The Pyramids, the Nile, mummies, mosques and churches more than 1,000 years old… to say there’s A LOT to see and do in Cairo would be an understatement. But we tried to streamline the best of what Cairo has to offer in terms of sightseeing and break down the top 10 things to do in Cairo.
Read more: 7 Best Bars, Pubs & Clubs in Cairo
Now, ready to explore Cairo? Let’s go!
1. See the Pyramids of Giza & The Sphinx.
This obviously goes without saying. Whether you’re in Cairo for a day or a week, this needs to be your number one thing to do. A lot of famous places worldwide are overhyped via things like Instagram etc., but trust us when we say the Pyramids and Sphinx DO NOT disappoint.
We have a LOT to say about everything you need to know before visiting the Pyramids for the first time, and we compiled it all here in our local’s guide to the Pyramids.
2. Check out the Royal Mummy Gallery at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
While the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is definitely worth seeing in and of itself (it holds over 50,000 artefacts from all eras of Egyptian civilization, from prehistoric times through the pharaonic era up until now), the Royal Mummy Gallery is really something special to see.
It’s home to over 20 royal mummies, with some very famous ones among them, like Ramses II. Some of the mummies are in remarkable condition considering they’re over 3,000 years old – Queen Tiye still almost has a full head of curly hair!
Excited about the upcoming Grand Egyptian Museum? Read Grand Egyptian Museum: A Local's Guide To Everything You Need To Know
For more cool museums in Cairo, read 9 Museums in Cairo You Need to Visit At Least Once.
3. Walk down El Moez Street in Old Cairo.
Cairo as a city is more than 1,000 years old, and there’s no better place to see remnants of what we call Old Cairo or Historic Cairo (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site by the way) than the pedestrian street of El Moez.
El Moez Street is 1 km long and filled with everything from medieval houses, mosques and palaces to shops and Cairo’s famous tentmakers’ bazaar. To quote the UN, El Moez Street has “the greatest concentration of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world”.
4. Shop for souvenirs at Khan El Khalili.
You can’t go to El Moez Street without wandering through the alleys of the adjacent Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s most famous souk or bazaar.
Khan el Khalili is the perfect place to find a great souvenir or gifts for people back home. This labyrinth of shops and vendors sell everything from high quality gold and silver to kitschy plastic trinkets. It’s beautiful at night when all the lights and lanterns are lit up, but expect crowds and a lot of bargaining.
Here’s our detailed guide to Khan el Khalili.
5. Go to the Cairo Citadel & Mohamed Ali Mosque.
The Cairo Citadel is a medieval fortress almost 1000 years old, and used to be where Egypt’s rulers ran the government as well as resided for almost 700 years. It still dominates Cairo’s eastern skyline until now and houses several mosques and museums, including the iconic Mohamed Ali mosque.
Because of its elevation, it’s a great place to also see panoramic views of Cairo (if you’re lucky and it’s a clear day, you can see clear across the city and Nile all the way to the Pyramids of Giza.
6. See the neighboring Sultan Hassan & Al Rifai Mosques.
Close to the Cairo Citadel are two of Egypt’s most beautiful mosques, Sultan Hassan and its close neighbor Al Rifai. Although the two mosques are of similar size with only a lane separating them, they were in fact built 500 years apart.
Sultan Hassan, established in 1359 AD, is considered one of the most important monuments in the Islamic world, and was home to four different madrassas (religious schools) as well as a mosque. Islamic historians referred to it as a “wonder of construction”.
Al Rifai was commissioned 500 years later by Khoshiar Hanem, the mother of Khedive Ismail, to house the royal family’s tombs as well as be a place of worship.
Read more: 10 Most Beautiful Mosques in Egypt
7. Explore Coptic Cairo.
Coptic Cairo is known as the stronghold of Christianity in Old Cairo, home to places of worship that date back to the time when the pharaonic religions of Ancient Egypt had died out and Islam had not yet arrived. Some of Egypt’s earliest churches remain standing in Coptic Egypt to this day - some dating back to the 4th century AD. It’s also believed that the Holy Family lived here for a short period during their flight into Egypt to escape Herod.
Coptic Cairo as a whole is a pedestrian complex, so you can walk around and explore the churches, Roman fortress, synagogue, cemeteries and Coptic Museum as well as alleys full of books, postcards and other souvenirs.
You can read more in our jam-packed Coptic Cairo guide here.
8. Take a Nile felucca ride.
The Nile has been Egypt’s lifeline since the beginning of recorded time, and you’ll find yourself crossing the Nile several times a day to get from one side of Cairo to the other. And while it’s cool to see the Nile from above, there’s nothing like taking an actual sail on a felucca, Egypt’s little sailboats.
It’s an instantaneous disconnect from the hustle and bustle of Cairo’s chaotic streets, and sunset especially is a perfect time to catch that river breeze and see the twinkling lights of the city light up the water.
Feluccas are available to rent from half an hour to as long as you want.
9. See Egypt’s oldest pyramid at Saqqara.
If you’re fascinated with pyramids (rightly so), then you should definitely visit the necropolis of Saqqara and see the Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Pyramid. It’s the oldest pyramid in Egypt, and its step design is considered an initial pyramid prototype before the smooth-sided Pyramids of Giza. It also houses around a dozen fascinating tombs.
Saqqara is about an hour from Downtown Cairo and a very easy half-day trip by car.
10. Have lunch or dinner with a Pyramids view.
You’ve probably already seen the Pyramids up close and personal at this point (or at least we hope so), but you can’t just be one and done when it comes to seeing the Pyramids! Come on people, we’re talking about the last ancient wonder of the world. This time, instead of trekking around in the sand and sun to see them, kick back and relax with a drink and a meal and the ancient giants as your view.
Local tip: try to go during the day or around sunset time, because once the sound & light shows are over for the evening, the Pyramids aren’t lit up so you’ll struggle to see them in the dark.
Here’s a list of our favorite restaurants with Pyramids views.
Happy exploring Cairo!
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