48 hours in Cairo: To experience the Egyptian city’s old-world vibe or simply to see the pyramids requires just two days

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There are many souks that give that old-world vibe.
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The ‘Hanging’ church is a Coptic house of worship with many Islamic architectural flourishes.
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Hire a camel from a neighborhood and ask its owner to give you a tour. It is cheap and fun to bargain.
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Tourists can enjoy a longer and more interesting tour of the pyramids by hiring their own guide from one of the neighborhoods nearby.
Updated 09 June 2017

48 hours in Cairo: To experience the Egyptian city’s old-world vibe or simply to see the pyramids requires just two days

With recovery still very slow for Egypt’s tourism industry — the coastal resorts among the hardest hit — most travelers coming to Egypt these days arrive in the capital, Cairo.
Usually this is for business or transit, which often means they have little more than a couple of days to explore one of the world’s most exciting cities. In a city with a population of over 20 million this can feel a tad overwhelming, so to make it easier to get the most out of Al-Madinah Al-Qahir — The City Victorious – here is a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Cairo.
Cairo is home to one of the world’s most ancient Christian cultures and it is what makes this city like no other in the Arab world. A trip to Coptic Cairo isn’t just fascinating for the window into an ancient Christian culture it offers, but also because of just how much of the art and architecture of that culture mirrors classical Muslim ones.
Start at the seventh century Hanging Church, which is said to “hang” over the original water gate of Roman Babylon. Here, the art history lesson begins outside the courtyard; where to the left of the entrance is a beautiful ornamental balcony that seems to have been designed for a classical Moorish palace. Then there are the intricate stone carvings and geometric patterns on the heavy wooden door that could also have been borrowed from that palace.
Once inside, the courtyard’s mosaics of religious scenes also have a familiar echo. In one, a group of young men stand outside a church wearing white skull caps and thobe-like outfits holding crosses — replace the church with a mosque and the crosses with Qur’ans and it could be a scene outside a mosque from anywhere in the Muslim world.
The church itself is entered through a door carved with geometric star patterns that also seem classically Moorish. Inside, the ornate hanging lanterns, ivory-inlaid screens and floral-topped pillars are features seen in mosques all over Cairo. Admiring these wonderful commonalities will take a good few hours and should be followed by a visit to the equally fascinating Coptic museum next door.
In the late afternoon head downtown to Cafe Riche on Sharia Talaat Harb. This is one of Cairo’s oldest restaurants, and an excellent place to grab a late lunch or early dinner as you admire the greats of Egyptian culture. Once the favored drinking spot of the capital’s intelligentsia, the cultural tour at Cafe Riche starts outside its wooden, old-worldly facade. Here, behind glass frames, beautiful black and white photography offer a window into a Cairo from the same bygone eras Cafe Riche belongs to. After tucking into the delightful sambosa (meat-filled mini pastries) and fish fingers — made from fresh chunks of delicately spiced white fish — be sure to stick your head into the back room where huge black and white portraits of Egypt’s cultural who’s who hang beside intriguing cartoon caricatures.
In the afternoon, explore the quirky streets of downtown Cairo before heading to Dina’s Hostel on Sharia Abdel Khalek Sarwat for your bed for the night. Tucked away in a quiet, cool alleyway, Dina’s has entered modern Cairo history after becoming a hub for journalists during the 2011 revolution. The hostel continues to host weekly cultural lectures and exhibitions that are worth inquiring about. Rooms here are spacious, with beautiful oak flooring and solid wood furniture. Dina’s is on the fifth floor of a beautiful 250-year-old building with the most delightful little wooden elevator to take you there.
However, the best thing about Dina’s has to be the guests. Popular with eclectic, international and boho types, this is the only place in Cairo where you are likely to find yourself in conversation with an English researcher, a Japanese spiritual hippie and an American couch surfer all in one night.
Get up bright and early to do the pyramids. That way you will avoid the intensity of the sun as it climbs to its midday zenith during your visit to the world’s only remaining ancient wonder — shade is scarce here. Arrive armed with plenty of water and a sun hat, before heading into one of the neighborhoods of Giza that directly border the pyramid complex. There, grab yourself a local guide with a camel and negotiate a decent price — not only will you avoid the queues but you also get to see the site much quicker than you will by foot, leaving you more time to explore the rest of Cairo. Of course, the main reason you should experience the pyramids atop your very own “ship of the desert” is because it is the way man has done so since the enigmatic monuments were first built — gently swaying atop a dromedary as the Sphinx comes into view is exactly how Antipater of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium would have first set eyes upon this magical Pharaonic graveyard, before instantly putting it on their list of the Seven Wonders of the World. No trip to Cairo can possibly be complete without seeing the pyramids of Giza.
After a well-earned rest, make the afternoon and evening all about Cairo’s 14th century medieval bazaar, the Khan Al-Khalili. Once the location of the tomb of the Fatimids — Cairo’s founders — the Khan has been a caravanserai for the past seven centuries. Like most traditional great markets, it used to be divided into distinct specialist districts. But these days only the spice dealers, coppersmiths and gold sellers have their own areas. Among the landmarks to visit is Midaq Alley, where Cairene Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, set one of his best-known works. The alley is so famous now that to see its street sign you’ll have to pay a little baksheesh at the nearby coffeehouse. The other reason to come to the Khan is the historic ahwa, El-Fishawi’s, where you can enjoy a coffee and bubbling sheesha the way Cairenes have been doing since 1773.
Squeezed into a narrow alley off Midan Al-Hussein, sit back and enjoy the bazaar as it continues to come at you with hawkers seemingly appearing from nowhere to offer you everything from fake Ray-Ban sunglasses to an oud serenade. Fishawi’s also serves the most delicious version of sahlab, a traditional Egyptian winter drink made from creamy milk and topped with peanuts and a hint of coconut.
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Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

Updated 18 March 2019

Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

  • Yoga at the resort offers the chance for gentle self reflection
  • The chance for some simple, but delicious food is just around the corner

DUBAI: Officially called Bengaluru — though not by the locals — Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is lauded as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ thanks to the presence of prestigious IT companies and a burgeoning technology sector. Once known for its sprawling gardens and lakes, today Bangalore is more easily identified by shiny shopping malls, hip restaurants and traffic-congested roads. But beyond the trappings of urban life, the city still surprises with refreshing spots where you can hit reset.

One such oasis of calm is Shreyas Retreat. This coconut farm turned yoga retreat, set amid 25 acres of lush greenery, is the real deal, and one of India’s best-kept secrets. Though probably not for long.

Experiences here revolve around ‘self-discovery’, but with a refined approach to wellness. An in-house doctor will prescribe treatments ranging from oil massages and herbal healing experiences based on Ayurveda — regarded as the world’s oldest medicinal system — to more modern remedies such as hydrotherapy. You can choose to stay in one of the poolside cottages strategically placed around the retreat’s central courtyard, with the 25-meter pool and heated jacuzzi on your doorstep, or be at one with nature in a charming Garden Tented Cottage, several of which are scattered across the grounds. They come complete with canopied roof and outdoor patio, offering incredible views.

Need some time to reflect, then try the resort's yoga sessions at the Shreyas Retreat. (Supplied) 

Guests can also join in group-yoga sessions in the morning and evening, deepen their meditation practice or lend a helping hand at the retreat’s organic gardens. If all seems too new-age for you, packages are entirely customizable and really do cater to everyone — from the blissed-out yogi and spa seeker, to curious foodies who want to learn more about Indian cuisine.

The retreat is also an inspiring base to explore nearby landscapes, with trekking trips and village visits easily arranged. If you’d like to plan your own thrills, the scenic Nandi Hills, Hogenakkal Falls (often called the Niagara Falls of India), and cultural hotspot Mysore are just a few hours drive away.

The Nandi Hills provide the more adventurous with some spectacular scenery. (File/Shutterstock)  

For unique attractions closer to the city, a day at Lalbagh Botanical Garden is one well spent. Sprawling across 240 acres in the heart of Bangalore, it started out in 1760 as the private garden of Mysore ruler Hyder Ali. The government-run garden is home to the largest collection of tropical plants in India and a popular spot for bird-watching. Visitors have plenty to take in, including a serene lake, bonsai garden, aviary, sculptures and more. Its best known feature is the centuries-old glass house — designed along the lines of London’s Crystal Palace — that plays host to bi-annual flower shows which attract thousands of visitors.

A short stroll away from Lalbagh is Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (or MTR as it’s more commonly known), established in 1924. This is a no-frills dining experience. Delicious steaming hot food is served on steel plates as patrons tear into crunchy dosas (savory pancakes) and soft idlis (steamed rice cakes). Make sure to order try the rava idli — made from semolina — which was invented by MTR during World War II when rice was in short supply.

Bangalore is home to a handful of world-class galleries, including the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). However, if you’re short on time, there’s only one name you need to remember – Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. Home to a respected college of fine arts, the complex is buzzing with art aficionados and curious tourists picking up unique souvenirs. There are 14 permanent museum galleries to explore here, as well as five rotating art galleries that blend the best of contemporary works alongside more traditional and Indian folk pieces. Afterwards, wander through the verdant grounds, following sand-swept paths and enjoying the city’s creative energy. Bangalore may be India’s digital heart, but it’s got soul.