where to stay in cairo
Egypt,  Travel

Where To Stay In Cairo (An Ultimate Local’s Guide)

From historic neighbourhoods to pyramid and Nile views, here’s my ultimate local’s guide to where to stay in Cairo. 

What are the best neighbourhoods to stay in Cairo – and where should you avoid?

There are so many very different districts in this sprawling city. And it all depends on what experience you’re looking for – whether that’s pyramid views or a quiet suburb with historic villas.

I’m an expat who’s lived in Cairo for the past decade and I’ve explored all the different neighbourhoods.

And here’s my insider’s guide to the best places to stay in Cairo – and where to avoid!

1. Zamalek

where to stay in cairo

where to stay in cairo

This leafy, upscale district sits on an island just across from downtown Cairo. And it’s my favorite for cafe lunches with Nile views, boutique shopping and browsing art galleries.

I always recommend Zamalek as the best place to stay in Cairo, especially for first-timers. It has lots of expats, it’s convenient (to downtown and Giza) and it’s easy to navigate if you don’t speak Arabic.

But it’s not a tourist trap either. Zamalek has plenty of Egyptian history and authentic experiences. It’s a place where you can get an iced latte from a hip cafe – and a falafel sandwich from a local food stand.

Zamalek is perfect for an afternoon of browsing bookstores and antique shops – and for a look at modern, middle-class Egyptian life.

The 26th of July Corridor is the main pathway through this charming island. It’s dotted with shops and cafes. And there are plenty of spots for souvenir shopping, too. Start there for an exploratory wander through the neighbourhood.

There’s lots of sightseeing right in Zamalek at gems like the Aisha Fahmy Palace. The Cairo Opera House is also just a short walk away. Try Zooba for lunch and Fair Trade Egypt for a great selection of handmade Egyptian crafts (from rugs and ceramics to cotton).

What I love: Zamalek is very walkable with lots of quiet, tree-lined streets and a stretch right alongside the Nile. It’s solo female traveler friendly and has lots of great restaurants and shopping.

The downsides: 26th of July is often packed with traffic so allow extra time if you’re heading out of the neighbourhood.

Best hotels in Zamalek:

hotels in zamalek

Stay at the Cairo Marriott Hotel (above) for sweeping views of the Nile and gorgeous dining and gardens at the historic Gezira Palace, an 1869 gem that’s now part of the hotel. It’s my absolute favorite hotel in Zamalek.

The Sofitel Cairo is another gorgeous riverfront hotel with stunning Oriental-style dining right along the Nile. It’s technically in Gezirah (which is on the same island as Zamalek) right next to the Opera House and within walking distance from Zamalek.

Need to know:

where to stay in cairo

best neighbourhoods in cairo

On Google Maps: Zamalek

How to get there: It’s best to navigate around Zamalek in an Uber. Though the island is small enough to walk across if you like exploring. Keep in mind that traffic is always slow on the 26th of July Corridor so it’s better to walk if you’re headed down that street.

Nearby: Downtown Cairo is just across the river, and Gezira is on the other side of the island.

2. Maadi

where to stay in cairo

best places to stay in cairo

Maadi is a middle class district with lots of trees and a strip that borders the Nile with picturesque restaurants and plenty of shopping.

It’s also very popular with expats – especially teachers. And lots of places cater to the expat community from expat associations and clubs to souvenir stores.

Maadi has many historic villas and quiet residential streets. Though there’s not much in Maadi that’s traditionally considered a tourist attraction.

Head to Road 9 for shopping and some great little shops to buy souvenirs with clearly marked prices. Unlike the old souq in Khan el Khalili, you don’t have to haggle here. And you’ll find a huge array of restaurants, cafes and little eateries with plenty of vegetarian options, too.

There are lots of nice drinking spots, too, with cocktails and live music. I love Villa 55 – it’s a casual eatery with nice vibes, a bit of history and most importantly – cold beer.

The corniche in Maadi alongside the Nile River offers restaurants with waterfront views. And you can cruise the river in a felucca, a traditional wooden sailboat. 

For an evening out in Maadi, take an Uber (avoid the white street taxis) to the Grand Cafe right on the corniche. Hire a felucca boat from that area for a quiet trip down the Nile.

What I love: I always head to Road 9 for shopping and great little eateries (anything from Egyptian sweets to Mexican food). It’s a quiet neighbourhood and a great spot to see a more rugged side of the Nile, away from downtown. 

The downsides: Be prepared to sit in traffic if you’re heading to downtown or historic Cairo.  

Best hotels in Maadi:

best hotels in maadi

The Villa Belle Epoque (above) is a boutique hotel inside a restored villa. It pays homage to Cairo’s bygone era and has rooms filled with Egyptian antiques. There’s also a leafy swimming pool and an elegant restaurant that serves local cuisine.

Holiday Inn & Suites is a comfortable hotel with a beautiful swimming pool that overlooks the Nile – you can even spot the pyramids on a clear day. It’s also very family-friendly with excellent service.

Need to know:

best places to stay in cairo

best places to stay in cairo

On Google Maps: Maadi

How to get there: It’s best to navigate around in an Uber. Road 9 gets very crowded on nights and weekends, so be prepared to sit in traffic.

Nearby: Coptic Cairo is about a half hour away by taxi, and downtown Cairo is a little further up north.

3. Heliopolis

heliopolis cairo

heliopolis cairo

Heliopolis is such an underrated district. But it’s got really unique architecture, a fascinating history and charming shopping arcades and cafes.

It doesn’t often get recommended to visitors, but I know a few expats who wouldn’t live anywhere else.

The Baron Empain Palace is the most well-known landmark in Heliopolis. It’s a lavish historic mansion inspired by Hindu temples that’s full of elephants and goddesses.

But there’s lots more to discover in Heliopolis.

Heliopolis was founded in 1905 by Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain. It was build for leisure with broad avenues, golf courses and racetracks.

And it also birthed a very unique style that sets Heliopolis apart from other districts. The architecture in Heliopolis (especially around Korba) is a very interesting blend of Egyptian, Moorish, Persian and European elements.

It’s a great district to explore, have lunch at one of the many cozy cafes or visit some historic churches (there are lots in Heliopolis of various Christian denominations).

Head to the Korba section of Heliopolis – it’s where you’ll find all the historic buildings, quiet sidestreets and cafes. Much of the rest of Heliopolis is not as historic as Korba, but you’ll find old villas scattered throughout.

Don’t miss the Byzantine-style Cathedral of Our Lady of Heliopolis in Ahram Square. Have lunch at Tree Trunk cafe – a Bohemian bistro in a historic building with a breezy balcony.

What I love: The buildings are amazing if you’re an architecture lover, and there are lots of shopping arcades filled with elegant boutiques and restaurants. 

The downsides: Heliopolis is not along the Nile – so you’ll get no waterfront views from your hotel. It also doesn’t have as many hotels to chose from as downtown or Zamalek. 

Best hotels in Heliopolis:

The 1920s Boutique Hotel is right in the heart of Korba, inside a beautiful 100 year-old villa. It includes some leafy outdoor dining spots, a bar and colorful gardens.

Baron Hotel Heliopolis overlooks the famous Baron Empain Palace – the Korba views are exceptional.

Need to know:

heliopolis cairo

heliopolis cairo

On Google Maps: Masr Al Jadidah

How to get there: Take an Uber to Korba or the metro to El Ahram station. Heliopolis has large sections that are modern or very crowded. But the Korba district is the more upscale and historic part.

Nearby: Historic Cairo and downtown are both about a 45-minutes taxi ride away. And Heliopolis is very convenient if you want to stay close to the airport.

4. Downtown Cairo

downtown cairo tour

downtown cairo generali

Downtown Cairo is crowded and lively with breathtaking Nile views, great museums and some amazing architecture. It’s a bustling part of the city with lots of budget hotel options too.

It’s not as leafy and upscale as Maadi or Zamalek, but the location can’t be beat for easy access to the Egyptian Museum and Khan el Khalili.

Most visitors focus on historic Cairo and the medieval part of the city. But downtown has lots of hidden gems and some great street food, too.

Downtown is crowded, dusty and noisy – traffic jams are a daily fact. If you’re an introvert looking for some quiet or a first-time visitor to Egypt, I’d recommend Zamalek or Maadi instead.

Downtown is also not the best walking destination for solo female travelers – it’s not dangerous, but it’s a hassle when it comes to unwanted male attention.

But downtown is great for the adventurous travelers who want to experience the buzzing, beating-heart of this big city. It’s a great central base if you’re sightseeing around the city.

And these days downtown Cairo is making a comeback.

There’s a revival in downtown from cultural events hosted in once-neglected spaces to trendy cafes that draw in twenty-somethings.

And since downtown was built in the 19th century, there are lots of regal, European-inspired buildings and squares. Many are dusty and crumbling, while others are restored to their former glory.

What I love: Downtown is great for architectural gems and a modern-day look at Cairo that many tourists don’t see. There are some wonderful museums and cafes to unwind. 

The downsides: It’s very crowded and noisy – be prepared if you’re heading out on a humid summer day. 

Best hotels in downtown:

fawanees at semiramis

Intercontinental Cairo Semiramis (above) has epic Nile views, a rooftop pool and an incredible spa – and some of the best restaurants in the city (especially the Thai).

The Nile Ritz-Carlton boasts its world-famous luxury right in Tahrir Square – there’s even a back entrance that leads straight to the Egyptian Museum.

Need to know:

downtown cairo

cinema radio cairo

On Google Maps: Downtown Cairo 

How to get there: Take an Uber to downtown (Tahrir Square is considered the center), or the metro to the Sadat station.

Nearby: Zamalek is just across the river and Garden City is right alongside downtown, but much more leafy and quiet.

5. Garden City

garden city cairo

This quiet and leafy district sits on the Nile right alongside downtown. It’s still central but it’s got none of downtown’s hustle and noise.

Garden City boasts historic villas surrounded by banana palms and jasmine. And even on a weekday afternoon, many of the sidestreets are quiet enough to hear the birds chirp.

Garden City was built in the 1900s for the Cairo elite. And it’s still a favorite for offices, embassies and luxury hotels.

It doesn’t have many restaurants, shops or bars – aside from a few hidden gems and cozy cafes. But if you’re looking for quiet luxury, and a leafy neighbourhood dotted with dreamy villas, then this is your place.

What I love: Garden City is an urban explorer’s dream and a great neighbourhood to just wander and explore.

The downsides: None, really, though the embassies are surrounded with road blocks and security that you have to circle around.

Best hotels in Garden City:

garden city cairo

Kempinski Nile Hotel overlooks the Nile and has a boutique hotel feel with an amazing rooftop pool. It’s family friendly and has a great breakfast buffet too.

Four Seasons Nile Plaza has incredible dining, Nile views and an upscale department store – all amid unbeatable luxury.

Need to know:

garden city cairo

On Google Maps: Garden City

How to get there: Take an Uber or it’s a 20-minute walk from the Sadat metro station.

Nearby: Downtown Cairo is just a short walk away and Zamalek is just across the river.

6. Giza

cairo one day itinerary

best places to stay in cairo

Giza is a huge and densely-packed satellite city that offers – unsurprisingly – incredible views of the pyramids.

There are some breathtaking historic hotels and more affordable hostels where you can gaze out at the ancient wonders from your balcony.

Spend a night in Giza and savor those pyramid views for a really unforgettable experience. Your trip will be richer and more rewarding when you spend some time taking them in. Or gazing out at the pyramids when they’re illuminated at night – and get up early to catch a sunrise over the plateau.

Giza is also a prime location if you’re planning day trips to Saqqara, Memphis or Dahshur.

But I wouldn’t recommend Giza unless you’re there for the pyramids. There’s not much to explore in Giza itself aside from the plateau. It’s a neighbourhood filled with towering apartment complexes, broad streets packed with traffic and not much of cultural interest for sightseers.

It’s also about an hour and a half to downtown. Don’t believe the websites that claim everything is within a 45-minute taxi ride – unless you’re heading out at 6am.

What I love: The pyramids are always awe-inspiring to see – and there’s some great modern art on display at the plateau too. 

The downsides: Giza is far from everything and it’s always an odyssey to get there. 

Best hotels in Giza:

Mena House (above) is a historic hotel built in 1869 for the Egyptian Khedive – it has an old-world Oriental charm and breathtaking views of the pyramids. There’s also a bar with great cocktails in the evening.

House of Kheops is a gorgeous villa (on Airbnb) with a swimming pool that’s right at the pyramids. It’s such a unique space with wooden shudders, antiques and kilim rugs.

Need to know:

mena house giza

best places to stay in cairo

On Google Maps: Giza

How to get there: Take an Uber and be prepared for traffic jams if you’re traveling in rush hour.

Nearby: Giza is on the other side of the Nile from downtown and at least an hour and a half in traffic away from the city.

7. New Cairo

westin cairo

new cairo

New Cairo is filled with upscale gated communities, villas and ritzy shopping malls.

It has some great hotels with sweeping golf courses – and it’s very convenient to the airport.

New Cairo is also a family-friendly location. It’s not as packed as downtown and it’s all very modern. New Cairo has lots of hotels with swimming pools and sports fields for the kids.

There are some great luxury hotels here including the Kempinski and the Dusit Thani. They all have brilliant dining options too and sprawling green landscapes.

And there are modern, American-style shopping centers like Cairo Festival City. Head to CFC for a tempting outdoor food court with some great Egyptian and Lebanese eateries. And there are souvenir shops if you want to pick up some local handicrafts in the comforts of an A/C.

What I love: The elegant hotels and shopping malls are a great escape from the city bustle, especially in the summer. 

The downsides: There’s not much history or culture – and many of the villas aren’t even occupied.  

Best hotels in New Cairo:

best hotels in new cairo

The Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski (above) is a splendid, palace-inspired getaway with a massive swimming pool in a vast courtyard that’s surrounded by lounge chairs and restaurants. The dining options are some of the best in Cairo.

Westin Cairo doesn’t even feel like the city. It has leafy hotel grounds with jogging trails and a great golf course (where you can also take lessons). I love their buffet, which includes superfoods like salmon and quinoa and freshly-squeezed juices.

Need to know:

royal maxim palace kempinski

new cairo

On Google Maps: New Cairo City

How to get there: Take an Uber – there’s no metro and it’s not a very walkable district (think American suburb).

Nearby: The airport is conveniently close.

Where to avoid

I don’t know why 6th of October often gets recommended as a good place to stay in Cairo.

It’s a satellite city that’s hopelessly far from downtown and just about any tourist attraction. And it’s full of gated communities, shopping malls and blocks of apartment towers that aren’t very walkable either.

Unless you’re a businessman with offices in 6th of October, there’s no reason to stay there. And if you want to be close to the pyramids, then you’re still better off at a hotel with a view in Giza.

Planning your stay in Cairo

where to stay in cairo

Read 3 Best Hotels In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!) for an insider’s look at my favorite Cairo hotels. 

If you’re only in Cairo for a day or two, use The Perfect One-Day Cairo Itinerary (A Local’s Guide!) to plan your visit – without the overwhelm!

34 Best Things To Do In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!) is my ultimate list of favorite Cairo destinations – and some hidden gems.

4 Unique Things To Do In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!) lists some incredible non-touristy experiences if you’re looking to get off the beaten path.

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