Although the heat of August may scare some, in most cases that discomfort is forgotten when you are visiting all the attractions of Cairo. From the pyramids to its fantastic museum, through the Coptic quarter or the Citadel of Saladin, every corner of the city hides unforgettable corners for the traveler.
August is part of the low season for international tourism, but you will find many local tourists during these dates. Regardless of the origin, Cairo offers during these dates some worthwhile events, such as a fantastic festival in an incomparable setting to one of the few traditions from the time of the pharaohs.
1. Attends the Saladin Citadel Music Festival
One of the highlights of the month of August in Cairo is this music festival held in a truly unbeatable setting, the Citadel of Saladin. For a couple of weeks every year, the Cairoites who have endured in the city despite the heat and many visitors flock to this place to attend a series of concerts and performances when night falls.
Until a few years ago, the festival only hosted Egyptian musicians, but nowadays it has started to book artists from all over the Arab world as well. Normally, although you should check the official schedule, there are a couple of concerts a day, the first at 8:00 pm and the next at 10:00 pm.
The venue of this festival deserves a special mention. A visit to the Saladin Citadel is a must for anyone who has traveled to Cairo. Inside its walled enclosure you will be able to see monuments such as the impressive Gawhara Palace, the military museum, the mosque of Sultan Hassan or the mosque of Ibn Tulun, among others.
If you go to the concerts I recommend you try to get close to some of the higher areas of the citadel to admire the great views it offers.
Tickets for the festival are also quite inexpensive, costing only about 5 Egyptian pounds, that is, just about 30 cents.
2. Go to the river to see the celebration of the Wafaa al-Nil Festival.
Those in Cairo on August 15 will have the opportunity to witness one of the few celebrations in Egypt that originated during the time of the Pharaohs. Wafaa al-Nil, the "bride of the Nile", is a festival related to the Nile River and is celebrated along its entire length.
According to legend, in ancient times the Egyptians sacrificed a young virgin by throwing her into the Nile to ask the gods to provide them with good harvests. Today, the tradition continues, but, logically, the woman has been replaced by a wooden or clay doll that is dressed as a bride.
In addition, various events are held on the banks of the river on this day, both in Cairo and in other localities. Among the most interesting are musical concerts, poetry sessions or, if you dare, painting contests.
3. Take a short evening cruise on the Nile with dinner included
Although it is possible to take a cruise on the Nile during the day, my advice is that if you have traveled in August you should opt for those that leave at sunset. Not only to avoid the heat that you would spend on deck if you go when the sun is shining, but also to enjoy a different view of the illuminated city and, perhaps, the stars above your head.
Such cruises, with a short but interesting journey, usually include a typical Egyptian dinner, either buffet style or prepared on the spot by a wonderful chef. On most occasions, there is also entertainment on board, especially belly dancing performances or traditional music played live.
4. Attend a performance at the Arabian Music Festival
In addition to visiting monuments such as the Egyptian Museum or bazaars like Khan el Khalili, visiting Egypt is also a way to get to know its culture. In early August, those interested in learning about Arab music have the opportunity to attend one of the concerts of this festival.
During the days of the festival, Cairo hosts the best artists from Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. The event is organized by the prestigious Opera House, although the performances take place at the Giza Exhibition Center, in the neighborhood where the pyramids are located.
5. Sound and light show at the pyramids
I am sure that one of the first things you will do in Cairo is to take a tour of the pyramids, either on your own or guided. However, I suggest you go to this area at night to see one of the greatest shows in the world: the sound and light show at the pyramids themselves.
At the times when the different sessions take place the temperatures will have dropped a lot and you will surely be more comfortable than when you go to see the pyramids during the day. This, although important, is not the best thing about attending this show, since you will be amazed by the images projected with laser beams while you learn some history.
The images are projected on the walls of the pyramids themselves as well as on the walls of the temple of the Mummification and on the sand of the desert, creating an enveloping sensation. Meanwhile, the mysterious voice of the Sphinx narrates various episodes of ancient Egyptian history and, of course, the construction of the pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs.
To go to see the sound and light show you can do it on your own (buying the ticket at the box office) or hiring a guided tour that includes them. The latter is, in my opinion, the best option if your hotel is not in the pyramids area.
Although the narration is in English, at the ticket office you will be given a headset that you can program to listen to it in Spanish. Once you enter you will have to go to a kind of open-air theater set up for the occasion.
In August you will be able to choose between three different times every day of the week: 19:30, 20:30 and 21:30.
6. Take an excursion to Alexandria to attend the International Summer Festival
The coastal city of Alexandria is a great destination for an excursion from Cairo, especially in August because the temperature is a little more pleasant. Really, it is a town that always deserves to be visited, but if you go at this time you can attend its most important cultural event: the International Summer Festival at the Alexandrina Library.
The Alexandrina is intended to be the successor of the famous library of Alexandria of the ancient world, which was said to house a copy of all published books and was destroyed in a fire. The current one is located right on the seafront* and, if you can, I recommend you go to see it when its wonderful night lighting is turned on.
The festival is usually held in the second half of August. It features performances by all kinds of artists, both Egyptian and international. One of its attractions is the mix of styles, as you can find from classical performances to Egyptian rock groups, through puppet theater or ballet.
Even if you can't stay long enough to attend the festival (which would probably force you to stay overnight), a visit to Alexandria is still very interesting.
In addition to its pleasant promenade, this ancient port city offers multiple attractions to its visitors, such as the Abu al-Abbas al Muni Mosque, the National Museum of Alexandria or some remains of Cleopatra's palace.
How to get from Cairo to Alexandria
The easiest and most comfortable way to get there is to hire one of the excursions to Alexandria departing from Cairo. You will be able to choose between several options: by car or by bus, one day or one night stay, etc.
Another option, although quite expensive, is to hire a cab driver for a whole day. The trip is about 3 hours, so, in addition to the price, you will have to adjust the schedule very well so that the stay in the city is not too short if you want to return to Cairo to sleep.
More economical is the train option. Almost every hour from 6:00 there is a train leaving from Midan Ramses station. You can find tickets from less than 3 €.
Finally, there are also many buses that make this route. The most convenient company (because of where their station is located in Cairo) is Go Bus. The departure point is on one of the sides of Tahrir Square and in Alexandria they drop you off about 6 kilometers from the Alexandrina Library, so you will probably have to take a cab. The price is a few cents more expensive than the train.
7. Spend a few hours relaxing in Al Azhar Park.
One of the things that many miss in Cairo, especially when the August heat begins to consume their strength, is a green area in which to spend some time. Well, right in the center of the city, among its most populated districts, you will find a real oasis: Al Azhar Park.
This garden of almost 1 kilometer long was designed following the traditional Islamic geometry for this type of spaces. Inside you will be able to enjoy several fountains, a large lake and several streams of water that together create a pleasant and cooler environment than in the middle of the horrible traffic of Cairo.
In addition, the whole complex is full of various plant species (almost 325 varieties of plants), although the palm trees stand out, of course. If you go with children, the park also has a playground for them.
As if all the above were not enough, from the park you will have spectacular views of the Citadel of Saladin and the mosque of Mohamed Ali. If you go after sunset, you can see these monuments beautifully illuminated.
Of course, it could not miss an area with restaurants, such as several cafes, a bakery and a great restaurant.
The park is open daily in August between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and admission is only about 50 euro cents.
8. Take a tour of several mosques and escape the outdoor heat
According to many experts, Cairo is the city with the best examples of Islamic architecture in the world. The best example is undoubtedly its spectacular mosques.
In addition to their artistic and religious interest, these mosques are perfect to escape for a while from the heat and bustle outside. Inside, due to the characteristics of its construction, it is usually much cooler, so they are a perfect visit for the month of August. Here are four of the most important ones:
- Mohamed Ali Mosque: also called Alabaster Mosque by the material with which its lower floors were covered, this temple is located in an elevated area within the Citadel of Saladin. Inside you will find a tranquility that will make you forget that you are in a bustling city like Cairo.
- Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrasa: this temple of medieval origin is still an active mosque today. After taking off your shoes to enter, I recommend you find a place to sit and enjoy the peace of the place.
- Ibn-Tulun Mosque: it is considered the oldest example of Muslim art in Egypt, as it was completed in 879. Its enormous size makes it the third largest mosque in the world.
- Al-Azhar Mosque: in addition to its architectural value, the Al-Azhar Mosque (which houses an Islamic university) is one of the most important religious centers of Sunni Islam. With its mixture of styles, it is an essential visit to understand the country.
9. Take a horseback ride around the pyramids at dusk
I am sure that when you have visited the pyramids you will have seen many Egyptians offering camel or horseback rides in the area. In August, because of the heat, I don't recommend that you accept the offer during the day, but wait until the evening for the experience.
Both the horses and yourself will be in a better position when the temperatures have dropped somewhat and there are usually fewer tourists in the area and you will be able to go more relaxed.
If you do not go on a tour that includes this ride or with a guide to guide you, I advise you to ask at your hotel what is the normal price of the activity. Then, when negotiating with the owner of the animal, you will have to decide what is your limit to accept the offer.
10. Go out and enjoy the night in Cairo
Life in Cairo during the month of August seems to wake up as the afternoon progresses. As the heat begins to subside, the streets become even more crowded and locals and tourists alike sit out on the terraces to relax and have a drink. If you want to make the most of a night on the town, you'll find more options than you think, including some western-style nightclubs.
In some cases, the difference between a club, a bar or even a restaurant is not very clear, since all of them offer food and drink. For those who want peace and quiet, a good place is Midan al-Hussein, while jazz lovers have an unmissable date at the fantastic Cairo Jazz Club.
On the other hand, almost all hotels have their own bars or nightclubs. The most popular places are Harry's Pub, inside the Cairo Marriott Hotel; the Windows on the World, in the Ramses Hilton; the Sultan Bar, in the Mena House; and Jackie's Joint, belonging to the Nile Hilton.
Weather in Cairo in August
It is always advisable to check the weather forecast shortly before traveling, but I warn you that you will find few surprises. August, along with July, is the hottest month of the year, with average highs reaching 35 ° C and an average minimum (to call them somehow) of 24 ° C.
This obviously implies that you should pack cool cotton clothes, a hat for your head and sun protection. The most important thing is to stay hydrated at all times, so carry a bottle of water with you and drink frequently even if you don't feel thirsty.