Here are the best things to do in Cairo from an expat who’s been living here and exploring the city for a decade.
As an expat living for many years in Cairo, I know how underrated this city is. But many visitors often get stuck in the tourist traps while missing out on the city’s real gems.
So here’s everything I can recommend after a decade spent exploring the Egyptian capital – plus all the sites you shouldn’t miss. And all my favorite hidden gems!
I’m including all the tips I wish I knew when I first visited – from avoiding scams and drama to finding the best neighourhoods to stay in.
Because Cairo isn’t the easiest city to navigate. It’s noisy, crowded and overwhelming – and it’s hard to plan a realistic itinerary. And there’s a lot online that’s outdated or just plain tacky (unless you like stale buffets and Slavic belly dancers).
So here are all the best things to do in Cairo – and all my local tips to get the most out of this bucket list destination.
1. Pyramids of Giza
Head to Giza for the city’s most stunning attraction. The pyramids never cease to amaze and they should definitely be your #1 stop in Cairo.
Towering over the plateau sands and surrounded by the dense city of Giza, the pyramids are the only remaining natural wonders of the ancient world.
But do them in style. Don’t let your most vivid memories of this incredible place be haggling with vendors and drama over camels.
Hire an Egyptian tour guide to get the most of your experience. A guide will shield you from the overzealous salesmen and make other plateau sites come alive with history.
Plan at least 2-3 hours to visit the plateau. Head inside the Great Pyramid to explore the interiors of this ancient site, walk around the Sphinx for some great photo ops and explore the Solar Boat Museum, which houses a ship meant for the pharaoh’s use in the afterlife.
Spend some time marveling at the pyramids after your guided tour. Giza isn’t the best place for a leisurely stroll, but a meal at a local restaurant – or an overnight stay at a hotel with a view – is a great way to savor those plateau views.
But stay clear of the tourist buffets and cafeterias – most are poor quality and not very fresh. Head to the Pizza Hut across from the Sphinx for a good, reliable meal with a view like no other pizza joint.
Or try the newly-opened 9 Pyramids Lounge for classic Egyptian food. It’s the only restaurant right on the plateau and the views can’t be beat. The Marriott Mena House also has incredible pyramid views and an upscale bar that’s perfect for dinner and cocktails.
Need to know:
Tickets: Entry to the Giza Plateau is 200 EGP per adult and 100 EGP per student (with valid ID). Tickets to go inside the pyramids are 400 EGP for the Great Pyramid, and 100 EGP each for the smaller Khafre and Menkaure pyramids. The Solar Boat museum is 100 EGP per adult. Or buy a combination ticket for 600 EGP that gives you entry to the Plateau, the Solar Boat and the Great Pyramid.
Hours: The plateau is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm in winter (October to March) and from 7 am to 7 pm in summer (April to September).
How to get there: If you’re downtown, allow at least an hour to get to the pyramids – on a good day when traffic is light. When traffic is heavy, expect to spend longer. Take an Uber or a Careem to get fair rates and quick routes. Avoid the white street taxis – especially if you’re a tourist.
Nearby: Giza is a dense suburb with pockets of affluence and some real sketchy areas. There’s lots of street food, tall apartment blocks and shops. There are some nice souvenir stores around the plateau, and a few great hotels with legendary views. But otherwise there’s not much to see in Giza if you’re sightseeing.
The Egyptian Museum houses an incredible collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts that totals some 120,000 items. There are curiosities crammed into every corner of this dusty museum – and I’m still making new discoveries after years of visits.
Also known as The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, this salmon-colored bohemouth in Tahrir Square holds the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities. And it’s still very much worth seeing – even with the new museum opened up.
Built in 1901 by a French architect, the museum also has a nice outdoor garden that pays tribute to famous Egyptologists.
The ground floor holds an extensive collection of larger works including statues and reliefs. Everything is arranged chronologically in a clockwise layout from the pre-dynastic to the Greco-Roman period. There are also artifacts from the New Kingdom, including a colossal statue of Amenhotep III and Tiye as the centerpiece.
The first floor contains smaller artifacts like papyri, coins, textiles and a staggering collection of wooden sarcophagi. There are entire rooms with sarcophagi stacked in wooden display cases one of top of another.
Don’t miss: the complete burials of Yuya and Thuya and the statues of the great kings Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, the builders of the pyramids. The Tanis collection is nearly as rich and ornate as the findings from Tutankhamun’s tomb. It includes silver coffins, gold masks, royal sarcophagi and jewelry.
Set aside at least a few hours to wander this museum. And hire a tour guide to get the most from your visit – not everything is labelled well and the museum isn’t easy to navigate for first-timers.
The Mask of Tutankhamun: an iconic death mask of the child king, this 10-kilogram golden artifact is the best-known work from ancient Egypt. It’s housed in a darkened room where no photos are allowed.
Narmer Palette: a beautiful artifact that depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Dating from around the 31st century BC, it’s been called the world’s first historical document.
Statue of Seneb and his family: a very touching painted limestone statue that portrays Seneb, a dwarf, seated on a raised column alongside his wife who embraces him lovingly. Seneb’s two children are portrayed underneath, where his legs would have been.
Insider’s tip: When you’re done at the museum, cross Tahrir Square and stop by the AUC Press bookstore. It has a much larger collection of books on Egyptology than the museum shop.
Need to know:
Tickets: Entry is 200 EGP per adult, and 100 EGP for students (with valid ID). A camera ticket (if you want to take photos) is an additional 50 EGP.
How to get there: Take an Uber or Careem, or get off at the Sadat metro station right across from the museum. The area is always busy with traffic, and the main museum gates are just past a security station.
Nearby: This museum is right in Tahrir Square, the heart of downtown Cairo, and there’s lots to do nearby. Take in the architecture of downtown Cairo and walk down the vibrant shopping street of Talaat Harb. Or stroll along the Nile Corniche (a 10-minute walk away) and walk across the Qasr el Nil bridge for great views of downtown. There are also felucca boats at the bridge to hire by the hour for a calming sail down the Nile.
This medieval souq is packed with narrow alleys full of historic mosques, Ottoman-era homes and plenty of colorful spices and souvenirs.
Khan el Khalili is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 14th century. It’s lined with masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture and some of Egypt’s most incredible mosques.
Join a guided walking tour so you don’t miss any of the historical sites. And leave some time to wander, shop for perfume oils and scarves, and explore the district’s hidden gems.
You’ll stumble into tiny boutiques that offer handbound leather notebooks, historic cafes and artisans at work on leather purses and brass platters.
Don’t miss Bab al-Ghuri, a historic gate packed with shops selling colorful lanters, and El-Fishawi Cafe, one of the city’s oldest cafes that’s always lively with musicians and the former haunt of famous Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz.
If you’re heading out without a guide, take an Uber to Azhar Mosque and start your tour from there. This street map lists all the attractions you’ll find along Moez Street – the main pathway through the souq.
Hours: Most shops open around 9 am until well into the night – which for Egyptians is usually pretty late. Friday mornings are quiet with most shops closed for weekly prayers. Sunday is also slow, though plenty of vendors do stay open. Many shops stay closed until sunset during Ramadan though enough remain open to do plenty of shopping – which is definitely recommended if you want to avoid the crowds.
How to get there: Take an Uber/Careem to Azhar Mosque (a place most drivers will easily recognize) and the bazaar is just across the street (there’s an underground passageway for pedestrians). I always leave from Azhar Mosque, too, because the spot is easy to find for drivers and has plenty of space for a taxi to pull over.
Nearby: There’s enough history and culture in Islamic Cairo to fill a few days of sightseeing. All the sites on this list from Bab Zuweila (#4) to Hakim Mosque (#11) are within walking distance of Khan el Khalili – most are about 20 minutes away. Highlights include Azhar Mosque (#7), the Qalawun Complex (#8) and Bayt al-Suhaymi (#10).
Bab Zuweila is one of the few remaining gates of the city wall that encircled 11th-century Cairo.
And you can climb to the top for some great views of the old city. The steep stairs are quite a workout. But it’s worth it for the sweeping views of Fatimid Cairo and the surrounding minarets. It’s especially magical during the call to prayer.
The towering gate of Bab Zuweila is topped by two minarets that were added on by a Mamluk sultan in the 15th century. You can also climb those minarets – and get a stunning photo opp at the top.
The towers of Bab Zuweila were once used to scope out approaching enemy troops. The sultan also used the platform to watch Mecca-bound processions headed on the annual pilgrimage.
But this gate also has a grisly history – the platform was used for executions. And severed heads were displayed on the tops of the walls as recently as 1811 after the Citadel massacre of the Mamluks by the Ottomans.
Insider’s tip: If you’re visiting the nearby Mosque of Sultan Hassan and Khan el Khalili is next on your itinerary, then take a tuk tuk from there to Bab Zuweila – it’s quite a trip but definitely doable.
Need to know:
Tickets: 40 EGP per adult, 20 EGP for students with valid ID.
How to get there: Take an Uber and there’s a street they can drop you off right in front of the gate. Or if you’re nearby, hop into a tuk tuk.
Nearby: Bab Zuweila is about a 15-minute walk from Khan el Khalili and a great southernmost spot to start your tour of medieval Cairo. Just start at Bab Zuweila and walk North to hit all the district’s main historic attractions. End your tour at Hakim Mosque (#11).
5. Khayamiya market
Known as the street of the tentmakers (Sharia al-Khayamiya), this covered market sells a colorful type of decorative applique textile known as khayamiya.
It’s also one of my favorite places to shop in medieval Cairo – it’s far less crowded and the vendors aren’t as pushy as their Khan el Khalili counterparts. They’ll generally give you a fair price from the start and there’s not much need to haggle.
There are rugs, quilted pillow cases and wall hangings sold by the artisans themselves in their tight and narrow shops.
And you’ll often see the artisans at work hand-stitching cushion covers or bedspreads. Their needles tackle themes from Islamic calligraphy to Ancient Egypt, local folklore, fish, birds and verses from the Quran.
When I was last there (in 2022), quilted pillow cases sold for about 75 EGP – or 4 USD per piece. I could have probably got them for a dollar less. But the money goes directly to the artisan so I won’t lose sleep over it.
The Qasaba that houses the khayamiya market is also worth a look in itself. Built during Mamluk rule in 1650, it’s the only historic covered market in the city. Look above the shop facades and you’ll see the upper floor apartments built for the artisans.
There’s evidence that khayamiya dates back to ancient Egypt. But this traditional craft is now endangered because of cheap dupes and mass-printed fabric.
Need to know:
Hours: Open from around 9 am until late in the evening.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Bab Zuweila and walk across the street to the market.
Nearby: The Khayamiya market is about a 15-minute walk from Khan el Khalili and directly across the street from Bab Zuweila.
6. Sultan Al-Ghuri Complex
The majestic Sultan Al-Ghuri Complex, an ornate Mamluk gem completed in 1505, includes a mausoleum, mosque and madrasa.
It’s on a bustling street that once housed a silk market. Today the pathway is packed with vendors selling rolls of fabric, seasonal fruit and kitchen knick-knacks.
And it’s just across the street from the famous Khan el Khalili market.
The interior is overflowing with the lavish patters typical of Mamluk style. There are soaring ceilings and geometric lamps suspended from long chains. Rich panels repeat patterns of black and white marble.
And while it’s not a massive mosque, it’s a true delight to explore.
Outside you can see its unique square minaret topped by five bulbs.
Al-Ghuri, the second last of the Mamluk sultans, was described as cruel and superstitious. But he had a soft spot for music and poetry. He was a great patron of architecture despite the miserable economy of his age. And though Al-Ghuri died in battle, he was never buried in the mausoleum he erected.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque (much easier and more recognizable to drivers) and this mosque is just down the street.
Nearby: Khan el Khalili is just across the street, about a 5-minute walk away. Azhar Mosque is also very close on the same street. Along the way, stop by the reliable chain Gad for some falafel (called taameya in Egypt) and other great street food.
7. Al-Azhar Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque is a recently restored masterpiece – and an easy drop-off point for any Uber that also makes a good starting point for a Khan el Khalili tour.
Established in 972, Azhar Mosque is the highest authority in the Islamic world for the study of Sunni theology. And it attracts students from around the world – you’ll probably see Southeast Asian students around its walls.
The courtyard at Azhar Mosque is paved in white marble and surrounded by Mamluk-era minarets.
If you’ve never been inside a mosque, this is a breathtaking introduction with its bright masonry, wooden ceilings, mashrabiya windows and ornaments. It includes five intricate minarets – remnants of the city’s various dynasties and their influence.
Built under a Fatimid caliph, Al-Azhar Mosque was the first Fatimid monument in a newly established capital. Today, it’s around double its original size with a capacity of 20,000 people.
It’s also the home to Al-Azhar University – the prestigious center of Sunni theology and the world’s second oldest continuously-run university.
A visit to Al-Azhar Mosque is always a calming experience. The honking cars and vendors of the nearby market are silenced, and the breeze winds around the mosque’s rows of columns. It’s a real treat on a hot summer day.
Insider’s tip: If you’re a woman wearing jeans or tight pants, you’ll probably be issued a long skirt at the entrance to cover up. Those can be awkward to walk in, so consider just wearing a long skirt if you’re headed to Islamic Cairo and plan to visit lots of mosques.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque. As you probably know from all my previous post, this is my starting point when navigating Khan el Khalili because it’s so recognizable to drivers and has lots of space in front to pull over.
Nearby: Khan el Khalili is just across the street. For a real hidden gem, head around the back of the mosque to Abdel Zaher Atelier (27W6+5X) for personalized, handmade notebooks bound in leather or traditional Egyptian fabrics.
The Qalawun Complex is one of the major monuments of Islamic Cairo – and one of the gems along the famous Moez Street in Khan el Khalili.
This massive complex was built by a Mamluk sultan in the 13th century. And it’s incredibly rich in its scope and architecture.
It contains a hospital, madrasa and a mausoleum considered to be one of the most stunning in the world – and second only to the Taj Mahal.
But miraculously the complex only took about a year to build, thanks to the sultan’s disciplined leagues of slave labour.
The mausoleum’s mihrab (a niche in the wall pointing to Mecca) is considered the most splendid of its kind. Flanked by three marble columns, it’s embellished with ornate geometric patterns.
You can easily spend an hour or two exploring this vast complex and savouring the intricacies of Mamluk architecture. It’s definitely the highlight of any Medieval Cairo itinerary.
Tickets are 100 EGP and give you access to the Qalawun Complex and a slew of other attractions including the nearby Qalawun Mosque, the Barqouk Mosque and the Amir Beshtak Palace.
Need to know:
Tickets: Entry is 100 EGP per adult. The ticket gives you access to the Qalawun Complex and a slew of other attractions including the nearby Qalawun Mosque, the Barqouk Mosque and the Amir Beshtak Palace.
How to get there: The Qalawun Complex is right on Moez Street, the main pathway through the Khan el Khalili souq. Moez is closed off to cars and taxis, so you’ll have to take an Uber to Azhar Mosque and the complex is a 10-minute walk away.
Nearby: Khan el Khalili and all the main attractions of Islamic Cairo (#4 to #11) are all within walking distance.
9. Aqmar Mosque
Aqmar Mosque is tiny by Moez Street standards. But it has a stunning facade that looks especially magical illuminated at night.
Appropriately named the “moonlit” mosque, it was built in 1126 by a Fatimid vizier as a neighborhood mosque for both the local residents and the inhabitants of the nearby Fatimid Great Palace. It didn’t originally feature a minaret – probably to keep people from climbing up to look down at the caliph’s palaces. A Mamluk amir later added on a minaret.
Aqmar Mosque will catch your eye when you’re wandering down Moez Street. It’s very well-known for its intricate facade.
Spend some time marveling at the facade’s lavish decorations including intricate niches, shell shaped recesses, Quranic inscriptions, abstract symbols and radiating stars.
And step inside the beautiful and airy courtyard, uniquely restored in a yellow pastel.
How to get there: Aqmar Mosque is right on Moez Street, which is closed off to cars. Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque and this mosque is a 10-minute walk away.
Nearby:Khan el Khalili and all of Islamic Cairo’s best attractions (#4 to #11) are within walking distance.
10. Bayt al-Suhaymi
Bayt al-Suhaymi is a historic Ottoman-era home turned into a museum featuring mashrabiya windows, marble floors and period furniture. It offers a fascinating look at everyday life in 17th-century Cairo.
Nestled in a quiet alley just off Moez Street, Bayt al-Suhaymi has a breezy palm-lined courtyard from which you can admire all the fine mashrabiya.
Bayt al-Suhaymi is one of my favorite spots to experience the atmosphere of historic Cairo – and to take a break from sightseeing the district’s many mosques. It’s been lovingly restored and much of the wooden furniture and ceiling decor is still intact.
Don’t miss the haramlik section, the private spaces for women. The women enjoyed views of the house guests in the courtyard while being concealed behind wooden screens. There’s also a beautiful room full of blue tiles and lined with ornate ceramics.
Need to know:
Tickets: 80 EGP per adult and 40 EGP for students with valid ID.
How to get there: Bayt al-Suhaymi is just off Moez Street, the main pedestrian walkway through the Khan el Khalili souq. Take an Uber to Azhar Mosque and walk to Bayt al-Suhaymi down Moez Street.
Nearby: Khan el Khalili and all of Islamic Cairo’s best attractions (#4 to #11) are within walking distance.
11. Hakim Mosque
Built by a controversial caliph (who some consider insane), this 11th-century mosque has very unique minarets and a beautiful courtyard with flowing green curtains.
It’s also a great final stop for an Islamic Cairo walking tour – and denotes the end of the historic Moez Street. And it’s one of my favorite mosques in Cairo with its unique architecture and quiet atmosphere.
There are shady benches in front where you can rest under orange flowered trees and watch kids playing soccer under the mosque’s walls. It’s generally less crowded here than in central Khan el Khalili. And there are some small cafes if you want to take a breather. Bab Al-Futuh is also nearby – the northern gate that once sealed in the medieval city of Cairo.
Inside the mosque, there’s a rectangular open courtyard with parallel columns running on all sides draped with long and flowing green curtains. The unique minarets, built in the North African style of the Fatimids, are topped by a cylindrical body.
Hakim Mosque was built in 992 by the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, sometimes called the “mad caliph” for his cruelties and bizarre rulings. He once famously banned molokhia, a famous Egyptian dish, and forbade shoemakers from making footwear for women (since they should just stay home).
Throughout its long history, the mosque was used as a prison for captured Crusaders, as a stable by Saladin, as a fortress by Napoleon (when the minarets were used as watchtowers), and as a local school. It’s been lovingly restored by the Indian Bohra Shiites (the Fatimids were Shia).
I usually end my day at Islamic Cairo with a stop at Hakim Mosque. Then I walk back to Azhar Mosque and take an Uber from there.
How to get there: Hakim Mosque is at the end of Moez Street, the main pedestrian walkway through the Khan el Khalili souq. Take an Uber to Bab Al-Futuh (3747+49V), which is just next door, and walk a few steps just down Moez to arrive at the mosque.
Nearby: Khan el Khalili and all of Islamic Cairo’s best attractions (#4 to #11) are within walking distance.
The Cairo Citadel is an impressive medieval stone fortress built by Saladin that includes gateways, tall towers, mosques and museums perched on a rocky hill overlooking the city.
The centerpiece of the Citadel is the beautiful Ottoman-style Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Known as the Alabaster Mosque, it features walls coated with alabaster and a beautiful courtyard.
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali towers over the complex and its silhouette is one of the iconic symbols of Cairo. It dominates the city’s eastern skyline – and it’s beautifully illuminated at night.
Inside, the mosque has a high and ornate doomed ceiling and medallions featuring the names of God, the prophet Mohamed and the four Caliphs.
And there are some great views of Cairo from the Citadel’s terrace. You can even spot the pyramids on a clear day.
Built it in 1176 AD to protect Cairo from the threat of Crusaders, the Citadel housed Egypt’s rulers for 700 years from the 9th to the 12th century. It’s been expanded by many rulers throughout the centuries though Saladin’s original walls still stand (built partly from stones taken from Giza’s minor pyramids).
Don’t miss the smaller and humbler Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, a 14th-century mosque built by the Mamluk sultan. It’s where Cairo’s sultans once performed their Friday prayers.
Keep in mind the Cairo Citadel is a sprawling tourist destination. It’s not a working mosque where you’ll see much daily city life. Be prepared for Egyptians asking to take a photo with you – for some reason, this often happens at the Citadel.
Set aside a few hours for your visit. And hire a tour guide if you want to get all the detailed history – or take this map if you want to tackle it alone.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Cairo Citadel and hike up to the ticket booth. The Citadel is perched on a hill that you’ll have to climb because Ubers will drop you off at street level and they can’t enter higher. If you’re visiting in summer then go early to avoid that uphill climb in the heat.
Nearby: There’s not much within walking distance, though Azhar Park, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun and the Mosque of Sultan Hassan are all about a 15-minute taxi ride away.
13. Coptic Cairo (aka Old Cairo)
Coptic Cairo is an old part of the city lined with Coptic churches and historical sites that were the stronghold for Egypt’s Christianity before the Muslim conquests. It’s believed the Holy Family sought refuge here after they fled from Herod.
Though there’s evidence the area was first settled as early as the 6th century. Later, the Romans built a fortress here known as Babylon – remnants of the fortress can still be seen.
Today Coptic Cairo boasts five original churches, Egypt’s first mosque and a 12th-century synagogue (reportedly the site where baby Moses was found on the banks of the Nile).
Highlights include the Coptic Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Coptic art, beautiful manuscripts, icons, frescoes and relics. The nearby 3rd-century basilica-style Hanging Church houses icons that date back to the 8th century.
Coptic Cairo is also filled with narrow alleyways full of book stalls and souvenir shops that are perfect for an afternoon of browsing. The area is quiet and closed off to cars.
The area is also known for its pottery. Artisans have been shaping clay into vessels and bowls here for centuries. Today there are several initiatives to revive the old craft and you’ll likely spot pottery workshops along the roads.
Head to the arts and culture center Darb 1718 (a 5-minute walk from the Hanging Church) to browse a complex of pottery shops and artists studios. Stop by the Darb 1718 gallery for some modern Egyptian art. Darb also hosts fun events like yoga in Old Cairo, rooftop concerts and film screenings.
Head to Souq El Fustat, a cozy arcade with fixed prices that’s full of boutiques that offer handicrafts from across Egypt. You’ll find unique items like jewelry made by local women from recycled materials and colorful cookware.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mar Girgis metro station, which is right inside the complex where all the churches and main attractions are. The complex is closed off to cars so the Uber will drop you off at the security gate at the entrance. You can also easily take the metro to Mar Girgis, of course. Or take an Uber to the Amr ibn al-As Mosque and it’s a 5-minute stroll down that main street to the complex (just ask a local to point you towards Mar Girgis).
Nearby: Souq El Fustat is great for shopping for some unique souvenirs, and Darb 1718 has some great modern Egyptian art and pottery workshops. There are also a few interesting antique shops (near the complex entrance) with piles of old books, vintage cameras and more.
The Coptic Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Coptic Christian artifacts, including dazzling icons, manuscripts, wooden panels and frescoes that chronicle centuries of Christianity in Egypt.
The museum holds more than 1,200 pieces that date back to the origins of Coptic Christianity in the 3rd century. It also has beautiful bibles from the 11th and 13th centuries, ancient ankhs, walls of monastery frescoes and 6th-century Christian writings on papyrus.
The museum offers a fascinating look at how Coptic Christianity interacted with a series of different cultures across Egyptian history, including the Pharaonic gods, Roman and Greek paganism, early Christianity and Islam.
The Coptic Museum was opened in 1910 in an effort to preserve Coptic heritage. It’s housed in a beautiful building with elaborately carved wooden ceilings. The modern and well-labeled exhibits are a pleasure to browse, though some are dimly lit (for preservation).
Don’t miss the exquisite 4th to 7th-century Coptic textiles, and the oldest book of psalms in the world with original wooden covers.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mar Girgis metro station, which is right inside the complex that houses the museum. The complex is closed off to cars so the Uber will drop you off at the security gate. You can of course just take the metro to Mar Girgis – the museum is right across from the station.
Nearby: All the main attractions of Coptic Cairo (#14 to #16) are within walking distance.
The Hanging Church was originally built on top of a Roman fortress suspended above two gate towers. It contains a stunning wooden ceiling, an ornate interior and centuries-old icons.
When the church was first built, it towered over its surroundings atop the pillars of the gate house that were visible below. But over the centuries the ground level rose and the pillars are now completely buried.
Built in the 7th century, it’s one of Egypt’s oldest Christian religious sites.
The Hanging Church boasts a courtyard with fountains and beautiful Biblical mosaics, and a 19th century facade with twin bell towers.
The lavish interior is decorated with intricate geometric patterns, lotus-shaped panels and Coptic-style paintings of the disciples.
The stunning domed wooden ceiling is designed to mimic the shape of Noah’s Arc.
The church houses 110 different icons, the oldest of which is the Coptic Mona Lisa dating back to the 8th century.
Insider’s tip: Coptic Mass is held Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings. It’s a fascinating service to observe with chanting and incense smoke.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mar Girgis metro station, which is right inside the complex that houses the church. The complex is closed off to cars so the Uber will drop you off at the security gate. Or take the metro to Mar Girgis – the church is across from the station.
Nearby: All the main attractions of Coptic Cairo are within walking distance.
16. Mosque of Amr ibn al-As
Amr ibn al-As was the first mosque to be ever built in Egypt – founded in 642 by the commander of the Muslim army that conquered Egypt.
It was reportedly built where the general pitched his tent and formed the basis of the old capital of Fustat. Though the mosque originally consisted of only palm trunks thatched with leaves, it’s had numerous expansions and renovations.
It’s been scorched by a fire during the Crusades, shaken by an earthquake and razed then rebuilt by a Mamluk sultan.
The current structure is a restoration and nothing like the original – Egypt’s oldest mosque that’s still standing is actually Ibn Tulun. And though a tour guide friend of mine called Amr ibn al-As overrated, the mosque is still worth a visit when you’re in Coptic Cairo.
It’s a cool and breezy mosque with a sweeping courtyard that features a labyrinth of 200 marble columns (many taken from ancient sites). It takes influences from both Greek and Roman architecture, and was an important center for religious scholars for 600 years.
Insider’s tip: Amr ibn al-As is a working mosque so it’s closed to tourists during prayers.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Amr ibn al-As Mosque. Or take the metro to the Mar Girgis station, which is just down the street from this mosque.
Nearby: All the main attractions of Coptic Cairo are within walking distance.
17. Mosque of Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai
This grandiose 14th-century mosque is a stunning example of Mamluk architecture – and it’s one of Cairo’s most beautiful mosques. It’s filled with intricate stonework, massive vaulted chambers and geometric patterns.
Built from enormous blocks of stone, its walls reach 38 metres and symbolised the might of Mamluk rule. Not even the Black Plague could stop the massive construction project as craftsmen from across the empire took part in the costly undertaking.
Today, the Mosque of Sultan Hassan dominates the square. Its intricate architecture is a pleasure to explore – and you’ll always find something new with every visit.
The Mosque of Sultan Hassan has a striking 38-metre recessed entrance that always makes a grand impression. It leads down a dark passage into a sweeping open courtyard with mosaic-paved floors. The splendid courtyard has a domed ablutions fountain and soaring vaulted halls on all four sides.
There are doorways at the four corners of the courtyard that lead into four madrasas, where the four Sunni Islamic schools were taught.
There’s an especially gorgeous mihrab (a niche pointing in the direction of Mecca) ornamented with marble and gilded inscriptions. It’s considered one of the most beautiful mihrabs in Egypt.
A bronze door leads to the sultan’s mausoleum – though it stands empty. Sultan Hassan was assassinated before the mausoleum was finished and his body was never found.
Rebels once used the mosque’s high platforms to launch attacks on the ruler’s seat at the citadel. In response, some sultans considered demolishing the mosque but gave up on trying to dismantle such a massive structure.
In 1517, the last Mamluk sultan Tumanbay took refuge inside the mosque as the victorious Ottoman army marched into Cairo. The Ottomans bombarded the mosque with cannonballs, but public pressure later forced them to repair the damages.
The Al-Rifai Mosque is right next door – and it’s just as grand and massive. But it’s actually centuries younger and built in a neo-Mamluk style.
Al-Rifai was built right alongside Sultan Hassan in an attempt by 19th-century rulers to link themselves to the Islamic glories of the past. It was completed in 1912 and houses the royal mausoleum of Muhammad Ali’s family.
The doormen show you around and unlock the various mausoleums – they sometimes do Quran recitations under the domed ceilings to showcase the incredible acoustics. They should be tipped – about 20 EGP is fair.
Need to know:
Tickets: 80 EGP per adult and 40 EGP for students with a valid ID. The two mosques are inside the same complex and they’re separated only by a narrow pedestrian walkway. Tickets to Sultan Hassan include entrance to Al Rifai.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan, or take a tuk tuk if you’re coming from the nearby Mosque of Ibn Tulun.
Nearby: The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is about a 15-minute walk away – or you can take a tuk tuk. The Cairo Citadel is a short Uber ride away – it only looks close but it’s not really walkable. You can also take a tuk tuk to the Khayameya market. Khan el Khalili and Azhar Park are also both a short taxi ride away.
18. Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Ibn Tulun is Cairo’s oldest surviving mosque with a one-of-a-kind climbable spiral minaret and rows of very photogenic archways.
It’s much older and has a completely different feel than Cairo’s grander Mamluk or Ottoman mosques. There’s no alabaster or limestone. Just rows of geometric archways and patterns that are every photographer’s dream. No wonder art students often come here to practice drawing perspective.
Don’t miss the geometric patterns carved out of stucco on the undersides of the arches, the spacious courtyard and the mosque’s narrow enclosed wings (called ziyadas) that surround Ibn Tulun on all three sides.
It’s one of the largest mosques in the world and was built to accommodate Ahmad Ibn Tulun’s entire army during Friday prayers. It also has a fascinating history: built by a slave-soldier who later found a dynasty, the spiral minaret once rivaled the mosque in the Abbasid capital of Samarra.
Legend says Ibn Tulun designed the minaret completely by chance. He was sitting with his officials and absentmindedly winding a piece of parchment around his finger. When someone asked what he was doing, Ibn Tulun said he was designing his minaret.
Climb the minaret up the narrow, winding staircase for some great views of the bustling Sayeda Zeinab district and the mosque’s massive courtyard.
How to get there: It’s best to take an Uber. Though your driver may not be familiar with Ibn Tulun – mine always get lost.
Nearby: The Gayer-Anderson Museum is right next door – and another Cairo hidden gem that’s worth exploring. If you’re past the front gate and facing the mosque’s main door, the museum is directly on your left. Combine a trip to Ibn Tulun with a stop at the museum for a great afternoon of sightseeing. The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is also walkable – or a short tuk tuk ride away. There aren’t many sit-down restaurants around Ibn Tulun, but the neighbourhood is packed with street food and kiosks where you can get snacks.
This cozy art museum is inside a beautiful historic Cairo home – and it’s filled with ancient Egyptian antiquities, Islamic furniture and curiosities from the collection of an English officer who once called it home.
The museum is one of the best-preserved 17th-century homes in Cairo. Its many rooms, breezy courtyard and vast collection of carpets, artwork and antiquities are a real pleasure to explore.
Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson Pasha lived here from 1935 to 1942 after he struck a deal with the Egyptian government. The self-described Orientalist promised to restore the house and fill it with an art collection in exchange for being allowed to live in the historic gem. When he left Egypt he turned the house over to the government – and was made Pasha by King Farouk.
Fans of James Bond will recognize this house from The Spy Who Loved Me. Several scenes were shot inside the reception and on the gorgeous rooftoop terrance.
The museum is a labyrinth of breezy balconies and rooms named according to the origin of their artifacts, including Persian, Byzantine, Syrian and Indian.
Don’t miss the courtyard with its marble floors – the Haramlik (or woman’s section) has good views. The roof garden has beautiful mashrabias and views of a nearby minaret. The Ancient Egyptian Room boasts a map of Egypt engraved on an ostrich egg, a gold mummy case and the famous bronze Ancient Egyptian cat.
And check out the museum’s stranger gems – like a sketch of the Sphinx with Gayer-Anderson’s head, and a musical instrument shaped like a crocodile.
A staff member (or two) will usually give you a quick tour of the rooms (a small tip is recommended). You don’t really need to book a tour with an agency – the museum is small and easy to navigate on your own.
Insider’s tip: The museum has fans but no air conditioning. If you’re visiting in the summer, head to Gayer-Anderson in the cool of the morning – and pack a thermos of iced water.
Need to know:
Tickets: 60 EGP per adult and 30 EGP for students.
How to get there: Take an Uber to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun – most drivers aren’t very familiar with this neighbourhood, but the mosque is easy to find with GPS. The museum is pretty obscure so head to the mosque and Gayer-Anderson is right next door.
Nearby: The museum is adjacent to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun – the entrance is right past the mosque’s front gate. The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is a short walk away, while the Khayameya market is within tuk tuk distance.
20. Al Azhar Park
Al Azhar Park is a green oasis in the middle of Cairo – and a great resting place from sightseeing and the bustle of the city .
This sprawling 30-hectare public park is right next to Islamic Cairo and Khan el Khalili. It boasts green rolling hills, fountains, restaurants and sweeping views over the old city.
There’s also an observation point with binoculars and views over Islamic Cairo and its historic minarets. A restored Ayyubid wall – built by Saladin some 800 years ago – stretches across one side of the park.
It’s all build atop of what was once a mount of city rubble and ruins. The $30 million-dollar project was a gift to Cairo from Aga Khan IV, a descendant of the city’s Fatimid caliphs.
And it’s now a local favorite for family gatherings and picnics. Lots of features are modern and inspired by historic Islamic gardens.
For a leisurely lunch with a view, head to the Lakeside Restaurant for waterside dining.
Citadel View Restaurant (aka Studio Misr) has classic Egyptian decor and plenty of local favorites on the menu (with lots of vegetarian-friendly options too). It has great views of the Citadel that are especially magical at night when the mosques are illuminated.
Insider tip: Avoid weekends and national holidays, when the park gets packed with noisy crowds and family picnics. The Eid holiday (right after Ramadan) is especially crowded and not recommended.
Need to know:
Tickets: 25 EGP per adult and 30 EGP per adult on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays).
How to get there: Take an Uber to Azhar Park and there’s a large front entrance that’s easy to access.
Nearby: Islamic Cairo, the Citadel and Khan el Khalili are all about a 15-minute taxi trip away. For off the beaten path, the City of the Dead is right across the street.
21. Downtown Cairo
Downtown Cairo is full of hidden gems that a lot of tourists don’t see- but it’s a must for art and architecture lovers.
It was built in the late 19th century with many buildings commissioned by top French and European architects. Many of downtown’s buildings look European but have oriental influences that set them apart.
Today, downtown is packed with crowds and traffic. And many historic buildings are crumbling and dusty.
But downtown is also going through a renaissance (with a healthy dose of gentrification thrown in). Many buildings have been restored and transformed into offices, and trendy cafes and boutiques have been opening up for years.
Take a walking tour on a weekend morning with Google Maps or a good tour guide. And you’ll discover Cairo beyond its ancient and medieval landmarks.
Start with the salmon-colored building in Tahrir Square that famously houses the Egyptian Museum. Designed by French architect Marcel Dourgnon in the Beaux Arts and neoclassical style, the building has an airy interior that’s a gorgeous backdrop for the world’s largest collection of Egyptian antiquities.
Don’t miss the abandoned Said Halim Palace with its eerie past, the Art Deco Baehler Passage arcade with its tiny boutiques, and the Assicurazioni Generali building with its blend of Islamic and European influences.
Stop for lunch at the Eish & Malh, one of the earliest eateries to champion the rebirth of downtown, or the La Poire cafe in the Neo Baroque building at 33 Sherif Street.
Or take a stroll down Talaat Harb Street to the square of the same name for a quick survey of downtown. You’ll pass the gleaming Egyptian Diplomatic Club and the legendary Cafe Riche, former hang-out of writers and revolutionaries.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Tahrir Square for an easy starting point to your walking tour. Or take the metro and get off at the Sadat Station right in the middle of the square.
Nearby: Zamalek and the Cairo Opera House (#24) are just across the river, about a 15-minute walk away. The Abdeen Palace Museum (#23) is also right in downtown.
22. Nile River
You’re not likely to miss the Nile River when you’re in Cairo. It flows through the city from the media towers of Mohandiseen in the north to the leafy suburbs of Maadi in the south.
The Nile flows past downtown and glitters with city lights in the evening. And it even has a few islands – the upscale suburb of Zamalek with its hotels, old villas and embassies is the most famous example.
Take in the beauty of Africa’s longest river with a sail down the Nile in a traditional felucca boat. There are several points around town where feluccas are parked and you can hire them by the hour. You can bring food and drinks aboard too.
There’s a few feluccas docked around the Kasr el Nil Bridge if you want a quiet sail with views of downtown. There are also a few across from the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza, which is still alongside downtown but in the quieter Garden City district.
There’s another spot for felucca rentals in the quieter suburb of Maadi, near the Grand Cafe, that’s good for a bit of nature and distant views of downtown.
Neon motor-powered party boats with loud music are also popular at night. But I recommend the quieter and wind-powered felucca.
Restaurants with the best Nile views
Cairo has an array of beautiful, ritzy restaurants with spectacular Nile views. You can savour a meal overlooking the river and watch its majestic flow.
Pane Vino at the Intercontinental Cairo Semiramis has a beautiful terrace overlooking the Nile. It’s a casual Italian restaurant with great Neopolitan pizzas on the menu – and a good wine list and shisha too. There’s also The Grill at Semiramis for more elegant dining with French cuisine and views overlooking the Nile and the far-away traffic on the bridge.
For spectacular views over a few casual beers, the Nile Zamalek Hotel Rooftop has five-star views and does a gorgeous sunset too. It’s often filled with expats and locals enjoying the local Stella lager – and at that height it’s cool and breezy in the summertime too. It’s laid-back, young and a bit rough around the edges – I wouldn’t recommend the food, but the beer’s always cold.
23. Abdeen Palace Museum
Abdeen Palace was once the president’s sumptuous residence – and now it’s been transformed into a museum filled with lavish gifts, curiosities and royal treasures from the reigns of Egypt’s leaders.
The palace is filled with paintings, gold clocks and millions of francs worth of Parisian furniture. It houses a vast silverware collection, an arms collection and another exhibit devoted to the royal family.
There are also plenty of curiosities including gifts given to Egyptian leaders and Hosni Mubarak, the last president to reside at the palace. The presidential gifts include a Japanese model of a Samurai crown and a golden-plated AK-47 (from Saddam Hussein).
There’s also a quirky exhibit of American buttons collected by King Farouk with cute sayings, cartoons and old U.S. campaign slogans.
The palace includes some beautiful gardens that are great for an afternoon stroll.
Need to know:
Tickets: 100 EPG per adult and 50 EGP for students. The entrance to the palace is on a small sidestreet on the side of the building. The ticket booth is across the street from the entrance.
Hours: Open from 9 am to 3 pm everyday except Friday.
How to get there: Take an Uber to Abdeen Palace or the metro to the Mohamed Naguib station.
Nearby: The Egyptian Museum is a short taxi ride away or a 20-minute walk.
24. The City of the Dead
This misunderstood district is surrounded by stereotypes – it’s allegedly filled with “criminals in hiding” and “people living amongst the graves.”
But if you’re looking for gorgeous medieval architecture, handmade crafts and authentic experiences, then better just ignore those stereotypes. Take a walking tour of the City of the Dead and see it for yourself.
Because it’s one of Cairo’s most unique districts for history and an atmosphere unspoiled by mass tourism. And yes it’s a necropolis – but it’s always been a place where people have lived, studied and worked.
The neighbourhood is a UNESCO heritage site that’s full of architectural gems, splendid Mamluk mosques and graveyards amid modern apartment blocks.
Start at MASQ, a cultural center that hosts concerts, workshops and events, and the murals and graffiti that surround it. The mouse reappearing in different murals (here holding a Pharaonic cat by a chain, there with a can of spray paint) is the work of Polish graffiti artist Franek Mysza.
The City of the Dead is also known for its glass-blowers. Head to HodHod Glass (right across from the Sultan Qaitbey Mosque) for vases, intricate Christmas ornaments and lanterns that make great handmade souvenirs.
How to get there: Many taxi drivers get hopelessly lost here. Your best bet is to take an Uber to the “Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaytbay Mosque and Mausoleum.” This famous mosque is a great starting point for a walking tour – and MASQ and HodHod Glass are both next door.
Nearby: The City of the Dead is near Khan el Khalili, Islamic Cairo and Azhar Park, all within a 30-minute taxi ride away.