Alexandria Destination Guide
If you want to unravel some of the great moments in ancient history, look no further than Alexandria. Founded by none other than Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., Queen Cleopatra ruled here when the city was, along with Rome, one of the only two in the ancient world with over one million people. These days Alexandria is a much different place and the future is very much present in the city’s youthful lifestyle on display right along the long stretch of Montazah Beach. Still yesterday’s world is Alexandria’s major drawcard and a long list of spectacles remain at this once great cosmopolis where Egyptian priests, Indian gymnosophists, Greek philosophers and Jewish traders all rubbed shoulders.
A fantastic place to catch a fascinating insight into Alexandria’s multicultural past is at the site of the awe-inspiring Pharos Lighthouse, built between 280 and 247 B.C.E. and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Next lay your gaze onto the towering Pompey’s Pillar, the largest of its type constructed outside Rome. The legendary Bibliotheca Alexandrina may have perished but who needs the Internet when you’ve got the new Library of Alexandria approximating what was once the largest library in the ancient world? For something built somewhat recently, El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque dates back to 1775. Beautifully dressed in artificial stone, it has a minaret that stands a neck stretching 73 metres high.
In Alexandria some of the tastiest delights can be found in the small street-side restaurants frequented by locals. For the ubiquitous fuul (fava bean dish) head to Gad, while kushari (rice and lentil dish) lovers should make their way to Kushari Bondok. Alexandria is well known for its seafood, and scallops, shrimp, bass, sole and squid are all popular local varieties. Housed in a faux castle, Seagull may be kitsch but it’s still widely renowned as ‘the’ place to eat seafood in Egypt. Eel is a local speciality and some electrifying (in taste) options can be sampled from one of the street-side carts. For quenching a desert thirst, elegant Delices, and Trianon, which was used for filming British War movie ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, will both satiate.
Where to Stay
Deciding where to stay in Alexandria depends mostly on your budget. Close to Montazah Beach, especially along Corniche is where you’ll find most of the city’s mid-range to high-end hotels, while downtown options lean more towards those with fewer Egyptian pounds. A stay at Hotel Union will get you a harbour view and clean room for not much more than the price of some fuul. Spend a few more pounds and you can stay at Windsor Palace Hotel, which is full of old warm charm. Most international hotel chains are well represented in Alexandria and the Four Seasons, Sofitel and Hilton are all good options not far from the beach.
City Centre Mall and Green Plaza Shopping Mall are two of the best places to shop in Alexandria and offer a good selection of stores, entertainment, eateries, coffee houses and more importantly, air-conditioning! A traditional market can be found on the western side of the Midan Tahrir and is where you should go for souvenirs and gifts. Just remember to haggle if you want to pay a fair price. Antiques and collectible lovers, you’ll have the time of your life shopping in Alexandria by strolling around the maze of backstreets in the Attareen neighbourhood and at the bustling Attareen Antique Market. High fashionistas, make a beeline for Saad Zaghloul and Sharia Safiyya Zaghloul and shop ‘til you drop.
Alexandria Like a Local
If you really want to see the Alexandria of folklore you’re going to need to strap on a diving suit. There are literally whole cities lying beneath the Alexandrian shore. Nobody knows the exact reason why they sunk but local divers now know where to find them. Uncover the underwater world of Cleopatra’s City, or Aminotheese City, a whole submarine town complete with temples, houses and statues. Best of all, some dive sites are only 5-8m below the surface so you don’t need that much diving experience to uncover them.