Cairo is known as the "city of a thousand minarets," and that's reflected in its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A journey into Islamic Cairo is a journey into the city’s past, from Fustat, Egypt’s first Muslim capital, to the 1,000-year-old walled city, the Cairo Citadel, founded by 12th-century leader Saladin, and beyond.
The terms “Islamic Cairo,” “Old Cairo,” and “Coptic Cairo” can seem confusing. Islamic Cairo—like Coptic Cairo—forms part of Old Cairo, although—unlike compact Coptic Cairo—it’s scattered across different districts. Mosques are a centerpiece of any visit to Islamic Cairo, from Ibn Tulun Mosque, built more than 1,000 years ago, to Alabaster Mosque, atop the Citadel. You can also enjoy fountains, ancient Islamic schools, ornate city gates, bustling markets, and more. Tours generally combine vehicle transfers with walking.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Islamic Cairo is a must for architecture fans and anyone with an interest in Islamic art.
- Women, particularly solo travelers, will feel more comfortable in Cairo wearing loose clothing that cover shoulders, arms, and legs. Modest gear is essential when visiting mosques.
- Islamic Cairo is a challenging destination for travelers who rely on wheelchairs, but some sites do have ramps and road access.
How to Get There
Cairo developed from a number of different cities, so Islamic Cairo’s sights are scattered over a large area. The walled city at the core of Islamic Cairo is best reached from Bab El Shaariya metro station (Line 1), but to see the highlights of the different areas in a day you need to take a tour or book a driver.
When to Get There
Most mosques are closed for part or all of Friday for Friday prayers, making it a bad day to visit. Be aware that Islamic Cairo can be hectic on Saturdays. Most sights are open until mid-afternoon, but the area can be fascinating after dark.
Things to Do in Islamic Cairo That Aren’t Mosques
There’s more to Islamic Cairo than mosques. Soak up the atmosphere in the warren of shops and stalls that make up the historic Khan Al-Khalili bazaar; catch a whirling dervish performance in Wekalet El Ghouri Arts Center, a 16th-century inn; sip cardamom coffee or sweet tea in El Fishawi, a heritage cafe; or snap photos on the historic street known as Sharia Al Mu'izz Li-Din Allah.