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Alexandria - Egypt
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Where the greatest ancient lighthouse once stood

Even though we had a very tight agenda and not too many days and time overall while in Egypt for this trip, we definitely planned a day out to visit what was once upon a time, one of the greatest, most luxurious and vibrant cities the earth has seen, Alexandria. Unfortunately, today that glorious of the past is long gone. First, and main cause, the many earthquakes which made the ancient city to sank and disappear under the Mediterranean Sea, together with the remains of the Great Lighthouse, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world; and secondly, for the current state of the city where no one seems to take care that much for the old architecture and buildings, the lack of cleanliness and general care.

We found ourselves immersed in a city full of waste. In every park, corner or even by the beach, there was dump. Hundreds of plastic bags full of rubbish everywhere. Really disappointing to see, and at points quite uncomfortable. We knew it was just a matter of bad luck that time since it was a general cleaning strike; still, the dump was not just coming from it, but for months and months of careless behaviour.

Then, all these countless beautiful French colonial buildings in that state of disrepair. Just some paint and general care and would make a totally different city. I hope they don’t take that long until they realise what incredible potential they have in this city and do something about to solve it. It could definitely be a very beautiful and elegant city.

Now, when thinking about antiquity, this city was one of the greatest centres for architecture and learning among plenty others. A jewel in a key location at the mouth of the River Nile and the Mediterranean Sea where one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World once stood, the Great Lighthouse; and the largest and most complete library known to humanity, the Great Library. Not just the Egyptians created wonders, but did also the coming civilizations that took over, with the Greeks and Romans all leaving a massive cultural heritage, most of which still buried deep under the current layout of the modern streets. You dig a hole for a new building, and its treasures afloat, but of course in a city so rich in archaeological ruins, it is impossible to keep the space without building anything on top just for displaying the ruins. These are all traced, studied, valuable objects retrieved and then all cleared for the new buildings to come.

Getting to Alexandria is pretty simple if coming from Cairo. It’s approximately a little over 2 hours journey by train, and therefore, if you really have some time to spare, don’t hesitate in coming and have a different view of another city. There is definitely a great fact, the city is by the sea, and not far from the city there are indeed great beaches. Do not get in your personal opinion what you see by the city centre beach, it clearly cannot show that there are two realities coexisting, the down and dirty areas, but as opposed, the clean and nicer ones not far away.

For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Egypt’s currency is the Egyptian Pound (LE). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.

What to see and do in Alexandria

  • Misr Train Station The main railway terminus, in an Italianate architectural style.
  • Roman Theatre Located at Kom El-Dikka, few meters north from the train station. There are several other remains scattered around the area, such as the Villa of Birds with pretty well preserved mosaics.
  • Seti I Obelisk Across the road from the Roman Theatre. Dating from the 13th century BC, only half of its size exists today, about 4 meters.
  • Serapeum of Alexandria Located towards the southwest from the main train station, dating from the Ptolemaic Kingdom therefore built by the Greeks dedicated to the God Serapis.

-Pompey’s Pillar Built in honour of Emperor Diocletian in AD 297, almost 27 meters high made of a single piece of red Aswan granite.

  • Catacombs of Kom el-Shoqafa Farther southwest from the Serapeum yet not far from each other’s. A big network of underground Roman catacombs, one of the best sights in the city.
  • Cathedral of Saint Catherine Located west from the Roman Theatre with beautiful gardens by its main façade along Sant Katren Street.
  • El-Tahrir Square Although very small compared to the one in Cairo, it is fully surrounded by historic buildings, and the Statue of Mohamed Ali Pasha. It’s just a street north from the Cathedral.
  • Ahmed Oraby Square Directly interconnected in the axis with Tahrir Square, it leads directly to the Corniche, the sea promenade. Again, fully surrounded by old French style buildings.

-Monument of the Unknown Navy Soldier Right by the north end of the square, in a section of the Corniche halfway between the Citadel and the Great Library.

  • Corniche It is the waterfront promenade, 15km long, although the section of the Eastern Harbour is the nicest, where the old French colonial buildings are.
  • Eastern Harbour The ancient former city that sank lead to the current line by the city and the sea. This harbour connects through the promenade both the Citadel of Qaitbay at its western side and the Great Library towards the easternmost side.
  • Al Raml Station Heading east along the Corniche after the Monument to the Unknown Navy Soldier, here you will find one of the terminus stations for the famous fleet of old trams. The city is only one in 3 in the world still having double decker trams.
  • The Great Library Continuing east after Al Raml Station. Open daily except Tuesday, from 11.00am until 19.00pm, Friday and Saturday from 15.00pm. A masterpiece of a building, built atop the very same site of the ancient Great Library that once stood.
  • Sidi Morsi Abu al-Abbas Mosque Heading west along the Corniche after the Monument to the Unknown Navy Soldier towards the Citadel. The biggest mosque in the city.
  • Citadel of Qaitbay The fortress from the 15th century overlooking the Mediterranean and built in the precise site of the ancient Lighthouse, using some of the original stone blocks.
  • Ras el-Tin Palace Built in 1847 in Italian Renaissance style, it is the oldest royal Egyptian palace still in use. Located at the west of the city, at the other side of the Eastern Harbour. The best view of it is from the distance, with the sea at the front, or anywhere near you can reach, as it is fenced off to the public.
  • Stanley Bridge and Beach One of many beaches in the city, small but nice, with the beautiful road bridge crossing it side to side. Located towards the east, farther away from the downtown.
  • Montazah Palace and Gardens Farther east along the coast from Stanley Bridge, passing nice beaches. One of the most impressive sites in the city for the architecture and richness of constructions, and finest gardens surrounding it. Especial mention is the Al-Haramlik Palace built in 1932 as a summer palace in a blend of Ottoman and Florentine styles.


The most likely way you would be coming to the city is overland from Cairo. Trains leave from Ramses Station in downtown Cairo. There is no need to get a 1st class ticket. A 2nd class is perfectly fine, and pretty much comfortable. Tickets cost LE 52 (6£) one-way. You can book online if you wish, but buying tickets at the station is not hard. In any case, you will need to stand strongly, people will come from both sides trying to make their way to the ticket vendor window in front of you. Nowadays that many years after the first time I came here, the Egyptian railways have improved at giant steps, and brand new Spanish Talgo trains run the entire line Alexandria to Aswan, just a bit more expensive than the Egyptian standard trains.

The best train times in order to spend a whole day would be any Special, which run every hour at the hour, so at 10.00am or 11.00am the best, and as for return, the same, a Special around 18.00pm or 19.00pm so you don’t arrive too late back in Cairo.

Within the city, although the main sights are walking distance from each others, there are buses and one of only 3 surviving tram networks in the world still using some double decker cars. These are a sight on their own if you are lucky to see any, as unfortunately (well, fortunately) the city is getting new trams to replace the ageing ones, so it is getting more and more difficult to be luacky to see the old ones. Still, they do run special services with historic stock. The ridiculous price per ride is 25 Piasters, (0.06£). Tickets are bought on board. The yellow tram number 25 runs from Raml Station to Ras el-Tin and Fort Qaitbay, being the most helpful route.


Not many people I suspect would be staying overnight in Alexandria, mostly because after one or two days there is nothing else to do and see, and definitely you don’t come to Alexandria looking for beaches, for that you go to the Red Sea resorts. We felt in this description, and our base was Cairo, therefore not much more I can say or in this case, other than the usual. Having a look at some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as,, Expedia,, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers as the best way to start. Then, if your budget is still not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.

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Alexandria, Egypt, March 2013

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