Experts' Choice 2018: Cairo wins Best African Destination

Cairo wins our first-ever Experts' Choice award for Best African Destination.

April 19, 2018

by Michael Carl Budd

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Our new Experts’ Choice destination awards work from must-visit lists for 2018, travel media coverage, and our own proprietary algorithm to identify the hottest spots to visit this year in every region of the globe. Greater Cairo, a cultural crossroads and Africa’s second-largest urban area, is our inaugural winner for Best African Destination.

Millions call Cairo home and millions more visit the city every year.  Egypt’s tourism sector was impacted by the 2011 Arab Spring and the events that followed, but the United Nations World Tourism Organization ranked Egypt second worldwide for the percentage increase in visitor numbers last year.

The recovery’s caught the attention of publications like The Guardian, which has placed the Egyptian capital on their 2018 hot list.  Buzziest among their reasons to return to Egypt or to visit for the first time is the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), due to partially open any month now in the immediate vicinity of the Pyramids of Giza 89.


Rendering of the Grand Egyptian Museum

Many of Egypt’s most famous antiquities will be moved to the new state-of-the-art facility from the beautiful but cramped Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. King Tutankhamen’s famous golden mask will make the move in November, it was recently announced. Other artifacts associated with the famous pharaoh have already been moved from the Luxor Museum.

As in the case of its grand new museum, what’s old here is new again. Many of the most famous draws to Cairo are historic sites and museums celebrating Egypt’s rich ancient, Coptic, and Islamic heritage. These include the The Coptic Museum 95, which Concierge calls a “bridge between the art of ancient Egypt and the Islamic era,” and the Museum of Islamic Arts 89, called by the Michelin Guide, “one of the world’s most exceptional collections of Islamic art.”


Museum of Islamic Arts

Cairo’s many mosques are a gorgeous hallmark of the city, one often forgotten by those who think of Egypt in terms of pharaohs and pyramids. The Mosque of Ibn Tulun 91 dates to the 9th century making it the oldest original mosque that continues to function in the country. The Al-Azhar, a century newer than that of Ibn Tulun, anchors one of the most prestigious centers of learning in the Muslim world.

Newer on the scene, the six-hundred-year-old Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan 95 are “Monumental examples of Mameluke architecture and engineering, and should be high on your list of things to see,” according to Frommer’s. Then there’s the Al-Hakim Mosque 80, the Mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas — the list of these spectacular places of worship is almost endless.


Mosque of Ibn Tulun

There are also historically significant Christian sites in Cairo: the Hanging Church in the heart of Coptic Cairo dates back to the 7th century while the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus 86 is said to be built over a cave where the Holy Family took refuge during their flight from Herod.

Steeped in thousands of years in history, Cairo is nevertheless anything but a fossil. It’s full of life, which you’ll find at sites like the Khan Al-Khalili 91, a colorful souk crammed with people and wares. If you wind your way down the right alley here, you’ll find yourself at the celebrated Naguib Mahfouz Cafe 85, a respite from the busyness, or seek out refreshing mint lemonade and shisha at El Fishawy.


Al-Fishawy Café

Al-Azhar Park 77, the lungs of Cairo, offer a more relaxed environment to rub elbows with locals.  For a small entry fee, you can stroll the landscaped green space, taking in views of the city’s varied skyline. There are several decent restaurants on the premises here, too, like Citadel View Alain Le Notre 78, named for the nearby Citadel.


Al-Azhar Park

After full days of sightseeing, especially if you hit Cairo during the majority of the year when temperatures are high, you’ll want your hotel to be a haven.  As befits a cosmopolitan capital, Cairo boasts world-class hotels like the Experts’ Choice-winning Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza 85, which Fodor’s calls the “most sophisticated address in the city […] the top place to see and be seen.”

Hotel Longchamps 83, on the leafy island of Zamalek, is not a chain luxury property, but rather, “feels more like a Parisian private house than a hotel,” according to Insight Guides. It’s one of the best values for money in the city, but only has 22 rooms, so can be hard to book.


The Four Seasons at Nile Plaza

In the vein of large and luxurious, the Fairmont Cairo, Nile City, is among the best.  Sitting Nileside, the hotel has smart Art Deco interiors and offers guests a number of restaurants and bars as well as a spa. Near the pyramids at Giza is the Mena House Hotel, built in the 19th century as a hunting lodge for Khedive Ismail. Pay a little more for rooms with views of the pyramids themselves.

On the rebound, this vibrant city at the crossroads of Africa and Middle East, is worth your while in 2018. As safe to visit, according to the U.S. State Department, as many European destinations, Cairo should be on your itinerary for both its ancient allure and future-focused vibrancy.