Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Cairo
| by Assia A. |
| Last Updated April 13, 2023 |
- This Destination Has a Free Tour offer
Cairo is an enormous city, and it’s filled with both charm and confusion for any first-time visitor. As beautiful as it is, Cairo can be overwhelming at times.
Cairo is often described as a city of extremes – its charm, its noise, its pollution, and its traffic are all over the place. But Egypt’s capital is a great place to explore, so look beyond the problems, and enjoy a first time in Cairo.
No trip to Egypt is complete without a stay in the city known to both Egyptians and Arabs as “Umm al-Dunya”. The main tourist attraction everyone is here to see is the Giza Pyramids, which are in the middle of the city, but the city itself is crammed with major monuments & tourist attractions spanning centuries of history.
With so many things to see and do in Cairo, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit them into one day. But don’t worry – we’ve put together a list of top tourist attractions in Cairo that might help you enjoy your trip.
The Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids of Giza are located in the Giza Plateau and are a must-see attraction for visitors of Cairo. They were built as tombs of three ancient Egyptian kings who ruled during the 4th Dynasty. These pyramids were designed and built by architects of the Old Kingdom period. The trip here is a not-miss even with the dust and the heat.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, or Pyramid of Khufu(Cheops), is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s the only Egyptian structure that has survived almost intact and is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest brick pyramid in the world, and it’s actually one of the most mysterious places on Earth.
Behind the pyramid, you can find the Solar Boat Museum, which features one of the ceremonial solar barques unearthed in the area that has been carefully restored to its original glory.
Heading south on the plateau, you will find the Pyramid of Khefre (Chephren), with a tunnel inside where you can venture in, and also you can see the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus).
Standing guard over these tombs the Great Sphinx—a creature with a lion’s body and a human head modeled after the pharaoh. It is one of the most iconic monuments from antiquity.
Egypt’s Giza Plateau will welcome a new attraction with the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum. It is opening is planned for November 2022, this will be the biggest museum in the world to exhibit Ancient Egypt’s antiquities, many of which have never been seen before.
The plateau is located on the western side of Giza’s suburbs, roughly 13 km southwest of the central city. Most people arrive by taxi, but it’s also accessible by an easy-than-you-think combo of taking the metro to Giza, and then hopping on a local minibus that drops you outside the entrance.
As the Giza pyramids area is usually a busy place full of visitors, many tourists prefer to buy a tour to see the area, the very common one is the Private Half-Day Tour, which includes pickup and drops off at your hotel, lunch, and a half an hour camel-ride.
Visit Saqqara and Dahshur
Saqqara and Dahshur enable visitors to enjoy an alternative pyramids experience to the pyramids in Giza. These two sites are about 30km south of Cairo and offer tourists a glimpse into ancient Egypt’s past.
The Step Pyramid in Saqqara is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Cairo, and the entire area is littered with beautifully decorated tombs that are worth visiting.
Saqqara is so large and its history so rich, the excavations here continue to unearth finds that make headline-grabbing news around the world. Just down the road in Dahshur you can visit the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid, which should definitely be on your to-do list!
The Egyptian Museum
The incredible collection of antiquities displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum makes it one of the world’s great museums. It is housed in the distinctive powder pink mansion in downtown Cairo and moved there in 1897 from its former location in Giza.
It is true that the collection is a bit poorly labeled and not well set out. It’s also not surprising that the exhibits are only a fragment of the entire collection of the museum holdings. Some artifacts have been moved to the new Grand Egyptian MuseumGEM which is planned to open in November 2022 and their cases are still empty, but the remaining pieces on display will definitely impress you and this is what makes the museum one of the top tourist attractions in Cairo.
If you’re short on time, go straight to the Tutankhamun Galleries, you will see the treasures found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, son-in-law and successor of Amenophis IV (later Akhenaten). The tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. It contains the largest and richest assemblage of grave treasures ever found intact in an Egyptian tomb.
The most interesting highlights include Tutankhamun’s death mask and sarcophagi (Room 3), the pharaoh’s lion throne (Room 35), and his enchanting wardrobe collection (Room 9).
Then you can head to Room 4 to check out the Egyptian jewelry collection which contains more luxury than you’ll ever see again in a lifetime.
The Tutankhamen Galleries will be moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Museum’s Royal Mummies Collection was transferred to the NMEC(National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations ) to better share out the vast amount of Egypt’s Pharaonic riches between Cairo’s museums.
Al-Azhar Mosque is an impressive example of early Fatimid architecture in Cairo. It’s also one of the oldest surviving mosques in Egypt and also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cairo, its construction was completed in AD 972.
Al-Azhar University was founded by Caliph El-Aziz in AD 988 and today, Al-Azhar University is still the leading theological center of the Islamic world.
The main entrance is the Barbers Gate on the northwestern side of the building adjoining the neo-Arab facade built by Abbas II.
You can take off your shoes at the entrance and walk into the central courtyard. To your right is the El-Taibar’s Medrese, which has a “mihrab” that dates back to 1309.
The central courtyard offers the best views of the mosque’s five minarets, which cap the building. Across the courtyard is the main prayer hall, exceeding a vast 3,000 square meters.
The first half in the front of the courtyard is part of the original building, the second half in the rear was added by Abd El-Rahman.
Al-Azhar mosque is located in the heart of the Islamic Cairo district and is a popular stop on tourist sites in Cairo. It is reachable from anywhere in Cairo, the easiest way is to take a taxi.
This part of old Cairo is full of twisty alleys is home to a lot of Coptic churches, it is located within the walls of Old Babylon Fortress built by the Roman Emperor Trajan.
The Coptic Museum here is home to a wealth of information on Egypt’s early Christian period and is home to one of Egypt’s finest collections of Coptic art.
Adjacent to the museum is the Hanging Church which was built in the 9th century and features some remarkable examples of Coptic architecture, it is founded in the fourth century, the church was originally built over the Roman gate towers, and was substantially rebuilt during the ninth century.
For many Christian travelers, the highlight of a visit to Coptic Cairo is the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, it is where a local legend claims that the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus, and sacred family sheltered here during King Herod’s massacre of male babies.
Just outside the Old City walls is the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As, which is the first mosque ever built in Egypt.
The Royal Mummies at NMEC
This is a different museum from most of Cairo’s other major museums, which focus their exhibits on one specific time period, the NMEC tells the whole story of Egypt’s human history under one roof. This includes all eras, from the ancient past to the modern-day.
The museum is a fascinating place to visit with a number of unique collections that make for some incredible experiences. The museum also has a brand-new exhibit, which is a first for the institution. It’s called the “Royal Mummies,” and it contains a number of impressive pieces.
Ramses II, Hatshepsut, Amenhotep I, and Seti I and II are some of the well-known names of the royal Egyptian mummies displayed in a specially designed gallery at the National Museum of Egypt (NMEC).
The NMEC is located in Fustat and is easy to combine with a trip to Coptic Cairo.
Experience the Maze of Khan el-Khalili
Khan el-Khalili (or “the bazaar of the caliphs”) is one of the world’s greatest shopping experiences. The souq’s mazy streets were established as a shopping district in AD 1400, which still rings with the clank of metal workers and silversmiths.
The main street focuses mainly on tourist stalls and shops with cheap papyrus pictures and plastic pyramids on display, but when you head off the main drag into the surrounding alleyways, the tiny shops and traditional old workshops are some of the best places to visit to pick up traditional products in Egypt. the range of the products here is from beautiful metal lampshades to locally woven textiles.
While here, visit the ancient city of Cairo’s most famous coffee shop. Fishawy is Egypt’s most famous coffee house, serving a mixture of traditional Arabic coffee and a unique sweetened tea.
For those interested in shopping, the main souq road is Al Muski Street (called Gawhar al-Qaid Street at its eastern end). The gold and silver workshops are mostly found just north of this street’s intersection with Al Muizz Li Din Allah Street, while the spice market section is just to the south.
The market is adjacent to the Sayyidna el-Husein Mosque which was built in 1792 to honor the prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
Panoramic Views from Cairo Citadel
The Citadel of Saladin in Cairo was originally built by the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in 1176 to defend the city against attacks from Crusader armies. In fact, he was so successful at building the defenses that he had to add on an additional wall to defend it. Over the years the Citadel has been renovated by various rulers, but today it is home to some of Egypt’s most notable ancient monuments.
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali is the most famous monument on the site. Nicknamed the “Alabaster Mosque”, it is a towering and beautiful structure, with its whitish, stone and tall, disproportionally slim minarets making it a landmark in Cairo.
One of the main reasons to come up here is the incredible panoramic scenery of the city when you go to the Gawhara Terrace for a spectacular view of the city.
Northeast of the Muhammad Ali Mosque is the El-Nasir Mosque, which was built in 1318-35 by Mohammed el-Nasir. The nearby buildings include the Police Museum, National Military Museum, and Royal Carriage Museum. All three of these buildings are worth the visit.
Sultan Hassan Mosque, an Example of Mamluk Architecture
The Sultan Hassan Mosque is an outstanding example of Mamluk architecture, it features Islamic artistry with a multitude of stalactite detailing and intricate arabesque, Completed in 1356-63, it was built for Sultan Hassan el-Nasir by architect Ali bin Sinan.
The massive main door at the north corner is almost 26 meters high and the minaret at the south corner is the highest in Cairo at 81.5 meters.
The main doorway leads into a domed hallway, right beyond it, there is a small antechamber and a corridor leading into the decorated open court. from there, will find an iron door leading into the sultan’s mausoleum where the stalactitic pendentives of the original dome still survive. In the center of the room is a simple rectangular-shaped sarcophagus.
Across the street from the Sultan Hassan Mosque is the El-Rifai Mosque, which was built in 1912 to be home to the tomb of Khedive Ismail. This mosque was constructed to replicate its older next-door neighbor, the Sultan Hassan Mosque.
It is also the final resting place of the Last Shah of Iran Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who died in Egypt in 1980 and is buried here.
Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum is now reopened after the restoration works have been finished, It was closed in 2014 as a result of an accident that damaged the building.
Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art is home to an impressive collection of Middle Eastern artistry. Egyptian, Ottoman tiles; Ayyubid ceramics; and even exquisite carpets all adorn the museum’s halls.
The exhibits also include intricate wall-hangings, ornate tiles, fine metalwork, wooden inlay work, delicate silk brocades, and many other artifacts that celebrate a rich history.
You can visit the beautifully crafted jewelry collection and the astronomy gallery which features stunning displays of ancient astrolabes and other sophisticated equipment. A visit here is a journey through the wealth of Islamic heritage.
The museum is located in the heart of Islamic Cairo, is a great place to get a quick taste of the city. As it sits near the edge of the district, it’s a good way to either begin or end your visit to the neighborhood. The Bab Zuweila is a few minutes away by foot once you’ve crossed a busy street.
Bab Zuweila is one of the largest gates of the Islamic Cairo district. It is considered to be the most interesting because you can climb to the top of the gate for amazing rooftop views. It is also the last standing gate of the old town’s southern gates with its 2 minarets.
The Sheikh al-Mu’ayyad Mosque and the Street of the Tentmakers are just a few steps from the gate. They’re famous that defining this ancient Egyptian capital. “Kahyameya” is the Street of the Tentmakers, where Egyptians buy their wedding and other special events fabrics in bulk.
Wander Al-Muizz Street
The north side of Al Mu’izz al-Din Allah Street is lined with the magnificent old stone buildings that once served as residences for the local elite. These are now being carefully restored, one by one, to their former grandeur. The Madrassa of Al-Salih Ayyub was built in 1247, and it still remains a pure example of the simple Islamic architecture for which this area is famous.
Across the road from the madrassa are the amazing ruins of Madrassa of Qalaun which was completed in 1293 by Qalaun’s son, Muhammad al-Nasir. With an interior packed to the brim with intricate tile work, fine marble, mother of pearl mosaics, and stained glass windows, it is rightly considered one of the Mamluk period’s greatest architectural achievements.
heading north on the street, you will find the Madrassa of Al-Nasser Mohammed with a lot of amazing decoration details, before arriving at the fabulous Egyptian Textile Museum with a collection that features the Pharaonic era right up to the Islamic period.
Ibn Tulun Mosque
Ibn Tulun Mosque is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Cairo, it was considered to be the largest one in the world when it was built.
The Main Court’s colonnades are lined with decorative stonework, including fragments of intricate frieze work. The court also boasts a series of narrow-fronted halls.
The main prayer hall is still holding on to fragments of its older decoration, and the mihrab here has remains of its original gold mosaic decoration. On the mosque’s northern side, there is the 40-meter-high minaret with a fine horseshoe arch over the entrance, and a spiral staircase circulating through the interior.
If you take the time to climb its 173 steps up to its upper platform, the views are superb: not only of the Mokattam hills to the east but also of the houses that surround it to the north and to the south.
Al-Azhar Park is located in the old district of Cairo. It was originally a garbage dump, but after it was reformed, it provides respite for the chaos that is Cairo’s streets.
It is an oasis in the heart of Cairo, with manicured gardens that provide a peaceful setting for people to escape the city’s bustling streets and traffic. And while they’re inside, you get an amazing view of the old city from here.
There are several restaurants on-site, so it’s the perfect spot to put your feet up after a long day of sightseeing. It’s the ideal spot to relax and unwind with a cup of tea, and it’s a great place for families with young children. The park is also very popular during the weekend, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re planning on going.
If you’re looking for an authentic taste of Cairo in the late 19th century, take a walk through downtown, the entire area is packed with glorious but ruinous 19th-century buildings, which must have appeared stunning when they were first erected, the best examples you can see are located in Talaat Harb Square.
On Al-Gumhuriya Street is the Abdin Palace, once the home of Egypt’s last khedives. The palace was erected in 1863 and continued construction for 10 years before finally being inaugurated in 1874 (by Abbas Hilmi II). Surrounded by a 24-feddan (Acres) garden, the French architect Léon Rousseau designed the whole palace with a team of other Egyptian and Italian architects. New wings were added in 1891 by architect Joseph Urban, Today the palace is one of the residences of the president of Egypt.
The former private apartments of the king, which include an amazing collection of paintings, ceramics, gold objects, and carpets, are open to the public as a museum. The rooms have been turned into a strange mix of exhibits and a place for visitors to interact with them.
Downtown Cairo is easily navigated by foot but not by car. However, if you don’t mind dodging the occasional road traffic, there are plenty of great things to do in the city center.
Nile Island District of Zamalek
Gezira Island is the home of the trendy district of Zamalek which has the best of art and beauty boutiques and hip restaurants.
The whole area has a European feel to it, with wide boulevards lined by trees and a selection of gloriously ornate Belle Époque mansions. Many of these are now house embassies.
Zamalek is one of Cairo’s top places to eat but there are also a few art galleries hidden away.
Gezira Fair Grounds houses the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art which has an excellent permanent collection of 20th-century Egyptian art, including works by the famous artists Mahmoud Said and Mahmoud Mukhtar.
The newly reopened Mahmoud Mukhtar Museum, located opposite Cairo Opera House in Cairo, houses a small collection of works by Egypt’s most famous sculptor, Mahmoud Mukhtar.
The Aisha Fahmy Palace is a great venue for art enthusiasts. If you’re not, don’t worry- its original 1907 style will still blow your mind. The rococo interiors, however, remain just as much a reason to come as the rotating art shows it now hosts, you can visit the place on 26th July Street in Zamalek.
Much of the southern sector of Gezira is taken up by the exclusive tennis courts and riding stables of the Gezira Sports Club. But towering over everything else is the 187-meter-high Cairo Tower, built in 1961 by President Nasser.
A sunset trip up the observation deck at dusk is a must. The setting sun and the changing colors on the horizon make the day an event to look forward to.
Cairo’s Remaining Nilometer
The largest of the three islands of Cairo is Roda Island, just south of Gezira Island. The island, which is home to the Monastirli Palace, was once the residence of an Ottoman pasha.
Unlike the Nilometers you will see in Upper Egypt (such as the surviving Nilometer on Elephantine Island), this one is a much later construction, was built in AD 861.
The Umm Khalthum museum is part of the palace grounds. It tells the story of the Egyptian diva, Umm Khalthum, who was one of the most famous singers in the Arab world in the 20th century, and her music can be heard in nearly every street in Egypt, from traditional coffee shops to taxis.
The museum holds a collection of the singer’s possessions, including her fabulous sequined stage costumes and a black and white documentary on her life narrated by Omar Sharif.
Outside of the palace, Roda Island has a little bit of history. This place has a number of buildings that are built to impress visitors, as well as old homes that represent early 20th-century architecture.
Ancient Heliopolis and El-Matariya
The ancient Egyptian town of Heliopolis (Oun) is one of the oldest cities in Egypt and has been a spiritual center since the Old Kingdom.
It’s a site that’s only really of interest to the most avid amateur archaeologists as there are scarce relics left of the town and Temple of Re-Harakhty, which once stood here. The town’s stones were repurposed over centuries to build Cairo.
All that remains is a solitary obelisk made of red Aswan granite standing at 20 meters high
The necropolis of Heliopolis is located about 5 kilometers east of the obelisk, it dates back to the Middle and the New Kingdom era. One of the notable features seen in Middle Kingdom tombs was the large numbers of weapons found as grave goods.
Not far from Heliopolis, you can find El-Matariya Church where it holds the so-called Virgin’s Tree, there is a local legend that features the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus when they supposedly stopped at El Matareya on their way into Egypt and took a rest against a tree, Mother Mary was provided with drinking water from a spring of fresh water, which is still watering the tree and the garden where it stands till today. it has been a sacred spot of pilgrimage for Coptic Christians for many centuries. They come to pray by it or touch it, believing that it will heal any illness they might have.
Day Trip to Al-Fayoum
The Al-Fayoum Depression, 112 km south of Cairo, is a lovely place to visit, providing plenty of natural beauty which will leave you wowed, there are also some great historic sites within the area.
The main attractions for wildlife watchers will be Lake Qarun and the Wadi Rayyan, where they can witness plentiful waterbirds, including flamingos.
For an overnight stay, you can find some interesting pottery in the artist village of Tunis. it is said that you can find Egypt’s finest pottery in the village and that’s why it is known as the number one choice for visitors.
Al-Fayoum is home to some tourist attractions including the ruins of Medinet Madi temple which dates back to the Middle Kingdom, and a group of pyramids. The best is the Pyramid of Meidum and the Pyramid at Hawara
Wadi al-Hittan is a UNESCO-listed desert valley that you should see when in Fayoum. It has fossils that go back 40 million years and remaining skeletons of whales from prehistory.
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