Think Cairo is just about seeing The Pyramids? Think again! I spent two days in this bustling capital and still didn’t get to see everywhere (but that’s also probably due to the insane amount of traffic there!). Come on a journey with me and discover 10 things to do in Cairo!
10 THINGS TO DO IN CAIRO
1. The Pyramids of Giza
Now I’m pretty sure every tourist goes to Cairo primarily for The Pyramids so let’s start our adventure there! The Pyramids are only a short ride away from Cairo – they are not in the middle of the desert as pictures make it look! There are three main pyramids with the largest one, The Great Pyramid of Giza, being the last remaining Ancient Wonder of the World.
The Pyramids were built almost 5000 years ago in a time when Egypt was one of the most powerful and richest civilisations in the world. They were built as tombs for pharaohs and are probably the most famous structures ever built.
The Pyramids open at 8am and it costs 120 LE: Egyptian Pounds (about £5) to enter. To avoid the crowds as much as possible, get there for opening time.
When you enter, head straight to the other side of The Pyramids: from the entrance it is 1.5km to the other side. This is where you can get nice photos and there will be hardly any tourists. Touts however will tell you it’s too far to walk and you need to get a camel. This is not true, you can walk there easily! They insist you need a camel/carriage to get there because they genuinely believe it is too far! My Egyptian friend was with my and I made him walk, and he was so tired as he had genuinely never walked so far in his life! If you are happy to walk, be stern with the touts and they will stop hassling you (and try not to get annoyed with them!). However, if you do want to ride a camel, do not get on without agreeing the price first!! It should only cost you about 200LE (£9).
Make sure to see The Sphinx too on your way out.
2. Egyptian Museum
Head to the Egyptian museum and discover thousands of impressive Ancient Egyptian artefacts. I highly advise to hire a guide (standard price 200LE) to guide you round the museum as artefacts are very poorly marked and you can easily miss important things. The guides can only be found OUTSIDE the museum, so make sure to pick one up before you pay your entrance fee (120LE). The museum is huge, you could spend two whole days here, but there are two parts you most absolutely can’t miss: the treasures from the tomb of the most famous pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, including his magnificent death mask, and the mummy rooms (you need to pay extra to visit these) where you can see several mummies preserved with even their teeth, hair and nails. Photos are not allowed inside the museum.
3. Khan El Khalili
Khan el Khalili is a beautiful traditional open air market located in Old Cairo and is an absolute must visit! Outdoor markets like this are found all over the Middle East but Khan el Khalili is said to be the oldest one, dating back since the 14th century. You feel like you’re stepping back in time when you’re walking through the narrow streets and cute alleyways full of character.
The market is generally quiet in the mornings, whereas early evening has a great atmosphere and is the busiest time to visit. It is full of locals and tourists and you can find literally anything at this market – from spices to perfumes, gold or textiles, and all are of good quality! There are plenty of souvenirs here so get ready to haggle: this is common practice and a tradition in Arabic markets! Everything is marked up and so the locals will expect you to bargain. Have fun whilst you’re haggling and be fair with your offers – usually I start with around a third of the asking price and if we don’t agree on a price I just walk away, usually they will call you back and give you your asking price!
Even if you’re not interested in buying souvenirs, it’s a lovely place to walk around and spend a couple of hours. Make sure to look up and admire the old medieval architecture and grand archways, and afterwards head to one of the many traditional cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by over a cup of coffee – this is a tradition in Egypt!
El Fishawy is an iconic cafe in Khan el Khalili – this coffee shop is the oldest coffee shop (‘ahwa’) in the market at almost 250 years old. It is open 24 hours a day and is nestled deep in the maze of narrow passageways in the heart of the market and is definitely worth a visit!
4. Coptic Cairo
The Coptic (Christian) part of Cairo is an ancient part of the city that is built on the Ancient Babylon Fortress, a fortified city that was around long before Cairo even existed. It is very interesting to visit and it is pretty compact with everything close together, making it easy to stroll around. You will see many ancient Roman ruins when walking around and the area is full of unique churches. The area has gained UNESCO World Heritage Status and there is one famous Church in particular that you must visit: The Hanging Church (officially Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church), pictured below. The Church is elevated slightly as it was built on one of the fortress gates and so appears to be ‘hanging’ in mid-air as it is suspended over a passage. It would have been more impressive when it was first built, when the ground level was several metres below what it is these days.
Sadly over recent years many Churches in this area have been victim to a number of terrorist and violent attacks. As a result, there is a police check point at the entrance and the area is now pedestrianised with many police around for extra security. This has stopped a lot of tourists coming but I hope it won’t stop you from visiting this beautiful place, I’m certainly glad I visited it.
5. Al Azhar Park
Head to Al Azhar park just before sunset to see the city from above and the sun going down on the Pyramids. It is a lovely park with great views, a few restaurants/cafes and it is really clean, making it a nice respite from dirty downtown Cairo.
6. Felucca cruise on the Nile
This might sound very touristy but actually it’s a very local thing to do, plus it’s really fun! Join the locals at sunset and spend an hour dancing and singing to music and having fun on the boats. The price is very reasonable and the location is beautiful on the Nile – the world’s longest river. There are also some nice cafe bars located on docked boats on the Nile that you can go to afterwards if you wish.
7. Cairo Tower
Often due to pollution, the air in Cairo is foggy and visibility can be quite poor. However if the air is clear, head up the Cairo Tower to see a nice view of Cairo and The Pyramids. The Cairo Tower is the tallest tower in North Africa at 187 metres high and is shaped like a lotus plant of the Pharoahs. An alternative to beat the massive queues for the observation deck (sometimes the queue can be 2 hours long or even more!) is to go to the restaurant one floor below, which still offers a great view, although I can’t vouch for the food. Cairo Tower is located in Zamalek, one of Cairo’s most affluent districts on the banks of the River Nile.
8. Try Egyptian food
One food that you MUST try in Egypt is it’s national street food: Koshari. I tried it and was instantly hooked! It is a traditional dish made of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, tomato sauce and garlic sauce all mixed together. Koshari is a cheap meal found everywhere and you’re guaranteed to be full afterwards!
One restaurant you absolutely can’t miss in Cairo is Sobhy Kaber – a really famous restaurant in Cairo with a great atmosphere that is frequented by many locals! Famed for it’s delicious grilled meats, it is so popular that people queue up outside for food all evening, even at midnight! Below is a picture of me with the owner inside the restaurant. We were there at around midnight and it was still so busy!
Just a couple of useful pointers when eating out: imported alcohol is VERY expensive in Egypt. Save money and drink the local beer instead. Also bear in mind that the weekend is Friday and Saturday (Friday is the holy day in Islam), and not Saturday and Sunday like it is in the West.
9. Garbage City
Now I’m not going to make Cairo out to be wonderful – I have to tell you how it really is, and Egyptians will agree with me on this. Cairo is a very dusty and dirty city, there are flies everywhere and extreme poverty exists here. There is rubbish scattered everywhere and the life there is hard.
To really get underneath the surface and see the daily struggles of some of the local people, I encourage you to visit, or at least learn about Garbage City. Garbage City is a very poor poverty-stricken Christian slum in Cairo where people literally live in the garbage. The neighbourhood is covered in rubbish: the streets, the roofs, everything and it smells very bad there. The living conditions are very poor and there is a lack of sewers, electricity and running water. It is a side of the city that nobody cares to see, but I encourage you to go and see this place for yourself, for once you get inside you’ll see something beautiful. Click here to read more about Garbage City or click here to watch a small documentary about it.
10. City of the Dead
City of the Dead (also known as Cairo Necropolis or el Arafa) is another very interesting and unique part of Cairo where people actually live amongst the dead. The Necropolis is an Islamic cemetery that is an impressive 4 miles long, where people live amongst their ancestor’s remains – the streets are full of tombs. Definitely worth a look at!
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