A Wonderful Itinerary for a Three Day Stay in Cairo, Egypt

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.

Enjoying the Temples in Egypt

 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.

Pyramid of Khafre

 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.

Enormous Statues Inside 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.

The Red Pyramid

 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.

Courtyard of Historic Ottoman House

 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.

Step Pyramid

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.

Inside of the Mosque

 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.

Sailing in a Faluka

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.

View of the Church

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.

The Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt

There are few images that are more iconic than the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau just outside of Cairo, Egypt. It is obviously one of the most popular tourist locations when visiting Cairo and you should certainly expect there to be crowds when you go to see the sphinx. A sphinx is a mythical creature with a lion’s body and head of a pharaoh. It is believed to have been sculpted out of limestone in the time of pharaoh Khafre between 2558 and 2532 BC, which makes it the oldest sculpture used as a monument in Egypt. It is sometimes hard to gauge the size of the sphinx in pictures, but it stands 66 feet high (20 meters), 240 feet long (73 meters), and is 62 feet wide (19 meters).

Iconic View of the Great Sphinx and Pyramids
The View from Behind the Sphinx with People to Provide Perspective
Reconstruction of Parts of the Body

The Great Sphinx was carved directly into the bedrock that also served as the quarry from which the pyramids were built. The stone from which the body was carved was softer than that of the head, which has caused the body to deteriorate more quickly than the head. The body has been repaired over time and you will likely see work being done to continue to repair during your visit. There are a number of shafts underneath the enormous statue, but they are believed to be the result of treasure hunters and tomb robbers and nothing to do with the ancient Egyptians who created the Great Sphinx.

Full View of the Front of the Great Sphinx
Standing in Front of the Sphinx
Vendors Next to the Sphinx Viewing Area

Seeing the statue from the front with the pyramids in the background is certainly the most common image that people associate with the sphinx. With that said, seeing the Great Sphinx from other angles is certainly quite fascinating and does help with getting a perspective of how large it truly is. In addition to the crowds, there are also a long line of stalls with vendors selling items for tourists and you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t have children and others coming up to you either begging or trying to sell you items as well. There is no doubt that seeing the Great Sphinx in person is something that you will never forget.

Another View from Behind the Sphinx with Cairo in the Background
Side View of the Pharaoh Head

The Unique History of the “Hanging Church” in Coptic Cairo, Egypt

The Church of Virgin Mary in Old Cairo is more commonly referred to as the “Hanging Church”. It gets its name from the fact that it was built on the ruins of two towers from the old roman fortress of Babylon. The church dates back to the 4th century and is one of the oldest churches of any kind in Cairo. The entrance to the church is quite stunning as you have to climb 29 steps up to the entrance, which sits on top of the ruins. It is harder to imagine today the effect that it had of seeming to be suspended above the towers, hence the feeling that it is hanging above the ruins.

Ornate Doorway
Murals on the Walls as You Head Toward the Steps
Columns in the Church
Looking Down on Tower Ruins That Support the Church
Floors Inside the Church

The Hanging Church was built in the basilican style and was meant to mimic the shape of Noah’s ark. There is a large, marble pulpit and one of the main features is the sanctuary screen, which is made of cedar wood and ebony inlaid with ivory. The church also has 110 icons that have been provided to the church over the centuries and are on display. It was one of the last places that we visited on a very busy day in Cairo that included going to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, sailing in a felucca on the Nile River, visiting Abu Serga Church (Cave Church), Ben Ezra Synagogue, Church of St. George, and the ancient Babylon Fortress.

View from the Top of the Stairs
Some of the Icons in the Church
Ceiling and Chandelier
One of the Towers
Flowers in the Courtyard
Sign on the Wall of the Entrance