My Favorite Neighborhood in Cairo
by Jimmy Dunn
There are many nice places with good neighborhoods where one may stay in Cairo. Downtown is always fun with its many tourists hotels and a variety of restaurants and many, many stores. Some people like other notable areas include Helipolois, closer to the airport and sometimes a good place to stay when conducting business, Giza, where the great pyramids are located and a number of my ex-pat friends live in Egypt. There is also Dokki which is usually considered to be nicely upscale with many fine stores and restaurants. However, my personal preference is Zamalek, perhaps because I am most familiar with the area, but also because it is an upscale area with much to offer.
We have written before about Zamalek. This is one of Cairo's middle upper and upper class neighborhoods, as well as a garden district of relatively quiet streets small stores and nice restaurants on the Island of Gazira. The island is basically divided between the Zamalek neighborhood and the public landmarks and facilities of the old Gazira area of the island where the Cairo Opera House, Gazira Club, Cairo Tower, artistic and cultural centers, and even a fish garden and Planetarium may be found.
Interestingly, Zamalek seems to have fewer Mosques then Christian churches. The Islamic calls to prayer seem always distant, but there is an important Coptic church located on the island, and it would seem that the Egyptian branch of the Roman Catholic Church originally found it roots on this island. In 1888, a group of Sudanese missionaries and refugees were granted land on Zamalek, and today, we find the ancestor of the original church, St. Joseph's, on Ahmed Sabry street very nearby the Longchamps.
Of course, with all the embassies and schools on Zamalek, security is very tight. With a number of five, four and three star hotels on the island, along with other tourist attractions and entertainment facilities, there are plenty of tourist police, but there are also security personnel from embassies and other private concerns. However, it has always seemed to me a very friendly and safe neighborhood regardless of the high level of security in the area.
Above: the facade of the Hotel Longchamps with one of the terraces just barely visible
I usually stay at the Hotel Longchamps, and sometimes I have a tendency to think of the surrounding area as one giant hotel annex. After all, for example, at the Nile Hilton you have a complex including arcades and a mall. I simply end up feeling like the local neighborhood surrounding the Longchamps as a huge extension, upscale but much more reasonable in price, of the hotel. It seems like most everything I need can be found within a 10 or 15 minute walk.
Most Streets in the neighborhood are well marked,
though names may vary slightly in spelling from maps
Some of the stores and businesses that I have found most useful over the years include (Notation: We would like to point out that the following discussion is not prompted by advertising fees, and we have always paid for any goods or services we purchased at these establishments):
Walking outside the Hotel Longchamps and taking a left turn takes us almost immediately to Spot Kodak, a camera store. It sales very reasonably priced film, camera batteries, and can put the pictures from your digital camera flash disk on a cd-rom very quickly. Batteries and film can be very expensive for tourists if purchased at most five star hotels or from vendors near popular tourist attractions, but here, the prices are for locals. Also, the management is sharp and can answer many of your questions regarding photography in Egypt as well as general photography questions or questions regarding equipment.
Proceeding past Spot Kodak, there is also the Hardies at the end of the block. This is my food fix, where I can opt not only for a regular western burger, but also a chili cheese dog, or as now, when I am on a diet, a grilled chicken sandwich. It is also an interesting place to observe the culture of modern Egyptian middle and upper middle class youth. In fact, this is a great sort of place for a family of tourists with kids to drop in on just for the experience, and maybe to stave off a bit of home sickness. The Hardies is just about a three minute walk from the Hotel, and for those who do not smoke, it like some of the other American chains, is smoke free.
However, there is also the Five Bells restaurant just a little past the Hardies on Ismail Mohamed. This restaurant is very pleasant with tables set in a garden environment. The atmosphere is very peaceful, making it ideal for both a casual business meeting or a romantic evening dinner. They have a large menu often focusing on fresh fish, but with pasta or even steak also available.
Above: Mandarine Koueider which sells ice cream and candy
One may also go a bit further along this street, past upscale clothing stores more grocers and any number of specialty outlets, and grab a pizza at the Pizza Hut or McDonalds on the Nile river front. As a note, all of these restaurants mostly provide room service!! Most such restaurants in Cairo deliver in. Just prior to the Pizza Hut on Ismail Mohamed (Isma'l Muhammad) Street are several money exchanges, as well.
On the other side of the Hotel Longchamps (to the right) is a small grocer (Drwick) where I can buy cigarettes for 5.50 L.E, or a Coke (and even a Coke Lite) for 1.50 L.E. It's open most of the time, and also acts as a local school store for the facility across the street. It is basic, but handles other products such as a variety of different candies, including many western brands in Arabic disguise, bottled water and other necessities.
At the end of the block past the small grocer is the Romantica bookshop, operated by Evette Tadros Hanna, that sells modern novels by western writers, some Egyptian oriented books and maps, as well as American, English and other European magazines and newspapers in a variety of languages.
Between the small grocer and the bookshop are a number of useful stores including a National Pharmacy, a Dessaeng Barbers, and Rengwn Clothing store, as well as several jewelry shops, a money exchange, another somewhat larger grocer and a fairly large shoe shop.
At the end of the block, where Ismail Mohamed street meets Shager El Dor, continuing down Ismail Mohamed will lead one to the Harely Davidson motorcycle dealership. Unfortunately, besides the motorcycles, they have little merchandise of interest to tourists other than a Harley Davidson - Egypt T-Shirt, but I am trying to talk them into other souvenir items (as I would prefer a hat). Continuing straight will shortly lead to Muhammed Mazhar street, another larger commercial zone with all types of stores. However making a left turn onto Shager El Dor leads to a multilevel mall on one side of the street that has a pleasant restaurant area and a number of variety, jewelry and clothing stores. On the opposite side of Shager El Dor from the mall is an Internet Cafe and several specialty shops, including a video rental and men's and women's clothing stores.
Making a right off of Ismail Mohamed onto Shager El Dor back towards 26th of July Street, a major commercial avenue, leads past a number grocers, book, gift and flower shops, clothing and other stores including a nice little shop named Mandarine Koueider that sells ice cream and candies. This is a very pleasant establishment to drop in to after a long walk around the neighborhood for a pick-me-up. Also, along this street, one may often find a shoeshine boy hanging about.
Canadian Cleaners, just around the block from the Hotel Longchamps on Hassan Ibrahim street off Shager el Dor, has always provided good, professional laundry and cleaning services at a fraction of the price that five star hotels charge. Frankly, their work is better than I often find at home in the US, and certainly much more reasonable in price. This last trip I really gave their service a test, having various types of fabrics cleaned, including a jacket and shirt of pure silk, as well as a leather jacket, and they did an excellent job on all of this. Furthermore, they can most often have items ready in fairly short order, sometimes in a matter of hours. It should be pointed out that the store is closed on Sundays, because Raafat Sabet, the laundry manager (his card reads "Chemist"), is a Coptic Christian.
A little further down Shager el Dor is Ahmed Sabry Street where the old St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church is located, but further down the street we actually find an upscale health food store with all the standard fare, including organically grown vegetables, and a bit further down there is also a Mobaco Cotton outlet. Mobaco Cotton is a modern chain store specializing in Egyptian cotton products at reasonable and consistent prices (no negotiation required). They carry everything from T-shirts to suites, and I have often found myself in these stores purchasing an inexpensive but well made Egyptian cotton T-shirt when my clean clothes ran short. I can honestly say that I love these soft fabrics, and hardly any trip I make does not include some excuse to go home with a new shirt or pair of trousers.
The Local Mobaco Cotton Company
On the street leading off just in front of the Hotel Longchamps (Muhammad Ibn Thaqib street) we find at the end of the block an outlet for the American University in Cairo (AUC) Bookshop. This bookstore is a must for anyone interested in reading more about either ancient or modern Egypt. Here, one may find more books about Egypt, Egyptian antiquities and Egyptian guidebooks than in ten major bookstores elsewhere in the world. The selection, as well as the depth of information on Egypt would truly amaze many of our readers who are unfamiliar with the AUC bookstore. In fact, many of the books can be found nowhere else, and along with the books on Egypt there are also popular English edition novels.
Above: beit Sherif offers many unusual home decoration items, as do a number of other stores in the area
However, all about the neighborhood there are interesting shops and stores. This is truly a shopper's paradise. Walking about in the neighborhood is always a pleasant experience and one will often find grand surprises, including antique and gift shops, jewelry stores with gold items that approach grand art, unusual clothing stores, a huge number and variety of bookshops. There are carpet and fabric shops, leather stores and even toy stores. Many other establishments , such as beit Sherif., simply cannot be easily defined
In addition, a short walk down 26th of July street will lead past a wonderful Coffee Roasters, several well known restaurants, a beer and wine store, and will eventually, but after only a moderate walk, lead to the Marriott and its fine gardens, a traditional place for business meetings as well as a nice location to sit back and watch the world go by. Just across the avenue from the Marriott are some of Cairo's best known floating and cruising restaurants where one may find good Egyptian food, or a large variety of other establishments including several American chains such as Chili's and Johnny Carino's which serves Italian food.
1. Hotel Longchamps
2. Spot Kodak
3. Small Grocer (Drwick)
4. Romancia Bookshop
6.Harely Davidson Motorcycles
7. American University in Cairo Bookshop
8. Coptic Church
10. Pizza Hut
12. Five Bells Restaurant
13. Canada Cleaners
14. Coffee Roasters
15. Mandarine Koueider (Ice cream and other sweets)
16. St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church
17. Sekem Health Food Store
18. Mobaco Cotton Company
19. To the Zamalek Marriott
20. Small Mall
21. Money Exchange
22. Money Exchange
23. Beit Sherif
Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011