Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is a bustling metropolis that sits on the banks of the River Nile. Home to an estimated 22 million people, the city has more recently expanded into a sprawling jumble of modern buildings, ancient landmarks and winding roads.
Many tourists fly into Cairo primarily for the pyramids of Giza. One of the world’s ancient wonders, the impressive site sits on the outskirts of the capital and welcomes 14 million tourists each year. Most then quickly head to other regions such as Luxor, Alexandria or the Red Sea.
Landmarks such as the pyramids are testament to Cairo’s ancient heritage, but the capital has much more to offer – including some contemporary surprises. A few days in Cairo will unlock a whole range of cultural sites, diverse neighbourhoods and colourful markets, and with airlines continuing to launch or expand direct flight routes, now is the ideal time.
We’ve rounded up the best things to do in Cairo, including where to stay and top restaurants for embracing Egypt’s culture. Here’s how to make the most of any trip to “the city of a thousand minarets”.
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Best things to do in Cairo
Explore the pyramids of Giza
The pyramids are jaw-dropping feats of craftsmanship that still hold many mysteries. In the Giza Necropolis, there are three main pyramids, as well as several smaller ones, multiple burial sites and the Sphynx. Don’t miss the 20-minute trail that leads to a panoramic lookout of all the pyramids.
Most Cairo hotels offer tours that include transport, tickets and a guide. However, the cheapest way to visit the pyramids is to take a taxi (just 30 minutes from central Cairo) and pay the entry fee at the gate. Ticket prices will vary depending on how much of the Necropolis you want to visit.
When at the Necropolis, be cautious of tour guides selling entry tickets and tours at elevated prices. Avoid accepting camel or horse rides, as the animals might not be well-cared for.
Visit the Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum is the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East. It has more than 17,000 artefacts, including a collection of mummies and sarcophagi. It can get seriously busy, so try to arrive early.
Several delays slowed down the construction of the larger Grand Egyptian Museum. Touted as “Egypt’s new wonder in the making” this will be the biggest archaeological museum in the world; the latest reports say it’ll open towards the end of 2023.
Take a boat trip on the Nile
Sailing down the Nile in a felucca is a prime way to catch Cairo’s sunset. Trips on these wooden sailing boats can take several hours, and you can choose between basic excursions or luxury dining experiences. To arrange a felucca, head down to the banks of the River Nile. You can spot the boats docked close to the Four Seasons hotel in Garden City, or in Zamalek.
Best time to visit Cairo
For sunny days and pleasant weather, visit Cairo from October to November or from March to May.
During summer, temperatures can reach a sweltering 40C, which deters many from any outdoor sightseeing. However, this is also low season, offering a quieter experience for those willing to brave the heat.
Where to stay in Cairo
Zamalek, Downtown Cairo or Maadi are highly recommended neighbourhoods, as they have easy access to major tourist sites.
Holy Sheet Hostel
A popular choice among travellers, Holy Sheet Hostel is located minutes away from the Egyptian Museum and within reach of plenty of restaurants and cafes. The hostel features both female-only and mixed dorms, as well as private rooms.
Villa Belle Epoque
Located in Maadi, Villa Belle Epoque is a stunning boutique hotel boasting a blend of historical charm and modern comforts. The hotel is set in a beautiful, historic mansion and comes with a range of luxury rooms, several pools and restaurants.
Vintage boho private room on Airbnb
Airbnb is a popular choice in Cairo, and there are many modern rooms to choose from, such as this boho-style option in Downtown Cairo. Guests here can enjoy a peaceful stay in a double bedroom, with shared access to a kitchen, living space and balcony.
Marriott Mena House
Even if you don’t end up staying at the Marriott Mena House, it’s worth a visit to savour the breathtaking scenery while dining at the hotel’s restaurant. Who wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of the pyramids over breakfast?
Best cafes and restaurants in Cairo
Egyptian cuisine might not be all that well-known but visitors can unlock many delicious dishes during their stay. Cairo has a vibrant restaurant scene, and a mix of local and international plates that will satisfy most tastebuds.
One of the most famous spots in Cairo, this local haunt has been serving staple Egyptian koshary since the 1950s. Koshary is one of the national dishes, a mix of rice, noodles, fried onions and tomato sauce. Not only is it a must-try dish, but this is the place to sample it.
This cosy hole-in-the-wall is famed for its home-cooked, hearty Egyptian dishes. With a small, yet constantly changing menu, owner Somaya puts her heart and soul into making every meal delicious.
Sufi Cafe & Bookstore
Stepping inside Sufi instantly transports you to 1960s Cairo. This book-shop-turned-coffee-house boasts a number of cosy rooms where you can nestle in a corner, drink a coffee and get stuck into a good novel.
Those looking for panoramic views and delicious dishes should head to Estro. Located in the upscale neighbourhood of Maadi, this dining spot with Sicilian fare provides both delicious plates and affordable prices.
Best bars in Cairo
Not necessarily famed for its drinking culture, Cairo is packed full of hidden gems and has a thriving party scene – if you know where to look.
Cairo Jazz Club is a popular live-music venue known for its line-up of local and international acts as well as its laidback vibe. Other well-known drinking holes include Deals, Carol Bar and Harry’s Pub. To get a taste of truly local drinking culture, try the legendary El Horreya in Downtown.
For those looking for an escape from the busy city, try Odin the Pool House. Located in Uptown Cairo, although this upscale bar is a little out of the way, it comes with a cool aesthetic, DJs to match and a pool that’s perfect for an afternoon dip.
Where to shop in Cairo
The most famous place to shop is Khan al Khalili Market. The busy bazaar covers a wide array of winding streets and has a history that spans back to the 14th century. You can quickly get lost in the tight alleyways packed with trinkets, Arabian lanterns, gold and antiques. Take a break by stopping in one of the old cafes dotted about, where you’ll find local Egyptians drinking tea or smoking shisha pipes.
How to travel around Cairo
Navigating Cairo can sometimes feel challenging, and visitors should be prepared for heavy traffic. The majority of tourists avoid using the underground, unless accompanied by an Egyptian. The most affordable way to travel around the city is by Uber or inDrive.
What currency do they use?
Egyptian pound (EGP).
What language do they speak?
The main language spoken in Cairo is Arabic, but you can get by with English.
What to wear in Cairo
Women and men should wear loose-fitting clothes that cover their legs and shoulders.
How much should I tip?
Tipping isn’t expected in Cairo, but leaving some change is welcomed.
What’s the time difference?
What’s the average flight time from the UK?
Flights between London and Cairo take just over five hours.
What’s the best view?
Sunrise or sunset at one of the rooftops overlooking the pyramids.
Get used to haggling, as it’s part of Egyptian culture (try and have fun with it!).
Read more about the best Egypt holiday destinations