Egypt is one of my favorite places in the world. From the friendly people, to the mouth watering food, to the rich cultural history, there's a lot to unpack here. To help you get the most out of this incredible place, here is a list of the top 10 best things to do in Cairo, Egypt.
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1. THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA
The last surviving Wonder of the ancient world, The great Pyramid of Giza is one of the greatest human accomplishments to date. Weighing a staggering 5.75 million tons, this monumental structure took 20 years to build and was completed in 2560 B.C. as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu.
Because it will take you about 20min to get there from Cairo's city center, I'd recommend staying the night at one of the cheap hotels right in front of the pyramids so you can get an early start and beat the crowds and the heat.
Hours: Best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and the heat!
Address: Al Haram, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Giza Desert, Giza Governorate, Egypt
2. THE CAIRO CITADEL
When it was first constructed in 1183, the Cairo Citadel was the most ambitious fortification project of its time. It's dominating position over the city has kept Cairo safe for centuries and wsa the home of its rulers for nearly 700 years.
it costs 100LE for entry but you get the added bonus of access to the National Military Museum as well. Its close proximity to the Al Azhar Gardens make it a natural stop before sunset.
Price: 100 EGP (+100 EGP if shooting video)
Hours: 9AM - 4PM
Address: Al Abageyah Shar'a Salih Salem, Cairo 11511 Egypt
3. Al Azhar Park
One of the most peaceful places in Cairo, Al Azhar park is a welcome escape from the general chaos of the rest of the city. The park sits on about 74 acres of land just south of the Cairo Citadel and consists of waterfalls, wildlife, a restaurant, and even a small museum.
Its always crowded here and you'll find families playing pickup games of futbol, picnicking, and just relaxing almost ever night of the week.
Price: 10 LE
Hours: 9AM - 10PM
Address: Salah Salem St, El-Darb El-Ahmar, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
Now, I couldn't wait to talk about Egyptian food because it is one of my favorite parts of Egyptian culture and there is so much to talk about. Now before I say anything, the best advice I can give you is always order what other people are having. Look around at the families in the room and see what they are having because that will always be the best indicator of what to order.
Now in terms of specific dishes there are a few but I'll start with Koshari because of its importance in Egyptian Cuisine. So Koshari is a real "blue-collar", workers dish that consists of lentils, rice, pasta, spicy tomato sauce, topped with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. It's a unique dish because it combines Italian, Indian, and middle eastern culinary traditions and making it their own which is something Egyptians do very well.
Another dish you have to try (and is special to Egypt), is Ful Medames which consists of cooked fava beans and a wide assortment of topping such as chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice, or chili pepper. There is so much good food here and I recommend trying a little bit of it all!
For a FULL list of all my favorite restaurants and street food spots click here
5. National Egyptian Museum
Egyptian history is fascinating and you won't find a larger cache of ancient Egyptian artifacts anywhere in the world than in this museum with over 120,000 items! If you are at all interested in ancient Egypt this is a must see. That being said I recommend reading up on some of the artifacts there so seeing them is more impactful (there are very few english descriptions).
Something to note, this museum will be superseded by the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza in late 2020.
Price: Single entry ticket 120 LE (+50 LE for photography)
Address: Tahrir Square rd, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
Hours: 9AM - 5PM Daily
6. DRINK TEA & SMOKE SHISHA
Smoking shisha, also known as hookah, has been a huge part of Egyptian culture and tradition for thousands of years. A big part of that is due to it being a muslim dominated society which means far less alcohol consumption. So instead of passing the time at a bar like the western world, Egyptians will go to a shisha cafe to socialize and discuss world events.
Even if you don't smoke you should still visit them because a customary tea is almost always ensured and they will have games such as dominos and backgammon (called Tawla in Arabic) for you to enjoy.
They convene at these cafes all hours of the day and night and you won't have to look far to find one because it seems every street corner will have one without fail!
7. KHAN AL KHALILI
Egyptians are famous for their markets and intense bartering tactics so it's only natural you see it in action while you're there. The largest and most popular bazaar in Cairo is Khan Al Khalili, located in the Islamic district of the city.
Now the main part of the market is very much geared towards ripping off tourists and should be walked through but not lingered in. Once you get a little further away from the center you start to see the more local side and prices will drop (only after haggling of course!).
Hours: No official operating hours, dawn till dusk seems to be about right
Address: El-Gamaleya, El Gamaliya, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
8. THE CITY OF THE DEAD
The City of the Dead is a large islamic cemetery on the outer edge of historic Cairo. Roughly 4 miles long, the cemetery dates back to 642 B.C when it serviced the city of Fustat. Today it is made up of thousands of above ground tombs each built by a family for their loved ones.
Over the years an urban population has developed which has grown to over 500,000 people (conservative est.). It is often brought up in arguments when talking about Cairo's overpopulation problem. Due it being an active cemetery it's important that you are as respectful as possible when visiting.
Address: 7 Branshed from Al Soultan Ahmed, El-Darb El-Ahmar, Monsha'et Nasser, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
9. ISLAMIC CAIRO
Most of the attractions you'll want to visit are located in Islamic Cairo. So this takes care of all the honorable mentions such as the Al-Hakim Mosque, The Ottoman Merchant house, the Bab al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest), among others.
It's the area of the city that you want to get lost in, exploring tiny back-alley cafes, hidden restaurants, and of course, the thousands of tea/shisha bars. You wander around in this area for long enough and there's no doubt you'll see what "real" Cairo is like.
Address: al-Muizz Street (Sharia al-Muizz), which is dedicated to pedestrian traffic between 8AM and 11PM should be your starting point and everything will be within walking distance from there.
10. ENJOY EGYPTIAN CULTURE
Last but not least make sure you enjoy the city of Cairo! From the friendly people, to the mouth watering food, to its fantastic history, there is so much to see and do here there's no way to capture it all in one trip. The best way to explore this insane place is to travel with an open mind and try as many new things as you can.
WHERE TO STAY?
Airbnb is definitely the way to go here because it will not only be your cheapest option, but it will connect you with a local who can help you out and lend all their insider knowledge about Cairo. Now in terms of what district I would try to stay as central as possible, maybe somewhere near the Abdeen Palace or Talaat Harb square are both great options.