Everything You Need to Know Before You Visit Cairo, Egypt

Cairo is chaos, but in an unexpectedly awesome way! Somehow, the traffic just works. Somehow, the thousands of years of history lines up. Somehow, all the artifacts in the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square have withstood the tests of time and tourism. Somehow, the Muslims and Christians exist harmoniously, despite stereotypes and preconceived notions. Here are some of the most important things you need to know before you visit Cairo.

You Don’t Want to Drive There

Why is Cairo chaotic? Let’s start with the traffic. There are no rules. The lines and traffic lights are there for decoration only. And honestly, the lane direction doesn’t even matter all that much! And yet somehow, it all works. But you, as a non-local, you do not want to try your hand at driving there!

You want a cab, an Uber, or better yet, you want an amazing tour company that provides you with a private driver. Let someone else (who knows what they’re doing) do the hard part so you can sit back, relax, and admire the gumption of Cairo’s local drivers. Trust me, you’ll have a better time this way!

An hour in traffic? Check.
Also helpful: What to Know Before You Visit Egypt

Walk Behind a Local When Crossing the Street

Pro tip if you do venture out and need to cross the chaotic streets: Follow a local! Follow closely, trust the process, and maybe say a prayer. It’s pretty remarkable how it works and how people just cross major thoroughfares on foot, but they do it often, and they do it well!

We went for a walk early one morning, before the traffic got too bad!
More here: Why Egypt is a Safe Place to Visit (yes, even as a woman!)

Not All Pyramids are in Giza

Did I just blow your mind? It’s the truth! The three most famous pyramids, plus the six other small ones in Giza, are the most famous. But they are not the only ones, and they are not the first! There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt, in fact. And the originals are in Dashur and Saqqara, south of Giza.

A visit to these pyramids will show you the progression of pyramid design and construction. Just make sure you go with a guide who can tell you the details. Otherwise the lack of signage and information will leave you wondering what you’re seeing!

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara is the original!
Read on: Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Pyramids

Don’t Try to See It All in One Day

Cairo is so much more than the pyramids, so you will definitely need more than one day to see everything. We spent one day at the pyramids, one day exploring the museums, and a third day just in Coptic (Old City) Cairo. We could have spent even more time because there was more to explore, but I’m glad we took as much time as we did to see as much as we could.

There is too much in Cairo to only spend one day to see everything!
Keep reading: The Best Things to Do and See in Three Days in Cairo

This is Not a Base to See All of Egypt

While it might seem like a good idea at the time, you really can’t base yourself in exclusively Cairo and see everything else in Egypt. The distances are just too far, so plan to actually travel to the different places you want to visit and spend a few nights at each location. We stayed in Cairo, Aswan, on a dahabiya cruise boat, and in Luxor during our two week trip.

I know that sounds like a lot. And it was. While I’m not a fan of moving around and playing the packing/unpacking/packing again game, it was worth it to spend time enjoying all the things we flew thousands of miles to see!

You can see a lot here, but you’ll want to spend just as much time in every place you visit!
More here: The Ultimate Cairo and the Nile Bucket List

The Mummies are at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC)

Want to see the most famous of all mummies? Most of them are not in the Egyptian Museum, nor will they be in the Grand Egyptian Museum. They’re on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, or the NMEC. No photos are allowed in the mummy exhibit, but you’ll see Ramses II, Queen Tiye, Hatshepsut, Seti I, and so many more. It’s almost bizarre to see them all, but this is what you came for!

No photos of the mummies permitted, but there is more to see at the NMEC!
Read on: The Ultimate List of Books to Read Before Your Trip to Egypt

There is Important Christian History Here

While Egypt is predominantly Muslim, about 15-20% of the population is Christian. In fact, the Christians who live in Egypt are some of the first, and they can trace their ancestry back nearly 2000 years. These are the Coptic Christians, and, fun fact, they celebrate Christmas on January 6!

But even before there were Christians, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, who wanted all baby boys killed. They stayed in Egypt several years, moving from place to place. In Cairo, the 5th-century Abu Serga Church was built over the site where the Holy Family stayed while in present-day Cairo. You can go into the basement to see the site where they stayed.

Don’t miss Abu Serga, built over the location where the Holy Family stayed while in what is now Cairo.
Read next: The Ultimate List of Ancient Egyptian Facts You Need to Know

Want more? Get everything you need on my dedicated Egypt Page!

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5 responses to “Everything You Need to Know Before You Visit Cairo, Egypt”

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