Gezira is the Arabic word for island, but in Cairo it is most commonly used to refer to a specific island in the middle of the Nile between Downtown Cairo and the area in Giza known as Dokki. Until the late 19th century, this island remained uninhabited, but today it is home to Cairo’s quietest and leafiest neighborhood, Zamalek, the Cairo Opera House, and Egypt’s most popular football club, Ahly.
Khedive Ismail originally developed the island in the 1860’s as part of his extravagant preparations for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The entire island was landscaped to be a garden for the lavish Gezira Palace, which Ismail had constructed on the east side of the island. It is rumored that Ismail designed the palace specifically to impress Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon II of France with whom he was famously infatuated. The palace still stands today, although it has been incorporated into the Cairo Marriot Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino and is flanked by two modern towers. In the hotel’s 6-acre gardens you can visit the only part of the original gardens that has been preserve.
Visit Zamalek on the north end of the island to stroll in the quiet, tree-lined streets. In recent years the neighborhood has been more densely developed, but some of the grand villas that covered the island 100 years ago when it was an enclave reserved for diplomats, colonial officials, and Egyptian aristocracy still remain. Zamalek also hosts some of Cairo’s finest restaurants and shops.
Cairo Tower, the Gezira Club, and the new Cairo Opera House dominate the south end of the island. The Gezira Club was originally the British officers club during colonial occupation, but today it is an exclusive club populated by foreigners and the Egyptian elite. Cairo Tower, built in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, offers impressive panoramic view over Cairo. On a clear day you can see both the minarets of the Cairo’s Citadel to the east and the peaks of the Pyramids in the west. The Opera House is a towering modernist update on Islamic architectural traditions and has a program consisting of opera, ballet, theater, and contemporary music performances.
Marriot Gardens—visit the last remains of the Royal Gardens that once covered the gardens to enjoy a drink in one of Cairo’s most luxurious hotels.
Cairo Opera House—take a break from the hustle of the city and enjoy a show at the Opera house. The events schedule can be found here.
Cairo Tower—take in the best views to be found in Cairo from atop Cairo Tower, beautiful day or night. There is even a restaurant on the roof where you can enjoy dinner.
Sequoia—a luxurious outdoor restaurant at the northern point of the island provides delicious Lebanese/Egyptian mezza, beautiful views of the river, and unmatched ambiance. Review here.
La Bodega—an atmospheric restaurant in the historic Baehler building on 26th July Street in Zamalek. It offers two separate restaurants—the Bistro, offering French and Mediterranean cuisine, and Aperitivo, offering delicious Italian food. Website here.