Cairo is a vibrant and exciting destination for travellers from all over the world. From the ancient Pyramids of Giza to the bustling markets and bazaars, the capital of Egypt is a city steeped in history and culture. However, it’s vast and sprawling so deciding where to stay can be overwhelming. That's why we've put together this guide to help you find the best areas to stay in Cairo.
If you're planning a visit and wondering where to stay, you're in for a treat. Cairo is a mesmerizing blend of ancient wonders, bustling markets, and modern developments, offering a plethora of exciting areas to cater to every traveller's preferences. Whether you seek historical charm, convenient access to iconic landmarks, or a lively urban atmosphere, Cairo has it all.
In this guide, we'll explore the best areas to stay in Cairo, each with its unique charm and attractions, ensuring an unforgettable experience in this enchanting city. Let's delve into the neighborhoods that will make your stay in Cairo truly remarkable.
Top tip: here's how to spend 24 hours in Cairo
Most people prefer to get accustomed to Downtown Cairo before tackling the older Islamic quarters, for even in this westernized area, known in Arabic as wust al-balad (literally, “the town centre”), the culture shock can be profound.
The area is essentially a lopsided triangle, bounded by Ramses Station, Midan Ataba and Garden City, and for the most part it’s compact enough to explore on foot. Only the Ramses quarter and the further reaches of Garden City are sufficiently distant to justify using transport. At the heart of the Downtown area is the broad, bustling expanse of Tahrir Square, its most famous landmark the domed Egyptian Museum, which houses the finest collection of its kind in the world.
The layout of the downtown area goes back to the 1860s, when Khedive Ismail had it rebuilt in the style of Haussmann’s new Paris boulevards to impress dignitaries attending the inauguration of the Suez Canal, and had it named the Ismailiya Quarter.
Downtown Cairo offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury hotels. Many of the hotels in this area offer easy access to the city's top attractions such as the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square, and the Nile River, making it a convenient location to stay in Cairo.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Downtown Cairo
In a city with two names – Masr and Al-Qahira – Cairenes distinguish between al-Qahira al-Qadima (Old al-Qahira, known in English as Islamic Cairo) and Masr al-Qadima, Old Masr, or as it’s known in English, Old Cairo.
Depending on whether it’s broadly or narrowly defined, this covers everything south of Garden City and Saiyida Zeinab, or a relatively small area near the Mar Girgis metro station, known to foreigners as “Coptic Cairo”, which remains the heart of Cairo’s Coptic community.
Featuring several medieval churches, the superb Coptic Museum and an atmospheric synagogue, it totally eclipses the neighbouring site of Fustat – Egypt’s first Islamic settlement, of which little now remains.
Old Cairo offers a range of accommodation options for tourists, from budget-friendly hostels to mid-range hotels with views of the historic city. Many of the hotels in this area are housed in traditional buildings, adding to the area's charm and authenticity.
RoughGuides Tip: make sure to read our article best day trips from Caio
The northern half of Gezira, Zamalek, is full of apartments, villas, offices and embassies, with a Westernized ambience and nightlife. Both seem so integral to Cairo that it’s hard to envisage their absence, yet the island itself only coalesced out of mudbanks in the river in the early 1800s, and remained unstable until the first Aswan Dam regulated the Nile’s flood in the 1900s. For more on the history and architecture of Gezira and Zamalek.
Zamalek is a popular area in Cairo for tourists, offering a variety of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From affordable hostels to upscale hotels and apartments, Zamalek has something for everyone, and visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Nile River.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Zamalek
Few foreigners enter Islamic Cairo without equal measures of excitement and trepidation. Streets are narrow and congested, overhung with latticed balconies. Mosques, bazaars and medieval lanes abound; the smell of sheeshas and frying offal wafts through alleys where muezzins wail “Allahu akbar!” (God is most great) and beggars entreat “Ya mohannin, ya rabb” (O awakener of pity, O master) – as integral to street life as the artisans and hawkers.
The sights, sounds, smells and surprises draw you back time after time, and getting lost or dispensing a little baksheesh is a small price to pay for the experience. You can have a fascinating time exploring this quarter of the city without knowing anything about its history or architecture, but a little knowledge of both will bring it more to life.
In 1992 an earthquake caused a lot of damage in Islamic Cairo, which ironically led to many mosques and monuments being repaired and restored to their original glory after years of neglect.
Tourists visiting Islamic Cairo can find a range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to mid-range hotels and guesthouses. Many of the hotels in this area are housed in historic buildings and offer easy access to the area's famous mosques and bazaars.
During the last century, Cairo’s northern suburbs swallowed up villages and farmland and expanded far into the desert to form a great arc of residential neighbourhoods stretching from the Nile to the Muqattam. Heliopolis, with its handsome boulevards and Art Deco villas, is still favoured above the satellite suburbs that have mushroomed in recent decades and retains a sizeable foreign community.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the doubling of Cairo’s population and the exponential growth of its foreign community had created a huge demand for new accommodation, which fired the imagination of a Belgian entrepreneur, Baron Édouard Empain, itching for new projects after his successful construction of the Paris Metro.
Baron Empain proposed creating a garden city in the desert, linked to the downtown area by tram. The suburb’s wide avenues were lined with apartment blocks ennobled by pale yellow Moorish facades and bisected by shrubbery. Wealthy Egyptians settled here from the beginning; merely prosperous ones moved in as foreigners left in droves during the 1950s. Heliopolis is known in Arabic as Masr al-Gadida (“New Cairo”).
The northern suburbs of Cairo offer a mix of luxury hotels and resorts, as well as budget-friendly options for tourists. Many of the hotels in this area offer easy access to the Cairo International Airport and are situated near popular shopping and entertainment areas.
The West Bank of Cairo offers a range of accommodation options for tourists, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious resorts and hotels. Many of the hotels in this area offer stunning views of the Nile River and easy access to the ancient Egyptian sites of Giza and Saqqara.
The districts on the west bank of the Nile are administered by the Giza governorate, which is separate from that of Cairo, though transport and utilities are effectively integrated. If you cross over to the west bank of the Nile from Zamalek, you arrive at Mohandiseen, laid out during the 1960s to house Egypt’s new technocrats.
Medinat Mohandiseen (“Engineers’ City”), as the suburb was initially called, responded to an influx of business and media folk during the Sadat era by shortening its name and trying to be more American in style.
Its main axis, Arab League Street (Sharia Gameat al-Dowal al-Arabiya) is bisected by palms and shrubbery for its three-kilometre length, and on a clear day (admittedly a rare occurrence in Cairo), you can look down it and see the Giza Pyramids, to which it is aligned.
Accommodation options on Roda Island in Cairo are limited, but you can find a few hotels and guesthouses that offer budget-friendly and mid-range options with views of the Nile River. The island is also a convenient location for exploring Downtown Cairo.
The narrow channel between Roda Island and the mainland is bridged in such a way that the island engages more with Garden City than with Old Cairo – a reversal of historic ties. As the much-rebuilt Nilometer suggests, it was the southern end of Roda that was visited by ferries en route between Memphis and Heliopolis, and Roman ships bound for Babylon-in-Egypt.
However, Roda reverted to agricultural use as Cairo’s focus shifted northeastwards, and nothing remains of the Byzantine fortress that defied the Muslim invasion, nor the vast Ayyubid qasr where the Bahri Mamlukes were garrisoned.
Its sights are very spread out, and you wouldn’t normally visit them together. Manial Palace, at the island’s northern end, is most conveniently reached from Garden City, while the Nilometer and Umm Kalthoum Museum at its southern end are easiest to get to from Old Cairo.
The island of Gezira dominates the waterfront from Garden City to Bulaq, nearly 4km long and connected to either bank of the Nile by three sets of bridges. The southern half is Gezira proper (literally “island”), and includes the Gezira Sporting Club, laid out by the British Army on land given by Khedive Tewfiq and occupying almost a third of the island.
Gezira Island offers a mix of luxury hotels and budget-friendly options for tourists visiting Cairo. Many of the hotels in this area offer stunning views of the Nile River and easy access to the city's top attractions.