Nestled in Cairo’s medieval El-Darb El-Ahmar district, the Al Azhar Mosque is the city’s first mosque—dating back to 972. Boasting five minarets and a white-marble courtyard, its biggest claim to fame is its sister Al Azhar university next door, reputedly the oldest Islamic university in the world.
Restored several times down the centuries, the ornate Al Azhar Mosque boasts a mix of Fatimid-, Mamluk-, and Ottoman-era architectural styles. The first sight to greet you is the elaborate 18th-century Barber’s Gate—so named because students’ hair was cut here—followed by the 300-column courtyard, decorative balconied minarets, and the prayer hall.
Explore the Al Azhar Mosque independently or with a guide who can ensure you uncover its highlights and history. Take a private tour that stops at the Al Azhar Mosque as part of a larger tour of Islamic Cairo’s other mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) or choose a tour that also features Cairo’s gateways and Khan El-Khalili bazaar. If your time is limited to a few hours between flights, consider a whistlestop layover tour. Alternatively, you could opt for a multi-day tour that showcases Cairo—including its Islamic quarter—and other cities such as Alexandria and Fayoum.Things to Know Before You Go
- The Al Azhar Mosque is essential for those interested in Cairo’s history and culture.
- Respectful clothing is required, with knees and shoulders covered.
- Women must wear long pants or a long skirt and a headscarf. Robes are provided if you’re not properly attired.
- Remove your shoes to enter the mosque, and remember to tip the shoe staff.
How to Get There
The Al Azhar Mosque is in El Hussein Square, next to the Al Azhar university. The best way to get there is by cab or on a tour. If you want to use Cairo’s metro, the nearest station is Ataba, about an 18-minute walk away along Kobri Al Azhar street.
When to Get There
The mosque’s opening times are 8am to 4pm, but these are subject to change. If you want to visit at the quietest times, be aware that the Al Azhar Mosque fills with worshippers at prayer times—at midday and midafternoon within the opening hours. It’s wise to avoid Fridays, when the mosque is particularly crowded. Khan El-Khalili Bazaar
The Al Azhar Mosque is a few minutes on foot from Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili bazaar, so combine a mosque visit with some shopping. After admiring the mosque, dive into the 600-year-old lanes to browse the stalls hawking perfumes, spices, jewelry, and more—and remember to haggle hard.