Known for its beautiful landscapes and cultural treasures, Egypt is one of the world’s most picturesque countries. It is the birthplace of civilization with the Nile river running through it and two seas flanking its coasts, but it is also home to a host of fascinating cities, Alexandria being one of them, so is it worth visiting?
Perfectly mixing ancient heritage with a Mediterranean atmosphere, Alexandria is a must-see destination. Fascinating ancient ruins are scattered around the city, surrounding a stunning harbor with all-year-round sunny weather. Alexandria has lured poets, novelists, and travelers with its unique blend of Middle Eastern and European culture for centuries. There’s no doubt it’s one of Egypt’s coastal jewels.
Alexandria promises a holiday that you will never forget and these seven crucial reasons to visit are sure to convince you of its allure. Mediterranean beaches, culture, and art, it’s all waiting to be explored. Let’s get started.
The Ancient Heritage
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Empire and founded Alexandria, which subsequently became the capital of Ptolemic Egypt, Roman Egypt, and Byzantine Egypt for over 1,000 years. For all you history junkies, Alexandria is a must-see location, but it can also transport any visitor back to a century gone.
Explore the city’s history in the national museum, wander the ancient ruins, learn about the millennia-old lighthouse, and take in all the traditional houses. There is a story behind every landmark in Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandra (Pharos) is actually one of the seven wonders of the world. The Great Library, too, is the largest of ancient times. Alexandria is a real historian’s playground.
On the eastern side of the Great Harbor, you’ll also find the Royal Palaces and the ridge of Lochias. Almost entirely submerged under the sea, Lochias (the modern Pharillon) was once believed to be the home of Cleopatra. Today it is an underwater historical site and one that you can visit by deep-sea-diving.
This wonderful city has more historical sites than can be described. Absorb the heritage as you walk, dine, or even dive in Alexandria. Without its breathtaking history, these still make for great holiday activities.
The Islamic Architecture
According to statistics, 90 percent of Egyptians identify as Muslim. The Islamic conquest of Egypt in roughly 640 AD, carried out by the Rashidun Caliphate, ended the seven century-long periods of Roman/Byzantine rule over Egypt, but Islam can be traced even further back in Egypt’s routes. And with Islamic influence comes amazing architecture.
Alexandria offers a wealth of Sufi relics and architectural treasures. Four main mosques stand in the city in honor of pious Sufi figures and Islam’s significant role in Alexandria’s history is clear from the named districts of Al-Nabii Danieal, Sidi Gaber, Al-Mursi Abul Abbas, and Al-Attarine.
The religious architecture in Alexandria might be much less celebrated than in Cairo, “The City of a Thousand Minarets”, but some of the mosques are much larger and more impressive than those in Cairo. Take a stroll through the decorated streets, and immerse yourself in the architecture of each century and reign. Discover Alexandria’s rich history and its perfect exquisite balance of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences through the religion.
The Mediterranean Sea
When we think of a Mediterranean holiday, Egypt is probably not the first place to come to mind. But this coastal city is unique in that it is fringed by the Mediterranean and shares the romantic, Wester European allure of cities like Florence and Marseille. There are plenty of city beaches and even better ones up the coast from Alexandria where you can cool off from the scorching heat when it gets too much in the city.
Still, the coastal breeze is a welcome relief in itself on hot summer days when you can stroll along the promenade, and capture pictures to savor the moment without melting under the midday sun like you would in sweaty Cairo.
It is not hard to find a waterfront scene that grabs your attention from every angle in Alexandria. Whether you’re people watching from the harbor cafes or counting boats that sweep into port. Alexandria also benefits from a fantastic sunset, made even better by the golden hour reflections in the crystal-clear waters.
There are ten miles of waterfront promenade in Alexandria, a major attraction that overlooks Abu Quir Bay and beyond. It defines the cityscape, starting at the Citadel of Qatbay and ending at the Biblioteca – a route that makes a great morning walk, although we wouldn’t recommend doing the whole thing.
The Corniche isn’t just about aesthetics though. It’s an entertainment zone as well. As the sun starts to go down, vendors set up along the road, playing music and bringing to life Alexandria’s festive atmosphere. You can dance over the large stone retaining blocks, throw a fishing line out for dinner, or relax on the pebbly beaches with a picnic.
All of Egypt’s cities are brimming with historical significance, bisected by the fertile Nile or met with white sand beaches and the infamous Red Sea. Still, what sets Alexandria apart is the slow pace of life that’s so different from the hectic capital.
There is an unexplainable calm in Alexandria, perhaps because there are far fewer tourists than in Cairo. You can enjoy local life as it passes you by without worrying about crowds of tourists, hassling vendors, and crazy traffic. Sometimes you might be asked for a photo and shot some stares by curious Egyptians, but that’s about it. Alexandrians are friendly and welcoming and a lot more laidback than city-slickers from Cairo.
The Mediterranean values of Alexandria contrast with the traditional values of inland Cairo and more southern regions along the Nile. You will find different perspectives of modern Egyptian life in Alexandria and Cairo, regardless of which city resonates with you. Both are must-sees, but Alexandria will be less of a culture shock.
The lure of the Mediterranean sea can calm anyone and the coastline is another constant reminder of the city’s historical significance, which echoes in the lull of the waves. There’s a holiday atmosphere here but it isn’t intense. Alexandria is the perfect place for you if you want to experience the relaxed side of Egypt while still ticking off some historical bucket list sites.
The Fantastic Food
Whenever you’re visiting a coastal town, the fish market is where it’s at when it comes to atmosphere and the best-tasting food. You can also find a seafood feast at Alexandria’s fish market, which has been in operation for over 200 years. The main market is located on the Corniche near the Citadel of Qaitbay and is open every day of the week.
The city is also no strange to upscale restaurants, many of which offer fabulous views of the coast which you can enjoy while sipping on a glass of imported wine in true Mediterranean fashion. Seafood of the highest quality may not be as expensive as you think here, too. Take the local route and choose the daily catch, cooked to your liking and delivered to your table – It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
Alexandria’s restaurant scene is one of the most dynamic in Egypt. Local favorites like Byblos, Athineos, or Al-Farouk Restaurant are excellent choices if you prefer a fusion of international and Egyptian favorites. It’s also worth mentioning that Alexandria is known for its literary cafes, such as Elite, which attracted young writers like D.H. Lawrence in the 1920s and helped afford the city its romantic reputation.
The Great Library
In its heyday, the Great Library of Alexandria was one of the largest libraries on earth and one of the most important learning centers on the planet. Even though many believe that Julius Caesar was responsible for burning the library to the ground, there were other factors at play as well. Nothing remains from the great library, not even an artist’s impression, but the Romans and Egyptians were fantastic documenters and we know of its existence from letters written as far back as 180 BC.
The legacy of the library was revived in 2002 when the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was opened in its place. This masterpiece of modern architecture aims not to mimic the past but to honor it. Against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, the new library stands tall with 11 stories and a distinct circular, contemporary design. The library has space for eight million books with its main reading room covering 20,000 square meters.
Today, you can visit the only remnants of the Old Library of Alexandria which are the magnificent storerooms that lay underground. Although spooky, it is humbling to honor the landmark that paved the way for worldwide education. Not just in scripture but in thought, mind, and human existence. The old library and the new are both places to understand ancient civilizations around the world.
There might be some misconstrued ideas about Egypt’s safety, and as with any developing country, there are some risks that come with traveling to Northeast Africa. However, Alexandria is one of the safest cities in the country, and Egypt is one of Africa’s safest countries. Petty crime is your biggest concern when visiting this coastal gem.
Pickpocketing and other small crimes occur everywhere, but if you stay alert and keep your belongings close, you’ll be fine. The small size of Alexandria compared to a city like Cairo means that crime is naturally lower, so holidaying here is a safer option.
Every year, many women travel safely to Alexandria without encountering any problems. The people of Alexandria are kind and welcoming and value tourism, so they will very threaten the prosperity it brings. You might receive some stares, but keep in mind that you are in a Muslim country and western behavior and dress codes can stand out.
It’s best to be as respectful of the culture as possible, and cover your shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites and even tourist attractions. You might even receive some verbal harassment or catcalls as a woman, but if you can ignore it, it will likely be harmless.
The most common crime in Alexandria is scamming. Never enter a taxi without negotiating the price first or booking through your hotel in advance. Though this can be more expensive, it could be worth it in the long run. In some museums, you could be told to wait till the museum opens and then taken to a shop or a family member’s for tea while you wait. Be warned that nothing is free. While these are generally harmless crimes, avoiding them could save you some time and money.
In Alexandria, serious crimes like muggings and violent attacks are rare. In such an instance, do not hesitate to scream “Harami” (which means criminal) and the lovely locals will likely rush to your aid.
How many days do you need in Alexandria?
Alexandria is a magical city and you could spend weeks exploring its traditional streets and historical attractions and still not see it all. Nevertheless, you can cover all the major sites and some more obscure ones to suit your personal fancy in three to four days. Alexandria is a must-see city, but if you don’t have time for a full holiday, a day trip or one-night stay from Cairo can still leave you with a great sense of its vibe.
Is Alexandria expensive?
Egypt is generally a much cheaper country than some Western European holiday hotspots and you can get a lot for your money in Alexandria. There aren’t many cosmopolitan sea-fronted cities that have such great deals and Alexandria is even cheaper than Cairo. You can get a budget meal for less than $5 and a three-course dinner in a mid-range restaurant for just $15. Budget accommodation starts from as little as $20 a night with vacation rentals starting around the same price. Alexandria is not expensive and a great option for shoestring travelers.
When is the best time to visit Alexandria?
Egypt is a notoriously scorching destination and summer holidays can be unbearable in Cairo and anywhere further south, but Alexandria is an anomaly. The coastal city is much cooler than the Red Sea coast and is one of the only places in the country that receives moderate rainfall in winter. Summers are by no means cold, but you don’t have to avoid them if you’re looking for a break that coincides with school holidays, otherwise, March to June, Alexandrian spring, is warm and pleasant with blues skies and off season discounts.