Discover the Beat of Islamic Cairo on a Historic Walking Tour

Discover the Beat of Islamic Cairo on a Historic Walking Tour

Amidst the urban sprawl of modern Cairo lies one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities…

Islamic Cairo, also known as Historic Cairo or Old Cairo, was founded in the 10th century and soon became the new centre of the Middle-Eastern Islamic world. Known as the city of one thousand minarets, Historic Cairo is one of Egypt’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sights. This part of Cairo is packed with narrow winding alleys, exquisite Islamic architecture, bustling aromatic bazaars, and resounds to the cries of its vociferous street vendors, all of which evoke images of the Arabian Nights. 

Often, the best way to feel connected to a city is to experience it on foot and walking tours are one of our favourite ways to explore. But, for many visitors, this can be a daunting task, especially when many of the world’s most intriguing ancient cities are a labyrinth of narrow lanes and not easy to navigate. Lacking street signs, and with Google maps often of no use, the most rewarding way to discover the vibrant streets of Islamic Cairo is with an expert local guide. Our immersive walking tour of this historic part of Cairo is an off-the-beaten-track guided heritage walk that helps you travel deeper and appreciate more. 

Walking between the city-wall gates of  Bab al-Futuh to Bab al-Zwayla along Al Muezz Street, you will delve into the heart of ancient Cairo. Bab al-Futuh and Bab al-Zuwayla are two of three remaining gates in the old city. Dating from the early 11th century, Bab al-Futuh is on the north side of the city, and Bab al-Zuwayla can be found to the south. Al Muezz Street is often considered the centre of Islamic Cairo and this is where you can find the impressive 13th-century Qala’un Complex containing a hospital, madrasa, and mausoleum. Along the way, you will pass no less than twenty-nine notable monuments as well as the famed Khan el Khalili bazaar where the profusion of goods on display is mind-boggling.

Cairo Khan el Khalili © ETA Bertrand Gardel
Khan el Khalili bazaar (image © ETA/Bertrand Gardel)

Join us on an immersive walking tour of Islamic Cairo…

With your back to the seething hubbub of 21st century Cairo, look up at the magnificent defensive walls of the Islamic City built by sultan Saladin in 1176. Walk through the imposing massive twin towers of Bab al-Futuh, the Gate of Conquest (built in 1081 AD), and you will enter El Qahira, the original Arabic name for the city now known as Cairo. El Qahira translates as The Victorious and was the name given by the Fatimid caliph when he built it as a princely suburb in 974. 

A narrow lane leads you past elegant palaces and mosques with wonderfully rich decorative stonework and tall minarets. Passing historic courtyards, you might catch glimpses of blood-red flame trees in bloom. Look up at the intricate wooden grills where ladies could look down on proceedings without being seen. The urge to peep into every yard is insatiable: each corner seems to hide a secret. As you penetrate further into Islamic Cairo, you come to the famous Khan el Khalili bazaar, where, as you brush past silks and garments blowing gently in the breeze, the lanes get even narrower.

Next, you will come to Souk Al Khayamiya. The Tentmakers’ Bazaar takes its name from the craftsmen that produce large canvas canopies and tents used for events and celebrations. The workshops appear just as they did in medieval times, and you can also find traditional tarbooshes (fezzes) still being made. Other stallholders hawk a kaleidoscopic array of carpets, wall hangings and quilted goods. 

Turn a corner to find yourself in a spice market bathed in bright sunshine and full of warm colours and heavy aromas. Here the air is heavy with the influences of Middle Eastern cuisine and it’s the ideal place to pick up an exotic and possibly unusual condiment to spice up a meal and impress family and friends when you return home.

Throughout your walk through Islamic Cairo, your guide will point out various aspects and features of Islamic architecture and explain the terminology. For example, you will observe an excellent example of an Iwan; an elegant courtyard walled on three sides and open on the fourth, and be able to admire the beautiful Damascus-style black and white striped stone facade at the entrance to a mosque known as Ablaq. 

Eventually, you will arrive at the southern Bab al-Zuwayla gateway allowing exit back into the modern city.

Islamic Cairo: A city of a hundred mosques…

Of the hundreds of mosques in Old Cairo, the one-thousand-year-old Al Azhar Mosque,  one of the largest religious institutions in the world of Islam, should not be missed. Neither should the imposing Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrasa, a major teaching establishment for members of the Sunni sects. 

Among other highlights are the Cairo Citadel, which dominates the city skyline, the Gayer-Anderson House Museum, and Bayt al-Kiritliya, a hidden gem consisting of two beautifully decorated Ottoman houses. 

This historic walking tour through Islamic Cairo can be included in any of our private Egypt luxury holidays and can be adapted to fit your personal interests. A half-day visit to Islamic Cairo will give you a flavour of the sites and perhaps, in addition to the walk, can be combined with a visit to Cairo’s great Citadel and the magnificent Sultan Hassan Mosque. A full day tour of Islamic Cairo might also include a visit to the wonderful Museum of Islamic Art containing one of the greatest Islamic collections in the world. It would be easy to lose oneself for days in the absorbing sights of Islamic Cairo. Speak to one of our Egypt destination experts who can curate the perfect sightseeing experience for you!

If you prefer to browse other possible options first, suggested Egypt itineraries that include a walking tour of Cairo’s historic heart include the following:

Classic Egypt & Nile Cruise

A signature tour of Egypt that combines a four-night Nile Cruise with ample time in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. 

12 Days / 11 Nights from £2,050 per person. READ MORE

Grand Tour of Egypt

A comprehensive private tour to Egypt with the addition of a cruise on Lake Nasser. 

15 Days / 14 Nights from £3,125 per person. READ MORE

Egypt off the Beaten Track

A privately-guided holiday designed for the second time visitor to Egypt who wants to get to know to country, explore beyond the traditional pharaonic sites, and engage with the destination to gain an insight into the lifestyles of the Egyptian people.

11 Days / 10 Nights from £2,785 per person. READ MORE

Alexandria & Nile Cruise: Cleopatra’s Egypt

This tour features a cruise on the River Nile and combines the Egyptian pharaonic treasures lying between Cairo and Aswan with Alexandria; the Mediterranean city founded by Alexander the Great.

11 Days / 10 Nights from £2,325 per person. READ MORE