Discover One Of The Oldest Cities In The World At This Middle Eastern Destination

As one of the most important civilizations of the ancient world, along with its unique modern positioning at the meeting point of north-east Africa and the Middle East, there is nowhere else on earth quite like Egypt. And if you are going to visit just one place here, there can be few locations more evocative of the country as a whole than the capital city of Cairo.

Famed partly for its emblematic Islamic architecture, Cairo is known as "the city of a thousand minarets," the towers in mosques from which the faithful are called to prayer. Visitors to this ancient city are also just 11 miles or so from the famed Pyramids of Giza, a must-see destination,

Despite its deep roots, this is also a forward-looking world capital, with luxury hotels, fashionable cocktail haunts, and a blossoming tech scene. This more modern side of the city is perhaps nowhere better epitomized than its new state-of-the-art national museum due to open in late 2023.

From shisha pipes to shopping malls, and koshary (Egypt's national dish) to Coca-Cola, it's a massively sprawling metropolis and yet is probably best characterized by the smallest, most hidden spots of its souks, or street markets. In short, Cairo is a place that defies easy categorization — and therein lies its beauty. Colorful, chaotic, and crowded, there is always something more to discover, whether that's a medieval mosque or a new rooftop bar.

See one of the wonders of the ancient world

For those visiting the city for the first time, the pyramids are the obvious starting point — and, in fact, the best time to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site is at dawn — either by taxi, Uber, or on an organized tour. That way, you'll beat the worst of the heat — and, with luck, most of the tourists. There's also nothing quite like seeing the desert sun rise over this mythical site. Just bear in mind that full access doesn't start until 8 a.m.

While Cairo itself was founded more than 1,000 years ago, the city is a relative youngster compared to its venerable neighbors in Giza, a few miles to the south-west of the city. These extraordinary structures date back thousands of years. At their heart is the Great Pyramid, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing. Keeping guard beside them is The Great Sphinx, among the world's largest sculptures, measuring some 240 feet (73 meters) long and about 65 feet (20 meters) high.

Created to house the tombs of the pharaohs, what remains something of a mystery is exactly how the pyramids were built. The Great Pyramid alone comprises around 2.3 million blocks of stone and each one weighs from 2.5 tons on upward. In any event, claustrophobia permitting, be sure to explore inside the pyramids for the full experience. Alternatively, the outdoor sound-and-light shows offer the chance to see the site beautifully illuminated.

Other must-see marvels on a visit to Cairo

Back in Cairo itself, there are no end of other ancient sites to explore, and in fact the historic core of the capital is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, it is listed for its wealth of significant Islamic architecture and it's worth taking the time just to soak it all up. Also, be sure to visit the iconic Tahrir Square, often the scene of political protest, but also quite close to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

Opened in 1902, this vast building has historically housed the world's largest collection of pharaonic antiquities. Although its star attraction, the Tutankhamun collection, is moving to the new site at Giza, the Grand Egyptian Museum, there will still be much to see here, too. In fact, the older museum is itself undergoing renovation and recently opened a new wing.

Finally, for the grand finale of our whistlestop tour, there is no better way to experience the city than a trip down the Nile in a felucca — a traditional sailing boat. Alternatively, for a panoramic view over the capital, head to the Cairo Tower, which is 614 feet (187 meters) tall, on Gezira Island. Last but definitely not least, for some obligatory bartering, the winding alleys of the Khan el-Khalili bazaar can't be beaten. At least that way, you'll also have something to remind yourself of this enchanting city until next time.