Little Black Book

A Top 10 of Cairo's Coolest Neighborhood, Zamalek

by Eric Monkaba
Local goods at Fair Trade Egypt. All photo by Eric Monkaba.

Eric Monkaba, founder of Backpacker Concierge and our man on the ground in Cairo, takes us on a tour of one of the city's coolest neighborhoods.

CAIRO – Zamalek is one of Cairo's most dynamic enclaves, home to eclectic galleries, fair trade stores, and the occasional cupcake shop. Despite its proximity to Midan Tahrir, it has managed to thrive over the past few years and remains the cultural hub for young, connected, well-off Egyptians. Work your way from south to north and lose yourself on the mid-city island that's no larger than New York's Central Park. Here are the ten best things to do and see. 

WHAT TO DO

1. Museum of Modern Art
Located on the grounds of the Cairo Opera House, the museum's collection showcases more pieces than one would expect. In fact, a visit here can be almost as daunting as the artifact-laden Egyptian Museum just over Qasr al Nil Bridge.

2. Safar Khan Gallery
One of a dozen galleries on the island, Safar Khan both collects and sells modern Egyptian art. Since 1968, it has been at the forefront of the dynamic art scene in Egypt. And they throw great opening parties.

3. El Sawy Culturewheel
The epicenter of Zamalek's literary, cinematic, and theatrical culture can be found in an open-air performance space underneath the 15th of May Bridge. The only place in Cairo where archeological round table discussions, children's puppet shows, and live hip-hop beats unite.

Sequoia

Cool and cozy Sequoia.

WHERE TO EAT

4. Zooba
Pick up a refreshing strawberry and basil juice to keep you going while shopping. Reminiscent of Istanbul's Beyoglu eateries, Zooba combines authentic Egyptian cuisine and modern design.

5. Cairo Kitchen
A little competition is always good, right? Just down the road from Zooba is this cool eatery with a unique approach to traditional Egyptian food. The focus here is on healthy, local options, like carrot-infused tehina, yummy pickled eggplants, and whole wheat koshary.

6. Sequoia
The all-white restaurant sits on the edge of the Nile and serves a rotating menu of Egyptian and international food. The beetroot moutabal, eggplant kibbe, and mombar are the clear standouts. Don't be afraid to ask them to add vodka to your freshly squeezed juice.

WHERE TO SHOP

7. Loft Gallery
Great home goods shopping with rescued items and reworked antiques. The owners source the stuff from flea markets across the country, and even Syria and beyond. Across the hall is a cafe outfitted in their overstock. They are affiliated with the small gallery below.

8. Fair Trade Egypt
If you're tired of looking at "made in China" stickers in the market, then head here for locally produced souvenirs. You'll find extra virgin olive oil cleansing bars from the bright oasis of Al Fayoum and cotton embroidered sheer sheaths from desert dwellers.

9. Siwa
17 Ahmed Hishmat Road; +202-2737-3014
If you don't have stamina to drive ten hours or the finances to hire a private jet, then the Siwa Oasis probably won't be in your travel itinerary. Don't worry: The traditional handicrafts from Egypt's most remote oasis are available in Zamalek. Salt rock candles, embroidered pillows, and date jam are all ripe for the picking.

10. Azza Fahmy
With branches in Zamalek and at every Four Seasons Hotel in Egypt, you're never far from an Azza Fahmy boutique. The jewelry, crafted by skilled artisans, speaks to the nation's history, with recent designs inspired be the songs of the revolutionaries.

Zooba

The colorful scene at Zooba.

MAP IT

See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)

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