Khartoum was first established as a military post in 1821 by Ibrahim Pasha, Egyptian general and son of the ruler of Egypt. It strategic location, in a triangle formed by the White and Blue Niles, ensured the area prospered, and by 1834 it was made the capital of Sudan.
By the 1880s, the Sudanese were becoming increasingly unhappy with Egyptian rule. The British military had been in Sudan since the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian war, and the unrest convinced them to leave. The withdrawal of the troops was overseen by British Major-General Charles Gordon, who had been Governor General of Sudan from 1876 to 1879. However, in 1884, before he had a chance to initiate the troops’ extraction, a Mahdist Sudanese army surrounded Khartoum. Gordon and 7,000 of his troops perished in the protracted, 10-month siege.
In 1898, Lord Kitchener was despatched from London to overthrow the Mahdist Sudanese. He succeeded and rebuilt central Khartoum, its streets leading out from the city center in the pattern of the Union Jack flag. Kitchener formed an Anglo-Egyptian Sudan government, which remained in place until 1956, when Khartoum became the capital of the independent republic of Sudan.
Present-day Khartoum is a cosmopolitan city with plenty of attractions. Instability in the south of Sudan has significantly affected tourism, but Khartoum remains safe for business and leisure travelers.
Khartoum proper is located in a triangle formed where the two Niles meet, although the nearby towns of Khartoum North and Omdurman form a wider Khartoum that leads to its moniker, "the Tripartite Capital."
At the center of the confluence of the White and Blue Niles lies Tuti Island, which can be accessed by the new suspension bridge or by ferry from Khartoum and Omdurman. Rides around the island are possible, but a nicer option is to walk; the small island can be covered in just a few hours. The northern section is lovely, with shady lanes and irrigated fields; enjoy a hot drink from one of the teahouses that line the banks.
Head south over the bridge from Tuti Island to the tree-lined Nile Street, one of Khartoum’s prettier areas. Here the recently renovated Sudan National Museum contains a spectacular collection of pre-Islamic works, ranging from the Stone Age to the Christian era. Visit in winter; the building has no air-conditioning.
Head west to Omdurman; its maze-like streets are home to the huge Souq Omdurman. Said to be one of the largest markets in Africa, the souq is known for its gold, clothing, and handicrafts. Two kilometers south of the souq is the Hamed Al Nil tomb. Every Friday, an hour before sunset, visitors flock to the tomb to witness the incredible display of Sufi dancing. Also known as Whirling Dervishes, these performers pirouette endlessly while manipulating colorful skirts above their heads, and it makes for a spectacular sight.
Khartoum has a thriving food-processing industry, and the area north of the city is known as Sudan’s bread basket. This ensures that Khartoum’s chefs have access to a wealth of fresh produce, a fact borne out by the city’s bountiful restaurants.
The majority of the nicest restaurants are attached to hotels; Amarat is renowned as the best area to dine out, with Riyadh and Khartoum 2 close behind. Khartoum offers everything from Chinese to Mexican, Ethiopian to Korean, but as a dry country you’ll be enjoying nonalcoholic beers with your burrito. Accordingly, nightlife in Khartoum consists mainly of dining out, enjoying coffee with friends, or wandering the city’s family parks and along the river.
Around 200 kilometers northeast of Khartoum is the ancient city of Meroe. Surrounded by acres of endless, empty desert are 200 pyramids, the remains of a royal cemetery from the Meroitic Kingdom, which ruled Sudan for six centuries from 300BCE. These curious pyramids are much smaller than their Egyptian counterparts and have steeper sides. Many of the pyramids feature hieroglyphic inscriptions and have been restored, although the fight against the relentlessly encroaching sand is a continual struggle. Meroe is about two and a half hours from Khartoum; it is wise to take a guided tour—the place is remote and getting there requires an experienced 4x4 driver.