Cairo is a city rich in history and ancient finery, and the most significant spot to visit to get a sense of current Egyptian street life. A visit to Egypt would be incomplete without a stop in Cairo. Few places can compare with Cairo for historical tourism, but Egypt's capital has much more to offer than museums and mosques.
With many exciting options and stunning sites, planning a vacation to Cairo might be overwhelming for you. This is why we're here to recommend a few of our favorite locations in town. The city can also be confusing or intimidating to first time visitors, so why not hire one of our vetted professional guides? They can help you enjoy the rich culture and history of the city in a safe and friendly way.
The Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza are Cairo's most popular half-day tour option, and a top priority on every visitor’s schedule. The Great Pyramid of Giza (or Pyramid of Khufu) is the largest pyramid in Egypt, and the central focal point of the Giza Pyramid Complex. Visitors can actually enter the Pyramid of Khufu, walking down the passageway from the Grand Gallery to the King’s Chamber. A ticket to enter the pyramid costs around $6-7 USD, and the journey to the King’s Chamber takes about 20 minutes to complete (not for the claustrophobic though).
The Pyramid of Khafre is located farther south upon the plateau, and it has an internal tunnel region that may be accessed. The smaller Pyramid of Menkaure can also be found here. The lion-bodied and pharaoh-faced Sphinx is another amazing sight to be marveled at, one of the ancient world's most recognizable monuments and guards of these temples. Once the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is completed, the Giza Plateau will gain another attraction.
When it finally opens, it’s going to be the world's largest museum devoted to showcasing the antiquities of a single culture, displaying a plethora of Ancient Egypt's treasures, many of which have never been seen by the public before. The region around the Giza pyramids is so vast that many visitors choose to take a tour, which typically includes a camel or horse ride. This is a must-see destination despite the heat, dust, and tourist crowds.
The Al-Azhar Mosque, constructed in 972 CE, is the best architectural example of Cairo's Fatimid era and is one of the city's earliest surviving mosques. It is also among the world's oldest universities, having been granted university status by Caliph El-Aziz in 988 CE.
The primary entrance is through the Gate of Barbers on the northwest of the palace, next to Abbas II's neo-Arab facade. Drop your shoes at the door and enter the center courtyard. The El-Taibarsiya Medrese, on your right, features a mihrab (prayer space) that dates back to 1309.
The center courtyard provides the most splendid sight of the temple's five minarets which crowns the structure. Across the lawn is the prayer hall, which is 3,000 square meters in size. Al-Azhar Street runs east from Midan Ataba to the mosque's square in the city. The Al-Azhar Mosque is located in the middle of the Islamic area of Cairo and is easily accessible via taxi.
Saqqara & Dahshur
The so-called "other pyramids" are located in the immense necropolis of Saqqara and the neighboring site of Dahshur. A day's drive out here is just as enjoyable as a trip to Giza's pyramids. The locations are around 30 kilometers south of Cairo.
The Step Pyramid is the most prominent tourist destination in Saqqara, but the entire region is covered with beautifully decorated tombs worth spending a few hours examining. While exploring these pyramids, the Serapeum can't be overlooked. This is where the mummies of the holy Apis bulls were deposited, and you can also marvel at the Mastaba of Ti, with its colorful and intricately painted walls. Because Saqqara is so huge and has such a long history as a burial place, explorations here continue to provide newsworthy archaeological discoveries.
Dahshur's Red Pyramid as well as the Bent Pyramid are just down the road and should not be missed. Even the shortest trip here will take at least a half-day, so we’d recommend hiring a private guide to ensure things go smoothly.
Shopping at the great Khan el-Khalili
Khan el-Khalili offers one of the finest shopping experiences in the world. This souq (bazaar) is a maze of narrow lanes that was founded as a retail center in 1400 CE and still echoes with the clang of metal artisans and silversmiths to this day.
While in Cairo, visit Fishawis, the city’s most renowned coffee shop. Here visitors and local merchants are served sugary Arabic coffee and sweet tea at breakneck speeds. Al-Muski Street is the primary avenue for shopping (called Gawhar al-Qaid Street), the silver and gold workshops are largely concentrated immediately north of the intersection of Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Road, whereas the spice market is located close south.
Everything from antiques, exquisite metal lampshades, and locally woven fabrics can be found here. The best way to get to the Khan el-Khalili district is via Al-Azhar Street, which is located across the street from the Al-Azhar Mosque.
Citadel of Saladin
Saladin erected Cairo's citadel in 1176 on a commanding site at the base of the Mokattam Hills. Besides the eastern outer walls, the original building he designed has since vanished, but subsequent lineages of monarchs constructed their modifications here.
The most famous structure and the primary reason for visiting is the Muhammad Ali Mosque. The "Alabaster Mosque," with its white stone and towering, proportionally slender minarets, is one of Cairo's most iconic structures. The views of the city are another major incentive to come up here; go to the Gawhara Terrace for the most incredible vista in town. The El-Nasir Mosque, erected by Mohammed el-Nasir between 1318 and 1335, is located just to the northeast of the Muhammad Ali Mosque.
A collection of museums (the Police Museum, National Military Museum, and Carriage Museum) occupy some of the other buildings on-site and are interesting both due to their architecture and exhibitions. If you're feeling active, you may take a stroll to the citadel region from Bab Zuweila by following Khayyamiyya Street, taking roughly 30 minutes.
Cairo is a huge metropolis. Many premium hotels are located along the Nile River or near the Giza Pyramids. However, The Garden City sector and Zamalek in downtown Cairo provide some of the greatest luxury and mid-range selections. Budget hotels are primarily located in the Downtown area.
Visiting Cairo can seem a bit of a daunting task, so to help show you the ways of the city (and how to barter at market), why not hire one of our vetted local guides? You can even prepare a custom tour of the sights you’d like to see.