Planning a trip to Egypt? You’re going to love it! If you’re like 85% of visitors to Egypt, you’re going to be starting your adventure in Cairo. But where do you start? How do you fit it all in? Is three days enough? Here’s how to make the most of it, whether you’re in Cairo for a long weekend or part of a two-week journey!
Day 1: Pyramids Day
This was the best way to spend our first full day in Cairo. We’d had a very long travel day the day before, complete with two layovers to get there, and we wanted an excuse to stay awake and alert all day long. A full pyramids day was the perfect solution! Fair warning: If you’re going in, you’re going to be climbing and descending a lot of stairs. Get your quads ready!
See Early Pyramids at Dahshur
We are so glad our tour guide suggested starting south of Giza, at the pyramids in Dahshur. Not only was it good for us to start at the farthest point and work our way back (who wants a long drive at the end of a long touring day?), but it’s also the opposite of how most tour companies schedule their pyramids tours. We basically had the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid all to ourselves!
Wait, there are more pyramids than the “Great” ones in Giza? Yes! The Great Pyramid and its two large neighboring pyramids are the perfected examples, but they were far from the first attempts. The Red Pyramid was the first one we visited (and the first one we went inside!), and the first pyramid that “worked” as the architect wanted: Straight sides, perfect angles, and covered in white limestone (since long gone).
The second pyramid we visited is actually an earlier version than the Red Pyramid. The “Bent Pyramid” started out great, but the architect thought he’d made a mistake and had to change the angle part-way up. This gives it the “bent” look and its cute nickname. I also went inside this one, with just one other tourist keeping me company, plus some bats. There are squeaky, little bats inside this one.
More details here: Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Pyramids in Cairo and Giza
Visit the Step Pyramid at Saqqara
This is where it all began! Our third stop of the day was nearby in Saqqara. This is the start of the Pyramid Era. Prior to the world-famous Pyramids, Egyptian tombs were large, rectangular, stone mastabas. Eventually, they came up with the idea of stacking mastabas on top of each other like the Step Pyramid below. Interestingly, these look very similar to the Aztec and Inca pyramids in Central and South America.
Read on: What to Know Before You Visit Egypt
Ride a Camel
This one is entirely up to you, no judgement from me! Lots of people are opposed to riding animals, but having grown up on a farm, I have a different relationship with them. The camels at the pyramids were definitely not being abused, mistreated, starved, or anything like that. In fact, these camels are doing way less work than their predecessors have been doing for the last several thousand years.
If you want to ride a camel at the pyramids, you do you. If not, that’s okay, too. My husband walked beside me while I rode on Alex the camel, and we both had a great time!
Also helpful: What to Know Before You Visit Cairo
Make a Reservation at 9 Pyramids Lounge
Now that you’re reading my blog, you’re about to be in the know. You have to get a reservation at 9 Pyramids Lounge to even take the road leading to this restaurant. Why would you bother? Because not only do they have fantastic food, they also have the most epic pyramid view!
We wouldn’t have even known about this place if not for Egypt Elite, the travel company we went with. Because of the exclusivity, there won’t be hoards of other tourists in your photos, and you won’t have to wait forever for a table. We highly recommend this place, but don’t forget to make a reservation first!
Keep eating: The Foods You Have to Try in Egypt
Get Iconic Photos at the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza
We rounded out our day where most people begin (which was to our advantage, since crowds were lower in the afternoon). We saw the world-famous Pyramids of Giza. I got to go inside the Great Pyramid. We got our photos with the Sphinx! It was the perfect way to end our day. We were truly weary by the time we got back to our hotel downtown, and we basically slept like mummies after that, which helped us re-energize for Cairo Day 2!
Day 2: Museum Day
I like that we did the museums on our second day, because if we had to be inside that first day, there’s no way we would have stayed awake and alert all day long! I also appreciated that we were able to knock out both of the major museums in the same day. But the most valuable tip I have for you is this: Go with a guide. We are so grateful we had our guide Maha to not only tell us about all the highlights, but also part the seas of people to get us within sight of them!
Explore the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities at Tahrir Square
We visited the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, also called simply the Egyptian Museum, at Tahrir Square. The new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza was still not quite open when we visited Cairo, but it may be open by the time you visit. I look forward to visiting Cairo again when the new museum opens!
Either way, I’m glad we got to the the “old” museum. There are over 120,000 items in the Egyptian Museum’s collective inventory, meaning that they can’t all be displayed at once. We actually got to see some items that had never been on display before because there simply wasn’t room!
Essential reading: The Most Important Things You Forgot to Pack for Egypt
Eat at Abu Tarek
When in Egypt, you have to get koshary at least once! We got ours at Abu Tarek, a restaurant that only specializes in koshary. It started out as one man with a food truck, and he grew his business to what’s now a multi-story restaurant in downtown Cairo. You might even see Abu Tarek himself out front, chatting up his customers.
Also good: The Ultimate Cairo and the Nile Bucket List
See Real Mummies at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC)
Sorry, no photos of the mummies! But you should definitely go see them for yourself. Catch a glimpse of Ramses II, Queen Tiye (pronounced “tee”), King Seti I, Queen Hatshepsut, and many, many more. But they aren’t the only items worth seeing. You’ll find many artifacts depicting elements of Egypt’s long-lasting culture and civilization. My favorite was the turquoise!
Day 3: Coptic Cairo
Contrary to popular belief, the word coptic is not synonymous with “Christian.” “Coptic” means “old,” as in “Old Cairo.” There is, however, a lot of Coptic Christian history in Coptic Cairo.
Visit the Hanging Church
By “hanging,” they don’t mean “suspended.” It’s actually kind of on stilts! To protect this third century church from the Nile floods, back when Egypt was mostly Christian, this church was built suspended above ground. It’s beautiful inside, and it’s still an operating Christian church today.
Visit Abu Serga Church
Okay, so having grown up as a Christian, I knew that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph hid in Egypt after Jesus’ birth, until King Herod died. What I did not know, is apparently, we know exactly where they stayed on their journey, and one of those places is in Cairo. Abu Serga is a church that was built in the fourth century, located over one of the places where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph hid. You can go into the the crypt below.
Visit the Muhammad Ali Mosque
I may have blown your mind with the Christian sites in Cairo, but here’s one you’re expecting: A mosque! There are several mosques in Cairo, but one of the most famous is the Muhammad Ali Mosque. Located at the highest point in the Citadel, this mosque dates back to 1848. It’s very beautiful inside, with massive chandeliers and stained-glass windows. You won’t be required to wear a head covering if you’re not a Muslim, but you will be given booties to wear inside.
Eat at Al-Azhar Park
This is one of the most beautiful places we ate in all of Egypt. The gorgeous building has a massive patio, with a full view of gardens and fountains at Al-Azhar Park. They serve a pretty diverse menu with traditional Egyptian food, but also some more familiar options for Westerners as well. I went all in and got the freekeh-stuffed pigeon. The service was fantastic, the food was tasty, and the view is almost up-to-par with 9 Pyramids Lounge!
So, you might already know that Steve and I are not much for shopping! But I did want to get a little something from Egypt to remember our trip. Our guide, Maha, was the absolute best haggler out there, and she told us her secret system for getting a great deal. Honestly, the options in Cairo were better than anywhere else we visited, so plan to do your souvenir shopping here!
Want more? Check out my dedicated Egypt Page!
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