Finding a green space and some fresh air in Cairo is no easy feat. But guess what? There is still some old-school park living to be had. We round up the best remaining public parks in Cairo, for your pleasure...
To quote Blur, Song 2, confidence is in fact a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife. Insecurities, needless pressure and worries clog up your brain like a da2ery traffic jam in the overwhelming hustle and bustle of Cairo life. A brief walk down the street does not clear your head but further fills you with obstacles… like breathing through the pollution, dodging the leaking air conditioning or avoiding getting run over. For the privileged amongst us there’s always Daddy’s Sokhna or Sahel villa to get away to on the weekend, a chance to re-charge your toleration levels but for most, the constant white noise of the concrete jungle we call home can get all too much.
Now, we’ve all seen vintage pictures of Cairo back in the day and the first thing that you notice is how much greenery is about; there was a park life, and although it has been heavily dwindled, much to our delight there still is... you just have to look hard enough. Check out our list of the best parks still about in Cairo for a typical midday kick-about, picnic, flower picking or naughty rendezvous…
Location: In front of Cairo University, next to Giza Security Governorate.
History: It dates back to 1875 and the reign of Khedive Isma'il Pasha who established the garden on a larger site than it presently occupies as part of the Palace of the Khedive. It became a public botanical garden in 1910/1917 and put under the Ministry of Agriculture management.
Features: Mad flowers! The garden has a herbarium building, rock garden, a rose garden, cactus gardens, and probably the most notable feature, the lotus pond. ‘Orman’ translates to forest.
Opening Hours: 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM
Entrance: 1 LE
Azhar ParkLocation: El Darasa, Salah Salem road
History: It used to be one big rubbish dump amassed over 500 years but when Aga Khan IV (a descendant of the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs who actually founded the city of Cairo in the year 969) visited in 1984 and saw the view from his balcony in El Darasa, he basically said "fuck that" and forked up $30 million as a gift to have the park developed and in 2005 the 74 acre park was opened to the public.
Features: Reminiscent of the historical Islamic gardens, it beautifully blends modern and traditional elements along with sprawling areas of grassland, water channels, ponds and fountains. The highlight of a day at Azhar would be the delicious authentic Studio Masr restaurant sat on top of the park with a beautiful panoramic view of Cairo. Azhar Park is listed as one of the world's sixty great public spaces by the Project for Public Spaces.
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Entrance: 10 LE
History: Created around the same time that the Nasr City district was built as part of the Egyptian Government's plan to modernise and expand Cairo, following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
Features: It’s named after the smorgasbord of exported agriculture that fills up the park with the plants originating from as far as Argentina and China. The park is quite tranquil and open and features a small train that tours the whole area in 15 minutes. There’s also a mini zoo but unfortunately, like most animal reserves in Cairo, leaves much to be desired and a lot to empathise with. But it does have an interesting section of mummified animals including South American cheetahs and enormous Asian snakes.
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Entrance: 2 LE
Japanese Botanical Gardens
History: The Japanese Garden was designed and constructed in 1917 by Egyptian architect Zulfaqar Pasha who dedicated the garden to Sultan Hussein, ruler of Egypt at the time and restored about a decade ago by the Japanese embassy.
Features: One of the most unique cultural landmarks in the Middle East for the fact that Buddhas adorn the whole garden in a predominantly Muslim region where depiction of religious icons is a contentious issue. The garden features small meadows interspersed between the statues and pavilions.
Entrance: 2 LE
Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Fish Gardens (Aquarium Grotto)
Location: Gabaleya Street, Zamalek.
History: The famous Fish Gardens in Zamalek was opened up to the public in 1902 by Captain Stanley Flower, landscaped at a cost to the state of just 1,150 LE. It had been leased by the government to Fahmy Gallini Pasha and his partner Rene Ismalun Bey. In turn they subleased part of the area to a Mr. Zender who built a summer casino and a teatro, not far from where the Pocket Theatre stands today. Later, in April 1906, the government attempted to revoke its 15 year concession with an offer to indemnify Gallini Pasha with LE 3000, and Mr. Zender and Mr. Ismalun Bey with LE 4000 and LE 1,000 respectively. The government's plans to construct housing lots for its senior employees on that land were eventually mooted. For a long time thereafter, the Fish Aquarium was home to a rare collection of African fishes. These inhabited the 24 especially constructed water tanks.
Features: Despite the fact that most of the aquatic life has not been able to be sustained, the garden and especially the caves are still quite stunning. Exploring through the meandering grotto you find yourself on top of a mountain looking over the whole of the city. Quite perfect for a cheeky joint. The grotto now regularly hosts big scale bazaars and festivals attracting many high-end Zamalek F&B and retail outlets.
Entrance: 2 LE
Special mention goes to the beautifully kept El Andalus Gardens in Zamalek, now taken away from the public and transformed into a military police/army encampment!