I spent six months living in Cairo and it is huge and loud and absolutely awesome! The city has beautiful cultural treasures - such as the mind-blowing (!!) Egyptian Museum and the beautiful Ibn Tulun Mosque. There are the more hedonistic facets of Cairo - delicious restaurants, pools and country clubs to escape the city and the heat, shisha cafes in downtown as well as the not-to-be-missed rooftop bars to enjoy the beautiful Nile and a beer.
Sadly, Cairo also had a darker side with endless traffic jams, poverty, horrid pollution, scathing summer heat waves, and the ever-present dust. However, I recommend you go on an adventure and dive into the fascinating world that Cairo has to offer.
Andrea. This place is a Cairo institution, almost impossible to find and simply awesome! In a city where sitting outside really isn't a thing, Andrea is an island of greenery and tranquillity. Sit outside in the gardens and enjoy Cairo's best roasted chicken! The chicken is roasted on what looks like an old kicker, the chicken racing down the field. Once it has made it onto your plate it really is a treat! It's juicy, crispy, and simply delicious! They also bake their own bread, served hot and fresh. Otherwise, French fries, salad and tehina perfect the experience!
Fas'hat Somaya (Alley between Youssef el Guindy Street and Mohamed Sidy Street in Downtown). Another favourite of mine is cute and tiny restaurant Somaya. Tucked away in a side street in downtown Cairo and down a set of stairs, it serves delicious homemade food. One or two dishes are served every evening - and once they are gone, they are gone. So don't come here late, because in all likelihood the deliciousness will have been devoured. The food served is traditional Egyptian and at times not for the faint hearted...we had veal neck meat...which was divine. They also have the best pickles ever! We ordered second and third helpings!!
GAD. This is real local establishment and not to be tested on a tummy just arrived from abroad. However, do not be put off by what seems chaotic and potentially unappealing because these guys serve some damn good (greasy) food. I've had a delicious Egyptian version of a Pizza here, with so much cheese to satisfy my cravings all week, Egyptian classics, yummy Shawarma and some great feteer - an Egyptian puff pastry dish that is either sweet or savoury. Do make sure you go to a nice GAD though! I recommend the one near Al-Azhar mosque for a bite before/after walking through the Khan el Khalili market.
Sequoia (53 Abou El Feda Street, Zamalek). The utter contrast to GAD, frequented by Cairo's upper class and expat community. The restaurant is located at the tip of the Zamalek Island and the view is simply spectacular! Sit and relax with a glass of lemonade or wine (yes, they serve alcohol here with the exception of Fridays), smoke some shisha and enjoy the breeze and fantastic Nile view.
Left Bank (53 Abou El Feda Street, Zamalek). Right next to Sequoia and equally class. The décor is tasteful, and they have wifi I recommend going for breakfast and brunch. When the temperature is still mild, you can sit outside and enjoy either a traditional Arabic breakfast or croissant and toast. Otherwise, you can come by for some tea, coffee or fresh lemonade and indulge in some French pastries! Perfect for people watching!
Taboula (1 Latin American Street, Garden City). For some really really good Lebanese food there is only one place to go - Taboula! They have two branches in Cairo, I prefer the one in Garden City. (They also serve alcohol here!) The food really is fantastic and is some of the best Lebanese food I've had - try the Chicken Feetah here. The décor is lovely with a touch of old glamour and the likes of Fairouz adorning the walls.
Tamara is an unlikely choice for me. I usually don't like restaurants in malls and was more than weary when we went and tried out Tamara, which is located in one of Cairo's big malls, City Stars. However, the food was divine and I take back all the prejudices I may have had! We ordered sausages cooked in Pomegranate syrup, which I could have died for! We had some great muhammara and really really good humus! Great if you want to visit one of Cairo's big malls.
Mandarine Khoueider (17 Shagaret Al Dor, Zamalek). This place has been around for decades and is famous for its traditional Egyptian sweets and ice cream. And while I'm usually more enticed by savoury treats and not a particular fan of Arab sweets, Khoueider has me converted. Their pastries are truly deserving of their reputation.
Gelato Mio (6 Brazil St, Zamalek). An Italian gelateria. A small treasure that severs notoriously good (and expensive for Egyptian standards) gelato. A perfect treat when the summer is hot and you're looking for a sweet treat.
The Marriott Hotel Garden (16, Gezira Street, Zamalek). The Garden at the Marriott Hotel in Zamalek is a well-known Cairo institution, a favourite with expats and visiting journalists. It is also a refuge from loud and crazy Cairo. The garden is tranquil and green, two things you may not come across so easily in Cairo. It is the perfect place to enjoy a cold beer and chips!
Just in case you can't go without Burgers while in Cairo ...
Lido (72 El Horreya Street, Heliopolis). A great place to enjoy an Egyptian burger. It's been around for decades and is not partial to the burger craze that has swept the globe. Consequently its burgers are a little different...the meat is served only well done and on a plain bun with ketchup, mustard or tehina as your choice of topping. The (A-mazing) fries are simply sliced potatoes. You sit on a bar stool and everything is served on red plastic cafeteria trays! Unique and tasty! Sadly, the original location has been closed down and only the second location in Heliopolis is still open.
Burger Factory (114 26th Of July Street, Intersection Of Hassan Sabry Street, Zamalek). The krass opposite to Lido. They serve the best burgers in town, if you're looking for a greasy, indulgent experience. The meat is juicy, the sauce is delicious, the buns are soft - what's not to like. Perfect for when you're really hungry and in the mood for something greasy!
Cairo is full of treasures, and it would require weeks worth of exploring to see it all. Following my six months there, these are a several of my favourite must-sees. On a quick side note, always be careful in Cairo as a tourist, as people will try to rip-you off. Be aware of what prices are prior to getting into caps and for guides.
The National Museum. It really is as spectacular as the legends that surround it. Any European curator would probably cry for the treasures that are simply stuffed ceiling high here and considering the haphazard and chaotic arrangements. Nothing is really labelled, so I do suggest taking a good guide book or organising a guide in advance. Though be very careful, those waiting outside the museum tend to be a rip-off. No matter how you go, the treasures inside are overwhelming and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Pyramids of Giza. No matter how often you see a postcard of the pyramids, they are an incredibly sight to behold in real life. To think that there are a perfect architectural achievement and build thousands of years ago is simply mind-blowing. Again, be wary of the tourist traps that abound.
Mosque of Ibn Tulun. Beautiful and serene. Usually devoid of tourists, this is a truly beautiful space and one of my favourite in Cairo. A little bit of a trek, but well worthwhile.
Azbekeya Book Market. For anyone that loves books, this place is a real treasure. That is, if you find it. It took us several attempts and numerous queries until we finally found it, despite already having an address. Located near the Attaba underground station (note there has been talk of relocating the market, so double check), this used-book market is truly tucked away. The stalls are stuffed to the brink with books on pretty much anything you can imagine. You can find true treasures, but be prepared to search and bargain.
Wekalet el Ghouri in Old Cairo is a beautiful restored old building that is now home to a cultural centre. Twice a week you can watch the dancing dervishes Al Tannoura dance performance take place. Beautiful to watch and definitely a cultural highlight.
Old Cairo. Traditionally, guide books will direct you north up Schāriʿ al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allāh. However, if you have time and a sense of adventure venture south down the same road. You will walk through the less touristy areas and, if you endure the initial part, pass some of the beautiful remnants of old Egypt. On your right you will find the lovely al Mu’ayyad Mosque. (Note you shouldn't have to pay to enter a mosque, ever, unless tickets are being officially sold!) and you will pass the Bab Al Zuweila, the southern city gate. Also, don’t miss the Al Azhar Mosque. While it is neither the most spectacular nor beautiful mosque to be found in Cairo, it is the centre of Sunni-Islamic learning in the world.