Downtown (in Arabic, West El Balad – the waist of the town), is the bustling commercial heart of Cairo. The area is bordered by Tahrir Square to the south and by Ramses and Attaba squares to the north and east respectively. Buildings date back to the 1860s when Khedive Ismail planned to create a “Paris of the East”, and this is still reflected in the now decaying 19th-century French façades and interiors. Living here has its ups and downs: although rents have increased due to the proximity of the American University in Cairo, Downtown is still more affordable than many of the more westernised areas of Cairo. On the other hand the traffic, and therefore pollution, is a major drawback: don’t live here if you have allergies. In addition, food must be bought in grocery stores and a few over-priced vegetable markets, rather than supermarkets. Still, it’s as central as you can get with great public transport: Cairo’s two metro lines converge at Tahrir and the microbus station is just north of the main square. For long-distance travel, Ramses train station and the Turgoman bus station are a few minutes away. Eating-out ranges from local open-air cafes and food stalls to tourist restaurants serving Egyptian menus, and one of the area’s main attractions (for some) is the proximity of Cairo’s best local bars. Average rent for a two-bedroom furnished apartment: 2,000 LE.
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