3 Day Itinerary For Cairo, Egypt
Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Have three days to spend in Cairo? Good for you, because that’s the minimum amount of time needed to see the best of what Cairo has to offer.
So buckle your seat belt, get a caffeine fix or an energy drink, and get ready for a whirlwind 36 hours of ancient Egyptian history, beautifully intact mosques and churches from the Middle Ages, bustling bazaars, local Egyptian food and wine, the longest river in the world, green spaces in an urban jungle and panoramic views over the city. We have a lot to cover!
Ready? Let's go.
You’ll be waking up early to be at the Pyramids as soon as they open, so it’s best to have a quick breakfast at the hotel/Airbnb so that you’re on the road ASAP (it takes anything from 30 minutes to an hour from central Cairo to the Pyramids in the early morning). We recommend taking Uber/Careem as the most time-efficient method: here's our full article about different transportation methods in Cairo.
Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx (duration: around 2-3 hours)
Winter opening hours (October to March): 8 am to 5 pm
Summer opening hours (April to September): 7 am to 7 pm
Ticket price: 160 EGP
To make the most of your day, try to be at the Pyramids as soon as they open (plus that way you beat most of the tour buses that start rolling up around 10 am). The standard ticket (160 EGP) gains you access to the Pyramids and Sphinx complex.
How much time you spend there depends on you; whether you choose to enter any of the pyramids (for an extra cost), whether you go on a camel/horse ride, and whether you visit the Solar Boat Museum. But it’ll take at least two hours to walk around the complex and take some good pictures, even without any extras.
Local tip: don’t let yourself get bogged down with the touts who’ll constantly try to stop you and offer all kinds of trinkets, camel rides, panoramic views and what have you. Politely but firmly decline and keep it moving.
Head to the Marriott Mena House at the foot of the Giza Plateau (at the bottom of the hill that leads to the entrance of the Pyramids complex) for lunch overlooking the world’s last standing ancient wonder. Their international restaurant, 139 Pavilion, offers beautiful outdoor dining and shisha (no reservations needed). The hotel itself is a historical site to see, considering it’s a converted royal hunting lodge (read more here: 11 Historical Hotels In Egypt You Can Still Stay At Today).
Local tip: if you want a view of the Pyramids while having lunch but the Marriott Mena House is out of budget, then there’s a nearby Pizza Hut with equally impressive views. For more budget Cairo tips, head here.
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities aka Egyptian Museum/Cairo Museum (duration: 1-3 hours)
Monday to Wednesday: 9 am - 5 pm
Sunday & Thursday: 9 am - 9 pm
Friday & Saturday: 9 am - 4 pm
Ticket price: 100 EGP (doesn’t include King Tut or Royal Mummies room)
After lunch, start heading back towards central Cairo (again, we recommend Uber/Careem or a taxi). Cairo Museum is on Midan Tahrir where the January 25th Revolution happened in 2011, so while there’s not much to see at the Midan now (it’s back to business as normal), it’s still interesting to see where it all happened with the added convenience of it being en route to the museum.
Home to over 120,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts, the Cairo Museum holds the world’s largest collection of pharaonic antiquities. It’s here where you can see the infamous King Tutankhamun collection (you’ll need to buy an extra ticket here), complete with his sarcophagus and gold burial mask. There’s also the Royal Mummy room (also via an extra ticket), with a fantastic collection of mummies. (For more cool museums in Cairo, head here).
How much time you spend here is up to you, with an hour being the least possible amount of time (there’s *so* much to see), while some people spend a whole day here. We recommend not spending more than 3 hours so you can continue on with the day.
Local tip: there are relatively knowledgeable touts there who will offer to work as a guide for a negotiable fee, because many of the exhibits don’t have descriptions. This isn’t a bad idea, but make sure they show you their tour guide certificate so you know their info is credible.
If you’re hungry after the museum, then a ten minute’s walk away is Koshary Abou Tarek, a brightly-lit, fast-foodish type of restaurant in Downtown Cairo, that’s known for having some of the *best* koshary in town. Koshary in one of Egypt’s proud national dishes, comprised of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas and fried onions all topped with a garlicky tomato sauce.
This restaurant is by no means fancy, no means ambient, and by no means a romantic dining destination (unless your idea of romance is very very quirky, and in that case, rock on).
It’s super cheap (a large plate will cost you less than 10 EGP, which is around 55 cents), it’s fast (try to watch the men who work the koshary line, it’s amazing), it’s 100% vegan, aaaand it’s filling, with the word ‘filling’ underlined seventeen times. You can either eat your koshary there or take it with you to eat at your next stop in the itinerary.
For more great restaurants in Cairo, head here.
Felucca (duration up to you)
Once you’ve eaten (or got your koshary takeaway), head to DokDok, one of the best places to go for a felucca ride (it’s in front of the Four Seasons in Garden City, about a 10 minute car ride away). While a felucca isn’t a sight in and of itself, the Nile definitely is, and one of the best ways to experience the city is while floating leisurely in a felucca. You can eat your own food aboard while cruising down the Nile.
A felucca is a small sailboat that you rent out for as long as you want (starting from half an hour), and you can just kick back and relax while the felucca ‘captain’ steers you through the calm waters. And that’s part of the eternal appeal of the Nile -- no matter the chaos happening around you, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the fact that you’re sailing down the lifeline of a 7,000 year old civilization.
Bar Hopping in Downtown or Zamalek
If you still have energy in you and want to experience Cairo nightlife, then there’s no better way than bar hopping. You have two options: you can either go baladi bar hopping in Downtown (a baladi bar is a no-frills Egyptian drinking hole that probably had its heydey about 50 years ago but is still beloved), or you can go down the more upscale route and go bar hopping in Zamalek (for some ideas, check out some of our favorite nightlife spots here).
We recommend starting your day with a typical Egyptian breakfast of fuul (fava beans with olive oil and spices) and taameya (Egyptian falafel). If you want to really feel like a local, walk around Downtown or Old Cairo and stop at one of the many breakfast carts that serve just that. Or if you’re hesitant about street food, you can get your fuul and falafel fix in Felfela Downtown, a long-time staple, or any of our local favorite takeaway fuul places like Gad or Arabiata El Shabrawy (Arabiata might not sound particularly Egyptian, but trust us, the food is).
You can read more here: 12 Local Egyptian Foods You Need To Try
Coptic Cairo (2-3 hours)
Once you finish breakfast, head over to Coptic Cairo, an area of Old Cairo established around 400 AD which served as a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt. It’s home to beautiful Coptic centuries-old churches like the Hanging Church, one of the oldest in Cairo, and the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) where it’s believed that the Holy Family lived briefly during their journey to Egypt. (For more beautiful churches, cathedrals and monasteries in Egypt, head here.)
There’s also the Coptic Museum in that area, which contains the world's largest collection of Coptic artifacts and artwork.
Coptic Cairo is also home to Amr Ibn Al-Aas mosque, the first ever mosque built in Egypt, and Ben Ezra Synagogue, both worth seeing and open to the public.
For lunch, we recommend Taboula in Garden City, where they serve awesome Lebanese food as well as local beer, wine and shisha. It’s a quiet but ambient spot that allows you to catch your breath and sit down and relax.
For more great restaurants in Cairo, head here.
Islamic Cairo (2-3 hours)
Once done with lunch, head over to Islamic Cairo, home to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world like Sultan Hassan, Al Rifai, and probably one of the most famous, Ibn Tulun.
We recommend starting with Ibn Tulun and the adjacent Gayer-Anderson Museum, one of the oldest and best-preserved homes from the medieval period (the museum closes at 4 pm). One of the largest and oldest mosques in Egypt, Ibn Tulun is built out of mudbrick and still surviving in its original form. It was built in 879 AD and features a beautiful outer courtyard, architectural lecterns and arcades, a 13th century fountain and a famous spiral minaret. For more free tourist attractions in Cairo, head here.
Once done with Ibn Tulun, less than a 15 minute walk will bring you to two giant neighboring mosques, Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai -- for more information, check out 10 of Egypt’s Most Beautiful Mosques.
Local tip: mosques don’t have opening or closing hours. Women should make sure they have a scarf or something to cover their hair with when entering the mosque, and their clothes shouldn’t be too revealing out of respect. Both men and women have to take off their shoes upon entering.
Moez Street & Khan El Khalili (duration: up to you)
Opening hours: there’s no official hours, but we’d say most of the shops are open around 9 am to 1 am
Once you’re done in Islamic Cairo, hop in an Uber/cab and head to Moez Street in Old Cairo (have the driver drop you off at Bab el Futuh). It’s about 15 minutes away by car. Technically Moez Street & Khan El Khalili are still Islamic Cairo, but we’re just calling them by their names for clarity’s sake. El Moez Lideen Allah Al-Fatimi Street (Moez Street for short for obvious reasons) is a 1 km pedestrian street with the greatest concentration of medieval Islamic architectural treasures in the world. Here's our detailed local's guide to Moez Street.
The adjacent Khan el Khalili is a sprawling souq/bazaar where you can buy jewelry, antiques, handicrafts and souvenirs, and it’s also a piece of history, dating back to the 14th century when it was a large caravanserai, housing merchants and their wares. For our full local's guide to Khan el Khalili, head here.
Moez Street: You basically walk down Moez Street starting from Bab El Futuh (one of the three remaining gates to the walled city of Old Cairo) down to Bab el Zuweila, where the street ends. Enjoy the lit-up medieval mosques and other Islamic architecture that date back to the Middle Ages.
Khan El Khalili: when you finish your stroll down Moez Street, head into Khan el Khalili (you’ll have to doubleback, because Khan el Khalili is through alleys about midway down Moez Street). Just plug it into Google Maps or ask one of the shopkeepers on the street. Once you reach the market, get lost in the labyrinths of lanterns and trinkets.
Walk to Naguib Mahfouz Cafe in Khan el Khalili. Naguib Mahfouz is the most famous restaurant and cafe in the market due to its being run by the Oberoi hotel group -- they have consistently good food and it’s a great place to try local Egyptian dishes (or dessert). Because it’s popular, there might be a little bit of a wait, so you might want to put down your names on the waiting list at the restaurant and then stroll around a bit.
Quick final stop for shisha & tea
A few minutes walk from Naguib Mahfouz is El Fishawy, another extremely famous cafe in Khan El Khalili due to its being open for more than 200 years. Expect to be squeezed into any open chair they have in the alley, even if you end up sharing a table with a stranger, because this place gets crowded, fast. A good spot for people watching and open until the wee hours of the early morning.
Head over to the island of Zamalek and have breakfast at Zooba. It’s a ‘gourmet interpretation’ of local street food and was such a hit that it’s now opening in NYC! Other good breakfast options in Zamalek are Tabali (Egyptian fare) or TBS (bakery and fresh sandwiches).
Walk and explore Zamalek (duration: up to you)
The Nile island of Zamalek is one of the very few Cairo neighborhoods that’s ideal to explore by foot -- Zamalek has a lot of little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shops and interesting spots that we usually zoom right past in a car.
Exploring the whole island of Zamalek by foot could take the better part of a whole day if you take your time and explore at your own pace. Make sure you stop in the vintage stores, antique shops and art galleries as well as peep at the beautiful old villas that house the various embassies and ambassadors’ homes (what you can see behind those massive gates and road blocks, that is).
Abou El Sid, also in Zamalek, is the must-go-to restaurant if you want classic Egyptian dishes in a super ambient atmosphere (the decor, music, and wall art is enough to make it worth it). They also offer shisha and Egyptian twists on alcoholic cocktails, like vodka with fresh sugarcane juice.
Dishes of theirs that are definitely worth trying: the sharqisseya, a chicken dish with walnut sauce; stuffed vine leaves; the Egyptian moussaka, which is an eggplant stew served with rice; and a mix and match of all their various Egyptian mezzes.
The Cairo Citadel & Mohammed Ali Mosque (1-2 hours)
Opening hours: 8 am to 4 pm
Ticket price: 140 EGP (morning), 160 EGP (afternoon)
One of the world's greatest monuments to medieval warfare, the Citadel houses a number of historical mosques (such as the Mohammed Ali mosque, the most famous) and museums. Built in 1176 by Salah El Din to protect the city from crusaders, the Citadel has been one of the most dominating architectural presences in Cairo for centuries.
Mohammed Ali Mosque: this mosque in the Cairo Citadel is one of Cairo’s landmarks and dominates the Eastern skyline, both during the day and then at night when it’s lit up. It was commissioned by Mohammed Ali Pasha, an Ottoman Albanian military commander who became Khedive of Egypt. The mosque’s design was inspired by the Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
Azhar Park (duration up to you)
Opening hours: 9 am - 10 pm
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: 15 EGP
Thursday through Sunday: 20 EGP
Public holidays: 25 EGP
Once the Citadel closes, head to the nearby Azhar Park to take in the sunset with a panoramic view over Cairo. This park is an oasis of greenery in an otherwise very urban and congested city, and according to Project for Public Spaces, is one of the sixty best public spaces in the world.
If you’re hungry, there are several restaurants in Azhar Park for you to grab dinner or even a snack at, including a lakeside cafe and Studio Masr, a restaurant known for its grills.
Drinks at The Virginian in Moqattam
Want to take the view up a notch and enjoy it with a beer and shisha? Then head over to the Moqattam Hills about 10 minutes away, where you’ll find a dive bar/cafe called The Virginian with one of the best views in the city. Sit back, relax, and take a moment to process everything you’ve seen in the past 3 days while overlooking the twinkling lights of Cairo.
So there you have it. 3 days in Cairo and not a minute wasted. And don't forget -- Cairo is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Egypt!
Looking for more Egypt inspiration? Read 19 Reasons Why You Definitely Should Visit Egypt in 2019.