The port authority building rises up with domed roofs and an ornate facade over the blue waters in Port Said, Egypt.
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12 Incredible Things To Do In Port Said

Port Said is a bustling sea port with historical charm, rugged beaches and some of the best seafood in Egypt.

Port Said is a coastal town just a few hours from Cairo that’s at the entry point of the Suez Canal. And it’s a perfect day trip if you want to explore Egypt off the beaten path and escape the tourist crowds.

I’m a longtime expat living in Cairo and I’ve been travelling to Port Said for years to visit friends and family. And I think it’s such an underrated destination if you love maritime history, authentic Egyptian food and quiet beaches.

Dee stands on the beach in Port Fouad, Egypt, with the blue water behind her. She's wearing a white top and blue jeans and the sun is shining.

Two images show Port Said in Egypt. On the left is the tall facade of a historic building. On the right is a blue beach with a solitary woman standing on the shore.

Port Said has a breezy charm and laid-back feel. It also boasts fish markets, historic villas and remnants of the past that make it a true hidden gem.

But how do you actually get there? And where do you begin to explore this fascinating city?

This is my ultimate guide to the best things to do in Port Said – plus my insider tips and hidden gems. It’s packed with tips on where to eat and how to plan your trip.

Port Said: a turbulent history

A weathered facade of a historic building in Port Said with ornate balconies and windows with old brown shudders.

Port Said was born on Easter Monday in 1859, when Ferdinand de Lesseps swung a pickaxe to signal the construction of the Suez Canal.

It has flourished as a busy sea port, but also suffered wars and endured numerous development schemes that rarely took off.

Port Said thrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was a cosmopolitan meeting point of trade and cultures with an at-times seedy reputation as a smuggler’s haven.

Rudyard Kipling once said if you want to find someone you know who travels, there are two points on the globe where you can wait and they’ll eventually show up. One is the docks of London – and the other is Port Said.

A weathered facade with ornate woodwork of an old hotel in Port Said.

But it also suffered in wars three times in less than two decades: against the Israeli-French-British aggression in 1956, then again in 1967 and 1973.

“Port Said has always been a symbol of the independence of all Egypt,” president Anwar Sadat said in a 1974 address at the city’s Al-Jamil airfield.

Port Said was declared a duty free zone in 1976 in Sadat’s attempt to rejuvenate the economy. It quickly became a shopping destination for thousands of Egyptians. But a law in 2002 cancelled the city’s duty free status.

How to get there

A highway with a road sign pointing to Port Said and other nearby cities in Egypt.

Port Said pulls in many Egyptians from nearby towns during the holidays for a day of shopping and strolling along the beach.

But foreign tourists are a rare sight. Though that’s starting to change!

Enterprising tour companies and local initiatives now offer trips to visitors who want to explore the country outside the tourist traps.

Two images show Port Said in Egypt. On the left is a mosque with a pointed minaret looking out over the water. On the right is a cat entangled in some fishing nets.

Enormous cargo boats get ready to cross into the Suez Canal at Port Said.

The best way to see Port Said is to book a trip with Semsemia Tours. This incredible tour company is made up of locals who take travelers on immersive cultural and historical tours of Egypt’s Nile Delta and beyond.

Visiting Port Said on your own isn’t easy, especially if you don’t speak much Arabic. There’s a 3-hour bus from downtown Cairo that stops on the outskirts of the city – and it’s the best way to get there if you’re an experienced traveler who’s up for the challenge.

Best things to do in Port Said

There’s a lot to do in Port Said, from bustling markets to layers and layers of history.

Here are the sights and sounds you cannot miss:

1. Explore the fish market

Two fish sellers in Port Said's market look at the camera and smile in front of a display of piles of fish on ice. Behind them is the stand decorated with colorful paintings of fish on the wall.

An elderly man in a blue shirt places fish on top of a grill for cooking. Smoke rises up from the grill and behind him are the stalls of the market.

The fish market is always my first stop in Port Said for its bustling atmosphere and incredible seafood.

Because the earlier you arrive the better. The local fishermen sell their daily catch from morning until it sells out in the afternoon.

There’s shrimp, squid floating in metal buckets, boulty (tilapia) and barbouni (red mullet). The selection is kept fresh with regular splashes of ice water.

Crowds of cats surround the stands of the more generous fishmongers and even the occasional pelican waits to be fed. There’s a wide and fresh selection here – and it’s some of the best seafood I’ve ever had.

The atmosphere is buzzing and it’s a great spot to sample fish that come mainly from the Mediterranean.

Two images show the fish market in Port Said. On the left is a pile of crabs. On the right is a tall pelican standing on a wooden box.

Two images show the fish market in Port Said. On the left are colorful tubs full of spices. On the right is a pile of red mullet on ice.

And if you only do one thing in Port Said, then order yourself some red mullet (barbouni). These fish (above) were prized in antiquity, bred in special pools by the Romans and held sacred by the Greek goddess Demeter.

And barbouni is so good that a Roman statesman who was exiled to Marseille joked that he would have no regrets in life as long as he still had access to red mullet.

How it’s done: Select your fish and pay for it. Then take it to a baker to get it grilled or fried on-the-spot with a seasoning of lime and vinegar.

Locals in Port Said eat more fish than meat as it’s widely available and far less expensive. Caught in the canal and the Mediterranean, locals say it’s so fresh that it still tastes like the salty waters.

If you’re skipping the market, then head to Port Said’s most famous restaurant El Borg where you likewise select your fish and get them grilled, fried or baked on the spot.

2. De Lesseps Statue Base

The statue of De Lesseps in Port Said is a large stump with nothing resting on top. There are some white taxis and a palm tree in the foreground.

This tall base once held a statue of Ferdinand De Lesseps, the French diplomat who developed the Suez Canal.

The statue was erected in 1899 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Suez Canal. And for decades it stood proudly at the entrance of the city’s corniche.

But then Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and drew ire as British, French and Israeli forces invaded and moved towards the canal. The war ended when the US and the Soviet Union came to Egypt’s defense.

At the end of the war in 1956, the jubilant people of Port Said removed the French and British flags from the hands of De Lessep’s statue that the colonial armies had left there.

Crowds in Port Said celebrate around the statue of De Lesseps with one man climbing a ladder to remove the flags in the statue's hands.

Later the Egyptian army moved in and took down the statue, blasting it with 35 kilos of dynamite. The statue was pitted as a symbol of colonialism that had to be eradicated from the newly-liberated city.

Though many Port Saidians and resistance fighters were against the removal. They claimed De Lesseps was just a developer who had little to do with the war over the Suez Canal.

Today there’s talk of returning the De Lesseps statue to its base overlooking the sea. Though the issue is still controversial.

Supporters say the statue is part of the city’s heritage.

But critics say that reinstating the statue would be disrespectful to the multitudes of Egyptian workers who dug the Suez Canal. They were drafted from the countryside into low-wage work and given primitive tools that lead to tens of thousands of deaths.

3. Port Said Lighthouse

The lighthouse in Port Said is thin and long with yellow, black and white patches running along its side. There's a weathered palm tree in the foreground.

This 19th-century lighthouse was built to guide ships through the Suez Canal – and it’s one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Completed just one week before the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Port Said Lighthouse is 56 metres tall.

It’s fenced off but you’ll see it as you walk along Port Said’s historic corniche (which is definitely worth a visit for its weathered historic buildings and landmarks like the De Lesseps Statue Base and the Simon Arzt facade).

The lighthouse is also fascinating for its architecture.

French engineer Francois Coignet used reinforced concrete to build the lighthouse, a revolutionary method for its time. And the Port Said lighthouse marks the first large-scale structure built with reinforced concrete.

Coignet got the idea to use reinforced concrete because there wasn’t a lot of stone available locally and importing materials was too costly.

Now reinforced concrete is one of the world’s most common building materials. But in the 19th century it was a revolutionary idea that marked Port Said as a hub of futuristic design.

4. Simon Arzt

Simon Arzt department store in Port Said is a weathered facade with most of the windows smashed out.

This weathered Art Deco building was once the city’s finest department store and carried goods from around the world imported via the Suez Canal.

Considered the “first shopping center in Egypt,” the Simon Arzt department store stands today along the city’s historic corniche. And it’s a landmark on Port Said’s Urban Heritage list that testifies to the city’s cosmopolitan past.

The Simon Arzt department store was built in the 1920s. It covered 2,000 square metres and had two galleries under a regal glass ceiling. Staff wore white suits and fez hats while attending to some of the city’s wealthiest clientele.

The department store had everything that a glamorous traveler would need, including a florist, hairdresser and photo studio.

The building is windowless and weathered today, but it’s set for a massive restoration that’s hoped to restore it to glory.

5. Ride the ferry to Port Fuad

Birds fly overhead in a grey sky as the Port Authority building is seen over the water in the distance.

Taking the ferry across the Suez waters to the suburb of Port Fuad is a quintessential experience – and always one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The sea gulls circle overhead as locals toss them bits of flat baladi bread.

The breeze tastes of salt and there are gorgeous views of the Suez Canal Authority building off in the distance.

The tall mosque in Port Fuad rises up above the waters with a green big ferry parked on the shore.

Two images show the ferry from Port Said. On the left is the ferry packed full of cars. On the right is Dee standing in the sunshine and wearing a winter coat with a view from the ferry behind her.

The ferry ride ends with the approach into Port Fuad as you’re greeted by Al Salam Mosque and its tall white minarets. Locals always hop off the ferry as it’s still in motion and seamlessly strut into town.

There’s lots to see in Port Fuad so you definitely don’t want to miss this historic part of town with its villas and rugged beaches.

Insider’s tip: Spend an afternoon in Port Fuad and then head back (via ferry) to Port Said in the early evening for the perfect day trip itinerary.

6. Suez Canal Authority Building

The Suez Canal Port Authority building stands white over the water with glistening pale blue domes.

This magnificent building rises over the canal with its intricate facade and azure-colored domes.

Built in 1895, the building first welcomed the Khedive’s guests, royalty and heads of state for the inauguration of the Suez Canal. Then it was taken over by the British during World War I and used as a headquarters of the British army during their rule in Egypt.

In 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal and the Egyptian flag was famously raised over the building as the British made their final exit from Egypt.

Today the Suez Canal Authority Building does all the admin work that keeps the canal running smoothly.

You’ll get the best views of the building from the ferry into Port Fuad, where you’ll pass the facade rising above the waters.

7. Al Salam Mosque

The tall mosque at Port Fuad rises up over a cloudy sky. It's entirely white with two very tall minarets.

This magnificent mosque dominates the skyline at Port Fuad with its two massive white minarets and grand facade.

Built in 1906, it was Port Fuad’s first mosque and recalls the brilliance of Egypt’s royal past.

8. Seafood dinner

A plate of seafood in Port Fuad that includes shrimp and a slice of orange on a plate covered with foil.

Two large pieces of fried fish rest on a plate alongside some orange slices and a green salad in Port Fuad.

After you cross the canal into Port Fuad (the ferries are free and come along frequently) head for ElGendy Sea Food, another popular eatery where you can eat at its breezy outdoor gazebo.

I recommend the boulty, cooked to juicy perfection, or the well-seasoned curry shrimp.

The seafood in this part of Egypt is unbeatable so get it fresh while you’re there at the city’s countless eateries and elegant restaurants.

9. Explore historic villas

A historic villa in Port Fuad in Egypt has an ornate roof and wooden balcony and a facade painted bright white.

A historic villa in Port Fuad in Egypt has an ornate roof and wooden balcony and a facade painted bright white.

Take a stroll through Port Fuad’s historic housing district lined with villas, verandas and vibrant gardens.

The villas were built to house the staff working on the Suez Canal. And the seaside colonial architecture is a remnant of the city’s past, when it was home to engineers and managers who oversaw the massive construction project.

Port Fuad’s historic district is the prettiest part of town – and I love a long leisurely stroll exploring the side streets with their old street signs, verandas and wildflowers in bloom.

A historic villa in Port Fuad in Egypt has an ornate roof and wooden balcony and a facade painted bright white.

These villas still house many Port Authority employees and you’ll see locals hanging their laundry, doing their shopping or running errands.

Sadly some of the quaint villas are disappearing to make room for tall apartment blocks. Despite protests and efforts at UNESCO to register the buildings, many demolitions continue.

10. Unwind on the beach

A parasol stands in the sun covering a pair of lounge chairs with a view of the blue water and some grass in the foreground at a beach in Port Said.

The beaches at Port Said and Port Fuad range from exclusive resorts to rugged shores filled with sea shells.

Port Said beaches

A closeup of a colorful carousel with the blue sky in the background at a beach in Port Said.

Port Said has many beaches with waterfront restaurants and luxurious lounge chairs that charge a small entrance fee to use.

This small stretch of coast gives a view of the enormous tankers lining up for entry into the Suez Canal.

There are no huge crowds like at the beaches on the Red Sea or Alexandria. But that’s part of the charm.

The mouth 

Waves crash against the rocks at a beach in Port Said as a man stands on the rocks looking out over the water.

There’s also a spot that locals call “the mouth” where you can see the dramatic meeting point of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.

The waves crash against the rocks as cargo ships pass in the distance.

Port Fuad beaches

Beach tents stand in the sand at a beach in Port Fuad.

A cup of tea stands next to a bowl of sugar on a green wooden table with sand in the background on a beach in Port Said.

Port Fuad has lots of beaches that are more rugged and less sandy, including some that are free and open to the public.

The coast is quiet and lined with sea shells and colorful tents where you can order tea.

11. Explore Gomhurriya

A church with a tall tower and a palm tree nearby with an ornate facade stands in Port Said.

The Gomhurriya district is the historic heart of Port Said filled with boutiques, lively cafes and a slew of Greek and Italian churches from the city’s multicultural past.

There are no crowds or speeding cars to dodge here, like in Cairo or Alexandria.

And a long walk is a relaxing way to take in the salty air, people-watch and kick back with some mint tea overlooking the sea.

You’ll stumble into historic churches and small bookshops packed with old postcards of the city’s historic corniche.

12. Dig into some cassata ice cream

A plate with a multi flavored slice of ice cream from a shop in Port Said.

This multi-flavor ice cream is a must-try in Port Said and lots of shops in downtown are well-known for this sweet dessert.

Cassata is an Italian recipe that originated in Sicily. And it was brought to Port Said by the city’s Italian community who popularized the dish among locals.

Cassata is still a favorite dessert today and a perfect refresher on a warm summer day.

How to visit Port Said

Boats on the shores of Port Said with Port Fuad in the background over the water and a cloudy sky.

Port Said isn’t a huge tourist destination so you won’t find any tours offered by the mainstream tour companies.

The best way to see Port Said is to book a trip with Semsemia Tours. This incredible tour company is made up of locals who’ll take you on an immersive cultural and historical tour of the city that will give you lots of depth on this amazing destination.

Two images show Port Said: on the left is the facade of an old historic building, and on the right is a view of the water with Port Fuad and its grand mosque in the distance.

If you want to visit on your own, I’d recommend going with an Egyptian friend or at least knowing a little Arabic. There’s a 3-hour bus from downtown Cairo that stops on the outskirts of the city.

From there you can navigate the minibuses and taxis to get around (there’s no Uber yet in Port Said),

Where to eat in Port Said

Two images show the Epicerie Rio in Port Said: on the left is the front facade with an aged sign in Arabic and English, and on the right is the busy counter with a few staff taking orders and preparing meals.

Fresh fish on a grill in Port Said with smoke rising up from the grill.

Port Said has lots of incredible seafood and restaurants that serve the morning’s catch straight to your table. There’s also many eateries with beautiful views where you can enjoy a meal right on the seashore.

Port Said also has cute and cozy cafes to unwind with Turkish coffee and Egyptian sweets.

Here are some of my favorites:

Epicerie Rio is one of Port Said’s most charming brunch spots. This tiny and nostalgic eatery goes back to the 1950s. And it’s the perfect spot to grab a morning Turkish coffee and a grilled cheese to fuel your walking tour.

Central Perk (in Port Fuad) is a chic and cozy cafe that’s modeled after the famous hang-out spot in the TV series Friends.

Where to stay in Port Said

The shore in Port Said lined with tall white buildings looking out over the water on a sunny day.

If you’re staying a bit longer, book at Aracan for a hotel that’s close to the beach with spacious rooms and lovely balconies.

Resta Port Said Hotel is another favorite with an incredible location right on the sea overlooking the passing boats at the entrance of the canal.

Best day trips from Cairo

sandboarding in fayoum

If you’re looking for more getaways from the city, the sandy shores and fresh water lakes of Fayoum are less than two hours from Cairo.

Fayoum offers gorgeous lakes, parasailing, sandboard and breathtaking landscapes. Read 5 Incredible Things To Do In Fayoum, Egypt to plan your trip.

Best things to do in Egypt

best things to do in egypt

Egypt boasts centuries of history, from pharaonic tombs to medieval mosques and offbeat museums.

Where do you begin to plan your perfect itinerary? Read 30 Incredible Things To Do In Egypt (A Local’s Guide!) to plan your trip.

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