Updated: Aug 23
So you’re planning to visit the Pyramids of Giza? Lucky you! Whether it’s your first time or 10th time, the Pyramids will literally leave you awestruck *every* time. We local Cairenes drive past them on a daily basis and we still stare at them as if we hadn’t grown up with these ancient giants in our backyard. You’d think we’d get used to it after a decade or two or three, but nope!
For most people, seeing the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx is just a far-off dream. But if you get the chance to actually do it, then you want to do it right and make the most of it, so this is why we put together this jam-packed guide of everything you need to know to enjoy the hell out of your Pyramids trip. Because like most things in Egypt, things can get a tad confusing if you’re not a local, so we’re going to sort you out.
But first, a smidgen of history
It’s not hyperbole or exaggeration to say that the Pyramids of Giza have been on travelers’ bucket lists for thousands of years -- we’re talking about LITERAL thousands of years! More than 2,000 years to be exact, although the Great Pyramid itself is over 4,500 years old. But around 2,000 years ago was when the Greeks through their conquests introduced the world to amazing feats of architecture in ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian civilizations. This was when the first written references to the ‘7 Wonders of the World’ was born (which to be fair, are very Greek-centric but understandable considering the time).
The original ‘7 Wonders of the World’ (now called the ‘7 Ancient Wonders of the World’) weren’t formalized as a list until the Renaissance era over 500 years ago, but you get the idea of how long people have been hearing about and wanting to visit the Pyramids.
And yep, even though the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest entry on the list, it’s the only one still standing! That’s some ancient Egyptian engineering for you (and also a mystery).
The history of the Pyramids themselves… but like, super briefly
Because we don’t want this guide to be roughly a million words long, and because there are so many detailed academic sources online about the history of the Pyramids of Giza, we’ll keep ours short and cute and focus on the information that *isn’t* so readily available online - like what to expect when you visit and local tips and tricks.
But in a nutshell, the Pyramids of Giza were built as tombs for three different Egyptian pharaohs, Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, in the 4th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom, between 2600 and 2500 BC (so more than 4,500 years ago!). Khufu’s is the Great Pyramid, the oldest and the largest. They, alongside the Great Sphinx and smaller subsidiary pyramids, are all on the same plateau in Giza, now part of modern-day Cairo.
How exactly these pyramids were built still have modern historians, engineers and architects scratching their heads to this day, although theories are abundant (including being built by aliens, but the less we say about that, the better).
One theory was that it was slaves who built the Pyramids, but the discovery of the Workers’ Village and tombs on the same plateau as the Pyramids provided evidence that it was actually around 10,000 paid and skilled laborers working in three-month shifts (over 30 years for a single pyramid!) who built them. The exact ‘how’ they built them though still remains a mystery.
You may also like: 8 Best Ancient Egyptian Tomb Sites in Modern Day Egypt
So where are the Pyramids exactly?
This sometimes throws people for a loop, because they’re called the Pyramids of Giza but are actually in Cairo. Giza back in the day used to be a small city of its own on the west side of the Nile while Cairo was on the east, but Cairo has grown so immensely over the past century that the city of Giza was swallowed into what’s now called ‘Greater Cairo’. The Pyramids are about a 45 minute drive from Downtown Cairo with traffic, which is pretty standard for most places in Cairo.
What also a lot of people don’t expect is just how close to the city the Pyramids really are. In pictures they seem to be off in a remote desert somewhere, but nope they’re right there smack next to modern buildings and Pizza Huts, no joke. The neighborhood around the Pyramids is called Haram and it’s not the nicest, but the Grand Egyptian Museum (you can find out all about it at Grand Egyptian Museum: A Local's Guide To Everything You Need To Know) is opening there soon and lots of renovation and development is underway, so hopefully things in that area will take a turn for the nicer in the coming months and years.
You may also like: The Best (and Worst!) Cairo Neighborhoods to Stay In
How to get to there
Assuming you’re not going by an arranged tour bus, then the only way to get there is by car, whether a cab, Uber, hired car, etc.
Don’t even bother with any articles that say take the metro or take a microbus, just no and no. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. The metro doesn’t go anywhere near the Pyramids so you’d need to take a cab in any case, and like we said, the area isn’t the nicest so don’t go stressing yourself out before you even get there! And microbuses for tourists who don’t speak Arabic is just a terrible idea, so save yourself the hassle and hop in a car that will take you from your starting location straight to the entrance door of the Pyramids.
Local tip: the first ‘entrance’ is a security checkpoint in front of the Mena House Marriott Hotel, where they’ll briefly do a security check on the car. Don’t make the mistake of getting out here because you’ll still need to trek up a hill to the plateau to the ticket booth and main entrance, and touts will start hassling you to ride a camel or a horse or a donkey or them themselves up the hill and then try to rip you off. Make sure to get out where the ticket booth is on the top of the hill.
Local tip #2: to get around the Pyramids once you buy a ticket and enter, you can either walk around yourself if you don’t mind long stretches of sand and sun, or you can pay for a car ticket and have the car (or cab or Uber) enter the plateau and drive you between sites. This is recommended for those who don’t want to exert themselves too much, get too hot/burned, or waste too much time walking. Each main sight (the 3 Pyramids, the Sphinx and the panoramic viewpoint) have easy parking spots for a car and driver to wait for you to explore and take pictures.
Different car options:
Private car (someone you know or a hired car & driver or transportation provided by your hotel/airbnb)
London Cab (you can either book a ride to/from the Pyramids or book the cab and personal driver from 2 hours to 8 hours, all from their website).
A white cab (just make sure its meter is working, and you can ask the driver to stay with you in the complex)
You may also like: Different Modes of Transportation for Getting Around Cairo, Egypt
Pyramids of Giza Opening Hours
Opening hours: 7 am - 5 pm (ticket office closes at 4 pm)
*Ramadan hours differ and usually close before 3 pm.
Local tip: if you want to go inside the Great Pyramid (Khufu), please note that it’s closed daily from noon to 1 pm.
Local tip #2: while technically you can can explore the inside of all three of the Pyramids, sometimes they’re closed for one reason or another and you won’t find out until you get there (for example, last time we were there, the Pyramid of Menkaure was closed - the smallest of the three). The good news is that the real awe-inspiring views are from the outside, and that’s never randomly closed!
Local tip #3: if you want to avoid the tour buses, they usually start showing up around 10 am, so aim for early morning or later in the afternoon. Also avoid weekends (Friday & Saturday) and public holidays if you want the complex to be as crowd-free as possible.
Ticket Prices for General Entrance, Khufu Pyramid, Khafre Pyramid & Menkaure Pyramid
General entrance (mandatory): 240 EGP for non-Egyptians (this includes outside access to all the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the funerary temples, the cemeteries, the Queens’ pyramids and the panoramic viewpoint). 120 EGP for students.
General entrance for Egyptians: 60 EGP. Students: 30 EGP.
Ticket to go inside The Great Pyramid (Khufu): 440 EGP (student: 220 EGP)
Ticket to go inside Khafre Pyramid: 100 EGP (student: 50 EGP)
Ticket to go inside Menkaure Pyramid: 100 EGP (student: 50 EGP)
Ticket for Meresankh III Tomb: 50 EGP (student: 25 EGP)
To use a tripod or camera stand: 20 EGP
Car entrance ticket: 10 EGP
Local tip: you have to decide which pyramids you want to go inside of from the beginning when you purchase your general entrance ticket, because there’s no place to buy tickets from once you enter the Pyramid Complex and you can’t return to the ticket booth.
Local tip #2: make sure to hold on to your general entrance ticket once you enter the plateau because they’ll check it again when you go to see the Sphinx.
Local tip #3: at the main ticket booth is where you’ll also buy the ticket for your car to enter the plateau (10 EGP).
What will I be able to see in the Giza Pyramid Complex?
With your general entrance ticket, you’ll be able to drive/walk around and see the following in the complex:
Pyramid of Khufu (The Great Pyramid) (internal access via separate ticket)
Pyramid of Khafre (internal access via separate ticket)
Pyramid of Menkaure (internal access via separate ticket)
The Great Sphinx
Pyramids of the Queens and other subsidiary pyramids
Tomb of Meresankh III (internal access via separate ticket)
Valley Temple of Khafre en route to the Sphinx
Panoramic viewpoint (a designated spot complete with parking where you have the iconic view of all 3 Pyramids lined up)
The cemeteries although there’s not much to see
There also used to be the solar boat museum, where there was the ancient boat believed to belong to Khufu, but that has recently been moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum
Do I need a tour guide for the Pyramids?
We’re asked a lot if a tour guide is needed to visit the Pyramids, and the honest answer is: it depends. On what? On what kind of experience you want to have, so let us go into more detail:
First of all, we’re against large organized tour groups. For the reason that there’s very little flexibility, you’re horded around in a small crowd and thus it’s less personalized, with less time to see things at your own pace, ask questions and take those embarrassingly cheesy pictures you know you want.
So if you’re going to go down the tour guide route, we suggest hiring one for just you and your travel companions so that you really benefit from their expertise and they also give you room to absorb everything at your own pace.
Pros of having a tour guide with you:
There’s no explanation or plaques with the history of what you’re looking at once you’re inside the Giza Plateau, so a tour guide helps provide information and context and really bring the experience to life
You can ask follow-up questions about anything that catches your fancy
They help keep the touts and vendors at bay
They know the quickest, most streamlined route throughout the Giza Pyramid Complex
You can ask them for tips or advice for other Egypt-related things that you plan to see on your trip
They can take pictures for you so you don’t have to bother other visitors or be forced to ask touts
Cons of having a tour guide:
The extra cost
The extra hassle of contacting, arranging and meeting up with them
Some of the guides aren’t necessarily the best and will just give you a bare minimum tour because you don’t know better
They sometimes (not all of them!) have deals with different shops and restaurants and will try to sell you the idea of buying something/eating there because they later get a cut
Tips for getting a tour guide:
Ideally research online and choose someone who has multiple good reviews from travelers similar to yourself, then you can contact them directly
There will usually be a few random ‘guides’ milling about at the entrance to the Pyramids complex, so if you decide last-minute you MUST have a guide, you can go with one of them but make sure you negotiate a fee you feel comfortable with and look out for the points mentioned below. But for the most part we recommend going with a pre-chosen and researched guide you found online with good reviews.
Agree on their personal fee beforehand and ask if there will be any extra fees needed (besides your own tickets) - sometimes they ‘surprise’ you with ‘added services’ like a car and driver, which isn’t always a bad thing but just make sure you know about it first. Also if you would like a car & driver, just ask the guide in advance and they can easily sort it out for you.
If you ended up with a last-minute guide you met in front of the ticket entrance, politely decline if they offer camel, carriage or horse rides (unless you want them) - they’re usually in cahoots with the camel & horse people and get a cut.
If during or at the end of the tour, they offer to take you to any shops or restaurants, just politely decline (unless you want to). They’ll make these shops/restaurants/cafes seem very appealing but they’re usually tourist traps where you feel pressured into buying/ordering something because everyone is being so friendly and helpful. That’s how they get you, because they’re so nice that you feel bad not buying anything, lol. So save yourself the trouble and just politely decline from the beginning and part ways with the guide at the exit of the Pyramids Complex.
Is it worth it to go inside the Pyramids?
Similar to the tour guide question, this is something that differs from person to person so there’s no definitive answer we can give. But here’s all the info you need to make an educated choice:
There’s actually not much to see inside the Pyramids. All those gorgeous tomb pictures you see with the art and hieroglyphics are mainly in the New Kingdom tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Queens in Luxor.
Inside the Pyramids, you’ll climb up extremely narrow passageways until you reach the burial chamber, which is empty except for a granite sarcophagus in the Pyramid of Khufu and Khafre.
The real appeal of going inside the Pyramid(s) is just that - you’re inside the Pyramids! It’s definitely about the experience, and not about what you’ll actually see.
There’s no need to go inside all three; if you’ve been in one pyramid, you’ve kind of been in all.
Local tip: if you’re claustrophobic, or have back and/or knee issues, then we would recommend not going inside. The passageways are both very narrow and not high enough to stand up straight - so you’ll be climbing/descending while hunched over, with people climbing down while you’re climbing up, etc. Plus it gets hot!
Local tip #2: if you plan on going inside, wear comfortable shoes and nothing too short! We know you want to look cute for your pictures, but like we said above, you’ll be bent and hunched over with people in front and in back of you, so you don’t want to worry about having to pull your skirt/dress down the whole time.
Local tip #3: if you want to go inside a pyramid but are hesitant about the passageways, stick to the Pyramid of Khafre (the 2nd biggest one). The climb is easier than Khufu’s.
Local tip #4: you’re not allowed to bring cameras inside, but you can take pictures with your phone with no flash.
Seeing the Great Sphinx
Make sure you hold on to your entrance ticket once you enter the Giza Plateau, because you'll need it again when you go to see the Sphinx (you leave the compound and then re-enter).
You'll access the Sphinx through the Valley Temple of Khafre, which leads to the causeway of the Khafre Pyramid, with the Sphinx on your righthand side. Unfortunately you can't access the Sphinx from its front, only from its side (ironically enough, one of the best full-on front view of the Sphinx is from the Pizza Hut rooftop, outside the compound and across the street).
Although the exact history of the Sphinx is uncertain, many Egyptologists believe it to be built by Khafre over 4,500 years ago, with the body of a lion and the head of the pharaoh. For centuries it was buried under the sand, with only its head visible.
Riding Camels and Horses at the Pyramids
We’re going to be honest with you – we’re against riding camels, horses and horse-drawn carriages at the Pyramids. This is purely due to our love for animals and our stance that they shouldn’t be exploited for tourism. The treatment of some of these animals is circumspect, and we can’t in good conscience give tips or advice on the best ways to ride these animals.
We understand that getting that camel picture at the Pyramids is practically a bucket list picture - and if you need to do it, then you do you. But we urge you to think twice :D
Dealing with vendors and touts at the Pyramids
A common complaint that both visitors and even locals have when they visit the Pyramids (or any tourist hotspot really), is the constant hassling from vendors and touts to buy whatever it is they’re peddling - souvenirs, camel rides, ‘100% original handcrafts’ (they’re usually not), and so on and so forth. It can get really annoying, honestly.
They’ll also try to finagle money out of you by any creative means possible: offer to take your picture and then ask for money, offer to take you to see the ‘secret panoramic view’ and ask for money after (it’s not a secret and you don’t need to pay anyone to see it), tell you they’ll let you climb the Pyramids (this is not allowed by the way, so please don’t pay someone to let you do this), etc.
Local tips for dealing with touts:
Be polite but firm in your decline of whatever it is they’re trying to sell you. You’ll find yourself playing a constant record of ‘no, thank you’ but unfortunately that’s a small price to pay to see the last remaining Ancient Wonder of the World.
They all speak English, so you don’t necessarily have to tell them “la shokran” (no, thank you in Arabic)
Don’t accept any offers for them to take your picture, ask another tourist to do it
Don’t accept any free ‘gifts’ even if they try to wrap a bracelet around your wrist or a scarf around your neck, claiming it’s ‘free’
Don’t accept any offers for them to take you to ‘secret or special’ viewpoints
Don’t accept any offers to climb the Pyramids
Don’t accept any offers to take a picture with their camel ‘for free’
…all this will cost you money. Just keep saying no thank you and keep it moving.
Where to eat and drink at the Pyramids
So technically there’s not really any place to eat or drink in the Pyramid Complex once you enter past the gates except for 9 Pyramids Lounge or Khufu's Restaurant, but usually that needs a reservation in advance unless you’re very lucky.
9 Pyramids Lounge is a casual breakfast and lunch spot, serving up standard Egyptian and international fare. Alcohol is not served there. They take walk-ins if there's availability, but it's safer to reserve (reservations details are here on their FB page).
Khufu's is a more fine dining experience, with set menus of elevated Egyptian classics, and alcohol is served there. You can reserve through their website.
Important note: both these restaurants have insanely awesome pyramid views, but close by 5 pm, due to the Giza Pyramid Complex closing by sunset.
Besides the restaurants, dotted around the plateau you’ll find vendors selling overpriced drinks and snacks, so bring your own, especially if you’re going to be drinking a lot of water.
Speaking of drinking a lot of water, because there are limited restaurants and bathrooms inside the plateau, the last surefire place for you to go to the bathroom is at the entrance where the ticket booths are, so make sure you empty your bladder before you enter - or else you might find yourself having to pee in the middle of the desert (with a one-of-a-kind view though, to be fair!). There are a few bathrooms scattered around, but can be a hassle to find.
Keep in mind though that there are a lot of places where you can eat or have a drink with spectacular Pyramid views that aren’t in the actual complex.
For example, right outside the complex is the Marriott Mena House Hotel, which not only is a historical Egyptian hotel but one of our personal local favorites. It’s literally RIGHT next to the complex (where the security gates are), and our favorite place to relax with a beer and some food right next to the Pyramids.
If you’re looking for something quicker/cheaper, ironically enough there’s a Pizza Hut and KFC with stunning Sphinx and Pyramid views right outside the complex. Ah, globalization.
Leaving the Pyramids
If you don’t have a car with you, then leaving the Pyramids Complex is as easy as ordering an Uber. Once you leave the complex gates, people will continuously offer you “Taxi? Taxi?” but an Uber is always easier just because you don’t have to worry about negotiating the fare or explaining to the driver where exactly you’re going.
Some parting local tips:
Bring water with you so that you don’t have to buy overpriced bottles inside
Even in the winter, the sun is extremely strong, so make sure you have sunscreen or some kind of hat if you’re sensitive to the sun
Wear comfortable shoes!
But most of all, just take your time and let it all soak in… we promise you, you will never see something similar anywhere else in the world!
You might also like: