things to do in cairo
Egypt,  Travel

25 Best Things To Do In Cairo (A Local’s Guide!)

Here’s my ultimate guide to the best things to do in Cairo – from the pyramids in Giza to medieval mosques to hip and quirky hidden gems. 

I’m a long-time expat living for more than 10 years in Cairo – and this is my ultimate guide packed with everything I wish i knew when I first visited! 

It’s full of my honest advice on everything from avoiding scams and drama to finding the best neighbourhood to stay in.

It’s everything I can recommend after a decade of exploring the Egyptian capital – plus all the sites you shouldn’t miss. And all my favorite hidden gems!

Cairo isn’t always easy to navigate with its pushy salesmen and traffic jams.  And a lot of online content is outdated or full of tourist traps.

So here’s my ultimate guide to the best things to do in Cairo – and all my insider tips to getting the most from your trip.

From historic mosques and ancient Egyptian wonders to authentic souvenirs, this guide gives you everything to navigate Cairo like a local.

Here are my top picks for the best things to do in Cairo:

1. Pyramids of Giza

best things to do in cairo

The Pyramids of Giza are definitely Cairo’s most stunning attraction. They are truly amazing in real life and they should be your #1 stop if you only have one day in Cairo.

Surrounded by the dense city of Giza, the pyramids are the only remaining natural wonders of the ancient world.

But they’re also notoriously frustrating for many visitors. So don’t let your memories of Giza be haggling with vendors and drama over camels.

Plan your visit:

best things to do in cairo

  • Hire an Egyptian tour guide to get the most of your experience. A guide will shield you from the overzealous salesmen and make the sites come alive with history.
  • Plan at least 2-3 hours to visit the plateau – take in the three legendary pyramids and get that photo opp with the unforgettable Sphinx.
  • Don’t bother going inside any of the pyramids – it’s not worth it! There’s nothing inside except empty chambers that once held the treasures – and it’s claustrophobic and hot to boot. If you really want to see the interiors of a tomb, head to Saqqara (where it’ totally worth going inside the step pyramid) or the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
  • Don’t bother buying souvenirs at the pyramids (they’re overpriced) and stay away from the horses and camels (they’re overpriced, treated badly and abused).

Where to eat in Giza:

For a good reliable meal, head to the Pizza Hut across from the Sphinx. It’s delicious and budget-friendly with a view like no other pizza joint.

Or try the newly-opened 9 Pyramids Lounge for a more upscale experience with classic Egyptian food and ice-cold beers. The lounge has unbeatable views and it’s the only restaurant right on the plateau.

Need to know:

giza pyramids

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.

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).

On Google Maps: X4HM+MM Al Haram

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.

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.

2. Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum houses an incredible collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts that totals some 120,000 items. Every corner of this dusty museum is crammed with curiosities ( I still make new discoveries after years of visits!)

This salmon-colored behemoth in Tahrir Square holds the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities.

And it’s still very much worth seeing – even though the mummy collection has been moved to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (see #13 on this list). To clarify the online confusion: this museum is not closing nor is it being replaced by any new museums.

The famous golden Mask of Tutankhamun is the museum’s absolute must-see. Housed on the upper floor in room 3, this showstopper is absolutely dazzling. And it’s housed with other artifacts from the boy king’s tomb including gold masks, royal sarcophagi and jewelry.

The ground floor has a colossal statue of Amenhotep III and Tiye as the centerpiece.

Plan your visit:

egyptian museum cairo

  • Set aside at least a few hours to wander this museum. It’s overwhelming and densely packed – even with the mummies gone.
  • Hire a tour guide to get the most from your visit. The museum is not always labelled well and confusing to navigate for first-timers.
  • If you’re visiting in the summer, keep in mind there’s no A/C inside besides a few fans. Plan your trip in the early morning, dress light and pack a frozen bottled water.

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.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

On Google Maps: 26XM+4CH

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.

3. Khan el-Khalili

khan el khalili

khan el khalili

This medieval souq is packed with narrow alleys, 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. And it’s lined with masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture and some of Egypt’s most incredible mosques.

Don’t miss gems like Bab al-Ghuri, a historic gate packed with shops selling colorful lanterns.

Hire a guide or plan your trip ahead 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.

Shopping in Khan el Khalili

khan el khalili cairo

Khan el Khalili is a tourist hotspot where some 70% of all goods are dupes – aka cheap, mass-produced imports from China that aren’t really authentic or handmade in Egypt. You’ll see plenty of plastic, windchimes made with Indonesian seashells (true story) and even wooden Pinocchios.

Real handicrafts are not difficult to find, but expect to do some treasure hunting. And haggling over the price is standard.

My advice is: don’t focus too much on shopping when you’re in Khan el Khalili. Instead, spend your time enjoying the medieval mosques and historic sites and have a leisurely lunch at a historic cafe. Then head to Zamalek or downtown for handmade and authentic souvenirs from shops with clearly marked prices.

Need to know:

On Google Maps: 27X6+3W El Gamaliya

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 the weekend. Sunday is also slow, though plenty of vendors do stay open. During Ramadan, many shops stay closed until sunset. But enough remain open to do plenty of shopping – especially 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.

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.

Must-see highlights:

Hakim Mosque

  • The Qalawun Complex is one of the major monuments of Islamic Cairo – and one of the gems along the famous Moez Street. You can easily spend an hour or two exploring this vast complex and savoring the intricacies of medieval Islamic architecture. On Google Maps: 27X6+Q94
  • 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. On Google Maps: 3726+RX
  • Hakim Mosque (see above) was built by a controversial caliph (who some consider insane). It 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. On Google Maps: 3737+RC

4. Bab Zuweila

bab zuweila

bab zuweila

Vyacheslav Argenberg, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

Need to know:

bab zuweila
The view from the top: rooftops strewn with satellite dishes and some of Cairo’s most historic minarets.

Tickets: 40 EGP per adult, 20 EGP for students with valid ID.

On Google Maps: 27V5+34J

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.

Things to do in Cairo at night:

5. Khayamiya market

Sharia al-Khayamiya

Sharia al-Khayamiya

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.

Don’t miss the Qasaba that houses the khayamiya market. 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 imitations and factory-printed fabric. Buy the hand-quilted variety and skip the screenprinted version.

Need to know:

Sharia al-Khayamiya

Hours: Open from around 9 am until late in the evening.

On Google Maps: 27R4+FXF

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. Al-Azhar Mosque

azhar mosque

azhar mosque cairo

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.

Al-Azhar Mosque is also an easy drop-off point for any Uber that also makes a good starting point for your tour of Khan el Khalili.

Established in 972, Azhar Mosque is the highest authority in the Islamic world for the study of Sunni theology. It attracts students from around the world – and you’ll probably see Southeast Asian students around the area.

The courtyard at Azhar Mosque is paved in white marble and surrounded by Mamluk-era minarets.

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 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.

Need to know:

azhar mosque cairo

Tickets: Free.

On Google Maps: 27W7+73

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.

7. Cairo Citadel

cairo citadel guide

cairo citadel

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.

And there are some great views of Cairo from the Citadel’s terrace. You can even spot the pyramids on a clear day.

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.

Inside, the mosque has a high and ornate doomed ceiling and medallions featuring the names of the four Caliphs.

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).

Plan your visit:

cairo citadel

  • Be prepared for Egyptians asking to take a photo with you – for some reason, this often happens at the Citadel.
  • Take this map to plan your trip if you’re visiting without a tour guide.
  • The Citadel is perched on a hill that you’ll have to walk up, 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.

Need to know:

Tickets: 200 EGP per adult, 100 EGP per student with valid ID. Tickets are sold at the entrance and there’s no need to book ahead of time.

Hours: Open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

On Google Maps: 27H5+GWC

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.

8. Coptic Cairo (aka Old Cairo)

things to do in coptic cairo

things to do in coptic cairo

Coptic Cairo boasts five historic churches, Egypt’s first mosque and a 12th-century synagogue (the fabled site where baby Moses was found on the banks of the Nile).

It’s an old part of the city lined with churches and historical sites that were the stronghold of Christian Egypt before the Muslim conquests. It’s believed the Holy Family sought refuge here after they fled from Herod.

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.

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.

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, which is right across from the Roman fortress and the Coptic Museum.

Must-see highlights:

Fustat Pottery Village

  • The Coptic Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Coptic art, beautiful manuscripts, icons, frescoes and relics. The museum holds more than 1,200 pieces that date back to the origins of Coptic Christianity in the 3rd century. On Google Maps: 264J+62
  • The nearby 3rd-century basilica-style Hanging Church houses icons that date back to the 8th century. It 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. On Google Maps: 264J+43

9. Mosque of Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai

sultan hassan mosque cairo

sultan hassan mosque cairo

This grandiose 14th-century mosque is a stunning example of Mamluk architecture – and it’s one of Cairo’s most beautiful mosques.

I’d go this far: if you only visit one mosque in the entire city, make it this one.

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.

There’s an especially gorgeous mihrab (a niche pointing in the direction of Mecca) that’s considered one of the most beautiful in Egypt.

The Al-Rifai Mosque is right next door and inside the same complex. It’s just as grand and massive. Though it’s actually centuries younger and built in a neo-Mamluk style.

The doormen show you around and unlock the various mausoleums – they sometimes do Quran recitations under the domed ceilings to showcase the incredible acoustics. A 20-pound tips is recommended.

Need to know:

sultan hassan mosque cairo

Tickets: 80 EGP per adult and 40 EGP for students with a valid ID. The two mosques are separated by a narrow pedestrian walkway. Tickets to Sultan Hassan include entrance to Al Rifai.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

On Google Maps: 27J4+WF

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.

10. Mosque of Ibn Tulun

ibn tulun mosque cairo

ibn tulun mosque cairo

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. It’s less ornate with geometric archways and patterns that are every photographer’s dream.

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.

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 by chance. He was sitting with his officials and absentmindedly wound a piece of parchment around his finger. When someone asked what he was doing, Ibn Tulun said he was designing his minaret.

Plan your visit:

ibn tulun mosque cairo

  • Climb the minaret up the narrow, winding staircase for some great views of the bustling Sayeda Zeinab district and the mosque’s massive courtyard.
  • The Gayer-Anderson Museum (see below) is right next door – and another Cairo hidden gem that’s worth exploring.

Need to know:

Tickets: Free.

On Google Maps: 26HX+FQ 

Nearby: The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is within walking distance – or a short tuk-tuk ride away.

11. Gayer-Anderson Museum

gayer anderson museum

Gayer-Anderson Museum

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 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.

James Bond fans will recognize this house from The Spy Who Loved Me. Several scenes were shot inside the reception and along the gorgeous rooftoop terrace.

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.

Must-see highlights:

Gayer-Anderson Museum

The museum is a labyrinth of breezy balconies and rooms named according to the origin of their artifacts, including Persian, Byzantine, Syrian and Indian.

  • The roof garden has beautiful mashrabiyas 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.

Need to know:

gayer anderson cairo

Tickets: 60 EGP per adult and 30 EGP for students.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 3 pm.

On Google Maps: 27H2+87

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.

12. Azhar Park

azhar park

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 alongside Islamic Cairo and Khan el Khalili.

Unwind amid the green rolling hills and sparkling fountains at this too-rare city park.

Don’t miss the sweeping views of Cairo at the observation point, where you’ll also find binoculars to view Islamic Cairo and its historic minarets.

For a leisurely lunch with a view, head to Citadel View Restaurant (aka Studio Misr) has classic Egyptian decor and plenty of local favorites on the menu.

Avoid weekends and national holidays, when the park gets packed with noisy crowds and family picnics.

Need to know:

azhar park cairo

Tickets: 25 EGP per adult and 30 EGP per adult on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays).

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 10 pm.

On Google Maps: 27R7+8V5

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.

13. National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC)

national museum of egyptian civilization

Photo: Roland Unger, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This new state-of-the-art museum boasts 20 royal mummies and a vast collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt through the 19th century.

NMEC’s collection tells the story of Egyptian civilizations from pre-historic to Ancient Egyptian, through the Coptic and Islamic periods.

It does not replace the museum in Tahrir, which still holds the world’s largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts.

But it’s very much worth seeing for a sweeping overview of Egyptian history.

The Mummies Hall is the museum’s crown jewel and contains 20 royal mummies of ancient kings and queens. The hall is below ground and dimly lit to preserve the mummies.

The museum is easy to navigate and labelled well. There’s also audio tours available (for 30 EGP), so you don’t really need a physical tour guide.

Need to know:

Tickets: 200 EGP per adult, and an additional 50 EGP if you’re bringing a camera. Note that photography isn’t allowed in the Mummies Hall.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Also open Friday evenings from 6 pm to 9 pm.

On Google Maps: 265X+78

Nearby: Coptic Cairo and all its attractions are about a 15-minute taxi away.

14. Downtown Cairo

downtown cairo generali

baehler passage 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.

And downtown is also going through a renaissance with lots of restoration projects and new trendy cafes and boutiques.

Don’t miss the abandoned Said Halim Palace with its eerie past, the Art Deco Baehler Passage arcade with its tiny boutiques.

Stop for lunch at the Eish & Malh, one of the earliest eateries to champion the rebirth of downtown, or the La Poire cafe in a restored Neo Baroque building.

Need to know:

downtown cairo tour

On Google Maps: 26VP+Q75 (Tahrir Square)

Nearby: Zamalek and the Cairo Opera House are just across the river, about a 15-minute walk away. The Abdeen Palace Museum is also right in downtown.

Things to do in Cairo at night:

15. Nile River

nile river cairo

Nile Zamalek Hotel Rooftop

Take in the beauty of Africa’s longest river with a sail down the Nile in a traditional felucca boat.

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.

Head to Pane Vino at the Intercontinental Cairo Semiramis for lunch on a terrace overlooking the Nile. It’s a casual Italian restaurant with great Neopolitan pizzas on the menu

For spectacular views over a few casual beers, the Nile Zamalek Hotel Rooftop has five-star views and does a gorgeous sunset too.

16. Abdeen Palace Museum

abdeen palace cairo

abdeen palace

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.

It’s a small and fascinating museum if you love history and you’re looking to get off the beaten path.

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 in the collection of gifts given to Egyptian leaders and presidents, including 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 funny quotes, cartoons and old U.S. campaign slogans.

Need to know:

abdeen palace museum

Tickets: 100 EPG per adult and 50 EGP for students. The entrance to the palace is on a small side street 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.

On Google Maps: 26VW+7VP

Nearby: The Egyptian Museum is a short taxi ride away or a 20-minute walk.

Unique things to do in Cairo:

17. The City of the Dead

city of the dead cairo

city of the dead cairo

City of the Dead, Egypt

This misunderstood district is surrounded by stereotypes – it’s allegedly filled with “criminals in hiding” and “people living among the graves.”

But if you’re looking for gorgeous medieval architecture, handmade crafts and authentic experiences, then better just ignore those stereotypes and see it for yourself.

The City of the Dead 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. Check MASQ’s Facebook page for upcoming events.

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.

Need to know:

city of the dead cairo

On Google Maps: 27VG+H2 (Qaytbay Mosque)

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.

18. Cave Church

cave church cairo

Photo: Sherif Louis Kamel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cave Church is a massive open-air Coptic church nestled deep inside a cave that blends a natural wonder with human ingenuity.

It’s also the heart of the local Christian community, many who work as waste collectors across the city and process and recycle the materials in dozens of workshops in this so-called “Garbage City.”

The church boasts a large amphitheater with a big stage with an alter, statues and icons. The walls of the church are adorned with reliefs of Biblical figures carved right into the mountain rocks.

Today, Manshiyat Nasr (to use the district’s actual name) is a tour group destination – and the recycling centers, churches and winding streets of this hillside community are fascinating to explore.

Need to know:

cave church cairo

Tickets: Free

On Google Maps: 27JG+3PW

How to get there: Although this neighborhood is crowded and poor, it’s a district of Cairo like any other and you don’t need a special guide to visit. Though if you want to explore the surrounding neighborhood or visit the recyclers, it’s better to hire a guide who knows their way around.

Nearby: Azhar Park and the Citadel are about a half hour taxi ride away.

Non-touristy things to do in Cairo:

19. Zamalek

things to do in zamalek cairo

things to do in zamalek cairo

things to do in zamalek cairo

This leafy, upscale district sits on an island just across from downtown Cairo – and it’s my favorite for cafe lunches with Nile views, boutique shopping and browsing art galleries.

I always recommend Zamalek as the best place to stay in Cairo: it has lots of expats, it’s convenient and easy to navigate.

Do some sightseeing at Aisha Fahmy Palace, a beautiful Nile-side gem built in the ornate Italianate style. The Cairo Opera House and its museums is also just a short walk away in Gezira, the other half of the island.

Try Zooba for lunch to sample all the Egyptian classics in a colorful and hip setting.

Head to Diwan to stock up on books from AUC Press on Egyptology and just about anything Egyptian. And stop by Fair Trade Egypt for a great selection of ethical and handmade Egyptian crafts.

Need to know:

things to do in zamalek cairo

On Google Maps: Zamalek

How to get there: Though the island is small enough to walk across if you like exploring. Keep in mind that traffic is always slow on the 26th of July Corridor so it’s better to walk if you’re headed down that street.

Nearby: Downtown Cairo is just across the river, and Gezira is on the other side of the island.

20. Cairo Tower

cairo tower

cairo tower

Ride to the top of this massive concrete tower for unbeatable 360-degree views of Cairo and the Nile – you can even see the pyramids on a clear day.

The Cairo Tower was built in the late 1950s in the shape of a lotus plant. It’s now one of Cairo’s most recognizable landmarks.

The 187-metre concrete tower is perched on Gezira Island. It has an open-air observation deck with telescopes where you can see downtown, the Citadel and more.

Go in the late afternoon for the clearest views.

For dinner with a gorgeous view, there’s the Revolving Gourmet restaurant at the summit offering international and oriental cuisine.

There are also two cafes where you can have a snack and take in the panoramas.

Need to know:

cairo tower

Tickets: 200 EGP per adult.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 1 am.

On Google Maps: 26WF+9P

Nearby: The district of Zamalek is within easy walking distance, and downtown Cairo is just across the bridge.

Non-touristy things to do in Cairo:

21. Heliopolis

heliopolis cairo

Heliopolis is a very underrated Cairo neighbourhood that boasts unique architecture, a fascinating history and charming shopping arcades and cafes.

The Baron Empain Palace (see below) is its most well-known landmark: a historic mansion inspired by Hindu temples.

But there’s lots more to discover in this affluent district.

Head to the Korba section of Heliopolis to start your tour – it’s where you’ll find all the historic buildings, quiet streets and cafes.

Don’t miss the Cathedral of Our Lady of Heliopolis in Ahram Square built in the Byzantine revival style – with the remains of the Baron Empain buried in a crypt underneath.

Have lunch at Tree Trunk cafe – a Bohemian chic bistro in a historic building with a breezy balcony stuffed with artwork, greenery and a few parrots.

Need to know:

heliopolis cairo

On Google Maps: Masr Al Jadidah

Nearby: There’s not much within walking distance – Historic Cairo and downtown are both about a 45-minutes taxi ride away. Though Heliopolis is very convenient if you’re looking for a place to stay that’s close to the airport.

22. Baron Empain Palace

baron empain palace

baron empain palace

This strange and fantastical mansion inspired by a Hindu temple is surrounded by urban legends. And it’s a real Cairo hidden gem built by an eccentric Belgian baron.

Filled with a cacophony of deities, elephants and Roman statues, the Baron Empain Palace is a real architectural smorgasbord.

Rumors say that a secret underground tunnel linked the palace to the baron’s crypt in the cathedral. More sinister tales said it’s haunted by the ghosts of the baron’s wife and daughter, both suspected suicides.

Today the Baron Empain Palace is surrounded by lush gardens and statues with a great little cafe on the grassy lawn.

There’s also a rooftop with sweeping views of Heliopolis.

The interior has ornate ceilings, chandeliers and a stunning spiral staircase. There’s also a well-labelled exhibit (in Arabic and English) about Empain and the history of Heliopolis.

Need to know:

baron empain palace

Tickets: 100 EGP per adult and 50 EGP for students. You’ll need a separate 50-pound ticket for the rooftop and another 50-pound ticket if you’re bringing a camera. All tickets are sold at the entrance – on the street on the left of the palace.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm.

On Google Maps: 38PJ+M48

How to get there: Take an Uber to the Baron Empain Palace or the metro to the Kolleyet El Banat station, about a 10-minute walk from the palace.

Nearby: Korba is within easy walking distance. The palace is also close (on the way) to the airport.

23. Manial Palace (aka Prince Muhammad Ali Palace)

manial palace cairo

manial palace cairo

This opulent palace built by a 20th-century prince boasts dozens of sumptuous rooms – and wonderful gardens filled with rare and exotic plants.

With its blend of wonderful nature and palatial architecture, Manial Palace is a real underrated Cairo hidden gem. It offers a rare look at the lifestyle of a 20th-century Egyptian prince.

The rooms are packed with Orientalist paintings, furniture, textiles, silver, objects d’art and stunning ceramic tiles.

Don’t miss the Blue Salon with its leather sofas and striking blue tiles and Orientalist paintings.

Head to the Throne Hall for some over-the-top gold styling – all built by the prince who never actually ascended the throne (a revolution thwarted his plans).

The gardens are the real delight – they include jasmine, gargantuan trees, Mexican cacti and rare tropical plants collected by the prince.

Need to know:

manial palace cairo

Tickets: 100 EGP per adult and 50 EGP for students. There’s an additional 50-pound ticket if you’re bringing a camera.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

On Google Maps: 26HJ+H2

Nearby: The Nilometer is on the same island and about a 15-minute taxi ride away.

24. Nilometer

nilometer cairo

nilometer cairo

This ancient instrument that once measured the level of the Nile River (and predicted droughts and floods) is a hidden gem on the tip of Rhoda Island.

And you can view the full length of this grandiose column by descending a narrow winding stairway all the way to the bottom.

The Nilometer was built in 861 and it’s one of Cairo’s oldest structures. It’s topped by an elegant reconstructed dome (the French destroyed the original during their invasion of Egypt).

Before the Aswan Dam managed the river, the Nilometer predicted the water levels. Only Ancient Egyptian priests were allowed to access the mysterious instrument.

Plan your visit:

nilometer cairo

  • Don’t miss the kufic inscriptions on the upper reaches of the well. They’re the oldest Arabic inscriptions recorded in Egypt.
  • Take a minute to wander the grounds. The Nilometer is surrounded by greenery and has beautiful views of the Nile.
  • A guard will accompany you to the Nilometer as it’s kept shut between visits.

Need to know:

Tickets: 40 EGP per adult and 20 EGP for students.

Hours: Open from 9 am to 5 pm.

On Google Maps: 264G+Q26

Nearby: Just next door is the Manasterly Palace and the Umm Kulthum Museum, where you’ll find curiosities from the life and times of the iconic Egyptian singer. Manial Palace is about a 15-minute taxi ride away.

25. Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Photos: Prof. Mortel (top) and Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (bottom) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the world’s best for artifacts from across the Islamic world – from rare woodwork and plaster to wonderful ceramics and textiles.

It’s a real hidden gem with thousands of artifacts from across Egypt, North Africa and the Islamic world.

The museum is well-labelled and never gets too crowded. It’s a great spot to dive deeper into Islamic history and art.

The left wing has thematic exhibits with objects from the Islamic world on topics like science, astronomy, calligraphy and coins.

Don’t miss a Mamluk-era key to the Kaaba in Mecca and a textile with the world’s oldest Kufic inscription.

Need to know:

Museum of Islamic Art

Photo: Prof. Mortel, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tickets: 120 EGP per adult and 60 EGP for students. Audio tours are available for 30 EGP.

Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Shuts on Friday afternoon from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm (for Friday prayers).

On Google Maps: 27V3+V3

Nearby: There’s not much within walking distance, though the Abdeen Palace is a short taxi ride away.

What to eat in Cairo

cairo best restaurants

Cairo excels at carb-rich street food like falafel and koshari.

To sample the Egyptian classics, head to reliable chain GAD (with locations around the city) for cheap and delicious falafel (or taamiya in Egypt) and bean (ful) sandwiches.

Koshari is Egypt’s (vegan) national dish – a mix of pasta, rice and lentils topped with tomato sauce, garlic vinegar, chickpeas and fried onions. Dive in at chains like Tom and Basal or Koshary El Tahrir for the best.

For fine dining, head to InterContinental Cairo Semiramis (pictured above) for some of the city’s best Thai and Italian restaurants with Nile views.

Where to stay in Cairo

mena house giza

Zamalek should be your top choice. This leafy, upscale district sits on an island on the Nile just across from downtown Cairo. It has lots of expats and it’s easy to navigate. And it’s got plenty of Egyptian history and authentic experiences.

Downtown is noisy and crowded, but you can’t beat the location for easy access to the Egyptian Museum, Historic Cairo and Giza.

Maadi is a leafy and quiet middle-class suburb that’s a good choice for families with lots of shopping and great restaurants along Road 9.

Read Where To Stay In Cairo (A Local’s Guide) for more.  

Cairo also boasts some incredible hotels if you’re looking to treat yourself to Nile or pyramid views.

Head to the Cairo Marriott or the Intercontinental Cairo Semiramis for great restaurants and sweeping views of the Nile River.

In Giza, the Mena House (pictured above) is epic for its historic charm and pyramid views.

How to get around Cairo

townhouse gallery cairo

Use Uber or the local equivalent Careem to get around everywhere cheaply and hassle-free. Avoid the white street taxis entirely, especially if you speak no Arabic. They’ll upcharge you and/or rig their meter – especially if you don’t know the city. I don’t use anything except Careem myself.

The metro is fine, but it’s not very extensive and it doesn’t stop at most attractions. Exceptions include Coptic Cairo, which is right next door to the Mar Girgis station, and the Egyptian Museum and downtown, which is right at the Sadat station. Off the beaten path spots like The Cairo Tower and Heliopolis also have nearby metro stations.

Is 3 days in Cairo enough?

If you only have 24 hours in Cairo, I’d recommend heading to the pyramids in the morning and finishing off at the Khan el Khalili souq in the evening for a manageable itinerary.

But 3 days in Cairo is perfect if you want to explore more of the city and its history, mosques and museums.

Is Cairo safe?

Kasr El Nil Bridge cairo

This is always an interesting question for me – as an expat who considers Los Angeles or Paris much more dangerous than Cairo. But I get it: bombings grab many more headlines than your standard drive-bys, school shootings and muggings. For a realistic look, read this Travel Safety Ranking that gives Egypt an average C for safety compared to C- for the U.S. and a scary D- for China.

When to visit Cairo:

The colder months from around September to May are best for sightseeing in comfort. The summer months from June to August are hot and humid and will leave you panting on longer walking tours.

Do you need a tour guide?

You should absolutely get a tour guide for the pyramids, to navigate through those notoriously aggressive vendors. I also recommend a guide for the Egyptian Museum because it’s hardly labelled, and for Khan el Khalili if you really want to absorb all the history there.

The less touristy districts like “Garbage City” and the “City of the Dead” are also easier to navigate with a guide (unless you’re a seasoned traveler). For everything else, you’re fine on your own.



    I am travelling to Cairo, Egypt with my sister in early December to honour our mother’s birthplace, and I found your outline extremely helpful! I so hope that the GEM will be open to the public by then. 🙂

    Thank you.

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