Cairo is the largest city in Egypt, as well as the Arab world with over 9m people calling it home. It has stood for thousands of years on the same site on the Nile river and is home to the world famous Pyramids of Giza and Egyptian Museum.
There is a so much more to see in the capital city as well but the majority of visitors will use Cairo as the main entry point of the country before wondering off to other parts of the country. I’ve been to Cairo three times now and have done it numerous ways but all in all, one to two days is enough to see the highlights of this city. Some people ask if they need to spend any time at all in Cairo. My answer to that is absolutely. The ancient Pyramids are here and it would be a travesty to visit Egypt without seeing the Pyramids!
Read about my visit to the other temples and palaces in Egypt, as well as my guide to traveling through Egypt.
This is largely what I think would be the perfect way to spend a full day (with or without an evening hotel somewhere) by visiting the following:
- Great Pyramids of Giza
- Lunch at a Koshary restaurant
- Egyptian Museum
- Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali
- Dinner in Zamalek
Is Cairo Safe?
Since the Egyptian Revolution in 2009, tourism has plummeted. What a shame as so many people depend on the tourism industry. Is it safe? Yes absolutely. Most people just have preconceived notions and prejudices of what an Arab country might be like and have watched too much garbage media. I wrote is Egypt safe in detail here. Because everyone’s scared to visit Egypt nowadays, already cheap prices have come down even more. Their loss, your gain.
I will say that the only time I didn’t feel safe is when I was in a taxi with crazy drivers weaving through even more crazy traffic. That is the way it is here though and I came out unscathed. I do, however, not recommend jaywalking across large intersections.
Use Uber in Cairo. Period.
The first time I visited Egypt was before Uber. Cabs are a nightmare to deal with. They are famous for ripping off tourists even though they have working meters. They will routinely say the meters broken and attempt to charge 1000+ LE for a ride from the airport to the unsuspecting tourist. It was such a pain trying to negotiate and argue with the drivers and overall just not a pleasant way to start off a trip.
Download and use Uber. Period. It will save you so much time, money, and general headaches. To put it in perspective, an Uber from the airport to Giza, a 1+ hr car ride, was 150 LE!! Overall, I took Uber’s all around Cairo and never paid more than 80 LE for a trip. This makes sense as wages are lower and gas is extremely cheap.
Alternatively, there is the app Careem, which is the Middle East’s version of Uber. Also safe and recommended.
Where to stay
There are no shortage of accommodation options in Cairo. Egypt is very much adept in its tourism industry and has countless options to choose from. I’ve stayed in downtown Cairo by the museum, Zamalek (the ritzy expat area), and Giza. For those with one night, I would recommend staying in Giza near the pyramids. This will allow you to go early in the morning beating the traffic and crowds as well as affording you this unbelievable view.
I stayed in Guardian Guest House, which is literally across the street from the entrance to the pyramids. You literally cannot be any closer to the pyramids. This lovely guesthouse was basic but cheap and had everything we needed. We paid ~1,000 LE per night for the pyramid facing rooms. Whatever you do, pay the premium (if you can even call it that) for the pyramid rooms!
The room quality will not be the Intercontinental or St Regis but the views from my rooftop and the room alone make it more worthwhile than anything else in the city. Plus I had front row seats from the rooftop for the night time light show!
If you want something more luxurious, I’d recommend staying in and around the area area of Zamalek which is chalk full of high end hotels (at a very reasonable price) and loads of trendy restaurants. The Four Seasons on the Nile is a perfect place for those looking for more luxury and comfort.
Morning – Pyramids of Giza
On to the itinerary. Since I stayed literally a stones throw from the pyramids, I started my visit to the pyramids first thing in the morning when it opened at 8am.
For those that yet know, the Great Pyramids are in the city of Giza, which is right next to Cairo and is part of greater Cairo. A lot of people get confused and think the pyramids are in some far out remote desert oasis. Pictures are just manipulated in a way where it looks like you’re staring into the open Sahara but that couldn’t be further from reality.
The Pyramids of Giza are in the city. It is surrounded by the city and everywhere you look, you’ll be able to see buildings and society. Regardless, they are still incredibly breathtaking to see. The fact that they have stood for 5000 years is an acknowledgement to the incredible ingenuity of the Ancient Egyptians.
The pyramids open at 8am and close at 5pm and are open 7 days a week. The entrance ticket is 120 LE, with additional costs required if you want to enter one of the pyramids or the Sphinx. I didn’t do either of these as the costs are considerably higher and they’re all just dark dusty rooms.
Riding a camel in the Pyramids
On my first visit to the Pyramids, I was on a budget tour with limited time spent at the pyramids. The second time, I told myself I should really ride a camel because it just looks kind of badass. Camels are not comfortable by any means but I had to do it while I’m here. The guy at my guesthouse knew a guy (everyone knows someone) that did camel tours and would give me a good price.
I was skeptical at first because these types of activities usually result in rip off city. Because we had 4 people in the group, they quoted me 200 LE per hour per camel. This was incredibly reasonable in my opinion! No hesitation and off we went on to the camels.
We ended up having the camel for three hours stopping at the Panorama viewpoint, and walking around the base of the pyramids. The Panaroma point is definitely the most iconic and picturesque of all the viewpoints. You can see the three smaller pyramids followed by the three larger pyramids: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
You’re not traveling long distances so you definitely do not need a camel to take you around. They make for amazing photos, and other people will shower you with attention and takes your picture as well. I kind of felt like a celebrity.
I became good buddies with our guy Mohammed (to be honest I can’t remember his name, but 50% chance I guessed it right since that is how popular the name is in Egypt), and he ended up letting me ride the camel off on my own, as opposed to being in a single file line.
From the pyramids, take an Uber to Koshary Abou Tarek for lunch. Koshari is one of Egypt’s main staple dishes. It’s a vegetarian dish made from an unusual combination of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, onions, vinegar and a delicious sauce. It’s hard to describe to be honest but this is Egypt’s street dish of choice and is a must have when visiting.
Koshary Abou Tarek is located within walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, the next destination on the itinerary.
Afternoon – Egyptian Museum
From Koshary Abou Tarek, it’s a 10 minute walk to the Egyptian Museum. The Egyptian museum, or the Museum of Cairo, houses an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts. It is a huge museum with multiple floors of statues, papyrus, paintings, jewelry, and more. It is also home to the sarcophagus of King Tut, and is readily visible in the museum. It is constructed of 100kg of solid gold! That’s just his tomb!
The entrance to the museum is 120 LE. I’d highly recommend getting a guide, which are readily available for hire outside the museum. They do a good job explaining the history of Egypt and guide you through the countless artifacts within the museum. Otherwise, it can get overwhelming and you won’t get much out of it. We paid 200 LE for a private guide.
Mosque Mohammad Ali or the Mosque of Ibn Tulum
At this point, it might be quite late in the day. The sun usually sets around 5 to 5:30 so it’s best to leave the museum before 4pm if you want to see the mosque. The Great Mosque of Mohammad Ali is the largest mosque in Egypt. Although not as picturesque as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, it is still worth seeing if you’re need to see a Mosque. The architecture inside is spectacular, as with most mosques I’ve seen. Make sure to take off your shoes and dress accordingly.
Similarly, the Mosque of Ibn Tulum is also quite spectacular to see. It’s closer in distance than the Mosque of Mohammad Ali but you can’t go wrong with either option.
Dinner in Zamalek
From the Mosque or the Egyptian Museum, either head back to your hotel to freshen up, or head to dinner in Zamalek. Zamalek is the trendy part of the city. Located on its own island, it is filled with nice high rise apartments, trendy restaurants, bars, and offers great views of the city.
Upon the recommendation of friends, we went to a restaurant called Sequoia. It is located right on the northern tip of Zamalek and offers fantastic views of the city. The restaurant itself is fantastic, serving delicious Egyptian style food like hummus, grilled kebabs, fattah, and more. As in most other places in Egypt, people were smoking shishas with their dinner and we did too. Of all the countries I’ve been to in the Middle East, Egypt has the best, strongest, and cheapest shishas. If it’s warm out, try and get a table closer to the outside!
From Cairo, most people will either go south towards the temples of Luxor and Abu Simbel, or fly to the Sinai region to dive in the Red Sea. Some of my favorite diving in the world is in the Red Sea, particularly in Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh.
Egypt overall is one of my favorite places to visit. The scenery in the Red Sea is absolutely unreal and offers the cheapest scuba diving in the world. It’s also one of the cheapest countries I’ve ever been to. The food is delicious, people are nice, and it’s also next do Israel and Jordan with all its wonders.
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