Cairo is a huge city with many districts and it requires several days to see it all. I was in Cairo for 9 days with my family and one day trip we did was to see the Coptic Cairo quarters, the Cairo Tower and the Egyptian Museum at the Tahrir Square. Our Egyptian Sidekicks accompanied us again this day making it an efficient day. In case you doubt, Egypt is perfectly safe at the moment for travel! Interested in Cairo? Then read on as I share my experience with you, give you tips and show you lots of photos.
Coptic Cairo – Hanging Church
Coptic Cairo dates back to the 6th century B.C. and served as a stronghold for Christians in the region. The current buildings are of more recent construction dating back to a few centuries A.C. The area is small with all sights concentrated in one place compared to the Islamic parts area of Cairo. The Coptic Cairo area is part of the Historic Cairo UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of various churches and Roman remains. At the entrance of Coptic Cairo there is a police check point with luggage scans and a personal scan to make sure that you are safe in the area. Due to the recent developments in the region there were not many tourists during our visit and this made our visit easy and efficient. We did not feel unsafe at any time!
We walked along the deserted road towards our first stop at the Hanging Church located in the end of the street. This church is one of the oldest churches and for sure the most famous one in Coptic Cairo. It has been the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope in the early 11th century before he moved to Alexandria. The church is named the Hanging Church because the nave is suspended over a passage of an old Babylon fortress. Through the gate you end up in a nice long and small courtyard leading you to the staircase up to the elevated church.
Once inside you will be overwhelmed by the beautiful decorations, wall paintings, icons and other religious artifacts. Many items are from the recent 17-18th century but some dating back over 10 centuries. Above the ebony, laid-in with ivory, altar is a beautiful painting divided in 7 parts with Jesus in the middle. The church is used still today and it is a great place to see people from the local Coptic community. They are friendly and open to explain more about the area and their beliefs. After an hour we went further to the church next door, the St. George Church.
Coptic Cairo – A rainy walk
From the Hanging Church we walked along the Babylon Fortress to the St. George Church. You will see that the Babylon and Roman remains are on a much lower level as the current buildings. The remains of various fortifications are visible and part of the current buildings. The St. George Church was rebuilt early 20th century after a fire. Inside is a large area surrounded by mural paintings everywhere with in the middle a glass floor where you can see older remains below. Unfortunately it was not possible to enter these. The church is dedicated to St. George and has also a monastery next door which was not open for visit but we did walk over the graveyard when it started to pour rain. We continued to the Coptic museum where we spend an hour exploring all the artifacts and learning more about the history of the area. Unfortunately photographing was not allowed inside the museum. From there we walked further down the road to enter on the right the Coptic residential area with more churches and interesting buildings.
It stopped raining in the meantime when we entered the Coptic Quarter through the small entrance its small winding streets like a maze behind it. Tourism in Cairo is not like it was before and the small streets were full of souvenir stalls with paintings and other stuff but no buyers! It was strange to wander these empty alleys which should be packed with people. We stopped by at various churches like the St. Barbara Church, Church of the Holy Virgin, another St. George Church with a nunnery and the Synagogue of Ben Ezra. In the 12th century the Copts had to sell this former Coptic Church to raise funds and it has been a Synagogue since. When we finished exploring the alleys we went to take a look at the Amr Bin Aas Mosque which is not actually part of Coptic Cairo but just across the street.
TIP! Visit the Amr Bin Aas Mosque on the day you do the Coptic Cairo tour to safe time the other days.
The Amr Bin Aas Mosque is just located outside the main street of Coptic Cairo and should be visited before or after the Coptic Cairo tour to safe time when exploring Islamic Cairo another day. The mosque is important as it’s the first mosque on the African continent dating back to the 7th century. It is built on the location of the tent of the army general Amr ibn al-As whose son has a tomb in the mosque. Over the centuries the mosque was extended and rebuild several times and nothing of the original building remains today. This active mosque is a great place to learn about the Islamic culture and talk to locals. It is advised to visit outside of prayer time for tourists to not disturb the prayers. Of course you are free to join any prayer if you want to. There are always people inside reading, praying, and if you ask they are happy to answer any questions you have. From here we went to the Cairo Tower for lunch.
We arrived at the Cairo Tower around lunch time but to be honest it’s not the best place to take lunch. Later, in a separate article, I will take you on a food tour in Cairo. The Cairo Tower with its 187 meters is the tallest building in North Africa. It is designed like a lotus plant of the Pharaohs by architect Naoum Shebib. An interesting fact is that it was built from US money, given to the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 60s as a bribe. It had a big restoration a few years back and this is probably the cause of the high entrance fee we had to pay. At the entrance level there are beautiful mosaics depicting various scenes of daily live. At the top there is a rotating restaurant where we had a few small snacks while having a foggy view over Cairo. On a clear day you can see the Giza pyramids but we could not see far due to the fog, pollution and not the best weather.
TIP! If the Cairo Tower is not very high on your list then skip it especially if the air is not clear due to fog.
A first time visit to Cairo must include a visit to the Egyptian Museum. Depending on your interest you can spend there more as a day for sure. We arrived at the Tahrir Square and went first to the Egyptian Museum. After a tight security check, handing in our camera’s we could finally enter. The collection is huge and probably the biggest in the world on Egyptian antiquities. We explored mainly the top artifacts from Tutankhamun and Psusennes I and the separate mummy rooms. These mummy rooms have a separate entrance fees but are well worth it: you can look the old Pharaoh’s in the eyes! Various small items are on the second floor from earthenware, coins, papyrus and other small statues. On the ground floor the large sarcophagus, statues and other large remains of the New Kingdom are displayed. The top item for many is probably the 11 kilogram heavy Tutankhamun mask which is truly a unique item. I watched it for several minutes just to make sure my mind would remember it well! After an hour or 3 we decided we had seen enough and went to see the Tahrir Square and find a place for dinner.
TIP! If you want to explore the museum in detail then make sure you take a full day to explore it.
NOTE! A new museum is opened in 2017 and many items are moved from the old museum!
The Tahrir Square, or Liberation Square, is currently best known because of the protests during the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Currently a perfect safe place to wander around as the army is just seconds away next to the Egyptian Museum. In the back you can see the destroyed government building which was set on fire during the 2011 revolution.
The Tahrir Square is nice to wander around and see the hectic traffic of Cairo. A large round-about leads traffic to each direction in Cairo. If you want to cross the best is to take the underground passage ways, but we decided to just cross the street. An interesting experience this was for sure with cars all around you like bees. There is not so much to do on the square rather than just having been at this historic site. In the later afternoon we walked with our Egyptian Sidekicks towards a nearby real Islamic quarter for dinner! A lot of friendly smiles from, taking photos with, the local people as they were not used to Western tourists at all. I will take you on a food tour later, so stay tuned! We returned in the night at the Tahrir Square for a taxi back to our hotel. A new adventure was waiting the next day. Read what I did the other days in my 9 day Egypt itinerary.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Coptic Cairo too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!