Dee is walking across the open courtyard of Azhar Mosque in Cairo, which is lined with white columns and a white marble floor.

Best Things To Do In Islamic Cairo (A Local’s Guide)

Packed with treasures from Cairo’s medieval past, the historic neighborhood of Islamic Cairo is lined with splendid mosques, bustling souqs and sweeping city parks.

Islamic Cairo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 7th century. And it holds one of the largest and densest concentrations of historic architecture in the Islamic world.

Islamic Cairo is packed with mosques, tombs, madrasas, palaces, souqs and city gates from throughout Egypt’s medieval history.

The district is well-known for iconic sites like the Cairo Citadel and the Khan el Khalili souq. But it also has plenty of hidden gems.

Where do you begin to explore this incredible district?

azhar park

I’m a long-time expat living for over a decade in Cairo, and this is my ultimate guide to Islamic Cairo. It’s one of my favorite districts to explore and I’ve both lived and worked in its bustling neighborhoods.

Use this guide to plan your perfect Islamic Cairo itinerary – and to explore some of the city off the beaten path.

Islamic Cairo walking tour

Dee stands in front of an arched entryway in Islamic Cairo taking a photo on her phone.

Islamic Cairo is huge – and I can’t imagine visiting all these sites on a walking tour. Unless you have all day and you enjoy hour-long walks along busy highways.

The truth is, you’ll have to hop into an Uber to get between many of these sites (like the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Citadel).

The good news is: certain parts of Islamic Cairo are very walkable. If you want to take a walking tour and visit mosques, palaces and shops along the way, then head to Cairo’s famous Moez Street. It’s about a kilometer long and it’s full of splendid mosques and historic monuments.

But don’t expect to visit all the sites in Islamic Cairo during a single walk. Cairo is a big city – just take an Uber.

How to visit Islamic Cairo

A view of two minarets and a dome on Moez Street through an arch with lamps hanging from it.

If you don’t have a full day to dedicate to Islamic Cairo, and if you just want to see the must-see essentials, then I’d recommend this short itinerary: The Citadel, then Sultan Hassan and finish on Moez Street.

The easiest way to visit all of Islamic Cairo in a day is with a hired tour guide. They’ll whisk you from one site to the next and you won’t have to worry about hunting down Ubers and navigating Google maps.

If you’re visiting solo, then I recommend breaking up your sightseeing into clusters. Visit several sites that are all near each other in half a day, then have a long lunch and take a breather. Continue on to the next cluster in the late afternoon.

These are the sites that are near each other:

  • Cluster #1: Cairo Citadel, Sultan Hassan Mosque and Ibn Tulun Mosque are relatively close together and you can easily hop from one to the next in an Uber (or tuk tuk). They are not really walkable, however.
  • Cluster #2: Moez Street, Khan el Khalili and Al-Azhar Mosque are close together and you can easily walk from one to the next!
  • Cluster #3: Azhar Park is its own destination and you’re best off going there in an Uber to access the main entrance. The park is near Azhar Mosque and Khan el Khalili – about a 15-minute taxi ride. Though you could technically walk from Azhar Mosque to the park (I’ve done it), but it’s along a busy highway and not a very pleasant promenade.

Fun fact: Both Azhar Park and the Cairo Citadel are walled-off on top of a hill – and they both have one main entrance. So even if you’re right next to them on the map, you can’t just enter at any point except through the main entrance.

Where is Islamic Cairo?

A map of Islamic Cairo taken from Google Maps showing a large stretch of the historic city to the right of the Nile and downtown Cairo.

The area known as Islamic Cairo covers a large section of the city – immediately to the east of downtown Cairo.

Islamic Cairo is about a 20-minute taxi ride away from downtown and the Nile corniche.

If you want to focus on sightseeing around Islamic Cairo, then look for a hotel in downtown Cairo. Islamic Cairo doesn’t have very many hotels – though there is one beautiful boutique hotel right on Moez Street.

Islamic Cairo map

There aren’t many maps of Islamic Cairo for tourists (I’m working on it), but in the meantime here’s the best one I found. Drag it to your desktop and zoom in for the best viewing.

Just remember that sites may appear closer to each other than they are in reality (so refer to my “clusters” above for the easiest way to visit them).

A medieval map of Islamic Cairo shows all the important mosques in tiny font and a big patch of green for Azhar Park.

Best things to see in Islamic Cairo:

Here are the best mosques and historic sites to visit in Islamic Cairo to help you plan your perfect itinerary.

1. Cairo Citadel

cairo citadel guide

tickets: 450 EGP | open 8am-5pm | on the map

The Cairo Citadel boasts Egypt’s most iconic mosque and a medieval fortress built by Saladin perched on a hilltop overlooking the old city.

The citadel is an absolute must-see on your Cairo itinerary for its impressive mosque and medieval stone fortress with its gateways, towers and several different museums.

Insider’s tip: Perched in the Muqattam Hills, the citadel has brilliant views over historic Cairo and its minarets. Head to the terrace for the best views – you can even spot the pyramids on a clear day.

Main attractions you shouldn’t miss:

  • The Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • the views at the terrace
  • the citadel fortress

How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

Next stops: Once you’re done at the Citadel, hop into a cab to get to your next destination. Walking anywhere from the Citadel isn’t very realistic because the area is surrounded by a long and busy highway. Both Sultan Hassan and Ibn Tulun are a 10-minute taxi ride away from the citadel.

Read An Ultimate Guide to the Cairo Citadel (By A Local!) for my detailed guide to all the must-sees.

2. Sultan Hassan Mosque

A bird's eye view of the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo shows an enormous building topped with a dome and surrounded by tall minarets.

tickets: 180 EGP | open 9am-5pm | on the map

The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is one of the most splendid medieval monuments in Cairo – and a must-see for any architecture lover.

This grandiose 14th-century mosque is a stunning example of Mamluk architecture – and it’s one of Cairo’s most beautiful mosques.

The Sultan Hassan Mosque is filled with intricate stonework, massive vaulted chambers and geometric patterns. Built from enormous blocks of stone, its walls reach 38 metres and symbolized the might of Mamluk rule.

Insider’s tip: The Al-Rifai Mosque is right next door and you visit both with a single ticket.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Sultan Hassan and you’ll get dropped off right at the entrance near a busy roundabout.

Next stops: Both the Cairo Citadel and Ibn Tulun are a 10-minute taxi ride away. You can also take a tuk tuk to Ibn Tulun if you find a driver, thought it’s quite a ride.

Read An Ultimate Guide To The Sultan Hassan Mosque for my detailed guide to all the must-sees.

3. Mosque of Ibn Tulun

The mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo with its spiraling minaret and tall ablution fountain topped with a dome.

free | 9am-5pm | on the map

Ibn Tulun is Cairo’s oldest surviving mosque with a one-of-a-kind climbable spiral minaret and rows of very photogenic archways.

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is much older and has a completely different feel than Cairo’s grander and more ornate Mamluk or Ottoman mosques.

There’s rows of geometric archways and patterns that are every photographer’s dream. Art students often come here to practice drawing perspective.

Insider’s tip: Climb the steep staircase of the minaret for incredible views of the mosque’s courtyard and the surrounding neighborhood.

Don’t miss the geometric patterns carved out of stucco on the undersides of the arches, the spacious courtyard and the mosque’s narrow enclosed wings (called ziyadas) that surround Ibn Tulun on all three sides.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Ibn Tulun. Just be advised you’ll be going through a dense, working-class neighborhood to get to the mosque itself – and that means some drivers will be confused if they’re not GPS-savvy.

Next stops: Both the Cairo Citadel and Sultan Hassan are a 10-minute taxi ride away. You can also take a tuk tuk to Sultan Hassan if you find a determined driver.

Next cluster: Take an Uber to Moez Street to start sightseeing the next cluster. You’ll be closer to the southern part of Moez (aka the Tentmaker’s Market) so you can start there and work your way up north if you want to save about 15 minutes in your taxi. Otherwise, just take an Uber straight to Azhar Mosque and you’ll be right in the center of Khan el Khalili and in the middle of Moez Street.

Read Inside The Incredible Mosque of Ibn Tulun (A Local’s Guide!) for my detailed guide to all the must-sees.

4. Moez Street

The tall minaret and dome of the Qalawun complex loom over a small sidestreet.

free | most shops open 9am-midnight | on the map

Moez is a kilometer-long street in Islamic Cairo lined with treasures of medieval architecture – from splendid mosques to historic homes and palaces.

It’s very walkable and a perfect choice if you want to do an Islamic Cairo walking tour.

It’s also bustling with local vendors, street food wagons and mazes of narrow sidestreets where tall minarets peak out above the rooftops.

Insider’s tip: If you want to visit the most essential sites along Moez Street, don’t miss the incredible Qalawun Complex for splendid mosques and madrasas, and the historic home Bayt al-Suhaymi for a fascinating look at everyday life in 17th-century Cairo.

Moez Street is adjacent to the famous Khan el Khalili souq, a medieval bazaar that’s now a bustling tourist destination. It also has countless shops with handmade crafts and souvenirs – which means you can combine your historic sightseeing with some shopping.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Bab al-Futuh, which is an easy drop-off point on a wide and busy street. Enter through the gate and you’ll be straight on Moez Street. Or get dropped off at Azhar Mosque and you’ll be in the middle of Moez and right next to Khan el Khalili.

Next stops: Moez Street is walking distance to Khan el Khalili and Azhar Mosque.

Read Moez Street in Cairo: An Ultimate Local’s Guide for a complete map of everything you must see along this street.

5. Khan el Khalili

Dee walks down a street in Khan el Khalili in Cairo filled with vendors selling colorful lanterns.

free | most shops open 9am-midnight | on the map

Khan el Khalili is a medieval open-air bazaar packed with historic mosquesbustling cafes and endless mazes of colorful shops. It’s right alongside Moez Street.

It’s an incredible place to soak in some local atmosphere and load up on Egyptian souvenirs while admiring the city’s most splendid architecture.

Insider’s tip: Don’t miss Bab al-Ghuri (see above), a historic gate packed with shops selling colorful lanterns, and old cafes lively with musicians and kettles of mint tea.

Khan el Khalili is also often loud and overwhelming with pushy vendors and fake Chinese-made kitsch. Be prepared to haggle – or just say no.

It’s lively and sometimes overwhelming, but Khan el Khalili is definitely one of the best things to do in Cairo and a must-see even on a one-day Cairo itinerary.

Khan el Khalili dates back to the 14th century and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site is lined with masterpieces of Islamic architecture – and some of Egypt’s most incredible mosques.

It was established as a trade center during the Mamluk era and merchants all over the world packed its dense streets to sell their wares.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque, which is an easy drop-off point on a wide and busy street. And you’ll be in the middle of Moez Street and right next to Khan el Khalili

Next stops: Khan el Khalili is waking distance to both Moez Street and Azhar Mosque.

Read Khan el Khalili: An Ultimate Local’s Guide for my insider’s guide to navigating this lively souq.

6. Al-Azhar Mosque

azhar mosque cairo

azhar mosque cairo

free | on the map

Al-Azhar Mosque is the highest authority for the study of Sunni theology. It attracts students from Southeast Asia and around the world.

This gorgeous Fatimid masterpiece was established in 972,

The courtyard has white marble floors with views of the surrounding Mamluk minarets. It’s lined with bright masonry, wooden ceilings and mashrabiya windows. There’s also five intricate minarets that are remnants of the city’s various dynasties.

Insider’s tip: Azhar Mosque provides scarves and skirts for visitors if you want to head inside but don’t have anything to cover up.

Al-Azhar Mosque was the first Fatimid monument in the new Cairo capital. Today, it’s around double its original size with a capacity of 20,000 people.

The mosque is home to Al-Azhar University, the prestigious center of Sunni theology. It’s also the world’s second oldest continuously-run university.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque, which is an easy drop-off point on a wide and busy street. And you’ll be in the middle of Moez Street and right at Khan el Khalili.

Next stops: Azhar Mosque is within walking distance to both Khan el Khalili and Moez Street, which are both right across the street.

Read Al Azhar Mosque: An Ultimate Guide (By A Local) for insider tips to plan your trip.

7. Al Azhar Park

azhar park cairo

tickets: 40 EGP | open 9am-10pm | on the map

Al Azhar Park is a green oasis in the middle of Cairo – and a great resting place from sightseeing and the bustle of the city .

This sprawling 30-hectare public park is right next to Azhar Mosque and Khan el Khalili. It boasts green rolling hills, fountains, restaurants and sweeping views over the old city.

There’s also an observation point with binoculars and views over Islamic Cairo and its historic minarets. A restored Ayyubid wall – built by Saladin some 800 years ago – stretches across one side of the park.

It’s all build atop of what was once a mount of city rubble and ruins. The $30 million-dollar project was a gift to Cairo from Aga Khan IV, a descendant of the city’s Fatimid caliphs.

And it’s now a local favorite for family gatherings and picnics. Lots of features are modern and inspired by historic Islamic gardens.

For a leisurely lunch with a view, head to the Lakeside Restaurant for waterside dining.

azhar park

Citadel View Restaurant (aka Studio Misr) has classic Egyptian decor and plenty of local favorites on the menu (with lots of vegetarian-friendly options).

It has great views of the Citadel that are especially magical at night when the mosques are illuminated.

Insider tip: Avoid weekends and national holidays, when the park gets packed with noisy crowds and family picnics.

How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Park and you’ll get dropped off at the front entrance. Note that Azhar Park is walled in (up on a hill) and there’s one main entrance.

Read An Ultimate Guide To Al Azhar Park for my insider tips to visiting this park.

A walking tour of Moez Street

Two images show Moez Street in Cairo. On the left is a man walking down a narrow street with old historic buildings looming tall above him. On the right is a closeup of an ornate arched doorway with a dark wooden door.

Moez Street is the most walkable of all the winding streets of Islamic Cairo – and it’s the one most packed with historic mosques and monuments.

Read Moez Street in Cairo: An Ultimate Local’s Guide for my ultimate guide – including a step-by-step itinerary of all the must-sees.

Exploring Khan el Khalili

An old arched gateway in Khan el Khalili, Cairo, is lined with silver and copper lanterns carved in intricate designs and colorful souvenirs.

Where to you begin to explore Cairo’s lively medieval bazaar alongside Moez Street? Read Khan el Khalili: An Ultimate Local’s Guide for my ultimate guide to this fascinating market.

More resources:

25 Incredible Things To Do In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!)

The Perfect 1 Day Cairo Itinerary (A Local’s Guide!)

Where To Stay In Cairo: The Best (And Worst) Neighborhoods