Cairo is one of the world’s most significant megacities, offering unparalleled historical sightseeing that few cities can match. However, this capital city of Egypt boasts much more than just museums and mosques. At the same time, it may initially overwhelm first-time visitors with its blend of exquisite historic finery and sensory overload. Cairo is a city that visitors love and hate equally. It exudes a vibrancy that makes it the ultimate destination for experiencing modern Egyptian street life. A visit to Egypt is incomplete without experiencing the charm of Umm al-Dunya. The Mother of the World, Cairo, is affectionately known to locals.
While the Giza Pyramids, located on the city’s doorstep, are the main draw for tourists, the town itself boasts a plethora of significant monuments spanning centuries of history. With so many things to do in Cairo, covering everything in just one trip is impossible. To make the most of your visit and optimise your time, consult our list of the top attractions in Cairo.
- Pyramids of Giza
- Egyptian Museum
- Old Cairo
- Coptic Cairo
- Cairo Tower
- Cruise on the Nile
- Grand Egyptian Museum
- National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
- Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser
- Memphis and its Necropolis
- Experience the Siwa Atmosphere
Pyramids of Giza
Ancient Egyptian pyramids come atop Cairo activities. The Pyramids of Giza are undeniably attractive and significant as they are the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, the largest Egyptian pyramid. Seeing the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is exciting. These fourth-dynasty funerary pyramids are situated on the city’s edge and are undoubtedly the best highlights of Cairo.
Explorers who experience the superb Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Pyramid in the Giza collection, seem to overlook the heat and dust. Otherwise called the Great Pyramid or the Pyramid of Khufu, it features a plain yet excellent tomb chamber with a sarcophagus. The intriguing slender sections inside the Pyramids take you into the Solar Boat gallery. It reveals fabulous sun-controlled barques carefully restored to their original beauty. To the south, you will find the Pyramid of Chephren, an enormous passage known as the Pyramid of Khefre. Guarding these funeral home sanctuaries is the mysterious Sphinx, a lion-bodied monument faced like a pharaoh and probably the most famous landmark in Cairo. This attraction is indeed a prominent landmark of the ancient world.
The Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo has a vast collection of rare and unique historical artefacts. With around 120,000 items, it is one of the largest museums in the region and boasts the world’s most extensive collection of Pharaonic antiques.
The museum’s corridors and halls showcase a variety of treasures. The collection includes the gold death mask of Tutankhamun, mummies, and jewellery, providing a glimpse into the golden era of Egyptian culture and civilisation. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has pursued numerous initiatives to achieve its vision. These endeavours draw on experience, knowledge and ideas from national and international sources to progress towards its objectives. For history enthusiasts, a visit to the museum promises to be an informative and enlightening experience, providing valuable insights into the history of Egypt and its rulers.
Established in 1858 by the Egyptian government, the museum was initially located in Boulaq. Still, it was relocated to a royal palace in Giza in 1891 after suffering significant damage during a flood in the Nile in 1878. The museum was finally moved to its present location at Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Sadly, during the 2011 revolution, many artefacts and other collected items were damaged or destroyed, along with damage to the building. However, 25 damaged items were restored and displayed as part of an exhibition titled “Damaged and Restored.” Since then, the museum has continued to show its impressive collection.
Upon arrival at the museum, visitors are greeted by collections and artefacts dating back to the New Kingdom period from 1550 to 1069 BC. Giant statues, coffins, tables, coins, and manuscripts are on display prominently after passing through security. While many of the manuscripts have decayed due to ageing, the coins have been well-restored and are made of gold, silver and bronze.
The first floor of the museum is dedicated to artefacts from the last two dynasties of Egypt, including collections from the Valley of the Kings and the Tombs of Pharaohs Thutmosis-III, Thutmosis-IV, Amenophis-II and Hatshepsut. Visitors can also view materials discovered from the intact Tombs of Tutankhamun and Psusennes-I. These exhibitions offer a fascinating tour of ancient Egypt and showcase the skills of artisans from that time.
No visit to the Egyptian Museum would be complete without seeing some of the museum’s most notable artefacts, including the gold death mask of Tutankhamun, which has been preserved with the utmost care since its discovery in 1922. The inlaid diadem with vulture and cobra uraeus, discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter, is another must-see item. Finally, the emblem of Anubis, which represents a perfect masterpiece of artisanship from the Egyptian New Kingdom, is a stunning example of the museum’s collection.
Explore the oldest settlement in the region by taking a stroll down this 1-mile (0.6km) stretch of Cairo. This cultural and religious crossroads combines Islamic, Christian, and Jewish histories. Navigate through the warren of narrow streets to discover the first mosque built in Cairo, the Amr Mosque, the ninth-century Ben Ezra Synagogue, and some of the oldest churches in the world, such as the fourth-century Church of St. Sergius or the third-century Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary.
It’s worth exploring beyond the mosques and Pyramids when it comes to learning about the history of Cairo. One such area is Coptic Cairo, also known as mogama’ el adyan. It’s part of the original city centre and pre-dates the founding of Cairo by the Muslim Fatimids. This stronghold of Christianity in Old Cairo is home to some of Egypt’s earliest churches, with some dating back to the 4th century AD. It’s believed that the Holy Family lived here briefly during their flight to Egypt to escape Herod.
If you’re curious about the origin of the term “Coptic,” it refers to Coptic Orthodox Christians, the largest Christian denomination in Egypt and the Middle East. “Copt” originated from the Ancient Egyptian word Hwt-Ka-Ptah, which means “House of the God Ptah.” However, after the Islamic conquest of Egypt in 639 AD, the term “Copt” was associated solely with Coptic Christians.
Church Complex of Old Cairo
Once you enter the Church Complex, you’ll find the remains of the fortress and the big churches on the main path, with the older, smaller churches deeper in the complex. The Coptic cemeteries are located at the back.
As for opening hours, the churches are open from 8 am to 4 pm, and entrance is free. The Coptic Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an entrance fee.
While there, visit the Babylon Fortress, one of the first things you’ll see when you enter Coptic Cairo. Built by the Romans around 100 AD during the Ptolemaic era of Ancient Egypt, it was captured by the Arab conquest in 641 AD. Another must-see is the Church of St. George, considered the principal Greek Orthodox church in Egypt. Visitors of all religions are welcome at any time, except the monastery, which is closed to the public. The “Hanging Church,” also known as the Coptic Church of St. Virgin Mary, is another fascinating site. It’s believed to be the first basilica-style church built in Egypt and houses 110 icons, most made of ebony and some inlaid with ivory, the oldest and holiest dating back to the 8th century.
Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary
This rustic church, constructed on the ruins of two old towers from the Fortress of Babylon, boasts heavy doors inlaid with ebony, ivory, and marble pillars. It served as the residence of the Coptic patriarchs of Alexandria and was the venue for synods that determined the celebration date of Easter.
The allure of Cairo is greatly attributed to its blend of religions and cultures, and this museum serves as a testament to that fact. Established in 1908, it showcases Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt to the early stages of Islam. The galleries boast sculptures that display traces of the Ptolemaic period, opulent textiles, and entire walls of monastery frescoes. Notably, the first floor houses the oldest book of psalms in the world, the Psalms of David, complete with two original wooden covers.
The Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Experience the vibrant and unfamiliar Medieval Cairo, also known as Islamic Cairo. This historic area boasts magnificent monuments and mosques from the Islamic period, but the true gem is the Khan el Khalili market, established in the 14th century. With many spices, luxurious fabrics, and perfumes, it’s the perfect place to purchase unique souvenirs. Merchants are eager to assist you in finding what you need, so don’t hesitate to haggle for the best price. Join our specially curated 10-day Egypt tour and explore the Khan el Khalili bazaar with a small group of like-minded adventurers.
The Citadel of Sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) is a sight. It’s an impressive fortress that has stood the test of time and remains an iconic monument in Islamic Cairo. The strategic location of the Citadel on the Muqattam Hills was a wise choice for its defensive position, and it still offers visitors an unrestricted panoramic view of Cairo today.
Sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi had ordered the construction of the fortress back in (572 AH/ 1176 AD), but unfortunately, it was not completed during his lifetime. It was finally completed during the reign of Sultan al-Kamel ibn al-Adel (604 AH/1207 AD), who decided to reside in it and made it the official residence of the rulers of Egypt. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, Khedive Ismail moved the official place to Abdeen Palace in downtown Cairo.
The Citadel has witnessed many significant events in Egyptian history, making it a place of great importance. Over the centuries, many monuments have been added to the Citadel, providing visitors with an array of sites to explore, such as the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the most notable one. Other places to visit include the mosque of the Mamluk sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun and the Ottoman-era Sulayman Pasha al-Khadim Mosque. Also, you can see several museums, such as the Police Museum, Al-Jawhara Palace Museum, and the Military Museum. It’s a place that truly captures the essence of Egypt’s rich history and culture.
Mosque of Muhammad Ali
The Citadel of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) in Cairo is home to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Constructed on the site of Mamluk palaces in 1848 AD, it is famously known as the “Alabaster Mosque” due to its marble panelling on the interior and exterior walls. With twin minarets standing 84 meters tall, it boasts the title of the most towering mosque in Egypt.
The mosque’s architecture follows the traditional Turkish style, featuring an open court and prayer hall. The prayer hall is a square area surmounted by a large central dome, accompanied by four semi-domes and four shallow domes in the corners. Two minbars (pulpits) exist within the mosque, one made of wood decorated in green and the other a later addition made of marble.
For those who have visited Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople), the striking resemblance to the former Greek-Orthodox Church, which is now a famous mosque in Turkey, is intentional. This allusion serves as a nod to the church’s history and significance.
The outer open court houses a copper clock tower, bestowed upon Muhammad Ali Pasha as a gift by Louis Philippe of France in 1845 AD. In return, Muhammad Ali Pasha gifted an obelisk of Ramesses II’s (c.1279–1213 BC), which now stands in Place de la Concorde Square in Paris.
Built primarily of limestone, the mosque’s square plan features a central dome supported by four half domes.
Al-Azhar, built in 970CE, stands out as one of Cairo’s newer mosques. Its Grand Imam holds the highest theological authority among Egyptian Muslims. The building has undergone several expansions over the past 1,000 years, resulting in a harmonious blend of architectural styles. Notably, it boasts three minarets from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, with the central courtyard being the oldest part. Moreover, it is home to the second-oldest university in the world (founded in 988CE). This prestigious institution offers Sunni theology studies and has a large, modern campus.
Inaugurated in 1961 as a stylised lotus plant, this tower at 187m (600ft) boasts 360-degree views best enjoyed late in the morning. It is highly preferable to book a table at the Sky Garden cafe one floor below the observation deck for spectacular panoramas during dinner time.
Cruise on the Nile
A trip to Cairo is simply incomplete without experiencing the mighty Nile. While there are options like floating restaurants, nightclubs, and cruise boats, none compare to the rewarding and relaxing river experience on a felucca. As the call to prayer echoes around Cairo at dusk, seize the opportunity to board one of these traditional sailing boats and relish in the marvellous serenity that only the Nile can offer. Salling down the same river Cleopatra did so many centuries ago is truly a treat.
Grand Egyptian Museum
The Grand Egyptian Museum has been a long-awaited project, facing many delays for various reasons. However, it is heartening to know that the museum will finally open its doors to the public later this year, in 2023. The museum, located outside of Cairo, will house over 100,000 ancient artefacts, including the entire treasure collection of King Tut.
The construction of this grand museum started over a decade ago, and after several setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now ready to welcome visitors. The installation of approximately 100,000 artefacts, including 3,000 from the tomb of Tutankhamun, is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
It is heartwarming to see the care and respect given to the mummified remains of the 22 pharaohs during their transfer to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade” was a beautiful tribute to these ancient rulers, complete with performers, light displays, and a marching band. The mummies were transported in trucks decorated to look like ancient boats, and a 21-gun salute accompanied the journey across the city.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is a remarkable feat of architecture and design. It is impressive that the museum is spread across 490,000 square metres. Visitors will be treated to panoramic views of the Giza pyramids and an enormous Ramses the Great statue in the atrium. Additionally, the museum will house 87 statues of pharaohs and Egyptian gods, 28 shops, ten restaurants, a conference centre, and a cinema.
The museum’s star attraction will be all 5,600 objects from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, including his outer coffin and two inner coffins. The Tutankhamun galleries and the replica of his burial will be more than 60 times the size of the original tomb. The Grand Egyptian Museum is expected to receive 2 to 3 million visitors in its first year of opening and up to 8 million in the longer term.
It is a testament to the Egyptian government’s commitment to preserving its rich history and culture. The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is now fully open to the public, allowing visitors to explore and learn more about Egypt’s fascinating past.
National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
The NMEC is the first in Egypt and the Arab world. It presents the full range of the richness and diversity of Egyptian civilisation throughout the ages, from prehistoric times to the present day. The exhibition focuses on the continuity and stability of the ancient Egyptian culture as demonstrated by its tangible and intangible heritage.
The museum’s exceptional collection includes the royal mummies, exhibited in a new interactive display using 21st-century cutting-edge technology to go beneath the wrappings and reveal their secrets. It also sheds light on the rituals and religious beliefs surrounding mummification in ancient Egypt.
The NMEC is genuinely a remarkable museum, not just in Egypt but in all of the Arab world. It offers a comprehensive look at Egyptian civilisation’s diverse and rich history, spanning thousands of years from prehistoric to modern times. The museum’s focus on the continuity and stability of Egypt’s tangible and intangible heritage is truly inspiring. The royal mummies are among the most fascinating exhibits, and the new interactive display using cutting-edge technology is simply amazing. It allows visitors to see beneath the wrappings and learn more about the rituals and beliefs surrounding mummification in ancient Egypt.
Overall, the NMEC is a true treasure and a testament to the enduring legacy of this incredible civilisation.
Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser
The Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable monuments in Egypt. It marks a significant turning point in the history of ancient Egyptian funerary architecture, introducing stone construction and revolutionary burial practices for the royals. Apart from its grandeur and impressive size, it is the first pyramid ever built by the ancient Egyptians and the oldest known stone structure in Egypt.
The age of the Step Pyramid is astounding, dating back to the early Third Dynasty, during the reign of King Netjerykhet, commonly known as Djoser. Before his time, the elite Egyptians were buried in mastabas, rectangular structures erected above underground tombs. However, Djoser’s pyramid comprises six stacked mastabas, creating the unique stepped effect that is still admirable today. Imhotep, the pyramid architect, is credited with this remarkable innovation.
One exciting feature of Djoser’s pyramid complex is the South Tomb at one end of the structure. This tomb has served as a symbolic tomb for the king, perhaps reflecting his role as the dual king of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Djoser’s pyramid complex also boasts some exceptional elements. The two courts in front of the pyramid were designed to recreate the setting of the Sed Festival. This practice was a royal ceremony to rejuvenate the king and regenerate his power. The structures on the side of the eastern court resemble the ephemeral shrines used in this festival, ensuring that the king could continue to be rejuvenated forever.
It is fascinating to learn about the historical significance of the Step Pyramid, and we can only imagine the effort and dedication put into constructing such a magnificent structure.
Memphis and its Necropolis
It is heartwarming to learn that Memphis, near the modern village of Mit Rahina, not far from Cairo, and its cemetery were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. The ancient city of Memphis, said to have been founded by the legendary first king of Egypt, Menes, in 3100 BC, holds great significance due to its historical importance. It was the capital during the Early Dynastic Period (c.3100–2686 BC) and Old Kingdom (c.2686–2181 BC). It remained one of the most important cities throughout more than three thousand years of ancient Egyptian history. The city was also a centre for worshipping the god Ptah, with his Temple being one of the most revered places in ancient Egypt. Interestingly, the origin of the word “Egypt”, from Greek Aigyptos, comes from the Temple’s old name, Hikuptah,” the Temple of the ka (‘soul’) of Ptah”.
The city’s rich cultural heritage is evident by the many ancient cemeteries in its area, which reflects the city’s longevity. These include Abu Rawash, the Giza Plateau; the site of the three world-famous Pyramids of Giza, Zawyet al-‘Aryan, Abu Ghurab, Abusir, Saqqara, Mit Rahina, and Dahshur. It’s fascinating to see how Memphis has stood the test of time. And it’s no wonder it’s been deemed a World Heritage Site.
Experience the Siwa Atmosphere
Experience the thrill of the safari life and the beauty of camping while discovering the lifestyle of the Egyptian Oases with our Desert Safari tours in Egypt. Book now for one of the best Egypt Day Tours, our two-day White Desert Tour from Cairo. This exciting tour will take you to the highlights of Bahariya Oasis before returning to Cairo. You’ll have the opportunity to explore fascinating ancient sites like the Bannentiu tomb and spend a night camping in the unique White Desert.
Immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere as silence soothes your spirit with our Egypt Trips. Witness the mesmerising desert landscapes and the lush green date palm groves of Bahariya. Get ready for an exhilarating ride through the Black Desert in a land cruiser with our Egypt tour packages, named so due to the remnants of an ancient volcano that created its distinctive black rocky terrain.
What One may expect from the Siwa Tour
All transport services from your hotel in Cairo and return, camping in the White Desert for one night on a full board basis. Admission fees to all mentioned sites are included. All camping equipment, like your sleeping bags, warm camel covers, and spacious private tents for sleeping. Transports to Bahariya Oasis by an air-conditioned vehicle during the two-day safari to the White Desert and Bahariya Oasis.
All the carriers inside Bahariya Oasis and the White Desert are done by 4×4 vehicles. An accredited Egyptologist guide will accompany you during your Cairo day tours, meals at the hotels mentioned in the itinerary, and bottles of water and soft drinks during all Egypt trips. All sightseeing from Cairo day tours are done privately by Landious Travel. This tour also includes service charges and taxes in the tour prices. An English tour leader will also be provided.
Itinerary of the Siwa Tour
Meet up with your expert Egyptologist guide and begin your White Desert Tour from Cairo, including the Bahariya Oasis. We will escort you by a modern air-conditioned vehicle to Bahariya Oasis, about four hours from Cairo.
Next, we will take you to a delicious Egyptian cuisine lunch in an Oasis-style restaurant, which should be a unique experience. After that, we will travel to the White Desert to enjoy a memorable White Desert Safari in Cairo. Along the way, we will see the Valley of El Haize to the south of the oasis, and maybe we’ll stop to see the water spring there if there is enough time. It’s a green village in the middle of the desert, preceding the black desert.
We will also stop to see the quartz crystal formations from a remote era at Crystal Mountain and the beautiful shapes and petrified wood in the Valley of Agabat. There, you will be thrilled by sandboarding down the massive dunes. We will enjoy camping in the White Desert with a unique opportunity to witness a fantastic sunset view while your local guides cook your dinner.
Camping in the Desert
Spend your night watching the spectacular stars away from the pollution of the bigger cities. The following day, you will wake up to the most beautiful scene of the rising sun in the White Desert.
On the 2nd day of your Cairo Excursions, we will serve you breakfast in the White Desert while enjoying the fantastic atmosphere. Then, you will resume your Cairo Day Tours to see the creations of the surrounding desert and springs. And catch some photos of the gorgeous white limestone rocks in the area, like the chicken formation, the rock that looks like the Sphinx, the whale carved into the rock, and the rabbit-like hill. After that, we will escort you to Cairo, passing by the Black Desert, an area of charming mountains covered with small black volcanic rocks.
Before returning to Cairo, we will stop in Bahariya to visit the salt lake and see the fruit gardens and the beautiful dunes. Then, we will start our almost 4 hours drive back to your Cairo hotel.