People watching from Cairo's rooftops

It seems that the weather here in Cairo has been in a perpetual state of confusion over whether to be warm or cold for at least a few months now.

Cloudy one minute and sunny the next, it was a relief to wake up this weekend with the sun desperately trying to get in through my window.

Now that Spring is in full swing – without the severe humidity and power of the Summer’s rays – what better way to spend a weekend than looking out over Cairo from one of its many rooftops and enjoying one of its best views: a spot of people watching.

Al-Azhar Park
It’s worth the trek right to the top of the park to get to one of the best look out points there is. The Triannon Café is situated almost at the highest point and from here you can sip on one of Cairo’s best mango juices and enjoy the panoramic view. Sitting comfortably under your umbrella, you can see out over the Muqqatam Hills, the Citadel, the Sultan Hassan and Rifai mosques, the Blue Mosque, the Qajmas Al-Ishaqi Mosque,Bab Zwayla, the Al-Guri complex, the Qalaoun and Barquq complexes and the Suleyman Al-Silhadar Mosque to the Northern Gates.

Thirty hectares big, with beautifully cut lawns and a restaurant built in the Fatimid style, it’s hard to imagine that this park was built on waste land once used as rubbish dump.

Wander to the edge of the park and watch the men standing on the towers that follow the line of Saleh Ad-Din’s fortified wall, the area known to tourists as Islamic Cairo, and wave their flags to call their flocks to roost.

Watch the couples who line the edges of the park, snuggling closer as sunset falls.

The Odeon Bar
For those nights when you just don’t want to go home, enjoy the view of downtown from the novelty fake-grassed terrace at the top of the Odeon Palace Hotel. If you take one of the tables at the edge you can see not only their impressive collection of potted plants, but you can look out across downtown.

With 24 hour opening times, it’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down and enjoy its warmth as it rises again in the morning.

Listen to your neighbors at the next table play their latest ringtone through their phones, or try to work out what the people at the other end of the bar are talking about.

Wander inside and enjoy the cozy atmosphere with the fine mashrabiyya woodwork, hand-worked oriental style brass lamps and inlaid mother of pearl tables. The inside of the Odeon Bar is the perfect place to curl up in a cozy corner and watch expats and locals enjoy the drinks and food.

The Grand Hyatt
Complete with a complementary white bathrobe and matching slippers, you can peer tentatively over the edge of the roof to see the broad, pastel-blue Nile dominate its way through the ramshackle metropolis below. From your island of calm, Cairo looks hectic, yet is eerily silent from this position.

The entrance fee is a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it to hang out on this magnificent pool top roof for a day. If you take one of the loungers on the highest deck you can happily read a magazine and spy on the clientele from behind the cover of a pair of dark glasses with impunity.

Grab a few free towels and enjoy the showers which spurt six jets of hot water as you sit on the tiled bench in the bathrooms. Make sure you make it up to the bar before it gets dark to watch the sun set over the capital from one of the most incredible viewpoints in the city.

The Atlas Hotel
From this endearing little roof you can enjoy the swimming pool while looking at the higgledy piggledy balconies which surround the water. Ice cold on first impact, it’s worth pushing through the pain threshold to enjoy a refreshing swim. Although the hotel is tucked in between Cilantro and Papa Johns on the busy Gameat El Dowal Street, it’s quiet once you get to the top, and relatively deserted, leaving the whole roof to yourself.

The entrance fee is cheap, and it includes all food and drinks up to this price. The manager and staff are friendly and attentive, making you feel welcome for the whole day.

When the sun starts to set and you need more sun, go to the second terrace which overlooks the busy street. Without the shade you can get a better tan from here.  And when the sun finally goes down, wander onto the streets below and take your pick of the many restaurants for dinner.

Originally published in Campus Magazine

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Campus Magazine