Cairo is the gateway to Egypt, and this bustling metropolis is one of the most popular destinations in the country.
This is the capital, and it’s Egypt’s largest city too, with an ever-expanding population that now numbers well over 20 million people.
While Cairo can be a chaotic place to visit for first-time travelers to Egypt, a few other cities in the world can match the city for character, history, and diversity.
Cairo dates back to the 9th century AD, and while it’s young compared to the Ancient Egyptian cities that were built thousands of years earlier, it’s a city that’s full of character and culture.
You can explore the old Coptic Christian quarter, visit historic mosques, marvel at the wonders that are held within the city’s museums, and of course, you can take a day trip to the Great Pyramids of Giza.
To inspire your Egyptian getaway, here are the best things to do in Cairo!
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Egypt (Travel Guide)
21 Things to Do in Cairo, Egypt
Table of Contents
1. Wander the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is one of the largest museums in the world, and a day spent strolling through the galleries is one of the best things to do in Cairo.
The museum dates back to the turn of the 20th century, although it’s soon set to change location from the center of Cairo, and to be moved to a new location by the Great Pyramids of Giza, perhaps a more fitting location.
The museum is home to hundreds of thousands of exhibits, and even if you don’t know much about Egyptology, you’ll be enthralled by the wealth of history waiting to be discovered here.
You’ll find archaeological exhibits from across Egypt on display, including many infamous finds removed from the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
We have been to the Egyptian museum four times and would go back many times over. There are so many artifacts and displays to see, that no two visits are the same!
Discover Cairo’s ancient history and highlights on a full-day tour with an experienced guide.
Browse mummies, jewels and priceless relics at the Egyptian Museum, and see the gleaming funerary treasures of King Tutankhamun.
Enjoy a traditional Egyptian lunch, then visit the Hanging Church and Ben Ezra Synagogue to learn about Cairo’s historic Christian and Jewish communities.
Finish your day off at Khan el-Khalili bazaar, where you’ll find handicrafts and souvenirs from around the country.
2. See the Great Pyramids of Giza
No trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. If you’ve never been to Cairo before, then you’ll be surprised just how close the pyramids are to the capital.
They are literally on the outskirts, and that makes a visit here one of the best things to do in Cairo.
The Great Pyramids of Giza date back to around 2500 BC, predating Cairo itself by several thousand years.
The pyramids were built as tombs and monuments to the ruling Pharaohs of Egypt, and these huge architectural works have proven to stand the test of time.
Next to the Pyramids, you’ll also find the iconic Sphinx, a huge monument carved into the likeness of an Ancient Egyptian deity.
A great option for exploring the pyramids is to book a tour with an Egyptologist guide. A private tour, like this one, is tailored around you.
Visit Giza to view the pyramids, Great Sphinx, and Valley Temple. Lunch, snacks, and hotel pickup and drop-off are all included.
3. Kiss the Great Sphinx
After you’ve made your way around the Giza Pyramids and visited the various viewing platforms, head for the Great Sphinx.
Not only does this provide a new perspective of the pyramids, but it allows you to get up close and personal with the famous monument.
Your Giza Pyramids ticket will allow you entrance to the temple that surrounds the Sphinx. From there, you can get a close vantage point from the side.
This is where you’ll be able to get the famous ‘kissing’ shot and well as see the details of this famous landmark.
When you’re done, head back out and to the left to get that iconic shot of the pyramid framing the Sphinx.
4. Uncover the Citadel of Saladin
The Citadel of Saladin isn’t quite as old as the Pyramids of Giza, but it is one of the best examples of medieval architecture in Cairo.
The Citadel dominates the center of the city because it was built by the first Sultan of Egypt to solidify his rule over the country.
Dating back to the 12th Century AD, the citadel was reinforced and developed by successive ruling dynasties, from the Mamluks to the Ottomans and even the British.
It’s an epic place to visit, and one of the best things to do in Cairo.
Explore Cairo’s essential destinations with a full-day tour of the city’s historic and cultural sites. Take in views of the city from the medieval ramparts at Saladin’s Cairo Citadel.
Enjoy a traditional lunch at a neighborhood restaurant, then spend an hour at Khan El Khalil bazaar browsing vibrant stalls and local shops before returning to your hotel.
5. Visit Islamic Cairo
The Citadel of Saladin is part of the wider UNESCO World Heritage Site which is known simply as Islamic Cairo.
As the name would suggest, this is the center of the Islamic world in Cairo. This is where you’ll find the city’s most ornate and elegant mosques, many dating back to the medieval era.
Islamic Cairo is a great place to take a stroll, although prepare to get lost in the maze of medieval streets and alleyways.
You can visit the historic mosques and explore the gates and ramparts that are still standing.
Experience the majestic Islamic architecture of this ancient Muslim city with an Egyptologist guide to unpack their rich history.
Explore the Citadel, the Alabaster Mosque, the Al-Rifa’i Mosque, the Sultan Hassan Mosque, and the Al-Azhar Mosque.
6. Explore Coptic Cairo
The Coptic Cairo district is older even than Islamic Cairo – although, again, it’s nowhere near as ancient as the Pyramids at Giza.
This unique area was founded by the Coptic Christians, a group of Christians who survived here, even though the Islamic conquests.
This is one of the most historic areas in Cairo, and you can find the remnants of Roman forts, old churches and mosques and plenty of character and culture waiting to be discovered.
Visit Cairo’s religious landmarks on a private tour to the city’s most important Coptic, Islamic, and Jewish places.
Learn how the Christian Holy Family took shelter on the site of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, explore the Church of Saint Barbara, and see the gilded icons that adorn the Hanging Church.
7. Review History at the Coptic Museum
To learn more about the fascinating and often untold Coptic Christian history of Egypt, then one of the best things to do in Cairo is to visit the Coptic Museum.
This excellent museum tells the story of the Coptic Christians. It exhibits the world’s largest collection of Coptic artwork and artifacts, some of which date back almost to the time of Jesus himself.
8. See the Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary
While Egypt is today a majority Muslim nation, under the surface you can still uncover the Christian history that was here before Islam.
In the Coptic quarter, you can visit the impressive Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary, which is found by the ancient Roman Fortress.
The church takes its peculiar name from the fact that its Nave is suspended, hanging above a passageway.
The church is thought to date back to the 7th century AD, but it was built on the remains of an existing church which could date as far back as the 3rd Century AD, a time when Christianity first began to flourish in Egypt.
Looking to discover the historical treasures of the Coptic Christian community on a tour?
Travel into this captivating neighborhood, also known as Old Cairo, with a private guide, and visit a medley of early, icon-adorned churches, including the Hanging Church and Abu Serga, where the holy family is said to have found refuge.
9. Marvel at the Al Azhar Mosque
Moving on from Christian history though, the Islamic culture is of course much more prevalent in the city, and one of the best things to do in Cairo is to visit the Al Azhar Mosque.
Found within Islamic Cairo, the Al Azhar Mosque was built in 972 AD and was one of the first mosques to be established in what was then the new capital of a newly established Islamic Caliphate in Egypt.
It’s beautifully historic, and one of the most elegant and ornate works of Islamic architecture in Cairo.
Visitors are allowed in, just check when prayer times are first though.
Walk Cairo’s vibrant Al Muizz Street, browse the Khan El Khalili Bazaar, and experience Al Azhar Mosque on a 6-hour exploration of the city’s Islamic heritage.
10. Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
If you have an interest in Islamic art and culture, then one of the best things to do in Cairo is to visit the Museum of Islamic Art.
There are well over 100,000 artifacts in storage or on display here, and nowhere else in the Arab world can match the museum for sheer volume and importance of the artworks that are found here.
11. Shop at the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
To immerse yourself in a side of local life that has remained unchanged in millennia, then take a stroll through the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.
The Khan el-Khalili Bazaar is more of a huge market district than a market place.
You can lose yourself for hours amongst the vendors and stallholders, as you haggle over carpets, incense and football shirts.
If there’s anything you need to buy when you’re in Cairo, then you’ll find it here, somewhere.
Enjoy this in-depth guided tour to Khan el-Khalili. Peek inside a centuries-old mosque, puff on a pipe of flavored sheesha, and haggle for spices through hundreds of packed stalls.
12. Stroll Around Tahrir Square
Tahrir Square is in Cairo’s main central space, and it’s a place that became well known across the world when it was the scene of the Egyptian evolution in 2011.
News outlets broadcast footage of protestors occupying the square and fighting for change, an event that eventually led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
It’s slightly more peaceful today than it was a decade ago, but Tahrir Square continues to be a public space where the people protest.
It’s also surrounded by iconic statues and buildings, because this really is the heart of modern Cairo, and well worth a visit during your stay in the capital.
13. Catch Sunset at the Cairo Tower
You can see the Cairo tower from anywhere in the city because this is the tallest building in Egypt.
In fact, it’s not only Egypt’s tallest building but also the tallest structure in North Africa too.
Located on Gezira Island, the tower has become a huge symbol for the city and a dramatic landmark, especially at night when it’s lit up.
Watch Cairo come to life after dark with a 6-hour, private tour through the city’s most atmospheric spots.
Take in the view from the top of the iconic Cairo Tower, then cast off on the Nile River in a traditional felucca sailboat.
Finish the evening off by sipping tea high above the city from the peak of El Mokkatam mountain and enjoy a traditional Egyptian dinner, followed by visiting the Khan El Khalili bazaar.
14. Walk Around Zamalek
The Zamalek district is the area that encompasses Gezira Island and the Cairo Tower.
This is the most up and coming district in Cairo, the most modern and wealthy part of the capital, and a side of the city that’s very far removed from the older districts.
Zamalek is where you’ll find Cairo’s trendiest restaurants and cafes, and it’s a refreshing place to visit after you’ve seen the more traditional sights of the Egyptian capital.
15. Explore the Pyramid of Djoser Complex
The Pyramid of Djoser is thought to be several centuries older than the more famous Pyramids of Giza, but as a tourist attraction, it’s not quite as popular.
Located on the city outskirts, the Pyramid of Djoser is a great example of ancient Egyptian ingenuity and construction, dating far back to around 2700 BC.
It makes for a great trip if you’re looking to escape the busy city and if you have even a fleeting interest in Egyptology.
Aside from admiring the unique architecture of this step pyramid, the real finds come in touring the tombs that are scattered around the complex.
You’ll find intricately detailed rooms with huge walls depicting the life of the ancient Egyptians.
Experience ancient Egypt first-hand on a private tour from Cairo to the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx, Pyramid of Djoser, and Saqqara.
Walk alongside your guide as you visit the pyramids and the Valley Temple, then visit the ancient and mysterious sphinx.
15. Go to the Ancient City of Memphis
Once the epicenter of Ancient Egypt, the city of Memphis is not much more than a pile of stones and rubble today.
Some excavations have been done that have unearthed some stellar statues and today the site offers two very iconic attractions that make a visit worth the trip.
The first being the second-largest Sphinx in Egypt, which is located in a place where you can see it up close.
Second, a massive statue of Rameses II that is on display in a beautiful open-air museum.
Constructed around the statue, you can view it from ground level and then go up to the second level to see it from above.
I’ve read a lot of reviews that say Memphis is nothing special and should be missed. I have to say I disagree. We’ve been twice now and both times felt the visit was worth the stop.
16. See the Oldest Known Mummy at the Imhotep Museum
Albeit small and located 40km outside of Cairo, the Imhotep Museum is a surprising treat to visit.
Full of artifacts that were excavated and salvaged from the Saqqara Complex, it features a detailed and well-displayed look into ancient Egyptian life.
The artifacts include things like pottery, tools and petrified food. This includes cheese and bread.
There are also some beautiful tile and jewelry displays. Most intriguing is the Ptolemaic mummy that was discovered during the excavation of the Pharaoh Teti’s pyramid complex.
It is the oldest known mummy to ever be recovered in Egypt.
17. Climb Inside the Bent Pyramid
Built in 2600 BC, the Bent Pyramid of Dashur is open to visitors and allows you to visit it’s deepest chambers by climbing down the tunnels from the surface.
To enter the pyramid you need to climb up several flights of stairs to the entrance opening. Here you will begin to climb down a narrow 256-foot tunnel into the first chamber.
From there, you can continue to explore another set of tunnels that lead to a second chamber. The journey is not for anyone that suffers from claustrophobia.
The good news, though, is that entrance to the pyramid is free.
Even if you find the prospect of climbing deep inside a pyramid to be daunting, this pyramid is well worth the trip to see.
Out of the ninety some off pyramids that are located in Egypt, the Bent Pyramid of Dashur is unique.
This is because much of the original limestone coating is still intact, giving you a clear look at what all pyramids would have looked like upon finishing.
18. Take a Nile River Cruise
The Nile River is the longest river in the world, and it passes through Cairo on its grand journey towards the Mediterranean, having crossed nearly 4000 miles from the middle of Africa.
One of the best things to do in Cairo is to take a cruise along the Nile, to see for yourself the beauty of the city from the water, and also the importance of this vital waterway.
Experience the magic of cruising the Nile on an unforgettable full-day tour to Giza from Cairo. Alongside an expert Egyptologist guide, behold the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza, admire the resplendent golden mask of Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum, and enjoy a traditional Egyptian lunch in a rustic restaurant.
Conclude your excursion with a romantic cruise down the Nile River; onboard, delight in a gourmet meal and a traditional dance performance before returning to your Cairo hotel.
19. Learn About Papyrus
You’d be remiss to visit Egypt and not find yourself standing in a papyrus shop at some point. I don’t think that it’s possible to avoid this.
However, don’t let that get to you. Instead, take it as an opportunity to learn a bit more about the plant itself and how it has been used in Egypt for the centuries.
While today it is mostly used to produce art that is sold to tourists, the ancient Egyptians used it to produce paper.
Most, if not all, papyrus shop stops will include a free demonstration on how this was done. Enjoy it, ask questions and remember that you are not obligated to buy anything.
Should something strike your fancy, do remember to bargain hard and never take the first price that is given to you.
20. Eat Koshari
Affectionately referred to as the national dish of Egypt, trying Koshari is one of the best things to do in Cairo.
The dish originated during the mid-19th century and combines Italian, Indian and Middle Eastern culinary elements.
This dish starts with a base of rice, macaroni and lentils that are mixed together. It is then covered with a spiced tomato sauce, garlic and vinegar.
It is then topped with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Often served with a variety of sides that include garlic, spicy hot and vinegar sauces.
This beloved dish can be found in almost every restaurant and at many street stalls around the country.
21. Attend the Giza Pyramids Light Show
I’ll admit, the prospect of watching neon lights shine on an ancient monument was not something that excited me.
The first time we went to Egypt, we avoided these types of attractions at all costs. however, the second time around we decided to give it a try and must admit that we were pleasantly surprised.
The show lasts about an hour and walks you through the history surrounding the pharos that built the Great Pyramids. The story is narrated by the Sphinx.
The light show is good quality and we found it entertaining. Word to the wise, spend the few extra dollars and buy the VIP tickets. This gets you fast-tracked entrance, without having to wait in line.
More importantly, it ensures that you will get front row seats. Since the seating is all on one level, this is important if you want unobstructed views.
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Cairo to Cairo
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Cairo to Cairo
Trip Type: Small Group
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