Cairo is one of the most alluring cities in Africa; history seeps from every pore, and ancient monuments sit alongside modern attractions. You’ll certainly never get tired of learning and exploring. And while you could spend your time going to the pyramids or cruising down the Nile (both highly recommended, by the way), those types of activities can quickly eat into your budget. Here are some of the best free things to do in Cairo.
Hang out in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar
This bustling market is one of the best places in the city to pick up authentic souvenirs, but it’s also one of the best places to people watch. You’ll be able to stroll through a maze of alleyways while looking at all kinds of novelties like jewelry, spices, pottery and hookah pipes. Although there’s no charge to look at any of the items, you might be pressured a few times. If so, just move on to the next great vendor, but if you’re willing to spend a bit of money, you can get a great bargain here for next to nothing.
Visit Coptic Cairo
If you want to see one of the most beautiful areas of the city, head to Coptic Cairo where you can marvel at the incredible paintings and designs on the streets. Coptic Cairo was once a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt and most of the remnants have been preserved. Inside the area, you’ll be able to walk down twisting streets and pass by the relics. Islamic heritage is also represented here by architectural works such as the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-‘Aas, which was built in 642, making it the one of the oldest mosques in Africa. Most of the churches and other religious sites in the area are free and open during the day.
Take a trip to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (Alabaster Mosque)
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is built like a fortress and has a stoic simplicity that visitors enjoy. The courtyard inside and around the mosque is massive and will take you a good chunk of time to explore. For a fantastic view, climb up to the main minaret for a panoramic view of Cairo. It’s the only minaret in Cairo that you are allowed to go up. Admission to the mosque is free, and it’s open every weekday (except during prayer times).
Window shop in Zamalek
Zamalek is one of the most upscale neighborhoods and Cairo and is located on an island in the middle of the Nile River. It was once a place where primarily ex-pats settled in Cairo, but today is full of galleries and fancy boutiques. Like Khan el-Khalili, this is a great place for people watching. Of course, if you’re willing to spend just a bit of money, you can enjoy fantastic ethnic cuisine and coffee in the area, too. The Cairo Opera House is also nearby and showcases grand architecture worth seeing.
Visit art galleries and openings
Cairo is a thriving metropolis with a fantastic local art scene. There are always open galleries and exhibitions to check out — one just need to pick up a local guide of things to do, often available in hip coffee shops or boutique hotels. Some of the best ones to check out are the Al-Mashrabeya Gallery, Safar Khan Gallery, Art Lounge, Gypsum Gallery, and the Al Masar Gallery. Most of these are free, and if they aren’t, they often have free days during the month.
Watch the sunset from Mokattam’s Cliff
Finally, if you’re super adventurous and want an even better view of the city, take a little trek outside to Mokattam’s Cliff. The area isn’t so much frequented by tourists, but it’s well known by locals. You’ll also find the famous Cave Church of the Zabbaleen nearby, which is worth a visit to see the interesting carvings. If you go, make sure to tell your taxi driver to wait for you as it’s hard to get another one from there. The taxi of course, isn’t free.
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This article was originally published on June 23, 2015.