LivingTravelAlexandria Travel Guide: Essential Facts and Information

Alexandria Travel Guide: Essential Facts and Information

A city steeped in history and legend, Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. It overlooks the Mediterranean at the eastern end of the Nile Delta and served as the capital for four different civilizations. As a center of Hellenistic learning and culture, it was home to iconic ancient landmarks such as the Great Library, the Necropolis, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The latter was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Today these buildings have disappeared, but Alex is still an important industrial center and seaport. It is the second largest city in Egypt after Cairo and has a lot to tempt visitors and locals alike.

History of Alexandria

After its founding, Alexandria grew rapidly, so that only a century later, it was the largest city in the world and only surpassed by Rome. It attracted artists and scholars from all over the Mediterranean and was home to important Greek and Jewish communities. During Roman times, the Patriarchate of Alexandria was one of the most important centers of early Christianity and the city served as the capital of Egypt for more than 1,000 years.

Alex lost its capital status during the Muslim conquest of 642 AD, but it remained an important maritime and commercial base until the 15th century. The 16th century brought epidemic diseases to the city and a period of administrative neglect led to rapid decline. When the French invaded Egypt in the late 18th century, little of Alexandria’s ancient grandeur remained. However, the following century saw a revival in the city’s fortunes thanks to the burgeoning cotton industry, and today it is once again key to the Egyptian economy.

Things to do

National Museum of Alexandria

People interested in the history of the city should start their tour at the National Museum of Alexandria. Housed in the Italian Al-Saad Bassili Pasha Palace, the museum guides visitors through ancient Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras with a series of fascinating artifacts spread over three floors. These include Roman statues and collections of ancient coins and jewelry.

Library of Alexandria

The legendary Great Library of Alexandria may have been destroyed long ago, but this modern reinterpretation is a worthy successor. In addition to the library itself, the building houses four museums, a planetarium, and art exhibitions, workshops, and regular events. Of particular interest is the Museum of Antiquities. Here visitors can view Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine artifacts discovered during excavation of the museum site.

Fort Qaitbey

This impressive fortress stands at the end of the narrow peninsula from which the Alexandria lighthouse once protected the eastern harbor. Rubble from the original lighthouse was incorporated into the fortress during its construction in the 15th century. Today it houses a naval museum and visitors can explore its labyrinthine halls and towers before admiring the stunning views of the harbor from its ramparts.

The Corniche

The Corniche is a scenic walkway that runs the length of the eastern harbor. It encapsulates the essence of the modern city and you will find tourists and locals enjoying the ocean views, sipping fresh seafood in beachfront restaurants, and photographing 19th and early 20th century architecture. Of particular interest is the Hotel Cecil, which was the headquarters of Winston Churchill and the British Secret Service during World War II.

Come el-Dikka

When the builders began laying the foundation for an apartment block on this site, known as the “Mound of Rubble,” they had no idea what they would find underneath. Now, the remains of the only Roman amphitheater in Egypt are open to the public, along with the 2nd-century Villa of the Birds. The latter is famous for a remarkably intact floor mosaic complete with beautiful peacocks, pigeons, and parrots.

Where to stay

Alexandria has hotels for all budgets. For 5-star luxury, opt for the Four Seasons or Helnan Palestine. The former is the top-rated hotel on TripAdvisor and offers an oceanfront resort-style setting with opulent oceanfront rooms and suites. The latter is located next to the tranquil Montaza Park and features a beach spa, swimming pool and several world restaurants. The 4-star Steigenberger Cecil Hotel is an excellent choice for history enthusiasts. It sits directly on the Corniche and has hosted the likes of Agatha Christie, Henry Moore, and Al Capone.

Travelers on a tighter budget will find clean and comfortable accommodations at Alexander the Great Hotel. Located a short distance from the Cavafy Museum and Kom el-Dikka, it has 29 air-conditioned rooms, all with private bathrooms and satellite TV.

Where to eat

Greek, Italian, Lebanese, American and Japanese restaurants sit shoulder to shoulder in cosmopolitan Alex. For an authentic Egyptian experience, head to Balbaa Village, where fresh seafood is cooked to order on open grills. Expect to eat with your fingers at the noisy crowded tables. The upscale Sea Gull Restaurant serves fine seafood and Mediterranean classics in a more refined setting, while Byblos is a favorite choice for gourmet Lebanese cuisine. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Delices, a former tea and pastry room loved for its cakes since 1922.

Get there

Many visitors choose to fly into Borg El Arab International Airport (HBE), which is 40 kilometers southwest of Alexandria city center. It is possible to take a connecting flight from Cairo, the main tourist cities of the Red Sea and various places in the Middle East, Greece and Turkey. When arriving at the airport, the only way to get to the center of Alex is by taxi.

Several bus companies (including West & Mid Delta Bus Company and Superjet) travel to Alexandria from other destinations in Egypt. From Cairo, buses run to Alexandria almost every hour until midnight. It is also possible to take a train from the capital’s long-distance Ramses station. Once you get to Alex, use taxis, trams, buses, or Uber to get around.

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