The life and soul of a nation relies on its heart. Here's why we're forever enamoured with Downtown Cairo...
Downtown. Wust El Balad. The beating heart of Cairo life. They say there’s nothing you can’t find in the centre of our historic capital; you can even find yourself in the winding alleyways, hidden bars and cultural hubs. Look up and you’ll see the history of the city all around you. Look down and the pulse of Egypt’s future is everywhere. Here are some of our favourite things about the soul of the City Victorious; Al Qahira…
Arts & Culture
Historically, Downtown Cairo played host to the most cultured and creative minds in Egyptian history, inspired by the vibrancy of the city in it's glory days. Today, the artistic pulse continues to beat, from Zawya, the veritable home of independent film, to Rawabet Theatre's dynamic programmes, to Townhouse Gallery's exhibition and workshops, and every artsy nook and cranny in between. With festivals like DCAF spearheading Downtown Cairo's cultural renaissance on a yearly basis, the capital is dead-set on reclaiming its title as the region's arts hub.
Shop Til You Drop
It might not be Oxford Street, and it definitely isn't Fifth Avenue, but shopping in Downtown Cairo offers a bigger variety than any of those elaborate suburban malls across the city, and prices that can't be beaten. Yes, most of their "designer" goods are knock-offs, but where else can you get Air Jordans for 200 EGP?
The GrEEK Campus
Once a part of the American University in Cairo, arguably the most prestigious educational facility in Egypt, the historic Greek Campus has now been dubbed the GrEEK Campus (get it?), becoming a home for the city's blossoming entrepreneurship and start-ups. Hosting several events per year designed to get Egypt's up and coming business and technology minds together, as well as providing affordable office space for said start-ups, it's quickly becoming our own Silicon Valley. Find out more here.
In the heyday of tourism in Egypt, there wasn't a single bus filled with excited foreigners, snapping photos, that didn't stop by Felfela. With its retro charm, authentic Egyptian food and the best of local beer, it still remains a hot spot for those who want a cheap yet filling Egyptian experience.
Truly Underground Music
From independent recording studios, to nightlife venues with a difference, Downtown Cairo has become to go-to place for music fans, journalists and musicians alike. Spaces like 100Copies combine studio space with performance stages, while Vent has redefined Cairo partying, both becoming key fixtures on the scene for those in the know and those who want to know.
You know you're in Downtown Cairo when you look up and, instead of red brick walls or grey cement, you find architectural wonders from yesteryear, in all their elaborate-mouldings-quaint-balconies-high-ceiling glory. The attention to detail from the Khedive Ismail-era, the man largely responsible for the buildings we can't get enough of, is insane. These relics of Egypt's golden era might not be the most glamorous now, but they certainly have a place in our hearts.
One such building is home to what can be considered Egypt's best-known bakeries, Groppi. Opened in 1882 by its namesake, Swiss choco-preneur (yes, we just coined that term) Giacomo Groppi, the legendary sweet shop used to cater to Egypt - and the world's - elite. Catering to monarchs, pachas and foreign diplomats, the iconic store was a globally known name as King Farouk would send kilograms upon kilograms of chocolates produced in house to Egypt's allies, including then-Princess Elizabeth. Today, it remains a landmark in Downtown Cairo, standing proudly on Talaat Harb Square, still serving up pastries, chocolates and coffee.
A Place for Every Faith
From Egypt's remaining synagogue to an Armenian church to some of the most beautiful mosques in Cairo, where else can you take in Egypt's religious and cultural history in the span of one walk?
Holes in the Wall That are Wateringholes
Probably the only place you can go on a true bar crawl, Downtown Cairo is seething with unasuming venues that, once you step inside, transport you to a part of the city like no other. From the legendary Cafe Riche and Estoril, to the Greek Club, the Italian Club and Horreya, you'll find every class and generation of Egyptians and foreigners alike convening at these affordable wateringholes.
Tahrir. Enough Said.