The 2nd largest city in Africa, there’s no doubt that Cairo has a pretty mighty reputation!
And, depending on who you’re speaking to, that reputation can differ quite a lot!
Yes, love it or hate it, Cairo is a city that seems to divide opinion like no other.
And for that reason, I’m calling it a Marmite city (shout out to the Brits reading this)… you’ll either love it or hate it!
I’d heard plenty of stories from both camps before I finally got to this mammoth metropolis – the last destination in my epic Cape Town to Cairo expedition – and really wasn’t sure which side of the debate my heart was going to fall.
And to be totally honest, I’m still not 100% sure!
Because, no doubt about it, Cairo is one heck of a city!
For starters, it’s pretty full-on, with some insane traffic, pollution and noise.
And I know it can also be intimidating and disconcerting for many travellers.
But this busy madness is also part of Cairo’s appeal – its bustling, bursting, buzzing, busyness wraps around its World Heritage attractions in an utterly enthralling way that straddles the divide between the Middle Eastern and North Africa in an exciting and unique way.
So let’s just say, love it or hate, you’ve got to give Cairo, the Marmite city, a try.
After 6 different adventures in Africa, I can safely say, there’s nowhere else like!
Now that’s gotta be worth a visit!
And here, ready for when you do go, is my list of the top 12 things to do in Cairo…
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- How to Score a Cheap Nile Cruise in Egypt
- Perfect 2 Day Luxor Itinerary
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My stay at Bella Luna Hotel and my trip with Cairo Day Tours were kindly sponsored, but as always, all views are my own.
Prices are correct at the time of publication.
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#1 Selfie the Pyramids of Giza
Of course, first on the list of top things to do in Cairo, it has to be the big daddy of them all!
Cairo’s most famous attraction, and rightly so, the pyramids of Giza are one of life’s bucket list greats and truly have to be seen to be believed.
Heading here and allowing several hours to explore the area, which includes the excellent Giza Solar boat museum and the Great Sphinx too, is an absolute must while in Cairo.
Giza sits on the West Bank of the Nile, as opposed to Cairo which sits on the East, but getting here is easy enough for the city centre.
Independent travellers can take the metro and then a bus, but for those who really want to absorb the history, I’d highly advise heading to the Pyramids with a guide.
Unbelievably good value for money, your appreciation of these 5000 year old monuments will be all the more memorable if you have someone to explain their significance to you!
Tours also tend to include entrance fees, lunch and aircon transport, which is an absolute godsend in this steaming desert country!
I headed to the pyramids with Cairo Day Tours and can highly recommend them for the excellent value they offer and great service.
#2 Marvel at the Egyptian Museum
One of the greatest museums in the world, it’s easy to understand the reason behind this grande accolade when you walk inside the Egyptian Museum.
The country’s leading exhibition of ancient treasures, just about anything that was salvaged from a tomb, temple or pyramid in this country was brought to Cairo and is now housed in room upon room of amazingness here!
With an imminent move to the brand new GEM building in Giza now forecast for 2023, this latest incarnation of the museum will exhibit over 100,00 artefacts, including the full contents of Tutankhamun’s treasure for the first time.
Costing foreign visitors just 160 Egyptian Pounds (LE) to get in, this is a real steal for what may be the earth’s greatest collection of ancient artefacts and the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East.
From the burial masks of history’s most famous Pharoah, to the mummified bodies of other prominent rulers, there’s no question that visiting the Egyptian Museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Cairo – you’ll want to allow at least 2 hours for your visit!
Do be aware the Mummy Room costs an extra 180 LE to enter and a camera will also cost you 50 LE to take in, but both of these are worth it IMO.
Guides aren’t mandatory – although this may change when the snazzy new Egyptian Museum opens in Giza – but if you do want to take a tour in Cairo that includes the museum, check out this great option.
#3 Stroll Coptic Cairo
A walk through the Coptic area of Cairo is a fascinating half day trip, that will help you become familiar with the ancient Christian roots of this land and marvel at the modern day churches that still survive.
Top of the list is the Hanging Church, which sits above ancient Roman ruins and is really beautiful.
The Ben Ezra Synagogue, Coptic Museum and Cavern Church (where Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus are meant to have stayed for 3 months in their bid to escape King Herod) are also worth a look and visiting them all blew my mind – wandering here, like so much of this region – is like jumping into a book… absolutely unbelievable!
#4 Get Swept Away by Islamic Cairo
One of the oldest parts of the city, Islamic Cairo is an absolute must on your list of the best things to do in Cairo.
From its beautiful mosques to its bustling markets and winding old streets, it’s a real living, breathing part of the city that brings history into the modern world.
Getting lost here is part of the adventure, but just don’t forget your camera as it feels like almost every corner has a story to tell.
Top of my list is Muizz Street – rumoured to be the oldest in Cairo and littered with “antique” shops, old city walls and mausoleums.
Personally, I thought the famous and nearby Khan-al-Khalili market was overrated, but it’s worth a look for the bucket list’s sake.
If you want to explore Cairo’s Islamic quarter with a guide, then check out this top-rated option.
#5 Day Trip to Alexandria
Surprisingly, given it’s Egypt’s second city, there’s not a huge amount to see in Alexandria, which handily means that the few gems which are there, can easily be enjoyed as part of a day trip from Cairo.
Just hop on the bus or the train there from the capital (it only takes a couple of hours) and enjoy a few hours strolling this Mediterranean town, its famous library, coastal views and multiple cafes.
Of course, don’t miss the amazing new Bibliotheca Alexandrina either – a modern and huge library that pays homage to the great library that once stood in Alexandria and help to establish this city as a major centre of learning and knowledge in the ancient world.
If you’d rather not travel to Alexandria independently, then this bestselling day tour from Cairo is a superb way to see the main attractions of this historic city with a professional guide at your side.
#6 Visit Saqqara
Another great trip from Cairo and definitely one of the top things you should do when in this city, is to take a day trip to Saqqara.
Often also spelt Sakkar (so don’t get confused, they are the same place!), this ancient site is very near to the historic city of Memphis – the former capital of the Old and Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt.
And why visit Saqqara?
Well quite simply, it’s home to the oldest stone monument in the world!
And I bet you’ve never even heard of it! (To be fair, I hadn’t either before my time in Egypt!)
Known as the Step Pyramid of Zoser, deceased pharaohs and their families, as well as important generals and sacred animals were buried here and then re-discovered centuries later.
Delightfully free of crowds compared to the pyramids of Giza, heading here is a must if you have a day to spare in Cairo.
#7 Listen to Music at the Opera
Almost every night of the week, the Opera venue in Cairo is the place to be.
Offering far more than just opera, this huge event collective has several venues, including 1 open-air one that has a great live music programme.
Heading here, or going to one of the city’s other live music venues including Makan, The Space Art Room or the Cairo Jazz Club, is definitely one of the best things to do in Cairo and shouldn’t be missed if you really want to soak up the life of this city.
#8 Enjoy a Belly Dancing Show or Cruise Dinner
A super popular thing to do in Cairo is to check out a belly dancing show.
Personally not my cup of tea, or so I thought, but this spectacle really is quite the show!
You can even combine it with a Nile cruise and dinner if you really feel like splashing out.
This great option includes live entertainment and a delicious open buffet dinner as you sail down the Nile River from old Cairo to new Cairo.
It runs for 4 hours and offers great value for money, including a hotel pick up and drop off, which will definitely make your life a lot easier!
#9 Eat Egyptian Food
From tamia to ful, hummus to kushari, Egyptian food is delicious… and cheap!
Cairo is a great place to sample a lot of it and there’s few genuine cultural experiences as fun as queuing up with the masses at a busy takeaway joint like Kazaz or Akher Sa’a in the capital to get your fill.
Be brave and don’t miss out!
If you feel lost, then just ask – so many people speak English here in Cairo and will be willing to help you.
At least, that’s my experience as a solo female traveller in Egypt.
#10 Smoke Sheesha and Drink Coffee
The land of the coffeehouse, Cairo is jampacked with amazing places to enjoy a thick Turkish coffee, people watch and enjoy the world passing by.
If you fancy an espresso more than a Turkish coffee, expat favourite Kafein in downtown Cairo comes highly recommended.
I can also vouch strongly for the fresh melon and mint juice here!
Combining this coffee spot with smoking a traditional Egyptian sheesha in the evening (and perhaps watching a football game at the same time!) is the perfect way to get into the spirit of this city.
The Odeon Palace in downtown Cairo is a great place to do just this, although please note that sheesha includes nicotine, is highly addictive and damages your health.
#11 Hot Air Balloon in Luxor
And now we come to some of the best side trips from Cairo and first up is an amazing hot air balloon experience in Luxor.
Too far to get to by train or bus from Cairo if you want to enjoy a day trip, this excellent guided tour from Cairo however includes return flights from Cairo to Luxor ad then jam packs your day in Egypt’s second most famous city with a ride in a hot air balloon, a visit to the Valley of the Kings, a look at the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the ability to tick Medinet Habu off your bucket list too.
And, to top it all off, you’ll even get to sail down the Nile and take a trip to Luxor Temple.
This is literally the complete Luxor package, so if you’re on a short timeframe, this top-rated trip is definitely the way to go!
#12 Get Off the Beaten Track on a Trip to Siwa
And last but not least, this is a great option for those of you looking to get off the main tourist trail and explore something a little different in Egypt.
The Siwa Oasis is a remote outpost in Egypt, located near the Libyan border.
The only buses and tours that run there are from Cairo, which is why I’m including it on this list.
Head by bumping bus or epic jeep safari deep into the desert, and then exploring the amazing salt and freshwater pools as well as the desert town of this fascinating region, is a must in my view.
You’ll need to check the security situation before you venture here (and do make sure it’s safe), but if it is, then this will certainly provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This 3 day guided tour from Cairo to Siwa is a great option for seeing all the highlights in this fascinating part of Egypt.
Cairo Mini Travel Guide
When to Visit Cairo?
No question in my mind that you should definitely visit Cairo during the spring and autumn seasons i.e. from April to May and September to November.
This will allow you to get the most from the city’s amazing historical and natural sites without being either too hot or too cold!
How to Get to Cairo?
Most people access Cairo by flying into the city’s international airport.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best airline prices.
If you are crossing into the Egyptian city of Aswan overland from Sudan, check out this post which details all the ins and outs of crossing this southern border.
Otherwise, you can also reach Cairo via domestic flights or train from cities such as Sharm el Sheikh, Luxor, Hurghada and Aswan.
Learn more about how to buy tickets for Egyptian trains in this post I wrote.
Perfect 3 Day Cairo Itinerary
Morning: Pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza
Afternoon: Egyptian Museum
Evening: Hit up the Cairo Opera
Morning: Coptic Cairo
Afternoon: Islamic Cairo
Evening: Head to Makan, The Space Art Room or The Cairo Jazz Club for live music
Day trip to Saqqara, Luxor or Alexandria!
For a full 10 day Egypt itinerary, check out this post I wrote.
Best Cairo Accommodation
During my 4 days in Cairo, I stayed at the wonderful Bella Luna Hotel.
With a top location, super friendly staff and spotlessly clean rooms, it was a steal for the price.
Breakfast is included in the very reasonable rates and you’ll get your own ensuite room with a balcony!
Plus, the wifi speed was lightning fast!
For self-catering facilities, check out these amazing value entire apartments, which are highly-rated thanks to their amazing comfort and facilities.
4 Packing Essentials for Egypt
#1 Egypt Lonely Planet – An excellent resource when it comes to finding out the history of what you’re seeing in Egypt without the need for a guide, the Egypt Lonely Planet is a must.
#2 Headlamp – Great for taking into tombs to get an even better look at the amazing artwork and inscriptions. I love my Black Diamond Storm, which served me super well in Egypt.
#3 Sun Hat – Temple viewing means many hours in the hot sun. Do yourself a favour therefore and bring a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself. I love this Hello Sunshine design.
#4 Egyptian Arabic Phrasebook – Egypt has its own slant on Arabic, so even if you know some of this language, an Egyptian Arabic Phrasebook will help you out a lot.
Get my complete Egypt packing guide here – designed for female travellers, it’s very helpful for knowing what to wear in this country.
Travel Insurance for Egypt
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
SAVE IT TO PINTEREST!
So there you have it, my list of the 12 best things to do in Cairo.
Have you visited this crazy city?
Did you love it or hate it?
Let me know all in the comments box below…