Cairo. Is there a more evocatively named city in the world? It is a name steeped in history, one that conjures up adventure, romance, mystery and magic. Pyramids and sphinxes, pharaohs and Gods. Five millennia of history crammed into six letters. Yes, it's a juvenile Western perspective but I'm a juvenile Westerner.

Yet even if I possessed more maturity than a decade-old block of Cheddar Cheese, I was never going to turn down an invitation to stay at the newly opened Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis. Sail the Nile, visit the Pyramids, pay homage to a load of mummified Pharaohs? Fetch my fedora and bullwhip. Forget the bull whip, I don’t own one and it would be a nightmare to bring through customs. Nor do I own a fedora – fetch my sunscreen instead.

The hotel also provided ample motivation for the journey. Waldorf Astoria Cairo is located in the Heliopolis district; Heliopolis being one of the major cities of ancient Egypt. Others include Memphis, Thebes, Giza – but not Cairo. Cairo was founded in 969. Newbie.

Anyway, the Waldorf – which opened earlier this year as the latest addition to Hilton's luxury portfolio. The hotel has one of the most ravishing lobbies that I've ever encountered. Lobby doesn't do it justice – imagine a vast oval atrium carved from marble and filled with so much vegetation that you feel as though you’ve entered the world’s most opulent greenhouse. This impression is heightened by the facade being made almost entirely of glass and constantly flooded with light.

The swimming pool
The Peacock Lounge

Your sight is first taken by the palm trees that rise more than 40 feet from the marble floor. The trees surround a fountain (marble) and every five minutes two beads of light beneath the water to form the hands of a clock. All around you are more trees and plants and brilliantly coloured flowers contained in vases so elegant they’re probably filled with champagne. The flowerbeds are raised and hewn from – take a guess.

The clock is a reference to the iconic 19th-century clock in New York’s Waldorf Astoria. Every hotel in the brand has one, although I assume the Cairo clock is more liquid than most. The atrium forms the shape of an eye – the eye of Ra to be precise – and the clock also doubles up as the iris when seen from above. Don’t challenge it to a staring match, you’ll be there for hours.

The hotel is fifteen minutes drive from the airport, thirty minutes from both Downtown Cairo – where you’ll find the market, the pyramids – and New Cairo, the residential and business hub. It’s a fine basecamp whether you’re visiting for work, play or a little of both. However there are also plenty of amenities in the hotel itself to keep you occupied.

Bar Raa
Brasserie Ayda

In terms of dining, the main restaurant is Brasserie Ayda, serving delicious Mediterranean dishes that might genuinely be good for you. Highlights include the goats cheese flatbread, the calamari, anything with hummus and some seriously amazing tomato salads. The breakfast spread is also something to behold. Finish the day at Bar Raa enjoying one of its bespoke cocktails – Serpent's Snatch is a banger.

We visited before the outdoor pool had opened but it should be hosting swimmers and sunbathers by the time you read these words. There’s also a spa if you fancy some pampering and after a day spent considering various antiquates and haggling with traders you probably will.

Needless to say, the rooms are large and luxurious; upgrade to one of Rosetta rooms or suites and you’ll enjoy access to the Rosetta club and complimentary drinks throughout your stay. It doesn’t take a hieroglyphist to know that makes sense.

A visit to Cairo should take in the pyramids, at least one museum and the Khan El Khalili Market. Let’s take a whistle-stop tour of all three.

The pyramids

The pyramids

Cards on the table: I expected the pyramids to be underwhelming. Somehow this myth has accrued that the last remaining wonder of the ancient world is surrounded by fast food outlets and road works. Articles such as ‘Five Places That Aren’t Like You Imagine Them’ litter the internet – and I’m happy to call bullshit on them.

The pyramids are majestic. Maybe not quite as majestic as 3100 BC, when they had a white limestone coat and must have been visible for miles, but if awe fails to stir in your soul when you gaze upon their peaks then I fear the problem lies with your soul. There are three: a little ’un, a medium ’un, and a big ’un – the last being the Great Pyramid, the wonder of the world. (The other two aren’t wonders of the world; the other two merely bask in the wonder of the world’s presence. Overachieving siblings, eh?)

As I’m sure you know, the pyramids are tombs constructed in the Fourth Dynasty, roughly 2600 BC. The Great Pyramid is attributed to the pharaoh Khufu, the middle pyramid to his son Khafre, and the smallest one to Khafre’s son Menkaure. Every family needs a tradition, right? It is possible to venture inside them, although be warned the temperature will be as hot as the queues are long. Claustrophobes, think twice. A better bet is walking around the base – you’ll be offered the option of a camel ride – and consider one of the truly great human achievements, plus one of the all-time baller tombs.

If you need sustenance, 9 Pyramids Lounge offers fine food and spectacular views of the pyramids across the sand. Here you’ll be able to truly appreciate their scale, especially when set against the inevitable camel tours doing their best impersonation of ants. An outdoor decking with cushions offers the opportunity to appreciate the pyramids and a glass of white wine simultaneously. Bliss.

Here’s a good icebreaker for the pub: Khafre’s pyramid stands at 448 ft, a mere six feet shorter than Khufu’ pyramid. Khafre’s pyramid actually looks taller Khufu’ pyramid as it stands on higher ground. Yet Khufu’s pyramid is given wonder of the world status and the sobriquet ‘Great’; poor old Khafre is just a glorified maths symbol.

The museums

The Grand Egyptian Museum

Unsurprisingly, Cairo is good on museums. There’s the Egyptian Museum, which has more than 120,000 artefacts, including the golden death mask of Tutankhamun. The Museum of Civilisation, which has tools from the earliest days of Egypt and a load of mummified pharaohs. And the Grand Egyptian Museum, which will be the largest museum in the world when fully opened later this year. Tutankhamun’s death mask and mummified remains will be relocated here.

The Grand Egyptian Museum is adjacent to the pyramids. Visitors can still experience a 40-minute film about Tutankhamun (quite trippy) and ascend a staircase showcasing statues and tombs of various pharaohs. Most striking is the towering statue of Ramesses II at the entrance, the limestone embodiment of “Look on my works ye mighty and despair!” However my favourite was the sublimely creepy head of Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh who introduced monotheism to Egypt. His legacy was destroyed by his successors and his tomb has never been found.

Not all tombs have been so elusive; you can pay homage to many of Akhenaten’s ancestors at the Museum of Civilisation. Here you descend into a dark subterranean labyrinth – deliberately modelled after an ancient tomb – and weave your way past the mummified remains of 18 pharaohs and four queens of Egypt. Biographical tidbits on each mummy are displayed on the wall, informing you that this desiccated corpse, now resembling a piece of charred wood, once was considered a handsome playboy and great warrior. Considering the mortal remains of Ramasses II is very memento mori – especially when you remember his gigantic statue just down the road.

The market

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Hours can be spent wandering the Khan El Khalili Market. You can find anything you seek here, especially if what you seek happens to be miniature gold-plated pyramids and football shirts with Mo Salah on the back. Also, jewellery. Lots of jewellery. And spices that you probably can’t take onto your flight home.

Obviously there’s a lot of junk but bargains and treasures can also be found. I loved the place – not for the shopping but the whole experience, the noise, the smells, the crowds, the alarmingly high number of motorbikes and scooters bisecting the crowds. The merchants will call to you but never overbearingly; there’s a sense of theatricality to the cheerful greetings. “Let me relieve you of your money!” was a particular favourite.

Even if you don’t purchase anything, you can still admire the stunning mosques and architecture that dates back to medieval times. Grab a bite to eat, too: Naguib Mahfouz Cafe is a gorgeously evocative spot straight out of Old Cairo. It’s located in the heart of the bazaar so be prepared for a few wrong turns before you find it – and when you do, order the chicken livers. Superb. Once you’re sated, saunter round the stalls in search of a souvenir. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

For more information on the Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis, see