- As a city of more than 20 million people, Cairo is the most populous city in the Middle East . It has a reputation as a busy, crowded, and polluted city with few reasons for tourists to visit.
- Business Insider international correspondent Harrison Jacobs and producer Annie Zheng visited Cairo in December expecting it to be little more than a stopover before visiting Egypts bucket-list attractions like the Pyramids of Giza , the Sphinx, and the temples of Luxor and Karnak.
- After spending two weeks exploring the Cairos interesting food, vibrant culture, and nonstop energy, they fell in love with the city. Future visitors ought to make time to explore the Egypt of today, not just the Egypt of 5,000 years ago.
Travel guides will tell you to skip Cairo, but the Egyptian capital is a fascinating city bursting with amazing food and culture
Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider
As a city of more than 20 million people, Cairo is the most populous city in the Middle East and the second most populous in Africa. It feels like it.
Every highway, road, and alleyway is clogged with cars and motorbikes spewing fumes into the air. The honking never stops: long honks, short beeps, and everything in between. The cars, and their drivers, are in every kind of conversation imaginable. Other noises proliferate, from street-side shouts to the rumble of construction.
While those elements likely drive most tourists out of the city as fast as they come in, visitors willing to brave Cairo's idiosyncrasies will find a colorful city full of mad energy. The alleyways teem with shops, restaurants, and cafes and around every corner there's another Egyptian cracking a joke either with or at you.
Though Egypt's tourism industry, and economy at large, has taken a major hit since the 2011 Arab Spring Revolution, a new entrepreneurial generation is making the city its own, opening new restaurant concepts and starting new businesses.
I (Harrison, here!) spent two weeks in the city in December, along with my travel partner and Business Insider's international producer, Annie Zheng.
Here's what it was like to visit Cairo.
- I visited the Great Pyramid of Giza, and while it's as incredible as you'd expect for the only wonder of the ancient world still standing, I made a rookie mistake
- Traveling the world for a year showed me real life doesn't always live up to the hype. These are the most disappointing places I've been.
- A jeweler who makes custom engagement rings took me behind the scenes in a diamond workshop and it totally changed my opinion of people who spend 6 figures on rings
SEE ALSO: I visited outlandishly wealthy Dubai, known as the 'city of gold,' and was surprised by how much fun you can have even without billions
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