Cairo in 3 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

In 3 days you will learn about the Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic past of the largest city in the Arab world.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

8 min read

Cairo in 3 Days: tips, what to see, and much more

St. George's Monastery and Church, Cairo | ©Edgardo W. Olivera

In this 3-day itinerary the idea is to enjoy the highlights of the city. It should be noted that Cairo stands out for having some areas of interest distant from each other, hence it is possible that you may have to move by cab, car or public transport up to 3 times in one day. It will be a loaded itinerary; however, you are free to shape it your way according to your circumstances, your plans and the time you have.

Day 1: Visit the ancient pyramids and stroll through Khan el Khalili

Getting to know the Pyramids| ©Rckr88
Getting to know the Pyramids| ©Rckr88

The Giza plateau is home to the most iconic historical site in the world. For nearly 4,000 years, nine impeccably constructed pyramids have stood on this plateau, built as massive tombs by order of the pharaohs. On this first day you will enjoy a walk on the plateau, see the most remarkable pyramids of Giza and spend the night in a felucca in the center of the city.

Take a walk in Giza

Get ready to spend some time in Giza. Take a stroll through the wide streets, take pictures with the statues and small monuments that surround the area and sit in one of the cafes of this dream city. If Giza is of special interest to you, you can opt for a tour of Giza.

Although it looks like in the pictures that the Pyramids of Giza are located in the middle of the desert, in reality the site is surrounded by houses, stores and restaurants (yes many dusty roads). You can also easily find restaurants and cafes just outside the Sphinx exit, including the famous Abou Shakra.

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Discover the pyramids of the plateau

There are two entrances to the plateau. One is directly in front of the Sphinx, and the other is on a hill near the Great Pyramid. I recommend you enter through the second entrance and then walk down towards the Sphinx.

The complex includes the Pyramid of Cheops, known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is the largest and oldest of the three pyramids. It is the only site of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still intact. There are two smaller pyramids called** Khafre and Menkaure**, and three even smaller pyramids representing the wives and sisters of Khufu.

The Sphinx is the other famous landmark of the Giza plateau: a huge limestone statue with the body of a lion and the head of a human.

Explore the Citadel of Cairo

Entrance to the Citadel| ©Dan
Entrance to the Citadel| ©Dan

A short walk from the park is the Cairo Citadel. The medieval fortification was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years, from the 13th to the 19th century.

Its location on a promontory in the Mokattam Hills overlooks a strategic position and overlooks the city. In 1976 it was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission costs 180 EGP (10 euros) and includes entrance to the mosques and museums inside.

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Visit the impressive Muhammed Ali Mosque

The major attraction within the walls of the 12th century Citadel is the Muhammed Ali Mosque. Located at the top of the Citadel, this Ottoman mosque was the largest mosque to be built in the 19th century. With its lively silhouette and twin minarets, this is the most visible mosque in Cairo.

The best time to visit this mosque is just before sunset, as you can watch the city transform from the observation deck of this mosque. Entrance to the mosque is free of charge.

Day 2: Explore Coptic Cairo

Streets of the Coptic Quarter| ©rsaezn
Streets of the Coptic Quarter| ©rsaezn

On this second day you will get to know the famous Coptic culture of Cairo thanks to the museums and the historical alleys that give name to the mysterious Coptic Quarter. The Coptic culture represents one of the major religious groups in Egypt and the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

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Visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

Make your first stop at the Egyptian Museum, where almost all of Egypt's most expensive treasures are stored. This is a must-see, preferably as a guided tour and accompanied by an Egyptologist.

Inside, the large ground floor features a variety of sacorphages, giant stone sculptures and coffins. The second floor houses two mummy rooms. The museum's most intriguing attraction is Tutankhamun's tomb, displayed alongside his intricate gold coffins, gold trinkets, artifacts and jewelry.

Go to the top of the Cairo Tower

From there, cross the Nile River and head to the highest floor (level 62) of the Cairo Tower. This is where you will get the best view of the city.

Enjoy lunch at the panoramic terrace cafeteria and enjoy your meal with spectacular views. The entrance fee is 200 EGP (11 euros). I suggest keeping your camera in your backpack and use your phone to take pictures instead.

Visit the Coptic Museum

Take a cab to the Coptic Museum.Copts follow a denomination of Christianity and Cairo is home to the largest Coptic population in North Africa. The Copts are actually the closest descendants of the ancient Egyptians.

Certainly an excellent place to learn more about the Copts, the Coptic Museum houses Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt to early Islam. It is a beautiful place, both for the wooden designs and the treasures it holds.

Tip: There is a strong restriction on taking pictures with professional cameras almost everywhere in Egypt (for security reasons). Moreover, almost any place that allows it will charge a hefty fee for it. However, taking pictures with a phone is allowed and free everywhere.

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Head to the Hanging Church

The Hanging Church| ©FalafelandChips
The Hanging Church| ©FalafelandChips

The most famous church in this district known as Coptic Cairo (Masr al-Qadima) is the Hanging Church. Contrary to what its name implies, the Hanging Church, Al Moallaqa, is not actually suspended in any way. Its nickname comes from the fact that it is built over the gates of an ancient Roman fortress. I recommend you visit it inside, its internal architecture is to be commended.

Tip: Admission to the Hanging Church is free. It is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There is no strict dress code, but it is advisable to wear clothes that cover the shoulders and knees.

Check out the Ben Ezra Synagogue

Behind the Hanging Church, you will find the Ben Ezra Synagogue, an architectural gem and one of the last remaining testimonies of the once splendid Egyptian Jewish community. According to local folklore, this is where the baby Moses was found.

It is also free to visit, so if you are interested in the city's Jewish past and its cultural impact you should consider visiting. Remember that in Egypt coexist the 3 Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and the 3 communities have a great weight in the population, especially in the capital and the most populated cities.

For dinner head to the Zoobaqueclosest to you, this modern Cairo-based chain is a great place to try Egyptian street food dishes in a colorful setting. It's so popular with locals that it's opened branches in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

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Day 3: See Islamic Cairo

Khan El Khalili Market| ©MohammedKhan12
Khan El Khalili Market| ©MohammedKhan12

On this last day you will know the relationship that the city of Cairo has with Islam thanks to Muizz Street, the Mosque of Muhammed Ali; yes, I recommend spending much of the day to explore the Citadel of Saladin.

Get lost in Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar

Start the day at Cairo's largest and most vibrant souk, Khan Al-Khalili. You'll find everything from incense to lamps and jewelry shops. Originally built as a mausoleum for the Fatimid caliphs, the complex features Ottoman-style architecture. One place you shouldn't miss is the centuries-old Fishawi café, best known for its Egyptian-style coffee and ambiance. The store has served international celebrities such as Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz and Will Smith.

Wander around Muizz Street

A short walk north of Khan Al Khalili is the bustling Muizz Street, known as the "world's largest open-air museum of Islamic monuments." The street is flanked by some of Egypt's largest and oldest structures, as well as a number of antique stores.

A stroll reveals the architecture of the dynasties that have ruled the city at different times, from the Fatimid dynasty in 970 AD to the more recent Pasha rule. It is also home to the Qalawun Complex, which contains a spectacular mausoleum with impressive Mamluk architecture and a minaret inside a dome.

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Enjoy a walk in Al Azhar Park

Take a short cab ride to Al-Azhar Park, Cairo's most impressive green space. The park went from being a garbage dump to become an urban attraction, it is a true oasis in the hustle and bustle of Cairo.

After a walk, you can have lunch at the Citadel View restaurant and watch children splashing in the fountains and locals enjoying a picnic on the green lawn. The traditional Egyptian food here is fantastic and the outdoor terrace is glorious.

Stroll through the streets of Khan el Khalili

Start your walk from the Al Azhar Mosque. The Al Azhar Mosque is a beautiful, recently renovated masterpiece. Founded in 970, it is now considered the highest authority in the Islamic world for the study of Sunni theology. It features an open-air courtyard paved in white marble and surrounded by Mamluk-era minarets.

Cross Azhar Street and have a mint tea at the El-Fishawi cafe, one of the oldest cafes in the city and the famous hangout of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. It is an old cafe in a narrow alley that is always lively with musicians and groups of friends smoking shisha.

Don't miss Bab al-Ghuri, a gateway lined with stores selling colorful lamps. At night, lights illuminate the historic walls and perfect arches.

Take a falukha ride and overnight in Cairo

By Falucca on the Nile| ©Silviapef
By Falucca on the Nile| ©Silviapef

Relax in the evening and rest your feet on a night in Cairo. Head to downtown Cairo and rent a traditional falucca sailboaton the Nile River (A falucca is a type of light, airy, narrow, long sailing boat that can carry up to a dozen passengers).

) If you walk across the Qasr el Nil Bridge to the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, you can find a line of boats and negotiate a price. It is certainly a very cheap option compared to a Nile cruise.

To end the night you can reach the suburb of Maadi, one of the most famous falucca stops, the area has traditional food shops and restaurants with a variety of food.

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