Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is in many ways also a microcosm of both the country and the continent. And while Egypt has had its share of struggles — there was a high degree of violence after the ousting of President Mubarak and dissatisfaction with the Muslim Brotherhood–Cairo remains an important cultural and intellectual center in the region.
Cairo is the largest city in Egypt and one of the biggest in Africa. It is a modern city thriving with life. Walk down one of the main streets into Cairo’s traffic, and you’ll see old men bargaining at roadside carts, young men playing dominos, women shopping for ingredients to cook dinner, children running around everywhere, bicycles surrounding cars on the roads and boulevards, and horse-drawn vehicles zig-zagging between cars.
The Great Pyramids of Giza are some of the most well-known structures in the world. What you might not know is that the pyramids are just one part of a much larger pyramid field that comprises some forty individual pyramids spread out over a twenty-mile area in greater Cairo. Technically, only the three largest ones (the Great Pyramid, Khafre’s Pyramid and Menkaure’s Pyramid) were called pyramids when they were built. Nevertheless, we call all of them pyramids today, whether they are true pyramids or not.
Vacation In Cairo Egypt
Travelling to Cairo, Egypt is a true feast for the senses. From historic sites to modern day luxuries and mouthwatering cuisine, there’s something for everyone in this exotic city. Whether you want to see the Pyramids of Giza – ranked as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – or spend the day relaxing on a private luxury yacht with one of Egypt’s glamorous celebrities, Cairo has something to offer everyone. With rich historical significance and vibrant cultural heritage, it’s easy to see why travellers from all over the globe flock to Egypt’s capital city every year.
Cairo is one of the world’s great megacities.
For historical sightseeing, there are few cities than can compete with Cairo, but Egypt’s capital offers many more things to do than just museums and mosques.
As beautiful and as rich in historic finery as it is confounding and an assault on your senses to first-time visitors, Cairo tends to be a city that travelers love and hate in equal measures.
Its sheer noise, pollution, and traffic can make a first visit here difficult to navigate, but Egypt’s capital has so much to offer travelers that look beyond its problems.
Full of vigor, Cairo is the best place to visit in the country to get a feel for modern Egyptian street life. No trip to Egypt is complete without a stay in the city Arabs call Umm al-Dunya (The Mother of the World).
The main tourist attraction everyone is here to see are the Giza Pyramids on the city’s doorstep, but the city itself is crammed with major monuments that span centuries of history.
There are so many things to do in Cairo that you’ll only be able to cover a sliver on one trip.
To help focus your visit and plan your time use our list of the top attractions in Cairo.
See also: Where to Stay in Cairo
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Marvel at the Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza are Cairo’s number one half-day trip and the top thing to do on everyone’s itinerary.
Right on the edge of the city, on the Giza Plateau, these fourth dynasty funerary temples have been wowing travelers for centuries and continue to be one of Egypt’s major highlights.
Despite the heat, the dust, and the tourist hustle, you can’t miss a trip here.
The Pyramid of Cheops (also called the Great Pyramid or Pyramid of Khufu) is the largest pyramid of the Giza group, and its interior of narrow passages can be explored, although there isn’t much to see, except a plain tomb chamber with an empty sarcophagus.
Farther south on the plateau is the Pyramid of Chephren (also known as the Pyramid of Khefre), with an internal tunnel area, which can be entered, and the smaller Pyramid of Mycerinus (Pyramid of Menkaure).
Guarding these mortuary temples is the lion-bodied and pharaoh-faced Sphinx; one of the ancient world’s iconic monuments.
The Giza Plateau is set to welcome another attraction when the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is finally finished.
When opened, it will be the biggest museum in the world devoted to exhibiting the antiquities of a single civilization, displaying a wealth of Ancient Egypt’s artifacts, many of which have never been seen by the public before.
The Solar Boat (one of the ceremonial solar barques that was unearthed near the Giza Pyramids), which used to be displayed in a museum directly behind the Great Pyramid, has recently been moved to the GEM in readiness for the opening.
After a stop-start construction, beset with financial difficulties, the museum opening date has been set for late 2022.
The pyramid plateau is on the edge of Giza’s suburban sprawl, roughly 13 kilometers southwest of the central city.
Most people arrive by taxi, but it’s also accessible by an easier-than-you-think combo of taking the metro to Giza and then hopping on a local minibus that drops you outside the entrance.
As the area around the Pyramids of Giza is quite sprawling, many travelers elect to see the area by tour, often incorporating a camel or horse ride.
A good option for first-time visitors is the Private Half-Day Trip to the Giza Pyramids with Camel-Riding. This includes pickup and drop-off at your hotel, a guide, lunch, and 25 minutes on a camel.
Address: Al-Ahram Street, Giza
2. See One of the World’s Great Collections in the Egyptian Museum
The absolutely staggering collection of antiquities displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum makes it one of the world’s great museums. You would need a lifetime to properly see everything on show.
The museum was founded in 1857 by French Egyptologist August Mariette and moved to its current home – in the distinctive powder-pink mansion in Downtown Cairo – in 1897.
Yes, the collection is poorly labeled and not well set out due to limits of space (and only a fraction of its total holdings are actually on display).
It also currently suffers with some empty cases due to artifacts having already been transferred to the as yet unopened new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), but you still can’t help being impressed by the sheer majesty of the exhibits.
When the GEM opens, this iconic building is slated to still be used as a museum, but it is uncertain which collections it will hold.
The museum’s major displays, including the Tutankhamun Galleries, which will form the highlight exhibition within the new GEM, are all definitely being moved.
Meanwhile, in April 2020, the Egyptian Museum’s Royal Mummies Collection was transferred to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations (NMEC) to further share out the vast amount of Egypt’s Pharaonic riches between Cairo’s museums.
If you’re pressed for time, make a beeline straight for the Tutankhamun Galleries.
The treasures displayed here were all found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, son-in-law and successor of Amenophis IV (later Akhenaten), who died at the age of 18.
The tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, contained the largest and richest assemblage of grave goods ever found intact in an Egyptian tomb.
Highlights include Tutankhamun’s death mask and sarcophagi (Room 3), the pharaoh’s lion throne (Room 35), and his fascinating wardrobe collection (Room 9).
Afterwards, don’t miss a wander through the Egyptian jewelry collection (Room 4) which contains more bling than you’ll ever see again in one lifetime.
The Egyptian Museum sits right beside Midan Tahrir, the central square of Downtown Cairo.
The easiest way to arrive here is to take the Cairo Metro to Sadat station (on Midan Tahrir) and follow the exit signs to the museum.
Location: Midan al-Tahrir, Downtown
3. Admire Al-Azhar Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque is the finest building of Cairo’s Fatimid era and one of the city’s earliest surviving mosques, completed in 972 CE.
It’s also one of the world’s oldest universities – Caliph El-Aziz bestowed it with the status of university in 988 CE (the other university vying for “oldest” status is in Fes) and today, Al-Azhar University is still the leading theological center of the Islamic world.
The main entrance is the Gate of the Barbers on the northwest side of the building, adjoining the neo-Arab facade built by Abbas II.
Leave your shoes at the entrance and walk into the central courtyard. To your right is the El-Taibarsiya Medrese which has a mihrab (prayer niche) dating from 1309.
From the central courtyard, you get the best views of the mosque’s five minarets, which cap the building.
Across the courtyard is the main prayer hall, spanning a vast 3,000 square meters. The front half is part of the original building, while the rear half was added by Abd el-Rahman.
Al-Azhar Mosque is right in the heart of the Islamic Cairo district and easy to reach by taxi.
Al-Azhar Street runs east from Midan Ataba in the downtown area right to the square where the mosque sits.