It is a destination full of history where there is so much to see that it is impossible to get bored, because it is full of pyramids, temples, museums and fascinating places. Here are the must-sees:
1. See the pyramids of Giza
The emotion felt when contemplating the pyramids of Giza, the only one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world that survives today, is not comparable to any other travel experience. That is why it is so advisable to make a trip to Egypt to have the opportunity to see them in person by taking a tour of the famous pyramids.
Located 18 kilometers from Cairo on the Giza plateau, the pyramids are funerary constructions that were built under the orders of pharaohs of different dynasties. The three main pyramids of Giza are Cheops, Chephren and Mykerinos, although there are many other smaller pyramids.
Although the precise date of construction of these pyramids is not known, it is estimated that work began around 2500 BC. To admire them from the Giza plateau is a marvel, but to see them from the inside is to take this experience to another level - a unique memory!
2. Culturize yourself at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Located near Tahrir Square, in a majestic neoclassical building opened in 1902, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses a very important collection on ancient Egypt that makes it the second most visited tourist attraction in the city after the pyramids of Giza.
Since it opened its doors, its collections have been gradually expanding with the incessant discovery of new pieces and the recovery of many that were plundered during the wars or that were in museums and private collections abroad.
During a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo you can not miss the room of Tutankhamun, where the treasures found in his tomb and his famous death mask are exposed, as well as the mummy room, where the mummified remains of important pharaohs and priests rest. Although you can not take pictures, I assure you that it is an image that will not be erased from your retina.
3. Visit the Citadel of Saladin
Another of the sites of tourist interest in Islamic Cairo is the Citadel of Saladin, a medieval fortification built by this Muslim conqueror in the eleventh century to protect the city from enemy raids. One of the best things to do and see in Cairo is to visit this spectacular military construction of great walls and defensive towers that was so effective in its purpose that it was used as the seat of the Egyptian government until the 19th century.
In the old days the citadel was a small city within a city that was inhabited by ten thousand people. Inside you can see some sites of interest such as the Gawhara Palace, the military museum and the carriage museum as well as several important mosques such as the Sultan Hassan Mosque, Al Rifa'i Mosque and Ibn Tulun Mosque.
Another major attraction of the Saladin Citadel in Cairo is the privileged views from the heights. Do not forget your camera because here you will have many corners to photograph.
4. Shopping at Khan El Khalili Bazaar
One of the coolest and most authentic things to do in Cairo is to go shopping in the markets of the city because it allows you to mingle with the locals and get to know the most authentic side of the Egyptian capital. The most popular bazaar in the country and probably in the Middle East is Khan El Khalili, located in the epicenter of Islamic Cairo, in a walled area with medieval air that will leave you pleasantly surprised.
More than 900 stalls make up this bazaar where you will find practically everything: perfumes, jewelry, fabrics, belly dancing costumes, handicrafts, colorful lamps, spices and musical instruments. Stroll through its narrow streets in search of the perfect souvenir and dare to put into practice your haggling skills.
It's not easy at first, but little by little you'll get the hang of it. With practice you will leave Khan El Khalili being an expert in the field, which you will surely appreciate for future trips to other markets in the world. Once you finish your shopping day, if you have a sweet tooth, I recommend that you complete your visit to this impressive souk in Cairo with tea and some traditional sweets sold in some cafes in Khan el Khalili.
5. Discover spiritual Cairo
From time immemorial Egypt has been a deeply spiritual country, whether in the time of the pharaohs or in our days.
Through an excursion to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the pyramids of Giza or the necropolis of Saqqara, as travelers we can delve into the conception of the afterlife of ancient Egypt while taking a tour of the city's mosques will bring us closer to the religious vision of the Islamic world. Some of the temples you can visit are:
- Alabaster Mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, Al Rifa'i Mosque or Ibn Tulun Mosque.
- The Coptic quarter of Cairo, is the area where it is believed that the Holy Family lived during their exile in Egypt according to the Gospel. There you will see interesting places such as the Coptic museum, the church of St. George, the church of St. Sergius or the church of St. Barbara.
- In the area of Old Cairo on the remains of one of the towers of the Roman fortress of Babylon rises the Coptic Hanging Church.
- The Ben Ezra Synagogue, a place of great prestige and reference for the Jewish religion.
The city is a melting pot of religions and cultures so an excursion to know its spiritual side is a highly recommended activity to do in Cairo. You will love it!
6. Discover the Al-Azhar Mosque
Discovering the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo will allow you to get to know a sacred place of deep religious significance. Founded in 970, this mosque is one of the oldest and most prestigious Islamic educational institutions in the world, as well as an important center of religious and cultural life in Egypt.
The mosque, which bears the name of the Shining Light in Arabic, is an exceptional example of Islamic architecture. Its central courtyard surrounded by columns and arches, as well as its high minaret, are features that reflect the aesthetics and architectural influence of different periods. In addition, visiting it after sun set to discover its artificial lighting is one of the best nighttime activities you can do in Cairo.
Details of interest
- Price: Admission is free.
- Hours: Every day from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm.
- Location: El-Darb El-Ahmar, Cairo.
7. Visit the Islamic Quarter Darb Al-Ahmar
Visiting the Islamic quarter of Darb Al-Ahmar in Cairo will allow you to experience a world of history and culture that has endured over the centuries. This neighborhood, located in the heart of the city, is a labyrinth of narrow streets, historic buildings and ancient mosques that will transport you back to the times of Islamic splendor.
One of the highlights of the neighborhood is the Ibn Tulun Mosque, one of the oldest and largest temples in the city. Its distinctive architecture and tall minaret are exceptional examples of Egypt's Islamic heritage. In addition, you can also visit the Historic Citadel, which is a network of streets housing historic buildings, mosques, schools and bazaars.
The Islamic quarter of Darb Al-Ahmar is also a center of craftsmanship and daily life. Local workshops still practice ancient crafts such as blacksmithing and pottery, providing an authentic glimpse of life and culture in this corner of the capital. There, you can also visit Cairo's City of the Dead.
8. Tour the Zamalek neighborhood on the Nile Island
Touring the neighborhood of Zamalek on Nile Island will allow you to enter an urban oasis that contrasts with the bustling life of the city. Zamalek is a quiet and sophisticated enclave that offers a unique experience in the, at times, indecipherable Egyptian capital. This island is characterized by wide avenues, lush parks, elegant buildings and embassies.
Zamalek combines cultural life and nightlife harmoniously. In its streets you can discover art galleries, chic cafes and trendy restaurants that reflect the creativity and modern spirit of the city.
9. Visit the Sultan Qalawun Sultan Museum
If you want to know the cultural history of Egypt beyond the Pyramids of Giza, you can not miss the Sultan Qalawun Museum. This exhibit is located in the mausoleum complex of Sultan Qalawun, a prominent ruler of the Mamluk dynasty in the 13th century. The structure itself is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture, with ornate detailing and a design that reflects the grandeur of the era.
The museum houses a variety of artifacts spanning from the early Islamic era to the Mamluk period, providing an in-depth look at the cultural and artistic history of the region. There you can find ceramics, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, weapons and decorative art.
In addition to its collection, the Sultan Qalawun Museum allows you to explore the historic structure itself, which includes the mosque and the sultan's mausoleum. The intricate decorations and unique architectural features are outstanding examples of the skill and care that characterized Islamic architecture of the time.
Details of interest
- Price: Tickets have an initial cost of approximately 5 euros per person.
- Hours: Every day from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
- Location: El-Gamaleya, Cairo.
10. Explore the Heliopolis neighborhood
Founded in the early 20th century by Belgian businessman Edouard Louis Joseph Empain, Heliopolis was conceived as a planned suburb reflecting modernity and elegance, contrasting with the chaotic layout of the Egyptian capital. Today, this neighborhood is a living testimony to Empain's architectural and urban planning vision.
Heliopolis is distinguished by its main avenue, El Horreya Avenue, which is flanked by majestic eclectic and art deco buildings, such as the Montaza Palace, which is a historic residence and an example of the architecture and design of the period. It is also one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists because of its proximity to Cairo airport.
Heliopolis is a dynamic neighborhood where the historic and the contemporary intertwine in a unique fusion. Although the area has undergone changes and modernization, it still retains its essence of its time and its building heritage.
11. Admire the Great Sphinx of Giza
Next to the pyramids we find another of Egypt's emblems, the Great Sphinx of Giza, which watches the passing of time undaunted.
It is a sculpture of more than 20 meters high with a lion's body and human head that represents the union of strength and intelligence for the ancient Egyptians. Its construction is attributed to the pharaoh Chephren, son of Cheops and father of Mycerinos, around 2,500 BC to be the guardian of the tomb of the sovereign.
The sphinx of Giza is part of the funerary complex that includes the pyramid, the valley temple and the causeway that connects them. It has often been theorized about the disappearance of his nose and Napoleon was blamed for its wear, however this hypothesis was dismantled when drawings made by a traveler before the birth of the military man were found.
12. Visit Memphis and Saqqara
If you are an Egyptology buff, your trip to Egypt should include an excursion to Memphis and Saqqara for a more complete and comprehensive experience of ancient Egypt. They are located just 30 kilometers from Cairo and since ancient times, they have always been linked by the activities that took place in their territories.
During its more than 3,000 years of history, Memphis was an important political and religious center where the pharaohs were crowned and the god Ptah was worshipped. The city was founded around 3100 BC by the first pharaoh of Egypt named Narmer and was the first capital of the country from its unification until 2040 BC when Thebes replaced it in that role.
The second part of this exciting excursion is the visit to the ruins of Saqqara, the most important necropolis of Memphis from the first dynasty to the Christian era where the first pharaohs were buried. Here stands the step pyramid of Zoser, the first pyramid in the world, which would begin the era of splendor of Egyptian civilization.
13. See Luxor and other sites near Cairo
If you have several days to visit Cairo, I recommend that you dedicate some of them to know some essential points that are no less interesting for being outside the city. I tell you which are the best destinations:
- Excursions to Alexandria from Cairo
- How to get from Cairo to Luxor
- The best excursions to Fayoum from Cairo
- Excursions to the Red Sea from Cairo
14. Enter the Alabaster Mosque
Inside the Citadel of Saladin, on top of the Muqatam Hill, stands the Alabaster Mos que which is visible from any point in Old Cairo. It was built in the nineteenth century in the style of Ottoman mosques commissioned by Muhammad Ali, in memory of his eldest deceased son and at the time was the largest mosque. It is one of the most frequented by travelers because it has an exceptional location and is one of the most beautiful.
To access remember to dress respectfully. Once inside you can contemplate its extensive prayer hall decorated with mosaics and precious stones, the numerous lamps that decorate the temple, the prayer carpets, the tomb of Muhammad Ali in white marble and painted flowers as well as the pulpit and the tribune, both in alabaster and white marble.
In the western part of the mosque is the courtyard with the fountain of ablutions. Also here there is a small square tower on which rests a clock given by Louis Philippe of France in 1846 in exchange for the obelisk that was placed in the Parisian Place de la Concorde.
15. Take a cruise on the Nile River
Taking a Nile River cruise from Cairo is a captivating experience that will give you a unique perspective of Egypt's history and modern life. The Nile, known as the river of life, has been the epicenter of Egyptian civilization for millennia, and a cruise on its waters is an opportunity to explore the cultural and architectural heritage of the region from an alternative perspective.
From the cruise you can admire panoramic views of the city's iconic landmarks, such as the Cairo Tower and Montaza Palace, as you cruise the serene waters of the tributary. In addition, the lights of the city will create a magical atmosphere if you opt for a ride during the night, turning the cruise into a romantic and enchanting experience that, if you wish, can also include dinner.
The Nile cruise tour also offers a window into the daily lives of Egyptians who depend on the river for their livelihood. The scenes of fishing boats and merchant ships that sail along it, along with the towns and villages along the banks, offer an everyday view of Egypt.
16. Climb the Cairo Tower
Cairo does not have too many viewpoints from which to contemplate the skyline but if it is one of the plans you want to do on your visit, along with the aforementioned Citadel of Saladin we can also mention the Cairo Tower in the Zamalek district, especially to enjoy the sunset.
It is a stylized telecommunications tower of 187 meters high designed in granite and inspired by the figure of the lotus flower. Did you know that for a decade was the highest in Africa? If you have time, take the opportunity to dine at the tower's revolving restaurant, which gently scrolls to offer different views of the city and the Nile River to customers, and stay until nightfall to see Cairo Tower illuminated.
17. Tour Tahrir Square
Tahrir Square or Liberation Square is next to the Egyptian Museum and is the political epicenter of Cairo. This is where the events of the Arab Spring took place in 2011 that culminated in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. In the square you can see the statue and mosque in honor of political leader Omar Makram and in the surrounding area there are government offices, stores and institutional headquarters.
18. Visit the Bab Zuwayla Gate
If you want to learn about Cairo's medieval history, you can't miss the Bab Zuwayla Gate. Built in the 10th century, this gate is part of the ancient city walls and is one of the few remnants that have survived over the centuries.
The gate itself is a masterpiece of Mamluk architecture, with intricate detailing and a facade that towers over the surrounding streets. Entering through Bab Zuwayla, you will be greeted by a setting that reflects Cairo's former glory. The inner courtyard is surrounded by galleries, offering panoramic views of the city and the opportunity to enjoy a unique perspective from above.
In addition to its architectural value, Bab Zuwayla is also known for the stories and legends that surround it. During the 14th century, the gate was said to have an inscription forbidding entry to outsiders after sunset.
Cairo Travel Tips
The capital of Egypt is a city full of life but also chaotic. That's why I recommend you think ahead for arrival transfers from Cairo airport.
Once there, a tour of Cairo is the best way to explore this immense city and all the legendary treasures it preserves without missing a single detail. If you are planning a trip to Egypt, I advise you to take a look at the best Cairo tours and excursions you can do during your visit.
Decide on the date of your trip
Although any month of the year is good to know the charms of this city, I tell you which are the months that receive more visits and everything you can do in each of them:
- 10 things to see and do in Cairo in January
- 10 things to see and do in Cairo in July
- 10 things to see and do in Cairo in August
- 10 things to see and do in Cairo in November
- 10 things to see and do in Cairo in December
If you take advantage of your Christmas vacations to travel to the legendary city, you can read this post with the best Christmas plans in the Egyptian capital.
How much time do I need to visit Cairo?
Depending on the time you have for your visit you will have to concentrate more or less the main Cairo attractions. I leave you the best guides depending on the days of your trip: