Hop on a train from the beautifully designed Ramses Station in central Cairo and in approximately three hours you will find yourselves in the gorgeous coastal city of Alexandria for a dose of culture, seafood and Mediterranean breeze.
Egypt's second city, named after Alexander the Great, is steeped in ancient and modern history. You will probably have heard of the ancient library of Alexandria, which no longer stands but it has been replaced by the modern architectural triumph of the 'Bibliotheca Alexandrina'. The main library is housed under the sloping glass roof bating the books in radiant sunlight. Surrounding the main library is an array of artistic and cultural exhibitions, which are subject to change. Also housed within the complex is the Anwar Sadat Museum, which is a treasure trove for modern history geeks.
A 20-minute taxi ride along the seafront, the main artery of the traffic in Alexandria, will bring you to the Montazah Palace. The grounds of the palace are open to the public for a small fee and are worth a wander, especially to see an old bridge leading out to a small lighthouse (not to be confused with the ancient lighthouse). Do not attempt to cross this bridge as it "could fall down at any time" as we were kindly informed when halfway across. The taxi ride to Montazah should be between 20-30 LE depending on the traffic and where you get the taxi from.
Seafood. Tasty tasty tasty seafood. There are many places in Alexandria to purchase seafood but if you are looking for excellence at a reasonable(ish) price then head to either the Fish Market or the Greek Club. The Fish Market, while it is easily located with a wide array of seafood, personally I found the atmosphere far too stiff. The Greek Club, which serves seafood depending on availability, is far more relaxing and is perfect for a sunset dinner on the balcony or rooftop terrace. The view (see the above picture) is worth the trouble it can take to find the place, and it may be worth making a booking ahead of time in order to secure a spot on the balcony for sunset. In both restaurants the food you choose will be fresh and tasty, I recommend the prawns cooked in chilli and garlic. Whole fish are cooked to order and in the style of your choosing.
Near to the Greek Club is the Citadel of Qaitbay, which stands bright white on the edge of the lengthy bay that Alexandria surrounds. The citadel houses old cannons but other than that there is not much else to see other than looking out to the sea. It is also said to be the location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the ancient wonders of the world, however like many others on the list it no longer exists.
The city of Alexandria is packed full of old European style villas influenced by the architects of France, Greece and Italy, the corniche traffic can be terrible, and be aware that city-wide the sexual harassment is worse than in Cairo. Some old hotels line the corniche where you can sit back and sip an ice-cold beer and watch the traffic go by the corniche. The streets feeding corniche are populated with old cafes, other hotels and some small watering holes, such as Spitfire and Cap D'or (rumoured to be the location referred to in the 1958 film Ice Cold in Alex, just for the movie buffs out there).
While all the above can be done in a day (I can testify to that) it can be nice to take it easy and experience the city over a weekend. Hotels do some good deals at certain times of year and try and find one with a pool, as swimming on the beaches (which appear to be men only) can be crowded.
Needless to say the above is also just a snapshot of a truly beautiful and remarkable city. Book train tickets in advance to be sure of a seat, otherwise you can take a minibus or a private car.
Time: 2h30 with Special train, 2h50 with Express train and 4 hours with Ordenary train.