Cairo Travel Guide + 12 Things To Do In Cairo
Cairo Travel Guide + 12 Things To Do In Cairo was originally written in March 2020
I hadn’t set the bar high for Cairo. It was of utmost importance on 10-year-old me’s travel bucket list, but as an adult, my interest in Cairo had waned. Especially after just how downright nuts Marrakech was, I wasn’t too thrilled about giving North Africa another chance. Cairo was a pleasant surprise, I actually enjoyed it- I’ve now visited three times and can honestly say I don’t find it anywhere near as aggressive and tout-laden as Marrakech, but do be warned that this all does go on here and I’m fully aware that everyone will a different experience, so keep that in mind.
I will say that each and every time I’ve been back to Cairo I’ve had countless locals offer to help me or just give me a warm welcome to their country.
So before I get carried away, here the best things to do in Cairo to add to your itinerary and general Cairo travel guide.
12 Things To Do In Cairo
In all honesty, I’d say 5 days is a good amount of time to dedicate to Cairo to hit the highlights without feeling too rushed, but know you could actually spend much longer in the city depending on your interests. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but trust me there’s a lot to see here. If you don’t have that much time, say 2-3 days I’d be selective of what you truly want to see and cherry-pick the best things to do in Cairo for your needs.
Visit The Pyramids of Giza
Of course, no visit to Cairo would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Pyramids of Giza. I’m a bit of a pessimist, so I didn’t get my hopes up for my first visit to the Giza Pyramids- but wow- they’re definitely worth a visit. Despite the site being as famous as it is, it doesn’t feel too awfully crowded, especially if you visit in the morning when they open.
With all this said there is one glaring annoyance about visiting Giza- there are touts literally everywhere. This is the only place in and around Cairo I find them truly obnoxious, but hey- it is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. I will say that if you do want to visit with a guide and/or take camels (or ATVs) around the pyramids I highly recommend booking a tour in advance here, or via your accommodation. If you try and hire someone off the street, you’ll more than likely pay an EXTREMELY inflated price.
The price for admission to the Giza Pyramid Complex is 200 EGP per person. Entry to go inside the Great Pyramid (Khufu) is 400 EGP, entry to the Solar Boat Museum is 100 EGP, and the Pyramids Sound and Light Show is 300 EGP.
Depending on your level of interest in the pyramids, this could be as little as a half-day excursion or take an entire day. On my second visit to the Pyramids of Giza, I spent nearly all day there from about 10 am to 5 pm. If you only want to make a half-day of it I recommend combining it with a trip to Saqqara to visit the Step Pyramid of Djoser (or a combo day trip of Giza, Saqqara, and Dahshur if you wanna see all the pyramids and are short on time in Cairo).
For epic photos of the pyramids without the crowds get to the pyramids early (especially like the one of me in front of the Sphinx with Khafre Pyramid behind me) get there at 8 am when the Pyramids of Giza open. Most tour buses don’t start showing up until 10-11 am so you’ll have a little time before the larger crowds appear. I highly recommend staying in Giza the night before you plan to visit the pyramids.
Gorge on Egyptian Food
I won’t lie- one of the things I am always most excited about when returning to Egypt is the food, as Egypt is one of my favorite food countries in the world. Egyptian cuisine has a heavy influence from its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors Cyprus, Lebanon, Greece, Palestine/Israel, Turkey, and so on. Some uniquely Egyptian dishes to try are koshari- a conglomeration of carbohydrates drizzled in a spicy tomato sauce and vinegar; ful medames- mashed fava beans with garlic, cumin, olive oil and lemon (origins are debated); domty- a salty soft white cheese eaten since ancient times; stuffed pigeon; and aish baladi- an Egyptian flatbread. Of course, staples around the Eastern Mediterranean are widely available- taamia (falafel), tahina, kofta, kebab, shwarma, and dolma.
Some of my favorite restaurants in Cairo include Felfela, Kebabgy Grill, Saqqara Restaurant (Saqqara), and Andrea El Harem Restaurant (Giza). If you’re looking to try kosheri head to Abou Tarek Koshari, which his widely known as the best.
For cheap and quick food my favorites in Cairo are, Gad Fastfood and the food stalls (many have a small area with tables and chairs too) along Gawhar al Qa’ed Street at Khan El Khalili across from the Al-Azhar University (they look dodgy, but they’re so good).
Explore The Pyramids of Saqqara with an Egyptologist
Saqqara is a pyramid complex located about 30 kilometers south of Cairo, which once served as the necropolis for the ancient city of Memphis. The ancient Egyptian necropolis is also home to the oldest pyramid in the world, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, constructed between 2670–2650 BC by architect Imhotep. The Saqqara Complex can easily take an entire day to see all the sights depending on your level of interest, but if you’re not a huge Egyptian history buff you can easily see the highlights in 3-4 hours. If you are opting to see Saqqara in a shorter span of time it would be wise to combo your day trip with the nearby Dahshur Pyramid Complex.
Entry to Saqqara and Imhotep Museum is 180 EGP.
I felt that with a history so rich and because the hieroglyphics I found to be so colorful and well intact, I personally felt that if you’re going to splurge for a guided trip with an Egyptologist, Saqqara would be my choice. Some of the highlights to see in Saqqara to see include: the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the Pyramid of Teti, the Pyramid of Unas, Serapeum, the Tomb of Ankhma Hor, The Tomb of Mereruka, and the Imhotep Museum.
Click here to shop this Saqqara day tour
See Islamic Cairo
Islam, of course, has a deep-rooted history in Cairo as well as greater Egypt. Islamic elements can be witnessed all over Cairo, so the name ‘Islamic Cairo’ is a bit of a misnomer, however, Islamic Cairo is known for its mosques, madrasas, mausoleums, and souqs. Head over to Al-Muizz Al-Deen Street to start your adventure into Islamic Cairo. Destinations not to miss in Islamic Cairo include are Ibn Tulun Mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, Bab Zuweila, and Al Azhar Mosque.
For female travelers in Cairo, I generally recommend modest dress as that is the norm around Egypt with at least shoulders and knees covered- and especially when visiting Islamic Cairo and any holy sites. A scarf is handy to keep in your bag for covering shoulders or if you need to cover your hair when entering a mosque.
If you’re planning to do Islamic Cairo in the afternoon, I’d recommend enjoying the sunset over at Al Azhar Park and listening to the muezzins sing out the call to prayer from the surrounding mosques. Following the call to prayer, go have dinner and then head over to Khan el Khalili Souq next.
Shop at Khan el Khalili Souq
So, as you just read in the previous section, Khan el Khalili (in my opinion) is best enjoyed in the evening. During the day it’s jam-packed with tourists, but in the evenings you’ll find Egyptian families shopping and watching the evening go by at cafes. If you’re into photography, I’d recommend getting a second visit in on your trip to Khan el Khalili, however in the earlier part of the day (9 am-11 am) as the souq is quite photogenic and the light is usually beautiful at that time. Several beautiful mosques, madrasas, and complexes can be found inside the Khan el Khalili area including Al-Hussein Mosque, Al-Aqmar Mosque, and Qalawun Complex.
Of course, if you were planning to do any shopping, Khan el Khalili is the place to do it. Be aware that many of the souvenirs in the more touristy sections of the souq are likely made in China, but if you wander off the main thoroughfares enough you’ll get more into the local wares. Another favorite thing of mine to do while at Khan el Khalili is to just chill at a cafe, order a coffee or tea, (occasionally a shisha) and just people watch part of an afternoon away. Buying cigarettes can get quite tricky for a woman in these alleys. So, I make it a point to carry at least one super-portable, heavy-duty vaporizer like a DaVinci Miqro or the Crafty plus. To be honest, the latter isn’t as small, but it sure does have a long battery life.
Check out Coptic Cairo
Although most foreigners associate Islam as being the religion in Egypt (which is the dominant religion in the country), Egypt does have a long and fascinating Christian history as well. Copts are an ethnoreligious group, predominantly found in Egypt, Sudan, and Libya and have a rich history in the region which very much warrants a visit to Coptic Cairo while in the city. Must-sees in Coptic Cairo, of course, include the Hanging Church and Abu Sega Church. The Jewish quarter of Cairo and the Ben Ezra Synagogue are worth including as part of your visit to Coptic Cairo as it’s nearby. There is a Coptic Museum by the Hanging Church and Abu Sega, admission is 100 EGP.
Discover The Dahshur Pyramids
I recently wrote an entire post about the Pyramids of Dahshur, and to be quite honest it was an absolute highlight of my third visit to Cairo. Upon my arrival, I was presently surprised to not see a tout in sight, and encountered about six whole tourists there during the duration of my visit. According to the officer working the day I visited, the Dahshur Pyramids had only recently reopened to the public in the summer of 2019. At both Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid, you can enter into the chamber via a long and narrow tunnel. As mentioned earlier in this post, the Dahshur Pyramids are a perfect addition for a day trip to nearby Saqqara.
Entry to the Dahshur Pyramids is 60 EGP.
Find everything you need to know to plan the perfect day trip to the Dahshur Pyramids
Visit The Egyptian Museum Of Antiquities
The salmon-pink colored Egyptian Museum of Antiquities on chaotic el Tahrir Square houses countless artifacts showcasing Egypt’s rich and fascinating history. In late 2020 the Grand Egyptian Museum (within walking distance of the Giza Pyramid Complex) is slated to open, and will be the largest museum in the world. Many exhibitions and artifacts from the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities have already been relocated to their new home in the GEM. Once the GEM does open, the Museum of Antiquities will close its doors.
Admission to the Egyptian Museum is currently 160 EGP, + 50 EGP if you’d like to take photos inside. The Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum is an additional 180 EGP.
See the Recycling at Garbage City
Garbage City (Manshiyat Nasser) is a district located on the outskirts of Cairo, famous for its, well… garbage. Cairo is the most populous city in the Arab world, with about 20 million people calling the city home. Despite Cairo being the largest city in the Arab world and among the most populous cities on Earth, until more recently, there had never been a formal garbage collection system in place for the Cairo Metropolitan Area. This is where the Manshiyat Nasser district (nicknamed Garbage City) comes into play. For roughly the last 70 or so years the heavily Coptic Christian population of the district have served as unofficial garbage collectors. Referred to as Zabbaleen (meaning garbage people), the men who function as the cities informal garbage collectors, go around the city collecting Cairo residents’ trash door-to-door for a nominal fee. They then use donkey-drawn carts and small trucks to transport the garage back to Manshiyat Nasser. Once back to Garbage City, women and children sort through the trash collection to find recyclable materials and items, recycling an impressive 80-90% of the garbage collected.
Cairo now does have private trash collection service companies that compete with the Zabbaleen of Manshiyat Nasser. With that said visiting Garbage City and seeing the work unfold here is truly fascinating.
If you plan to venture out to Garbage City, I would definitely recommend that you visit the Monastery of Saint Simon while you’re in the area.
Appreciate the Uniqueness of The Monastery Of Saint Simon
The Monastery of Saint Simon is one of the largest and most fascinating Christian churches located in the Middle East & North Africa. Serving as a place of worship to the Zabbaleen inhabitants of Manshiyat Nasser, the Monastery of Saint Simon is located in the Mokattam cliffs that back up to the district. The monastery is actually built right into a large cave within the cliffs with the capacity to fit 2,000 worshippers within. Other caves nearby have been fashioned into Christian churches too, and have since been linked, creating a unique Christian center within Garbage City.
Citadel Of Saleh Ad-Din
The Citadel of Saleh Ad-Din is a medieval Islamic fortress located right in the heart of Cairo, built under the reign of Saleh Ad-Din, a Kurdish Sunni, who served as the first sultan of Egypt & Syria under the Ayubbid Dynasty. The Cairo Citadel served as the seat of power in Egypt and housed its rulers from the 13-19th centuries. While visiting, don’t miss the Mosque of Mohammed Ali Pasha inside the citadel, as well as the Hypostyle Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad and the Mosque of Suleyman Pasha. The National Military Museum, Al-Gawhara Palace Museum, Carriage Museum, and the Police Museum are also worth paying a visit to.
Admission to the Citadel is 180 EGP.
Take A Felucca Ride On The Nile
This is the one thing on the list I haven’t actually done while in Cairo, but have been meaning to do! Felucca are a traditional sailboat used for over a millennia to journey up and down the Nile River. Of course, you can take a felucca ride day or night, but the best time to take one is in the late afternoon to catch the sunset over the Nile and watch the city as it lights up afterward. You can book a felucca trip here on Viator.
Where To Stay In Cairo
In Downtown Cairo, my personal favorite is the Steigenberger (okay, I’ll admit, I’m usually in Cairo at the end of a lovely Socotra expedition and am looking to crash in a cushy room… and also I’m there for the epic breakfast buffet). For those keeping to a smaller budget, a good friend of mine raved about the Holy Sheet Hostel (and to be honest I met up with her in there one day- it is an excellent deal for the price). In Giza I highly recommend the Panorama Pyramids Inn– the rooms have amazing views right out to the Pyramids. They serve a pretty hefty and delicious breakfast and dinner on their rooftop terrace that are included in the price of your room as well (shisha if you choose to smoke it, is also a free amenity. Dinner is served as the Pyramids Lights & Sound Show plays from 7-8 pm.
Best Accommodations In Cairo
Best Accommodations In Giza
Abo Stait Pyramid View Homestay
| Booking.com |
How To Get Around Cairo
Uber & Taxi
Navigating Cairo isn’t all too difficult. Uber and Careem are both efficient and relatively inexpensive for getting around the city and to/from the airport. Another great option for female travelers is to use Pink Taxi, a ladies-only taxi service startup based in Cairo. You can book a Pink Taxi by downloading their app (Android | Apple). I’d advise using Uber, Careem, or Pink Taxi over trying to get taxis off the street for safety reasons and because many times taxi drivers will try to overcharge tourists.
The Cairo Metro is also a cheap and efficient way to get around the city as Cairo’s traffic can be mind-bogglingly horrendous, but I would recommend avoiding it during morning and evening rush-hour times (7-9 am and 4-7 pm). I found the Cairo Metro easy enough to navigate myself without much to any issue. There are women-only cars on metro trains (like in Iran and the UAE) that can be a great option for women traveling solo wanting to avoid potential harassment. Check out the official Cairo Metro page here, and this handy informational page here. A single ride costs 3-10 EGP depending on distance, tickets can be purchased at the desk upon entering the station. You will need to tell the ticket agent which station you’ll be going to. Note that you cannot reach every major attraction in Cairo by metro.
Meekrobas are minibusses that are commonly used by locals to get between main destinations. Their destinations aren’t marked and can be quite confusing to communicate where you want to go, though in my experience I’ve found Cairenes quite helpful and friendly and have always found someone that could assist in getting me going in the right direction. Rides cost 2-5 EGP depending on the distance. You’ll take a seat, communicate where you need to get off (usually by hand gestures- this is where you’ll need some assistance by kind locals) and then pass your money up to the driver (similar to on a marshrutka in Eastern Europe and Central Asia) and change will be passed back to you.
Arriving At Cairo Airport
I without a doubt, recommend either ordering an Uber, Careem, or Pink Taxi to pick you up after you arrive at Cairo Airport, or prebooking an airport shuttle here, or directly with Cairo Shuttle Bus. If you will be using Uber, Pink Taxi, or Careem you’ll need to go to a parking lot that is located outside Terminal 2 and 3. Follow the signs to parking lot B5 or C2, you’ll need to take an elevator or stairs to get down to the lot. One thing I will say with my experience using Uber in Cairo is that many drivers speak only Arabic so if you need to communicate something with the driver through the app prior to pick up it can be a little tricky. I also recommend either memorizing Arabic numerals, or having a sheet downloaded on your phone showing Arabic to Roman numerals as Egyptian license plates are written using Arabic numerals, but the app will give the driver’s plate numbers in Roman numerals.
Best Restaurants In Cairo
I did mention gorging on Egyptian food a must-do experience on any trip to Cairo earlier in this post, but here is a list of some of my favorite Egyptian food hot spots:
Downtown Cairo Restaurants
Felfela: I’ve yet to order anything at Felfela I didn’t like. I always order their tahini along with taamia (they have several varieties). You can’t go wrong with the lentil soup, full medames, kofta, or mixed grill either. If you want to try a specialty, get the stuffed pigeon. On the backside of the main Felfela Restaurant, there is a Felfela Express serving up an array of the simpler items off their menu, including shwarma.
Kebabgy Grill: Located on the banks of the Nile in the Sofitel, this is an upper-scale restaurant, but the food, in my experience was lovely. All of their hot and cold mezze are delicious. For entrees, some of my favorites include the kofta, chicken kabsah, and the seafood grill.
Abou Tarek Koshari: This is where you need to go to try the national dish of Egypt: Koshari. Abou Tarek is pretty well known for serving up (arguably) the best koshari in Cairo.
Saqqara Restaurant: It can feel a bit like tourist-central with large tour groups stopping off here for lunch on day tours to Saqqara and Memphis, but they serve up a simple and decent Egyptian menu.
Andrea El Harem Restaurant: Serving up typical Middle Easter fare in Giza, with decent views of the pyramids.
Best Fast Food In Cairo
Gad Fastfood: I met a chatty Uber driver (actually quite an interesting man) who recommended Gad Fastfood to me and some friends. It seems daunting when you walk into the ground level where cooks are slinging dishes with a frenzy of local fans putting in takeaway orders. As you glance up you’ll notice the menu is in Arabic, but don’t let that put you off. Head upstairs to the main dining area to sit down and put in an order (that is unless of course, you feel comfortable putting in a takeaway order in Arabic!). The food is cheap, plentiful, and good.
Food stall cafes along Gawhar al Qa’ed Street at Khan El Khalili across from Al-Azhar University: I hired a car on my last day during my last trip to Cairo to go out to the Dahshur Pyramids, and within a couple of hours me and my driver were basically best friends. I needed to make a stop at Khan el Khalili before heading for the airport to depart and I asked Mohammed what the best place for taamia (Egyptian falafel) and tahina was there. Well fast forward and we met up with his family along Gawhar al Qa’ed Street where we sat down for probably the best taamia, tahina, and ful medames I’ve ever had. If you want drinks you’ll need to pop into a shop along the street for juice, water, or soft drinks. These little hole-in-the-wall stalls don’t usually have names and look a little dirty- but then again that’s never stopped me either.
Best Bars In Cairo
Cafe Riche: A renowned Cairo landmark located in the downtown area that opened in 1908. Cafe Riche has served as a meeting place for intellectuals and revolutionaries over the years. Most intellectuals tend to meet and form discussions online now, however, it’s still a fun experience to grab a drink with friends in the evening here. Note that smoking is permitted inside.
Cairo Jazz Club: The best place in Cairo to head for live music that serves great cocktails to boot. Don’t let the name fool you though, Cairo Jazz Club hosts artists that span the musical spectrum including local acts and international bands.
Crimson Cairo: The Nile view from the rooftop terrace at Crimson Cairo is worth a visit alone. Located on Zamalek Island serving up a variety of cocktails, wines, liquor as well as food.
Cairo Travel Safety & Tips
- In all honesty, the most dangerous thing you’ll do in Cairo is cross the street, it really feels like a game of chicken at first… but after a few days (and likely a few instructional lessons from Cairenes who take you under their wing), you’ll be walking like an Egyptian in no time. If you still don’t trust your abilities to cross on your own in a busy area, just find a local trying to cross and follow their lead- they generally are pretty good at this.
- Occasional harassment does occur on the streets for female travelers, but in my experience, it’s been pretty light- I can think of one time I was whistled at and that’s been about it. However, it does happen at times so do try to be aware of your surroundings.
- Petty crime, along with bag snatchings and pickpocketing do happen periodically in Cairo in busy centers like Khan el Khalili, metro stations, and on buses.
- There are tourist police offices in Khan el Khalili, downtown, Giza, and inside the citadel. If you are a victim of crime, report to the tourist police rather than the regular police.
- Cairo is known for their crafty touts. In my experience, they’re a lot rifer in Giza than anywhere in Cairo, but you do find them in Khan el Khalili and downtown. Just be on guard for anyone wanting to randomly befriend you especially in touristy areas, many times they’re just trying to lure you into a shop. I can say though I’ve met numerous friendly Cairenes that just approach to have a conversation and make small talk, so don’t write off everyone as a potential tout.
- Cairo can be extremely hot in the summer, so sun protection, drinking enough water, and breaking to rest especially midday are especially important. Temperatures in June-August can hover around 35 C (95 F) during the day.
- Spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) are when temperatures are most pleasant to visit Cairo as well as the rest of Egypt.
- The winter months of December-February can make for a great vacation if you don’t mind cooler temps (9-16 C | 48-60 F), With that said, its best to avoid dates around the Christmas holiday as it corresponds with school breaks for Europe, Australia, and the Americas).
- Dressing modestly is the best practice as Cairo is a fairly conservative city. For women, making sure knees and shoulders are covered and for men having trousers that hit below the knee (if not opting for pull length pants) are great choices, especially for visiting holy sites.
Have Any Questions About Cairo Travel Or Any Of The Listed Things To Do In Cairo?
Ask in the comments section below.