Things to do in Cairo

Things to do in Cairo

It may surprise you to know that there are plenty of fascinating places to visit in Cairo that aren’t just the Pyramids of Giza. You can go mosque and church hopping, shop in one of the oldest markets in Egypt and eat delicious food. 

A lot of people told us that we would hate Cairo but actually, we loved it! At times Cairo is frustrating and exhausting but when you lean in it rewards you a thousand times over! 

In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Cairo. We stayed for 5 days in Cairo. 

How to get there 

You can fly to Cairo from most big cities. We got there by bus from Hurghada which took around 6 hours. 
You can also get there by bus, train, or car from other cities in Egypt. 

Where to stay

We stayed at the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino which we recommend. It is a beautiful hotel and the location is great.

How to get around 

The cheapest and easiest way to get around Cairo is with Careem. Don’t take taxis, they will want to be your guide for the day and bring you to shops to buy souvenirs which they will make a commission from. 

The Pyramids of Giza

One of the ancient mysteries that captured the hearts of people all over the world and is on many people’s bucket list is visiting the Pyramids of Giza. 

This area on the edge of Cairo makes a great half-day visit. You can read more about visiting the Pyramids of Giza here

Islamic Cairo 

Islamic Cairo is the historic heart of Cairo. This area contains one of the largest collections of historic architecture in the Islamic world. Here you can find mosques, madrassas, fortifications, and tombs dating from the Islamic era of Egypt ( 639 to the early 16th century). 

In 1979, Islamic Cairo became a World Cultural Heritage Site. 

This area is full of things to see and do. You could spend days wandering the streets in Islamic Cairo.

 The highlights: 

  • Salah El-Din Citadel 
  • Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatima Street
  • Bab Zuweila
  • Khan el-Khalili
  • Ibn Tulun Mosque
  • Al-Azhar Mosque
  • Al-Azhar Park
  • Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Al-Rifa’i Mosque
We recommend you to at least take a full day to visit Islamic Cairo. Islamic Cairo can feel chaotic and overwhelming, but the sights, the food, and the people make this the most interesting part of Cairo. 

Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan 

Constructed during the mid-14th century, the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan is one of the largest mosques in the world and is home to some remarkable architectural achievements for its age. 

As enormous as this Muslim place of worship is, it is equally elegant. It was built between 1356 and 1363 by Sultan Hassan. Sultan Hassan took the throne at the age of 13, and was deposed and reinstated no less than three times, then assassinated shortly before the mosque was completed. 

Beyond the entrance, a dark passage leads into a peaceful square courtyard surrounded by four iwans (vaulted halls).  The iwans are home to the madrassas or education centers of the four Sunni Islam schools of thought: Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali. 

Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 80 LE per person. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Al-Rifa’i Mosque

The contemporary Al-Rifa’i Mosque stands opposite its historic counterpart, the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. This place of worship was built over 43 years, finally being completed in 1912. Constructed as part of the 19th-century Egyptian ruler’s plan to both modernize the capital city and embrace the glory years of Egypt’s Islamic history, the mosque’s design is particularly influenced by Mamluk architecture. 

Members of modern Egypt’s royal family, including Khedive Ismail and King Farouk, are buried inside. 

Al-Rifa’iMosque is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is included in the ticket for the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Salah El Din Citadel

The Citadel of Saladin is a medieval Islamic-era fortification built by Salah ad-Din and further developed by Egyptian rulers. It was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Its location on the Mokattam hills commands a strategic position overlooking the city and dominating its skyline. 

In 1976, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

 The highlights: 

  • Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque
  • The Mosque of Muhammad Ali 
  • The views from the terrace 

As you walk around Cairo, you will see the citadel from almost everywhere, because of its location on the Mokattam hills. 

Salah El Din Citadel is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 200 LE per person. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque

The mosque of Al-Nasir Muhammad was built in 1318 during his third and longest reign as the royal mosque of the Citadel. It was highly cherished by Mamluk sultans and used by the Mamluk occupants of the Citadel. 

The mosque was used as storage and prison during the British occupation. This led to its destruction, but it was restored in 1848.

Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance is included in the citadel ticket. 

Mosque of Muhammad Ali 

The main attraction of the citadel is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. The mosque was completed in 1857 and is modeled after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. 

The Muhammad Ali Mosque is also called the Alabaster Mosque because of the shining marble which covers its inner and outer walls. 

The clock tower in the courtyard was given to Egypt by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845. In return, the obelisk that originally stood at the entrance of the Luxor Temple now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris.

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance is included in the citadel ticket. 

Gawhara Terrace

While at the Citadel, make sure you visit Gawhara Terrace for one of the best views over the city! From here you have a beautiful view over Islamic Cairo and on a clear day, you will be able to see the Pyramids of Giza. 

Al-Azhar Mosque 

Founded in 970 as the centerpiece of the newly created Fatimid city, Al Azhar is one of Cairo’s oldest and main mosques. The building is a harmonious blend of architectural styles. The passing of the centuries and the different historical periods in Egypt left their mark on the mosque, which grew and changed according to the rulers and influences. 

A madrassa was established here in 988, growing into a university that is the world’s second-oldest educational institution. 

The Al-Azhar Mosque is open daily and the entrance is free. Don’t forget to be respectful! 

Khan El-Khalili

One of the most famous grand bazaars in Cairo, Khan El-Khalili is an ancient trade center that dates all the way back to the 16th century. Here you can shop for souvenirs and find some nice cafes to enjoy a cup of tea.  

Khan El-Khalili is open daily from 9 am till sundown. The most interesting time to visit Khan-El-Khalili is around 6 pm. There will be a lot more people at the market and it will feel much more alive than in the morning. 

Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Al-Fatima Street 

Also called Al-Muizz, this is one of the oldest streets in Cairo. It runs north-south through Islamic Cairo and it contains some of the most important monuments of Islamic Cairo. 

Along this street, you can find madrassas, mosques, antique shops, markets, and hammams. 

Walking Al-Muizz was one of our favorite experiences in Cairo. Yes, it’s noisy and chaotic, but the people are friendly, the street food is delicious, and walking down one of the oldest streets in Cairo is an unforgettable experience! 

The Madrassa and Mausoleum of Qaluim are one of the most beautiful complexes on this street. 

Bab Zuweila

Built in the 11th century, Bab Zuweila was an execution site during Mamluk times. Today it’s the only remaining southern gate of the old city. 

For a spectacular view of Islamic Cairo and Al-Muizz street, you can climb both of the minarets. 

Bab Zuweila is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 40 LE per person. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Tentmakers Market

Directly after Bab Zuweila, you can find the Tentmakers  Market. This street is one of the remaining medieval specialty quarters. It takes its name from the artisans who produce the bright fabrics used for the ceremonial tents at wakes, weddings, and feasts. They also hand-make wall hangings, cushion covers, carpets, and bedspreads. We bought some beautiful carpets for our apartment here. 

The Tentmakers Market is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm. 

Ibn Tulun Mosque  

The Ibn Tulun Mosque is the city’s oldest intact, functioning Islamic monument. It was built between 876 and 879 by Ibn Tulun, who was sent to rule the outpost of Al Fustat in the 9th century by the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad. 

It is built around an open square courtyard which allows natural light to travel through. You can climb the minaret for a beautiful view over the mosque. 

The Ibn Tulun Mosque is open daily from 8 am – 4 pm and the entrance is free. 

Al-Azhar Park

Al-Azhar is a quiet green space. It’s a great place to go for a walk and escape the chaos of Islamic Cairo. It is also one of the best spots to watch the sunset. 

Al-Azhar Park is open daily from 9 am – 10 pm and the entrance is 10 LE per person.  

Coptic Cairo 

Coptic Cairo is located in Old Cairo in the southern part of the city. The first settlements here date back to the 6th century BC. Many of the places to visit here originate from Egypt’s Christian past. 

The highlights: 

  • Hanging Church 
  • Church of St. George
  • The Coptic Museum
  • Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus
Visiting Coptic Cairo will take at least a half-day. 

Church of St. George

St. George is one of the region’s most popular Christian saints. A  Palestinian conscript in the Roman army, he was executed in 303 for resisting Emperor Diocletian’s decree forbidding the practice of Christianity. 

The church dates back to the 10th century. The current structure was rebuilt after a fire in 1904.

The Church of St. George is open daily from 8 am – 4 pm. The entrance is free. 

Coptic Museum

This museum, founded in 1908 houses Coptic Art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt right through to early Islam. It is a beautiful place, as much for the elaborate woodcarving in all the galleries as for the treasures they contain. These include sculptures that show obvious continuity from the Ptolemaic period; rich textiles, and walls of monastery frescoes. 

The Coptic Museum is open daily from 8 am – 4 pm. The entrance is 100 LE per person. 

The Hanging Church

The Hanging Church, also known as Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. It is named for its position above a gatehouse of the Babylon Fortress, the Roman Fortress in Cairo. This is the most famous church in Coptic Cairo. 

The Hanging Church is open daily from 8 am – 4 pm. The entrance is free. 

Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus

This is believed to be the place where the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Christ) are said to have taken shelter after fleeing to Egypt to escape persecution from King Herod of Judea, who had embarked upon a massacre of the firstborn. 

The Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus is open daily from 8 am – 4 pm. The entrance is free. 

Cave Church

The Monastery of Saint Simon, also known as the Cave Church is located in the Mokattam hills of Cairo. This church can hold up to 20 000 people, making it the largest church in the Middle East. 
 
The Cave Church is open daily from 9.30 am – 7.30 pm. The entrance is free. 

Garbage City 

To get to the Cave Church, you will have to drive through Garbage City. Garbage City is named for the large number of garbage collectors who live here. Called the Zabbaleen, these are the descendants of farmers who migrated to Cairo from Upper Egypt in the 1940s fleeing poverty and poor harvests. They settled in the Mokattam hills and began sorting trash as a way to make money. Over the years the population has grown to at least 30 000 people, an entire community that sorts trash. The majority of the Zabbaleen are Coptic Christians. 

Extremely narrow roads wind their way up to the Cave Church. This is a busy place, as trucks filled with trash arrive from all parts of the city. Rubber, metal, paper, and plastic are all sorted and packaged together, and later sent to China and other places to be used in the manufacturing of new materials. 

It may be a hard, dirty, unhealthy way of life, but everything has value and gets recycled and reused. 

Explore Downtown Cairo

In downtown Cairo, you will find budget accommodation and cheap eating options. It’s busy during the day but after dark, it is packed with locals and tourists coming out to eat, shop, and play. Wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere of downtown Cairo is fun! 

Try Koshary

Koshary or Koshari is Egypt’s national dish. It is popularly found on the streets and served in carts and restaurants. It is a layering of rice, macaroni, lentils, and chickpeas topped with tomato sauce, garlic, vinegar, and fried onions. Koshary is one of the cheapest and most filling meals in Egypt.

You can find the best Koshary at Abu Tarek in Cairo. 

Qasr El Nil Bridge

This is the first bridge to span the Nile River in Cairo. It connects Tahrir Square with Gezira Island. 

It is always vibrant with street vendors selling roasted nuts and the music of boats passing along the river. We loved hanging out here in the evening. 

Egyptian Museum 

The Egyptian Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Egyptian artifacts. Large statues, mummy coffins, tombs, and sphinxes,… but the highlight is Tutankhamun’s tomb collection including his golden mask. 

the Egyptian Museum is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm. The entrance fee is 200 LE per person. 

Cairo Tower

For the best view over Cairo, visit the Cairo Tower in Zamalek. From here you have beautiful views over the city. On a clear day, you can see the Pyramids of Giza. We recommend you go around sunset. 

The Cairo Tower is open daily from 9 am – midnight. The entrance fee is 200 LE.

Explore Zamalek 

From designer boutiques and art galleries to hip eateries and historical gems, Zamalek was our favorite area in Cairo. 

We recommend you have dinner at Zooba. We had a delicious Hawawshi there. You can find more dishes to eat in Egypt here

Day-trip to Saqqara and Dashur 

Saqqara was the necropolis of the city of Memphis. It is there that you can see the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser and the oldest complete stone building complex in the world. You can read more about Saqqara here

Dashur is an ancient, royal necropolis that is located 40 km south of Cairo. 

Dashur is where the ancient Egyptians perfected their pyramid-constructing skills. It is here that several of the first pyramids were built. You can read more about Dashur here

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