What's a Child to Do (On Tour in Egypt)
Part I: An Introduction and In and Around Cairo
Part I: An Introduction and In and Around Cairo
By Jimmy Dunn
Egypt is a fine destination for family travel. Many children learn about ancient Egypt in school at a relatively early age, and some become very fascinated by the Land of the Pharaohs. Yet, many travelers wonder what activities, other than visiting ancient sites, are available for their children's entertainment and amusement. After all, a bored child on a vacation is not a pleasant one.
Editor's Note: While one will find many activities and entertaining ideas for children in this story, note that it is by no means comprehensive. By looking about, one will find many other activities for kids in Egypt than are listed here.
Most major hotels are very safe for older kids, and just about all of them have well supervised "clubs" for younger children, so it is not necessary for kids to make every sightseeing tour during a stay in Egypt. However, before giving up on the kids visiting the various sites, consider making it more exciting for them. Make it known that you will not only be visiting the Valley of the Kings or the Giza Pyramids, but you will be taking a donkey or camel ride.
Obviously, what to do depends, at least to some extent, on the child's age, as well as their sex. Younger preteens often seem to be a little easier to amuse than less engaged, sometimes aloof, teenagers. In fact, I have found after traveling on a number of occasions with children of various ages, that younger children will usually enjoy seeing the ancient sites while older teens will have a tendency to want to stay back at the hotel, perhaps to lounge around the pool. Younger boys might tend to like Egypt's Crusader fortresses, such as the Citadel, while young ladies might prefer the jewelry museum, though obviously there are always the exceptions. Also, girls of all ages seem to really enjoy getting a Henna tattoo, which is harmless and painless, applied on top of the skin, and only lasts a week or two.
So what's a child to do in Egypt? As a generalization, one of the keys is to mix sightseeing with various activities, such as a camel ride or sailing on the Nile. To begin with, some planning may be helpful. For example, its nice to plan a trip to Egypt amongst friends, perhaps with kids of roughly the same age. If that is not possible, another solution is to find a family oriented tour where other children will be present. People, including kids, rapidly get to know each other during an Egyptian tour. And if one is taking a private tour, spend some time picking a guide who will pitch the tour at the kids as well as the adults. Also, try to visit less crowded sites. Kids tend to get overwhelmed in the midst of a crowd and can't see much.
Of course, some tours are naturals for kids. Delta Tours, for example offers a family hosted tour where visitors actually stay with an Egyptian family. They seem to do a fairly good job of matching up families, so that the Egyptian family usually has children about the same age as the tourist family, and we know that a number of good, long term friendships have developed from this sort of tour.
Many people with children might wish to start off their tour of Egypt with a visit to the Pharaonic Village. This is a basic theme park that recreates a living, ancient Egypt, and is very instructional for children, as well as adults. It will provide kids with an orientation to life in ancient Egypt with some insight about what they will see later in the tour.
As far as the actual sightseeing, kids in general will be less interested in seeing redundant sites than enthusiast parents. They may be interested in visiting a temple, but they will become bored with visiting every temple on the Nile. They will enjoy the Great Pyramids, but will not want to see many others, unless they have developed a genuine interest in Egyptology.
A few warnings
Kids are reluctant to drink as much liquids as they should in the hot Egyptian climate. Adding a bit of KoolAid to the mineral water can make it taste much better. Most kids who get ill in Egypt do so because they have not had enough water. Also, it is a good idea, especially in southern Egypt, to get an early start on visiting the monuments if possible, finishing up by late morning and thus spending the remainder of the day back at the hotel. Also, beware of the street animals in Egypt. Cats, and even a few dogs roam the streets of some Egyptian cities, particularly Cairo, and it is not a good idea for kids or adults to touch these often feral animals.
However, there will be some places that kids always seem to enjoy. In Cairo itself, the Egyptian Antiquities Museum has too much variety not to be interesting, even to kids who are not big on museums. Furthermore, one is likely to run into a group of Egyptian school kids, who will take an immediate interest in your children. Here one will normally find the Tutankhamun collection (even if some of it is on tour elsewhere), and of course Tutankhamun will be at least one pharaoh that the kids will know from school. It includes something for everyone, from chariots and golden knives to fine pieces of jewelry. Another section of the museum that kids tend to like is the mummy exhibits, and for whatever reason, the model farms.
Islamic Cairo can also be considered medieval Cairo, where centuries past armored knights rode about the streets. Here, one finds the Khan el-Khalili, the ancient market that so strangled east-west trade that Columbus set out to look for an alternate trade route. Today, the market is crowded with tourists from all over the world. Kids usually like the market, and older ones will want to set out on their own with a bit of money. It is safe for them to do so, provided they are good about keeping up with the time. One must arrange for a meeting place at a specific time. It seems almost impossible to locate someone just by walking about this huge market.
Another spot that many kids will like is the Citadel, a huge fortress founded by Saladin which was the scene of some Crusader battles. From here, the Burgi Mameluke knights once lobbed cannon balls across Islamic Cairo onto the Bahri Mameluke knights located on Roda Island in the Nile. Later, the English occupied the fortress. Be sure and visit the Mosque of Mohammed Ali while in the Citadel for one of the largest chandeliers you will ever see. Furthermore, this is actually a great place to take a break if the kids need a short nap.
Other than sightseeing, many hotels in Cairo offer considerable entertainment for kids. All of the larger hotels will have very nice swimming pools, some almost water parks, kiddie pools, game rooms and internet cafes of their own, so one really need not venture too far afoot. Some hotels will have kid's clubs for the younger crowd, well supervised areas with games and various activities. Some, such as the Movenpick Hotel in Media City and the Cataract Pyramids Resort will even offer various kids entertainment programs with a DJ.
There are a number of other notable resorts that specifically cater to kids. Pyramids Park Intercontinental Resort, on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, has a petting zoo, the Scoo-Bi-Zoo, located in a haven of shade. While parents relax by the pool or have a cup of tea in the garden, the children have fun with the monkeys, deer, a camel, a pony, flamingos and ducks. There is no need to worry about safety, as there are keepers to take care of the animals, introduce the children to them, and keep the children amused at feeding time. There is also a children's garden with toys, swings, a trampoline and a safe junior pool. Special arrangements can be made for birthday parties.
Le Meridien Pyramids has a play area for children with pint-sized chairs and tables. It includes swings, houses and other toys. There is also a children's paddling pool, a special menu with the kind of food that goes down well with your youngsters, and coloring books and crayons. The hotel sometimes brings in a magician and an aragoz, a sort of puppet show, on Fridays and public holidays.
JW Marriott Mirage Hotel in New Cairo City, in Qattamiya, southeast of Cairo, is a marvelous place for adults and children alike. Here you can enjoy a day at the beach without having to drive to the Red Sea or Alexandria.
"The beach", in a desert environment, is the Marriott's latest innovation. In this vast area there are four swimming pools. The one called Cleopatra Bay has waves and a stretch of sandy beach where children can play with their buckets and spades. Here you can have the "sea", sand and sun without leaving Cairo. "The lagoon" is another swimming area with a large central island and water slides to delight junior. A shallow pool is also available for four to eight-year-olds. Water guns, hoses, and tunnels are there to explore, all are safe, and lots of fun. For the youngest guests, the hotel has a paddling pool for the under four-year-olds.
Other activities that might be fun for kids in Cairo, as well as elsewhere, might be described as native, or universal. By native, we mean activities and entertainment that one may not find back home. For example, not only can a ride on a camel be fun, but also visiting the camel market in Cairo. These are obviously native. Kids will also enjoy a ride in a river taxi, one of Egypt's oldest forms of modern transportation, or perhaps even more fun, take a party boat. These are boats that simply go out for a pleasure cruise. Here, one might meet a very ordinary Egyptian family with kids out for their own fun. They are not swank, but lit up with blaring music its an interesting adventure, and one that most tourists to do not get to experience.
If parents would really like to give their children a cultural experience, meeting up with Egyptian children, than Fagnoon is one of the rare places in Cairo where both parents and children can take a break and spend a few unforgettable hours. The word Fagnoon itself is a combination of two interesting words Fonoon (art) and Gonoon (wild). It is a place for families to play, run, dance, paint, draw, as well as trying out a bouquet of crafts including pottery, word carpentry, agriculture, baking, jewelry making, iron smithy and much more. In fact, this facility has only recently undergone an expansion program.
Another native experience in Cairo is to visit the Cairo Tower. It has a revolving restaurant at the top, and from the observation deck and restaurant, the view of the Nile and Cairo extends over the medieval city to the east and the desert to the west.
The Gabalaya Park and Aquarium is a wonderful little place in the heart of Zamalek, just minutes away from the downtown area. It's a great place to take the kids as the park is pleasant and the aquarium is interesting. The fish swim around in tunnels that look a little like bomb shelters - a fairly original setting. The nice thing about Gabalaya is that it is so very close to the hustle and bustle of the downtown area, and yet, once there you feel as though you are miles away from it all.
If one has a bit of extra time, another great experience, and one better known to locals than tourists, is a boat ride south to Qanatar. Qanatar is an island in the Nile where ordinary Egyptians like to go to have picnics. There are also small amusement parks with bumper cars and ferris wheels and some amazing Victorian stone bridges and locks. To return to Cairo, hop on a taxi or take a minibus.
Parents will find in Egypt a number of very ordinary activities for kids, what we refer to here as universal. Most of the major hotels will have good satellite television systems, with a number of programming options from different countries and in different languages, including American movies and series. There are also a variety of cinemas that show first run Hollywood movies. In addition, there are also game rooms and well equipped internet cafes all about Cairo. In addition, there are also modern, large malls, as always a teen hangout and in Egypt, no exception. Some of the larger malls even have "kid's corners" with entertainment for younger children.
But Cairo is a huge city, full of all sorts of people, some poor, some rich and many in between, and like most monumental cities, the variety of entertainment is almost limitless. Media Production City contains a number of open air shooting areas, as well as the Mubarak studio complex and its own dedicated theme park, Magic Land. Children are sure to love Magic Land, where they can watch dolphin and seal shows, then tour the Dinosaurs' Jungle that depicts a prehistoric environment complete with Tyrannosaurus Rex, exotic birds and even primitive humans. Visitors travel back in time on boats on the waterways surrounding Dinosaur Island. The park also has outdoor and indoor game centers, which will appeal to adults as well as children. This fantastic 150 acre theme park is one of the largest recreational facilities in the Middle East. There is certainly plenty to do with three areas for children, teenagers and families, all with a multitude of rides and attractions. Don't miss the fantastic condor flight. If you're feeling exhausted after all that excitement, pay a visit to one of the park's 22 restaurants, offering everything from pizza to kebab. Crazy Water is located in the city of Giza. This theme park offers a variety of fun and games such as water slides, a wave pool, a kiddies pool and a playground area with sand, slides and tunnels. The admission fee also includes a delicious meal. Look out for the regular special offers on family tickets.
There are at least two other large amusement parks, Sinbad and Merryland (where there are a number of theme restaurants), which have typical rides and perhaps a few less typical ones. There is, among just about every other imaginable entertainment, even an ice skating rink in Cairo.
And don't forget the treats. Cairo is full of very good ice cream shops all over, even within many of the hotels, and ice cream is all the better for the hot Egyptian climate. But Napoleon's gang also brought to Egypt all manner of fancy pastry and the Egyptians have their own flavor of sweets, so one will not go far before running into one of these shops. Take advantage of one of these, and chances are one will enjoy it as much as the kids.
In fact, eating out in Cairo can be a fun experience for children. The city has all manner of fast food establishments, and while parents may seek something a little less ordinary, kids will still want to seek these out. Many of the American chains are present, such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC. But there are other places to eat that both the parents and children will also enjoy.
Though there are many upscale restaurant in Egypt, children will probably most enjoy those located on boats, most of which are permanently docked on the Nile. Frequently, if not always, these boats once plied the Nile, often as Nile Cruise boats, and some of them are interesting in their own right. Just about all of the docked boats will have more than one restaurant aboard, and will be open for lunch and dinner. For example, one of our favorites is the Nile City Boat, docked at Zamalek very near the Cairo Marriott, where one has a choice between Alain Le Notre, Bistro Provence, Chilis, Johnny Cario's the Seafood Market and Studio Misr. Obviously several of these are American chains, but, for example, Studio Misr, more of an Oriental restaurant, has old props and pictures from Egyptian movies. Kids will not only enjoy the boats themselves, but the view of passing traffic on the river.
The other type of boat, the dinner cruisers, which actually cruise along the Nile, usually only have one restaurant, which is almost always buffet style. They are not usually billed as entertainment for kids, and are really more like nightclubs than normal restaurants. However, the entertainment is not all that risqu. The real problem for kids is that they leave the docks in the evening, usually staying out for several hours, and return relatively late, usually until 9:00 or later. And of course, if the kids act up, one is pretty much stuck. Furthermore, the entertainment can be somewhat loud, so this is probably not a great venue for very young children.
And yet, just a bit older kids may be enthralled by all the entertainment. Good shows will include belly dancers, whirling dervish, various ethnic dancers and other entertainment, many of which the kids will doubtless find fascinating. Furthermore, most of these boats also have observation decks where, if the entertainment gets a bit too much, one can go to watch the lights of the night time skyline pass silently by. There is usually a good variety of food on board, something for everyone, and no shortage of various deserts.
Various, periodic events in Egypt will also be fun for kids. Ramadan is certainly one of these events, always festive, though more so in the evening. In the early part of March one may also visit the Cairo International Film Festival for Children, which is really an event for both parents and kids.
All of the better known pyramids are located near Cairo, including the Great Pyramids of Giza. Everyone must see the Great Pyramids. One must take the kids, like it or not, for later bragging rights if nothing else. As the kids grow into adults, they will relish their visit to the famous pyramids. Indeed, these are magnificent monuments, though they will impress just a bit less these days than a hundred or so years ago, before the time of modern skyscrapers. By all means, take a visit inside one of the pyramids, though this might be a bit scary for the youngest of children. This is also a great place to take a donkey or horse ride around the pyramids, which kids will truly enjoy. However, we strongly recommend using a company such as Al Sorat, whose horses and donkeys are well cared for and trained.
And absolutely do not forget about the sound and light show at Giza. With English language shows beginning in the early evening, the kids might get bored with the monologue, but they will be thrilled with the laser light show.
Kids with a definite interest in Egyptology will also appreciate seeing Saqqara, not far from Giza. Here, the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the first of Egypt's most famous monuments to be built. Also, just a little further south is Dahshur, where the Red Pyramid is located. It is almost as large as the largest Giza Pyramid of Khufu, but there are not nearly so many people, and it is much easier to go inside this pyramid. The Red Pyramid may have been Egypt's first true pyramid, but there are others, including the bent pyramid, that show the evolution of pyramid building in Egypt.
Other than pyramids, there is also, near Giza in Mansouriya, the Sun Bird Gardens. This is a place where you can not only enjoy nature, but also learn: how fruit and vegetables are cultivated and what their seeds and flowers look like. On this living museum of contemporary life one can also observe how farmers live, what their homes are like and the traditions and customs they follow. The display encompasses a glimpse of the life of all the farmers of Egypt, from the Nile Delta in the north to Nubia in the south.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011