12 Things to do in Downtown Cairo, Egypt
Downtown Cairo is an area of the city with the biggest selection of budget accommodation and cheap eating options. Although not as glamorous as Zamalek Island in the middle of the Nile River, Downtown area is still popular with Egyptians and international tourists. If you’re in town for a few days, at some point, even if you’re not staying in the area, you’ll most likely find yourself here looking for things to do in Downtown Cairo.
We spent a week at Luna Hotel (we can recommend for large, quiet, clean rooms and amazing staff) in Downtown Cairo so had time to explore everything there is to see and do.
The Egyptian Museum
Not only one of the essential things to do in Downtown Cairo, but also in all of Cairo, or even Egypt, the Egyptian Museum sits on the outskirts of Downtown. Give yourself at least half a day to wander through the overwhelming amount of ancient Egyptian artefacts on display.
Impressively large statues, mummy coffins, tombs and sphinxes are to name a few, but the highlight is Tutemkarmun’s tomb collection including his stunning gold death mask that he was wearing when found.
The whole museum only costs 60 EGP per person, plus 50 EGP for your camera. However, if you want to visit the two Royal Mummies Rooms containing the only public collection of real mummies, then it’s an additional 100 EGP per person but beware, it’s not for the faint-hearted!
Chill Out at the Ritz Carlton Hotel
After hours and hours walking around the Egyptian Museum, one of our recommended things to do in Downtown Cairo is relaxing in a nice posh hotel. Right next door to the museum is the Ritz Carlton. You don’t need to be a guest at the hotel, simply stroll through the front door and make yourself comfortable in one of their many lounge areas, bars or cafes.
The lobby is huge with dozens of sofas and chairs to lounge on. We didn’t make it to any of the bars such as Nox or Ritz Bar, but we did enjoy a cup of coffee from their in-house Sweet Boutique cafe.
Downtown at Night
Downtown is busy enough during daylight hours, but after dark is when the majority of locals and Egyptian tourists come to eat, shop and play. The streets are heaving with activity and joining them for dinner, a tea or shisha is definitely worth doing.
You don’t have to join in, simply wondering the crowded streets and soaking up the late night atmosphere is fun enough and one of the free things to do in Downtown Cairo. Try to stay up until midnight when Downtown Cairo really comes to life.
There’s nothing really going on here but Tahir Square is worth visiting as a place of importance for the people of Egypt. If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated film ‘The Square’, you’ll know what happened here in 2011, but if not, Tahir Square was the main gathering place for protests leading up to the fall of Mubarak (The Egyptian Revolution).
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came together from all over Egypt to protest against the regime and Tahir square was the centre point of it all. It was a bloody few days with hundreds of deaths and thousands injured.
Check Out the Nile River
The famous Nile River can be easily reached from Downtown Cairo. If you’re already at the Egyptian Museum, Ritz Carlton or Tahir Square, you’re only a few steps from the Nile’s blue waters.
Stroll along the peaceful river promenade or take in some impressive viewpoints along the Qasr Al Nile Bridge. Although you’ll be stepping outside the things to do in Downtown Cairo, continue to the other side of the bridge to visit Zamalek Island, a neighbourhood popular with expats and where you’ll find Cairo Tower.
Drink Western Coffee
Trust us, when exploring the things to do in Downtown Cairo, at some point you’re going to need a sit-down and a drink. Beer is hard to find in Cairo so, in our opinion, the next best thing is a good cup of coffee. There are many local shops that sell hardcore black Turkish coffee, but if you like yours a little more western, there are a few places that serve good Lattes, Cappuccinos and Flat Whites.
Our favourite is Kafein, an almost trendy independent coffee shop where young guys and girls hang out while sipping awesome tasting coffee. There’s a branch of Egypt’s version of Starbucks, Cilantro, near Tahir Square or if you want to go full-on western, there’s a Costa Coffee just around the corner from Kafein.
Catch a Film
For locals, one of the popular things to do in Downtown Cairo is go to the cinema. With at least 3 multi-screen theatres in the Downtown area (two of them, Miami and Metro Cinema, can be found on busy Talaat Harb) there should be a film that catches your interest. Sure, most of them are commercial Arabic movies, but with certain screens showing with English subtitles, this a real local thing to do.
There were none showing at any of the cinemas when we were in town, but we heard that on occasions you might find a Hollywood blockbuster shown in English.
Eat 24hr Egyptian Fast Food
If there’s one thing that Downtown Cairo is not short of, it has to be Egyptian fast food outlets. We’re not talking about Mcdonalds and KFC here, although you will find them here too, we’re talking local dishes with a speedy service and open 24 hours.
Beef shawarma, roasted chicken, all kinds of kebabs and freshly fried falafel can all be found at a popular and super clean fast food chain named Gad on 26 July Street. The menu is in Arabic but they usually have an English version tucked away in a drawer somewhere.
For something a little different, add eating Kushari to your list of things to do in Downtown Cairo. This carb-loaded dish of pasta, rice, noodles, lentils and tomato source has the locals going crazy for it. Our favourite Kushari was at Tom & Basal on Talaat Harb.
Dine at Cafe Riche
Relaxing places to eat are hard to come by in Downtown Cairo, the frantic nature of this part of the city seems to spill into its restaurants. Cafe Riche however, was a travellers oasis away from Downtown’s hustle and bustle streets.
The few travellers we saw in this part of the city must have all made eating at Cafe Riche one of their things to do in Downtown Cairo because there was always at least 10 or so of them hanging out under the cooling fans.
Their extensive menu of local dishes is reasonably priced and they even sell three brands of beer which is something else we struggled to find in Cairo. It’s not the best food we ate in Egypt, but it was good enough to warrant a couple of visits.
Shop for Shoes
It seems that the Egyptians love a shoe shop. In Downtown Cairo, there was a never-ending supply of shoe filled window displays. On some streets, there would be several shoe shops in a row!
Smart shoes, sports shoes, walking shoes, beach shoes, high shoes, kids shoes…..all the shoes. Go shoe shopping mad!
Visit at the Egyptian Weekend
Did you know that the Egyptian weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday? No, neither did we until we woke up on our second day (a Friday) in the city and found everything to be closed. At first, we thought, “crap, what do we do now”, but actually, visiting at this time of the week should be one of your things to do in Downtown Cairo.
When everything is closed, without all the traffic and crowds, we immediately noticed how pretty Downtown Cairo is. Ornate, balcony decorated buildings and palm tree-lined boulevards populate this area and can more easily be appreciated at the weekends.
In fact, even at weekends, most retail and food businesses start to open in the afternoon, so make sure to take a stroll in the morning.
Drink Fresh Mango Juice
All over Cairo and especially in Downtown, fresh Mango juice is plentiful and cheap. Look out for little shops with netted bags of mangos hanging out the front, and simply say to the cashier, “mango”. A few seconds later you’ll be drinking the tastiest mango juice you’ve ever had, and at around 10 EGP (less than 50p), probably the cheapest too!
Some serve the juice in large plastic cups to take away but other shops only serve in glasses so you have to drink the juice on the premises and return the glass.
Eat Unknown Street Food
Wherever we go, we’re always on the lookout for street food but we were quite disappointed by the lack of it in Downtown Cairo. The only street food kitchens we came across was several of the same, where they cook minced meat and serve inside small bread rolls with chilli and pickled vegetables.
Because of the language barrier, we weren’t able to find out what the meat is, but it’s so popular with the locals so we thought we’d try it anyway. It tasted great, but sorry, we can’t tell you what it is (if you know do comment below). Be brave and give it a go!
A week in Cairo was long enough for us, in that time we found Downtown to be a great base to explore the many sites around the city. The nearby metro station gave us easy and cheap access to the Pyramids of Giza and Coptic Cairo, and we were also able to walk to Islamic Cairo which was a real highlight for us. But if you don’t have the luxury of lots of time then 3 days in Cairo should suffice.
Are we missing any of the things to do in Downtown Cairo? Let us know by commenting below.
Check out these awesome well reviewed day trips from Downtown Cairo!
- Giza Pyramid, Sakkara & Memphis Full-Day Private Tour
- Giza Pyramids and Sphinx: Half-Day Private Tour
- Cairo: Giza Pyramids, Egyptian Museum & Bazaar Full-Day Tour
- Full-Day Tour of Historical Alexandria from Cairo
- Half-Day Tour of Old Cairo & Khan El Khalili Bazaar
- Cairo 2-Hour Nile River Dinner Cruise and Folklore Show