An Insider’s Guide to Zamalek, Cairo
The chic neighbourhood of Zamalek is popular with Cairenes from all walks of life | © John Warburton-Lee Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Sometimes dubbed the Manhattan of Cairo, Zamalek is an upscale neighbourhood on a cosmopolitan island in the Nile. Its central location, foliage and huge amount of dining, nightlife and cultural venues make it a hotspot for Cairenes and expats of all ages. Walkable, green and flanked by the Nile on all sides, Zamalek offers plenty to see and do.
An upscale part of town with plenty of well-off residents, Zamalek, unsurprisingly, attracts only the very best restaurateurs. You’ll find all sorts of cuisines and varying dining experiences across the neighbourhood.
Restaurant, Japanese, Peruvian, $$$
Haute Japanese-Peruvian cuisine is on the menu at this decadent restaurant and bar. A little bit pricier than most establishments across Cairo (comparable to five-star hotel restaurant prices), this elegantly decorated spot is perfect for a treat or celebration. Try the miso black cod tacos, unagi foie gras tostadas and exotic cocktails for an experience that truly does justice to the concept of fusion food.
Sapori di Carlo
Restaurant, Pizzeria, Italian
Recently opened by Michelin-star chef Carlo Adib, this Italian eatery offers first-class Neapolitan pizzas, fresh from a wood-fired oven in less than five minutes. With home-made pasta, burrata and arancini populating the menu, this is gourmet comfort food at its finest.
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, Egyptian, $$$
Having most recently made headlines after opening a branch in New York City, Zööba’s first-ever home is on Zamalek’s 26 July Street. Serving Egyptian street food
in hip packaging (falafel, mashed fava beans and koshari should be top of your list if you’re after an authentic meal), this staple is not to be missed.
Abou El Sid
Restaurant, Egyptian, $$$
Abou El Sid prides itself on its retro vibe and Egyptian dishes. Though some consider it a little bit too touristy, it’s definitely a great introduction to Cairo’s culture, both aesthetically and culinarily. Try the Circassian chicken, molokhia
and a selection of mezes for a real immersion into Egyptian food, and wash it down with the vodka sugar cane cocktail.
Restaurant, Thai, $$$
This relatively undiscovered spot (on the second floor of a monstrously big residential building) might seem a little sketchy, but it offers what’s largely considered the best and most authentic Thai cuisine in Egypt. Reasonably priced, casual and absolutely no-frills, Sabai Sabai has the seal of approval from the Thai government.
Probably one of the few areas in Cairo where you can truly bar-hop on foot, Zamalek’s bar-to-resident ratio is very much in favour of those who like a cold beer and a stiff drink in equal measure.
Bar, Restaurant, Egyptian
A long-standing staple on the nightlife scene in Cairo, Aperitivo is tucked away on the first floor of a striking Art Deco building on 26 July Street. Equally gorgeous inside, this bustling bar revives the glamour and decadence of Egypt’s yesteryear; marble-topped tables, brass fixtures and crystal chandeliers give it a Great Gatsby vibe. It can get a little loud on weekends, but you can reserve a table on the restaurant side of the venue for a quieter, more relaxed experience.
Bar, Restaurant, Egyptian, French
A newcomer to the Zamalek scene, Monkey Bar is quickly gaining fans for its Instagrammable interior (look for the monkey-print wallpaper!), great mixology and concise food menu that pairs perfectly with a tipple. Its sangrias are some of the city’s favourites – try the white wine sangria and order the sherry-laced cheese fondue pot for a delicious night.
Bar, Restaurant, Pub Grub
Split over two floors, the lower being more restaurant-like and the upper a louder, rowdier spot, L’Aubergine is a favourite for after-work drinks and gets a second wind at around 11pm when the night owls come out to play. Check out the unique shots in the upper bar, or settle in with a bottle of wine downstairs where the menu is largely vegetarian
Bar, Restaurant, Egyptian, $$$
Proud owner of what’s probably the best view of the Nile in Zamalek, Crimson occupies a sprawling terrace right on the riverbank. A little bit on the pricier side, this fancy bar and grill comes alive after sunset when the city’s movers and shakers congregate for a cocktail or three. Its tapas-style bar bites are well worth a try, while you can opt for a massive T-bone steak if you’re feeling particularly ravenous.
Zamalek’s proximity to Downtown Cairo, combined with its largely affluent residents (both historically and until this day), have made the neighbourhood a culture vulture’s dream. From historic estates to art galleries galore, as well as some of Egypt’s longest-standing cultural institutions, there’s plenty to soak up in this neighbourhood.
Cairo Opera House
Museum, Opera House
© Leonid Andronov / Alamy Stock Photo
With sprawling grounds and several buildings, the Cairo Opera House doesn’t only host classical music and ballet performances, it’s also home to several art galleries and performance spaces. Check the schedule on the official website and get a taste of both Egyptian and international arts and culture.
Aisha Fahmy Palace
Built by an Egyptian aristocrat in 1907, Aisha Fahmy Palace was recently refurbished to its former decadence and opened to the public as an art gallery. Exhibitions change on a monthly basis, and even if nothing is on, the free-to-enter palace is well worth a visit – right on the Nile and with gorgeous interiors and stained-glass windows, it’s definitely eye candy and perfect for the ’gram.
Bookstore by name, gathering place for arty intellectuals by nature, Sufi Bookstore serves up piping hot coffee with a side of music, painting workshops, live poetry and more. Keep up to date with the shop’s social media for upcoming events.
El Sawy Cultural Wheel
Egyptian music band playing Jazz in El Sawy Culture Wheel | © Eddie Gerald / Alamy Stock Photo
Right on the Nile, El Sawy Culture Wheel is a multi-stage venue with events on almost every day. From chart-topping Egyptian pop bands to indie and underground artists, this space has cemented itself as music hub for all ages. Quieter events include all sorts of theatrical acts, puppet shows and arts classes – check its social media at the beginning of the month for the whole schedule.
These recommendations were updated on March 16, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.