• Local's Guide To Egypt

Cairo Sightseeing For Free: 10 Awesome Sites That Don’t Cost Anything To Visit

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

If you’re visiting Cairo but on a budget, you don’t have to worry about sightseeing breaking the bank. Besides our list of 10 things to do in Cairo on a budget, there’s actually a bunch of awesome sites that actually cost nothing --yes, as in for free-- to visit. Can’t find a better deal than that!

PS: looking for a detailed Cairo itinerary? Check out our 1 day, 2 day and 3 day itineraries.

1. Ibn Tulun Mosque

Location: Old Cairo

Established: 884 AD

Ibn Tulun is not only the oldest mosque in Cairo in its original form, but also the largest. It also has one of the very few minarets in the world where the staircase is on the outside and lends to stunning views of the city.

The mosque was built by Ahmed Ibn Tulun, an Abbassid governor in Egypt, and it’s said that he was inspired by his homeland of Iraq. Some historians maintain that Ibn Tulun mosque has the world’s first pointed arch, some 200 years before Europe started incorporating Gothic arches in their architecture.

Photo credit: archnet.org

While entrance to the mosque is free, the caretakers regularly ask for donations which is up to your discretion. They also ask you to buy shoe covers (5 EGP per person/20 cents per person), but you can take off your shoes and carry them if you prefer.

Local tip: make sure to climb to the top of the minaret!

Read more about Egypt's 10 most beautiful mosques.

2. Hanging Church

Location: Coptic Cairo

Established: 690 AD

One of the most famous churches in Egypt, The Hanging Church is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Historic Cairo.

It got the name of ‘Hanging Church’ (or ‘Suspended Church’ in Arabic, ‘El Moallaqa’) because of its location above a Roman fortress gatehouse. When it was first built the pillars of the gatehouse would have been easily seen, creating the ‘hanging’ effect of the church, but now are buried due to the rise of the ground over the past 1300 years.

The church is believed to be the first basilica style church built in Egypt, and houses 110 icons, most made of ebony and some inlaid with ivory, the oldest and holiest dating back to the 8th century.

For more churches and cathedrals in Egypt you need to visit, head here.

3. Ben Ezra Synagogue

Location: Coptic Cairo

Established: 882 AD

Originally a Coptic Church (it’s actually situated right behind the Hanging Church), Abraham Ben Ezra from Jerusalem bought the church and converted it to a synagogue. It’s believed to be the spot where the baby Moses was found.

The synagogue went through a series of renovations over the centuries, with the current structure dating back to 1892. It’s built in the style of a basilica, with two floors: the first floor dedicated to men, and the 2nd dedicated to women.

Due to the huge decline in the Jewish community in Cairo, the synagogue now functions as a museum and a tourist attraction as opposed to an operating place of worship.

4. Khan El Khalili & Moez Street

Location: Old Cairo

This sprawling souq is not just a bazaar where you can buy jewelry, antiques, handicrafts and souvenirs -- it’s also a piece of history, dating back to the 14th century when it was a large caravanserai, housing merchants and their wares. Head here for our full Khan el Khalili guide.

Khan el Khalili today is an integral part of Old Cairo, and the architecture and surrounding areas like Moez Street are reason enough to go (a UN study found that Moez Street has the highest concentration of medieval Islamic architectural treasures in the world). This whole area is called Historic Cairo, and is one of Egypt's 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

For our detailed local's guide to Moez Street and all its treasures, head here.

Local tip: go at night to see all the medieval Islamic architecture lit up.

5. Mar Girgis Church (St. George's)

Location: Coptic Cairo

Established: 10th century

One of the few round churches built in Egypt, St. George’s is built on top of an ancient Roman Tower that connects to the monastery below.

The interior of the church is known for its stained glass and rich woodwork.

St. George’s is one of the only still-active churches in the Coptic Cairo area, and is considered the principle Greek Orthodox church in Egypt.

Visitors of all religions are welcome any time, except to the monastery, which is closed to the public.

6. City of the Dead

Photo credit: The National

Location: below the Moqattam hills

This predominantly Islamic cemetery and necropolis is a dense stretch of tombs and mausoleums, with some of Cairo’s poorest population living and working amongst the dead.

The necropolis dates back to the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 642 AD, when Amr Ibn Aas founded Fustat, the first Islamic capital in Egypt. He built a graveyard for his family under the Moqattam Hills, where the City of the Dead now stands. Other families soon began to bury their kin there as well.

Photo credit: Glassblower

There are a handful of prominent shrines still standing, including those of Al Hussein, the Prophet Mohamed’s grandson, as well as Sayyeda Zeinab, one of Cairo's most popular saints.

7. Sultan Hassan & Al Rifai Mosques

Location: Old Cairo

Established: 1359

These two towering mosques are neighbors, separated by a small pedestrian alley. Once of the most important monuments in the Islamic world, the Sultan Hassan Madrassa and Mosque was home to four different madrassas (religious schools) as well as a mosque. Islamic historians referred to it as a “wonder of construction”.

It’s because of its huge neighbor that Al Rifai is its size; the architects didn’t want Sultan Hassan to dwarf it. It was commissioned by Khoshiar Hanem, the mother of Khedive Ismail, to house the royal family’s tombs as well as be a place of worship.

8. Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga)

Photo credit: Andrew Shenouda (@andrew_shenouda)

Location: Coptic Cairo

Established: 4th century

The Abu Serga church is believed to be built on the spot where the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and infant Jesus Christ) stopped and rested towards the end of their journey to Egypt. The spot is now the crypt of the church, 10 meters deep.

It’s also believed that they might have lived here while Joseph was working at the Babylon fortress in what is now modern-day Coptic Cairo -- the fortress’ enclosure today includes the Coptic Museum and a few churches, like the previously mentioned Hanging Church and Mar Girgis.

Abu Serga is also of importance because it’s where many patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected, the first being Patriarch Isaac in in 681 AD.

9. Garbage City

Location: Mansheyet Naser

Cairo’s Garbage City is not on everyone’s to-see list, nor is it everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s most definitely worth a trip to see something you might not see elsewhere -- and something you definitely won’t forget!

This slum of Cairo is predominantly inhabited by Coptic Christian ‘zabbaleen’, or garbage collectors. They collect garbage from around the capital and extract any recyclable materials that can be reused, melted down or resold.

The slum is full of stacks of garbage with men, women and children sorting them with great efficiency. It’s definitely not a sight you’d see often and worth seeing how this informal sector of Cairo works.

Local tip: make sure you check out the Cave Church while you’re there (below).

10. Cave Church

Location: Moqattam, Cairo

Established: 1975

This awesome cave church (or technically, ‘churches’ -- the St. Simon monastery complex has seven churches) is unlike anything else we have in Egypt.

Carved into the Moqattam Hills, the main monastery hall can hold over 20,000 people and was named after the Coptic Saint Simon, who, according to legend, moved the Moqattam mountain in 979 AD as proof of the strength of his beliefs.

The cave church was built by the Zabbaleen community of Cairo’s Garbage City, and today is not only a religious spot but an educational center, kindergarten and school for the deaf.

You might also like: 3 Day Itinerary for Cairo, Egypt

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Hi and thanks for visiting! We're a group of Egyptian locals who love to share our insider info with travelers when it comes to all things Egypt.

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