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is Alexandria worth visiting?

Is Alexandria Worth Visiting? 9 Reasons To Go

Egypt is unquestionably one of the world’s most incredible countries. Home to arguably the most stunning ancient sites on the planet, it’s carved through by the Nile River, has two coastlines on its sides, and rolling deserts covering its backcountry. When it comes to the cities, the northern port of Alexandria should be close to the top of your list. 

But why, exactly, is Alexandria worth visiting? That’s what this guide is all about. It will outline the mix of ancient heritage and modern buzz that goes on in this seaside metropolis, detail the allure of the forever-sunny weather, and showcase all the fantastic beaches and promenades that await.

By the time we’re done, there’s a good chance you’ll be shifting those hotel searches from Cairo and Luxor to this salt-washed town on the Med, looking forward to sunny cafes and stories of Alexander the Great, sunbathing sessions and some of the tastiest seafood in the country. Let’s begin…

The Ancient Heritage

Qaitebai castle
Photo by twenty20photos on Envato Elements

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

minaret in Egypt
Photo by Sumit Mangela on Unsplash

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

The Mediterranean Sea
Photo by twenty20photos on Envato Elements

Alexandria is the gateway to the Egyptian Mediterranean. Facing the island of Cyprus and the beaches of southern Turkey over the water, it’s got some of the finest sands in the home of pharaohs and shisha pipes. You’ll find them both in the middle of the city itself but also on the outskirts, stretching for hundreds of miles to the east and – mostly – the west.

For starters, there are 10 miles of waterfront promenade in Alexandria. The whole thing is 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, though you’ll need energy and good shoes to complete 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.

The more famous sands lie just beyond the very heart of the city, though. They include the likes of:

  • Cleopatra Beach – A little patchwork of rocky reef washed over by see-through waters and rock stacks. A very famous sunset spot and fantastic for fishing. Not the best for swimming or sunbathing.
  • El Maamoura Beach – Long, sandy El Maamoura Beach is the closest resort-style area to the heart of Alexandria. It’s known for its fantastic seafood restaurants.
  • Aida Beach – Our favorite of the beaches to the west of town, Aida Beach has thatched umbrellas, beige sand, and big hotels. It’s sorta’ like a classic European beach resort. 

The Atmosphere

boats in harbor
Photo by Flo P on Unsplash

All of Egypt’s city’s have something unique and amazing going for them. There’s the winding Nile and the great tombs of Luxor. There are the soaring Pyramids and old Coptic areas of Cairo. But what is it that makes Alexandria stand out? Well…it’s chilled!

Yep, 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 by without worrying about crowds of tourists, hassling vendors, and crazy traffic. What’s more, Alexandrians are generally friendly and welcoming and a lot more laidback than the busy 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, more influenced by Europe and the Levant to the north.

Finally, this is a coastal city at heart. The lure of the Mediterranean Sea can calm anyone. You’ll be able to hear the lull of the waves from just about anywhere in the town. 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

Egyptian bazaar
Dried figs and dried apricots on Egyptian bazaar

Whenever you’re visiting a coastal town, the fish market is where it’s at when it comes to the best-tasting food. And so it is that you can 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 stranger 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, either. Take the local route and choose the daily catch, cooked to your liking and delivered to your table – it’s typically done simply, with olive oil, lemon, and some herbs.

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 garner the city its romantic reputation.

The Great Library

Great Library of Alexandria
Photo by mohamed maged on Unsplash

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. Founded way back in the 3rd century BC (that’s 2,300 years ago), it attracted some of the greatest intellectuals in the ancient world, and stocked seminal texts by the likes of Aristotle, Galen, and others. 

Sadly, the library fell into decline because of political upheavals in the 1st century BC. There were purges of the learners and teachers. The final nail in the coffin was a fire set by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Ancient writers tell of how it destroyed the Egyptian fleet and spread to the library, destroying 40,000 priceless ancient scrolls in the process.

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.

The Safety

Alexandria cityscape
Photo by twenty20photos on Envato Elements

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 overall. 

In fact, stats show that petty crime is likely to be 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 should 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 very highly, meaning visitors tend to have a special place in their hearts. 

It’s best to be as respectful of the culture as possible. That means covering your shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites and even tourist attractions. There have also been some reports of verbal harassment against females, particularly western females who aren’t dressed appropriately around key sites.

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.

The cost

Alexandria city view
Photo by Envato Elements

Alexandria shouldn’t push your travel budget to the limit. While some folks coming down Egypt way opt to splash the cash on luxury Nile cruises and whatnot, this city offers a chance to keep costs down. In fact, the stats show that the cost of living here is something like 80% less than New York City, 91% lower than Stockholm, and even less than a number of cities in India and Bangladesh. Let’s break it down…

The cost of food is a good place to start. You’ll fork out around 90 EGP (that’s a mere $2.90) for a meal-deal in a fast-food chain here. But it’s even less to eat at local places. Street food, for example, averages just $0.5/plate, while sit down meals tend to come in at between $5-10 a head.

Hotels are still likely to be the biggest expense in Alexandria overall, but they’re just a fraction of what they cost on the opposite, northern, side of the Med. We’re talking $32-40 for a night in a very good midrange hotel, perhaps even with a sea view. For the height of luxury in one of the bigger resorts outside of town, you’ll need something like $100/night, which is still very moderate for a five-star hotel.

Overall, we’d guess that you’ll need something around $90-100/day to cover ALL your costs in Alexandria – accommodation, food, entertainment, and transport. That’s a whole load less than you’d need in much of Europe, and cheaper than other big cities in Egypt to boot.

The amazing day trips

Mosque in Cairo
Photo by Envato Elements

Just because you’re planning a city break to Alexandria, doesn’t mean you’re totally limited to the city. Perched on the eastern edge of the Nile Delta, the town is perfectly placed for making excursions into northern Egypt and along the Mediterranean coast.

Perhaps some of the mainstay draws of the country – Luxor, the Valley of the Kings – are a touch too far to go. But you do have a whole host of more off-the-beaten-track things to get stuck into, including…

  • El Alamein – Military history buffs should be certain to make a detour to El Alamein. In the sun-baked desert about 72 miles to the west of town, it was the site of major WWII tank battles. There’s now a memorial to the dead and the informative El Alamein War Museum.
  • The Giza Pyramids – Yep, you can visit the iconic Pyramids from Alexandria. The transfer takes about 2.5 hours, so you will need to leave early. On the plus side, a day trip to Cairo’s amazing wonders mean you can stay on the Med and not worry about booking hotels in the vast capital.

Marina – One for the beach lovers and the sun seekers, Marina is the major resort area that sprawls out to the west of Alexandria. It will take about an hour to get here from the city, but it’s all lazing and swimming and soaking up the rays once you arrive.

Is Alexandria worth visiting? Our conclusion

Alexandria might not be such a popular spot as Cairo (which is known for the Pyramids) and Luxor (the gateway to the Valley of the Kings) but it’s certainly worth a visit. This town is flanked by long runs of shimmering sand and clear Mediterranean waters, along with countless hotels by the sea. You should also be pleased to hear that it’s super cheap – a budget of $90 a day goes a long, long way here. Finally, it’s a city that artfully fuses the old and the new, with buzzy promenades abutting museums that chronicle more than 2,500 years of history.

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. 


Founder of the Travel Snippet blog, travel and nature lover. I share with you all my best tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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