8 days in Egypt, 3 days in Athens...what to do?
August 24, 2008 2:48 PM   Subscribe

8 days in Egypt, 3 days in Athens...help with itinerary, please!

Posting for my non-mefi-account-having friend, who I'm very jealous of right now, lol:

"My wife and I are going to Athens for 3.5 days, 3 nights Dec 27th-Dec 30th, and Egypt for 8.5 days, 8 nights Dec 30th-Jan 7th, starting and ending in Cairo.

For Athens, we're pretty much set for the WHERE (one day trip to Delphi, the rest enjoying Athens, but would like specific, unusual things to check out and visit in those two places.

For Egypt, we're trying to figure it out. We know we'll be in Cairo through New Year's (any cool things to do on New Year's Eve?) and are considering just taking the overnight train and spending the rest of the time in Luxor and then a day trip to Alexandria at the end. Any other thoughts about what to do and/or where to go in this short time?

Probably will be our only time ever to Egypt, so we want to do as much as possible, but Greece we'll go again in the summer to see the islands."

We are on a moderate budget (would like to spend in and around $200-250 day, not including hotel) and are up for long days and odd experiences."
posted by citystalk to Travel & Transportation around Athens, Greece (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
could try Thorn Tree
posted by RufusW at 3:05 PM on August 24, 2008

Alexandria is always described as a daytrip possibility, but realistically the round-trip is around 6 hours train travel, and they are often picky at the station about which trains the tourists are allowed to take. I'd recommend against making Alexandria just a day trip; give it an overnight. The only thing I would add is that the weather in Alexandria in the winter is really, really miserable, so if you plan on going pack a winter coat and wear it.

You say you'll be in Cairo "through New Years". If I read this right, that means you will be there December 31th-January 1st. This is really, really not enough time for Cairo. Unless you hate large cities (Cairo is huge and daunting) and are only interested in Ancient Egypt, Cairo is worth exploring more.

All in all, you are a bit rushed. However, I would give yourself at least 3 days in Cairo: 1 day for exploring the Pyramids (if you can, make it down to see the "bent" Pyramid and Red Pyramid; they are fantastic and get zero tourists), 1 day for Coptic Cairo and the Egyptian Museum, and 1 day Islamic Cairo and Khan el-Khalili (the huge semi-covered bazaar near Al-Azhar Mosque) and then heading south to the Tentmaker's Bazaar (continuing onwards, if you like markets, to a normal Egyptian market with fruits, vegetables, meats, and everything else for sale).

Egyptians do not tend to do anything special for the standard Western New Years, although that is slowly changing. I heard some fireworks on New Years Eve, but less than for other holidays and moulids (Saints' festivals) during the year.

You will be there during harankash season. Apparently the fruit, also known as Cape Gooseberry, is indigenous to South America, but is very popular in Egypt. It's very tasty too, and tastes somewhat like a very sweet tomato. It will not be available in any stores, but any good fruit market in Cairo or Alexandria will have it.

At your budget, you will live like a king in Egypt. You can very easily eat quite well for around $10-15/person for dinner. Far, far less for lunch: if you are willing to risk street food (get your Hepatitis B vaccine shots!) you can have a massively filling lunch (3-4 sandwiches) for a dollar. You should also look into flights rather than an overnight train. You will not save that much money taking the train and the flights are very, very fast. I have generally had good luck with EgyptAir. Someone else may feel differently, however.

In Luxor you should absolutely arrange for a donkey ride; these are very fun and are a standard tourist item, so setting them up should be no problem. They're also well within the budget, again.

You really need to get good recommendations for food in Luxor. The places I went to (all recommended by the lady we stayed with) were really, really horrible. Thorntree might be a good resource for this, a guidebook might be another good choice. Avoid any place that remotely looks like a tourist place there, as my guess is they'll all be adjusted to the Western palette (read: flavorless). If you can find a small out-of-the-way joint with some nice fuul sandwiches, that would be perfect.

I'd also recommend they drink some tap water when they're in Cairo. It tastes terrible (mostly because of the chlorine), but it is safe, and every Egyptian says: when you drink from the Nile (which is where all water in Cairo comes from), you will return to Egypt. Egypt is really too wonderful to get only 8 days. It's worth coming back to. Things that they just don't have time to see that merit a second trip: traveling to suburban Cairo, going on a 2-3 days hike in the desert and eating fresh dates plucked from a palm tree in a Bedouin oasis, snorkeling in the Red Sea, and seeing the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean Sea from the Corniche in Alexandria (if they do visit Alex, the weather in January or February is generally too lousy for them to see it in its full beauty).
posted by Deathalicious at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2008

If they're into food, I have plenty of recommendations for dishes they should eat and restaurants they should visit...I'll just have to scour my long-term memory for them...
posted by Deathalicious at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2008

I should add: I lived in Cairo, so I am naturally prejudiced towards it. Luxor was indeed very beautiful, and the people there are very relaxed. Cairo is incredibly hectic and dirty, and the weather is not all that wonderful in winter. So really there is nothing wrong with rushing along to Luxor if the point is relaxation and fine weather. But it still breaks my heart.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:25 PM on August 24, 2008

One restaurant we loved in Athens is Cafe Abyssinia (Kynetou 7, Platia Avysinnias, Monastiraki), tucked away in a quiet square just off the loud and tacky flea market. Great food and staff. Ask them to recommend an ouzo, and try the octopus.

The Cycladic Art Museum's collection of their namesake art--geometric figures in white marble that could pass as modernist--is on the modest side, and you'll see other examples at the National Archeological Museum (which is essential). But the other exhibits (like the current one on the Russian Avant-Garde) and the connected nineteenth century mansion make it worth the trip.

You'll go to the Acropolis, of course. It gets very crowded so get there at 8 am when it opens. Plus it's nice to walk around the surrounding neighborhood of Plaka before the charm is obscured by the souvenir hawkers. Get the combined ticket, which gets you access to other ruins, which you can now explore at a leisurely pace. Don't miss the Temple of Olympian Zeus--it's breathtaking massive even though there's only a few fragments left.

If you find yourself in Plaka at dinnertime, we enjoyed Skholiarhio (Tripodhon 14, Plaka). AThey bring out a selection of mezedhes on a tray and you pick the ones you want. We went late and were the only non-Greeks there--a good sign in the touristy part of town.
posted by hydrophonic at 5:58 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Luxor is an absolute must in Egypt. Karnak, the Ramesseum, the valley of the kings. We did the west bank sights by hiring a bicycle - it's about 6 miles from the ferry stop to the valley of the kings so you can do a lot that way, and that time of year it's not so hot. At karnak, make sure you go right to the back: coach parties come in, see the big hall, turn round again. But there is so much more to it, and lots of quiet corners where you can see the colourful carvings preserved.

I found Cairo a bit mental - dirty smelly smoggy place - but you obviously have to do the pyramids. If you can,h get to the bent pyramid, that one was my favourite.

Athens I have only visited briefly: we did the obvious sites (the Parthenon/Acropolis and all the other things you can get to on the multi ticket) all of which were amazing, but we got a bit ancient-greeked out by the end of the day (the tickets give you 4 days to see them, but we only had the one day there...). I can however recommend the Turkish baths just around the corner from the Roman Agora. This was a very pleasant and cool break in the day - a bit of 16th century history in with all the really old stuff. The audio guide went on a bit but it was really very interesting.
posted by handee at 7:43 AM on August 25, 2008

Working at a client's today so not much time to write. I will tell you that I agree you should make Alexandria an overnight stop. And if you can get to the Siwa Oasis, DO GO. It's a long drive (about ten hours each way. Not sure if trains even go there.) but I had an amazing time there. While you're in Cairo, definitely make a stop at Al Fishawy for tea or a smoke in the bazaar. I went to the pyramids in the morning and it was uncrowded and cooler weatherwise (I didn't go inside). And here are other tips I gave to another poster a while ago.

If you would like to know a sample itinerary from when I went (I didn't take trains, though), I can probably give you one if you memail me.

I stayed in a nice hotel in the Plaka in Athens... perfect view of the ruins at night. Very cool. Had a nice time there but unfortunately I was also suffering from an ear injury at the time so I have forgotten the names of most of the places I went to. I was too distracted with feeling sorry for myself for being struck deaf on vacation (it's so... Biblical!).

Ok, back to work!
posted by miss lynnster at 2:53 PM on August 25, 2008

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