Explore Alexandria, Egypt
Explore Alexandria, Egypt‘s second largest city (3.5 million people), its largest seaport and the country’s window onto the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a faded shade of its former glorious cosmopolitan self, but still worth a visit for its many cultural attractions and still-palpable glimpses of its past.
Few cities of the world have a history as rich as that of Alexandria; few cities have witnessed so many historic events and legends. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt; its status as a beacon of culture is symbolized by Pharos, the legendary lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built in the third century BC by Ptolemy I on the island of Pharos. The height of the lighthouse was between 115 and 150 meters, so it was among the highest structures in the world, second only to the Great Pyramids. The lighthouse was built on 3 floors: a square bottom with a central heart, a section octagonal average and above an upper section. And on the top there was a mirror that reflected sunlight during the day and used fire for the night. But it was damaged by 2 earthquakes in 1303 and 1323.
The Library of Alexandria was the largest library of the ancient world and the place where great philosophers and scientists of that age came to seek knowledge. Alexandria also hosted, at the time, the largest Jewish community in the world, and the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was written in the city.
In all, Alexandria was one of the greatest cities in the Hellenic world, second only to Rome in size and wealth, and while it changed hands from Rome to Byzantine and finally Persia, the city stayed the capital of Egypt for a millennium.
Alexandria survived as a trading port; Marco Polo described it around 1300 as one of the world’s two busiest ports, along with Quanzhou. However, its strategic location meant that every army on its way to Egypt passed through:
Today’s Alexandria is a dusty seaside Egyptian town with an over-inflated population of 5 million, yet its status as Egypt’s leading port keeps business humming, and tourists still flock to the beaches in the summertime. And while much of the city is badly in need of a lick of paint, history both ancient and modern is everywhere if you peer closely enough: the French-style parks and the occasional French street sign survive as a legacy of Napoleon, one of Alexandria’s many conquerors, and the few remaining Greek restaurants and cafés still dominate the cultural scene.
Alexandria has a Mediterranean climate, with warm humid summers and mild rainy winters.
Alexandria’s primary promenade is the seaside Corniche. At the western tip lies the fort of Qait Bey, built near the presumed site of the former Lighthouse, while the eastern shore sprawls for miles on end with the slums and tenements of modern Alex.
Alexandria is easily reached by plane, train or bus.
What to see in Alexandria, Egypt. Best top attractions in Alexandria, Egypt.
- Citadel of Qaitbay, Ras el-Tin. 9AM-4PM. One of the icons of the city at a beautiful location, the fortress overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the city itself. Built by Mameluke Sultan Abdul-Nasser Qa’it Bay in 1477 AD but razed and reconstructed twice since. This citadel was built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbay on the site of the Pharos Lighthouse, to protect the city from the crusaders who used to attack the city by sea. The Citadel is situated at the entrance of the eastern harbor on the eastern point of the Pharos Island. It was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse continued to function until the time of the Arab conquest, then several disasters occurred and the shape of lighthouse was changed to some extent, but it still continued to function. During the 11thcentury an earthquake destroyed the top of the lighthouse and the bottom was used as a watchtower. A small Mosque was built on the top. About 1480 A.D the place was fortified as part of the coastal defensive edifices. Later castle looking citadel was built as a prison for princes and state-man. Now it’s a Maritime Museum.
- Cemetery of Mostafa Kamel. The cemetery includes four tombs dating from the second century BC, all of which are in excellent condition and beautifully decorated.
- Kom el-Shouqafa, Karmouz. Kom el-Shouqafa means “mound of shards” or “potsherds.” Its actual ancient Egyptian name was Ra-Qedillies, and it lies on the site where the village and fishing port of Rhakotis, the oldest part of Alexandria that predates Alexander the Great, was located. The underground tunnels of the catacombs lie in the densely populated district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria. The catacombs were most probably used as a private tomb, for a single wealthy family, and later converted to a public cemetery. They are composed of a ground level construction that probably served as a funerary chapel, a deep spiral stairway and three underground levels for the funerary ritual and entombment. The catacombs are unique both for their plan and for their decoration, which represents an integration of the cultures and traditions of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans Catacombs.
- Pompey’s Pillar, Karmouz. An ancient monument, this 25-meter-high granite column was constructed in honor of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 297. The confined area where the column stands also has other ruins and sculptures such as the Serapium oracle. Also beside this area is a very big shopping center for cloth and furniture called “El-Saa3a,” where you can find many types of cloth or clothes.
- Roman Theatre, Kom El-Dikka. Built in the 2nd century AD, this Roman amphitheater has 13 semicircular tiers made of white and gray marble, with marble seats for up to 800 spectators, galleries and sections of mosaic-flooring. In Ptolemaic times this area was the Park of Pan, a pleasure garden surrounded by Roman villas and baths.
- Montazah Palace, El Montazah. Built in 1892 by Abbas II of Egypt Abbas Hilmi Pasha, the last khedive of Egypt. One of the palace buildings, the Haramlek, now contains a casino on the ground floor and a museum of royal relics on the upper levels, while the Salamlek has been converted into a luxury hotel. Parts of the extensive gardens (over 200 acres) are open to the public.
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mansheya. Egypt has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honoring it’s military.
- Ras el-Tin Palace, Ras el-Tin. Not open to visitors, alas.
- Presidential Palace, Montazah.
- Alexandria National Museum, Latin quarter.History Museum with more than 1800 archaeological pieces exhibited chronologically: the basement is devoted to Prehistoric and Pharonic times; first floor to the Greco-Roman period; second floor to the Coptic and Islamic era that highlights artifacts raised during recent underwater excavations.
- Greco-Roman Museum, Latin quarter.A history museum with a vast collection mostly dating from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, spanning the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Moharram Bey. It contains a lot of royal and precious jewels.
- National Institute for Oceanography & Fisheries, Anfoushi (beside Qait Bey). Aquarium and museum displays.
- Royal Jewelry Museum, zezenia. It contains a lot of royal and precious jewels.
- Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, near Ramleh station
- El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque, Anfoushi. Built in 1775 by Algerians, the mosque was built over the tomb of the famous thirteenth century sufi saint, Ahmed Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi . The walls of the mosque are dressed in artificial stone, while the minaret, located on the south side, stands at 73 metres.
- Attarine Mosque, Attarine. Originally a church dedicated to the Saint Athanasius in 370 and was converted into a mosque following the Muslim conquest of Egypt.
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Shatby. Open daily except Fridays from 11 AM to 6:00 PM. A huge modern library and research center constructed near the site of the former Library of Alexandria. It has also a big conference center and a planetarium, as well as displays of ancient texts from the collection and other special exhibitions.
- The Corniche is a glorious 15km walkway (wharf/pier/boardwalk) along the harbour dotted with restaurants, markets and historic sights.
- El Alamein — 120 km west of Alexandria is the site of several important battles from history and currently home to a number of war memorials, cemeteries and museums. Also built on the Mediterranean coast, El Alamein was once famously described by Churchill as having the ‘best climate in the world’.
- Marina — upmarket beachside resort about 100 km from Alexandria
What to do in Alexandria, Egypt
- Sunbathe at the Maa’moura Beach or Montazah Beach. During summer the beaches are packed with Egyptian tourists, parasols and plastic chairs. At this time the sand and water may have some throwaway plastic floating around.
- Montazah Royal Gardens Though the gardens are a part of the more than three hundred and fifty acre grounds of the large royal home known as the Muntazah Palace, the Montazah Royal Gardens take up more than half of the property. Montazah Royal Gardens are situated along the shore as well, which means access to the lovely beaches and warm Mediterranean Sea waters nearby. The Montazah Royal Gardens are a bit unique where city parks and public spaces are concerned as they are rigorously landscaped, and well-stocked with benches and wading or swimming pools that are open for the public to enjoy.
- Also in Montazah, Montazah Water Sports, provide various water sports, from waterskiing to wake-boarding, even Banana Boat and Donuts.
- Hire a boat and go cruising at Ras el-Tin.
- Have a long walk by the beautiful Corniche by the Mediterranean Sea.
- Casino Austria of Egypt -B CP W, The Casino Austria of Egypt is open to Foreigners only. It is also known as the El-Salamlek Palace Casino. Games include Blackjack, Roulette, Punto Banco, Slot Machines and Caribbean Stud Poker. The Casino Austria of Egypt is located at the El-Salamlek Palace Hotel in Alexandria.
- Alexandria’s old town has the largest density of bookshops and booksellers in the Arab world possibly with the exception of Beirut. A particular treat is a long line of pavement booksellers on Nabi Danyal Street, opposite the French Cultural Centre.
- Alexandria Sporting Club, (right in the heart of Alexandria) was built in 1898 and used during the British occupation. It is one of the oldest sporting clubs in Egypt. Today, the golf course stands on 97 feddans, 97 percent of which constitutes the total club area. It is a flat course with tricky bunkers and can be played by beginners as well as experts. The club also features four restaurants, the Club House Restaurant being the most luxurious, and the Happy Land restaurant serving the children’s playground. It also offers party catering.
- Smouha Sporting Club in Smouha. International Hockey Stadium with many swimming pools, a number of soccer fields, two running tracks and many more. Members and guests only are allowed.
- Rent scuba gear from Alexandra Dive and dive through the East Harbor’s ancient remains. Be prepared for poor visibility, nonexistent safety procedures and total disregard for historical artifacts though.
- Go swimming in the Country Club or Lagoon Resort, in front of Carrefour.
- Go dancing at the Centre Rezodanse – Egypte (downtown Alexandria, 15 Sezostris Street, in front of Banque du Caire). This cultural centre offers regular classes in Ballet, Flamenco, Contemporary dance and Egyptian Folkloric Dance. Special workshops with guest teachers are also available, as well as punctual cultural happenings (exhibitions, book signing,). It offers a wide range of activities suitable for adults and children.
Many places seem to follow set shopping hours. Winter: Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 9AM-10PM, Mon and Thurs 9AM-11AM. During Ramadan, hours vary, with shops often closing on Sunday. Summer: Tues, Wed, Fri-Sun 9AM-12:30PM and 4-12:30 PM.
- Alexandria City Center. Shopping mall with huge hypermarket, coffee shops and cinemas. Take a taxi to get here.
- Mirage Mall. A small high-end mall in front of Carrefour. Clothes shops including Adidas and Timberland factory outlets, plus some popular cafes and restaurants including Chili’s and Pasadena Roof.
- Deeb Mall, Roushdy. Midrange shopping mall with cinemas and a food court. edit
- Family Mall. Midrange shopping mall in Gianaclis Station.
- Green Plaza, (next to Hilton Hotel). Big shopping mall with many shops, restaurants, cinemas and a court for videos games and bowling.
- Kirosez Mall, Mostafa Kamel. A midrange shopping mall.
- Mina Mall, Ibrahimia. Another midrange shopping mall
- Maamoura Plaza Mall, Maamoura. Some restaurants.
- San Stefano Grand Plaza Mall, San Stefano (eastern Alexandria, next to Four Seasons Hotel). Perhaps the largest shopping mall in Alexandria. Luxury shopping, 10 cinemas, large food court
- Wataniyya Mall, Sharawy St (Louran). Small shopping mall.
- Zahran Mall, Smouha. Cinemas and coffee shops.
Alexandria is famous for having the best seafood restaurants in the country.
50 years ago a maze of bars and nightclubs filled the city, but visitors to today’s Alexandria often complain that it can be hard to find a decent watering hole.
Hotels and most tourist restaurants throughout Alexandria and most of Egypt are home to bars and discos.
The humble ahwa, serving up coffee, tea and shisha (water pipe) is an Egyptian tradition and there are plenty to be found in Alexandria as well. Try a puff, play a little backgammon or dominoes, and watch the world pass by. These are largely a male domain though, and women will rarely been seen in them.
In addition to local options, there’s a Starbucks in San Stefano Grand Plaza and a Costa Coffee near Stanley Bridge.
Alexandria is a conservative city, so women should cover their shoulders, midriffs, cleavage and legs. Cover your head when entering places of worship.
Feel free to explore Alexandria.
Official tourism websites of Alexandria, Egypt
For more information please visit the official government website: