Egypt’s second city is a unique fusion of past and present. Our insider Yara Ahmed knows how to best experience it.
Knowing a city requires more than a guidebook and a visit to the local museums. It is walking the footsteps of its people, and integrating yourself in the very life cycle of the city. Roaming the paths handed to you by a tourist company or a guidebook is a dull and static experience.
Besides, Alexandria’s size and the way it’s structured make it relatively easy to explore, especially on foot. Walking along the sea-scented corniche can be highly addictive. Taking in the sweet breeze of the Mediterranean heightens your senses, encourages you to listen to the symphonies that the waves play along the shore, the footsteps of the early runners, and the whispered sweet nothings of lovers.
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In the upper part of the city a large portion of vacationers crowd the shores in the summer, with some families favoring Al Ma’moura beaches and the royal Montaza gardens to spend the morning playing football and roaming the gardens surrounding Al-Haramlik Palace. On the other side of town, the downtown area is full of relics of Alexandria’s rich history. The cosmopolitan history echoes in every nook and cranny of Fouad Street and El Raml Station area, and is engraved in its architecture.
Fouad Street is the cultural hub of Alexandria. With its mix of old and new restaurants and antique shops, it is a winding street of historical and cultural centers punctuated with Alexandria Creativity Center at Sherif Point. Branching off from Fouad Street is Nabi Daniel Street; a never-ending treasure hunt for book lovers. This old street with its copious amounts of used books has always been part and parcel of Alexandria. While in the area, pay a visit to Kom El Dikka; meander through the winding streets and be sure to look out for qahwet Sayed Darwish (coffee shop) where the Alexandrian-bred singer’s music still lingers.
A smattering of street vendors and quaint cafes, El Raml Station district is a downtown shopping area. It is better admired on foot allowing your senses to savor all the surrounding elements. Be sure to try foul and falafel (staples in Egyptian cuisine) at Mohamed Ahmed, a plate of sweet zalabia from a food cart or a cup of cold sugarcane juice. The streets are speckled with tiny shops, whose owners span over three generations. A compilation of churches and a synagogue, one of the few remaining in Egypt, act as reminders of the rich diversity of cosmopolitan Alexandria.
Further downtown, explore Al Mansheya, a hectic area overrun with shops of all sorts and wholesale prices; a haven for those who love to haggle. The Bahari district is another favorite of the locals, where the morning pulse of life can be felt in the ripple of fishing boat sails. Grab a ride in a hantour (horse carriage) and eat ice cream, Umm Ali and rice pudding from the shops scattered around the area or sweet potatoes from a street cart. Areas like Bahari lose their bustle well after midnight. When nearby, do not miss passing by the 13th century Al Mursi Abu El ‘Abbas Mosque. The area surrounding the mosque is rich with life, especially at night, when children chase each other, crowding over seesaws and begging their parents for treats of cotton candy.
Modern-day Alexandria is a unique fusion of its past and present. Wandering along its streets, you can glimpse a picture of the old city designed by Dinocrates of Rhodes interwined with a modern beautiful mess pushing to break free from the old. Walk through a market, ride a tram or walk down a completely random street. I am sure that this is the only way you can enjoy a genuine Alexandrian experience.
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