Wednesday May 22nd, 2024
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How to Spend a Weekend in Alexandria

In this coastal city, you’ll find historical wonders, oceanic marvels and, most importantly, well-spiced fish of all kinds.

Hassan Tarek

How to Spend a Weekend in Alexandria

Little is left to be said about Alexandria that hasn't already been immortalised in history books – from its founding by Alexander the Great to its role as a beacon of learning in the ancient world, the city's legacy is undeniable.

However, the coastal city does more than just document the tales of a bygone age – it manages to transcend its storied past. Today, it thrives as a vibrant metropolis, where ancient ruins stand alongside bustling modern life, where you can lose yourself in the intellectual spirit that once flourished at the Library of Alexandria, and it’s where you’ll chomp down a plateful of the best seafood you’ll ever have in your life.

A short and sweet weekend getaway to the ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’ will allow you to discover a city alive with ever-friendly locals, a delectable (and affordable) culinary scene, and a seaside-fueled energy that never seems to run out.

Friday

8:00 Grab your morning coffee

For ninety-six years, the Brazilian Coffee Shop on Salah Salem has been rustling up breakfast for its true-blue clientele every morning. Their secret? Many will tell you it’s the rich blend in their brew, while others swear by the general amicable ambiance. A window into early 20th century Alexandria, this popular coffee shop was also the very of its kind in the city to serve ground coffee.

9:00 Visit historical Alexandria

In 2005, the Greco-Roman Museum was closed for an expansion project that lasted well into the 2020s. It wasn’t until October of last year that it finally reopened with larger wings to showcase some of the most impressive relics and art pieces from 630 BC all the way to the end of the Ottoman Empire.

12:00 Gas up with sandwiches

Perhaps the hardest part about eating at Kebdet El Fallah is finding an empty table. Crowds pile into this place by the hundreds for some of the best liver sandwiches in the city. A common strategy is to get a table at a nearby café, far and away from all the chaos, and to take your lunch there. You can also find Metro Cinema just around the bend if you’re feeling like a movie after your meal.

14:00 Stroll through a park

Located in Bab Sharq, Alexandria, El Shallalat Park offers a delightful blend of history and natural beauty. After indulging in a hearty lunch, this landscaped park with its palm trees, scenic trails, and serene pond provides the perfect setting to unwind and relax. As you wander through the park, you'll discover surviving remnants of the old city walls, adding a touch of historical charm to your visit. Conveniently situated near the national museum, El Shallalat Park makes for an ideal afternoon retreat, allowing you to combine leisure with a dose of culture. So, grab your favourite book or playlist and enjoy a tranquil afternoon in this oasis amidst the city.

16:00 Go underground

For your second dose of historical Alexandria, we suggest the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. As the story goes, back in 1900, a donkey fell into what was presumed to be a large well, later identified as the main entrance of a full-fledged necropolis. You start your journey with a descent down a spiral staircase right into the heart of it all, the triclinium. Here, you can spot the first of many Greek contributions—think pillars, statues, and geometric patterns. As you advance, you start to notice a unique mixture of pagan Egyptian iconography and Christian motifs adorning the graves. With its sprawling size, it's clear this place was meant to be a self-contained city of the dead.

19:00 Snag a seaside table

Fish might as well be Alexandria’s largest attraction. The debate over which restaurant serves it best can get heated enough to spark a riot in the streets of the city. In a narrow poll, we settled on the Fish Market in the Bahari part of town. The reason? Well, have you seen the view? At daybreak, hundreds of fish arrive fresh off the boats and are prepared in a variety of styles that customers can request. Snag a table overlooking the Mediterranean and take in the salty breeze as you savour your meal.

22:00 Unwind in a classic Alexandrian setting

The unassuming green and yellow storefront of Cap D'Or might fool you into thinking it's a quaint pawnshop. A large vitrine filled with rotary phones and antique glassware does little to dispel the notion. But step through the threshold, and you'll find yourself transported back in time to one of Alexandria's oldest bars, established as early as 1908. You can tell immediately by the interior just what kind of heritage Cap D’Or hails from. The original Art Nouveau décor remains largely untouched, bathed in a dim light that lends the place a kind of Prohibition era charm. Bottles behind the counter are arranged in a way that brings to mind the image of pipes from a cathedral organ. If you’re looking for a cinematic way to end your first night, this is the place.

Saturday

8:00 Fill up on foul and falafel

It is a matter of historical fact that no place in Alexandria does breakfast quite like Mohamed Ahmed. It’s hard to imagine something as deeply ingrained in Egyptian culture as foul and falafel could ever be ‘refined’, or ‘perfected’ beyond a national standard. That is a task for the Gods, or in this case – Mohamed Ahmed. The restaurant, known up until 1957 as ‘Benjamin’ when it was owned by a local Jewish family, now serves breakfast staples with an Alexandrian twist. Competition over a place to sit can be fierce, so try getting a table as early as possible.

9:00 Quell your sweet tooth

Just a two-minute stroll from Mohamed Ahmed lies Délices, a local institution renowned for generations for its exquisite pastries. Step inside and be greeted by the mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked delights. Here, Alexandrians come for the perfect breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up – a slice of their celebrated cake, paired with a cup of expertly brewed coffee. Whether you choose the decadent chocolate ganache or the delicate fruit tart, Délices is an unforgettable sweet escape.

11:00 Read your way through Alexandria

A phoenix rising from the ashes of antiquity, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina stands proudly where the legendary Library of Alexandria once resided. As you step inside, you’re greeted by a treasure trove of knowledge. Six captivating museums, each one a portal to the past. Here, you'll find the glittering treasures of the Pharaohs, ancient manuscripts whispering secrets of long-lost civilizations, and even exhibits tracing the fascinating evolution of science. The building itself is a masterpiece of modern design. Sleek glass walls reflect the sparkling Mediterranean, creating a stunning backdrop for your exploration. History buffs won't want to miss the Antiquities Museum, while the Manuscript Museum offers a rare chance to come face-to-face with history's written word.

14:00 Take a journey through royal jewels

Fit for a pharaoh, the Royal Jewelry Museum unlocks the dazzling world of Egyptian royalty. Housed within the opulent Fatma Al-Zahra Palace, this museum showcases a glittering collection of jewels spanning centuries. Wander through the halls and marvel at exquisite diamond and emerald necklaces, bejewelled chess boards, and gold artefacts fit for a king. The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, which lasted nearly 150 years. Don't miss the chance to see the dazzling Sultan's pocket watch, a masterpiece of craftsmanship encrusted with precious stones.

18:00 Explore a royal palace

Montaza Palace, a complex overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, beckons with a rich royal history. Originally a hunting lodge for Khedive Abbas II, the palace was transformed into a luxurious summer retreat for Egypt's monarchs. Today, visitors like yourself can take a glimpse into this opulent past. Two major palaces comprise the grounds – the renaissance-style El-Salamlek, and the El-Haramlek Palace, now a museum dedicated to the Muhammad Ali dynasty showcasing a unique blend of Ottoman and Florentine styles, and offering a glimpse into the lives of Egypt's former rulers.

21:00 Wine and dine at an Alexandrian classic

Grandparents everywhere in Alexandria will recount with vivid detail the many memories they made in the little restaurant down a narrow alley, known since 1979 as Chez Gaby Au Ritrovo, or more quaintly – Chez Gaby. The restaurant's tan facade and wrought iron windows have become a familiar yet all the while esoteric landmark. Offering only the taste of tradition, Chez Gaby serves authentic Italian food alongside a selection of wines and other beverages, making it the perfect spot for a relaxed meal or a celebratory occasion with friends.

23:00 End on a sweet note

End your weekend in Alexandria on a sweet note. We’re bringing you to the Bahari area one last time for what is arguably the most famous roz belaban (rice pudding) and ice cream anywhere in the republic. For decades, El Sheikh Wafiq has been following a secret recipe like no other. Customers swear by it with undying loyalty. Even with heavyweight contemporaries like El Nezami and Gelati Azza, there’s still something about Sheikh Wafiq’s gelato that can’t be matched.

Verdict

This itinerary merely scratches the surface of what Alexandria has to offer. It would take months, if not years, to truly uncover the city's hidden gems – from tucked-away coffee shops brimming with local artists to bustling souks overflowing with treasures.

Alexandria is a city that rewards the curious explorer, offering a captivating blend of ancient history, vibrant culture, and a zest for life that's simply contagious.  

So, pack your walking shoes, bring out the adventurous side to your spirit, and prepare to be charmed by the magic of Alexandria.


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