In the heart of Egypt, Cairo rises as a megacity that never sleeps, interlacing an enchanting mosaic of ancient wonders, bustling markets, and vibrant culture. Most tourists come here only for a day to see the Pyramids of Giza. Compared to Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh, they find Cairo to be ugly, chaotic, and crowded. However, for us, the city’s rich heritage and warm hospitality, made Cairo an unforgettable destination.

As we drove towards Cairo we were excited to finally visit this vibrant city. It was our fourth time in Egypt already and it was becoming embarrassing to say, that we had not seen more of Egypt than Hurghada yet. After all, Hurghada is one of the best places in the world for diving. Still, it was something totally against our travel philosophy as we always wanted to see most of the country. So it was finally time to head to this megacity to witness the famous world wonder with our own eyes and experience what Egypt has to offer besides tourist resorts. Step into the beating heart of Egypt with us and explore our top 5 things to do in Cairo.

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What makes Cairo a special destination?

Cairo is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history that dates back more than 4,500 years. Over centuries it has become a bustling melting pot and a megacity of 20 million citizens. This already indicates that visiting Cairo will be a different experience from staying in Hurghada. And it could not be more true. Cairo’s charm may not lie in conventional beauty, but rather in its distinctive character and, therefore, it is worth exploring in more depth.

Cairo is a city of captivating contrasts. Skyscrapers and luxurious districts stand alongside historical sites like the Pyramids of Giza. Upscale shopping districts contrast with areas where daily life reflects the challenges faced by underprivileged communities. Cairo’s bustling bazaars, like Khan El Khalili, brim with activity, and the energetic buzz of commerce. In contrast, the city’s numerous mosques offer peaceful sanctuaries of serenity, where visitors can experience moments of tranquility amidst the dynamic urban environment. When spending more time in Cairo, one starts to embrace this busy megacity.

5 Best Things to Do in Cairo, Egypt

1. Visit the Pyramids of Giza

Visiting the pyramids is an experience like no other! Promised! They stand proudly as one of the precious few remaining Seven Wonders of the World, which makes them a must have bucket list item for any traveler.

The pyramids were designed to serve as eternal resting places for the pharaohs, who were considered divine rulers. The elaborate burial chambers within the pyramids contained treasures, artifacts, and intricate hieroglyphics that depicted rituals and beliefs associated with the journey to the afterlife.

As you approach these colossal structures, you can’t help but feel a sense of wonder. These colossal structures, meticulously crafted by ancient Egyptians, showcase the remarkable engineering skills of the time. Visiting the pyramids allows you to witness firsthand the remarkable grandeur and precision that went into their construction.

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2. Wander through Khan el-Khalili

As you enter the labyrinth of Khan el-Khalili, you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to the bustling bazaars of ancient Egypt. The air is alive with the sounds of merchants calling out to customers and the smells of exotic spices and perfumes. The colorful textiles and intricate ceramics on display are a feast for the eyes, and you find yourself drawn deeper into the maze of shops and stalls. As the sun sets, the lanterns that line the streets begin to glow, casting a warm and welcoming light over the market.

We love getting lost in the labyrinths of bazaars. In Khan el-Khalili, you can find a wide variety of souvenirs to purchase. From beautiful handmade jewelry with precious stones to colorful scarfs with traditional designs, there is something for everyone. Explore the aromatic world of spices and discover unique blends to enhance your cooking. Treat yourself to fragrant perfumes that capture the essence of Egypt. For a touch of ancient charm, consider buying papyrus paintings or replicas of pharaohs’ masks and statues. And don’t miss the chance to browse through stalls filled with traditional crafts like hand-painted ceramics, intricate woodwork, and shiny copper and brass objects. We personally seldom buy us anything as we know that we don’t really need another decorative figure which would just collect dust at home. Instead, we embrace the philosophy of collecting memories as our souvenirs.

That being said, we wholeheartedly support those who find joy in acquiring local handicrafts and products, knowing that it helps boost the local economy and supports talented artisans. Just be aware that the items are truly made by hand and not mass produced in China. Especially in Egypt, we have heard, fake products are unfortunately prevalent, so it’s wise to exercise caution and seek recommendations from trusted sources before making any purchases.

One such example is perfumes. While Cairo is renowned for its fragrances, counterfeit perfumes can be found in some areas, often imitating popular brands. Another product to be cautious about is papyrus. This ancient Egyptian art form is widely available in Cairo, but it’s important to discern genuine papyrus from mass-produced replicas. Authentic papyrus should be handmade from the papyrus plant, with detailed artwork and visible fibers.

If you decide to buy anything in Cairo – remember to bargain! Bargaining is an essential part of the bazaar culture, so we encourage everyone to engage in friendly negotiations to get the best deals. To give you an indication – we have heard that the first price said by vendors is often 3 times higher of the real price. Still, please be mindful to strike a balance in bargaining and not succumb to greed, as the aim is to achieve a fair price that benefits both parties involved. Being mindful of the value of the item and recognizing when a price is reasonable will ensure a positive and respectful exchange.

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3. Check out the Coptic Cairo

A visit to Coptic Cairo is a unique and immersive experience that provides a window into the country’s rich cultural and religious heritage. What sets Coptic Cairo apart is the peaceful coexistence of different faiths and cultures.

As you wander through the narrow, winding streets, you’ll see Christian and Islamic symbols side by side, serving as a reminder of the long-standing tradition of tolerance and respect in Egypt. This historic neighborhood boasts some of the oldest churches in the city, including the renowned Hanging Church, which dates back to the 3rd century AD.

The area also boasts many Islamic buildings, such as the stunning Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-As, the first mosque ever built in Egypt. Additionally, the Ben Ezra Synagogue is said to have been built on the spot where Moses was discovered in the reeds by the Pharaoh’s daughter.

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4. Explore the Egyptian Museum

As we stepped inside the grand halls of the Egyptian Museum, we felt a bit overwhelmed. The sheer scale and magnitude of the museum’s collection are breathtaking, and it’s hard to know where to start.

The museum is filled with artifacts, each one more fascinating than the last. Massive statues of pharaohs and sarcophagi tower over you. Hundreds of them… Delicate jewelry and hieroglyphics offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians. And then there are the mummies – fascinating and creepy objects at once.

The golden mask of Tutankhamun is one of the museum’s most famous artifacts. The mask glimmers together with the sarcophagus and golden treasures in a separate dimly lit room. It is impossible to miss, as there is a long queue to enter the room. This also means that one has only a few moments to admire the spectacular gold and blue designs that adorn the mask, sarcophagus, and treasures before the guard tells you to move on.

The craftsmanship of these relics left us in awe. However, it also stirred a sense of perplexity. As we ventured out onto the streets of Cairo, we couldn’t help but notice the contrasting reality. It was a humbling realization that while Egypt possesses such immense wealth in terms of historical treasures, many of its people are living very modest lives. It served as a reminder of how The colonial era saw the systematic plundering of Egypt’s cultural heritage, as valuable artifacts were acquired and transported to European museums and private collections. This practice not only depleted Egypt of its precious treasures but also disrupted the local communities’ connection to their own history and cultural identity. The loss of these artifacts, which held immense historical, cultural, and economic value, perpetuated a sense of loss and hindered the ability of Egyptians to fully benefit from their heritage. Today, efforts are being made to restore and repatriate these treasures, acknowledging the importance of their return in revitalizing local communities and reclaiming Egypt’s cultural legacy.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about an unexpected silver lining for Egypt’s archaeological projects, as it provided an opportunity for Egyptians to take charge and build their competencies in preserving their treasures. With restricted travel and international involvement, local archaeologists and experts stepped forward to assume crucial roles in excavation, preservation, and research. This shift empowered Egyptians to delve deeper into their rich history and develop a stronger sense of ownership and expertise in safeguarding their cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, during our visit to Cairo, the new Grand Egyptian Museum was still under construction. But once opened to the public, from what we have heard, it will surely be an even more impressive showcase of ancient Egyptian culture and history.

5. Take a boat ride on the Nile River

Embarking on a boat tour along the majestic Nile River in Cairo is an experience that should not be missed as it offers a unique perspective on the city.

The river has played a vital role in the life of Egypt for thousands of years. As you drift along its tranquil waters, you’ll witness the vibrant scenes of Cairo’s bustling riverbanks, with locals going about their daily activities and iconic landmarks lining the shores. The Cairo Tower, the brightly lit bridges, and the sprawling city skyline all offer an enchanting display. Whether it’s a romantic sunset cruise or a daytime adventure, a boat tour on the Nile is an absolute must-do in Cairo, offering a unique and enchanting way to connect with the heart and soul of this remarkable city.

Based on the recommendation of a local, we decided to embark on a boat tour with Dahabiya Cairo, a recently renovated vessel with a modern design. We were thrilled to have secured a nice table on the upper floor for dinner, which offered a delightful sight. The view was truly magical as the sun set, painting the sky with brilliant oranges, pinks, and purples.

Regrettably, we cannot wholeheartedly endorse this tour provider for those seeking an exceptional culinary experience. The overall quality of the food fell just slightly above the standard offerings found in all-inclusive hotels. It’s a disappointment we encountered, as Egyptian cuisine itself is renowned for its delectable flavors.

It appears that the chefs in Egypt may excel in local delicacies but struggle to match the standards of Western dishes. The drinks were delicious though. So it still is a great option, in case you are looking for a less crowded tour.

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How to get to Cairo?

Getting to Cairo is relatively easy as it is one of the major cities in Egypt and a hub for international travel in the region. Ultimately, the best way to get to Cairo depends on your preferences and budget. Make sure to plan ahead and consider the time and cost involved to make the most of your visit to this fascinating city.

International flights

Cairo International Airport serves many major airlines from around the world. You can fly to Cairo directly from many cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as from major cities in North America.

Domestic flights

If you’re short on time or prefer to avoid a long bus/car ride, you can also fly from Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo. Flights are available daily and take about an hour. Prices vary depending on the airline and time of year but expect to pay around 1500 EGP (≈ 48 USD) – 2500 EGP (≈ 80 USD) for a round-trip ticket.

Cairo with a tour

If you’re staying in Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh, one of the most popular options is to book a tour with a local operator, which usually includes transportation by bus or van, a guided tour of the major attractions in Cairo, and sometimes a meal or other amenities. you can expect the prices to range from 100-150 USD per person.

Cairo with a personal driver

If you prefer to travel independently, you can also hire a personal driver to take you to Cairo. You can negotiate the price with the driver but expect to pay around 4000 EGP (≈ 128 USD) – 5000 EGP (≈ 160 USD) for a round-trip ride from Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo. Although this option may not be cheaper it offers better value for your money and allows you to set your own pace and itinerary.

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How to get around Cairo?

When it comes to getting around Cairo, there are several options available.

Taxis in Cairo

Taxis, with their yellow color, are a common sight and offer convenience and flexibility. The average price for a taxi ride within the city center ranges from 20 20 – 50 EGP (≈ 2 USD), depending on the distance and traffic conditions. However, it’s important to note that some tourists have reported issues with taxi drivers overcharging or taking longer routes. Also, we’ve heard that taxis may not be the safest option for female travelers. So it’s recommended to use reputable taxi companies or opt for ride-hailing services like Uber or Careem, which provide a safer and more transparent experience. Uber rides in Cairo are generally very affordable, with average fares ranging from 30 EGP (≈ 1 USD) – 60 EGP (≈ 2 USD).

Metro in Cairo

Another popular option for getting around Cairo is the metro system. With its extensive network and affordable fares, the metro is a convenient way to navigate the city. The ticket prices range from 3 EGP (≈ 0 USD) to 7 EGP (≈ 0 USD), depending on the distance traveled. The metro can get crowded during peak hours, but it offers a fast and efficient way to reach major attractions and different parts of the city.

Exploring Cairo by foot

For those who prefer a more immersive experience, exploring Cairo on foot can be a rewarding adventure. Walking allows you to soak in the vibrant atmosphere, discover hidden gems, and interact with locals. Many of the city’s popular attractions, such as the Khan El Khalili market and the Cairo Citadel, are easily accessible on foot. Keep in mind that Cairo’s streets can be busy and chaotic, so it’s essential to be cautious and aware of your surroundings.

Cairo with a personal driver

For longer journeys or exploring areas outside the city center, you may consider hiring a private car with a driver. This option provides convenience and comfort, allowing you to customize your itinerary and travel at your own pace. Prices for private car hire vary depending on the duration and distance, but you can expect to pay around 300 EGP (≈ 10 USD) to 500 EGP (≈ 16 USD) for a half-day or full-day rental.

How many days to stay in Cairo?

Most of the tourists join a guided tour from Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh, a jam-packed one-day excursion that will give only a glimpse of Cairo’s wonders. You will most probably check off the astonishing encounter with the Pyramids of Giza, visit the Egyptian Museum, and maybe even walk in the bustling Khan El Khalili market. But be aware – the distance between Hurghada/Sharm el Sheikh and Cairo is about 500 km (311 miles). This means it will be a long day and you would be spending 2/3 of the time in the bus. This way of travelling surely was nothing for us and we decided to explore the city on our own again. Unfortunately, our visit was strictly limited to 2,5 days due to our liveaboard plans in Hurghada. But even in that short span, we managed to see most of the city and feel the vibrant energy of Cairo. However, if you have the time, spending 3-4 days in Cairo will allow you to venture beyond the surface.

Our thoughts about Cairo

Visiting Cairo is an experience that promises a unique blend of ancient wonders, vibrant culture, and bustling city life. The absolute highlight, without a doubt, is the opportunity to witness the amazing Pyramids of Giza, which will be a memory for a lifetime. However, Cairo offers so much more, making it an enchanting destination. With proper preparation and an open mind, Cairo can be a truly unforgettable destination, earning a solid 7 out of 10 rating for its captivating charm.

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