Elisa Sednaoui’s Guide to Cairo

The lowdown on the city’s best spots

bySarah Ben Romdane

Think of Egypt, and the majestic Pyramids of Giza surely come to mind. But Cairo—Egypt’s capital and Africa’s biggest city—has much more to offer.


People say that New York never sleeps, but wait until you visit Cairo. Its electric energy is unrivalled. With Cairo’s bustling souk, its hectic streets and grand boulevards, its ancient mosques and Coptic churches (which hinge on the tranquil but stately Nile) it’s no wonder the city is often referred to as the “mother of the world”.


Actress, model and activist Elisa Sednaoui spent the first five years of her life in Cairo, and has kept strong, sentimental ties with the city ever since. “Cairo is a part of me”, says Sednaoui.


Her love of her native city is in part why she has dedicated the majority of her time to developing Funtasia (her eponymous foundation, which functions both as an educational curriculum development and community-based implementer). “It is still a rare occurrence to find education that does not only teach academic content and specific skills, but supports young people in teaching them how to find creative solutions to life challenges, how to make their own choices, how to live as a contributing member of a local and global community or to empower them to realize their full potential”, she says.


We caught up with Sednaoui to find out her favourite local spots to eat, hang, shop and check out art.



Where to Eat


Abu El Sid, Zamalek


Authentic Egyptian food served in a retro, kitsch-meets-oriental-inspired décor. A classic.




Zooba, Zamalek


For simple, fresh and contemporary Egyptian street food.




Taboula, Garden City


Best Lebanese spot in this residential area.




Felfela, Downtown


Where you’ll find the best ta’ameya – Egypt’s famous falafel made of fava beans.




Abou Tarak, Downtown


The Koshary—Egypt’s traditional street food dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils—is so good and cheap; the restaurant recently got featured on CNN.


Helwan, Al Inshaa WA Al Munirah, El-Sayeda Zainab, Cairo Governorate, Egypt


Birdcage, Semiramis InterContinental Hotel, Garden City


Excellent Asian-fusion food in a beautiful hotel facing the Nile.




Makino, Hilton, Zamalek


If you’re into sushi, that’s you’re spot.




Mezcal, Zamalek


Mouthwatering Latin American-fusion food. The ceviche is a must have.





Where to Hangout


Aperetivo, Zamalek


A popular nightspot in Cairo, great for cocktails.




The Roof, Kempinski Nile Hotel


Probably Cairo’s best rooftop, overlooking the Nile. Great for a late afternoon swim and drink.




Sequoia, Nile


Ever dreamt of sipping wine literally by the Nile?




Infinity Pool, Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah


Most beautiful pool hands down.




Makan, Egyptian Centre for Culture and Arts


A great place to catch live music.




Diwan Bookstore, Zamalek


Original colouring books can be found there.




Elle Salon


Egyptian hairdressers are the best. Tager Gamil from Elle Salon understands my hair like no other. Treat yourself a blow dry like a real Cairene would do.







Gypsum, Garden City


Cairo’s best contemporary art spot, which showcases international and multidisciplinary artists who engage with social, political themes.




Wissa Wassef Art Centre


A centre celebrating traditional craftsmanship like tapestry, pottery and batik.





Where to Shop




The best quality linen and apparel like fun travel bags, towels or pyjamas,




Vartan jewellery, Zamalek


Where I have tailor-made in gold my eldest son’s name in Arabic calligraphy.



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