The National Protectorate closest to Cairo is on the fringes of the southern city suburb of Maadi, built during the 1920s and now home to a large number of expats. Wadi Degla is an ancient river bed that was gouged out of the rock 60 million years ago, leaving marine fossils and dried waterfalls behind in this desert landscape.
Walk between the high cliffs along the flat valley bed, or take a quick scramble up the right-hand side of the Wadi just after the gate. From the top of the cliffs you get views over the southern and eastern parts of the city, stretching over to the pyramids. At the weekend you’ll share Egypt’s ‘Grand Canyon’ with walkers, joggers and picnicking families.
Get the Metro to El Maadi station and then take a taxi. Ask for Wadi Degla in Zahraa el Maadi. You may need to specify you want the Protectorate, as there is a sporting club housing an Egyptian premiership football team called Wadi Degla as well! Look out for the brown signs to follow when you are on the Autostraad.
Wadi Degla costs 5LE to enter and is open from sunrise to sunset. Bring plenty of bottled water, and don’t forget your binoculars.
On a visit to Cairo, as well as the usual tourist places, take a trip to Heliopolis, a suburb to the north-east of the city. It was built in the early 20th Century by a Belgian and hence has some fantastic European-style architecture (and his own palace, which is a wonderful Taj Mahal-esque structure). Within the district is the centre of Heliopolis, El Korba, whose Bagdhad Street has some amazing colonnade type arches running along in front of the shops; you could almost be in Venice's St Mark's Square! (or somewhere similar..)
Helipolis has a large, wealthy Christian community of a range of different denominations, something you will notice by the proliferation of churches there. It has a nice feel to it with a number of cafes, bars and one of the British club's branches is here. One of the two British Council offices is also in Heliopolis which means there is a small-ish community of British teachers in the area too.
Pop up there and spend half a day especially if you're interested in architecture, churches and an alternative tourist experience. The Presidential Palace and a number of official government buildings are in Heliopolis as well, should you be interested in that.
Just mention Heliopolis (Arabic: Masr Gadida) to any taxi driver, they will know it. It should take about 20 mins from Downtown, much longer at busy times.
SPARE maps of the old Islamic city are head and shoulders above any other maps available on the market.
Available at Lehnert and Landrock and decent bookshops like Diwan.
If you want to do something different in Cairo, get a SPARE map (there are at least 4), take a taxi to Khan el Khalili and go for a walk. All of the relevant buildings are marked in the maps, together with a bit of history. Take yourself back to the 1400s.
Cairo was one of the most important cities in the world in the late middle ages and the architecture in Islamic Cairo proves it.
When you're finished, treat yourself to a bowl of kushari.
Diwan, Lehnert und Landrock
My favourite part of Cairo is the area where the tentmakers work. It is about a kilometre walking from the Khan el-Khalili market. It is the walk there that is full of unbelievable experiences. You walk down a busy, narrow road teeming with Cairo life. People are friendly and helpful and will often show you things that boggle the mind. It is a route that is laden with surprises that embody the richness of the city's history. You walk past buildings that have been there for thousands of years, mosques, momorials and one of the old gates to the city. Climb the towers of the old gate and get wonderful views over the city. Stop and explore, listen and follow your nose. You could spend months in this area, be constantly fascinated and still not see everything. Eventually you'll find the tentmakers in an area that is brimming with atmosphere and people whose skill at making complex geometrically-designed appliqued tent panels is awesome. I found a 70-year old man who had been hand-sewing these panels his whole life and he had such a sense of contentment about his life's work. I was inspired.
Walk down the road that passes the Khan el-Khalili, cross over the pedestrian bridge and find the alley that goes past the mosque on the opposite side of the road. Follow your nose for about a kilometre.
It's actually possible to escape the crowds and the noise in Cairo, although you have to put up with a lot of both on the way. I would recommend Beit el-Suhaymi, a wonderful, labyrinthine Islamic house-turned-museum where you can really picture how the large families used to live.
Before or afterwards take a stroll around the north of Khan al-Khalili market. Away from the hassle of the market stalls you see a bit of real innercity life. I am female and, being there on my own, I didn't feel hassled at all in this part. Be sure to respect their dress code though.
Another tip is go to the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha when at the Citadel. Around the Citadel itself, in particular the Muhammad Ali mosque, was very busy, but the simpler, smaller mosque felt like a peaceful oasis and has lovely mosaics.
Beit el-Suhaymi, Khan al-Khalili market and the Citadel are all located within the city centre.
This district on the island of Gezira is calmer, greener and more pleasant than the rest of Cairo. It's a great area to wander and explore; lots of the embassies are in Zamalek, and it's got a good mix of worldly Egyptians and expat foreigners. There are big parks, pleasant avenues, lots of cafes.
Right on 26th of July street (the main arterial avenue) there are lots of bars, restaurants and cafes, so give it a wander and select things if you like the look of them.
The Cairo opera house, which is meant to have good performances, is further south on the island of Gezira.
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