Cairo Downtown Walking Tour, Cairo

Cairo Downtown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cairo

Egyptians often refer to Cairo as Maṣr, which is the Arabic name for Egypt. This is due to the city's importance for the country, in part manifested by its closeness to the ancient pyramids. Indeed, the area of present-day Cairo has been the center of Egypt since the days of the pharaohs. The strategic territory at the base of the Nile Delta first hosted the town of Memphis.

By the 4th century AD, Memphis was in decline, and the Romans established there a fortress called Babylon. Following the Muslim conquest in 641, a settlement next to Babylon became known as Fustat.

Later, it had a new name, Cairo, derived from the Arabic "al-Qahirah," which means “the Conqueror”, and was given following the town's establishment as the capital of the Fatimid dynasty, in 969.

The capital moved a bit here and there over the centuries as different powers took hold, but modern-day Cairo covers them all. Downtown Cairo is the colloquial name given to the 19th-century western expansion of the city, which became its commercial center and elite neighborhood. The area was designed by prestigious French architects commissioned by Ismail the Magnificent, the then-ruler of Egypt, who wanted to make the Egyptian capital better than Paris and the jewel of the Orient.

Cairo is also titled "the city of a thousand minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture. In 1979, the historic center was awarded World Heritage Site status.

One of the city's most renowned attractions is The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, also known as the Egyptian Museum. It has over 136,000 artifacts on display, including finds from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. The museum is located in Liberation (or Tahrir) Square, which gained international prominence during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Another location of note is Abdeen Palace, a historic royal residence and a must-visit site for those interested in the country's regal past.

For those who appreciate heritage, Muizz Street (Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatimi) is a treasure trove of historic Islamic architecture and markets dating back to medieval times.

And, of course, no visit to Cairo is complete without exploring the enchanting Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, offering a wide array of souvenirs, crafts, spices, and local cuisine.

Throughout its 1,000-plus-year-long history, Cairo has been a witness to the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. Downtown Cairo itself is a relic of a bygone era — Egypt's belle epoque — and demonstrates the vision for developing Egypt. To see the blend of ancient wonders and modern marvels that it contains, take this self-guided walk.
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Cairo Downtown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cairo Downtown Walking Tour
Guide Location: Egypt » Cairo (See other walking tours in Cairo)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: felicity
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
  • Liberation Square
  • Talaat Harb Square (Midan Talaat Harb)
  • Abdeen Palace
  • Museum of Islamic Art
  • Muizz Street
  • Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

1) The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (must see)

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum, popularly known as the Egyptian Museum is a repository of the largest collection of ancient Egyptian objects in the world. It is located to the north of Tahrir Square next to the Nile Hilton hotel.

The Egyptian Museum was established to prevent the removal of Egyptian treasures by foreigners in the 1830s. It first occupied a building in Bulaq on the banks of the River Nile in 1863. After many objects were damaged when the building was flooded, a new museum was built. The present building was designed by French architect, Marcel Dourgnon and inaugurated in 1902.

The Egyptian Museum has a collection of over 120,000 items. Notable exhibits are objects from Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb displayed on the second floor including a gold funerary mask and sarcophagus. The second floor also has a Mummy room with the mummified remains of 11 kings and queens. One room on the same floor displays mummified birds and animals found in royal tombs. The ground floor has a collection of papyrus and coins. The collection not only has papyrus and coins from the age of the Pharaohs but also from the Greek and Roman civilizations. There is also a collection of coins minted under Islamic rule. Other objects displayed on the ground floor are tablets, statues and coffins from the age of the Pharaohs.

Why You Should Visit:
Great location in the heart of the city and the place to visit for a unique and famous Egyptian antiquities collection.
You can get a lot closer to the exhibits than you'd expect and see some amazing history up close.

Try to visit with a professional guide, preferably a trained Egyptologist. Do not hire a random person outside.
If you can plan your visit on a day that they are open in the evening, you'll be rewarded with a smaller crowd of people.
Make sure you download/screenshot a map of each floor onto your device. Mark the items you don't want to miss before you go. A little research will save a lot of time!
Liberation Square

2) Liberation Square

The Liberation Square or Tahrir Square is the main gathering place for protests and events in Cairo. It was the scene of eight continuous days of protests where the people of Egypt forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign in 2011.

The Tahrir Square was once called the Midan Ismailia. After the revolution in 1952, that made Egypt a republic from a monarchy, it got its present name. The Square has been the venue of demonstrations in 1881 against the Khedive Tawfiq and in 1919 against the British. In 2003, it hosted demonstrations against the War in Iraq. It has always been a popular place for demonstrations because those who oppose policies and governments take control of the center of Cairo.

The Liberation Square is located at one of Cairo’s main traffic intersections. It consists of a central grassy area surrounded by busy boulevards. Important institutions like the Egyptian Museum, the offices of the Arab league, the Nile Hotel, the National Democratic Party headquarters Building and the American University in Cairo are found near the square. It also has many souvenir shops and is the starting point of walking tours around the city. Visitors use the underground viaducts to get across the busy streets around Tahrir Square.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Cairo's largest squares, where you can enjoy a nice view of the city and some of the fresh air coming from the Nile.

Surrounded by crowded roads so beware while crossing it from a side to another.
Talaat Harb Square (Midan Talaat Harb)

3) Talaat Harb Square (Midan Talaat Harb)

At the opposite end of Talaat Harb Street from Tahrir Square, you'll find Talaat Harb Square, or "Midan Talaat Harb." This area, in the center of the city, is always bustling with activity. Expect heavy traffic and lots of pedestrians enjoying shopping and the cafes along the way.

The square's main feature is the striking statue to the square's namesake, Talaat Harb Pacha. Talaat Harb was an Eqyptian entrepreneur who founded Banque Misr in 1920. The founding of the Egyptian owned bank was a significant step towards establishing Egypt's own identity apart from the colonial powers. Talaat Harb was later instrumental in establishing many businesses in Egypt's private sector, including shipping, movie making, insurance, and the national airline, Egypt Air.

The street and square have been front and center in Cairo life for decades. You'll find many once-famous establishments that have gone out of business. But their presence along the square stands as a testament to their importance. Groppi was a famous tearoom and chocolatier in its heyday, but it is now closed. Café Riche was a meeting spot for the cities intellectuals and revolutionaries, but only the building remains. The Art Deco-designed Metro Cinema is still evident. It opened in 1939 with Gone With the Wind. Now the theater shows low-budget action movies.

The buildings surrounding Talaat Harb Square exemplify the varied history of the nation's colonial past. Buildings here are done in the French neoclassical style. These streets were once home to the city's most successful shops. This part of town was once called "Paris on the Nile," thanks to its nineteenth-century elegance.
Abdeen Palace

4) Abdeen Palace (must see)

The Abdeen Palace is a large ornate building that is one of the official residences and the main office of the President of Egypt. A portion of the palace is now a museum.

The Abdeen Palace was built on the ruins of an old house belonging to Abdeen Bay, a commander of Mohamed Ali Pasha the Wali of Egypt. In 1872, Khedive Ismail, the then ruler of Egypt moved to the palace from the citadel and made it his official residence. The present building was constructed between 1863 and 1874. It was designed by the French architect Rousseau and Egyptian, Turkish, French and Italian decorators worked on its ornate interiors. It was the scene of the Abdeen Palace incident of 1942 when King Farouk I was forced to abdicate by the British.

The Abdeen Palace has lavish interiors with sculpture, paintings and clocks decorated with pure gold in its parlors and wings. The first floor is now used for visiting foreign dignitaries and the lower floors have museums including the Arms Museum, the Royal Family Museum, the Historical Documents Museum that was recently inaugurated in 2005 and the Presidential Gifts Museum displaying gifts given to the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the few places in Cairo that are nicely maintained – fantastic for fans of historic and ornamental weapons.
The grounds of the compound are lovely. There are a few tables to relax with coffee/tea or a small snack.

The ticket counter is not at the entrance to the museum but across the street.
There is an additional fee if you want to take photos inside.
Museum of Islamic Art

5) Museum of Islamic Art

The Museum of Islamic Art claims to be the largest in the world dedicated to Islamic artifacts. Their collection holds an impressive 100,000 pieces, though many are in storage. Visitors can view over 4,500 pieces spread across 25 halls and galleries. The collection is arranged based on the period and materials used.

Of particular interest, the museum provides a breadth of research opportunities for individuals wishing to learn about Islamic sciences like medicine, astronomy, or engineering. Many artifacts show historic daily life, like glass and porcelain utensils, jewelry, and weapons.

The Museum of Islamic Art's vision is to display, interpret, and preserve artifacts while making them accessible to the maximum number of visitors. They're also dedicated to studying and preserving the Islamic world's arts and encouraging dialogue across cultures.

The museum has undergone several restorations and expansions over the years. In 2014, the museum was heavily damaged by a car bomb that was targeting the police station across the street. Many artifacts needed to be restored, and the building's front facades were severely damaged. It reopened in 2017.
Muizz Street

6) Muizz Street (must see)

Al-Muizz Street holds a significant place in the ancient walled city of historic Cairo, running from north to south. It's considered one of Cairo's oldest thoroughfares, dating back to the 10th century when the Fatimid dynasty established the city, under their fourth caliph, Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah, after whom the street is named.

Throughout history, this street was the lifeline of the city and often referred to as the Qasaba. It served as the primary economic hub, hosting bustling markets. The street's importance led to the construction of numerous grand religious and charitable structures, commissioned by Egypt's rulers and elites. As a result, Al-Muizz Street has become a treasure trove of historic Islamic architecture in Cairo, particularly in the Bayn al-Qasrayn area, where you'll find some of Islamic Cairo's most significant monuments.

In 1997, the national government embarked on an extensive renovation project for the historical buildings, modern structures, pavement, and sewer system with the aim of transforming the street into an "open-air museum."

The renovations sought to restore the street's original appearance. Taller buildings that obscured the view of monuments were reduced in height and painted in suitable colors, while the street was repaved in its original style. Furthermore, the street's nighttime ambiance was updated through the installation of advanced exterior lighting systems on buildings.

Why You Should Visit:
There are more sites and attractions than you can count on Muizz Street. A UN study found that this one street has the most fantastic collection of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world. You'll find dozens of mosques, madrasas, and hamams, along with shops, restaurants, and markets.
Nearby Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar is a major souq (market) and is popular with locals and tourists. It's a great place to enjoy dinner or lunch and buy some souvenirs.
While all of the buildings along Muizz Street are architectural treasures, don't miss the Azhar Mosque, Cairo's first mosque built in 970. Also, visit Bab Zuweila, the medieval gate into the walled city, and one of Cairo's most important landmarks.


Visit the street in the evening to see the buildings illuminated with special lighting. The vibe at night is entirely different, with lots of street food and people enjoying the cooler air.
Many attractions and monuments charge an extra fee for bringing your camera.
Remember that weekends here are Friday and Saturday, and that's when you'll find Muizz Street and all of its attractions the busiest.
Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar

7) Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar (must see)

The Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar popularly called the Khan is one of the oldest markets in Egypt. This open-air market retains the medieval ambience of a traditional Arab market till today.

The Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar was established as a large caravanserai by Emir Jaharks al Khalili in 1382 during the reign of the Burji Mamluk Sultan, Barkuk. It was rebuilt many times after its establishment. It was called the Turkish Bazaar under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. Its popularity among foreign tourists looking for bargains has also made it the target of terrorist attacks.

The Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar has shops selling textiles, spices, traditional arts and crafts, jewelry and perfumes. There are also several street hawkers selling small souvenirs at bargain prices for visitors to take home as mementos. Egyptians prefer shopping at the west of the market where gold and silver objects and jewelry are available. Beyond the gold and silver market are canvas covered shops selling bronze and copper artifacts. There are also many restaurants, hookah bars (called Shisha bars) and coffee houses serving traditional Arabian coffee. The El-Fishawi Café or café of mirrors is a favorite among local artists and writers and is frequented by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz. The bazaar is the setting of his novel, 'Midaq Alley'.

Prepare to have your haggling skills challenged! Entertain only if you wish to buy something specific and never accept the first price.
Don't stray too far off the main shopping street because of pickpockets and other dangers.
Visit in the day as well as the night – completely different vibes!

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles

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