Alexandria

WARNING: In view of the continued unrest in Egypt, some governments in English speaking countries have warned against all but essential travel to Egypt except for resorts on the Red Sea in South Sinai and those resorts on the Egyptian mainland in the Red Sea governorate. There have been numerous reports of violence, injuries and confirmed deaths resulting from or related to clashes between protesters and law enforcement authorities. Travellers are urged to remain alert to local security developments, monitor news reports and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. Violent altercations have occurred in areas of Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere. (3 Jul 2013)
For other places with the same name, see Alexandria (disambiguation).
Waterfront in Alexandria

Alexandria (pronounced al-ig-ZAN-dree-uh; Arabic: الإسكندرية / اسكندرية al-Iskandariyya / Eskendereyya) is Egypt's second largest city (3.5 million people), its largest seaport and the country's window onto the Mediterranean Sea. It's a faded shade of its former glorious cosmopolitan self, but still worth a visit for its many cultural attractions and still-palpable glimpses of its past.

Understand

History

Lighthouse of Alexandria (1909 drawing by German archaeologist, H. Thiersch
Library of Alexandria

Few cities of the world have a history as rich as that of Alexandria; few cities have witnessed so many historic events and legends. Founded by Alexander the Great (Iskander al-Akbar) in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt; its status as a beacon of culture is symbolized by Pharos, the legendary lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos) was built in the third century BC by Ptolemy I on the island of Pharos. The height of the lighthouse was between 115 and 150 meters, so it was among the highest structures in the world, second only to the Great Pyramids. The lighthouse was built on 3 floors: a square bottom with a central heart, a section octagonal average and above an upper section. And on the top there was a mirror that reflected sunlight during the day and used fire for the night. But it was damaged by 2 earthquakes in 1303 and 1323.

The Library of Alexandria was the largest library of the ancient world and the place where great philosophers and scientists of that age came to seek knowledge. Alexandria also hosted, at the time, the largest Jewish community in the world, and the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was written in the city.

In all, Alexandria was one of the greatest cities in the Hellenic world, second only to Rome in size and wealth, and while it changed hands from Rome to Byzantine and finally Persia, the city stayed the capital of Egypt for a millennium.

Alas, the city's reign came to an end when the Arabs conquered Egypt in 641 and decided to found a new capital to the south in Cairo. (Scholars still debate if this was when the Library was finally destroyed; it is known that the Library was, at the very least, sacked and badly damaged by the Romans themselves in 48 BC, c. 270, and once more in 391.)

Alexandria survived as a trading port; Marco Polo described it around 1300 as one of the world's two busiest ports, along with Quanzhou. However, its strategic location meant that every army on its way to Egypt passed through: Napoleon's troops stormed the city in 1798, but the British conquered it in the Siege of Alexandria in 1801. The Egyptians under Mohammed Ali took control of the city and rebuilt it, but the Orabi Rebellion in 1881 and massacres of Europeans in the city led the British to strike back and hammer the rebels with the three-day Bombardment of Alexandria, reducing much of the city center to rubble.

Once again, Alexandria rose from the ashes. Its cosmopolitan and decadent lifestyle before and during World War II gave birth to its greatest poet, Constantine P. Cavafy, and was chronicled in Laurence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and a series of works by E. M. Forster including Alexandria: A History and Guide (1922), described by some as the best travel guide ever written.

Yet this world, too, took a shattering blow in the 1950s when Egypt's new fiercely nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized vast swathes of the economy and forbade foreigners from owning or running companies, effectively forcing tens of thousands of foreigners out of the country, including virtually all of Alexandria's once 150,000-strong Greek community.

Today's Alexandria is a dusty seaside Egyptian town with an over-inflated population of 5 million, yet its status as Egypt's leading port keeps business humming, and tourists still flock to the beaches in the summertime. And while much of the city is badly in need of a lick of paint, history both ancient and modern is everywhere if you peer closely enough: the French-style parks and the occasional French street sign survive as a legacy of Napoleon, one of Alexandria's many conquerors, and the few remaining Greek restaurants and cafés still dominate the cultural scene.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 18.4 19.3 20.9 24 26.5 28.6 29.7 30.4 29.6 27.6 24.1 20.1
Nightly lows (°C) 9.1 9.3 10.8 13.4 16.6 20.3 22.8 23.1 21.3 17.8 14.3 10.6
Precipitation (mm) 52.8 29.2 14.3 3.6 1.3 0.01 0.03 0.1 0.8 9.4 31.7 52.7

Source: World Meteorological Organization
See also: Egypt#Climate

Alexandria has a hot desert climate (BWh), but highly influenced by sea breeze, with sunny hot humid summers and mild moderately wet winters. The daytime can be humid in summer, with summer temperatures averaging 31 °C (88 °F), but evenings are usually cooler and breezy, especially by the Corniche. Winters can get cold, with daytime highs down sometimes to 12 °C (53 °F), with occasional rain and sometimes hail. Humidity is high throughout the year. The best time to visit Alexandria is in spring (March–June) and autumn (September–November), since it's at its busiest in summer, when Egyptians flock down to escape the searing heat of Cairo.

Alexandria mean sea temperature
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
18°C (64°F) 17°C (63°F) 17°C (63°F) 18°C (64°F) 20°C (68°F) 23°C (73°F) 25°C (77°F) 26°C (79°F) 26°C (79°F) 25°C (77°F) 22°C (72°F) 20°C (68°F)

Orientation

Alexandria's primary promenade is the seaside Corniche. At the western tip lies the fort of Qait Bey, built near the presumed site of the former Lighthouse (Pharos in Greek), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, while the eastern shore sprawls for miles on end with the slums and tenements of modern Alex.

Get in

Map of central Alexandria

Alexandria is easily reached by plane, train or bus.

By plane

Alexandria's main airport is El Nouzha Airport (IATA: ALY), which has a limited selection of domestic flights and fairly extensive services to cities around the Middle East. The only connection to Europe, though, is from Athens. The airport lies 8 km (5 mi) to the south-east of the city. A taxi will take you about 20 minutes and should cost no more than 15 LE.

The city's second airport is Borg el Arab Airport (IATA: HBE), served by Emirates from Dubai and (soon) Turkish Airlines from Istanbul. It's rather less conveniently located some 45 km (23 mi) to the south-west of Alexandria, which means a one-hour journey by taxi (50 LE or less).

There is only 1 daily bus at 2.30 pm leaving from Alexandria to the Borg el Arab Airport airport. The bus stop is near Raml Station, outside the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria Hotel, 100 m on the right site there is a bigger bus stop. The ticket is 6 LE per person plus 1.5 LE per bag. Takes approximately 1 hour.

Super-Jet and Western Delta operate direct buses from the airport to the New bus terminal on the outskirts of the city every 30–60 minutes between 4AM and 7:30PM (25-31 LE).

However, Cairo offers a far better range of international destinations and is not too far away.

By bus

Several bus companies offer a bus service into Alexandria at a very low price range: 20-35 LE. Buses are air conditioned and come complete with a hostess trolley service. Companies include Golden Arrow, West Delta, Super Jet, Pullman and El Gouna. Operating times vary from one company to another, but there are trips between Cairo and Alexandria virtually every hour from early morning until midnight.

Note that while the buses themselves are perfectly comfortable, the duration of your journey from Cairo to Alexandria (and vice versa) will depend on your pick-up/drop-off point. Most buses start out from the Almaza Bus Station in Heliopolis and stop by Midan Tahrir and Giza before finally setting out to Alexandria; if you join from Heliopolis expect a 4-5 hour trip rather than the average 2-3.

There are a number of bus pick-up/drop-off points inside Alexandria. These are usually either at Gedid station (except El Gouna, which uses Sidi Gaber station) which is a bit far from the city of Alexandria so it shouldn't cost more than a 10 LE cab ride, 15 LE max. Don't take a taxi with anyone that approaches you right outside of the bus. Walk outside the station and catch a taxi there if you must. There is also a bus from Gedid to Sidi Gaber, and from Sidi Gaber most parts of the city are accessible by minibus or tram if you are looking to save money. The bus fare will run you half a pound.

By train

From Cairo, frequent trains from Ramses Station are probably the best way to get to Alexandria. Trains run at least once every hour from 6AM to 10PM, but try to choose either an express or the pride of Egyptian Railways, the French-built Turbo, which takes only 2 hours 10 minutes for the journey. 1st/2nd class tickets LE 50/35 one-way. Tickets must be purchased prior to boarding for express trains; as the Cairo-Alexandria trains are always busy, it is advisable to buy the tickets a day or two before, but in a pinch it might be possible to purchase same-day shortly before departure. There are two daily trains from Mersa Matruh to Alexandria, providing 2nd and 3rd class only.

All long-distance trains arrive and depart from the terminus   Misr station, a 10-minute stroll south of the Corniche along Nabi Daniel St. Many long-distance services as well as commuter trains also make a stop at   Sidi Gaber station on Abu Qir Street at the head of Mushir Ahmad Ismail Street.

By car

There are two options when traveling from Cairo to Alexandria by car. Using either route, the journey usually takes around 3 hours, depending on speed and surrounding traffic.

The usual cautions for driving in Egypt apply; see Egypt for details.

By boat

Visemar Lines until recently operated a weekly passenger ferry from Venice to Alexandria, via Tartus in Syria. However, the ferry has been canceled on account of the civil war in Syria.

Get around

Alexandria is quite a long city; you can get pretty much anywhere by using the local transportation available along the Corniche.

By taxi

Alexandrian taxis

Alexandria's yellow and black taxis are a good way to travel in the city, and a cheap one as well. Be careful though: taxis will uniformly refuse to use meters (the rates haven't been adjusted in years) and drivers love to take advantage of non-Alexandrians, so it's best to agree on the fare before you get in. No taxi ride between any two points in the city should cost more than 25LE. Alternately, if you are on a day trip to Alexandria, hire a taxi outside the railway station for the day and pay LE 10-15 per place. E.g., if you plan to see 5 places in 3–4 hours, pay around LE 50-60 to the driver or LE 80-100 if you plan to see 8-10 places in 5–6 hours.

To get into a taxi, wave at the driver and yell the name of your destination. If the driver agrees they would park at the side of the road as soon as possible. Some taxis will stop to pick you up even if they already have a passenger, but such offers are best refused. Furthermore, always check back once you get out of the taxi, there is no number to call if you lose anything of value, and nearly no chances of having it returned.

Fast Call taxis can be booked by phone at 19559 or 0800-999-9999 (toll free). These are pricier but generally much better than ordinary black and bright yellow cabs.

By tram

City Line (yellow) tram and a Taxi

Alexandria has a creaky, slow but very cheap tram system that dates back to 1860 and looks the part it's the oldest one still running in Africa. The route map is remarkably confusing and changes on a regular basis, but one factor stays constant: the network is split into the interurban Ramleh Lines (Tram el-Raml), which use blue-and-cream trams and run across the city a few blocks back from the sea towards the eastern suburbs, and the City Lines (Tram el-Madina), which use bright yellow trams and run west and south of central Alex. The two meet at Raml Station (محطة الرمل Mahattat el-Raml), right at the heart of Alex. In general, the Ramleh Lines are relatively quick despite their age, as they have substantial stretches of dedicated and uninterrupted right-of-way; the City Lines, however, frequently get stuck in traffic. For both lines, the flat fare is a whopping 50 piasters (~US$0.06), and tickets can be bought on board. Note that the first car (out of three) in the blue trams is reserved for women only.

Probably the most useful service for tourists is yellow tram #25, which runs from Raml Station to Ras el-Tin and Fort Qait Bey. You can also hop on any blue tram west from Sidr Gabr bus/railway station to get to Raml, but not all eastbound trams stop there.

By bus

There are a variety of local bus services which have improved significantly in the past few years, but they are rather confusing for those who haven't lived in Alexandria for a while. Apart from city buses, you will also find "mini-buses", which work on hop-and-go basis. They are easily recognizable 14-person buses, which will stop when you wave and stop where you need to get off. The drivers rarely speak English, so make sure you know the Arabic name of your destination or that you already know where to stop. The routes are usually along the main streets, with drivers following well-known routes. The routes are written in Arabic on the sides of the vehicle, but even if you speak Arabic this may not be helpful; the drivers sometimes change routes without changing their signage. However, if you remain in Alexandria for some time you may learn the somewhat elaborate system of hand signals the locals have devised to indicate the desired destination. A journey will generally cost between LE 0.50-1.50.

See

Historical monuments

Front view of Qaitbay's Citadel
El Montazah Palace

The Citadel is situated at the entrance of the eastern harbor on the eastern point of the Pharos Island. It was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse continued to function until the time of the Arab conquest, then several disasters occurred and the shape of lighthouse was changed to some extent, but it still continued to function. During the 11thcentury an earthquake destroyed the top of the lighthouse and the bottom was used as a watchtower. A small Mosque was built on the top. About 1480 A.D the place was fortified as part of the coastal defensive edifices. Later castle looking citadel was built as a prison for princes and state-man. Now it’s a Maritime Museum. LE 25, LE 15 (student).

The underground tunnels of the catacombs lie in the densely populated district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria. The catacombs were most probably used as a private tomb, for a single wealthy family, and later converted to a public cemetery. They are composed of a ground level construction that probably served as a funerary chapel, a deep spiral stairway and three underground levels for the funerary ritual and entombment. The catacombs are unique both for their plan and for their decoration, which represents an integration of the cultures and traditions of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans." Catacombs- LE 35, LE 20 (student)..

Museums

Religious sites

Ramadan in Alexandria
Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, near Ramleh station

Modern Alexandria

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Do

Beach off the western end of the Corniche

Cinemas

Bookshops

Alexandria's old town has the largest density of bookshops and booksellers in the Arab world possibly with the exception of Beirut. A particular treat is a long line of pavement booksellers on Nabi Danyal Street, opposite the French Cultural Centre. See also below in "Buy".

Sports

Work

Alexandria has a tiny industrial section, mainly centered around the natural gas industry. A few expatriates work in this section. This section is increasing now as many new factories are built in Borg el Arab.

Other than that, there are some but not many international schools that employ expatriate teachers. Generally they pay less than the much more lucrative educational section in Cairo.

Alexandria has got quite a large number of language schools. You can find girls-only, boys-only and mixed schools. Also international certificates -like the IGCSE or the American SAT I and SAT II- could be completed in most of these schools. Moreover, study is available in English, French and also German.

Buy

Central Alexandria

Many places seem to follow set shopping hours. Winter: Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 9AM-10PM, Mon and Thurs 9AM-11AM. During Ramadan, hours vary, with shops often closing on Sunday. Summer: Tues, Wed, Fri-Sun 9AM-12:30PM and 4-12:30 PM.

In the commercial districts, there will often be vendors of one product or class of products clustered along a street; for instance Nabi Danial is noted for booksellers and vendors of electrical supplies and electronic equipment.

Shopping malls

Eat

Alexandria is famous for having the best seafood restaurants in the country. A few other Alexandrian specialties worth looking out for:

Budget

If you want to eat cheaply in Alexandria, try the places where the locals eat. Bear in mind that because health inspection in Egypt is lax, you should be careful at most of these restaurants if your immune system is unused to Egypt; however, if you expect to remain in Egypt for more than two weeks, it should be no problem.

Mid-range

Mid-priced by Egyptian standards, Western fast-food chains like Pizza Hut, McDonalds and KFC can all be found in the city's larger malls, but there are more interesting options as well.

Splurge

The entrance of Athineos

Many of Alexandria's high-end restaurants are located in its hotels.

The restaurant is open in summer only. Seats 76, with 6 at the bar. 100 LE per person.

Try the ice cream here as well as the lasagna. 150 LE per person.

Drink

Bars

50 years ago a maze of bars and nightclubs filled the city, but visitors to today's Alexandria often complain that it can be hard to find a decent watering hole. Frequent travellers recommend a number of reliable establishments:

Hotels and most tourist restaurants throughout Alexandria and most of Egypt are home to bars and discos; and to buy your own booze drop by Drinkie's, a famous chain of liquor stores, with one shop on the Corniche strip and home to every local drink and Heineken.

Cafes

Stanley Bridge

In addition to local options, there's a Starbucks in San Stefano Grand Plaza and a Costa Coffee near Stanley Bridge.

Coffee shops

The humble ahwa, serving up coffee, tea and shisha (water pipe) is an Egyptian tradition and there are plenty to be found in Alexandria as well. Try a puff, play a little backgammon or dominoes, and watch the world pass by. These are largely a male domain though, and women will rarely been seen in them.

Clubs

Sleep

Alexandria has a good selection of hotels in all price brackets.

Budget

For longer stays of a month or more, why not try renting in Alex? Apartments are easy to come by, in a range of prices (180-1000+ LE per week) and states of repair! Landlords/ladies tend to live in the same blocks and will be willing to haggle the rates. Needless to say, it's definitely worth visiting an apartment before placing any money down, preferably in late afternoon so you see how well the lighting works and the worst of any insect problems. (Keep in mind, though, that it's highly unlikely to find any accommodation near the coast that's completely 'roach-free'!)

Hotel Queen Transit Alexandria phone: 03-4815556, 21 Hasan El Shiekh Street Mansheya,Downtown, sea side Courniche 1st Floor,

located in the heart of Alexandria, very new and clean amazing sea view, bog rooms really cheap 100 for single rooms 150 for double room with bathroom + breakfast + Wi-Fi.

Mid-range

Splurge

Most of Alexandria's top-end hotels are located along the shore to the east, a fair distance away from the old city core.

San Stefano Grand Plaza

Stay safe

Although crime is rarely violent, beware of pickpockets and don't flash your valuables or wear a bum bag/fanny pack. Street kids, taxi drivers, and others may harass tourists. They will usually desist after a stern "La!" or two. Or you can say "la shukran!" (no thanks) or "emshi" (go!).

Alexandria is a conservative city, so women should cover their shoulders, midriffs, cleavage and legs. Even still, women can expect to be heckled or harassed in the street, especially if walking alone. The best response is to ignore the offender and pretend you don't hear anything. Cover your head when entering places of worship.

Emergency

Information

Egyptian Tourist Authority has offices at Raml Station, Saad Zaghlui Squ, ☎ +20 3 485 1556, Nuza Airport, ☎ +20 3 4250 526, +20 3 4250 527, Borg El Arab Airport, ☎ +20 3 4485119, Marine Passenger Station, ☎ +20 3 4803494, Misr Railway Station, ☎ +20 3 3925985 and Sidi Gaber Railway Station, ☎ +20 3 4263953.

Cope

Consulates

Go next

Abu Mena monastery
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