Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Happy Easter, everyone! Happy spring!
Quick pause for any non-Egyptians who have no clue what I’m on about: Sham el Naseem is a national Egyptian holiday celebrating the beginning of spring. It’s been celebrated annually for over 2,700 years, making it officially the oldest holiday in Egypt -- the ancient Egyptians used to have a yearly spring festival. After Christianity was introduced to Egypt, Sham el Naseem was attached to Coptic Easter; it always falls on the Monday right after Coptic Easter Sunday.
Sham el Naseem translates to “breathing in the breeze”, and Egyptians try to spend it outdoors. The traditional food eaten is feseekh, which is fermented, salted fish, and green onion, so maybe it’s a good thing we try to keep things outdoors!
Lots of people like to head to the beach for the long weekend of Easter and Sham el Naseem, but if you’re in Cairo and want to enjoy the weather outside without drowning in a sea of people in popular green areas like Azhar Park, then we have just the places for you.
1. 139 Pavilion
Location: Marriott Mena House, Pyramids
This restaurant in the Marriott Mena House is definitely worth the trek down the forever-congested Pyramids Street. Have breakfast, lunch or dinner fountain-side, surrounded by flowers and greenery and, you know, THE PYRAMIDS. What a view!
There’s an a la carte menu, but also the option of an all-you-can-eat buffet. At night you lose some of the pyramids view because they’re not always lit up, but there’s something peaceful and serene in the darkness.
2. A felucca
Location: our favorite is DokDok in Garden City
When was the last time you took a sail on a felucca? Pretty long ago, we bet. Well dust off your sea legs (river legs?) because a felucca is a great, affordable way to enjoy a few hours in the great outdoors without a) being trampled on by picnickers, and b) being overwhelmed by the cheerful, noisy chaos of the city.
An hour’s sail will go for about 200 EGP at DokDok, and you can bring your own picnic to eat on board.
3. The Virginian
If you want to see all of Cairo without actually, you know, having to see all of Cairo, then head up to The Virginian in the Moqattam Hills.
This little-known open-air cafe and bar is the best place in the city to head to right before sunset if you want to take in a panoramic view of the city over a drink and shisha. You can see everything from the Pyramids of Giza all the way down to the Cairo Tower, and on your right the Citadel lights up once it starts getting dark.
The place itself is very bare bones (very) and we don't recommend eating here (maybe just fries or something). The clientele is 90% foreigners and expats.
For more fun spots to have a drink in Cairo at night, check our link here.
4. Wadi Degla Protectorate
Location: Behind Zahraa el Maadi
If you want to spend the day in nature, completely away from the crowds (and I mean, awaaaay) and have a little barbecue and adventure, then Wadi Degla is for you.
This valley of desert and rocky hills is reached by car, but then once inside you can hike/bike/explore on foot.
The entrance ticket is for 3 EGP (5 EGP for foreigners) and you can bring all the food, games and sports stuff you want or need for the day, but bear in mind there’s no bathrooms or places to buy water, etc from.
For more cheap but fun things to do in Cairo, head here.
5. Hotel day-use
It might be the beginning of spring, but the weather is already pretty summer-esque. If you want to get your tan on but are unfortunately several hundred kilometers from the beach, then just head to your hotel of choice (or, you know, the cheapest one near you) and enjoy a day by the pool.
Prices vary depending on the hotel, so make sure you call them first to confirm that they do indeed offer a day-use service, how much it costs, and what’s included. While the ritzier hotels might charge a heftier fee, some nice 4 star hotels can go for around 300 EGP per person.
For a list of the best hotels in Cairo, head here.
6. Anafora Retreat
Location: Cairo-Alex Road
This farm and sanctuary provides a much-needed break from hectic daily life, and is about an hour’s drive from Cairo, on 120 acres of beautiful greenery and fruit trees. It’s a Coptic non-profit organization that focuses on meditation, prayer, stillness and spiritual retreats.
They welcome people from all over the world, and you have the option of staying there and enjoying full physical and mental detox for a few days, or you can just go for the day to enjoy the serenity and find some peace of mind.
Happy Easter and Sham el Naseem!