Cairo is an underrated city full of hidden gems. Here’s my local’s guide to the perfect Cairo one day itinerary.
After years of living in Cairo, I’m still exploring the city and discovering something new. And it’s a shame that many tourists often rush through here.
If you only have one day in Cairo – spend it wisely. Avoid the tourist traps and the overrated attractions. Focus on the experiences that are truly special and spend some time exploring them.
Cairo is a huge city with lots of traffic jams. A lot of online one-day itineraries don’t take this reality into account.
You’re not going to pack in a half dozen attractions across the city – that will only leave you exhausted.
But with a streamlined itinerary and some good planning, you can experience the best of Cairo in a single day.
Here’s my perfect one-day itinerary on how to spend 24 hours in Cairo wisely. I’m a longtime expat living in Cairo and this is the advice I wish I knew when I first visited!
Cairo one day itinerary:
1. Giza and the pyramids
The pyramids are very touristy – but also very much worth seeing.
The Giza pyramid complex should be your first stop on the ideal one-day Cairo itinerary. The pyramids are genuinely breathtaking when you see them for the first time.
And they still impress me after all these years, when I’m on my way to dinner and catch a glimpse of their dusty peeks through the taxi window.
But these ancient wonders are not surrounded by desert, as they’re often shown in photos.
They’re in the middle of Giza, a densely packed city that’s one of the largest in Egypt. And Giza is technically just outside of Cairo – which means at least an hour in a taxi.
The Giza pyramids are also notorious for aggressive vendors, persistent guides that offer you their “bargain” services, and determined camel and horse riders.
It’s not surprising that many tourists (and Egyptians) remember their visit to the pyramids as stressful and hectic at best.
Here’s my advice to avoid the hassle
- Head out early in the morning to avoid traffic: The pyramids open at 8 am so arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds and get your tickets. If you’re visiting in the summer, get to the plateau as early as possible to avoid the day’s heat.
- Take a taxi: The city’s white taxis are notorious for overcharging tourists, rigging their meters and taking you in circles through the suburbs. And while most of them are honest, it’s better not to take chances. Use Uber or Careem for all of your rides.
- Hire a tour guide: I love solo travel, but I wouldn’t recommend it in Giza. Hire a local Egyptian tour guide and you’ll get a lot more from your visit. A guide will save you time at the plateau and take you to hidden gems you’d otherwise miss. The aggressive vendors will also leave you alone if you don’t appear lost and alone.
- Skip the souvenirs: They’re overpriced and include more bickering and bartering than they’re worth. Focus on the history and majesty of the pyramids and leave the shopping for later.
- Eat well: It’s tempting to grab lunch from the local falafel (aka taamiya) stand, but don’t take chances with your gut this early in the day. Head to Pizza Hut (yes, really) right across from the Sphinx for what’s probably the world’s best fast-food restaurant view. For a more leisurely lunch, head to 9 Pyramids Lounge (reservations recommended,) which is Giza’s first restaurant right on the plateau. Right across the street, the Marriott Mena House has some incredible restaurants that are pricier but worth it for the ambiance.
Giza plateau guide:
Allow 2 or 3 hours for visiting the plateau, and dress comfortably in the summer. Thin and loose linen works best, while jeans or a tight t-shirt are nightmares in the humidity.
There are two entrances to the plateau. One is directly in front of the Sphinx, and the other is on a hill near the Great Pyramid. I would recommend entering at the second entrance and then making your way down towards the Sphinx.
The complex includes Khufu’s Pyramid, known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is the biggest and oldest of the three pyramids. It’s the only site of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that’s still intact. There are two smaller pyramids called Khafre and Menkaure, and three even smaller pyramids containing Khufu’s wives and sisters.
The Sphinx is the other famous landmark of the Giza plateau: an enormous limestone statue with the body of a lion and a human’s head.
Read 5 Stress-free ways to see the Pyramids for more tips on experiencing the pyramids without the hassle!
2. Khan el Khalili
After a morning at the pyramids and lunch with a view, take an Uber to Khan el Khalili – Cairo’s famous medieval souq. Its dense, vibrant alleys are packed with historic mosques, Ottoman-era mansions and plenty of shopping.
Islamic Cairo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 14th century. And it’s lined with masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture and some of Egypt’s most beautiful mosques.
Split your time at Khan el Khalili into two parts. First: take a guided walking tour so you don’t miss any of the incredible mosques and historical sites. Second: take a few hours to wander, shop for souvenirs and explore the small alleys full of scarves, perfumes and spices.
Khan el Khalili walking tour
If you want to tackle Khan el Khalili on your own, take an Uber to Azhar Mosque and start your walk from there. This street map is a great start to plan your tour. It features all the main attractions you’ll find along Moez Street – the main pathway through the souq.
Al Azhar Mosque is a gorgeous, recently renovated masterpiece. Founded in 970, it’s now regarded as the highest authority in the Islamic world for the study of Sunni theology. It boasts an open-air courtyard paved in white marble and surrounded by Mamluk-era minarets.
Cross Azhar Street and have a tea with mint at El-Fishawi cafe, one of the city’s oldest cafes and the famed hangout of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. It’s an old cafe in a narrow alley that’s always lively with musicians and groups of friends smoking shisha.
And don’t miss Bab al-Ghuri, a gate filled with shops selling colorful lamps. At night the lights illuminate the historic walls and the picture-perfect arches.
Islamic Cairo landmarks you shouldn’t miss:
- The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Barquq: One of the city’s greatest architectural feats from the Mamluk era, this religious complex has a stunning courtyard with a richly decorated interior.
- Bayt Al-Suhaymi: This historic Ottoman house is an example of how a wealthy merchant lived in medieval Cairo. The house was built in 1648 with fine mashrabiya windows, marble floors and wood furniture. It’s on a narrow lane just off Moez Street and you’ll need a ticket to enter.
- Al-Hakim Mosque: This unique mosque is named after a Fatimid caliph infamous for his bizarre laws. The mosque was used throughout its long history as a prison, a fortress for Napoleon and a school.
Read 11 Must-See Hidden Gems in Islamic Cairo for a deeper look at this gorgeous neighborhood.
Shopping in Khan el Khalili:
Leave time to wander and browse for souvenirs during your Cairo one-day itinerary.
Souvenirs in Cairo range from the kitsch and plastic to the handmade. You’ll find anything from spices and alabaster figurines to pottery, lamps and applique wall hangings.
Don’t miss 26 Amazing Souvenirs to buy in Egypt for a complete guide to Cairo shopping.
3) Felucca ride and downtown Cairo
Wind down in the evening and give your feet a rest. Head to downtown Cairo and hire a traditional felucca sailboat for a trip down the Nile River. If you walk around the Qasr el Nil bridge towards the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, you can find a line of boats and negotiate a price.
For a quieter experience, head to the nearby leafy suburb of Maadi near the TGI Fridays. Get a felucca from there for a quieter and greener river sail.
Planning a Cairo one day itinerary can feel overwhelming. It’s a huge and bustling city, and there’s a lot to experience.
But with some wise planning – and a good guide – you can get a great taste of this vibrant city.
I would love to hear from you! What’s on your Cairo one day itinerary?