Cairo is one of the most historically profound metropolises on the planet, and if you’re trying to hit every World Wonder on your bucket list, you can’t leave out the Pyramids of Giza! But Egypt’s capital doesn’t only have its grand ancient necropolis to offer, but so much more. Here is a travel guide on what to see and do within a day’s time in Cairo. After spending 12 hours visiting this city’s greatest attractions, you can definitely say you’ve been to Egypt, and you’ll be sure to want to come again!
Pyramids of Giza
As mentioned above, Cairo is highly built on its ancient advances and mysterious past. The Pyramids of Giza have traced back in our popular culture for ages now, and made a strong impact in all of to want to visit this incredible landmark. All people from historical nerds to movie fanatics have placed the Pyramids of Giza high up on their list. Though technically Giza is a separate governorate from Cairo, in recent years, Egypt has actually joined the two together in Cairo’s expansion, which has made transportation to and from Giza really easy. It’s about a 30 minute drive from downtown Cairo by taxi but now, there are other affordable ways to get to the pyramids if you’re staying within downtown Cairo.
There are only a short few months in the year (November to February) when the weather is warm and mild, so most of the year, the sun is beating down hard in Egypt. This is why I’d suggest starting your day early and visiting the pyramids when the site opens (7am April to September and 8am October to March). It would also be an advantage against the crowds of tourists pouring through here every day. Visiting the dry desert in the open heat under the sun is always going to be more comfortable either in the morning or evening. The evening experience of the pyramids is also drastically different than in the day. Most people spend their entire day at the pyramids, but for our intentions and purposes of seeing the city in 12 hours, you could make plans to come back at night if you can squeeze in the time!
There are many pyramids sprawled across Egypt (over 100!), but the Pyramids of Giza are one of the seven World Wonders the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx are what people come here for. One thing to watch out for as this UNESCO site is one heck of a tourist hub, is the scamming. When you get close to arriving at the entrance, you’ll be told by your taxi driver (if that is the mode of transport you took) that the only way to the entrance is by horse carriage. This is in fact not true, but the reason they say this is because the taxi driver and horse owners work in conjunction with each other to help each other make a profit. My family and I fell for this, or we felt we had no choice as we arrived somewhere where we had no idea where the entrance was. There weren’t any regrets as we did get ride on the horse carriage throughout the site instead of experiencing it by foot in the dead of summer, but this is something to watch out for if you want to see the site on your own terms. Watch out for the “guides” at the entrance telling you it’s illegal to tour the pyramids without one. This is also completely untrue.
If you’re like me, this might just be the first time you get to meet camels and they’re one of the cutest, most humorous animals! They love to pose for you and are incredibly gentile. If you want to enjoy the tour of the pyramids on the back of a camel, you sure can!
After a decent morning seeing and touring one of the seven Wonders of the World, you’ll need to visit the heart of Cairo and see for yourself what Egyptian life and culture is all about. A notable experience in the Middle East is visiting the bazaars. Turkey and Iran are known for these local street markets, but so is Egypt. After all, Cairo has been around since 2600 BC and has been a central hub for trade and commerce for millennia.
The most famous bazaar in Cairo is the Khan el-Khalili, at the historic centre of the city. It was established as a trade centre during the Mamluk era (1250-1517) and has become a widely known tourist attraction today. You’ll see stores selling anything from suitcases to dresses (pictured below), and decor to camel meat (yikes!). When I saw the camel hooves strung up at the store fronts in broad daylight (not refrigerated either, mind you), I couldn’t help thinking of the little guy pictured above. But it was pretty amazing to feel myself walking the streets built so long ago and viewing the actions that have been embedded in Egyptian culture in ancient times.
Khan el-Khalili is a great place to grab a late lunch for the day before heading to other parts of the city.
Since Egypt is predominantly Muslim, there are beautiful mosques in every corner of Cairo. The Al-Azhar mosque is directly across the street from Khan el-Khalili which makes it easy to take in its site while you’re visiting the bazaar. As a Christian, I like to admire the architecture of historical places of worship of other religions from the outside and just marvel at the great technological advances of the civilization at the time. Though under construction when we visited Cairo in 2017, the Al-Azhar mosque still remained something to wow at.
The Nile is one of the largest waterways on the planet and was what gave rise to Egypt’s civilization due to the river’s fertility. It was what lead all these great ancient cities to be built in the first place and provided them with a strong foundation in commerce. Today, the Nile is home to many archeological sites near its shores – including the Pyramids of Giza. In Cairo specifically, there are many attractions and activities a tourist can see or do along the river (even on the river!). Some of the top landmarks include the Egyptian Museum, Prince Mohamed Ali Palace (Al Manial Palace), the Cairo Opera House and the intricate Cairo Tower. To end the day, a drive along each side of the river and onto Qasr al-Nil Bridge (where this photo was taken) would be ideal with stops at the Cairo Tower and the Tahrir Square. And of course, if you choose to go back to the Pyramids to experience it at night, just note that its closing time is at 5pm October to March at 7pm April to September!
Enjoy this marvellous and ancient city and all its sites and cultural activities!