Cairo, Egypt, travel guide and things to do: Nine highlights

THE ONE CAFE

They might be 4500 years old, but there's change afoot around the Pyramids of Giza, including the first official cafe within the Pyramids precinct. Nine Pyramids Lounge (because there are nine pyramids at the Giza necropolis, remember?) has opened just behind the Queen's Pyramid. Drop in for a classic Egyptian breakfast of ful (fava beans), ta'ameya (falafel) and the flaky pastry fiteer, which is baked at the cafe, as well as the usual brekkie fare of omelettes and croissants. The menu switches over to kebab, kofta and cool drinks, but really, even if the food was terrible, the view makes up for it all. Last entry to the pyramids is at 3.30pm, and you can stay in the cafe until 5pm, when the mass exodus of camels and horses begins. Open 9.30am-5pm, bookings are encouraged, but you might get lucky as a walk-in out of peak times. See facebook.com/9PyramidsLounge

THE ONE MUSEUM

Rookie error: confusing the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) with the much-delayed Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), now due to open in 2023. With sprawling grounds and dramatic architecture, NMEC is in Fustat, the oldest part of Cairo, founded in 641AD and better known for its slums and the Cairo Citadel. The blockbuster drawcards are 22 royal mummies, which last year were transported from the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo to their new location in a regal "golden parade". They are interred in a moody subterranean chamber, while above shows treasures of Egypt, from pre-historic through to Pharaonic, Christian and Islamic Egypt. Unmissable when in Cairo. See nmec.gov.eg

THE ONE CRUISE

You might not have time for the classic cruise from Luxor to Aswan, but you can still enjoy a night on the Nile. Moored in the centre of the city at Zamalek are a series of restaurant boats, some are little more than a pontoon with a beatbox, others are awash with neon, bands, multiple dining rooms, bars and a glitter-covered celebrity clientele. Blue Nile is one of the biggest, with a karaoke bar, a range of restaurants and sultry belly dancers. Ring ahead to book, especially on the weekends. A word: dress up and don't go early, as you'll be the only ones in the dining room. See facebook.com/BlueNileBoat/

THE ONE STREET

Not much has changed in Cairo's medieval thoroughfare, Mu'izz li-Din Allah, shortened simply to El Muizz, since it was built 1000 years ago as a glorious promenade for the Mamluk dynasty. Palaces and mosques line the street, which is ostensibly pedestrianised – just watch out for delivery boys on mopeds. Visit in the afternoon when the historic sites are still open, then grab a seat in a street cafe at sunset and watch the glorious facades become suffused with coloured floodlights. To fully immerse yourself, walk from the city gate of Bab al-Futuh to Bab Zuweila and Souq Al Khayamiyya (the tentmakers' market). The district merges into Khan al-Khalili, for a big day out, see highendjourneys.com

THE ONE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Cairo is constantly expanding, and upmarket satellite cities such as New Cairo and the memorably-named 6th of October are the face of modern Cairo. However, everyone who can keeps their apartment in Zamalek, a sophisticated, old-money suburb on the island of Gezira in the Nile, at the city's heart. A walkable suburb full of antique and art galleries, this is where you'll find the genteel, 100-year-old French cafe Maison Thomas, erudite Diwan Bookstore and the original Abou el Sid Egyptian restaurant. Browse antiques and weaves at Loft Gallery or shop up Egyptian skincare featuring such local products as camel's milk or dates at Nefertari.

THE ONE MARKET

Cairo, Egypt - Feb 19 2018: Lamp or Lantern Shop in the Khan El Khalili market in Islamic Cairo xxCairo Cairo Egypt One & Only ; text by Belinda Jackson
cr: iStock (reuse permitted, no syndication) 

Photo: iStock

Hustling for more than 700 years, Khan al-Khalili is still the best and craziest open-air market in Egypt, and possibly in all the Middle East. A one-stop shop, you can grab all your Tut tat here, at half the price of the sellers at the tourism sites. The periphery deals in lurid belly dancer outfits, shisha pipes and pretty beads, but take a deep breath and dive in to discover the sections dealing in silver, gold and precious stones. You'll find the dustiest antiques drawn from Egypt's wealthy estates, such as chandeliers so big they need a football team to carry them. Far more packworthy are the ceramics from the Fayoum oasis and enough brass lamps – hand made in the workshops behind the sprawling market – to bring to light your Arabian Nights fantasies.

THE ONE ANTIQUITY

You're here to visit the Pyramids at Giza, aren't you? Dominating and impregnable, they are truly awe-inspiring, and your journey is completely justified. Time your visit for first thing in the morning, when it's not so busy and not so hot – there's no shade up here on the Giza plateau. Should you go inside the pyramids? Why not? Officials open one of the three main tombs each day; entry costs an additional LE350 ($25.50) on top of your entrance into the Pyramids complex. Be prepared to sacrifice all your make-up and sunscreen in a slush of sweat – it gets mighty hot in the tombs.

THE ONE DISH

Probably the one dish Egypt can truly call its own, koshary is cheap, filling, great for vegans, not so great for those watching their carb intake. It's a bowl of macaroni, rice, brown lentils and chickpeas, topped with a rich tomato sauce, doused in lemony, cumin-laden vinegar and – the best bit – garnished with a handful of crispy fried onions. Most Egyptians add a slash of liquid chilli sauce to finish. True koshary shops serve only the one dish, and you'll also find it in cute little carts on the roadsides. Just near the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, a small tub at legendary Koshary Abu Tarek will set you back LE15 (A$1.30) It also opened recently in Dubai, Maroof Street, koshariaboutarek.com

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THE ONE LUXURY HOTEL

xxCairo Cairo Egypt One & Only ; text by Belinda Jackson
(handout, no syndication) 
Mena House hotel by Marriott

Marriott Mena House.

Who doesn't want to fling open the curtains and see an icon out of their bedroom window? At the Nile Ritz-Carlton, the icon in question is, of course, the Nile River, which cuts through the heart of Cairo. Set on Midan Tahrir, the square in the centre of downtown Cairo, it's also right beside the Egyptian Museum, home to the mask of King Tutankhamun. For dazzling views, head to Nox bar on the rooftop for sunset drinks, and listen as the city echoes with the sound of a thousand muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. For those seeking a view of the Pyramids, the Marriott Mena House has always been first choice: note that the historic wing is under renovation, with no date for its reopening, ritzcarlton.com, marriott.com

ONE MORE THING

Egypt is a tipping culture and everyone tips (not just tourists) – the waiter, the guide, the toilet attendant, the porter. With the tourism industry battered beyond belief, your tiny tip matters more than ever. Tour companies will spell out their expectations, but for everyone else, grab a stash of LE10 (A$1) notes for a small, but appreciated gesture.

See egypt.travel

Belinda Jackson travelled with the assistance of High End Journeys, highendjourneys.com

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