Here’s my ultimate travel guide to visiting the pyramids of Giza – and how to see it all without the hassle – plus all the essential tips.
When I first visited the Giza Pyramids with a tour group, it was a very rushed and stressful affair. I mostly remember the terrible humidity and the aggressive vendors.
And this is unfortunately how many tourists experience the pyramids.
But after nearly a decade of living in Cairo, I’ve been to Giza dozens of times. And dare I say I’ve discovered how to really enjoy this bucket list destination!
So here’s my ultimate local’s guide to the Giza Pyramids. It unpacks this chaotic destination and gives you all the tips to enjoying the pyramids without the overwhelm.
It’s basically everything I wish I knew when I first visited Giza!
visiting the pyramids of giza:
1. Don’t expect a desert
The pyramids are just as impressive in real life as they are in photos. I’ve seen them many times, but they still amaze me.
But they’re also not like what you probably expect.
Photos on social media often show the pyramids rising up from stretches of windblown sand.
In reality, the pyramids are in the middle of a huge metropolis. Giza is – after all – Egypt’s third-largest city after Cairo and Alexandria.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get a strategically cropped photo that looks like something out of Indiana Jones.
But be prepared for traffic jams, views of apartment blocks rising over the plateau, and streets packed with “papyrus museums.”
The sand surrounding the three pyramids isn’t much larger than an American parking lot.
And if you’re using the entrance facing the Sphinx, you can stand at the ticket booth and spot the Pizza Hut across the street (which I actually really recommend).
The restaurants, colorful camels and souvenir stands can feel like an amusement park.
2. Give yourself time
To get the real spirit of the pyramids, you’ll need to spend more time in Giza.
Take at least a few hours inside the complex to walk around, sit down and have a drink and enjoy the view.
Because if you linger for awhile your experience of the pyramids will change. When you first see them it’s all about the wow factor. And then you wonder if you paid too much for those postcards or where to go for the best photo op.
But if you stay awhile, your head clears and you begin to ponder what the strange, massive structures really mean.
3. Visit the Mena House
If you have more than a few hours, stay longer for dinner or coffee with a view at the iconic Mena House.
This stunning hotel was built in 1869 for the Khedive and it’s worth seeing on its own.
Spend the night at the Mena House and you’ll get pyramid views right out your balcony. Enjoy the pyramids over breakfast. And at night, sip beer at the hotel’s 139 Lounge Bar with views of the illuminated pyramids.
You’ll see them everywhere and they’ll grow all too familiar. At times stunning and luminous. At other times towering and oppressive reminders of the king’s supremacy over the masses. You can’t quite get them out of your line of vision and their enormity will hit you for an experience you just can’t get during a 2-hour tour.
4. Spend the night in Giza
Spend the night at a nearby Airbnb or hotel. There are many bargain-priced hostels and rooms to let with incredible views of the pyramids that will leave you breathless.
A view of the pyramids is, in my mind, the most incredible sight you can get in Cairo. And many of the rooms in Giza are a fraction of the price you’d pay in Zamalek or downtown.
5. And about that Pizza Hut…
It’s touristy and people love to philosophize about how a Pizza Hut this close to the pyramids means the commercialization of an ancient culture.
But you know what, it has great air conditioning. And there’s also good food with clearly marked prices.
Just go and enjoy. It’s miles better than a bargain buffet catered to tourists. And the views really are spectacular – you can gaze head-on at the Sphinx while you munch your thin crust.
Read 15 Must-See Buildings in Downtown Cairo for more on Cairo off the beaten path!