Are you travelling to Cairo soon? Check out my list of 8 epic places to visit in Cairo to fully explore this charming and bustling city of 20.4 million inhabitants. Did you know that Cairo is #6 most populous city in the world?! It’s a mad city, no doubts.
Cairo moves to its own frenetic beat. It is that kind of city, which throws you out of your comfort zone and challenges you. Cairo welcomes you with the fast-paced rhythm of life, friendly and curious locals, narrow sunlit streets and scrumptious food in places hidden away from tourist spots.
As a traveller, I love exploring both touristy and off-beaten places wherever I go. Isn’t it amazing to get lost (given it’s safe!) when you are wandering around trying to feel the city and blend in with it? Here is a list of top places to visit in Cairo to enjoy every bit of this vibrant city based on my 4-day stay there.
- 1. The Great Pyramid of Giza and the truth about visiting it
- 2. Al-Azhar Park to catch a break from the noisiness
- 3. Visit The Citadel of Cairo aka Citadel of Saladin
- 4. Feel the chaos and charm of Islamic Cairo and Khan Al Khalili
- 4. The unique Christian heritage of Coptic Cairo
- 5. Egyptian Museum and artefacts of ancient Egypt
- 6. Nile River promenade and Qasr al-Nil Bridge
- 7. Dine and shop in Zamalek area
- 8. Felucca boat ride and sunset views
- Bonus travel tips on places to visit in Cairo in 2020
1. The Great Pyramid of Giza and the truth about visiting it
Who doesn’t associate The Great Pyramid of Giza and Egypt? Even now it’s still the biggest mystery and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing tall. As the Pyramids were constructed some 4500 years ago, visiting this place is a definition of travelling back in time.
The Pyramids of Giza is a must-do thing to do in Cairo (okay, technically it’s in Giza). However, it is crucial to set the right expectations beforehand to enjoy exploring a long-vanished world.
Helpful tips for visiting The Pyramids of Giza:
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 9 AM to 5 PM. To escape tourist crowds, go early in the morning as tourist buses start to arrive around 10 AM.
Tickets: I’d recommend getting the so-called “Area” Ticket. If you get one, the entrance to the Pyramids will cost only 200 EGP / $12.8 / €11.9 for adults and 100 EGP / $6.4 / €5.9 for students. You get to see the whole complex from the outside, including the Sphinx, and that’s all you need. However, if you want to enter the tombs, you will need to pay an extra 100 EGP to 400 EGP.
Can you go inside the Pyramids?
Yes, but it’s anticlimactic and overpriced. 600 EGP / $38.4 / €35.6 for adult “Full Complex” ticket, which includes visiting only 1 tomb out of 3. It’s hot and claustrophobic inside, and you will need to crawl the narrow corridor to reach the tomb. Save that money to explore the rest of Egypt (link), such as a trip to Alexandria or Luxor. And you really don’t need to see the light show in the evening unless you have run out of the things to do, which is highly improbable.
One more thing about visiting the Pyramids of Giza
To be fair, my jaw dropped when I first spotted Pyramids when our Uber was drifting on crowded Giza streets. As I entered the complex, “wow” effect lasted for another hour. But later, I was annoyed at non-stop “guides” checking your ticket, horse/camel/cart ride offers every 5 mins. They just won’t leave you alone no matter how many times you say you are not interested. And the stinky smell… it is camel and horse shit everywhere.
I couldn’t help but felt disappointed with trash dumped next to the Pyramids. People, why do you do that?! Once you exit the complex and pay attention to surrounding neighbourhoods, you will notice how poor local life is there. It made me feel upset, and honestly, I have got quite bittersweet memories of my time at the Pyramids.
2. Al-Azhar Park to catch a break from the noisiness
This hidden gem is one of my personal favourites. Al-Azhar Park should definitely be included in the bucket list of places to visit in Cairo. Once you enter it, you would feel like you are almost on another planet. Clean, quiet and peaceful oasis with a stunning view of the city for just 1 USD ticket?! I’ll take it any minute.
There is a legend that by visiting Al-Azhar Park, you will get good karma and win 1 000 000 USD lottery. Okay, I totally made up the legend to convince you to go there. You definitely will enjoy a stroll around the park, may even have a picnic at the lawn there just as the locals do. When the weather is clear, you might also see the outline of the Pyramids from the viewpoint. We were lucky to spot it before the smog and dust covered the city.
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 9 AM – 10 PM
Tickets: On weekends and holidays it’s 20 EGP / $1.2 / €1
3. Visit The Citadel of Cairo aka Citadel of Saladin
Once you are done relaxing and recharging in Al-Azhar park, head to the next exciting and must-see place in Cairo. You will already see the outlines of the Mosque from the hill in the park, so there is no way you won’t be curious to check it out. The Citadel of Cairo is located 20-min walk downhill or 5-min Uber ride from the park.
The Muhammad Ali Mosque is as iconic as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. What to expect from visiting the Citadel of Cairo? Here are my travel tips for you:
- Since it’s a religious site, you must follow an appropriate dress code: cover your knees and shoulders, forget about ripped jeans
- You can visit the Prison Museum and/or Police Museum, which are located in the same complex. They are quite small, and it will take you less than an hour to visit both.
- You can see another astonishing view of Cairo and Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan from a viewpoint. It can be quite windy and dusty up there.
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 8 AM – 4 PM
Tickets: 160 EGP / $10.3 / €9.5 for adults. Keep spare 16 EGP / $1 / €0.8 for shoe covers required to enter the mosque area
4. Feel the chaos and charm of Islamic Cairo and Khan Al Khalili
Islamic Cairo was my personal highlight of the second day in the city. Be ready to dive into the magical chaos, navigate backstreets and shop for souvenirs if you please. It’s a buzzing area full of shops, street cafes and local kids playing around while their parents are buying stuff. Visiting this district and walking around for good 2 hours must be included in the list of places to visit in Cairo. No wonder Islamic Cairo is UNESCO-listed heritage. And if you are a fan of people-watching or street photography, you will love the area is.
Take your time and cruise through the market at your own pace. Generally, markets and crowded places can be quite draining with all the noise, attention and congested traffic. So visit it when you are at the peak of your energy. There are numerous interesting cultural heritage sights on your way to visit!
Though the funniest part was getting lost on the way to Islamic Cairo. We took Uber and ended up in the most real and liveliest neighbourhood before finally reaching the entrance to the market. It was one of the most memorable moments of my entire stay in Egypt because it was such a raw and real experience. Don’t forget to check out my honest travel guide to Egypt to plan an epic trip.
Opening Hours: 9 AM to sunset (except Friday morning and Sunday)
Tickets: Free entrance
4. The unique Christian heritage of Coptic Cairo
Visiting Coptic Cairo was enlightening, it’s one of the unique things to do in Cairo, as you find yourself in a completely different environment from a modern city vibe. For your information, the Coptic Christian population in Egypt is the largest in the Middle East and North Africa. It makes up to 15% of the Egyptian population, and Christian holidays are celebrated on a national level, such as The Orthodox Christmas, for example.
You can take self-guided Coptic Cairo walking tour. You can get there by metro ( tickets are less than $1 / €1) and remember to get off at the Mar Girgis Metro Station. These are the main highlights to be visited in Coptic Cairo:
- The Hanging Church, also known as St. Virgin Mary’s Church. It was dated back in the 7th century, and it is still functioning till this day. The name comes from the location as it was built above what was the southern tower gate of the Babylon walls. I told ya, Egypt is literally about travelling back in time. Free entrance.
- Old Roman Walls are on your right as you exit the metro station. It is one of the oldest preserved structures in Cairo as the Romans built Babylon fortress back in the 2nd century.
- The Coptic Museum to educate yourself on a history of Christianity in Egypt and view the finest collections of Coptic art. There is a fee for entrance.
- After a quick visit to Monastery and Church of St George, the only Greek Orthodox Church at sight, when you exit to the street, you will see the stairs. Go down to find yourself in a corridor with bookshops, monastery, and more churches all hidden in the labyrinth.
- Ben Ezra Synagogue, built-in 9th century AD, is the oldest Jewish temple in Cairo. There is a minimal number of the Jewish community left in Egypt, so synagogue can be closed during your visit.
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 8 AM to 4 PM
Tickets: Free entrance
5. Egyptian Museum and artefacts of ancient Egypt
Visiting Egyptian Museum is a history walk, and you will easily spend 2-3 hours walking around. You will quickly get lost in the Egyptian Museum because 1) it’s massive and impressive; 2) there is no adequate floor plan with guidance. It was fascinating to finally dive into ancient history, see real sarcophagus and get scared of well-preserved mummies of pharaohs and even animals. This museum houses over 120 000 artefacts and is definitely worth the visit. Be ready for tourist crowds as it’s one of the top things to do in downtown Cairo.
I was only disappointed that it wasn’t maintained as properly as it should be. Many exhibits are dusty, the glass surrounding others often dirty, which really prevents you from enjoying the view thoroughly. Later I learnt that a new Egyptian Museum is being built in Giza, 3x bigger than the current one. However, it will take another 3 years before it opens its doors.
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 9 AM to 5 PM
Tickets: 200 EGP / $12.8 / €11.9 for adults and 100 EGP / $6.4 / €5.9 for students, not including separate entrance fee to mummy’s exhibition (double the price!). So unless you flew to Egypt solely to see them, you could skip it because you will still see some Pharaoh mummies in the main hall on the 2nd floor.
6. Nile River promenade and Qasr al-Nil Bridge
Once you are done visiting the Egyptian Museum, I highly recommend you to take a stroll along the Nile River promenade. It’s located in the same area, and once you cross the Qasr al-Nil bridge, you can visit Opera House for a change of scenery. Again, it’s another oasis of rare relative quietness in a mad city.
It’s quite surprising to see how clean and well-kept the promenade is on one side, predictably where the hotels and Egyptian Museum are. However, Cairo isn’t the spotless city thus expect to see piles of trash every now and then. Here are some photos of the real Egypt I took during my trip.
There is also plenty of space to enjoy the river views, sit on the bench to watch the sunset and Cairo’s city line. It was definitely one of the most relaxing activities. There will be heaps of locals asking you for photos and trying to strike a conversation. We had some families nonchalantly coming up to us, and some just shouting “Hi!” across the street.
Also, this is the area where you will see carts with horses sharing the same lanes with cars. Traffic in Cairo was one of the worst I have ever seen (even India was better!), so be careful when you cross the streets. Also, the lack of pedestrian crossings and traffic lights make it quite a difficult task.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Tickets: Free entrance
7. Dine and shop in Zamalek area
This is a modern district of Cairo, house to a big dining and culture scene. Zamalek, located on the northern tip of Gezira Island, is a trendy, upscale, scrubbed and more expensive neighbourhood than the rest of the city. You can eat in hipster fancy cafés, splurge on new clothes and souvenirs as it’s one of the areas to do shopping in Cairo. As you walk around Zamalek, you will be quite tempted to check out local designer boutiques.
Once you are done with fancy dinners and shopping, you can have some artsy time in the southern part of Gezira island. You will find the Cairo Tower, Museum of Modern Egyptian Art and The Palace of Arts, all located in close proximity.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Tickets: Walking is always free 🙂
8. Felucca boat ride and sunset views
It is one of the things to do exclusively in Egypt. Did you know that a felucca is a traditional Egyptian wooden boat with a canvas sail? Nowadays they do come in lots of different shapes and sizes, but the experience is still authentic and very Egyptian. By taking a relaxing Felucca boat ride, you can ditch traffic congestion, the noise of the megapolis and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Usually, no meals are included as it’s rather short, a one-hour, activity. The perfect way to end a hectic day exploring Cairo.
Working Hours: Depending on the tour you book
Tickets: $15 / € 13.5 per person.
Don’t feel like going on a Felucca boat ride? GetYourGuide offers an excellent tour if you fancy a dinner cruise on the Nile River.
Bonus travel tips on places to visit in Cairo in 2020
Exploring Cairo is not for a faint-hearted, but uncovering layers of history, cultural heritage, artefacts, markets and local culture makes your stay in Cairo memorable and enjoyable. I personally quite enjoyed 4 fulls days in this mad city, but usually, 2 to 3 days are enough to cover Cairo highlights.
While there are definitely a lot more additional exciting things to do in Cairo, my favourite will always be to wander around this insane energetic city. It’s an exhausting place, but rewarding at the same time. Also, I personally really appreciated that you can see Christianity and Islam peacefully co-existing together.
bonus tips for places to visit in Cairo:
- Check the locations on the map to plan roughly which area you are going to explore today. For example, rushing from the Pyramids of Giza to the Citadel of Cairo will be tiring and stressing, given the traffic congestion and distance between.
- Don’t forget that Egypt is a Muslim country, where the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Take that into consideration and adjust your travel plans, as on the weekends some places are closed, but the streets are less crowded, yay!
- Traffic is mad and dangerous. It looks like Egyptians collectively forgot that traffic rules exist and just ditched them altogether. There are almost no pedestrian crossings, and lack of traffic lights put your life in danger whenever you attempt to cross the road. I tripped and almost died, so don’t be like me. Look to the left, to the right AND down.
- Do not let local guides and taxi drivers to scam you. Especially at popular locations, you will always be approached with an offer for a tour/private guide/camel ride. It does get quite annoying but keeps calm and collected.
There were my 8 favourite places to visit in Cairo. I would absolutely love to hear your experience exploring Cairo and how you liked or disliked it.