Are you planning on visiting Egypt for a cruise between Luxor and Aswan, or a relaxing beach holiday in Sinai? If the answer is yes, then you might as well drop by Cairo with family for a few days. The capital city of Egypt has been recently named as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2020 by Lonely Planet. It has been in the same place for more than 1,000 years and is home to over 22 million people. But as a native Cairene, I feel obliged to give you some honest advice on how to survive the beautiful chaos that is Cairo!
Where to stay in Cairo with family
Most of the newer, posher hotels are in East Cairo neighbourhoods such as Heliopolis, Nasr City and New Cairo. However, do not get tempted by their slightly lower rates and fancier amenities. Instead stay closer to the Nile river where all the action is. Aim for hotels in central Cairo in neighbourhoods such as Downtown, Garden City or Zamalek. It will be much easier to visit the different attractions. You won’t be stuck in Cairo’s crazy traffic for half the day!
Getting around Cairo with family
Avoid public transportation at all costs – except maybe the underground metro. Even then, make sure you steer clear of rush hours and busy routes. Just Uber everywhere! It is quite reliable and affordable in Cairo, and you might get lucky and find a driver who speaks English.
Cairo is unfortunately not stroller friendly at all. If you have a baby with you, my advice would be to leave it at the hotel and carry the baby in a carrier for example.
Find a local
Ask your hotel concierge or a local friend to help with any bookings for restaurants and events. Most attractions such as museums and galleries have poorly designed and maintained websites. That being said, it is hard to purchase tickets online or find out about their opening hours.
It is also a good idea to have a local friend accompany you when you deal with other locals. Very handy when you are bargaining at the Khan El Khalili market or renting a camel at the Great Pyramids of Giza. This is especially true if you are an all-female group.
Most restaurants have an indoor section and an outdoor section. You will want to reserve a table in the outdoor section. Unfortunately, many establishments still allow smoking indoors, even so-called family restaurants and cafes. Yes, even Starbuck’s – ridiculous I know!
Be wise with your dining choices. Egyptian street food is definitely yummy but read reviews or ask for recommendations beforehand. There are a few decent restaurants that offer their spin on street food. I have to say that some of them are overpriced in my opinion.
Egyptian cuisine is similar to other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Expect lots of carbs on carbs, fatty meats and heavy stews. If you are pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, just tell your waiter you want a “seyami” menu. This is a common term to describe meat-free and dairy-free food eaten by Coptic Christians during their church fasts such as Lent. It would be the easiest way to explain your diet preferences.
Please drink only mineral water. Tap water is fine but only if it is boiled for a nice hot cup of tea with fresh mint. That means no ice cubes either!
If you drink alcohol, do give Egyptian beer a try, especially the local brand called Stella which just turned 120 years! Most Egyptian wine is quite vinegary though so I wouldn’t bother unless you are really desperate.
“Baksheesh” is the Arabic word for tip. Like everywhere else, people who work in the service industry depend on tips to make a living. Remember to tip anyone and everyone who offers you a service.
Tipping 10-15% of the bill would work for staff such as waiters, bartenders, delivery runners, spa and salon workers, taxi and bus drivers and even tour guides. If someone is offering a specific service such as a bell captain helping with luggage or a public bathroom attendant, the equivalent of £1 would be much appreciated.
Dressing for the city
The weather is usually pretty warm all year around so just make sure your clothes are layered, comfortable and breathable. Take a sun hat or cap with you if you are going out during the day and use sunscreen every day even during winter.
If you are going to visit mosques, churches, markets and museums please dress modestly. Shorts and crop tops do not blend well in the streets of Cairo! Pack a smart outfit or two. Maybe you decide to attend a show at the Cairo Opera House or crash a local wedding reception!
Can’t get enough of Egypt?
I would do the 2-3 days in Cairo at the beginning of your holiday in Egypt so you can then go on and relax for the rest of the trip. If you do decide to come to Cairo with family, feel free to drop me an email. I would be more than happy to meet up and show you around myself!