Cairo’s Cultural Hub: Explore the Historic Cafés of Downtown CairoBy Michaela Stone Cross
Like Paris in the 1920s, the cultural heart of Cairo lies within its cafés. Whether it’s Café Riche, where a revolution was launched from its very basement, or El Horreya, in which Egypt’s premier poets used to debate modern literature, Cairo’s cafés offer you a window into an old yet very modern world.
Here you will find students sitting beneath decorative bird cages debating the latest politics and musicians who break into song while waiting for their tea. For the price of a $1.50 drink, you will be transported into a place of beauty, history and atmosphere and gain access to the thriving world of Cairo’s intellectual elite.
On any given day, this old-style French café will be packed — intellectuals hashing out the latest political news, musicians strumming instruments as they socialize with friends. The atmosphere is lively … and charged.
Walls are lined with black-and-white photographs, and it’s no wonder: Head to the basement and you’ll be in the exact place where the founder of modern Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, plotted to overthrow the British regime.
It’s only a 10-minute walk from The Nile Ritz-Carlton — after sipping a drink, stroll back to your hotel along the Nile to shake Café Riche’s special spell.
El Fishawy Café
Shisha smoke and vibrant conversation fill this 18th-century Egyptian-style coffee house, famous for being patronized by Napoleon himself. Now El Fishawy remains a cultural icon, a hot spot for Egyptians young and old.
Stop here to enjoy a coffee in the soft lantern light. You may even meet a Nobel laureate or two — rumor has it this is the favorite haunt of Naguib Mahfouz, one of the most famous Egyptian writers of the 20th century.
Bird cages hang from the ceilings at Felfela, their inhabitants filling this restaurant with song as you bite into your hosnia, an Egyptian breakfast specialty filled with beans, cream and egg (trust us.)
Besides the delicious food, atmosphere alone is enough to recommend Felfela, a bubble in which time has stood still. With its rich wood paneling and light streaming through stained-glass windows, Felfela makes for a relaxed yet romantic atmosphere.
El Horreya Café and Bar
Step out of the 21st century and into the 1930s when you enter El Horreya, one of Cairo’s most lively and historic cafés. Just minutes away from many of Cairo’s greatest attractions, this former hub of English officers is the perfect place to sip beer … and lots of it. The waiters will keep the brews coming, so beware; although at $1.50 a bottle, it’s hard to resist.
The space’s marble walls and tables imply El Horreya’s history — the café is built above the remains of a famous Egyptian officer who led a mutiny against the French. Here you’ll find an incongruous mix of businessmen, tourists and students having a chat.
El Horreya is worth a visit for the people-watching, and although they don’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring it in — an adjacent restaurant serves cheap and tasty sandwiches. The revelry lasts until late at night. But fair warning: It can get loud.