Last updated: 12:39 PM ET, Mon February 11 2019
View of Cairo from the Citadel - Egypt (Photo via Leonid Andronov / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Cairo

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Cairo, Egypt, the capital of that country, is the second-largest city in Africa, after Lagos, Nigeria. If you count the entire metropolitan area of greater Cairo, including 10 million who live just outside the city limits, it’s the largest urban center in Africa and the 11th-largest in the world. Cairo is also one of the world’s most popular cities, primarily because of a nearly steady stream of tourists there to visit the sights of ancient Egypt that they have seen in books since they were small children.  Though the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx are technically in Giza, that city is separated from Cairo only by the Nile River, which runs through the metropolitan area. People travel to Cairo to see the pyramids. Most tourists stay in Cairo and just cross the river to see the pyramids. Cairo is a modern, international city as well as a gateway to some of the oldest, largest and most mysterious monuments of the ancient world.

The main attractions of Cairo, besides the pyramids and the sphinx, include the Egyptian Museum, which houses many of the relics from ancient Egypt, including the tomb of “the boy king” Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut; the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, a shopping market; the Cairo Tower, which has a revolving observation deck and stands 187 meters tall, 43 meters taller than the Great Pyramid; and the spectacular Al-Azhar Mosque, which dates back to 970.  

The Museum of Islamic Art has been closed for renovations since 2006, but is scheduled to reopen in late 2010. It is considered one of the best collections of Islamic art in the world, with an exceptional collection of rare woodwork and plaster pieces, as well as metal, ceramic, glass, crystal and textile exhibits from around the Muslim world. The museum has 102,000 pieces. Also of interest is the Citadel, a fortress with massive stone walls, Islamic-style onion domes flanked by tall minarets. It was built during the period from 1176 to 1184 by the ruler Saladin using stone from pyramids as a fortress against the invasions of the Crusaders. The wall was not completed until 1238, after Saladin’s death.

Nile dinner cruises are a popular attraction. Many visitors go to nearby Memphis, the historic capital of lower Egypt, where the remains of many of the ancient Egyptian temples can be seen. Memphis is no longer inhabited. As in most major international cities, food choices are broad. Besides Middle Eastern menus, diners can choose from many Indian, Italian, Thai, French, Continental and even American style restaurants. Hotel choices run the gamut, from the bottom to the top five star luxury brands. Choice hotels brands in Cairo include InterContinental, Sonesta, Sheraton, Sofitel, Marriott, Fairmont and Le Meridien.