Cairo is a city with one foot in the past and the other rooted firmly in the present.
The best place to soak its atmosphere up is in the maze of back streets of the old Islamic Quarter. Wandering through the streets is a dizzying and exciting experience, as your senses overload with a collision of colour, the wailing of the muezzin(call to prayer), whiffs of pungent tobacco from Hookah pipes, heady aromas escaping from perfume shops and above all people, and lots of them.
The quarter's Khan el-Khalili bazaar is an Aladdin's cave of unusual souvenirs, packed with spices, silks, gold and intricately carved and inlaid wood(getting hold of a thowla or backgammon set will let you have a crack at the unofficial national sport).
At the end of the day the best place to de-grime yourself is at Sharia al Muizz, a Hammam(steam bath) dating to the 12 th Century. Then afterwards, why not head down to Giza for the pyramids' gaudy son et lumiere ?