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Cairo - Facts for the traveller, when to go, events

Facts for the traveller for Cairo

The City Tower and Zamalek area at nighttime

When to Go to Cairo

Cairo has only two seasons: summer and 'not-summer'. Given the choice, you're far better off visiting during 'not-summer', a period that stretches roughly from September to April or May. January and February (10-20°C/50-68°F) can be overcast with the occasional shower, but the months immediately either side are comfortably warm, with daytime temperatures leavened by breezes. Between March and April, Cairo is occasionally subject to the khamseen, a dry and very dusty wind storm which blows in from the parched Western Desert at up to 150kph (93mph). During summer the city is insufferably hot (35-38°C/95-100°F) and grimy, though the relatively low humidity makes the heat bearable. Well-heeled Cairenes tend to sit out the summer up on the coast in Alexandria.

It's also worth considering the timing of the various Muslim festivals when planning your trip. During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, many businesses work half-days, museums and tourist sites shut early and many restaurants only open after sundown.

Cairo Events

Cairo's holidays and festivals are primarily Islamic or Coptic religious celebrations, although all holidays are celebrated equally by the entire population regardless of creed. In addition, moulids, a cross between a funfair and a religious festival, are celebrated with vigour. Lasting about a week, moulids involve Sufi zikrs (trance-like dances), snake charming, mass circumcisions, curing of the sick, sideshows, food and much more. Cairo celebrates three major moulids dedicated to Sayyida Zeinab, Al-Hussein and Imam as-Shafi. Check exact dates with locals.

In February/March the excellent Nitaq Festival brings theatre, poetry, music and art to Downtown Cairo. Each September, the International Experimental Theatre Festival hosts a vast array of international troupes, but loud complaints that censorship effectively stifles any experimentation compete with the applause meters. Come October the Pharaohs' Rally encourages international 4WD teams to tear up the desert around the Pyramids. The Arabic Music Festival in early November presents a raft of classical, traditional and orchestral programs at the Opera House. In early December, the Cairo International Film Festival attracts hordes of Cairenes with supposedly uncensored celluloid screenings of flicks - tickets for anything that hints at shots of exposed flesh sell out immediately.

Public holidays:

New Year's Day (1 January), Coptic Christmas (7 January), Eid al-Adha - the Great Feast (February), First Sunday in Lent (February), Ras as-Sana - Islamic New Year's Day (March), Sinai Liberation Day (25 April), Easter (March/April), Sham an-Nessim - Smell of the Breeze (March/April), May Day (1 May), Moulid an-Nabi - birthday of Mohammed (May/June), Revolution Day (23 July), Feast of the Assumption (15 August), National Day (6 October), Ramadan (Oct/Nov), Eid al-Fitr (Nov/Dec).

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