Top 27 Things to See and Do in Alexandria
Alexandria is a very ancient city, with history stretching back all the way to the time of Alexander the Great, the founder of the city. It once guarded the Nile Delta and served as the capital of the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of Egypt after Alexander died in Babylon. Its Northern location left it exposed to invaders, however, and Egyptians kings and queens often had to hire Greek mercenaries or buy-off pirates and rising powers, Rome – most notably.
Alexandria became a place of learning and world trade in the ancient world. It developed a unique fusion of Egyptian and Hellenic traditions, and has been built up throughout the centuries. The modern Mediterranean city features a wealth of sites from ancient, medieval, 18-19th centuries, and the modern era. In stark contrast to the majority of the country, the city has a lot of buildings from the Mohamed Ali dynasty, which styled itself on the kings of Europe.
The city is about 2 hours from Downtown Cairo by car. There is also a train that leaves from Cairo’s Ramses Station that drops you right in the middle of the old city. The best way to move around the city is by cab car, because of the large distances between the city’s many sites. This way you are also spared from the constant hassle of souvenir vendors looking to make a sale. It is highly recommended to depart Cairo in the morning hours, around 7:00 AM or 8:00 AM at the latest.
Alexandria has its own international airport (AEX), but most travelers fly into either Marsa Matruh on the Mediterranean or into Cairo, from where they take additional transportation. You will notice that Alexandria is a very different city from chaotic Cairo, as it has a strong maritime tradition that is also a lot slower than that of the Capital. Because modern Alexandria was centrally planned during the Mohamed Ali dynasty, the sites are fairly spread-out. As a result, it is far better for travelers to tour the city independently than as part of a structured tour. A Sidekick and driver through Egyptian Sidekick, or any other independent operator is really the best way to see the city and its sites in a reasonably efficient amount of time.
The verdict is, and always has been that Egypt is safe. Moving around the country independently versus being corralled from site-to-site, often on 44-person tour buses just doesn’t compare. Moreover, an independent trip to Egypt is significantly cheaper, by anywhere from 35% to 60%, making these basic facts all the more important, and worth that extra bit of attention. Questions surrounding sustainable tourism also come into consideration – would you prefer nameless intermediaries pocketing your money, or for it to make a bigger impact on the ground, where it counts.
It is true that there are components of any “country-tour”, anywhere around the world, which require hybridization. In the case of Egypt, while the major cities and the Nile Valley can be done independently and cheaply, travel to far-flung oasis often requires individuals who know what they’re doing. This is especially the case when traveling to the Sinai Peninsula, and the Siwa, Dakhla, Bahariya and Kharga oases. So too is the case with the famous Nile Cruise or a trip to the desert oases, which are often the highlight of a trip to Egypt.
This doesn’t mean that booking components of your trip before your flight is the right thing to do, but that once on the ground, travelers will have many options to choose from, thus economizing tremendously. This reality is also true for a day-trip to Alexandria. Most travelers will see the city and its many wonders under the auspices of a structured bus tour. There is of course nothing wrong with this kind of approach to sightseeing, but if you are looking for an authentic, local flavour, our Egyptian Sidekicks in Cairo know just what to see and do to provide that on an excursion to nearby Alexandria.
1This defensive fortress sits on the foundations of the famous Pharos Lighthouse, which collapsed in an earthquake sometime in the 11th century. The citadel allows great shots of the Bay of Alexandria, and is interesting in itself.
2Called the “Bibliotheca Alexandrina”, the modern structure is an homage to the famous Library of Alexandria which burned down in antiquity. Both the exterior and interior are spectacular, full of modern art, and capture some of the ancient splendour.
3The discovery of these catacombs was a bombshell among archaeologists. The wall carvings show a confluence of Egyptian and Hellenic styles not found anywhere in the world, and attest to the multinational nature of Alexandria during the time of the Ptolemies.
4This is the most extensive archaeological excavation in all of Alexandria. Most spectacular are the Roman-era theater and baths attesting to Alexandria’s modernity even in ancient times. Excavations continue, and the site is also used to restore maritime artifacts.
5This beautiful mosque is also the final resting place of a 13th century Alexandrine Sufi saint (an Islamic mystic). Interestingly the current structure was rebuilt by Italian architects in the 1920s and 40s, and has a uniquely dynastic feel.
6The 400-metre bridge is an icon of the city, with its flanking towers built in the typical Alexandrine style of the Muhamed Ali dynasty. The bridge spans a bay and beach of the same name, and is a great drive-by site for travelers.
7The royal family’s tradition to summer in Montaza drew many other wealthy Egyptians to the area, who built their stately homes around the Montaza Palace. The whole area became known as the Montaza Palace District, and is now a series of gardens.
8The waterfront has been well developed over the years, with a long promenade, or corniche, allowing travelers to stroll along the edge of the bay. The most spectacular portions are near the New Library of Alexandria, and near the Citadel of Qaitbay
9If you are looking for the most comprehensive perspective on the history of the city of Alexandria, this is the museum for you. The history of the city, from its foundation by Alexander the Great, to its present day are documented in a very modern style.
10With Greek rulers of centuries, it is not surprising that Alexandria would have a strong Christian Greek Orthodox community as well. The city has several churches, with this one being the most exquisite, and is well-worth the visit.
11The column is a monolithic structure, as it is composed of a single piece of red, Aswan granite. It was erected to commemorate the victory of Roman emperor Diocletian over the Alexandrians when they revolted against the Roman governor.
12The palace is one of the official residences of the Egyptian president, and was the seat of government during the Egyptian, Muhamed Ali dynasty. The palace can only be viewed from the outside, since it still serves important state functions.
13Alamein was the site of an important battle against Hitler’s Afrika Korps. The loss of life was tremendous, and the site is now a world-renown cemetery visited by many foreign travelers staying in the resort town of Marsa Matruh and Alexandria.
14Alexandria of the colonial era boasted dozens of palaces belonging to the Egyptian royal family of the 19th century, and their confidantes. Many, such as Salamlek palace, have been converted to hotels and guesthouses, with authentic, period interiors
15Abu Mena, or Mina, is a purported place of healing for Coptic Christians. Tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to the site every year. The complex and archaeological site house many relics important to Egypt’s Copts.
16Alexandria’s strongest link is to the Mediterranean sea, and this memorial commemorates all those sailors lost during the Wars. It is a classical structure that is easily accessible from the Alexandrian corniche by the sea.
17Now known as the Alexandria opera house, the classical structure was originally called the Mohamed Aly Theatre. It has an amazing courtyard that is well worth a visit for the gratuitous photo opportunity, especially on a sunny day.
18Few are aware that Egypt had a European-styled monarchy which took on the trappings of the most decadent courts of Europe. The royals, much like the Shahs of Iran, possessed many jewels which are now on display in this museum.
19Located a considerable distance South of Alexandria, this is the largest, and most important Coptic Christian monastery. The structures are in the middle of Wadi Al-Natrun, well-known for natron salt, the substance used in ancient mummification practices.
20This small, yet very ornate mosque has been named after the son of king Farouk, who was deposed by the Egyptian military to form the Egyptian republic. During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the mosque served as a focal point for protesters.
21There is an entire ancient city submerged in Abu Qir Bay, where Nelson sank Napleon’s fleet. Franck Goddio, a famous marine archaeologist has raised many incredible statues and gold objects from the bay. More finds are expected each year.
22Despite strong animosities between Jews and Muslim Egyptians, Egypt has been home to Jews for thousands of years. Alexandria, much like Cairo, has a huge, and well-guarded synagogue, which is only seldom open to foreign travelers.
23Imagine the world of Lawrence of Arabia, the English Patient, and the era of British colonial rule in Egypt, and you’ll understand the allure of this railways station. Travelers coming from Cairo by train will see this as their final stop.
24Half of ancient Alexandria lays submerged in the bay. There are active archaeological works being done by divers every season. Travelers will see an array of fishing boats moored in the water, a site which has become iconic for Alexandria.
25This ancient lake existed at the founding of the city and supplied much of Alexandria’s ancient water supply. Those familiar with ancient cities such as Naucratis, Canopus and Heracleion-Thonis will understand its significance.
26Alexandria’s market is a sprawling set of streets coming right off of the waterfront near the Citadel of Qaitbay. Because the city it less popular with foreign travelers, you can tell the shops are geared more towards everyday Egyptians.
27Established by Ptolemy II, this ancient temple is of great significance to the Ptolemaic dynasty, and Cleopatra. Dr. Kathleen Martinez of the Dominican Republic champions continued excavations at the site, and the search for the famous Cleopatra.
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