Top things to do in Alexandria Egypt
Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city after Cairo. It’s where the Nile delta meets the desert and the Mediterranean sea.
Alexander the Great founded Alexandria and the city developed into one of the most important cities in the Roman empire. It was home to the largest library in the world as well as the largest lighthouse that was one of the seven wonders of the world.
Why visit Alexandria Egypt
Alexandria is steeped in history and it was an important cultural and intellectual center in the region. Some called it the pearl of the Mediterranean. A true Cosmopolitan city of its time that could easily compete with Rome.
Alexandria connected the ancient Egyptian civilization of the pharaohs with that of the Romans and Greeks. The most famous inhabitant of Alexandria is Queen Cleopatra. Who maintained intimate relations with the rulers of the Roman empire. First Julius Caesar and later Marcus Antonius.
Although Alexandria is older than Cairo, not much of its long and rich history remains. The lighthouse and library are no longer there. A large part, including Cleopatra’s palace, is now under the sea. New homes have been built over the rest.
That does not mean you should not visit Alexandria. Alexandria is in fact a great city to learn more about modern Egypt and observe daily life away from the tourist crowds.
Things to do in Alexandria Egypt
Fort Qaitbey is an impressive defensive fortress from the 15th century. Mamluk Sultan Al Ashraf Qaitbey built it to protect Alexandria from the Turks.
After numerous renovations the citadel looks new. But the site has a long history. Its location at the entrance of the port is where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood. The Lighthouse was damaged in a number of earthquakes before it was completely destroyed by a large earthquake in the 14th century.
Now Fort Qaitbey offers wonderful views over the sea and Alexandria. It’s one of the top things to do in Alexandria.
Alexandria fish market
Right next to Fort Qaitbey is Alexandria’s fish market. An open door market that is most busy in the early hours of the day. This is when fishermen try to sell their catch of the day.
The Anfushi fish market can be a noisy affair as people negotiate prices and fishermen price the fish they caught that night.
The neighbourhood just south of fort Qaitbey is among the oldest parts of Alexandria. This is where the city began. But few historic sights remain. Even Fort Qaitbey is a relative newcomer considering the first people settled here around 1500 BC in the village of Rhakotis.
Nowadays it is a lively neighbourhood where people live more outside than inside the dilapidated high rise buildings.
Sidi Morsi mosque
The Sidi Morsi mosque is the largest mosque in Alexandria. This mosque was the inspiration for the even larger Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Now it is one of the main attractions in Anfushi, but again it is a relative newcomer. The current structure was built in the early 20th century. However, there was already a smaller mosque in its location. Since sufi saint Abu al Abbas al Mursi was buried here in 1287 it was an important place of worship.
Stroll the Corniche
One of my favourite things to do in Alexandria was strolling along the Corniche during sunset. The sea boulevard is very popular and you will share the Waterfront promenade with happy families, shy couples, fishermen and vendors.
The sunset is of course lovely. It runs all the way from Fort Qaitbey along Anfushi to the new library and the Montaza palace. The best waterside restaurants are close to Anfushi.
In its more recent history Alexandria was first occupied by tge french and then the British. Although never a formal French colony, the French did leave behind their cultural legacy.
The seaside front buildings still hold some beautiful historic villa’s in french style. They reflect a golden age in which Alexandria was a true cosmopolitan city.
Unfortunately they also reflect that Alexandria is no longer as wealthy as it once was. Most buildings are in disrepair and many are even demolished.
Just behind the Corniche and the french seaside buildings is Alexandria’s bazaar. It’s always busy here.
Alexandria’s bazaar isn’t as scenic as some other middle eastern bazaars, but it has some great restaurants where you can try Egyptian food
Cathedral & Synagogue
Alexandria remains a multicultural city with small communities of Coptic christians and Jews.
In the heart of the bazaar are the St. Marks Coptic cathedral and the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue. Both are heavily guarded to protect the religious buildings. When I visited it was not possible to visit inside.
Alexandria was once home to the largest library in the world. The new bibliotheca Alexandrina tries to restore the former glory.
The large building is home to a number of museums, a planetarium and a large collection of manuscripts and books
Pompey’s pillar is among the few historic things to do in Alexandria. The ancient Roman victory pillar in honour of the Roman emperor Diocletian immediately catches your eye.
However, there is more history to this site than the tall pillar. The ruins of the ancient temple of Serapis have more stories to tell, even though very little of it remains.
The Serapheum of Alexandria was the largest Greek temple in Alexandria. It was built around 220 BC and was dedicated to Serapis. The goddess that protected Alexandria.
As the library of Alexandria grew too big, the overflow of documents was held at this temple. Around 391 the temple was destroyed by Christian Roman Soldiers who viewed it as the last stronghold of pagans in Alexandria.
You can still visit the catacombs where the overflow library was stored and where you can also see an old statue of the god Mithras.
Catacombs of Kom Al Shuqaffa
Not far from Pompey’s pillar are the Catacombs of Kom Al Shuqaffa. Here the Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultural elements really merge together.
The tombs are decorated with Egyptian gods, some wearing Roman clothes. This makes the catacombs unique in Egypt and they are among the seven world wonders of the medieval world.
Personally I found these catacombs among the most interesting things to do in Alexandria. They might disappoint you if you have just been in Luxor, but look at the details and you see why this place is special.
Kom Al Dikka
Kom al Dikka translates as mound of Rubble and that is exactly what it looks like today. It is not that impressive, especially if you visited other Roman excavation sites in the middle east like Jerash in Jordan or Baalbek in Lebanon.
Still, considering its age, it is a well preserved example of a wealthy residential area in the first century, home to the only Roman amphitheatre in Egypt.
Kom al Dikka is certainly worth a visit. There is the theatre and if you wander at the end of the site you will find some beautiful mosaics.
The national museum in Alexandria holds a small collection of archeological findings from the Egyptian, Greek and Roman time periods.
It is not as overwhelming as the Egyptian museum of Cairo and it gives a good insight into the history of the city.
Things to do in Alexandria for foodies
Have an Egyptian breakfast at Mohammed Ahmed
Alexandria is a great destination if you want to tey Egyptian food. In my opinion the food scene is even better than Cairo.
Mohammed Ahmed is an iconic restaurant that serves excellent falafels as well as authentic Egyptian breakfasts.
Fuul Medames is the most popular Egyptian breakfast. It consists of a fava bean paste that you can eat with bread.
If you order Fuul medames in Egypt it can be a bit hit or miss. The one from Mohammed Ahmed is for sure a hit with plenty of Olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and spices like cumin that give it flavour.
Enjoy Egyptian fish soup at Kadoura
Alexandria is of course also famous for its sea food. Kadoura is a great restaurant to try all kinds of fish.
I normally don’t take starters, but someone recommended the fish soup and it was indeed my favorite part of the meal. I also had a grilled snapper with fries that was very delicious as well.
Try Shrimp molokhiya at Fish market
Fish market is one if the more expensive seafood restaurants in Alexandria. It is very popular, but personally, I liked Kadoura more. However, one thing that Fish market offers that others dont is a delicious shrimp molokhiya.
Molokhiya is a soup that they make from the local jute leaves. The recipe originates in the Pharaonic times of Egypt. I can imagine that not everyone likes this soup, but I loved it. Normally they serve it without any meat or chicken. The combination with shrimp is rather unique, but one that works very well.
Egyptian tea with a view at El Selsele cafe
El Selsele cafe is a hidden gem in Alexandria. Hidden behind the busy road along the seafront boulevard it offers great ocean views.
Once you sit down the hustle and bustle of the city feels miles away. It’s a great place for a drink after visiting the new library.
Things to do in Alexandria travel tips
Where to sleep
Budget: If you are on a tight budget I can recommend the dormitories at Ithaka Hostel. The hostel is cleann with friendly staff and a wonderful location on the boulevard looking out over the sea. If you prefer your own room New hotel has simple budget rooms close to the sea boulevard.
Midrange: I stayed in the Royal Jewel Al Raml hotel that offers a bit more comfort than the budget options. It has a central location and a large breakfast buffet.
Upmarket: The most famous hotel in Alexandria is the historic colonial style Steigenberger Cecil hotel. Part of its popularity is in its name, but staying here in one of the elegant rooms is definetly an experience. While most colonial buildings in Alexandria are now rundown and being demolished, Cecil is beautifully restored in its former grandeur. Cecil has a long history with celebrity guests like Winston Churchil and Agatha Christie
How to get there
Alexandria has its own airport. Budget airline Ryan air has cheap flights from Milan directly to Alexandria.
If you are already in Egypt, Alexandria has frequent bus connections to and from Cairo and Marsah Matruh as well as Siwa Oasis. The train is also a very good and comfortable option if you travel from Cairo
When to visit
Fall and spring are the best months to visit Alexandria in Egypt. Winters are mild, but also bring a lot of rain. Summers are very hot in Egypt.
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