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Are you considering a trip to Egypt but not sure if you could survive Cairo? Look no further! Below I’ve detailed all you need to know to survive Cairo, from where to stay and what to do, to tips on avoiding harassment.
Cairo is incredible. I was initially worried about how I would enjoy my experience here, having heard so much from people, both online and in person, about how overwhelming the city is. Cairo is known for how dusty is it (surprise, you’re in a desert!), how relentless the vendors can be, and truthfully, just how overwhelming this city can be.
Yes it is all true. And yet I absolutely fell in love with Cairo and could see myself spending significant time in this city.
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How To Survive Cairo – A Guide To This Chaotic, Frenzied City
With a bit of a reputation for being a difficult country to travel to, wondering just how you’ll fare in the capital city is a valid concern. Cairo is shown in the media as being a dangerous place with constant harassment, and for being dirty, polluted, and scary. I can assure you that while it is indeed full of garbage and dust, it isn’t scary. You can survive Cairo, and maybe even love it!
Overview of Cairo Neighborhoods
With the largest city population in all of both Africa and the Middle East, Cairo is HUGE, meaning there are a lot of neighborhoods.
Zamalek. Zamalek is cool because it is an island in the middle of the Nile River. It is home to most of the city’s embassies which means there is always security on the streets, making this one of the safest neighborhoods. Not only is it safe, Zamalek is known for the vibrant nightlife and delicious food! This is the perfect neighborhood for surviving Cairo.
Heliopolis. Known for the architecture and being a lovely place to wander, Heliopolis is close to the airport and it is easy to get to other parts of the city from here.
Downtown Cairo. I stayed downtown Cairo when I stayed at Cairo Hub Hostel and I loved it. Tahrir Square was noisy, but I felt very safe and it’s a great location. There are tons of shops and restaurants, providing you with all you could need, and the Egyptian Museum is there.
The Fifth Settlement. This is one of the best neighborhoods in Cairo. It is a part of New Cairo and is perfect for families or those wanting to be away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, however it is pretty far out. The Fifth Settlement is a collection of affluent neighborhoods in New Cairo. This is where the nice properties on sale can be found, as well as malls and modern buildings. This is wealthy, modern Cairo.
Maadi. Favored by expats, Maadi is a green oasis amidst the dust Cairo is known for. With good places to eat, a quieter vibe, good nightlife, and parks, Maadi has a bit of everything.
Garden City. Home to some of the nicest hotels in Cairo, this is where you’ll have the best views of the Nile River, while also being within walking distance to Zamalek.
6th of October/ Sheikh Zayed. The 6th of October is the Western counterpart of New Cairo, with the Mall of Egypt and several private universities. While this is the furthest neighborhood from the airport, this would be the perfect place to stay if your focus in Cairo is the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara.
Where To Stay In Cairo
Is Cairo Safe/How To Avoid Getting Harassed?
Egypt is generally safe and can be counted on to have a very welcoming nature. However in Cairo, like any big city, you can expect the usual scams. This is mostly just people trying to overcharge you because you’re a foreigner. Pickpocketing is also something to watch out for, but I never experienced any pickpockets myself.
Cairo is pretty notorious for the men harassing women. Did I find this to be true during the time I spent in Cairo? Not at all. Even when I walked alone (always during the day) I found the men to be quite helpful and friendly. Now, at the Great Pyramids and by any markets I found that the vendors could be a lot. I wouldn’t say they harassed me at all, but they were persistent in trying to get me to purchase their wares. This could be because when I make eye contact with someone my face immediately smiles. But I never once felt unsafe.
There is also a large military and police presence in the city. You pass through metal detectors in hotels and at major tourist sites, but this is for the protection of everyone and there is nothing to fear.
How can you avoid getting harassed? While there is always a chance of getting harassed anywhere in the world, some tips would be to try to avoid eye contact with vendors or people you don’t want to converse with.
Don’t try to stand out. If you are wearing short shorts and a tiny tank top, expect people to stare – Egypt is a Muslim country after all and that isn’t the dress code that locals are accustomed to.
Avoid going to the Libyan border, and if you go to the White Desert or Siwa Oasis, go with a guide or on a guided tour.
Things To Know Before You Go To Cairo
While I have an entire post dedicated to 14 things to know before you go to Egypt, let’s add a few tips in here for Cairo.
The first tip I have is that you can expect to tip the bathroom attendant. There is someone that stands either in the bathroom or just outside. You tip them for toilet paper, a paper towel occasionally to dry your hands, and for keeping the bathroom clean.
Expect to pay a baksheesh. A baksheesh is a tip, and as tipping is a big part of the culture in Cairo, you can expect to pay one for close to everything.
The two predominant languages in Cairo are Egyptian Arabic and English.
Do not drink the tap water. Only drink bottled water.
When To Visit Cairo
Cairo is a hot city year round. This means you’ll most likely want to avoid a visit in summertime as the temperatures absolutely soar. Summer in Egypt is between June to September.
The best time to visit Cairo would be between October and May, when the temperatures are cooler, and even chilly at night or in the mornings. Keep in mind that Christmas is a popular time to visit, so prices will be much higher then.
What To Wear In Cairo
Cairo is a conservative city, meaning that while deciding on your wardrobe you need to keep yourself respectfully covered; this mean nothing over the knee or shoulders showing. You can do that in resort towns such as Hurghada, but in Cairo that’s a no-no.
I wrote the ultimate packing list for Egypt, so you should absolutely give that post a read for a more detailed conservation about what to wear, but here is a small breakdown.
Cairo is hot, so you need to keep cool. Loose fitting clothes work best here. Think
- Long dresses
- Flowy pants
- Short sleeved shirts
- Loose, long sleeved shirts
- Long skirts
How To Get Around Cairo
Like any large cosmopolitan city, there are multiple ways to get around Cairo. The two main modes of transportation are the bus or the metro. Keep in mind that Cairo is a hot city in the desert, so you can expect the buses to be quite hot in summertime, and with a population of around 10 million people, they get crowded.
For buses you have the public bus which is run by Cairo Transit Authority, there are Microbuses that look like vans, and there are private buses, but those aren’t as common for travelers to take. I found a really in depth blog post on the different buses, I’ll link it here if you’re interested!
Alternatively there is the metro, which is cheap, reliable, and has signage in both Arabic and English! If you are a solo female traveler then you should know that there are female only cars, which is a great option to have. Here is the metro map and information.
And of course there are always plenty of taxis around. If you don’t want to get in a taxi and would prefer a tracked journey, Uber is available in Cairo!
Things To Do In Cairo
With so many things to do in Cairo, here are a few of the best places to hang out in Egypt’s capital city.
- The Great Pyramids of Giza and The Sphinx
- Egyptian Museum (old, right by Tahrir Square, and new! Which is currently being constructed)
- Visit both Islamic and Coptic Cairo
- The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha
- The Cairo Citadel
- Khan El Khalili market
- Saqqara, Dashur, and Memphis Day trips
- Al-Azhar Park
For a more in depth guide on what to do in Cairo, you can read my post dedicated to spending 3 days in Cairo.
Conclusion On How To Survive Cairo
- Where To Stay in Cairo
- Is Cairo Safe?
- What To Know Before You Go
- When To Visit
- What To Wear
- How To Get Around Cairo
- What To Do in Cairo
And that’s your guide on how to survive Cairo!
In general I found the Egyptian people to be warm, friendly, and welcoming. They went out of their way to make sure I felt safe and had a good time in not just Cairo, but Egypt as a whole. I hope that on your trip to Cairo you have the same warm welcome that I experienced, and you love this city just as much as I did.
If you have any more question on how to survive Cairo, feel free to ask in the comments!