A sprawling city that can sometimes be crowded and chaotic, Cairo is well-loved by winter sunseekers, history-buffs and bargain hunters alike, and it’s most travellers’ first stop when visiting Egypt. Between the sacred Nile, ancient architecture and bustling bazaars, explorers are bound to find gold here. The Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum top the list for most, but there’s a lot more to see and do in Cairo. So to help you plan your visit, we’ve compiled a list of eight amazing things to do in Cairo; our pick of the city’s best sounds, sights, drinks and bites.
- Admire ancient architecture in Islamic Cairo
- Marvel at the Pyramids of Giza
- Relax in Al-Azhar Park
- Explore the Egyptian Museum and the GEM
- Barter at Khan El Khalili Market
- Visit the Citadel of Saladin
- Discover Coptic Cairo
Cairo is dubbed ‘the city of a thousand minarets’ for good reason. Islamic Cairo – the city’s historic heart – is home to one of the largest collections of ancient architecture in the Islamic world, including the old Fatimid city, as well as the districts that stretch south towards Saladin’s Citadel and the Ibn Tulun Mosque. And taking it all in can be a daunting task. You could spend days, weeks even, wandering through the labyrinthine streets. Alternatively, you could join a local guide who knows where all the highlights and hidden gems are. Be sure to explore the incredible concentration of sights on Al-Muizz Al-Deen Street. This was the main street through the city when it was built in the 11th century, with various mausoleums and palaces constructed here. The northern section of the street (between Bab El-Fotouh and Al-Azhar Street) is also one of the most picturesque parts of Cairo.
For many people, the Pyramids of Giza not only top the list of things to do in Cairo, but also their worldwide bucket lists. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last intact ancient Wonder of the World and, along with the others that sit on the Giza Plateau, forms one of the most recognisable sights on the planet. Venture inside the Great Pyramid, take selfies with the Great Sphinx, visit the panoramic viewpoints and leave absolutely awestruck. You’ll want to set aside at least three hours for your visit.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Cairo and find tranquillity in Al-Azhar Park, a true urban oasis. This landscaped park offers a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city and it’s the ideal place to recharge. Stroll through the lush garden, enjoy the sweeping views over the city and cool down in one of the many shaded areas. Al-Azhar Park is not only a place of calm but also a cultural hub, hosting art exhibitions, concerts and various events.
The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square contains the world’s largest collection of Egyptian artefacts. And with so many treasures to discover, we recommend visiting with a guide who can help make sense of it all. Highlights include the solid gold mask and the golden sarcophagi of Tutankhamun, the Royal Mummies room and the mind-blowing array of statues, jewellery and treasure. But there’s about to be a new big hitter in town (actually, just outside). When completed, the Grand Egyptian Museum (aptly abbreviated to GEM) will be one of the largest museums in the world. Situated right next to the Giza Plateau, you’ll be able to combine visits to these two incredible sites without needing to navigate the busy city streets. The GEM is expected to open sometime in 2024 and we have no doubt that it will quickly become one of the best things to do in Cairo.
Now you’re feeling suitably zen, get ready for some sensory overload. This bustling souq is a labyrinth of narrow streets, filled with shops selling everything from spices and textiles to jewellery and souvenirs. Get lost in the electric atmosphere as you haggle with the friendly shopkeepers, picking up a few treats along the way. Be sure to check out the traditional Egyptian items, such as papyrus paintings, handmade carpets and intricately designed silver jewellery. Once you’re all shopped out, explore the street food stalls and sample traditional treats like taameya (Egyptian falafel), koshary sandwiches, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and hot, sweet tea.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking Cairo, the Citadel of Saladin is an historic fortress that boasts panoramic views of the city. Built in the 12th century, UNESCO recognised the significance of this collection of mosques, museums and palaces, and invited it into their World Heritage Site hall of fame in 1979. Explore the stunning Muhammad Ali Mosque, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, with its impressive domes and minarets. A peaceful retreat from the buzzing city below, you can wander through the citadel’s courtyards and gardens, while learning about the fascinating history of this site.
Ancient mosques and pyramids aren’t all that Cairo has to offer when it comes to history. Coptic Cairo is unlike any other area in Egypt; it’s part of Old Cairo – the original city centre – and a place where all three Abrahamic religions combine. Known as the stronghold of Christianity in Old Cairo, it’s home to places of worship that date back to the time when the pharaonic religions of Ancient Egypt had died out, before Islam arrived. It’s also believed that the Holy Family lived here for a short period during their flight into Egypt to escape Herod. For history buffs and lovers of ancient architecture, discovering Coptic Cairo is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Cairo.