When in Cairo, you’ll be tempted to limit yourself to doing typically tourist activities. But Cairo, being the huge city it is, offers much, much more than typical tourist activities. When I travel, I like to actually do things that aren’t always offered on tour operators’ itineraries. Here are my top 5 things to do in Cairo that are a little on the quirky side!
1. Sit and enjoy shisha at Kahwa El Borsa
The Middle East is known for many things, and shisha is definitely one of them. Known as a narghila in countries in the Levant region, shisha is the Egyptian word for this strange device. Basically this concoction is a water pipe where flavored molasses covered tobacco is smoked. This may not be for everyone, but for those who are interested in trying it, Kahwa El Borsa is definitely the place to go! While Cairo is teeming with these cafés, El Borsa is a really authentic and interesting place to go. Located in the Stock Exchange area of Cairo, the café offers an interesting ambience with both indoor and outdoor seating. If you want calm, head indoors. For a really authentic atmosphere, sit outside and watch the crowds go by and patrons compete in backgammon, while enjoying the great flavors of the shisha. The best thing is, lots of expats enjoy this café as well, so you won’t feel so out of place!
2. Attend a show at the Sawy Culture Wheel
The Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek is a great place to visit while in Cairo. Almost nightly, events are hosted at the venue with shows ranging from local metal band concerts to stand up comedy to tributes to famed musicians of the past and educational seminars on such topics as politics, social causes, and employment tips. Locals really enjoy the events here, and you probably will too, as you get to see some local talents on display.
3. Sufi Dancing at Wikala El Ghuri
Sufi dancing is something you may encounter in any number of Middle Eastern countries, but none are so close to typical tourist sites as in Cairo. Though you can catch a performance of Sufi dancing after a belly-dancer on a Nile dinner cruise, the more authentic atmosphere and performance is no doubt found at Wikala El Ghouri, near the Khan El Khalili market. Here, you’ll be able to experience the true charm of Sufi dancing, performed by whirling dervishes. Originally a religiously significant dance, most performers now are not religiously affiliated, though there are still some who practice this in a religious way. The constant whirling with brightly colored skirts in exact precision is utterly spectacular and mesmerizing. You’ll definitely be put under a spell while watching. Be sure to arrive early because seats go quickly at this free show!
4. Watch the sunset from the Mokattam Cliff
Let’s face it. In a city of over 20 million people, countless skyscrapers, and more than its fair share of cards, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a clear view of the sunset from all the smog and buildings. However, there is one place in Cairo where the sunset can be seen and actually enjoyed—Mokattam cliff. Mokattam is a cliff located near the Salahdin Citadel, and overlooks most of Cairo. At night, the clearest views of the city can be found here, and sunset here takes you high above most smog to see the beautiful reds, pinks, and oranges illuminating the sky. You’ll even find some vendors serving tea, coffee, or other refreshments for quite cheap. Go as a group, though, because this isn’t a typical tourist site.
5. Spend a day being a kid with your kids at Fagnoon
If you’ve got kids traveling with you, they might not be as amused with all the historical sites as you are. To solve this, spend a day doing something they like as you enjoy Fagnoon. Here, you and the kids can picnic, paint, play with clay, and have a chance to discover hidden artistic talents. With a great, kid-friendly staff, it’s sure to be a really fun day, and great for bonding!