Talisman Hotel

Cairo, Egypt Book from Eur61.5

Reviewed by Tom Bell
Comfort and style go hand in hand at central Cairo's first boutique hotel, quirkily concealed in a downtown apartment block
Attractive prices, helpful staff and colourful interiors are the hallmark of this friendly hotel, which occupies the fifth floor of a downtown apartment block. It marks the epicentre of Cairo, with the Egyptian Museum and the mighty Nile a short walk from the front door. You enter from a small alleyway (which can be tricky to find), turn left on the ground floor by the sewing machine repair shop, then rise into the sky in a beautiful cast-iron lift. If the manner of your arrival is slightly unexpected, it is also one you remember with a smile.

Up in reception, you’re hit by the warm colours that run throughout the hotel - reds and yellows that immediately soothe, sweeping away all memory of the hectic city below. You’ll find a couple of traditional salons furnished with silky sofas, a high-ceilinged dining room, a well-stocked library with a computer for guests to use, pockets of armchairs sprinkled about the corridors. Rooms are all different, but come in a similar style with padded headboards, parquet flooring, robes in compact bathrooms and interesting art on the walls. All rooms are air-conditioned and windows double-glazed. Hard to fault for the money.

Highs

  • You can’t beat the price for such a stylish hotel
  • Breakfast is simple but excellent
  • You’re bang in the middle of things, a 10-minute walk to the Nile and the Egyptian musuem
  • You won’t have to walk far at night for dinner or a drink

Lows

  • Check the political situation in Cairo before travelling (see the FCO advice)
  • The building itself doesn’t stand out from the crowd and the entrance is a little shabby, so you may you wonder if you’re in the right place; bring detailed directions for taxi drivers
  • Downtown Cairo is madly busy; rooms are double-glazed, but some noise creeps up
  • Your deposit can be secured by credit card through i-escape, but payment at the hotel is by cash only

Best time to go

Avoid high summer, June through August. Winter (high season), is the coolest time of year (December to February). However, the sun will still shine every day and the city will get hot. You’ll notice a fall in temperature at night, so bring a jacket.

You might want to avoid Ramadan, when some businesses will close for the whole month. And if you are travelling over holidays – Eid al-Adha, Ras an-Sana – expect the rest of Egypt to be competing for your seat. The dates for these holidays change every year, so check before planning your trip.

Our top tips

Less is more in Cairo, a hectic city. You’re better off pottering about slowly rather than trying to tick off every monument in the guidebook - aim for 1 or 2 a day. And leave loads of time for hanging about in coffee shops, watching the world go by.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
City Style
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 24
  • Breakfast only (+ walk to restaurants)
  • All ages welcome but no baby cots
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Wherever you go in this hotel, warm colours meet you in abundance, and spotless rooms are no exception to that rule: expect reds and yellows, blues and greens, lilacs and pinks. We didn’t see every room, but although all are different, the same theme runs throughout. You get oriental rugs on parquet flooring, padded headboards shaped to mimic minarets, high ceilings, beautiful fabrics, great art, the odd chandelier. Some rooms are smaller than others, but none of those we saw were particularly small, though it is likely that one or two are. Having said as much, even single rooms get a small double bed, so perhaps we’re wrong. Eight rooms have balconies, all are air conditioned.

There are two suites, both extremely affordable. They have separate sitting rooms and a bath as well as a shower. Other rooms have showers only, but all come with robes and there are minibars, TVs and safes in wardrobes in every room. You’ll also find several charming sitting areas in the corridors that lead to the rooms, so if you don’t have a suite, it doesn’t mean there isn’t somewhere pretty to sit close by.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Internet access
  • Minibar
  • Safe box
  • Tv
  • Wifi internet
  • Wifi internet

Eating

A large red and white chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the dining room, while golden art clings to its walls. Breakfast is served leisurely from 7-11am. It’s a continental buffet offering three types of cheese, fruit and yoghurt, cereals and fresh orange juice, toast, croissants and Danish pastries. There’s American coffee and Egyptian tea, too.

Although this is a B&B hotel, you are very central, so you won’t have to walk far for a good meal in the evening. Staff will happily recommend local restaurants that are en vogue. Try ever-popular Abou Tarek, a downtown favourite on Sharia Shamplion that serves well-priced Egyptian food; Felfela on Sharia Hoda Shaarawi, a tourist haunt that serves falafel, good salads, grilled chicken; or Le Bistro on the same road, which is extremely popular with Cairenes. You can sip wine amid wood-panelled walls at Café Riche on Sharia Talaat Harb - it’s been a popular haunt with Cairo’s left-leaning artists and intellectuals for a hundred years; expect a mix of French and Egyptian dishes on the menu. A short, inexpensive cab ride will zip you over to the Islamic quarter, where you can try two great restaurants: Al Tejalo Sultan serves very good Indian and Egyptian dishes, while Citadel View has a huge terrace and offers tasty, traditional food that’s popular with tourists.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Minibar
  • Walk to restaurants
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The Nile and the Egyptian Museum are both less than a 10-minute walk away. The latter is unmissable, though you cannot enter with cameras, which must be left in a booth at the gates. Tickets do not include entry to the royal mummy room

  • If you want to cruise the Nile on a felucca, head down to Dok Dok in Garden City and be prepared to haggle

  • Pick up the metro and head four stops south to Coptic Cairo, the Christian centre of the capital. Then lose yourself in local streets and find sheep and cattle on mud-impacted roads. It won’t be long before you’re drinking tea with the locals

  • Head over to old Cairo, the Islamic quarter, for a thousand years of history. It was the seat of the Fatimid dynasty, which dates to 969AD. You’ll find lanes and alleyways, magnificent mosques, the odd palace and Khan al-Khalili, Cairo’s most famous souk

  • Visit the Pyramids at Giza, on the southwest fringe of the city. Get here early to avoid the crush of other tourists and the heat of the sun. It is possible to hire camels or horses, then approach across the desert, avoiding the crowds

  • The Step Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser, 30km south of Cairo) is the oldest on the planet and attracts far fewer tourists than those at Giza. It is infinitely more satisfying, too, and can easily be coupled with a visit to Memphis, which, 5,000 years ago, was the first capital of Egypt

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Shopping / markets

Kids

Children are welcome, but there is nothing particular for them to do. You’re also on the fifth floor and some rooms have balconies. Extra beds can be put in the Doubles and Suites but there are no baby cots.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
7/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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