it is not recommended for visitors. Local traffic laws can be confusing and are enforced with heavy fines. Local driving customs can also be challenging, with many cars driving without lights on at night and bumping cars to move them out of their way.
Egypt has an extensive bus network covering all major cities in the country. The main bus stations are at Midan Ramses and the newly built Cairo Gateway indoor station. Regular services run to Port Said, Alexandria, Sharm El Sheikh, Siwa, Taba, and Nuweiba. Micro-buses are cheaper but suffer from a poor safety record and foreign visitors are banned from using them on some routes. The bus station at the airport is in front of Terminal 1 by the parking lot.
Midan Tahrir is at the heart of the modern city center of Cairo and is the district with most of the big hotels, making it a good choice for luxury accommodation. Midan Ramses is a central location by the airport, with a growing number of hotels, and the Downtown area is an alternative budget location. The Pyramids View Inn provides good-value accommodation overlooking the Pyramids at Giza and the InterContinental Citystars Cairo offers comfort in a central location.
Midan Tahrir - this area was modeled on Paris and is the commercial center of Cairo. It is here that you will find the Egyptian Museum and the skyscrapers of the modern city.
Islamic Cairo - the historical center, it lies to the east of the Downtown area. Here you will find mosques and the main city market, or souq. The area abounds with medieval architecture and has some of the best Turkish baths in the city.
Zamalek - this is an upscale district on the Nile island of Gezira. It has a good choice of restaurants, shopping, and accommodation.
Cairo has a large public bus network, with red, white, and blue buses. This covers the whole city but buses can be crowded. An air-conditioned bus prohibits standing and will charge E£2. The city also has Africa's largest subway (metro) system, charging a flat fare of E£1 per journey.
Official Cairo taxis are all-white and use meters. They are usually more comfortable and cheaper than unofficial taxis. You will pay E£2 or E£3 on top of the fare for more than one passenger and an extra E£5-7 for night journeys. Uber cabs are common and efficient and remove the pain of haggling over the fare.
Driving in Cairo can be frustrating, stressful and expensive. Expect to pay from E£900 per day for a compact vehicle, and companies like Sixt and Europcar are present in the city. Bumping from impatient drivers is common, so good insurance is a must. The huge parking lot at Tahrir Square has at least made city center parking easier but there are better ways to get around the city.
The bazaar at Khan el-Khalili is the city's major souq and is quite an experience if you are confident of your haggling skills. Specialties include glassware and all sorts of crafts. Zamalek is a good district for high-end shopping and here you will find the Fair Trade Egypt store, selling local crafts.
You can buy groceries at any number of street stalls. If you prefer a more western approach to shopping, the City Stars mall is Cairo's largest retail complex, and it has a Spinney's supermarket. A quart of milk will cost around E£44 with two pounds of apples costing around E£18.5.
Cairo has a vast range of restaurants, from traditional Egyptian and Middle Eastern, to Asian and Western cuisine. The Downtown area is a good choice for budget eating and Egyptian street food, while Mohandiseen and Zamalek have a selection of more upscale eateries. Expect to pay under E£50 for a budget meal and up to E£300 in an upmarket restaurant. Koshary El Tahrir is a good budget chain for Egyptian food and Abou Shakra offers high quality Egyptian dining.