Alexandria Halal Travel Guide
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Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city (3.5 million people), its largest seaport and the country’s window onto the Mediterranean Sea.
Alexandria is 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.
History of Alexandria
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 (Iskander al-Akbar) 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.
There had long been a fishing village here, called Rhakotis, but Alexander had greater plans for it. Its strategic value was obvious: it had a great natural harbour, a backing lagoon to prevent land attack, a fertile hinterland, and potential control of trade routes up the Nile and overland to the Red Sea and Arabia. But the approach to the harbour was tricky: the coastline and off-shore islands were low and without landmarks, so sailors could easily take the wrong channel and get wrecked on the shoals. To guide them in, Alexander’s successors Ptolemy I & II built a lighthouse on the nearby island of Pharos. It stood just over 100 m tall, so only the Great Pyramids were taller. A bronze mirror atop it reflected sunlight by day, and by night the flames of oil-soaked sheep fleeces. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, and the name of the island “Pharos” came to apply to all subsequent lighthouses, and spawned modern words such as “phares” in French.
A jetty over 1 km long was built to connect Pharos to the mainland, dividing the bay into an eastern and western harbour. Silt and landfill built up along the jetty so it broadened into a peninsula, the present-day district of Anfushi. The lighthouse was badly damaged by earthquakes in 956, 1303 and 1323, then fell into disuse and disrepair. In 1480 Sultan Qaitbey used the ruined stone to build his fortress here. The rest of it was eaten by coastal erosion, and came to lie on the sea-bed. But a combination of ancient descriptions, modern marine archaeology and satellite imaging give us a detailed picture of it.
Alexandria under Ptolemy I & II prospered not just through trading, but as a knowledge economy. They set out to acquire and understand every manuscript they could. Arriving ships were searched, and any manuscripts seized and copied onto papyrus. In the great Library of Alexandria texts were translated, catalogued and studied. Scholars, philosophers and scientists flocked to work on these texts, and to create new material. Just one example of their creative output was the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of Hebrew holy texts that became the Christian Bible Old Testament.
Trade and knowledge made Alexandria cosmopolitan, with the largest Jewish populations and Hellenistic cultures anywhere. It retained its importance, and was capital of Egypt, while power was shifting elsewhere: the rise and decline of Rome, the rise of Byzantium, and growth of Persia. But the city suffered natural disasters (eg the tsunami of 365 CE) and a series of wars (particularly against Rome), and the library was destroyed. When the Arabs conquered Egypt in 641 CE they founded a new capital to the south in Fustat, now Cairo. Politically, economically and intellectually, Alexandria was no longer the place to be.
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: Napoleon’s troops stormed the city in 1798, but the British conquered it in the Siege of Alexandria in 1801. The Egyptians under Mohammed Ali took control of the city and rebuilt it, but the Orabi Rebellion in 1881 and massacres of Europeans in the city led the British to strike back and hammer the rebels with the three-day Bombardment of Alexandria, reducing much of the town center to rubble.
Once again, Alexandria rose from the ashes. Its cosmopolitan and decadent lifestyle before and during World War II gave birth to its greatest poet, Constantine P. Cavafy, and was chronicled in Laurence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and a series of works by E.M. Forster including Alexandria: A History and Guide (1922), described by some as the best travel guide ever written.
Yet this world, too, took a shattering blow in the 1950s when Egypt’s new fiercely nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized vast swathes of the economy and forbade foreigners from owning or running companies, effectively forcing tens of thousands of foreigners out of the country, including virtually all of Alexandria’s once 150,000-strong Greek community. Alexandria thus ceased to be a cosmopolitan city.
Today’s Alexandria is a dusty seaside Egyptian town with miles of tatty low-rise and ‘burbs holding its 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 major repair, its history is still evident: the French-style parks and the occasional French street sign survive as a legacy of Napoleon, and the few remaining Greek restaurants and cafés still do a good trade.
Weather in Alexandria
Alexandria has a hot desert climate (BWh), but highly influenced by sea breeze, with sunny hot humid summers and mild moderately wet winters. The daytime can be humid in summer, with summer temperatures averaging 31 °C (88 °F), but evenings are usually cooler and breezy, mainly by the Corniche. Winters can get cold, with daytime highs down sometimes to 12 °C (53 °F), with occasional rain and sometimes hail. Humidity is high throughout the year. The best time to visit Alexandria is in spring (March–June) and autumn (September–November), since it’s at its busiest in summer, when Egyptians flock down to escape the searing heat of Cairo.
Alexandria mean sea temperatureJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
|18°C (64°F)||17°C (63°F)||17°C (63°F)||18°C (64°F)||20°C (68°F)||23°C (73°F)||25°C (77°F)||26°C (79°F)||26°C (79°F)||25°C (77°F)||22°C (72°F)||20°C (68°F)|
Alexandria is a long thin city, pinched between the swampy delta and the sea. Its east-west artery, the Corniche, rolls on for about 30 km. However the advantage to the visitor is that all transport is funnelled along this corridor, so you shouldn’t wait more than a minute for a taxi, buses or microbus going your way. The tram line runs parallel a block or two further inland.
At the western tip lies the Citadel of Qaitbey, built near (and from) the ruined ancient lighthouse or Pharos. The Corniche then sweeps around the eastern harbour, with Anfushi the tongue of land behind it, to the central hotel area around Saad Zaghloul; then passes the east side of the harbour at the jetty opposite the new library. Almost all the sights, and the bulk of the accommodation and restaurants, are along this congested 5-6 km strip or nearby. But on and on eastwards rolls the Corniche through rundown beachfront districts of Rushdy, San Stefano and Mandarah. The blingy hotels of Montazah are a bright spot then the tat, burbs and ribbon-development resume, out to Aboukir.
Egyptian Tourist Authority has offices at Raml Station, Saad Zaghlui Squ, ☎ +20 3 485 1556, Nuza Airport, ☎ +20 3 4250 526, +20 3 4250 527, Borg El Arab Airport, ☎ +20 3 4485119, Marine Passenger Station, ☎ +20 3 4803494, Misr Railway Station, ☎ +20 3 3925985 and Sidi Gaber Railway Station, ☎ +20 3 4263953.
Travel to Alexandria
Alexandria is easily reached by plane, train or by road.
Travel by plane to Alexandria
All flights into Alexandria use Borg el Arab airport, 45 km southwest of downtown. There are direct international flights daily to Istanbul, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. There are several flights a day to Cairo, which is so close that flying only makes sense if you’re connecting with another flight. Alexandria has direct domestic flights daily to Luxor, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. Egyptair is the main operator here.
- Borg el Arab Airport. Small but modern airport, ample for the low passenger numbers it now handles. Cafe and clean toilets and that’s about all.
All bus services to Borg el Arab airport from downtown (and direct from Cairo) have been axed. You need to take a taxi, which will take an hour to 90 min depending on traffic: reckon at least LE250 as they’ve no competition from public transport (Oct 2018).
- El Nouzha Airport (8 km (5.0 mi) south-east of the city.). This used to be the main airport, but is closed indefinitely – ostensibly for renovations, but no work is going on. It’s unlikely to re-open unless demand for flights here radically improves.
Travel by train to Alexandria
Train is the best way to travel downtown-to-downtown between Cairo and Alex, with about 30 services through the day. Best of these are the “Specials”, running non-stop and taking 2 hr 40 min; almost as good are the “Express” services taking around 3 hours. These trains are clean and comfortable, air-conditioned, and with snacks available. One-way AC1 tickets cost LE51 (Oct 2018). The fast trains are sometimes also called Spanish, French or Turbo because of their rolling stock. See “Egypt#get around by train” for how to buy tickets. Online, in advance, direct from the railway company ENR, is best.
Trains from Cairo all depart from Ramses Station. In Alex they arrive downtown at Misr station, where taxis and microbuses are waiting, or whence a 15-minute stroll north brings you onto the Corniche via Nabi Daniel St. (The latter is cluttered by street markets and police barricades, so taxis will use the parallel Saad Zaghlool St.)
But when your “non-stop” train arrives, and everyone piles out, ask around before following. You may well have stopped 3 km east at Sidi Gaber station on Abu Qir St at the head of Mushir Ahmad Ismail St. Only get off here if you’re heading for an eastern district such as San Stefano. Otherwise sit tight, and in a couple of minutes the train will rumble on and terminate at Misr Station.
Trains from Alex also run to Mersa Matruh and the delta towns. These are “ordinary” trains that can’t be booked online, so buy your ticket at the station. Some trains run directly to Luxor via Cairo, but these too are slow “ordinary” trains, and you’ll be better taking a Special or Express and changing in Cairo.
Several bus companies offer a bus service into Alexandria at a very low price range: LE20-35. Buses are air-conditioned and come complete with a hostess trolley service. Companies include Golden Arrow, West Delta, Super Jet, Pullman and El Gouna. Operating times vary from one company to another, but there are trips between Cairo and Alexandria virtually every hour from early morning until midnight.
While the buses are perfectly comfortable, the duration of your journey from Cairo to Alexandria (and vice versa) will depend on your pick-up/drop-off point. Most buses start out from the Almaza Bus Station in Heliopolis and stop by Midan Tahrir and Giza before finally setting out to Alexandria; if you join from Heliopolis expect a 4-5 hour trip rather than the average 2-3.
There are a number of bus pick-up/drop-off points inside Alexandria. These are usually either at Gedid station (except El Gouna, which uses Sidi Gaber station) which is a bit far from the city of Alexandria so it shouldn’t cost more than a LE10 cab ride, LE15 max. Don’t take a taxi with anyone that approaches you right outside of the bus. Walk outside the station and catch a taxi there if you must. There is also a bus from Gedid to Sidi Gaber, and from Sidi Gaber most parts of the city are accessible by minibus or tram if you are looking to save money. The bus fare will run you half a pound.
Travel by car to Alexandria
There are two options when traveling from Cairo to Alexandria by car. Using either route, the journey usually takes around 3 hours, depending on speed and surrounding traffic.
- The Agriculture road has a speed limit of 90 km/hr for private cars and has 4 lanes in each direction. This is the main road, so it can get a little crowded. Also offers access to Damnhour and Tanta.
- The Desert road has a speed limit of 100 km/hr for private cars and has 4 lanes in each direction. True to the name, this crosses the desert and is less crowded and faster. There are cafeterias every few kilometers.
The usual cautions for driving in Egypt apply; see Egypt for details.
Travel by boat to Alexandria
Alex remains a major sea port, but all international passenger services remain axed because of this region’s turmoil and loss of tourist traffic. It may still be possible to arrange freighter travel, but with so many migrants trying to reach Europe from the Middle East by sea in recent years, they will be very wary about taking you. So your best bet may be to call in a favour from a friend with a gin-palace private yacht.
The Med cruise liners seldom visit here nowadays. Nile cruises still call at Alexandria, Cairo and the ancient Egyptian sites up to Luxor and Aswan. But all of these are package tourist itineraries, and not available to book as point-to-point ferries.
How to get around in Alexandria
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Alexandria is quite a long city; you can get pretty much anywhere by using the local transportation available along the Corniche.
Alexandria’s yellow and black taxis are a good way to travel in the city, and a cheap one as well. Be careful though: taxis will uniformly refuse to use meters (the rates haven’t been adjusted in years) and drivers love to take advantage of non-Alexandrians, so it’s best to agree on the fare before you get in. No taxi ride between any two points in the city should cost more than LE25. If you are on a day trip to Alexandria, hire a taxi outside the railway station for the day and pay LE10-15 per place. For example, pay around LE50-60 if you plan to see 5 places in 3–4 hours, or LE80-100 if you plan to see 8-10 places in 5–6 hours.
To get into a taxi, wave at the driver and yell the name of your destination. If the driver agrees they would park at the side of the road as soon as possible. Some taxis will stop to pick you up even if they already have a passenger, but such offers are best refused. Furthermore, always check back once you get out of the taxi, there is no number to call if you lose anything of value, and nearly no chances of having it returned.
Fast Call taxis can be booked by phone at 19559 or 0800-999-9999 (toll free). These are pricier but generally much better than ordinary black and bright yellow cabs.
Careem operates in Alexandria (Oct 2018).
Alexandria has a creaky, slow but very cheap tram system that dates back to 1860 and looks the part — it’s the oldest one still running in Africa. The route map is remarkably confusing and changes on a regular basis, but one factor stays constant: the network is split into the interurban Ramleh Lines (Tram el-Raml), which use blue-and-cream trams and run across the city a few blocks back from the sea towards the eastern suburbs, and the City Lines (Tram el-Madina), which use bright yellow trams and run west and south of central Alex. The two meet at Raml Station (محطة الرمل Mahattat el-Raml), right at the heart of Alex. In general, the Ramleh Lines are relatively quick despite their age, as they have substantial stretches of dedicated and uninterrupted right-of-way; the City Lines, however, frequently get stuck in traffic.
For both lines, the flat fare is LE1, bought on board. Note that the first car (out of three) in the blue trams is reserved for women only. The lines run until 1AM, every 10-30 min or so.
Probably the most useful service for tourists is yellow tram #25, which runs from Raml Station to Ras el-Tin and Fort Qait Bey. You can also hop on any blue tram west from Sidr Gabr bus/railway station to get to Raml, but not all eastbound trams stop there.
There are a variety of local bus services which have improved significantly in the past few years, but they are rather confusing for those who haven’t lived in Alexandria for a while. Apart from city buses, you will also find “mini-buses”, which work on hop-and-go basis. They are easily recognizable 14-person buses, which will stop when you wave and stop where you need to get off. The drivers rarely speak English, so make sure you know the Arabic name of your destination or that you already know where to stop. The routes are usually along the main streets, with drivers following well-known routes. The routes are written in Arabic on the sides of the vehicle, but even if you speak Arabic this may not be helpful; the drivers sometimes change routes without changing their signage, however if you remain in Alexandria for some time you may learn the somewhat elaborate system of hand signals the locals have devised to indicate the desired destination. A journey will generally cost between LE0.50-1.50.
Alexandria Sightseeing Tips
- Citadel of Qaitbay, Ras el-Tin (yellow tram or microbus to Anfushi), . 9AM-4PM. Set on the tip of the Anfushi/Pharos promontory, looking back over the eastern harbour and downtown Corniche. It was built by Mameluke Sultan Abdul-Nasser Qa’it Bay in 1477 CE, by re-cycling the stone of the ruined lighthouse. It tried (with limited success) to defend the city against invaders, from crusaders to Napoleon, and was in military use as late as 1882, when the British bombarded it.
There are two entrances and admissions. West, facing your approach along the Harbour mall, is the ground-floor Maritime Museum – this is of little interest. (Its collection continues in a building on the mall.) Come round to the south flank facing the Corniche for the main entrance into the Citadel. There’s a fortified courtyard then a 4-storey bastion. Citadel LE60 regular & LE30 concessions; Maritime Museum LE10.
- Mostafa Kamel Necropolis (Mustafa Kamel Cemetery/Tombs). The cemetery includes four tombs dating from the second century BC, all of which are in excellent condition and beautifully decorated. The cemetery bears the name of Mostafa Kamel, one of 20th century Egyptian politics’ greatest legends. It was he who pronounced the famous phrase: “If I were not born an Egyptian, I would like to be an Egyptian.” LE40, concessions LE20.
- Kom el-Shouqafa Catacombs, Carmouz district, south of Anfushi. These catacombs were probably carved out to be a single wealthy family’s mausoleum, and later expanded to take other elite funerals, from the 2nd to 4th C CE. The name “Kom el-Shouqafa” means “mound of shards” as people brought offerings to the dead here in earthenware bowls, then smashed the empties before returning home. They are composed of a ground level construction that probably served as a funerary chapel, a deep spiral stairway and three underground levels (the lowest now flooded by groundwater) for the funeral rituals and entombment. The place was discovered in 1900 when the ground gave way under a donkey.
Built as a separate (and older) catacomb, the Hall of Caracalla became linked when energetic tomb-robbers tunnelled through. It seems to have been a burial place for the Roman emperor’s horses, as horse bones predominate. No, not the donkey’s.
The catacombs are interesting for their plan and for their decoration, as the last of the pharonic burials transitioned into Grecian and Roman styles. But if you’ve seen the richly decorated burial chambers around Luxor, this one will suffer by comparison. LE80, concessions LE40.
- 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. LE80, students LE40.
- Kom el-Dikka (just north of railway station), . Daily. “Kom el-Dikka” means “pile of rubble”: so much for the grandeur of the Roman Empire. In Ptolemaic times this area was the Park of Pan, a pleasure garden surrounded by villas and baths. Highlights built in the 2nd century CE are the Villa of the Birds, with fine mosaics, and Egypt’s only Roman amphitheatre. This has 13 semicircular tiers made of white and grey marble, with seats for up to 800 spectators, galleries and sections of mosaic-flooring. Excavations continue, and in 2010 a Ptolemaic temple was unearthed.
You can see the amphitheatre well enough just by peering through the railings, but you’ll have to pay to get inside to see the mosaics and other small artefacts. LE80, concessions LE40.
- 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 (see Sleep). Parts of the extensive gardens (over 80 ha/200 acres) are open to the public. There is an entrance fee for the park. LE25.
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mansheya. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honoring its military. Besides its meaning it is a picturesque Roman-like site worth a photo during the day or when illuminated in the evening.
- Ras el-Tin Palace (Presidential Palace), Ras el-Tin (Just west of Anfushi on promontery). Admire the exterior but it’s now part of a naval base and not open to visitors.
- Alexandria National Museum, 110 Tariq el-Horreyya in Latin quarter (in Latin Quarter 10 mins walk east off Saad Zaghloul Street), . Daily 9AM-4:30PM. Small but absorbing, well-presented museum with more than 1800 archaeological pieces. The basement is devoted to Prehistoric and Pharonic times, first floor to the Graeco-Roman period, second floor to the Coptic and Islamic era. Especially interesting are artefacts raised during recent underwater excavations: there’s a sense of a new window opening on history. LE100, students LE50.
- Graeco-Roman Museum, Latin quarter. Closed. 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. Closed indefinitely; inquiries about its supposed “renovation” are met with shrugs and up-rolled eyes.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Moharram Bey, . Mostly modern and Orientalist paintings
- Royal Jewelry Museum, Zizenia district, . Royal jewelry from the Egyptian monarchy of 1805 to 1952.
- El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque, Anfoushi. Built in 1775 by Algerians, the mosque was built over the tomb of the famous 13th century sufi saint, Ahmed Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi. The walls of the mosque are dressed in artificial stone, while the minaret, on the south side, stands at 73 m.
- Attarine Mosque, Attarine. It was built as a church dedicated to the Saint Athanasius in 370 and was converted into a mosque following the Muslim conquest of Egypt.
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Shatby / Silsia (Enter from Corniche or from small street behind), . Su-Th 10AM-7PM, F 2PM-7PM, Sa noon-4PM. A huge modern library and research centre constructed on the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Wonderful display of ancient texts of the Middle East. Includes four museum areas, exhibition space, and a planetarium. Regular tours in English and other languages. The Antiquities Museum (LE50 extra, buy tickets at the museum entrance) is particularly well worth visiting for its wide range of artefacts from through the Pharonic period through to the Islamic period. LE70 (non-Egyptian adult), LE35 (concessions) – buy tickets from the office on Dr. Abd Al Hamid Dayed St. facing the university.
- Corniche. The Corniche is a glorious 15-km walkway (wharf, pier, and boardwalk) along the harbour dotted with restaurants, markets and historic sights.
What to do in Alexandria
- Sunbathe at the Maa’moura Beach or Montazah Beach. During summer the beaches are packed with Egyptian tourists, parasols and plastic chairs and it will cost LE5 (2008) to get in. At this time the sand and water may have some throwaway plastic floating around. Some areas charge LE20 and it will get you more space.
- 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.
- Alexandria Stadium or Haras El-Hedood Stadium, Lumumba Street or Max (Tell any taxi driver Al-Istad and he will know where to take you. If it is a Haras El-Hedood match then tell the taxi driver Istad El Max). Attend an Egyptian League soccer game. Alexandria teams are: El-Ittihad, El-Olympi, Haras El-Hedood, and Smouha. Seat can vary from LE25-500 depending on the section of seating. There are 4 sections of seating: VIP, 1st degree, 2nd degree, and 3rd degree. If you are a foreigner, sitting in the VIP section will avoid harassment from hardcore fans. LE25-500.
- 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.
- Al-Amirate Cinema -B W (Address: Montazah Palace; +20 35-477999), Enjoy with us the best of movies with dinner in a splendid atmosphere of elegance and luxury in Al-Amirate Cinema. The Cinema is located at the El-Salamlek Palace Hotel in Alexandria.
- Royal Alexandria (Address: Fouad Street, Downtown; 012 2275493/4), This movie theater in Alexandria is owned by the same people who run the Renaissance theaters in Cairo. There are three screens, with surround sound and all options. Midnight shows are daily.
- Cineplex: Green Plaza Semouha. 10 screens. Tickets LE25. 3D movies available
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 Daniel Street, opposite the French Cultural Centre. See also below in “Buy”.
- Book Center of Alexandria,General Egyptian Book Organization, 49 Saad Zaghloul St. Telephone: 482-2925. Books in English, Arabic, French and German and low priced school books.
- Ramada Bazaar Bookshop, Ramada Renaissance Hotel. Telephone: 549-0935. Open daily 9AM to midnight.
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina Bookshop, El Shatby. Open daily 9AM to 7PM. The bookshop attached to the library. Good for general and tourist literature in different languages.
- Diwan, El Shatby. Recently opened branch of popular Egyptian chain. Comprehensive English and Arabic, fiction and non-fiction. Cafe.
- Alef, Alex-Cairo desert road, Le Marche Mall. A 2-level bookshop, contains all genres of Arabic and foreign-language books.
- Alexandria Sporting Club (right in the heart of Alexandria). Built in 1898 and used during the British occupation, the Alexandria Sporting Club 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, Smouha. International Hockey Stadium, many swimming pools, a number of soccer fields, two running tracks. Members and guests only.
- Scuba dive with Alexandra Dive, based on the Corniche. It’s historic wreck-diving, year-round, interesting but distinctly cold and gloomy compared to the Red Sea. The standard one-day, two-dive trip takes you to the “Palace of Cleopatra” immersed off Antirodos Island, and around the old harbour and lighthouse remnants off Pharos point. They also venture out to wrecks from ancient Greece, the Napoleonic era, and the Great War. They offer training courses, but beginners will do much better to train in the Red Sea. (They run trips there but you’re probably going anyway.) All these trips depend not only on weather, but on having viable diver numbers.
- 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 signings). Tamarin Centre (Kafr Abdou Street, next to Concrete Shop) offers regular dance and fitness sessions (Salsa, Tango, Aerobics, Fitness, Yoga, etc.). Both centres offer a wide range of activities suitable for adults and children.
Alexandria has a tiny industrial section, mainly centered around the natural gas industry. A few expatriates work in this section. This section is increasing now as many new factories are built in Borg el Arab.
Other than that, there are some but not many international schools that employ expatriate teachers. Generally they pay less than the much more lucrative educational section in Cairo.
Alexandria has got quite a large number of language schools. You can find girls-only, boys-only and mixed schools. Also international certificates -like the IGCSE or the American SAT I and SAT II- could be completed in most of these schools. Moreover, study is available in English, French and also German.
Shopping in Alexandria
Many places seem to follow set shopping hours. Winter: Tu W F and Sa 9AM-10PM, M and Th 9AM-11AM. During Ramadan, hours vary, with shops often closing on Sunday. Summer: Tu W F-Su 9AM-12:30PM and 4PM-12:30PM.
In the commercial districts, there will often be vendors of one product or class of products clustered along a street; for instance Nabi Danial is noted for booksellers and vendors of electrical supplies and electronic equipment.
- International Language Bookstore, 18 Abd el-Hamid el-Dib Street, Tharwat tram station (Ramleh Tram). A small and friendly little bookstore, if maddeningly difficult to find. It has a pretty decent selection of English-language books if you are into classics, and a lot of good reference books. Decent enough for children’s books and beach reads.
- El Maaref Establishment, Saad Zaghloul St. Raml station (Yellow tram or Taxi), .
- Alex Book Centre, Semouha, . A big publisher and distributor of English language teaching and school curriculum materials.
- Nabi Daniel booksellers, An Nabi Daniel (street). Along An Nabi Daniel street, booksellers are lined up selling books in Arabic, English, French, and German among others. Prices are negotiable. Price negotiable.
- Carrefour 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.
- 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. Ask a minibus on the Corniche for “San Stefano”.). 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.
Restaurants in Alexandria
Alexandria is well known for having the best seafood restaurants in the country. A few other Alexandrian specialties worth looking out for:
If you want to eat cheaply in Alexandria, try the places where the locals eat. Bear in mind that because health inspection in Egypt is lax, you should be careful at most of these restaurants if your immune system is unused to Egypt; however, if you expect to remain in Egypt for more than two weeks, it should be no problem.
- Tawn Coffe Shop ((yes, Coffe)). Great place right at the Corniche, with a decent pizza and chairs in front of the café for “enjoying” the traffic and view. Coffee LE5-10, hot chocolate LE15, large pizza LE30.
- Gad (Raml Station), . Specializes in fuul (fava bean paste) and falafel. Can be found all over the city, and indeed the country; it is a sort of Egyptian McDonald’s.
- Kushari Bondok, Smouha (beside Fathalla supermarket). Alexandria’s best-known kushari joint, serving up this classically Egyptian dish of layered macaroni, rice, lentils and tomato sauce.
- Meto, 273 Gamal Abdel Nasser St, . Pizza and its Arabic equivalent fateer.
- Shabaan Fish Restaurant, Shabaan, Al Mansheyah Al Kubra, Qesm Al Mansheyah, Alexandria, . Seafood 1kg fish for LE50-70.
- Mohamed Ahmed, Ramleh station (Opposite the Metropole hotel). Another well-known fuul/flafel joint. This is an unmissable destination in Alexandria. The fuul and falafel is better than just about any other establishment in Egypt and is incredibly affordable. A further advantage for tourists is that the management takes compliance with hygiene laws very seriously, and there is little risk of contracting traveler’s diarrhea here (unlike many similar establishments). As a culinary and cultural experience, it should not be missed.
- Hawda Gondol/Dongol, 3 Haret el-Gaami` (Azarita), . Restaurant specializing in Alexandria-style seafood. Grilled and fried fish, shrimp, and other seafood dishes are available, along with shrimp kofta (deep-fried breaded balls of ground shrimp) and traditional Egyptian seafood rice (white rice cooked with browned onions and spices). LE30.
- Alexandrian ice cream is similar to the typical soft-serve ice cream, but it is described as being a little bit ‘stretchy’. It is available in numerous flavors, and according to the locals, this type of ice cream is only made in Alexandria and Greece. Try it at Bahary near Qait Bey, where popular shops include Makram, El-Sheikh Wafik, Azza, and “El Se’eedy”. The ice cream can cost from LE1-5.
- Corn on the cob (dorra mashwey), available at street vendors lining the Corniche.
- Koshary, the Egyptian national dish, may be found in restaurants across the city. It’s a mixture of noodles, rice, lentil and more noodles topped with a tomato sauce. Koshary topped with kibda Iskandarani—Alexandria-style liver with peppers—is a local tradition.
Mid-priced by Egyptian standards, Western fast-food chains like Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and KFC can all be found in the city’s larger malls, but there are more interesting options as well.
- Abo Fares (in front of Carrefour). Delicious Syrian food.
- Abou Shakra, Smouha Green Plaza (and other branches), . Popular Egyptian chain specialing in local grills like shwarma (LE10) and set meals of kebab/kofta, fries and salad (LE25).
- Elite, 43 Sofia Zaghoul, . Once the favorite hangout of Alexandria’s intelligentsia including D.H. Lawrence, Laurence Durrell, and Edith Piaf, but now bears a distinct resemblance to an American road diner complete with vinyl seating and chipped white plastic tables. The staff are still French-speaking and appropriately snotty. Try the plat du jour.
- Hosny, Gamal Abd El-Nasser St (El Mandara), . Middle Eastern food.
- Pastroudis, 39, Al Horriya Road (Raml Station), . 8AM-1AM. Bakery with a sideline in desserts and ice cream.
- Patisserie Delices, 46 Saad Zaghloul: now part of La Veranda, see that listing below.
- Tekka Grill (Eastern Port, beside Diving Club). Delicious Egyptian food, with views of the harbor and Fort Qait Bey. Try the shish kebab and the wara’ el enab (stuffed vine leaves).
- Balba’ (Sidi Bishr, or downtown in front of City Center Carrefour). Egyptian meat and seafood. There are only two Balbaa locations in Alexandria and in the whole country. The first one is in Sidi Bishr near the intersection of Sidi Bishr Mosque and Malak Hefny Streets (next to the Montaza District headquarters and Sidi Bishr urban rail/Microbus station) and the second one is in the “Downtown” shopping area on the outskirts of the city. People tend to like the one in “Downtown” more, although the Sidi Bishr location is older; both locations are good, however. It has been known for its delicious traditional Egyptian meat and poultry dishes and mainly kofta; they also dabble in dishes from the Gulf. It has also a seafood section and the seafood soup is just amazing. About LE100 per person.
Many of Alexandria’s high-end restaurants are located in its hotels.
- Athineos Cafe, 21 Saad Zaghloul Sq (on the Corniche, near the Italian Consulate), . The “Mermaid of Alexandria” is a local legend frequented by both Durrell and Cavafy, but alas, it has fallen far since its glory days. The views are still amazing, and the Greek motifs in the gilded friezes and stenciled frescoes give some character, but the food is, despite the Greek names on the menu, almost entirely Arabized: order souvlaki and you’ll get kebab.
- Byblos, 399 El Geish Road (In the San Stefano Four Seasons Hotel), . 7PM – 1AM. Excellent food and faultless service. Worth splashing out for a quality Lebanse dining experience with delicious mezze dishes. Caters well for vegetarians. Good wine list with limited choice of wine by the glass. Good location on the 3rd floor over-looking the Corniche; will be even better when the beach is finished. The highlight: an expansive view of the Mediterranean. From LE250 per person.
- Chez Gaby au Ritrovo, 22 El Horreya St. (Near Rami Station), . 9PM-1AM. Possibly the best Italian restaurant in town, serving up pizza and pasta since 1979.
- Dynasty Restaurant, 544 El Geish Avenue (Renaissance Alexandria Hotel), . Open 24 hours a day, with dinner served until 5AM.. Alexandria’s top Chinese restaurant.
- Fish Market, El Gomrok Scout Club, . Excellent food, with great views. The sea-bass is top notch. LE250 per person.
- Ibn al-Balad, Mustafa Kamel (Located right behind El-Salam Theatre). Two-story restaurant. First floor has grilled meats featuring their famous Ibn al-Balad fattah. The second floor serves seafood. Definitely a meat-lovers paradise. LE50-150 per person.
- La Veranda, 46 Saad Zaghloul. (inside Patisserie Delices), . Very central downtown, near the Metropole, Cecil and Sofitel hotels. Within, most of the floor space is the cafe-patisserie Jardin Delices. About a quarter is La Veranda restaurant, with good European/East Med cuisine. Serves alcohol. Atmospheric with the old posters, but nowadays not a spy or dilapidated duchess to be found.
- Ole Cafe and Restaurant, Kafr Abdou Street, Roushdy. A reasonably priced restaurant that serves Spanish cuisine, and pastries for dessert. Try the Beef Madrid. Free Wi-fi. LE50 per person.
- Pool Bar & Grill, 399 El Geish Road (in the San Stefano Four Seasons Hotel), . 11:30AM – 1AM. This seasonal outdoor restaurant is surrounded by lush landscaping and overlooks a stunning infinity-edge pool. After a refreshing dip, savour a light meal while relaxing at umbrella-shaded tables. Choose from healthy snacks, sushi and sashimi, as well as creative beverages. The restaurant is open in summer only. Seats 76, with 6 at the bar. LE100 per person.
- Stefano’s, 399 El Geish Road (in the San Stefano Four Seasons Hotel), . 7PM – 1AM. This stylish restaurant serves a selection of authentic Southern Italian cuisine, including seafood specialties. The open kitchen, chic décor and warm Italian hospitality create an intimate ambience. Seats 60. Specialties: Risotto and fresh pasta. Formal or Smart Casual attire. Possibly the best restaurant in Alexandria. LE300 per person.
- San Giovanni Restaurant, 205 El Gueish Ave (San Giovanni Hotel), . Open 24 hours a day, with dinner served until 5AM.. West-East fusion. Views of Stanley beach, classical music performed live nightly.
- Fresca Café and Gelateria, 399 El Geish Road (in the San Stefano Four Seasons Hotel), . 11:30AM – 3AM. With its bright, colourful décor, Fresca is a casual place to unwind, relax and enjoy a simple snack. Overlooking a bustling city street and the calm Mediterranean, this café caters to all moods. Take-out cakes and ice cream are available. Seats 92 indoors, 124 outdoors. Try the ice cream here as well as the lasagna. LE150 per person.
- Sushi etc., 399 El Geish Road (in the San Stefano Four Seasons Hotel), . 7PM – 1AM. Southeast Asian cuisine. Perfect for a light lunch, dinner or snack, Sushi etc. offers views of the pool and the Mediterranean Sea. Seats 66 LE200 per person.
- Ottimo, Kafr Abdou 3 (next to Ole restaurant). Nice restaurant with veranda
- White and Blue restaurant (Greek Club), on Harbour Mall near Qaitbey Fortress. The Greek Club (ENOA: Ellenika Nautikos Olimnos Alexandria) is a private club but with two public restaurants, and something of an Alex institution. Ride the elevator up to Olive Island Restaurant on the third floor: the place is dark and piled high with old furniture. So ride back down to the second floor which has White and Blue Restaurant out on the terrace, overlooking the eastern harbour. A few civilities like “Kalispera sas” go a long way as they clearly don’t speak Greek themselves. Traditional East Med specialities such as kebabs, stews, and lots of fish. Clean, and inexpensive by western standards.
- 24 Seven Cafe, International Garden (in front of Carrefour). Popular with young locals showing off their latest fashions. Good food and shisha.
- Brazilian Coffee Shop, Raml station (Saad Zaghloul Street (in front of the Stock Market)), . The Brazilian Coffee Shop originates from the large wave of immigration that occurred from the Levant to Latin America (in the early 20th century). This coffee shop still maintains its original 1920s interior. The coffee is very expensive, but tasty. Medium latte LE7.5. LE8.
- Clay Cafe, 156 Omar Lotfy St. (Near Small Sporting Tram station). Free wi-fi, although you should buy at least a token coffee so as not to piss off the staff. Food and drink is mostly Western but reasonably-priced for a traveler (typically LE15-25 for food, 5-15 for drinks). Smoothies are particularly good.
- Cafe Trianon, Saad Zaghlul square (by the seashore) (Raml Station), . The poshest cafe in Alexandria, famed for the best om ali in Egypt — although LE14 for what is essentially a bowl of sweet cornflour pudding is little steep. The food is also good and slightly more reasonably priced, try the moussaka for LE13.
- Cafe De La Paix (Sayed Drweesh Restaurant), Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).
- Club21, Mo’askar Elroumany Street, Roushdy, . Daily 9AM to 4AM. A nice place to visit, friendly staff, tasty food and drinks with an average price of LE15 for an average meal and LE8 for beverages. Shisha is available at the garden of the place. Free Wifi.
- Omar El Khaiam Cafe, Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).
- New Paris Cafe, Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).
- Patisserie Delices, 46 Saad Zaghlul Street (Raml Station), . Built in 1922, Delices’ flagship store in Ramleh Station in Alexandria, Egypt has become a well-known landmark for all tourists and local residents wanting to experience the beauty of the Cosmopolitan era. The store is still managed by the same Family since 1922! Famous for its Cassata (ice cream) and Greek Baklava (similar to Egyptian Baklawa but dripped with cinnamon and honey)
In addition to local options, there’s a Starbucks in San Stefano Grand Plaza and a Costa Coffee near Stanley Bridge.
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.
- El-Farook, Bahary.
- El-Sman, Bahary.
Where to sleep in Alexandria
Accommodation in Alexandria has quite a different feel due to the old buildings with sometimes nice colonial style lobbies. There is a good selection of hotels in all price ranges.
For longer stays of a month or more, why not try renting in Alex? Apartments are easy to come by, in a range of prices (LE180-1000 per week) and states of repair! Landlords/ladies tend to live in the same blocks and will be willing to haggle the rates. It’s definitely worth visiting an apartment before placing any money down, preferably in late afternoon so you see how well the lighting works and the worst of any insect problems. (It’s highly unlikely to find any accommodation near the coast that’s completely ‘roach-free’!)
It is mostly not necessary to reserve ahead online, this is in general more expensive. Just check around where many hotels are—there are at least 7 or so near Triopmhe Hotel, where you can walk in and ask for a price. One will definitely have the required budget and standard.
- Alexandria Youth Hostel, 13 Sharia Port Said (1 km east of the Bibliotheca), . A decent budget option and close to the sea and Bibliotheca Alexandrina. LE58 in 4-bed dorm.
- Triomphe Hotel, . Decent choice with impressive lobby. The rooms are clean but the beds look a little like from the hospital. The bathroom is clean and has warm water, but the shower is not reliable, so you might have to stick with the tab. WiFi in the lobby only. Single from LE150.
- Normandy Hotel, 8 Gamal el-Din Yassen (near Raml Station), . The Normandy hotel is good value for money, but a little run down. It is a one floor hotel on the Corniche, with unbeatable views of the city’s Eastern Harbor, and is the building behind the famous Cecil Hotel, on the fourth floor. The rooms are well-appointed, large and clean, but spare. The bathrooms are down the hall, and also clean. Staff are very friendly, helpful, and honest. The staff speak both English and Arabic, with limited knowledge of a few other random languages. Single from LE100.
- Union Hotel. On the fifth floor right at the Corniche. Great views from the lobby. The rooms are just ok, but the bathroom however is new and comfortable. If this is full, try Triomphe, or vice-versa. Single from LE150.
- Nile Excelsior Hotel, 16 Borsa Kadema Street, Manshyia, . Cheap but a little dirty hotel located in downtown. The single room including bathroom, A/C and breakfast costs €12/$20 per night. Rooms could be cleaner, but are adequate given the budget price. Breakfast is simple but enough. Friendly and helpful staff. LE100.
- Hotel Queen Transit Alexandria phone: 03-4815556, 21 Hasan El Shiekh Street, Mansheya, downtown, sea side Corniche 1st Floor, in the heart of Alexandria, very new and clean amazing sea view: LE100 for single rooms, LE150 for double room with bathroom + breakfast + Wi-Fi.
- New Welcome House, near the Metropole Hotel and Raml Station. Extremely run-down for the seasoned backpackers! Same building as Normandy Hotel.
- Holiday Hotel, 6 Orabi Sq, . A no-frills two-star hotel with private bathrooms and hot water, popular with overland trucks setting off down into the heart of Africa. Not far from the shore and within walking distance from the center of town. Watch out for bedbugs.
- Hotel Delta, 14 Champollion Street, Mazarita (Just at the Tram stop), , fax: . Modern concrete block with 63 rooms, some overlooking the sea. Aircon, cable TV. Not far from the Alexandria Library. US$117.
Most of Alexandria’s top-end hotels are located along the shore to the east, a fair distance away from the old city core.
- El-Salamlek Palace, Montazah Palace, . Housed in the vast grounds of the Montazah Palace, this hotel was built as a lodge for the guests of Khedive Abbas Helmi II in 1892. Now a 5-star hotel and casino, the setting certainly is opulent but, for the price tag, service seems to be terrible. The location in the vast, gated grounds at the far eastern end of the city, 10 kilometers from the center, is also quite inconvenient for sightseeing, but if you’re looking for peace and quiet (always a rare commodity in Egypt), this is the place. US$400.
- Four Seasons San Stefano, 399 El Geish Road, , fax: . Edging the Mediterranean in a setting of legendary glamour, discover an intimate enclave within the stately Grand Plaza shopping and residential complex. Indulge in classically elegant accommodations, European spa treatments and terraced restaurants with fresh sea breezes. Four Seasons care outshines all else in Alexandria. Alexandria’s top hotel and priced to match. US$500.
- Helnan Palestine, Monteza. The hotel, most recently refurbished in 2002, is set on the Mediterranean Sea and is surrounded by 350 acres of gardens and beaches. It faces the Montaza Royal Palace, once home to the royal family. US$100.
- Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza, 14th of May Bridge Road, , fax: . Officially only a three-star hotel, but much better than you’d expect in this class. US$200.
- Le Metropole, 52, Saad Zaghloul St. (near el-Raml station), , fax: . Opened in 1902, this is one of Alexandria’s two grand old hotels. It has been given a half-hearted renovation, still keeping the turn-of-the-century style. It’s on Alexandria’s main street, which is handy for sightseeing, but lower floor rooms (esp. those facing the back) can be very noisy. Internet is available but can be spotty.
- Sheraton Montazah, Corniche Road, . It’s on the far (eastern) end of the Corniche. Small, shabby and in need of renovation.
- Steigenberger Cecil Hotel, 16 Saad Zagloul Square, . Alexandria’s other grand old hotel, many of whose rooms are named after famous guests like Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill. Great central location, clean & comfy, helpful staff. The old wire-cage lift conjures period charm but it’s basically a modern hotel, though some furnishings (e.g. bathroom) are kinda tired. Good sound-proofing, which you’ll appreciate given the swirling Corniche traffic and many wedding parties held here. Decent Jardin restaurant for breakfast but the upstairs Chinese restaurant alas has closed. Service sometimes slow, no internet.
- Radisson Blu Hotel Alexandria, Alex West, , fax: . It’s up against the water in the half-abandoned Alex West district. The hotel is far from the main city and rather badly maintained.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Alexandria
Although crime is rarely violent, beware of pickpockets and don’t flash your valuables or wear a bum bag or fanny pack. Street kids, taxi drivers, and others may harass tourists. They will usually desist after a stern “La!” or two. Or you can say “la shukran!” (no thanks) or “emshi” (go!).
Alexandria is a conservative city, so women should cover their shoulders, midriffs, cleavage and legs. Even still, women can expect to be heckled or harassed in the street, mainly if walking alone. The best response is to ignore the offender and pretend you don’t hear anything. Cover your head when entering places of worship.
- Emergency number: 123
- Police number: 122
- Fire HQ number: 180
- Military Police hotline: 16039 or 19039
- Central Ambulance, Kom El Dekka (opposite Alexandria Station), .
- El Moassa Hospital, El Horreya Road., El Hadara, .
- El Shatby Hospital, Dr. Hassan Sobhy St., El Shatby, .
- Medical Research Institute, El Horreya Road. (beside Gamal Abdel Nasser Hospital), .
- Bacos Ambulance, Mehatet El Souk St., Bacos, .
- Poison Center Main University Hospital, .
Consulates in Alexandria
- Greece, 63, Alexander the Great Street, Chatby, Alexandria, , fax: . 9AM-4PM.
- United States, 3 Pharana Street, Azarita, Alexandria, , fax: . Su-Th 8AM-4:30PM.
Where to go from Alexandria
- Abu Mena is a Christian pilgrimage site 45 km south of Alexandria, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- El Alamein is a little city on the coast 120 km west of Alexandria. In 1942 the Axis forces under Rommel had swept this far across Libya towards Cairo and Suez. They were halted here in June 1942 by Allied forces under Auchinleck, and sent retreating by Montgomery in November. The town has memorials, museums and war graves commemorating all nations. It’s usually done as a day trip from Alexandria.
- Marina is an upmarket beach resort about 100 kilometers from Alexandria.
- Cairo can be done as a day-trip, but needs longer, and you’ll probably pass through on your way to Luxor, Aswan or the Red Sea resorts.