Ask a Local: an Egyptian art curator’s favourite spots in Cairo and Giza

She recommends starting with the three main pyramids of Giza and spending enough time with them on a guided tour: venture inside the structures and the Valley Temple to feel the energy of the spaces. It’s also worth considering new ways to experience the complex, she says: skydiving, for instance, is the latest. Abdel Ghaffar says her favourite way to see the pyramids, temples, and giant sphinx, however, is via the traditional camel rides offered by local guides on-site. Soon though, electric buses will be running in the area for ease of access to the sites.

“Something that people don’t do so much is the Valley Temple, which I like because it’s not enough to just look at the pyramids – you have to see the whole procession, and the high priests would start from there for the whole [burial] process,” she says. Abdel Ghaffar also notes that the most intact of the pyramids – not to be neglected – is the smallest of the three.

You could spend a whole day at Giza trekking (or camel riding) between the ancient structures and viewing platforms and going for coffee and lunch in view of them, but the area’s historic tombs go back even earlier in Saqqara, the nearby step pyramid complex that dates back 5,000 years and is beloved for its well-preserved colourful hieroglyphics (you won’t find any of those at the Giza complex). Saqqara is currently the site of an ongoing excavation: some of the oldest antiquities in the world are found nearly every week. Abdel Ghaffar recommends that visitors introduce themselves to the site by watching the Netflix documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.

Zamalek, an island neighbourhood on the Nile River, is known for its modern art galleries

ZAG/Courtesy Zamalek Art Gallery

Experience downtown Cairo for art – and “the real Egypt”

And of course, no trip to Cairo would be complete without experiencing the beating heart of the city, where Culturvator / Art D’Egypte regularly holds arts festivals and artist takeovers. An upcoming show in March will situate itself at the recently renovated Cairo Citadel in Historic Cairo with its view over the entire city. The exhibit will highlight the UNESCO World Heritage site’s 800-year history as the seat of Egyptian rulers via an exhibition of contemporary art and design showcasing over 100 artists. Past exhibitions here by Abdel Ghaffar have displayed pieces by heritage artists and designers, and taken place inside Darb 1718, a space where the city used to mint coins that’s now an arts and event space. Another popular area for permanent art galleries is Zamalek.

“Downtown Cairo, which used to be called Paris by the Nile, is where we have most of our exhibitions,” Abdel Ghaffar says. One of her favourite spots is Cinema Radio, an iconic Art Deco movie house and historic site that she says has remained the same since the 1930s despite being a sleek new space for events, shops, and movie screenings. The cinema is the site of a regular exhibition of hers called Cairo International Art District, but it is also the perfect place to go see an Egyptian film. Cinema Radio in downtown Cairo is now a shopping centre with art pop-ups in addition to its storied movie theatre.

Cinema Radio in downtown Cairo is now a shopping centre with art popups in addition to its storied movie theatre

Cinema Radio in downtown Cairo is now a shopping centre with art pop-ups in addition to its storied movie theatre

Courtesy Cinema Radio

Koshary at Abu Tarek which is conveniently located near the Cairo Museum

Koshary at Abu Tarek, which is conveniently located near the Cairo Museum

Courtesy Abu Tarek

And to fuel up between historic sites, cafes, and museums, Abdel Ghaffar says a plate of koshary – a vegetarian dish of lentils, pasta, tomato sauce, and fried onions – at famed Abu Tarek is a must. “It’s really, really filling and has everything in it, and it’s super cheap… everything is very fresh, and the waiters are very friendly – it’s a must, to experience the real Egypt.”

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