Cairo - Downtown
Downtown Cairo is the commercial heart of the modern city of Cairo, centered on Midan Talaat Harb and located to the east and north-east of Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square). As such, although lacking in obvious tourist "attractions", Downtown is nonetheless the convenient location of many smaller hotels, retail outlets, travel agencies and restaurants that would be of interest to the traveller. The district's central location makes it, together with Midan Tahrir, a natural "jumping off point" for exploration of the city. The east end of Downtown is marked by Midan Ataba, the starting point of Islamic Cairo.
Downtown Cairo's wide boulevards and streets were laid out in the late 19th century on the orders of Ismail the Magnificent, the Paris of Baron Hausmann being the obvious model for a ruler wishing to Europeanise his capital and his country. The architecture of many buildings is clearly redolent of Paris in the 1870s, if now somewhat run down from neglect and dusty from the Cairene climate.
Downtown Cairo's main throughfares are Sharia Talaat Harb and Sharia Qasr el-Nil, intersecting at the central junction of Midan Talaat Harb. The statue at the center of the square is of Talaat Harb himself, the founder of the Egyptian National Bank.
Be warned, all hotels/hostels as well as individuals who work the street in downtown will try to sell you vastly overpriced tours around Egypt. They can be very forceful at times as the competition for tourists is strong and they want to take money from you before the next one gets to you. Do not let yourself be bullied into taking one of these until you have spoken to fellow travellers who can give you a more neutral opinion. In fact there are very few places in Egypt where it would be necessary to organise tours from the capital, and fewer where it would be financially advantagous.
The Sadat metro station is located at Midan Tahrir, near the Egyptian Museum. From Midan Tahrir, Downtown Cairo is readily accessible, with only a 10 minute easy walk to the centre of the district, via Talaat Harb Street. You can take the metro from the Sadat station to the rail station (Mubarak station) or to Coptic Cairo (Mar Girgis station).
Taxis to/from Zamalek, the Citadel, Coptic Cairo or Islamic Cairo should cost LE 5. Do not confirm the fare before getting in. No resident of Cairo does this, you should always pay afterwards, after you have stepped out of the cab, with no discussion of the price (unless the taxi driver thinks you've given him an unfair price). If you are obviously a tourist with your Lonely Planet Guide, North Face backpack, and are wearing shorts than you can sometimes expect an argument even if you have offered the correct price. Either pay him more to keep the peace (odds are he needs the money more than you) or just walk away.
- Abdeen Palace Museum, (Accessible from Midan Tahrir via Mohammad Mahmoud Street or Al-Tahrir Street, or via the Abdeen metro station). Collections are showcased on the lower floors in the Silver Museum, the Arms Museum, the Royal Family Museum, and the Presidential Gifts Museum, and the Historical Documents Museum was added in 2006. The palace, designed in the 1800s by a French architect, is worth seeing including the fountain courtyard.
- Museum of Islamic Art, Bab El Khalk Square, Sharia Port Said(near Abdeen Palace). Established in 1880 under authority of Khedive Tawfiq, the museum showcases pieces from mosques, homes, and palaces in Islamic Cairo. The museum has been closed for renovations since summer 2006, and is scheduled to reopen in 2009 (at the earliest).
- The Postal Museum, Al-Ataba Square, ☎ (02) 2391-0011. This museum holds a plethora of historical exhibits relating to all things postal, from the history of the post system dating back to the time of the Pyramids to extensive stamp collections.
- Cinema Metro, 35 Talaat Harb. Once one of Cairo's most opulent movie palaces, the Metro has fallen on sadly disheveled, dusty, almost squalid times. It is still a convenient place to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster in English.10-20 LE.
- Cairo Puppet Theatre, Azbekia Park(Near the Ataba metro station.), ☎ (02) 2268-5241(email@example.com), . A fantastic was to spend an afternoon with the kids. the Cairo puppet Theatre puts on a variety of shows including myths, fairy tails and fun children's stories.
- Ramses Hilton Cinema, 1115 Corniche El Nil(Ramses Hilton Mall). Theater at the Ramses Hilton shows modern, mainstream movies. Best to get there by taxi.
The Downtown district of Cairo features a number of Egyptian department stores. These were once fantastic emporiums, full of the world's best products - until July 1961 when every one of Egypt's great department stores were nationalized. Those days are long gone, but quality shopping has moved to upmarket malls in Heliopolis, Nasr City, Maadi and other upscale neighborhoods. Today Downtown is the place to go for cheap fakes and local produce of variable quality and the full range of Arabic pop music (and films).
- Madbouli, 6 Midan Talaat Harb, ☎ +202 575-6421. Mostly Arabic bookstore with a range of political literature and other books.
- Omar Effendi, 25 Adly St, ☎ +202 2392-5011, . A large iconic Egyptian, department store, similar to Macy's.
- Sednaoui Department Store, On Khazindar Square(near Al-Ataba Square). This once family owned department store was nationalized in 1961 and now has the neglected feeling of communist area shores in Eastern Europe.
- Sharia Shawarby. The best street to bargain hunt for music, DVDs and clothes, doing be afraid to haggle, watch how the locals do it for tips.
- Shorouk Bookshop, 1 Talaat Harb Square, ☎ +202 391-2480. Located on Midan Talaat Harb, Shorouk has two floors with a good selection of both Arabic and English language books.
- Talaat Harb mall. Most famous for it's downstairs fast food restaurants. Many cheap clothes stores are also in the vicinity of the mall which is placed just above Midan Talaat Harb.
Downtown is not the main haunt for the greatest of culinary treats, although quality eating does exist. It's however heaven for Egyptian snacks, sweets and fast food. All restaurants under "splurge" serve alcohol unless otherwise noted.
- Quick Sandwich, 2 El Fawala Street(Downtown, Opera Square). A pioneer in the Egyptian based chains offers some of the best Shawerma rolls and Shish-Kebab sandwiches, excellent value meals and great taste- delivery is an option by calling 16013. relatively cheap.
- Kushari al-Tahrir, Abdel Khaleq Sarwat.
- GAD, 13, 26th of July St., ☎ 02-576-35-83/33-53. Fast Food Restaurant, done Egyptian Style. Usually very busy packed with locals, but very good food at a very non-tourist price. Good foul and taamiyya. Large restaurant located on 26th July St, just off Talaat Harb, in downtown Cairo.
- Al Tazaj Fakieh, 30 Talaat Harb St, ☎ 19018. Kebab with a chicken twist, this Cairo chain serves up chicken in all it's oriental varieties.
- Alfi Bey, 3 Al-Alfi Street. Egyptian cuisine is served in this small restaurant, including kofta, kabobs, stuffed pigeon, lamb, and chicken.
- The Greek Club, Talaat Harb Square(enter off Mahmoud Bassiouni), ☎ +20 2 575 0822. 5 EP entrance fee, open from 19 PM. Mostly frequented by liberal and leftist Egyptians rather than Greeks, this is one of the best restaurants in Downtown Cairo. The Greek food offered is limited and the menu often erratic, but the dishes they do have in supply are very good and cheap. Alcohol (including imported spirits) is served and it's possible to just have a drink. Some of the best Kofte in Cairo. Closes down completely during Ramadan.
- Felfela, 15 Sharia Hoda Sharaawi, ☎ +20 2 392 2833. open daily 7.30am-12.30am. no credit cards A Cairo institution, this restaurant represents the original flagship of the now burgeoning Felfela chain of restaurants throughout Cairo. Long wooden tables and eclectic, somewhat kitschy décor: aquariums, clocks, half-lit grottos complete with mini-waterfalls. Somehow it all works. Specializes in classic Egyptian cuisine. The vegetarian dishes are better than the meat. Try the lemonade - perfect refreshment on a hot day! Also serves beer.
- Groppi's, Midan Talaat Harb. Situated on the square itself is the once opulent Groppi's, formerly the most famous café, tearoom and patisserie in Egypt. Between the 1920s and early 1950s, Groppi's was the place to be seen by Cairene society. Its former glories stripped away to dusty memories, Groppi's is nonetheless still just open for business. Be sure to check out the ornate mosaics around the doorway - a relic of former times.
- La Chesa, 21 Adly St., ☎ 02-393 9360/5768. Serving fondues, and other traditional Swiss dishes, pizza, salads and patisseries, this is one of the better continental restaurants in Downtown Cairo.
- Cafe Riche, 17 Shar'a Talaat Harb, ☎ 02-392-9793. Another place of forlorn glory. Very popular with tourists, but the reasons for fame are questionable, it's rather expensive for what you get and service is slow, even for Cairo.
- Peking, 14 Saray el Azbakia St.(off Emad El Din St.), . Branch of the Cairo Peking restaurant chain. All their branches offer relatively predictable, but very good Chinese food.
Downtown is a primary walk for coffee houses and almost every side-street has one. However, some areas and street have clusters of small places which makes for a very lively atmosphere.
- Bursa. This cluster of coffee shops in carless streets are accessed from Qasr-el-ein/Sherif. It is a very popular place among young democracy activists and members of oppositional movements and lively until late night.
- Tawfiqiyya Souq, (North of 26th July in Downtown). This is another street with lots of coffee shops and lots of atmosphere.
- Houria, Bab-al-Louq. This place doubles as coffee shop and bar, making it quite unique in Cairo. It's also the cheapest beer you can get in Cairo and when we can add that it's also the nicest and less sleazy of the cheap downtown bars, there's no reason not to rave about this place.
- Odeon, 6 Shar'a Abdel Hamid Said(Odeon Palace Hotel, off Shar'a Tala'at Harb), ☎ 02/767-971. 24 hours. This roof-top open-air hotel bar is also a restaurant, but most visitors prefer just to drink or have shisha. Beer (Stella or Saqqara) is 10 EP. Very popular among backpackers and foreign students. Open during Ramadan.
Downtown Cairo is full of cheap but often dirty hostels and hotels.
- Dahab Hostel(Dahab Hotel), 26 Mahmoud Bassioui, ☎ +202 579-9104. This low-key, basic hostel is popular with the "no frills" travelers who want a basic room redolent of a Dahab beach experience in the big city and not much else. The Dahab is basically a collection of rooms on a rooftop in the Downtown area. WiFi is FREE!Beds starting at 3€.
- each way hotel, 44 talaat harb street downtown, ☎ 00202 0122844677, . This is a new place in Cairo designed for all budget travellers. Established on July 2008, Each Way Hostel is located in a pleasant, quiet area Talat Harb Street(Downtown), only a short walk from Talat Harb Square. It is a clean, economical place and close to Egyptian museum and several other main sights with several transport options available.12$.
- Garden City Hotel, 23 Kamal El Dine Salah St, Garden City, ☎ +202 2794 8400, . Used to be a well-run hotel owned by Italians, now just an average, grimy but functional hotel. The staff isn't particularly the best but the bedding is clean and the rooms are big. No sign of any TVs. 55EGP a night inc. breakfast. No air con.
- King Tut Hostel, 37 Talaat Harb St, 8th floor, ☎ +20-2-3917897, . Single/double LE45/70 with shared bathroom, LE75/100 en suite.
- Luna Hotel, 27 Talaat Harb, ☎ +202 2396-1020, . One of the best hostels in Cairo, Hostel/Hotel Luna offers both quiet and noisy rooms (depending on the orientation towards Sharia Talaat Harb, incredibly noisy street below), for prices that soared lately, but the cleanliness of rooms is beyond comparison. If you arrive at night, prepare for long and hard discussion with Hany Moussa concerning your Egypt tours. Ignore the overpriced tours, and stick to the basics - sleep and shower!
- Lialy Hostel, 8 Talaat Harb Sq, ☎ 00202 5753404(firstname.lastname@example.org), . One of the best hostels in Cairo, clean rooms with breakfast, cheap, friendly staff and a great location. Like the Luna though, do not buy a tour from here, they are incredibly overpriced.
- Sultan Hotel, Tawfiqqya Souq(near Nasser, north of Sharia 26th of July). Dorms from 11 EGP, homely family atmosphere, satellite TV, kitchen. In the same building are also the Safary Hotel and the Venice Hotel.
- Berlin Hotel, Sharia Shawarby. Reportedly more expensive than most budget options, at about LE87 per night. The staff are friendly and helpful, however, the rooms big and with private showers. Breakfast is included in the price and can be served in your room. The hotel itself though is isolated at the top of a run-down building and lacks atmosphere.
- Grand Hotel, 26 July St, ☎ 025757700(email@example.com). US$40.
There are a handful of internet cafes around Midan Talaat Harb.
This page was last edited at 09:10, on 9 December 2008 by Wikitravel user Cacahuate. Based on work by Jani Patokallio, Carson Roen, Michele Ann Jenkins and haytham, Wikitravel user(s) Aude, Trew, Atayseer and Morph, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.