Egypt’s capital city is a hectic, sprawling metropolis with an electrifying atmosphere and jam-packed with jaw-dropping historical sites, from the iconic pyramids at Giza to the Roman towers in the Christian quarter. As well as being a paradise for history buffs, Cairo is a serious cultural hub and boasts a plethora of art galleries, museums, music venues and tasty local delicacies for intrepid travelers to sample.
In order to make your trip to Cairo extra-awesome, why not check out our top recommendations of what ‘The City of a Thousand Minarets’ has to offer and add your favorites to your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Explore the Iconic Pyramids at Giza Located on the outskirts of Cairo is one of the most famous and impressive feats of construction from human history. Visiting the pyramids is a definite for any self-respecting voyager’s bucket list; explore ancient passageways and enter the tombs of the rulers of ancient Egypt during this exciting day out. The site also contains the Solar Boat Museum, which is home to an amazing ceremonial solar barque that was unearthed and has been restored to its original glory and is absolutely worth seeing. Guarding the whole Giza complex is the Sphinx, an animal that you just have to get a selfie with. Although it’s easily accessible by metro, the site is best explored with a knowledgeable local guide who can entertain and inform you with stories about the site’s colorful past. We recommend Emo Tours, who provide excellent full or half-day tours.
Wade Through the Sea of Awesome Artifacts in the Egyptian Museum One of the world’s great museums, this distinctive, salmon-colored building by the main square in central Cairo contains a vast collection of objects from Egyptian history. The museum is often very full and takes quite a while to get around if you decide to see everything. Be sure to stop at the Tutankhamun Galleries, which contain treasures found in King Tut’s tombs including his famous death mask and throne; his wardrobe collection is also not to be missed, as he was a very stylish young man. The Royal Mummies Collection is also spooky and brilliant.
Experience the Holy Atmosphere at the Al-Azhar Mosque This ornate mosque is one of the oldest in Cairo. Al-Azhar University is the leading theological centre in the Islamic world as well as the second oldest university on Earth.
Wander around the Roman ruins in Cairo’s Coptic Christian District A magical little area of backstreets and laneways inside the walls of the Roman fortress of Old Babylon where parts of the Roman towers still loom over the main street. There are many dazzling churches to explore, as well as the Coptic Museum which houses beautiful Coptic art and lots of objects from Egypt’s early Christian period. The architecture in the district is very cool and the Hanging Church is not to be missed. Just outside the area is the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As, the first mosque built in Egypt.
Go Shopping in the Souq Quarter Khan el-Khalili is a labyrinth of streets and alleyways packed with stalls, stores, workshops and cafes. It is an excellent place to find some authentic Egyptian crafts, spices, metalworks and souvenirs. This district has some wonderful coffee shops, especially Fishawis, which serves delicious Arabic coffee and sweet tea and is a favorite with local craftsmen and merchants.
Take a Tour to Sakkara, Memphis and Dahshur This superb full-day tour is the perfect way to see these three historically important sites. Let your expert guide show you the world’s oldest major stone structure, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, before you feast your eyes on Memphis, the capital of Old Egypt, as well as the Statue of Ramses II, the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid.
Cool Down with an Ice Cream in Cairo’s Most Beautiful Park Al-Azhar Park was built on top of a medieval rubbish dump. Opening in 2005, it has become a very popular place to stroll and relax for local families and tourists alike and the manicured gardens are an ideal place to escape the bustle of the surrounding metropolis. The views of the Old City are particularly beautiful from here at sunset and there are some really good restaurants on site. This lush, green park is an oasis worth visiting.
Hang with the Hipsters in Zamalek The district of Zamalek is home to most of Cairo’s hipster shops, restaurants and cafes. This area has a distinctly European feel with its wide boulevards and international embassies. Many of Cairo’s best restaurants are to be found here, as well as some standout art galleries including the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art. The Cairo Tower is in the southern part of Zamalek and its observation deck affords a wonderful view of the city.
Cairo has a host of great hotel and hostel options. Here are three of our favorites:
High-end Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza is a cool, modern and relaxing luxury hotel in the heart of Cairo’s old district. It is a perfect refuge from the intensity, hustle and bustle of the city outside.
Medium Novotel Cairo El Borg is a four-star hotel in central Cairo, a short walk from the Egyptian Museum. Come for the pleasant staff and tasty food but stay for the spectacular rooftop view.
Budget Egyptian Night Hostel is a friendly hostel in downtown Cairo. The staff are very proud locals and are an excellent source of recommendations for tours and restaurants. Guests can snag complimentary breakfast and free WiFi.
Egyptian street food is not as famous as it deserves to be. Anyone who’s tasted Koshari will testify to its fresh, delicious and above all else truly original flavor. The ‘poor man’s dish’ is made up of rice, macaroni and lentils and is topped with chickpeas, onion and a tomato-vinegar sauce. It’s cheap, healthy and widely available all over Cairo, from dedicated Koshari shops and stalls. If you want to sample this authentic slice of Egyptian food culture, Koshary Al Tahrir is a very good place to start.
Excellent falafel and shawarma are also available throughout the city, packing a tangy protein punch that will keep you going throughout the day.
For something a little different, the Intercontinental Hotel’s Birdcage in downtown Cairo has very friendly staff and serves great quality Thai food.
Drinks and Nightlife
Cairo takes the ‘24-hour city’ vibe to the extreme. The streets are alive throughout the night with coffee shops, shisha cafes and nightclubs open all hours. Egyptian families stroll around the city with their children late into the night, creating a bonhomous atmosphere that deserves the title of a ‘City That Never Sleeps’.
The majority of locals are Muslim, so alcohol does not play a big part in Cairo’s nightlife. Food, coffee and shisha are the staples here. Most discos and bars close at midnight but those with a tourism license stay open later.
Cairo Jazz Club is an excellent venue that serves vegetarian food, alcohol and has live jazz, funk, blues or world music every night.
Cairo is one of the few cities in the Muslim world to have several casinos; feeling lucky?
Tips and Culture
Cairo is predominantly Sunni Muslim and therefore is a very male-dominated society. Women travelers are generally safe but may feel a little uncomfortable in certain public places so are advised to wear clothes that cover up their arms and legs.
The city has extensive metro (one of only two on the African continent), bus and rail networks. Roads are very crowded and traffic is often both slow and chaotic. Be warned: crossing the road on foot can be a hazardous experience at times.
Our must see for Cairo is a ‘unique’ tour by Emo Tours. The company runs tours tailored to intrepid travelers who want to see the more exotic sides of Cairo that are not on the regular tourist trail. A day at the Cairo Camel Market, dinner with an Egyptian family in their home, a quad bike or camel ride in the open desert at Giza or a tour of Cairo’s local and rarely visited neighborhoods can be a really interesting, once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never forget!
Cairo is an intense city with a distinctive, lively atmosphere and wonderful history. So copy your favorite recommendations into your BUCKiTDREAM planner and while you’re munching koshari or trekking through the ancient pyramids, why not share your experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?