16 Saraya El-Gezira Street
Tel: 20 2 2728 3000
With 1,089 rooms, this Marriott on the Nile island of Zamalek is Cairo's largest hotel. The centerpiece of the property is a palace built for the French empress Eugénie's 1869 visit, when she came to inaugurate the Suez Canal. Sadly, you can't stay in the beautiful old structure, but you can wander through its gorgeously restored hallways, ballrooms, and mezzanines. You can also explore the palace's green, palm-studded gardens, home to a terrace café that's a popular local hangout. There are 14 bars and restaurants on site, including Egyptian Nights (serving regional fare) and JW's Steakhouse, but if you want to get out of the complex, several dining and drinking options are just a short walk away, in the upmarket residential district surrounding the property. Unfortunately, the guest rooms are housed in rather soulless modern buildings; furnishings were restored in 2007 in a red, green, and gold modern Egyptian Revival style in an attempt to evoke the historic palace setting.
1191 Corniche El-Nil
Tel: 20 2 580 8000
Set on the east bank of the Nile opposite the northern tip of Zamalek island, this blocky white high-rise caters to the business crowd. The 617 rooms and suites are decorated in cookie-cutter international style—a tasteful mix of modern and neoclassical-repro pieces that do little to remind you you're in Egypt. Unless, that is, you look out the window. All the rooms technically enjoy Nile views, but those on lower levels and at the sides merely glimpse a sliver of water. The atrium, with its dramatic water sculpture and palm trees, is a cool, quiet place to relax; so are the hotel's six restaurants and bars. The fanciest dining option is Villa D'Este, where a chicly dressed dinner crowd enjoys upscale, candlelit Italian cuisine.
35 Giza Street
Tel: 20 2 573 1212
Fax: 20 2 568 1616
Small by Cairo standards, this 269-room hotel is set one block back from the Nile's west bank, 35 minutes' drive from the Pyramids. Designed to emulate the feel of a luxurious private apartment building, with none of the lobby cacophony typical of Cairo's grand hotels, the Four Seasons has an updated neoclassical elegance. Interiors have crystal chandeliers, inlaid marble floors, and ornate Empire-style furniture; the many amenities include pickup from the airport in a BMW or Mercedes, and a spa where you can gaze at the river while having a foot massage. All rooms come with luxurious bedding, down pillows, and thick terry robes; some have obstructed views of the Nile (the hotel is, unfortunately, behind a twin condo tower occupying the privileged Nile-side position), while others on upper floors look over the green canopy of the Cairo Zoo and the 19th-century botanical gardens to the Pyramids beyond. There are three on-site restaurantsincluding the chic Lai Thaias well as the Library Bar for cocktails and a civilized lounge for afternoon tea. The 35 Club, a privately managed restaurant and lounge at the same address (but with a separate entrance), is the city's post10 pm hot spot for the Westernized elite, thirtysomething politicians, and other Egyptian movers and shakers.
1089 Corniche El-Nil
Tel: 20 2 791 7000
Across the river in the embassy and old palace district of Garden City, Cairo's newest Four Seasons hotel has become the city's see-and-be-seen business address. The high-ceilinged marble lobby, decorated with canvases painted by Egypt's culture minister, is the backdrop to various power hookups and leads into the Beyman department store (a.k.a. the Turkish Neiman Marcus), which carries European designers at European prices. Visiting foreign ministers and local industry titans often book dinner in the on-site steak house or Aqua seafood restaurant (which has a glassed-in VIP room). The 365 plush rooms are brighter and beiger than those at the Four Seasons by the Cairo Zoo. Rooms either look westward over the river and Roda Island or have eastern views over downtown toward Islamic Cairo and Saladin's citadel. In addition to having a spa and pool, the hotel is located directly across the street from a felucca rental dock where you can hire a captain and sailboat by the hour.
Tel: 20 2 365 1234
This sleek, white, Y-shaped tower looks out over the Nile from the northern tip of Roda Island—which is picturesquely set in the middle of the river. The 716 rooms and suites take full advantage of the location; almost all have private balconies for enjoying the vistas. Mostly modern in decor, they're spruced up with warm wood and subtly gilded pieces that recall Empire furnishings of the Napoleonic era. The service here is extremely friendly and helpful, and the plethora of dining options—including Italian, French, and tandoori restaurants, a food court, and dinner dances aboard a yacht—is a little overwhelming. If you're after an authentic Egyptian meal, try Nubian Village; for that on-top-of-the-world feeling, head to the Revolving Restaurant, 444 feet up and one of the highest in the Middle East.
Tel: 800 562 3764 (toll-free)
Tel: 20 2 377 3222
One of the most famous hotels in the Middle East, the 486-room Mena House fuses two modern wings with a former royal hunting lodge built in 1869. Situated among 40 acres of gardens, the hotel is a mere 770 yards from the foot of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, perhaps the most coveted location in all of Greater Cairo. Agatha Christie, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill stayed here, while contemporary celebrities such as Ricky Martin continue to come for the breathtaking views, not just from guest rooms, but also from the swimming pool and private 18-hole golf course. Oberoi is an Indian-owned chain, and the hotel's ornate Moghul Room has the best Indian food in Egypt. More traditional Continental dishes are served at the opulent Al Rubayyat, whose window tables are perennially occupied by tour groups at lunchtime. Be aware that only 34 rooms in the historic and much coveted hunting lodge offer the world-famous views and so must be booked far in advance.
1113 Corniche El-Nil
Tel: 20 2 578 0444
Built in 1959, this blue-and-white 430-room hotel on the Nile's east bank just north of Tahrir Square has a convivial ambience and an unbeatable location next to the Egyptian Museum. The grand lobby maintains a retro air of pharaonic kitsch; Nile-facing rooms have balconies perfect for sipping minibar beers while watching the sun slip behind palm trees, felucca sails, river bridges, and the flashing neon of Cairo's modern urban core. The new alfresco rooftop El Mojito bar (opened in 2007) and the Latex nightclub attract young Eastern and Western hipsters. Recently restored in a Belle Époque style, the glassed-in Rotisserie Belvedere serves French food and has impressive 360-degree city views. Car, horse cart, and pedestrian traffic along the Nile Corniche can get a bit noisy at night, but one of the hotel's enduring charms is to make guests feel the beating heart of Umm Al-Dunya, the city the Arabs call "mother of the world." Fitness fanatics will appreciate the in-house squash and tennis courts and the half-Olympic garden pool, ideal for cooling off after a hot day's sightseeing.
3 El Thawra Council Street
Tel: 20 2 737 3737
Renovated in 2007 in an elegant, minimalist style by the French luxury-hotel chain, this round tower at the southern end of Zamalek island offers panoramic views from its 433 rooms. An oasis in the middle of the city, the hotel is isolated from the chaos of Cairo traffic and sits next to King Farouk's Old River Palace and its now public gardens, a ten-minute walk from the modern Cairo Opera House. The lobby lounge has the atmosphere of a vast private villa and leads to a floating river bar; an outdoor infinity pool that gives swimmers the impression they are dipping into the Nile itself; and El Kebabgy, an alfresco Nile-side restaurant popular with upper-class Egyptians for Friday lunch, and which serves some obscure dishessuch as megadera, a puree of black lentils and rice, and Om Hassan, a dessert of rose-flavored milk pudding with fresh fruit and grenadine syrupamong Egyptian and Lebanese favorites. The spa offers thalassotherapy and Moroccan hammam treatments with Egyptian aromatic oils. The newly opened Cairo Buddha Bar adds an extra splash of global cool.
Road 13, Villa 63
Tel: 20 2 2358 02 65
Occupying conjoined 1920s villas in Maadi, a leafy suburb created to house British civil servants and Egyptians working in the court of the Khedive Abbas Hilmi II, this whitewashed structure with black window casings and balcony trims looks like an updated Cotswold mansion. Egyptian owner Tarek El Gendy and his Dutch wife, Beryl, have filled the 13 guest suites with a tasteful mix of contemporary Egyptian art and European and Oriental antiques. Guests can curl up in a library stocked with design magazines and books on Egyptian art and history, or lay by the pool in a lush garden of mature mango, acacia, and date palm trees. The indoor-outdoor restaurant serves European-Egyptian fusion dishes (the chef stirs coconut into his baba ghanoush, a tasty twist on an Egyptian classic). Amid the quiet neighborhood of historic villas, mosques, a synagogue, and low-rise apartment buildings, the hotel is a five-minute stroll to Road Nine, Maadi's main street, popular for its mix of vegetable sellers and small souks offering shisha pipes, cartouches, and other souvenirs. The Cairo Metro stops here on the way to Coptic Cairo and Tahrir Square, while the Pyramids are 30 minutes away by car. The helpful hotel staff can arrange taxis, feluccas, and private guides.