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Monday, 30 March 2020

Exploring Cairo: Eight great parks for an autumn picnic

Autumn weather is here, and it's the perfect time to discover Cairo's underrated green spaces

Lamia Hassan , Monday 7 Nov 2016
Parks
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Views: 12143

With the autumn weather here and temperatures finally dropping, it's a great time to go out during the day and catch some sunlight. But the question is, where to go to in Cairo if you want to enjoy the sun and greenery?

While people have always lamented the lack of decent parks in Cairo, there's still a number of public gardens that have some charm.

From as little as EGP 3 to as much as EGP 50, Ahram Online gives you a quick tour of some of Cairo's best public gardens. 

And while most of them are very reasonably priced, budding photographers beware; if you want to bring your camera, you may be charged an extra EGP 50 to enter.

El-Andalus

Starting off in the heart of the city, Zamalek has a lot to offer when it comes to parks and green space.

At the entrance of Zamalek from Qasr El-Nil, at the southern tip of the island, you can find both El-Andalus and El-Horreya parks.

El-Andalus can be accessed from the main gate on Gezira Street, across from Novotel Hotel. A ticket to get in costs EGP 5. 

At the entrance, you can spot small Pharaonic statues in the different areas of the park and cozy wooden kiosks with decks on both sides.

Andalus
Al-Hambran styled pavilion in the upper section of the garden (Lamia Hassan)

Although the garden might be smaller than some of the other public gardens in the city, it is very well-maintained. If you continue to the right from the gate, you can find steps that take you to the upper section of the park, where the Andalusian style has a strong presence. 

While the lower part of the garden is perfect for a short walk, the upper section has a different kind of charm.

Movie buffs will recognise that part of the park from some of the old classics, and even from more recent features like Samir, Shahir, and Bahir (2010). 

Andalus
The statue of Ahmed Shawky overlooking the upper section of the garden. (Lamia Hassan)

The gardens is built on different levels and the pathways and a central fountain are decorated with beautiful tiles.

You can also take a seat on the beautifully decorated mosaic decks and enjoy a magnificent Nile view.

The garden also features Andalusian-style arches with statues of lions in front of a statue of the so-called “prince of poets” Ahmed Shawky, with a line from one of his famous poems engraved on the back.

Andalus
A close-up view of Ahmed Shawky's statue and the Andalusian-styled arches. (Lamia Hassan)

You can spend hours up there just enjoying a quiet moment in green space with a breathtaking Nile view. While most of the park remains open until late in the evening, the upper garden closes its doors at around 5pm. 

El-Horreya Park

Taking a short walk, El-Horreya Park is right at the other end of the street, across from Cairo Opera House. Hidden at the corner of the street, unlike El-Andalus, El-Horreya is quite spacious.

It’s one of the less well-known public gardens in the city, and as a result can be quite quiet – perfect for those looking for a serene location, away from Cairo’s noisy streets. It’s also a great choice for families.

Horrreya
The collection of statues at Al-Horreya Park in Zamalek (Lamia Hassan)

A number of events have been taking place there recently, especially during Ramadan, but it is still not one of the parks that you would find crowded on a weekday. It’s often quiet on the weekends too.

The park has a collection of statues scattered around the different parts of the garden. Starting with the section of the garden that hosts the statues of Egyptian figures, the first on your left when you enter the garden is another statue of Ahmed Shawky.

If you go more towards the left, you will find a statue of another great poet, Hafez Ibrahim, or “the poet of the Nile.”

Next to it, you can find a statue of the great Egyptian economist and founder of Banque Misr, Talaat Pasha Harb. 

If you go more to the right side of the park close to the fence, you can find a larger collection of smaller statues lined-up in the garden.

Horreya
Al-Horreya Park offers wooden kiosks with benches for the visitors to rest. (Lamia Hassan)
 

The garden is spacious very well-maintained, and you can get tea or coffee and light snacks from the kiosk in the middle of the park. A ticket to enter costs EGP 5.

Aquarium Grotto Garden

Located on El-Gabalaya Street, not far away from El-Andalus and El-Horreya, the grotto garden is also in the heart of the city and easily accessible. The park has something for every taste.

Aquarium
A Friday morning yoga workout at the Aquarium Grotto Garden (Lamia Hassan).

The garden was established by Khedive Ismail in 1867, but it wasn't until 1902 that it was opened to the public, the same year that the Giza Zoo was also made public.

As the name suggests, the underground grottos it is home to were originally filled with fish tanks, featuring a variety of species from the Nile and further afield. Today, the tanks are still there, but most are empty. Still, young children might enjoy a look at the remaining fish.

As well as the garden itself and the grotto, there's a small café overlooking a pond.

Aquarium
One of the last few fish-filled aquariums inside the garden's old grottos. (Lamia Hassan)

The garden hosts events regularly, including bazaars, concerts and yoga and meditation sessions.

Like the other Zamalek parks, a ticket is an affordable EGP 5.

The garden has appeared in Egyptian cinema a number of times, from Faten Hamama's Al-Qalb Leh Ahkam (“The Heart Has Its Reasons”) in 1956 to the 2008 movie  Geneinet El-Asmak (“The Fish Garden”) which stars Amr Waked, and was named after the park.

Aquarium
View of the grotto or Gabalaya, as referred to in Arabic. (Lamia Hassan)

The garden is home to a great collection of flowers and trees, some of which have labels giving more information about the species.

El-Orman Botanical Gardens

Moving out of Zamalek and across the river to Giza, we come to El-Orman.

Famous for its enchanting gardens and dazzling collection of flowers, El-Orman is always flooded with visitors in March and April during its annual spring festival.

Orman
Colourful bed of blooming flowers inside Orman Botanical Gardens. (Lamia Hassan)

But these gardens are also a great destination in the cooler autumn and winter days. 

The 19th century garden, which was opened to the public in 1910, stretches over almost 28 acres of land, adjacent to the Giza zoo. Entrance tickets are just EGP 3.

Entering the park from Dokki Street, you cross through a grand gate into this green world and walk straight ahead until you find yourself crossing an old wooden bridge stretching over the garden’s pond.

Orman
Collection of flowers on display at Orman's Spring Festival. (Lamia Hassan)

Depending on which time of the week or month you go, you may find the pond clear of debris, or full of rubbish.

Although the spring festival is the best time of year to go to the park, you can enjoy its gardens and unique collection of trees, plants and flowers all year long.

Orman
Inside the Orman Botanical Gardens. (Lamia Hassan)

When you leave the pond and the bridge behind and walk more towards the western part of the park, you will find lines of trees with wooden benches on both sides as you walk towards the gardens. 

If you keep walking past the benches and the gardens you will find yourself reaching the other entrance of the park, across from Giza Zoo.

Giza Zoo Grotto Garden

While people of different generations and walks of life have visited the zoo at least once in their life, and some a lot more, not many know that there’s more to it than just the animals. In fact, there’s a secret world once you enter the door of the Citadel Grotto.

Citadel Grotto
Green wooden kiosks overlooking the pond inside the Citadel Grotto. (Lamia Hassan)

To get into the zoo, you pay EGP 5 for a ticket at the entrance. You need to walk towards the elephant enclosure to get the ticket that takes you inside the grotto garden. That ticket costs another EGP 10 and it has special operating hours that are different from the main ones of the park.

Passing through the gates, you first go through a cave similar to the one at the Aquarium Grotto Garden, but smaller. From there, you go through the small cave to emerge in the garden itself on the other side There are similar, but even smaller, caves inside the garden itself, and some steps that takes you up to get a better view of the garden from higher ground.

Citadel Grotto
Ducks swim in the Citadel Grotto's pond on a warm fall day. (Lamia Hassan)

Inside the garden there are special collections of flowers and cactii, as well as a nice pond which is sadly less-well taken care of than the other ponds in the zoo. 

The Citadel Grotto Garden is perfect if you want to steal away for a couple of hours in a small but charming park. It’s not normally very crowded, although you might want to consider not going on weekends or public holidays when the zoo gets very busy.

The Japanese Garden

Leaving the city behind, if you take the ring road from Giza towards the Maadi Corniche, in less than an hour you can find yourself in Helwan.

Tucked away in a very quiet neighbourhood inside Helwan, the Japanese Garden is perfect if you are looking for day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Japanese garden
Lined-up Buddha statues overlooking what used to be one of the garden's beautiful lakes. (Lamia Hassan)

Located on Mohamed Mostafa El-Maraghy street, the park was designed and inaugurated in 1917, and does indeed have a strong Japanese feel, obvious in the details of things like kiosks, lamp posts, and the design of the gardens.

As you walk to the left after entering, you come across the main lake inside the garden featuring a large statue of the Buddha at one end.

Japanese park
Peddling boats are among the activities that the Japanese Park's visitors can enjoy. (Lamia Hassan)

While the entrance to the park costs EGP 5, the activities inside have a different cost. You can take a pedalo out onto the lake for EGP 5 for half an hour. There’s also a small funfair inside the garden that you can enter if you buy a different ticket.

Japanese park
Families enjoy a ride in the Japanese Garden's lake. (Lamia Hassan)

As you go deeper in the park, you can find 30 identical Buddha statues lined up in different levels around a smaller pond inside the garden. 

Al-Azhar Park

Driving from corniche to the other end of the road, through Salah Salem, you can’t miss the greenery stretched on your left on both sides of the park’s entrance.

Azhar Park
An oriental band plays music inside Azhar Park. (Lamia Hassan)

While most of the other parks are historical, Al-Azhar Park is a more modern creation.

Previously a garbage dump, the space was turned into a beautiful park stretched over 74 acres, and opened to the public in 2005, right in the heart of historical Cairo.

The space is beautiful – the medieval citadel is in the background and minarets and domes are visible on both sides of the park.

You can even find historical remnants inside the park, like parts of the Ayyubid Wall that was found below mounds of garbage when work in the garden was still in progress. 

Azhar Park
View of the Citadel from Al Azhar Park. (Lamia Hassan)

While the entrance price has increased from EGP 5 to EGP 15 over the past two years, the park is still flooded with people especially on weekends and public holidays. If you pass by on a Saturday morning, you might find buses carrying people to spend a day trip in the park.

Not only that, the park has a huge area just for families and children. The park is large and divided into different sections, making it less congested overall.

The park is also perfect if you are looking for a place to jog  with an amazing view,  or if you want to enjoy a walk on overlooking the city’s minarets and old buildings.

Azhar Park
Al Azhar park's visitors can enjoy a nice breakfast and lunch at the Lake Cafe, overlooking the water and greenery. (Lamia Hassan)

It also has a number of cafés and restaurants, giving you lots of choice. The Lake Restaurant is an absolute favourite if you are looking for a nice view.

The park is also home to Al-Geneina Theatre, which hosts a great selection of music concerts all year round.

Family Park

Located on Suez Road in New Cairo,  the Family Park is a new destination for families who are looking for a park that’s a bit less busy than many of the others listed here, to hold their children’s birthday parties or even take their families to on weekends.

Family Park has a great garden, a kids' area and a small collection of animals, including deer, ducks, ostriches and even a lion.

But as the park is a bit more private and a bit more exclusive than the others, an entrance ticket for both children and adults will set you back EGP 30 on weekdays and a steep EGP 50 on weekends.

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