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Alexandria

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For other places with the same name, see Alexandria (disambiguation).
Waterfront in Alexandria

Alexandria (الإسكندرية al-Iskanderiyya) is 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.

Understand

History

Lighthouse 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. The city was founded by and named after Greek conqueror Alexander the Great (Iskander al-Akbar) in 334 BCE, and became famous far and wide thanks to two buildings:

The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos) 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.

Alas, the city's reign came to an end when the Arabs conquered Egypt in 641 and decided to found a new capital to the south in Cairo. (Scholars still debate if this was when the Library was finally destroyed; it is known that the Library was, at the very least, sacked and badly damaged by the Romans themselves in 48 BC, c. 270, and once more in 391.)

Alexandria survived on as a trading port, although 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 city 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.

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.

Climate

Alexandria has a Mediterranean climate, with warm humid summers and mild rainy winters. The daytime can be humid in summer, with summer temperatures averaging 31°C (88°F), but evenings are usually cooler and breezy, especially by the Corniche. Winters can get cold, with daytime highs down sometimes to 12°C (53°F), with frequent rain and sometimes hail. Humidity is high throughout the year. The best time to visit Alexandria is in spring (March-June) and and autumn (September-November), since it's at its busiest in summer, when Egyptians flock down to escape the searing heat of Cairo.

Orientation

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 (Pharos in Greek), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, while the eastern shore sprawls for miles on end with the slums and tenements of modern Alex.

Get in

Map of central Alexandria

Alexandria is easily reached by plane, train or bus.

By plane

Alexandria has two airports in the immediate vicinity and is also within striking distance of Cairo.

Alexandria's main airport is El Nouzha Airport (IATA: ALY), which has a limited selection of domestic flights and fairly extensive services to cities around the Middle East. The only connection to Europe, though, is from Athens on Olympic Airlines [1]. The airport lies 8 km (5 mi) to the south-east of the city. A taxi will take you about 20 minutes and should cost no more than 15 LE.

The city's second airport is Borg el Arab Airport (IATA: HBE), served by Lufthansa from Frankfurt, Emirates from Dubai and (soon) Turkish Airlines from Istanbul. It's rather less conveniently located some 25 km (16 mi) to the south-west of Alexandria, which means a one-hour journey by taxi (50 LE or less).

Most travellers, however, will come via Cairo, the country's capital, which is much better connected. Super-Jet and Western Delta operate direct buses from the airport to the Sidi-Gabr bus terminal every 30-60 minutes between 4 AM and 7:30 PM (25-31 LE).

By train

From Cairo, frequent trains from Ramses Station are probably the best way to get to Alexandria. Trains run at least once every hour from 6 AM to 10 PM, but try to choose either an express or the pride of Egyptian Railways, the French-built Turbo, which takes only 2 hours 10 minutes for the journey. 1st/2nd class tickets LE 46/29 one-way.

For the return journey, trains depart from Misr Station, a 10-minute stroll south of the Corniche along Nabi Daniel St, as well as the Sidi Gaber Station.

By car

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 2 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 3 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.

By bus

Several bus companies offer a bus service into Alexandria at a very low price range: 20-35 LE. 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 till midnight.

Note that while the buses themselves 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 Maw'if Gadid 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 10 LE cab ride, 15 LE 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 Maw'if Gadid to Sidi Gabr, and from Sidi Gabr most parts of the city are accessible by minibus or tram if you are looking to save money. The bus fare will run you 50 piasters.

By boat

There are no scheduled ferry services to Alexandria, although cruise ships do stop by occasionally.

Get around

Alexandria is quite a long city; you can get pretty much anywhere by using the local transportation available along the Corniche.

By taxi

Alexandrian taxi

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 25LE.

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.

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 yellow cabs.

By tram

City Line (yellow) tram and a Taxi

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. For both lines, the flat fare is a whopping 25 piasters (~US$0.05), and tickets can be bought on board. Note that the middle car (out of three) in the blue trams is reserved for women only.

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.

By bus

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 and cost between LE 0.50-1.50.

See

Historical monuments

Qaitbay's Citadel
Roman Theatre
El Montazah Palace
  • Citadel of Qait Bey, Ras el-Tin (yellow tram #25), +20-3-4809144. 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 Qait Bey in 1477 AD but razed and reconstructed twice since.This citadel was built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbey on the site of the Pharos Lighthouse, to protect the city from the crusaders who used to attack the city by sea. LE 20.
  • 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. The cemetery bears the name of Mostafa Kamel, one of Egypt's largest political twentieth century legends. It was he who pronounced the famous phrase: "If I was not born as an Egyptian, I would like to be an Egyptian."
  • Roman Catacombs, Kom-el-Shuqqafa. -17:00. A stunning set of catacombs with a fascinating mix of Roman and Egyptian iconography. Best viewed early in the morning or late afternoon when no one else is around. Shoes that can get muddy. Some guides recommend a flashlight but this is not necessary. LE 25.
  • 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 has also other ruins and sculptures. The area seems mostly to be visited by Europeans.Also beside this area very big shopping for cloth and furniture equipments called " El-Saa3a" where u can fine many types of cloth or clothes LE 15.
  • Roman Theatre, Kom El-Dikka, +20-3-3902904. 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. LE 15/2 foreigner/Egyptian.
  • Montaza Palace, El Montaza, +20-3-5477153 or +20-3- 5473056. 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 200 acres) are open to the public. There is a entrance fee for the park. LE 5.
  • Ras el-Tin Palace, Ras el-Tin. Not open to visitors, alas.
  • Presidential Palace, El Maamoura.

Museums

  • Alexandria National Museum, Raml station, +20-3-4835519 or +20-3- 4838035. .History Museum with more than 1800 archaeological pieces exhibited chronologically: the basement is devoted to Prehistoric and Pharonic times; first floor to the Graeco-Roman period; second floor to the Coptic and Islamic era that highlights artifacts raised during recent underwater excavations.
  • Graeco-Roman Museum, Raml station, +20-3-4865820 or +20-3-4876434. 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 for renovation in 2008 and for three years.
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Moharram Bey, +20-3-3936616. It contains a lot of royal and precious jewels.
  • National Institute For Oceanography & Fisheries, El Anfoushy (beside Qait Bey), +20-3-4801499. Aquarium and museum displays.
  • Royal Jewelry Museum, zezenia, +20-3-5828348. It contains a lot of royal and precious jewels. Unfortunately it has been closed for renovation since 2005.

Religious sites

Ramadan in Alexandria
Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, near Ramleh station
  • Attarine Mosque, El Attarin.
  • Abou el-Abbas al-Mursi mosque, Bahary. Built in 1775 by Algerians, the mosque was built over the tomb of the thirteenth century Sufi saint Andalusan Murcia, Ahmed Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi (Abul Abbas). The walls of the mosque are dressed in artificial stone, while the minaret, located on the south side, stands at 73 metres.
  • Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Mansheya, [2]. The head church of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.
  • Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Mahatet El Raml, [3]. Founded in 60 AD and the historical seat of the Pope of Alexandria, although in 1971 — after nearly 2000 years here — the seat was moved the Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo. Saint Mark the Evangelist (yes, the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark) founded the church and was buried here, but the body was stolen by the Venetians in 828 to be enshrined in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. The head was kept though, and its shroud was ritually changed by every new Patriach, but it too was later lost. Not much of this history remains today: the cathedral has been rebuilt at least five times and the present building dates from 1952.

Modern Alexandria

Aerial view of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
  • Bibliotheca Alexandrina, East of the Corniche, +20-3-4839999, [4]. Open daily except Tuesday 11 AM to 7:00 PM, but opens only at 3 PM on Friday and Saturday. .A huge modern library and research center constructed on the site of the former Library of Alexandria (see History). It has also a big conference center and a planetarium. LE 10 (non-Egyptians).
  • Corniche. The Corniche is a glorious 15km walkway (wharf/pier/boardwalk) along the harbour dotted with restaurants, markets and historic sights.

Do

Beach off the western end of the Corniche
  • Sunbathe at the Maa'moura Beach or Montaza Beach. During summer the beaches are packed with Egyptian tourists, parasols and plastic chairs and it will cost LE 5 (2008) to get in. At this time the sand and water may have some throwaway plastic floating around. Some areas charge LE 20 and it will get you more space.
  • Hire a boat and go cruising at Ras el-Tin.
  • Have a long walk by the beautiful Corniche by the Mediterranean Sea.

Sports

  • Alexandria Sporting Club, (right in the heart of Alexandria), [5]. Sports club originally built by the British in 1898. Features a large golf course, but regrettably it's members (and their guests) only.
  • Smouha Sporting Club, Smouha, [6]. International Hockey Stadium, many swimming pools, a number of soccer fields, two running tracks and many more. Members and guests only.
  • Rent scuba gear from Alexandra Dive [7] and dive through the East Harbour'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.

Work

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.

Buy

Central Alexandria

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.

  • International Language Bookstore, 18 Abd el-Hamid el-Dib Street, Tharwat tram station (Ramleh Tram). A small and pleasant 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), +20-3-4853055.
  • Alex Book Centre, Semouha, +20-3-4294362. A big publisher and distributor of English language teaching and school curriculum materials.
  • An Nabi Daniel streetsellers, An Nabi Daniel (street). Along the street An Nabi Daniel booksellers line up (at least during summer 2008). Some of these sell English books. Price negotiable.

Shopping malls

  • 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 Janaklees 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, 6 cinemas, large food court.
  • Wataniyya Mall, Sharawy St (Lauran). Small shopping mall.
  • Zahran Mall, Smouha. Cinemas and coffee shops.

Eat

Grilled corn on the cob

Alexandria is famous for having the best seafood restaurants in the country. A few other Alexandrian specialties worth looking out for:

  • 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 and Azaa.
  • Corn on the cob (dorra mashwey), available at street vendors lining the Corniche.

Budget

If you want to eat cheaply in Alexandria, try the places where the locals eat.

  • Gad, 2 Amr Azmi Street (Raml Station), +20-3-4820135. Specializes in fuul (fava bean paste) and taamiyya (the same deep-fried).
  • Kushari Bondo, 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, 20-3-5506667. Pizza and its Arabic equivalent fateer.
  • Mohamed Ahmed, Ramleh station (Opposite the Metropole hotel). Another well-known fuul/taamiyya joint.

Mid-range

Mid-priced by Egyptian standards, Western fast-food chains like Pizza Hut, McDonalds 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), +20-3-4261777, [8]. Popular Egyptian chain specialing in local grills like shwarma (10 LE) and set meals of kebab/kofta, fries and salad (25 LE).
  • Elite, 43 Sofia Zaghoul, +20-3-4863592. 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), +20-3-5506655. Middle Eastern food.
  • Pastroudis, 39, Al Horriya Road (Raml Station), +20-3-3929609. 8 AM-1 AM. Bakery with a sideline in desserts and ice cream.
  • 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).

Splurge

The entrance of Athineos

Many of Alexandria's high-end restaurants are located in its hotels.

  • Athineos, 21 Saad Zaghloul Sq (on the Corniche, near the Italian Consulate), 03-4860421, [9]. 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.
  • Al-Farida Restaurant, El-Salamlek Palace Hotel, +20-35-477999. Open 24 hours a day, with dinner served until 5 AM.. Italian and international food, served in the palace garden with sea views.
  • Al-Farouk Restaurant, El-Salamlek Palace Hotel, +20-35-477999. Lunch noon-4 PM, dinner 8 PM-1 AM. French food served in what used to be King Farouk's office at the palace.
  • Chez Gaby au Ritrovo, 22 El Horreya St. (Raml Station), +20-3-4874404. 9 PM-1 AM. Possibly the best Italian restaurant in town, serving up pizza and pasta since 1979.
  • Dynasty Restaurant, 544 El Geish Avenue (Renaissance Alexandria Hotel), +20-35-483977. Open 24 hours a day, with dinner served until 5 AM.. Alexandria's top Chinese restaurant.
  • San Giovanni Restaurant, 205 El Gueish Ave (San Giovanni Hotel), +20-3-5467775. Open 24 hours a day, with dinner served until 5 AM.. West-East fusion. Views of Stanley beach, classical music performed live nightly.

Drink

Bars

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. Frequent travellers recommend a number of reliable establishments:

  • Spitfire Bar, Sa'ad Zaghloul St. - easy to overlook despite its obvious location on the corner of a square on this busy street. The building looks slightly derelict but is clearly marked above the doors. Walk west along Sa'ad Zaghloul St. from the square. for a few blocks until the road opens up in front of you into the beginning of a square. Turn right and the bar is a few doors down on the right. LE 11 for a Stella.
  • Mermaid Bar - Little and nice bar with good-view to the sea.
  • Cap D'Or, located right by the Spitfire. It's one of the oldest bars in Alexandria but you must pay attention to your bill as they will try and rip you off.
  • El Qobesi, 51 Corniche, juice-bar. It is nit signposted in English but it is easy to recognize it by fruites hanging around. Marvelous juices fron ashta, guava, strawberry and more others for 5-8 pounds for a big glass.

Hotels and most tourist restaurants throughout Alexandria and most of Egypt are home to bars and discos; and to buy your own booze drop by Drinkie's, a famous liquor store ideally located on the Corniche strip and home to every local drink and Heineken.

Cafes

Stanley Bridge

In addition to local options, there's a Starbucks in San Stefano Grand Plaza and a Costa Coffee near Stanley Bridge.

  • Brazilian Coffee Shop, Raml station. An Egyptian spin on Starbucks, with fancy, relatively expensive but tasty coffee. Medium latte LE 7.5.
  • Cafe Trianon, Saad Zaghlul square (''by the seashore''), +20-3-4868539 , +20-3-4835881 , +20-3-4860986 or +20-3-4860973. The poshest cafe in Alexandria, famed for the best om ali in Egypt — although LE 14 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 LE 13.
  • Cafe De La Paix (Sayed Drweesh Resturant), Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).
  • Omar El Khaiam Cafe, Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).
  • New Paris Cafe, Mohatet El Raml (Raml Station).

Coffee shops

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.

Sleep

Alexandria has a good selection of hotels in all price brackets.

Budget

For longer stays of a month or more, why not try renting in Alex? Apartments are are easy to come by, in a range of prices (180 - 1000+ LE per week) and states of repair! Landlords/ladies tend to live in the same blocks and will be willing to haggle the rates. Needless to say, 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. (Keep in mind, though, that it's highly unlikely to find any accommodation near the coast that's completely 'roach-free'!)

  • Nile Excelsior Hotel, 16 Borsa Kadema Street, Manshyia, +2 0123821023, [10]. Cheap but a little dirty hotel located in downtown. The single room including bathroom, A/C and breakfast costs 12 euro/20 $ per night. Rooms could be cleaner, but are adequate given the budget price. Breakfast is simple but enough. The staff is really friendly and helpful. You can book hotel by calling or sending e-mail to hotel. 100 LE.
  • Hotel Union, 164 26th July Street, +20-3-4807312. Suitable for the budget traveler, Hotel Union is located on the Corniche and near Raml Station. The rooms could be cleaner, but are adequate given the budget price. The bathrooms are shared. Breakfast (croissant, rolls/jam, boiled egg, and coffee) is included. There is a sitting area with tables and a view of the water and Qaitbay. It is not possible to book the hotel online. You need to either reserve by phone or in person. 67 LE.
  • New Wellcome House, near the Metropole Hotel/Raml Station. Extremely run-down, but the cheapest place in Alexandria. For the seasoned backpackers! Same building as Normandy Hotel.
  • Normandy Hotel, 8 Gamal el-Din Yassen (near Raml Station), +20-3-4806830 (). The Normandy hotel is an excellent place to stay. It is a one floor hotel located on the Corniche, with unbeatable views of the city's Eastern Harbor. It is the building behind the famous Cecil Hotel, on the fourth floor. Rooms range from 15LE to 30LE per night, depending on availability, view, and season. The rooms are well-appointed, large and clean, but spare. The bathrooms are down the hall, and also clean. Staff is very friendly, helpful, and honest. The staff speaks both English and Arabic, with limited knowledge of a few other random languages.

Mid-range

  • Holiday Hotel, 6 Orabi Sq, +20-3-4801559. 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), +20-3-4865188 (fax: +20-3-4865630), [11]. Modern concrete block with 63 rooms, some overlooking the sea. Aircon, cable TV. Not far from the Alexandria Library. US$90.

Splurge

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, +20-3-5477999. 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 five-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 km 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.
San Stefano Grand Plaza
  • Four Seasons San Stefano, 399 El Geish Road, +20-3-5818000 (fax: +20-3-5818080), [12]. Alexandria's top hotel and priced to match. Modern building, but tastefully decorated in opulent Four Seasons style. US$500.
Helnan Hotel
  • Helnan Palestine, Monteza, [13]. Faces the old king's palace and gardens. US$100.
  • Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza, 14th of May Bridge Road, +20 3 4209120 (fax: +20 3 4209140), [14]. Officially only a three-star hotel, but much better than you'd expect in this class. US$200.
  • Mercure Romance Alexandria, 303 Tareek El Gueish, +20 3 5840911-12, [15].
  • Le Metropole, 52, Saad Zaghloul St. (near el-Raml station), +203-486-1465 (fax: +203-486-2040), [16]. Opened in 1902, this is one of Alexandria's two grand old hotels. Recently given a half-hearted renovation, still keeping the turn-of-the-century style. Centrally located 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.
  • Renaissance Alexandria, 544 El Geish Avenue, Sidi Bishr, +20 3 549 0935 (fax: +20 3 5497690), [17]. One of the newer hotels in Alex, offering sea views and high-speed Internet. Rooftop pool, sauna, and private beach. US$150.
  • Sheraton Montazah, Corniche Road, +20 3 5480550, [18]. Located on the far (eastern) end of the Corniche. Small, shabby and in need of renovation.
  • Sofitel Cecil Alexandria, 16 Saad Zagloul Square, +20 3 4877173 (fax: +20 3 4855655), [19]. Alexandria's other grand old hotel, many of whose rooms are named after famous guests like Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill. If you're looking for historical character and a central location, the Cecil is not a bad pick, and the soundproofing is somewhat better than at the Metropole. Downsides: No Internet, hard beds, and ludicrously slow service in the restaurants.

Stay safe

Alexandria has a bit of a crime problem, although it's rarely violent. Beware of pickpockets and don't flash your valuables or wear a bum bag/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 are advised to cover their shoulders, midriffs, cleavage and legs. Still, women should expect to be heckled or harassed in the street, especially 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

  • Emergency number: 123
  • Police number: 122
  • Fire HQ number: 180
  • Central Ambulance, Kom El Dekka (opposite Alexandria Station), +20-3-4922257.
  • El Moassa Hospital, El Horreya Rd., El Hadara, +20-3-4212885/6/7/8.
  • El Shatby Hospital, Dr. Hassan Sobhy St., El Shatby, +20-3- 4871586.
  • Medical Research Institute, El Horreya Rd. (beside Gamal Abdel Nasser Hospital), +20-3-4215455 - 4212373.
  • Bacos Ambulance, Mehatet El Souk St., Bacos, +20-3- 5703454.
  • Poison Center Main University Hospital, +20-3-4862244.

Get out

  • El Alamein — 106 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
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