Cairo is full to the brim with restaurants, cafes, ahwas, malls and cinemas, which is where we locals spend 95% of our going out leisure time. But there’s actually a lot more to Cairo than just food, coffee and blockbuster movies -- you just need to know the right places to look.
So if you’re in the mood to go down a more cultural route for your next night out, these nine venues might have just what you’re looking for.
1. Zawya Arthouse Cinema
Go for: independent films and other movies not aired in Egypt’s mainstream cinemas
Zawya opened its doors in 2014 in Cairo’s historic Cinema Odeon and is touted as Egypt’s first ‘arthouse cinema’.
Different than the rest of Egypt’s cinemas which are heavy on Hollywood and Sobky movies, Zawya prides itself on airing independent films, both Egyptian and international, alongside documentaries, short films and experimental work, most of which never see the light of day in Egypt’s mainstream cinemas.
Besides regular screenings, Zawya also helps promote local and Arab filmmakers through events, discussions and masterclasses.
Make sure you also check out their film festivals and ‘spotlight’ artist events (for example, they recently had a night dedicated to Youssef Chahine’s short films).
2. Room Art Space & Cafe
Location: Garden City & New Cairo
Go for: live music (jazz, tribute bands, folkloric music), karaoke, open mic nights
This cafe and performance art venue “offers professionals and aspiring artists -as well as lovers of the arts- a space to create, collaborate, perform and share ideas over freshly brewed coffee.”
Room have almost daily live events, varying from stand-up comedy to live music to film screenings in both English and Arabic.
3. Darb 1718
Location: Old Cairo (behind the Hanging Church and Amr Ibn Aas mosque)
Go for: artisanal workshops and live events
Founded in 2008, this non-profit organization is a contemporary art and culture center in the heart of Old Cairo.
Darb 1718 offers art exhibition spaces, theater, dance and concert stages, an outdoor cinema, gardens and rooftops and even an artist residency to accommodate international artists.
Artisanal workshops offered: pottery, leather wallet making, Arabic calligraphy, vintage photo album making, sketching, mosaics, film editing, soap making and much more.
4. Cairo Opera House
Go for: live performances
Undoubtedly the most famous on the list, the Cairo Opera House has been the bastion of cultural events in the capital for decades now.
It has several different halls and theatres for all sorts of performances, and in any given month you’ll find a packed schedule: choir, ballet, opera, flamenco, ensemble groups, folkloric music, orchestra, Egyptian modern dance, instrumental soloists, poetry and much more.
Check their website for their full schedule.
5. Townhouse Gallery
Go for: art exhibitions and Rawabet Theatre
Probably the most popular gallery and visual art space in Cairo, Townhouse is a non-profit organization that strives (and succeeds) to be more than just a standard gallery.
Besides hosting visual art, they also have Townhouse Library and Rawabet Theatre, a space for independent performing artists of all disciplines, as well as international residencies for artists, writers and filmmakers.
Most recently Townhouse also opened SAWA Shop, where you can buy Egyptian handicrafts and old books, magazines and art publications.
6. El Sawy Culture Wheel (El Sakia)
Go for: live performances & puppet theatre
A Zamalek staple for over 15 years, this performing arts space right on the Nile has been the launching pad for some of Egypt’s favorite contemporary bands when they were first starting out.
Their monthly calendar is almost always full with musical performances, poetry, theatre, seminars and their famous puppet theatre.
7. Makan (Egyptian Center for Culture & Arts)
Location: Garden City
Go for: Traditional and folkloric Egyptian music
Makan’s main mission is to preserve the traditional Egyptian folk music that has been marginalized over the years due to the predominance of commercialized international music and its influence on contemporary Egyptian artists.
Makan is now one of the few spaces in Egypt where you can attend a ‘Zar’; a folkloric performance with rhythmic dance and drumming, which is in essence a complex healing ritual led by women, but which has been shunned by mainstream Egyptian culture for supposedly being an exorcism ritual. It’s at the risk of dying out completely, which is what makes having a place like Makan so important.
They also have Sufi music, ‘mawawil’ (rural songs from the Nile Delta), Nubian and Sudanese heritage music and a medley of other talented Egyptian performers.
8. Wekalet el Ghouri
Location: Old Cairo
Go for: the tanoura show
Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday Wekalet el Ghouri Art Centre is host to the famous whirling dervish show -- also known as the tanoura show, or the Sufi dancing show.
The show is about two hours long, and high energy from start to finish. The show starts at 7 pm, and tickets are first come, first served (starting 6 pm). There’s usually a crowd so make sure you get there early.
9. MASQ - Maq'ad of Sultan Qaitbay
Location: City of the Dead
Go for: art exhibitions, concerts, bazaars, walking tours exploring City of the Dead
MASQ is a cultural hub based in a renovated 15th century Mamluk monument, the maq'ad of Sultan Qaitbay, in Cairo's City of the Dead. The City of the Dead is a medieval Muslim necropolis in Old Cairo, also known as the Desert of the Mamluks, and what makes this necropolis so interesting is that besides the centuries-old architecture and tombs, a modern-day community lives and works among the dead.
MASQ holds regular events to promote the heritage of this little-understood area as well benefit and develop the struggling neighborhood community.
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