The Best Things to See and Do in Cairo, Egypt

The mysterious Sphinx is a must-visit on your trip to Cairo
The mysterious Sphinx is a must-visit on your trip to Cairo | © Konstantin Kalishko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Andreea Pavaloiu
4 September 2021

The crowds in Cairo may make Manhattan look like a ghost town, but it’s a small price to pay to experience the energy of the city Egyptians know as Umm ad Dunya – the Mother of the World. Use our guide to discover modern Egypt as you’ve never seen it before.

The Pyramids of Giza

Historical Landmark
The Pyramids of Giza
© Edwin Remsberg / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s no other city in the world where modern architecture is topped by such a magnificent 4,000-year-old complex of royal pyramids, temples and causeways. Any trip to the Egyptian capital must start with these majestic creations. They go from Menakaure, the smallest pyramid, through to Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest, to the Great Pyramid of Giza, commissioned by the pharaoh Khufu. To avoid the smog, head down in the afternoon. Interested in visiting? You can do so with Culture Trip on our epic 10-day Egypt tour, led by our local insider.

The Sphinx

Archaeological site
The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, Egypt.
© Anton Aleksenko / agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

A short drive to the city side of the Giza Plateau, on the west bank of the Nile, takes you to the feet of the Sphinx, a symbol of Ancient Egypt. The mysterious structure – with a lion’s body and a human’s head – has been looming over Giza for thousands of years, now guarding the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. It has inspired emperors, poets, artists, scholars and travellers for centuries and remains an enigmatic feature of Cairo.

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

mummy room, The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
© B.O'Kane / Alamy Stock Photo
In the centre of Cairo, just outside Tahrir Square, is the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities – one of the many museums in the city exploring the glorious past of Egypt. A must-see while in town, the museum houses a collection of more than 120,000 Ancient Egyptian artefacts. Take time to browse the museum chambers, dedicated to some of the most prosperous Egyptian dynasties, and to discover what life was like during the reign of the pharaohs.

Old Cairo

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Aerial view of Old Cairo city from Salah Al Deen Citadel (Cairo Citadel) with Al Sultan Hassan and Al Rifai Mosques, Cairo, Egypt
© Khaled ElAdawy / Alamy Stock Photo

This 1mi (0.6km) stretch of Cairo is the oldest settlement in the region, and combines Islamic, Christian and Jewish histories. Take in the warren of narrow streets to find yourself at a cultural and religious crossroads. Discover the Amr Mosque, the first mosque built in Cairo; the Ben Ezra Synagogue, dating back to the ninth century; and some of the oldest churches in the world, such as the fourth-century Church of St Sergius or the third-century Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary.

The Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary

Inside view of the Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church. Also known as the Hanging Church.
© Carol Carpenter / Alamy Stock Photo

Built on the ruins of two old towers from the Fortress of Babylon, this rustic church has heavy doors inlaid with ebony and ivory, and marble pillars. It was once the residence of the Coptic patriarchs of Alexandria, as well as the place to host synods that determined when Easter should be celebrated.

The Khan el Khalili Bazaar

People shop in the Khan El Khalili Bazaar
© Nico Tondini / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Step into Medieval Cairo, an area also known as Islamic Cairo, for a trip into the land of spices, luxury fabrics and perfume. The area displays several monuments and mosques from the Islamic period, but the star attraction is undoubtedly the Khan el Khalili market, established in the 14th century. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs; if one merchant doesn’t have what you’re looking for, they’ll happily find somebody who does. Don’t forget to haggle, though! You’ll have the chance to explore the Khan el Khalili bazaar with a small group of like-minded travellers on our specially curated 10-day Egypt tour.

Al-Azhar Mosque

Building, Mosque, University
A view of the Al Azhar Mosque courtyard
© Diego Fiore / Alamy Stock Photo
Built in 970CE, Al-Azhar is one of the newer mosques in Cairo and its Grand Imam is considered the highest theological authority among Egyptian Muslims. The building expanded several times over that 1,000-year period, thus becoming a harmonious blend of architectural styles. It has three minarets dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, while the central courtyard is the oldest part. The building also hosts the second-oldest university in the world (founded in 988CE), which has a large, modern campus and is the most prestigious place to study Sunni theology.

The Coptic Museum

The elaborate front of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, with small gardens in front
© Victor Jiang / Alamy Stock Photo
The charm of Cairo derives greatly from its mishmash of religions and cultures – and this museum stands testimony to that. Founded in 1908, it houses Coptic art, going from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt through to early Islam. The galleries contain sculptures that show traces of the Ptolemaic period, rich textiles and entire walls of monastery frescoes. The first floor hosts the oldest book of psalms in the world, the Psalms of David, with two original wooden covers.

Cairo Tower

The Cairo Tower rises above the Nile
© Sergii Kolesnyk / Alamy Stock Photo
Commissioned in 1961 as a stylised lotus plant, this 187m (600ft) tower has 360-degree views best enjoyed late in the morning, after the city smog below has disappeared. You can book a table at the Sky Garden cafe, which sits one floor below the observation deck and offers great dinner-time panoramas.

Cruise on the Nile

Natural Feature
A cruise boat floats down the river Nile
© Yakov Oskanov / Alamy Stock Photo

No trip to Cairo is complete without a trip on the mighty Nile. You can choose between floating restaurants and nightclubs and cruise boats, but nothing really compares to a relaxing and rewarding river experience on board a felucca. Come dusk, when the call to prayer echoes around Cairo, board one of these traditional sailing boats and experience the marvellous serenity only the Nile can offer. Sailing down the same river Cleopatra did so many centuries ago is a real treat.

These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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