No trip to Egypt is complete without a visit to its capital. Cairo is likely to be the first place you start to walk like an Egyptian, and there’s much more to see than the Pyramids of Giza. Here are the top 5 sights in Cairo, starting with a guide to the Pyramids.
1. Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids are located in the Libyan Desert in the town of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. The first pyramid you come to is the Great Pyramid or the Pyramid of Khufu. Behind it is the Pyramid of Khafre which still has its original limestone covering at its peak. The third pyramid is Menkaure.
You can get a good photo of all three of the pyramids from the panorama point past the third pyramid, and next to the Camel Station. You can also go inside the pyramids to take a look. Entry ranges in price, with the Great Pyramid being the most expensive. Be warned that a peek inside the pyramids is not for the claustrophobic!
The Great Sphinx is located to the east of the Pyramids. Stand out the front of the Sphinx for the best view. At night, take a seat facing the Sphinx for the nightly sound and light show – or you can also get a good view from the nearby Pizza Hut, but get there early. The English show is held from 7pm between October and April, and from 7:30pm between May and September.
If you want to ride a camel at the Pyramids, make sure you do it from the official Camel Station at the panorama point. The other camel operators are not official and very likely to overcharge. A common trick is to quote a figure to take you out there but they will ask for more money once you have traveled about 20 minutes in the desert and want to get back. The figure quoted by the camel handlers in the official Camel Station is for a return trip and you pay at the end. Expect to pay no more than 100 Egyptian Pounds.
2. Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum contains more than 160,000 artifacts throughout its 107 halls – with some items dating back more than 5,000 years. Most of the objects relate to the time of the Pharaohs, and highlights include the Mummy Room containing many of the New Kingdom royal mummies, as well as the treasures found in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb. Tutankhamun’s room houses the famous gold mask found on Tutankhamun’s mummy. You can walk through the museum yourself as explanation boards are in English as well as Arabic.
The museum is open 9am to 7pm. Entry is 60 Egyptian Pounds. It costs extra if you want to bring a camera in (no flash permitted) or enter the Mummy Room.
3. Cairo Bazaar
The Cairo Bazaar, locally known as Khan el-Kahalili – is a sensory overload of color and sound. The souk is a maze of winding streets and is popular with both tourists and locals.
Tip: Be careful what you buy here, as it is mostly fake.
For example, the Egyptian cotton is not the real deal, neither is the papyrus. It’s best just to stick to small souvenirs in any of the Egyptian markets you come across. But it’s fun to look.
4. Old Cairo
The streets of Old Cairo are worth a wander during your trip to Egypt. First stop should be the Babylon Fortress, followed by the Hanging Church.
The Hanging Church is so named as it does not have solid foundations. It hangs above the fortress on several pillars. I’ve seen many churches in my travels but this one is slightly different to others largely due to its wooden roof shaped like Noah’s Ark. It’s free to enter.
5. Cairo Citadel
The Cairo Citadel is a smaller version of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, and also offers a good view of Cairo from the lookout point. The citadel has had a turbulent history and has been modified substantially over a number of centuries. Today, you can explore the fortifications, as well as visit the museums and mosques located inside its walls.
Things You Should Know:
- All tourist sites require you to pass your belongings through an X-Ray machine. The machines are very old and may harm electronic equipment such as your phone, camera or GoPro. You are allowed to pass electronic equipment over the top of the machines and grab them after you pass through the screening yourself.
- At tourist sites, toilets cost 1 Egyptian pound and it’s preferable in coin form rather than the 1 pound note. Often toilet guards may ask you as you leave for more money but ignore them once you’ve paid.
- Guards at tourist sites are after tips and will do what they can to get them. You will be asked for a tip if they appear in a photo (they may even just step into a photo), or if they tell you information about a site. You may think they’re being helpful but they will ask for money.
- Many of the temples do not permit photography inside the temple – even without flash.
- It’s very hard to change Egyptian Pounds to other currencies even at the airport – you can only change money into Egyptian Pounds. So essentially you have to use up all your Egyptian Pounds before you leave the country.
- At all tourist sites you will get heckled to buy souvenirs. Mostly it’s just yelling out but some vendors are more aggressive than others and try and block your way to try and get you to look at their wares. The best thing to do is ignore them – it may seem rude but the best thing to do is keep on walking and not engage in conversation, not even a no, thanks.
- Do not drink the water in Egypt. Bottled water is readily available and is best bought from supermarkets or convenience stores.
- Foreigners are often more famous than the sites dating back hundreds of years. My tour group became celebrities – especially those with blonde or red hair. We had many photos taken of us and were asked to have our photo taken with many people – men, women and families.