Cairo’s new digs: Let kids uncover Ancient Egypt from a modern hotel

Last updated 15th May 2024

Cairo has attracted lovers of the Ancient World for centuries, now new Waldorf Astoria Heliopolis gives today’s visitors a luxurious base for exploring as Harriet Mallinson found out.

sphinx and pyramids

Fall in love with Egypt’s ancient awesomeness

If I tilt my head and squint, I suppose he could have been handsome – there’s certainly a strong jaw and high cheekbones. It’s just that his black, leathery skin makes it quite hard to tell, not to mention the missing eyeballs.

Amenhotep II is just one of 22 mummies I’ve been staring intently at for the past half hour, but you wouldn’t turn to these guys for maternal succour in a hurry. For some, wizened Pharaoh corpses, with their bared teeth and skeletal fingers, are the stuff of nightmares. For my family? They’re an unforgettable glimpse of powerful rulers frozen in time.

Bring your kids to Egypt at that sweet spot when imagination runs riot and Indiana Jones is #careergoals and they’ll fall in love with the country’s ancient awesomeness.

Grand Egyptian Museum

The Grand Egyptian Museum

Get your ancient history fix at the hottest museums

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Cairo has been home to these millennia-old King and Queens since opening in 2021 along with myriad historical artefacts, from a 24-carat gold-covered sarcophagus to bread rolls (yes, really).

But it’s the Grand Egyptian Museum which has been usurping international coverage lately. Intended to open pre-Covid, it’s slated to formally welcome visitors from July but even members of staff are in the dark.

…but you may have to wait for the full experience

For now, limited tour groups can visit the atrium but there isn’t much to see beyond a gargantuan, 3,200-year-old statue of Rameses II and a who’s-who of other royals immortalised in stone. The most child-friendly offering is the Tutankhamun Immersive Exhibition, a time-travelling, surround-projection which proves visually stimulating but a questionable learning resource.

My advice? Hold off until the £889 million museum opens properly and unveils 5,000 of King Tut’s treasures. A new restoration centre means guests will also witness the reconstruction of a royal wooden ship – a painstaking process set to take up to four years. Additionally there will be an interactive Children’s Museum for six to 12-year-olds, where little ones can use swanky tech and swot up on archaeology, plus an arts and crafts centre.


The bazaar amid the warren of alleys in Khan el-Khalili

Explore the streets for a true taste of Cairo

In the meantime, medieval Cairo serves up a full-throttle, authentic experience, from fill-up-the-camera-roll historic mosques to won’t-get-that-at-home 21st-century human antics. We pass a boy posing with a monkey on his shoulder, multicoloured candyfloss whipped into animal shapes, head-scarved women brandishing new purchases – and everywhere noise, from the moustachioed metalworker hammering plates and the chug of motorbike engines to the cries of hawkers and the beep of horns.

The bazaar amid the warren of alleys in Khan el-Khalili is where carpet sellers, silversmiths and more ply their wares for ultimate souvenir purchasing. “Almost free!” one trader hollers as we manoeuvre past stalls groaning with handmade leather slippers and chirpy T-shirts. “We have exactly what you’re looking for!” another calls out.

waldorf astoria

Waldorf Astoria Heliopolis

And relax at new Waldorf Astoria Heliopolis

Newly-opened, nearby five-star hotel Waldorf Astoria Heliopolis offers similar promises, and, while it still can’t whip me up a child prepared to try babaganoush and a million pounds, I have more faith here than in the blokes at the bazaar.

The hotel – located conveniently near the airport, Downtown Cairo and the Grand Egyptian Museum – is Louvre-like with its glass-roofed atrium. A botanical garden sprawls between chic lounges and the iconic clock with two rings of flowing water representing the Nile River doubles as a lost-child meeting point – as we find out the hard way.

Where children can lap up local food in luxury

Families can kip in sizeable suites and connecting rooms – and then top up the zzzs by the al fresco pool fringed by red and white-striped umbrellas. Fuel little stomachs for sightseeing with child-pleasing food options – hello, breakfast pancake station! – and (attempt to) expand young palates with Middle Eastern fare. We hoover up hummus daily and sip on fresh guava juice – but draw the line at stewed fava beans first thing.

Nods to the ancients abound: canopic jar cocktail shakers stud the hotel bar – thankfully mummified organ-free – and gold for Pharaohs is omnipresent. Peacock feathers (for the sun god) adorn the wallpaper and lotus flowers (symbolising good luck) are emblazoned on the carpet.

What motifs ensure a tantrum-free holiday I’m not quite sure – but that trader back at the bazaar might have something to help.


How to plan a Cairo family holiday

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Cairo from 5 hours.

Where to stay

Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis, Family Room (2 adults, 2 children) from £277 per night.

Book Waldorf Astoria Heliopolis