For a truly authentic experience in Cairo, wander through Islamic Cairo in the very early hours of the morning and watch the city slowly wake up. If you walk down the small side street behind Sharia Al-Azhar, you will be led directly to Al-Azhar Park, lined with tiny shops owned by locals that still produce handmade shoes, jewellery and more. This is also an authentic residential district of Cairo, where visitors can see the everyday life of local families.
The best time to visit Garden City is just an hour before sundown, when the fascinating architectural structures get immersed in the golden light of the fading sun. Garden City, one of Cairo’s wealthiest residential districts, creates a very different atmosphere to other residential areas in the city, as it was planned by wealthy private investors instead of having naturally emerged. It is interesting to see how the area promotes an artificially created European feel in the heart of Egypt’s capital. If you explore the area around the Four Seasons hotel closely, you will also find the last real garden that is left in Garden City.
Tawfiqiyya Souq Market is a traditional Egyptian fruit and vegetable market that is open from the very early hours of the morning until after midnight. Most tourists tend to visit the market during the day when it is at its busiest. However, walking through the market just before it is about to close down for the night creates a completely different feeling of authenticity, as the only people left will be local shopkeepers who sit together, chat and pack up after a busy day at the market.
Khan el Khalili is a medieval bazaar in central Cairo that is still predominantly occupied by Egyptian street vendors and shop owners. While many of the shops in Khan El Khalili do sell tourist souvenirs, there are still some true hidden gems to be found at the market. If you explore the tiny shops more closely you will find amazing 18th-century mirrors and wooden screens that continue to promote the art of traditional Egyptian craftsmanship. There are also some old goldsmiths that operate in the area and traditional coffeehouses.
Local Egyptian artists continue to be true hidden gems in Cairo. There is a wide variety of art galleries, temporal exhibitions and even coffeehouses and restaurants that contribute to the promotion of local artists and their work across borders. Most notably, the 23 Artist exhibition at the Art Lounge, which exhibits everything from drawings to paintings and sculptures, as well as the Crystal Angels Gallery Exhibition in Zamalek’s Art Corner that features the important work of visual artist Ghada El Nagger, are worth a visit. More fascinating artwork can be found in the city’s many renowned galleries, such as Al Masar Gallery, Safar Khan Art Gallery or Zamalek Art Gallery.