So many places, so little time -- it’s the traveler’s routine woe once setting foot in a new city or country. And have you noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re there for two days or two weeks, there always seems to be something you didn’t get a chance to do?
Cairo is definitely going to be one of those places; it’s legit teeming with sights worth seeing and places worth exploring, and even locals such as ourselves have needed years to really uncover all that this city has to offer. We have them all listed here in the Top 10 Things To Do in Cairo.
But since chances are you’re going to be tight on time, we tried to break down as best we could the sights that you *must* see in Cairo, the sights that you should try very hard to see, and the sights that you can skip if you just don’t have the time (that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth seeing though, don’t get it twisted!!!)
What You MUST SEE in Cairo:
1. The Great Pyramids of Giza
This one is obviously a no-brainer. I mean, if you’re in Cairo and opt out of seeing the last standing Ancient Wonder of the World, then that’s a personal choice and I respect it. But why would you?!
Out of the 80+ pyramids (some sources cite that they’re 100+) found in Egypt, the Giza Pyramids are the most famous. The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) is the largest Egyptian pyramid, and the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The sphinx is the largest monolith statue in the world, and is also located on the Giza Plateau. Here's 9 other pyramids (besides the Pyramids of Giza) you should see if you have extra time.
What you absolutely need to read before going: Visiting The Pyramids of Giza: A Local’s Guide To Everything You Need To Know
2. The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
Unfortunately the Grand Egyptian Museum isn't open yet (but you can read our full guide about its mini guided tours). In the meantime, you should definitely visit the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. This large museum hosts over 50,000 artefacts from all eras of Egyptian civilization, from prehistoric times, through the pharaonic era up until now - and good news, because it's been recently renovated, all displays have clearly stated information, so no guide needed!
Their world-famous Gallery of the Royal Mummies is definitely one of the highlights of this museum - in this quiet, tomb-like space, you can see 20 royal mummies that are thousands of years old, including some of the most famous pharaohs of all time like Ramses II.
For more great museums in Cairo, check out our detailed list here.
3. Khan el Khalili & Moez Street
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. For a our full local's guide to Khan el Khalili, head here.
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). Here's our detailed local's guide to Moez Street.
Local tip: go at night and taking a shopping break to enjoy tea and shisha at Naguib Mahfouz Cafe or Fishawi Cafe.
4. Nile Felucca
While obviously a felucca isn’t a sight in and of itself, the Nile definitely is, and the best way to experience it and to get better perspective of the city in general, is while floating leisurely in a felucca.
A felucca is a small sailboat that you rent out by half hour or 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 7000 year old civilization.
What you should try really, really hard to see:
Saqqara & Dahshur Pyramids
Located about 30 km outside Cairo, Saqqara (or Sakkara) is a vast burial ground, serving as a necropolis for Egypt’s ancient capital, Memphis. Memphis is now an open-air museum of sorts, but it’s Saqqara where you’ll find the famous step pyramid of Djoser, dating even further back than the Pyramids of Giza. Saqqara also hosts an impressive number of ‘mastaba’ tombs.
If you have extra time, go the full mile and travel a little further to Dahshur, where you can see other really cool pyramids older than the ones at Giza, like the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. Dahshur is close to Saqqara and easily seen together in one half-day trip.
One of the world's greatest monuments to medieval warfare, as well as a highly visible landmark on Cairo's Eastern skyline, the Citadel houses a number of historical mosques (like the Muhammed Ali mosque pictured above) 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.
Islamic Cairo is home to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world, like Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai. Also in Islamic Cairo is Ibn Tulun mosque, one of the largest and oldest mosques in Egypt.
Local tip: while you’re in Islamic Cairo, make sure you check out the Gayer-Anderson Museum, one of the oldest and best-preserved homes from the medieval period.
Check out our article on the ten most beautiful mosques in Egypt.
Coptic Cairo is an area of Old Cairo established around 400 AD which served as a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt, and is home to beautiful sites like the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in Cairo. It’s dedicated to the Patron Saint of Egypt, St. George, and rests on the bastion of the Roman gate of the Babylon fortress.
There’s also the Coptic Museum, which holds approximately 15,000 pieces and contains the world's largest collection of Coptic artifacts and artwork. Displaying a rich mixture of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions, the objects are grouped into different mediums, such as stonework, woodwork, metalwork, textiles and manuscripts.
For more beautiful churches, cathedrals and monasteries in Egypt, head here.
Read more: Coptic Cairo - A Detailed Local's Guide
What you can skip till next time:
Sound & Light Show at the Pyramids
Using the sphinx as the narrator of Egypt’s ancient history and the pyramids as a backdrop, the show is carried out in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Russian and plays three times a night, in three different languages. Call beforehand to check the time of the performance you would like to attend; private viewing times can also be arranged. It's kind of cheesy to be honest but you might like it if you're into its 1980s/1990s vibe.
The Pharaonic Village
This place is great if you have kids, kind of touristy and inauthentic if you don't. Just outside of Cairo’s city center along the banks of the Nile, visitors can sail aboard barges down a network of canals to view recreations of Ancient Egyptian times. With a group of actors, accurate reproductions of buildings, clothing and lifestyle, the age of the Pharaohs is (kinda) brought to life.
If you’re into the kitsch, then be sure to take a picture there before you leave, dressed as a pharaoh! You can also tour the Dr. Ragab Papyrus Museum, the largest floating museum in the world where you can see firsthand the ancient Egyptian art of papyrus paper-making.
Standing at 187 meters, the Cairo tower allows visitors to witness some awesome views of the city. Located on the Gezira island of Zamalek, this granite lotus-inspired structure has views extending as far as the Muqattam hills and outskirts of the city where the Giza pyramids stand.