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Travel tips

6 bucket list things to do in Cairo

Apr 07, 2021 by Jamie Gallerani

Planning a trip to Cairo? Cairo is Egypt’s sprawling capital city, set alongside the cool Nile. As the largest city in Africa and the 6th largest city in the world, Cairo has so much to see and do. This city is full of rich history, exciting experiences, delicious coffees, and fabulous foods.

When you visit Cairo, you’ll find that it’s a fairly modern city—you won’t accidentally stumble into an underground tomb as you explore! Instead, you’ll gaze up at soaring buildings, browse sleek shops, and maybe even stop at a street cart for a soft, fluffy bite of simit.

We asked travelers and staffers who went on our Egypt & the Nile tour to share their favorite things to do in Cairo, Egypt—here are their Cairo travel tips, and the can’t-miss things to add to your bucket list.

The pharaoh Psusennes' ancient gold funerary mask on display

1. Visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

With more than 120,000 items on display, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities houses the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the top attractions in Cairo, Egypt. It’s even home to many items from King Tutankhamun, including his beautiful gold death mask.

“This was a super cool moment to be able to see many different types of artifacts from the Egyptian culture up close and personal,” said staffer Josie. “There are so many artifacts to see, but one that was really cool was the mummy room, which houses royals from the past! It can be overwhelming at times to try to see so many things—my advice would be to stick with your Tour Director as they will guide you around the museum and be able to point out the highlights.”

“During our Egypt tour, we visited the Valley of the Kings where King Tut was buried. Then coming to Cairo and visiting the Egyptian museum, we got to see all the items that were actually found with King Tut in his tomb. It was an amazing experience to bring the tour full circle!”

Travel tip: “The mummy room does cost extra, but a lot of people on my tour visited it and it was definitely worth it,” said staffer Josie.

a person reaching for their cup of hot Turkish coffee with a glass of water and candies on the side

2. Get into Cairo’s cafe culture

One of the best things to do in Cairo, Egypt, is visit a cafe... or five. With all kinds of cafes around every corner, you’re bound to try some incredible coffees and meet some amazing people, too. Cairo’s cafes might even be more popular than bars—even at night. They’re just as lively, too.

Many cafes are just as rich in history as they are in delicious treats. You can learn all about their past, or sit outside along the bustling streets and watch the daily hustle and bustle.

“During our last evening in Cairo, much of my group spent the evening exploring Cairo’s main souk, Khan al Khalili,” said staffer Tom. “The market is set amid the narrow streets of Old Cairo, which is truly an open-air museum; the main street dates back nearly 1,000 years. While other travelers shopped, I took the opportunity to relax and savor my last night in Egypt at one of the cafes next to Al-Hussain Mosque, where locals were celebrating the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. The café turned out to be over 200 years old and served the best Turkish coffee I’ve ever had. All in all, come to Egypt for the pyramids, but take the time to relax and relish the café culture.”

3. Stop at the Mohammed Ali Mosque

The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, is right in the Citadel of Cairo. This stunning mosque was commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848, built in memory of his oldest son who died in 1816. With its tall domes and two iconic points, this mosque is one of the first things you’ll see when entering the city from any direction. It’s one of the major landmarks of Cairo travel.

Travel tip: Be sure to wear modest clothing to show your respect, as this is a religious site. All clothing should cover your knees and shoulders, and women should wear a head covering, like a hijab or even just a scarf. You will likely need to remove your shoes inside, too.

an Egyptian man weaving blue thread with many sheets of fabric hanging in the background

4. Meet the people who call Egypt home

Sure, seeing a place like Egypt is always going to be an incredible experience. But what really makes a place special (other than the thousand-year-old sites) are the people who call it home. And Egyptians are very special people, indeed.

Egyptians tend to be very friendly and welcoming, so when you visit Cairo, be sure to say “hi” to a few locals. You won’t want to miss out on meeting some stellar new friends and learning about other things to do in Cairo from the people who live there. “We all wished we could have stayed there longer,” said traveler Diane. “The Egyptian people were extremely friendly, kind, and welcoming!!”

Check out 5 reasons to visit Egypt in the fall (which includes getting the chance to feel like a local!) >

5. Visit a souk

Visiting souks, or local markets, is an experience you’ll definitely want on your Cairo bucket list. You can’t walk through one without taking in the smells, sights, and sounds. It’s an incredible opportunity to feel like you’re part of the Egyptian culture.

Khan el-Khalili is one of the more famous bazaars—and one of the top attractions in Cairo. This market pops up right in the historic city center. It’s been around since the 10th century, when it was a center of trade. Today, many Egyptian artisans sell traditional artwork and souvenirs at the souks. It’s a great place to find gifts from your Cairo travel, and one of the best things to do in Cairo, Egypt.

“I am a big fan of exploring the markets and discovering the local products, different colors, and smells,” said staffer Bernat. “It’s part of the adventure to navigate and start conversation and bargain with local vendors. **At the end of the trip, my bag was full of local souvenirs and treats!**”

Travel tip: “Bring low currency, like single U.S. dollar bills or single Euros, and don’t be afraid to barter,” said staffer Christine.

See some souvenirs to buy in our travel guide to Egypt & the Nile >

one of our staff members riding a camel in front of a pyramid in Egypt

^ Photo taken by staffer Bernat on our Egypt & the Nile tour

6. Visit the Pyramids and Great Sphinx

Okay, okay, the Pyramids aren’t quite located in Cairo, but no Cairo bucket list is complete without a mention! Located right outside of Cairo, the Pyramids of Giza are the only Wonder of the Ancient World to have survived the modern era. Seeing these ancient sites is one of the main reasons to visit Egypt.

You can tour the pyramids during the day to see them up close and even touch them, or go at night to see them magically illuminated. This site is also home to the enigmatic Great Sphinx, one of the largest monolith statues in the world. One of the best ways to see these historic icons is on our Pyramids of Giza & Great Sphinx by Night excursion. It’s an unforgettable opportunity to watch a synchronized light and music show amid the ancient monuments of Egypt as you listen to the legends of Egyptian kings and queens.

“A true bucket list Giza/Cairo moment for me was walking up and actually touching on the Great Pyramids,” said staffer Christine. “On the first day of tour, you explore the Great Pyramids of Giza, and it’s breathtaking. These are monuments that have truly stood the test of time and have lived in my imagination my entire life. I had to keep reminding myself just to take it all in.”

“I love history, so to stand in front of the great pyramid and the Sphinx was a dream come true,” said traveler Lorena.

Check out 5 fun facts about the Pyramids of Giza >

Have you ever visited Egypt on tour? Do you have any of your own favorite things to do in Cairo? Tell us about it on our Facebook page!

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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