Sham El Neseem is coming up and hoards of Egyptians will be headed to the coastal cities to have some fun in the sun. All of the close beach destinations: Ain Sokhna, Alexandria, North Coast and Ras Sidr will be teeming with people eager to get away from everyday life and splash in the sea. However, if you do not like crowded beaches, the smell of sweat mixed with iodine and screaming babies, then you will most likely stay in the city. But that does not mean there are not a lot of interesting things to do.
Here is a list of a few things we recommend that will make sure you enjoy a delightful Sham El Neseem.
Stage an early-day egg hunt
Colouring eggs is a common tradition associated with Sham El Neseem, but how about taking it a step further? Borrowing the activity from the closely linked Easter holiday, an egg hunt might provide a lot of entertainment. If you are stuck with family or friends in the city, you might want to consider paying a visit to a park and setting the scene. It is recommended that you go to the park pretty early so as to avoid being stuck with the crowds who will come to the park to enjoy their feseekh and pickled herrings in the great outdoors.
If you are in the mood for something a little fancier, buy a few chocolate eggs from one of the local bakeries available all around the city and using those instead of normal coloured eggs. When you win the game, you also find a chocolaty treat, doubling the fun of a treasure deftly found. Just make sure to hold these hunts early in the day.
Spend the day (or night) at a hotel
Just because you missed out on travelling, does not mean you have to miss out on being pampered by room service, pool access and fluffy sheets. Many hotels around the city offer special activities on the day of Sham El Neseem and special rates for day use options for the Egyptian holiday. The hotels usually organise a special Sham El Neseem buffet, filled with delectable dishes as well as the traditional option of salted herring and eggs. They also provide children activities such as face-painting, pool activities and a special children’s menu filled with Easter cakes and chocolate bunnies.
If you want to really capture the feeling of being on holiday, extend your stay and spend the night at the hotel, which means paying only a little extra. This way you can enjoy the Easter brunch as part of the package. You can also try the hotel’s spa facilities and maybe enjoy a sauna or a massage to unwind from the stresses of urban life.
Take a day trip
There are a couple of destinations that are a short drive away, such as Fayoum and the Suez Canal area. Both locations have a lot to offer and are less than two hours away. No reservations needed, you can just get in the car, drive down and enjoy what each city has to offer.
In Fayoum you can visit the famous Lake Qarun, also known as Lake Moeris. The ancient lake is believed to have formed in the end of the Miocene era, and that it was a fresh water lake at the time. It was recorded by Ancient Egyptians for the first time in 3000 BCE and several pharaohs conducted projects that linked the lake to the Nile. It is believed that the lake originally submerged the complete area of Fayoum, but eventually time and being connected to the Nile drained a lot of it. Visiting the lake is refreshing as it is usually windy and there are a few shops close to the lake where you can enjoy a coffee or an ice cream while taking in the scenery.
Also in Fayoum you find the archaeological site of the Pyramid of Hawara. The pyramid, which was once white but now is black, is believed to have been built by Amenemhet III to mark his final resting place. Visiting the Wadi Elryan reserve is another great option if you are a wildlife buff. It is famous as a resting spot for migrating birds, so get your binoculars ready.
If you are visiting the Suez Canal area, you would be mistaken not to enjoy the seafood. Check out Nefertiti, a well-known fish restaurant in Ismailia. Though it’s far from a five-star restaurant, its traditional seafood dishes are bound to send you in a food-induced coma. If you are still longing for a beach while exploring this part of the country, pay Lake Timsah a visit, where you can choose from many beaches, both private and public.
When you are in Port Said, just walk to the seafront and take a couple of pictures of the canal. The picturesque port has been photographed across time and is one of the significant vistas of the seaside city. History buffs should make sure to go to the Military Museum, where you can find information about the Suez Canal, the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the 1973 war.
Finally, there is no shortage of things to keep you busy in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. Besides excellent dining options and hotels like the fancy Four Seasons, you can visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and its multiple permanent museums. Another staple is taking a swim in Montazah, surrounded by its lush gardens, taking a stroll down the Corniche eating gelato, or visiting the Graeco-Roman ruins in the city. Alexandria also has many parks and all of them will be suitable locations for an Easter picnic.
Book a place on a commercial yacht
There are many yachts that can be chartered for a day, and it makes for a nice ride on the Nile as it is very different from a bumpy ride on a felluca. It is not cheap and will set you back significantly if you plan on renting a yacht by yourself; however, it is very doable with a group of friends or relatives.
Another option is to book a place on a commercial yacht at one of the special parties for Sham El Neseem. While this is a cheaper option (it will probably cost less than EGP 200), it does mean you will be stuck for the greater portion of the day with strangers and loud music.
Feseekh and herring in the park
One of the oldest traditions Egyptians still uphold during Easter is their gastronomic habits. Feseekh, Egyptian herring and onions are some of the most aromatic and pungent foods around, and they will be on display in abundance on Easter, when Egyptians typically take them to parks to consume them.
Feseekh is a type of fish that is buried in sand and preserved for a few months until it is eaten. It is said that the fish has been prepared this way by Egyptians since ancient times, and does not look it is an endangered tradition at this point in time.
Be careful though, not every stomach is adapted to enjoy the acquired taste of preserved fish and each year, the ministry of health issues a statement warning people not to consume too much feseekh and keep to hygiene standards. Do not worry though, if you know where the fish comes from and you pace yourself while eating, you will be fine. Herring and onions are obviously gentler on the stomach and you will be fine if you are able to put up with the smell. Though there are not many parks per se in Cairo, the city’s residents will get very creative, using even the smallest green spaces for a picnic with smelly fish.
Take advantage of the beautiful weather before it gets too hot and go horseback riding in any of the city’s numerous venues for the sport. Though typically reserved for the upper-class, this is a very popular tourist activity and is usually available near popular attractions like the pyramids.
Other options include the Shabramant area, the Saqqara area, and many places in Giza and 6th of October City. For those on the other end of town, the Concorde El Salam hotel in Heliopolis also offers horseback riding. The Gezira Sporting Club in Zamalek will admit you for a monthly fee to use their stables, although there is no day use.
Another popular activity on Easter, or really any holiday, is to go to the Giza Zoo. Conveniently located across from the Four Seasons hotel, the Giza Zoo is where many Egyptians will take their kids and spend the day looking at exotic animals.
Be warned though that despite its convenient location and its size, the Giza Zoo has fallen in standards in recent years, and specifically since the 2011 uprising. While some have complained about the conditions the animals have to endure, this has not stopped Egyptians from enjoying the zoo and its many sections. You can be certain that, given the low price of the entrance fee, many will be taking their feseekh and herring to the Zoo.
This park was built to house rare and imported trees and hosts a flower exhibition each spring. Given that the weather in Egypt is just right during Easter, there is no better time to enjoy the garden’s exotic flowers and collection of rare trees. There are other parks in Egypt, but none have the same charm or history that the Orman Park has, despite it having suffered some damage during recent clashes in the area over the past few years.
Be warned, however, that it will be very crowded during Easter, so be sure to go early if you plan on going.
One of the oldest parks in Heliopolis, the Maryland is a landmark of the neighbourhood and is located in the Roxy area. It is famous for housing many family-themed restaurants and an artificial pond where children go to feed ducks that is especially popular. There is a fee to enter this park and the restaurants inside mean you cannot waltz in with your feseekh and herring, but it also means the park will not be as crowded as many of the other public free-entry parks in Heliopolis or Cairo in general.