Egypt is definitely a fascinating country for many reasons and there are so many incredible sights to see. For most people, a trip to Egypt will start or end in the capital city of Cairo. We often think about our visit to Egypt as a tale of two trips with one being the cruise we took from Luxor to Aswan and the other being our time in Cairo itself. To make the most of your time in Cairo, it is best to spend at least 3 days traveling in and around the city. These are the top things to see during your time in Cairo.
The Giza Pyramid Complex – No visit to Cairo in Egypt would be complete without going to see the Great Pyramids. Although the Pyramid of Khufu is officially known as The Great Pyramid, the entire complex is often referred to as the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World and also one of the most intact wonders and stands 481 feet tall (146.5 meters). There are actually six pyramids that make up the pyramid complex as well as the Great Sphinx.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities – Taking time to tour the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is certainly a highlight of any trip to Cairo. As with many other sites in Egypt, having an Egyptologist as a guide is extremely helpful if you want to learn as much as possible during your time in the museum. There are so many items on display within the museum that it can be quite overwhelming. In addition to the sarcophaguses, papyrus hieroglyphs, and pieces of art, there are several dramatic statues housed within the museum.
Dahshur – We enjoyed seeing a wonderful variety of pyramids during our time in Cairo, but visiting Dahshur was probably one of our most interesting experiences. First, we were virtually by ourselves as we walked around the pyramids as there were less than a dozen total other visitors there during the time that we spent there. Also, since it is the site of the first smooth sided pyramids, one successful and a couple of others that weren’t successful, it is an interesting look into the learning that occurred by the ancient Egyptians to create what would later become the Great Pyramids. Dahshur is located out in a remote area of the desert, which was purposeful as they wanted the pyramids to be away from any well-traveled area.
Historic Old City Cairo – Wandering the narrow streets of the Old City of Cairo is an amazing experience that is worth making your way through the crowded streets to see. Just wandering the streets is quite exhilarating, but the highlight was taking a tour of an Ottoman era house that was built in 1648 and is in excellent condition as it was refurbished in 1997 as part of restoration project for the entire area. It can also be combined to see several historic mosques, synagogues, and churches.
Step Pyramid in Saqqara – The Pyramid of Djoser, or Step Pyramid, is an ancient pyramid in the Saqqara Necropolis. It is located about an hour outside of Cairo and we toured it as part of trip to the Giza plateau. Although most people associate the pyramids of Egypt with the smooth sided Great Pyramids, step pyramids were the predecessors to such technology. There are other temples and burial grounds to be seen around the Step Pyramid, but as with Dahshur, there are not nearly as many visitors as at the Great Pyramids.
Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan – We took a tour of Islamic Cairo that included the Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan, which was truly fascinating not so much for what we saw, but more about what we learned from our guide. We wouldn’t recommend visiting without a guide unless you are familiar Sunni Islam, the history of Cairo , and the influences of the surrounding countries. Also, it is not currently a working mosque, so without someone to provide clarity on the features, it might not be as easily understood.
Sailing a Felucca on the Nile River – One of the best ways to escape the hustle and bustle of Cairo is to enjoy a ride on a felucca on the Nile River. These sailboats have been used for transportation for hundreds of years in the region and are still quite popular today, although mainly for tourists. There are plenty of other tour boats that you can take, but if you want a truly relaxing experience, then a felucca is the best choice. It takes skill to navigate the river using these unique sails, especially since they are at the mercy of the wind.
Abu Serga Church – Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, also known as the Abu Serga Church as well as the Cavern Church, is an important historical and religious landmark in Cairo, Egypt. The church is supposed to be built on the spot where Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus rested at the end of their journey into Egypt. The church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus who were soldiers in the 4th century that were killed by the Roman Emperor Maximian and achieved martyrdom and sainthood.
Although we spent almost two weeks in Egypt, it is certainly a place where you could easily spend an entire month making your way around to all of the fascinating locations. With a history that goes back to the cradle of civilization and with so many historic sites preserved or still being excavated, the possibilities almost seem endless. Regardless of how much time you have to spend in Egypt, it is important to make the most of your time in its capital city, Cairo.