Alexandria, the “Bride of the Mediterranean”, on the coast in Egypt, is a fascinating city that has been at the centre of history since the moment it was founded. Very few ancient cities have any definitive idea when they were founded, but Alexandria was established by Alexander the Great, the world-conqueror, in April 331. That’s not the only characteristic that makes Alexandria different.
Alexandria was set up from the very beginning to be a great city. It was given wealth, monumental architecture, educational institutions, palaces and all of the trappings of a world capital. In the ancient world, Alexandria was as important as New York City or London is today.
It was the capital of Egypt from just after Alexander’s death in 323 BCE for almost 1000 years until Egypt was conquered for Islam. During ancient times it was more important than any city in the world, including Rome, Athens and Constantinople. Alexandria attracted the greatest minds in the world including philosophers, mathematicians, engineers and doctors.
Alexandria is very “port-able”
There is also a fundamental mystery about Alexandria. Because it has a continuous history of habitation and development, important monuments have been lost. The most important of these is the actual tomb of Alexander the Great. Recently, however, archaeologists and historians believe that they are close to finding that long-sought after location. Finding Alexander’s tomb could be the greatest archaeological find of the 21st Century!
Today, Alexandria is the largest city in the Mediterranean, with a cosmopolitan population of over five million and long history of hospitality and commerce.
Borg El Arab International Airport, which has recently been expanded, is located 10km from the centre of the city. The airport has become an important link between Alexandria, Cairo and many countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa including Dubai, Beirut and Tunis. From the airport you can travel by taxi or train to your accommodations. Taxi will take around 1 hour and cost around £10. The train is slightly longer at around 1 hour 30 minutes but costs just £4.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), with an exchange rate of 1 pound Sterling to around 21 EGP. So, just divide any price by ten and then two to have a close approximation of the price in pounds.
When visiting Alexandria bring your walking shoes. Here are some of the coolest things to see:
- The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a modern incarnation of the ancient Library of Alexandria that was the most famous in the world. This modern building is a major cultural centre and includes three museums, four art galleries, manuscript libraries and a planetarium.
- Discovered by accident in 1900s, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are the largest known Roman burial site throughout Egypt. This interesting site consists of three tiers of tombs and chambers. It even contains early Christian burials. It is rare to see Egyptian, Roman and Greek art depicted all in one place, outside of a museum.
Souvenirs from Quibay are found on eBay!
- The Citadel of Quibay, a 15th-century fortress, now stands where the famous lighthouse was once located and was built from the stones of the ruin. Tour this Medieval fortress to discover magnificent views of the city and the sea.
- Serapeum of Alexandria is a not-to-miss historical landmark, built by Ptolemy III. This celebrated a new diety, Serapis who was a combination of Egyptian and Greek gods. Though mostly destroyed during in 391 CE a few of the original features have remained intact including the Pompey Pillar. Considered to be one the largest monolithic columns ever built; it is now flanked by two large sphinxes. Near here is where Alexander’s tomb is believed to lay.
- Sit inside the well-preserved remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, built in the 4th century but only discovered in the 1960s. Walk around the neighbourhood surrounding the amphitheatre to find other Roman relics.
- The Abu al-Abbas al- Mursi Mosque, built in the 13th century, contains the tomb of the Alexandrine Sufi saint. This temple is one of the most beautiful mosques in Egypt and one of the most revered.
- Visit the well-manicured gardens of Montazah Palace, over-looking the Mediterranean Sea. It is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
- Visit Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, one of the two remaining synagogues in Alexandria still continuing a proud tradition of Judaism in the city
This Mosque is more than Suf-cient.
- Walk, or rather swim the paths of Cleopatra herself with a visit to the Cleopatra Palace. Whilst most of these impressive archaeological ruins are underwater, you can join scuba tours that explore the submerged remains.
Stanley and deliver!
- Cross over the 400 metre long Stanley bridge, then stroll along the Alexandria Corniche promenade, running along the Eastern Harbour. It’s the perfect after-dinner activity to marvel at the sparkling views along the water’s edge.
- Visit the Souq district, located near Tahrir Square and weave your way through the bustling markets.
- Antique collectors will have a field day sifting through the Attareen Antique Market.
Here’s another Pro tip: Admirers will delight in a visit to the Royal Jewellery Museum, formerly the palace of the Egyptian royal family. Inside you’ll find enough diamonds and tiaras to fulfil even the grandest of royal dreams.
The city has a wonderful selection of Egyptian, Greek, Syrian, French and Lebanese cuisines and the freshest fish and seafood. Here are some of my recommendations for where to dine in Alexandria:
- For some of the city’s best local fish seafood head to one of Kadoura’s two locations. Select your fish from the ice-packed chest then have a seat and nibble on mezze while you wait for your selection to be cooked to perfection.
- Abou El Sid is known for its top-notch Egyptian cuisine and wonderful atmosphere, situated in the famous literary haunt of the Pastroudis Café. It is where to go for a quintessential Egyptian experience.
- Located within the Four Seasons Hotel and overlooking the Mediterranean, Byblos Restaurant is an exquisite dining experience, for Lebanese and Syrian cuisine with beautiful food and décor.
Nightlife in Alexandria is legendary and proves that you don’t need alcohol to have a fantastic time! Here are four recommendations on where to head after sunsets:
- Enjoy an evening of good food and drink plus entertainment at the Teatro Eskandariya. On any given night you’ll likely find the most creatives residents of the city gathered here, performing live music or theatre or showing off their latest paintings and artwork.
- The Neo Lounge is known for its beguiling belly dancers and great music. Everyone has a good time at the Neo!
- The Cap d’Or is one of the oldest and only remaining typical Alexandrian bars, captures the city’s cosmopolitan past. Dotted with ancient memorabilia, glimmering in the light from its stained-glass windows, this bar draws a crowd.
- Visit the Selsela Café, just across from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina for tea, shisha and a relaxing evening spent on the water.
Many of the hotels in Alexandria have a rich history and grandeur even though there are also major chains present. Here are three special hotels that I recommend:
- Steigenburger Cecil Hotel is a historic legend of Alexandria. Its bar has hosted Winston Churchill and the writer Lawrence Durrell. Refurbished with modern conveniences, the rooms are elegant and come with a seafront view.
- Stay at the gorgeous Edwardian Windsor Palace Hotel, built in 1907. Though the well decorated rooms are updated, the grand lobby and classic lifts retain a vintage feel. Opulent and elegant, this is a wonderful place to stay.
- The Romance Alexandria Hotel is in the Saba Pasha district between the Montaza Palace and the centre of the city. The hotel features a gourmet restaurant, bar and bustling nightclub.
Alexandria was good enough for Alexander the Great and Cleopatra, so it’s good enough for me. Enjoy this surprising gem of a city!