I have lived in Cairo for 4 months now and my husband and I have made sure we set aside time to explore our surroundings. Recently, we made the 225 km (140 mile) trek from Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria is a beautiful city located on the Mediterranean Sea and whose culture is very similar to other Mediterranean cities in Italy and Greece and whose history dates back to 331 B.C. when founded by Alexander the Great. The city is packed full of culture, historical places to visit and great landscapes! If you are ever in Alexandria (or nearby in Cairo and want to make the short trip to Alexandria), make sure to visit a few of the places I list below.
Qait-Bay Fort is located on Alexandria's eastern harbor and was constructed in 1479. The Fort sits on the site of the old lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Fort can be toured for 20 EGP (approximately $3), but can get quite hot inside during the summer months. The locals use the area around the Fort for fishing, swimming and selling local goods, however, beware of very pushy locals in this area trying to sell you their goods!
Pompey's Pillar is located off of Amoud Al Sawari in the city of Alexandria. The pillar was erected in the area of Serapium of Alexandria and was called "The Palace of Alexandria" by the Arabs. The monument stands 26 meters high and is considered one of the highest monuments in the world. The price to enter the grounds of the monument is 20EGP (approximately $3).
The Roman Amphitheater is located in the area of Kom El Dekka off of Ismail Mahana and is considered to have been the only one of its kind to be discovered in Alexandria. The steps of the theater are made of marble and the floor is made of mosaic and the original letters engraved into the steps are still able to be seen. The locals use the amphitheater to hold concerts in the summer. Also, the monuments pictured below are those that have been found by divers near the Qait Bay Fort and now are displayed on the amphitheater grounds. I found it pretty amazing that these sculptures and monuments are still located in the ocean below the modern city of Alexandria! The cost to enter the amphitheater grounds is 20EGP (approximately $3).
Catacomb of Kom El Shokafa
This was by far my favorite site in Alexandria! The catacombs are located off of El-Nasereya and were accidentally discovered in 1900 when a donkey stumbled and caught its foot in a gap that existed over the tombs. The cemetery is considered one of the most important and beautiful Romanian cemeteries to be discovered in Egypt. When you first enter the site, it does not seems look like much, but when you walk into the large catacomb, you walk down about 90 steps into several different rooms where the tombs are located. I was impressed by how large some of the rooms were and that there are still two carved statues of what is believed to be the original owners! The price to enter the Catacombs is 35 EGP (approximately $5), but unfortunately cameras are not allowed inside the Catacombs.
Saint Sabba Church
The Saint Sabba Church was built in the seventh century and is now home to the Greek Orthodox in Alexandria. The church is one of the only churches in Alexandria that is still open after the Revolution that occurred in Egypt in 2011. I found the architecture and paintings inside the church absolutely gorgeous and one of the best I've seen. There is no entry fee into the church, just ask the security guard to open the church doors to enter.
Montaza Palace and Gardens
Montaza Palace and Gardens is located off of El-Gaish Rd. The gardens are quite large and remind me a little of Central Park in New York City. The palace was built in 1892 as a summer residence of the Mohamed Ali ruling family, however, the palace stands empty today. The gardens are used today by the locals for picnicking, walking and swimming, as there is a private beach on the grounds. The grounds are best visited in the morning, as the area becomes quite busy in the early to late afternoon.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located off of El Gaish Rd and is located on the campus of the University of Alexandria. The library was opened in 2002, cost $220 million to construct and is the largest reading space in the world. The library overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is a beautiful structure! Unfortunately, we were not able to go inside as we did our tour on a national holiday in Egypt, but our tour guide indicated it is a beautifully constructed building inside and worth the tour.
Other Sites to See: The National Museum of Alexandria, Royal Jewelry Museum, Opera House of Alexandria, the beaches, drive along the Cornish.
Where to Stay: The Four Seasons Hotel at St. Stefano. This hotel is by far the best hotel to stay in Alexandria and relatively inexpensive for a 5 star hotel. Situated across the street from the beach, the hotel boasts a great outdoor pool area, some of the top restaurants in Alexandria and its own private beach (there is an underground tunnel to get to the beach). At the Four Seasons, ask for a local tour guide whose name is Kholoud. She was our tour guide for the day and has been doing tours in Alexandria for 15 years. She speaks wonderful English and has so much information about Egypt and the different sites and culture of Alexandria.
How to get to Alexandria: Major airlines fly in and out of Alexandria. Also, Alexandria is a short drive (approximately 2.5 hours) from Cairo (Since driving in Egypt is notoriously crazy, I would recommend hiring a car service if you plan on driving from Cairo to Alexandria).
Where to eat: Greek Club (greek ), Fish Market (seafood), Fish Restaurant and Lounge (seafood)
How to get around: Alexandria has public transportation, but I recommend taking taxis or hiring a car service to get around the city.
Safety in Alexandria: It is quite safe in Alexandria (and most of Egypt). All of the hotels and major tourist attractions have the proper security measures in place and I never felt unsafe while being there. If you are a woman traveling to Alexandria, I would recommend wearing long dresses or pants and shirts that cover your shoulders as it is quite conservative in most places.
Images above: Four Seasons Hotel at St. Stefano, Abou El Abbas El Morsy Mosque, Overlooking pool at Four Seasons, Driving along the Cornish
There are so many great places to visit while in Alexandria. What are your favorites?