Egypt is an extraordinary country, brimming with captivating destinations and awe-inspiring historical landmarks that transport you through the centuries. However, beyond its ancient wonders, Egypt boasts a vibrant modern side that embraces diverse culinary experiences.
Amidst this fusion of old and new, Egypt proudly cherishes its own timeless cafés and restaurants that have become true icons over the years. The historic cafés and restaurants in Cairo hold countless stories within their walls and provide a platform for spirited conversations about culture and politics, much like they did in the past.
For those yearning to savour the flavours of bygone eras or perhaps indulge in a cup of coffee from an ancient mug, we have curated a comprehensive list of the most iconic cafés and restaurants in Cairo for you to explore.
Prepare to embark on an affordable culinary journey that unveils the rich tapestry of Egypt’s past and present.
1. Qahwet El Fishawy – Khan El Khalili (1796)
El Fishawy, a renowned café situated in the iconic Khan El Khalili Bazaar, has a rich history that dates back to the late 18th century. Surpassing the test of time, El Fishawy proudly holds the title of being one of the oldest cafés in Cairo. Just a year prior to Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Egypt, in 1797, this establishment first opened its doors to the public.
Originating in a humble alleyway over 240 years ago, El Fishawy began its journey by serving coffee to a few close friends after evening prayers. This humble tradition evolved into a renowned establishment, gaining recognition for its exceptional coffee and exquisite shisha offerings. Today, the legacy of El Fishawy is upheld by Akram El-Fishawy, the seventh generation to manage this treasured coffee house.
Throughout its extensive history, this café has attracted an impressive array of notable patrons, including the likes of Napoleon himself and Naguib Mahfouz, an iconic figure in the Egyptian literary sphere during the 20th century. As you step into El Fishawy, you embark on a journey that seamlessly weaves together history, culture, and the finest traditions of Egyptian hospitality.
2. Groppi – Downtown Cairo (1891)
Founded in 1891 by the esteemed Swiss chocolatier Giacomo Groppi, Groppi holds a rich history of delighting Middle Eastern monarchs and influential figures, including Pashas. Widely regarded as one of the region’s most acclaimed tearooms, Groppi cultivated a reputation that reached far beyond its borders.
Its iconic chocolates were bestowed upon foreign dignitaries, revered royals, and esteemed celebrities, solidifying its status as a symbol of luxury and indulgence. Recognised as a trailblazer in culinary innovation, Groppi proudly claims to have introduced the delectable delights of Chantilly cream and ice cream to Egypt, tantalising the taste buds of its lucky patrons.
Demonstrating their progressive ethos, Groppi also holds the distinction of being the first chocolatier in Egypt to provide employment opportunities to women, breaking barriers and paving the way for a more inclusive workforce.
3. Bayt Zeinab Khatoon – Darb Ahmar (1486)
Welcome to Beit Zeinab Khatoon, a hidden gem nestled in the enchanting Darb Ahmar area of Old Cairo, just a stone’s throw away from the bustling Moez Street. Steeped in history, this captivating oasis was first constructed in 1486 during the Mamluk era and later embellished during the glorious Ottoman period. Its appellation, Zeinab Khatoon’s House, pays homage to its final custodian, the illustrious Zeinab Khatoon, who was none other than the esteemed wife of Prince Al-Sharif Hamza Al-Kharboutly.
Zeinab Khatoon, a remarkable and fearless woman, played a pivotal role in the annals of Egypt’s legacy. In a profoundly audacious act, she fearlessly opened her cherished sanctuary to the valiant warriors wounded in the Egyptian resistance against Napoleon’s tyrannical French occupation in 1798. A beacon of resilience and compassion, she provided solace and shelter to these brave soldiers, forever etching her name in the chronicles of heroism.
Here, amidst the very walls that bore witness to Zeinab Khatoon’s noble deeds, a quaint café transports you to an era steeped in elegance. Indulge in the age-old tradition of shisha as you sip upon fragrant teas and coffees, all while marvelling at the exquisite craftsmanship that adorns this time-honoured space.
4. Ali Baba Café – Downtown Cairo
Ali Baba Café is a timeless gem nestled in the bustling city of Cairo. Founded as a bar by a spirited Greek woman, its journey took an enchanting turn when an Egyptian visionary breathed new life into it in 1968. With unwavering determination, they transformed it into a captivating café, which bloomed into its prime during the vibrant 1970s.
Distinguished luminaries, such as the celebrated author Naguib Mahfouz, frequented this cherished establishment, leaving behind an indelible mark on its walls and stories that still whisper in the air. Today, the first floor proudly boasts a delectable restaurant experience, while the café, perched on the second floor, offers a haven of inspiration and elegance.
Tucked away within this exquisite space lies a corner infused with the essence of Mahfouz himself, a cherished spot from where he once pondered, overlooking Tahrir Square.
5. Café Riche – Downtown Cairo (1908)
Café Riche, located in downtown Cairo, holds the distinction of being the most renowned restaurant and bar in the area. But it’s not just its popularity that makes it stand out – it boasts a fascinating history that has left an indelible mark on Egyptian society. Throughout the years, this iconic establishment has played host to an array of historical revolutionaries, intellectuals, and prominent figures.
Café Riche has witnessed the stories of great love and passion. It was within these walls that King Farouk of Egypt first laid eyes on his second wife, Nariman Sadek, igniting a romance that would captivate the nation. Another iconic moment in the history of Café Riche was the breathtaking performance of the beloved singer Umm Kalthoum in 1923, an event that echoed throughout the ages.
Additionally, this illustrious venue served as the backdrop for the strategic planning of the 1952 revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, an event that reshaped the destiny of Egypt. And it is not just political and cultural luminaries who were drawn to Café Riche – creative minds like Naguib Mahfouz. In fact, Mahfouz’s renowned novel, “Karnak Café,” draws heavily on the stories and clientele of this very place.
6. Abou Haidar – Heliopolis (1968)
More than 50 years ago, a remarkable man named Mohamed Rabah Sherif, known as Abou Haidar, embarked on a culinary adventure by opening a humble street stall in the vibrant area of Roxy, where he introduced the exquisite taste of mouth-watering Syrian shawarma to the locals. The stall became an instant sensation, acquiring legendary status within the neighbourhood. When Abou Haidar sadly passed away, his four devoted children courageously stepped in to carry on his legacy, striving to preserve the stall’s authenticity and honouring their father’s unwavering vision.
Unlike most establishments, Abou Haidar made a bold choice: they remained true to their roots, steadfastly declining the option of home delivery. For half a century, the only way to savour this delectable delight is by personally venturing to the stall and collecting your savoury shawarma sandwich. In an era defined by convenience and instant gratification, Abou Haidar’s refusal to yield to modern conveniences and adhere to their traditional principles is truly admirable.
Moreover, Abou Haidar has stood firm on another principle, resisting the temptation to branch out and expand their enterprise beyond their original location. This unwavering dedication to their humble beginnings exemplifies a commendable commitment to their values. We can’t help but admire their resolve.
7. Cheristo Restaurant – El Haram (1930)
In a surprising twist, Cairo’s oldest seafood restaurant stands proudly at the foot of the majestic pyramids. Embark on a gastronomic journey at Cheristo, where a delightful surprise awaits you. Nestled across from the illustrious Marriott Mena House, this hidden gem boasts a second-story outdoor terrace, offering unparalleled pyramid views that will leave you in awe.
As the colder months approach, seek solace by securing a table near the window, allowing you to savour both the culinary wonders and the breathtaking landscape. Cheristo has solidified its position as a beloved family tradition for Friday lunches over the past century.
Moreover, marking a new milestone, they have recently expanded their culinary empire and opened a splendid new branch in Sheikh Zayed, located in the western suburb of 6th October City. Experience Cheristo’s rich legacy and immerse yourself in the wonders of both history and tantalising cuisine.
8. El Horreya Café and Bar – Bab Al Louq Square (1936)
Step into the world of el horreya, where the meaning of ‘freedom’ comes alive in every corner. This captivating sanctuary has long been a gathering place for luminaries: the brilliant minds, influential leaders, and creative souls who have shaped the course of history. As you cross the threshold, you are instantly transported to the bustling café scene of 1930s Cairo, with breathtaking hand-painted advertisements adorning the walls.
But el horreya offers more than just visual splendour. Nestled in the heart of bab al-louq Square, a mere stone’s throw away from the iconic tahrir square, this remarkable café occupies the same ground where a courageous Egyptian officer once stood. It was here that he bravely led a mutiny against the French, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s quest for independence.
Today, el horreya continues to thrive as a cherished destination for both curious travellers and discerning locals alike. The air is filled with the spirit of change and inspiration as vibrant conversations echo among tables. Whether you seek a moment of respite, a taste of rich Arabica coffee, or a chance to delve into Cairo’s storied past, el horreya beckons you with open arms.
9. Estoril – Downtown Cairo (1959)
Step into the captivating story of Estoril, an enchanting restaurant and bar nestled in a hidden passageway between two buildings in bustling downtown Cairo. Marvellously crafted by a Greek couple, this unique establishment draws its name from the charming town of Estoril in Portugal, where the couple embarked on their romantic honeymoon. Evoking the charm of vintage rest-o-bars that dot downtown, Estoril once served as a vibrant hub for political activists, writers, artists, and intellectuals to unite and exchange ideas.
Upon entering Estoril, your eyes will be drawn to a mesmerising display of local art adorning one wall, while the opposite side proudly showcases an array of memorabilia and clippings of articles from Estoril’s glorious past. Delve into the rich history and immerse yourself in the captivating narratives that whisper from these old press clippings, conjuring vivid images of Estoril’s heyday.
While Estoril’s menu may not boast extravagant culinary offerings, it still manages to capture the hearts of many as an enticing spot to unwind, savour a refreshing beer, and engage in captivating conversations with the knowledgeable bartender. Allow the comforting ambience of Estoril to transport you back in time as you swap tales and reminisce about the cherished moments of yesteryear.
10. Ritz Café – Kasr El Aini
Welcome to the captivating café that has become a sanctuary for both intellectuals and artists. Nestled in the heart of the bustling Kasr El Aini street, directly across from the renowned Al-Ahli Bank, this vibrant establishment has served as a catalyst for countless cultural exchanges and thought-provoking discussions.
Step inside and be enveloped by its welcoming ambience, which has attracted distinguished writers, esteemed poets, and creative minds throughout the years. You will be walking into a time capsule, where echoes of legendary figures such as Abbas al-Aqqad, Tawfik al-Hakeem, and Mahmoud Sami al-Baroudy linger, ensuring that their creativity and inspiration are still alive.
Immerse yourself in this historic haven and let yourself be captivated by its illustrious literary heritage. Allow yourself to be enchanted by the allure of this historic gem, where freedom and creativity intertwine to create an unforgettable experience.
As you step into these old cafés and restaurants in Cairo, you will feel like you have been transported back in time. The walls themselves bear witness to the remarkable people and events that have shaped Egypt’s modern history. Many of those cafés and restaurants stand as a testament to their enduring significance in the fabric of Egyptian society. Appreciate the intricate detailing that graces every corner as you find solace in the profound stories whispered by the weathered walls.