Yesterday I shared with you my Giza Travel Guide. And while Giza should be top of your list when visiting Egypt, it is closely followed by the city of Cairo. So today I am going to share with you my Cairo Travel Guide! Not only does it house some of the best museums, Cairo is the bustling capital of the country! What better way to dive into a culture than at its center…
When to Go
We traveled to Egypt March 7-12, and the weather in Cairo was PERFECT! It was somewhere between 70-80 (this may seem hot but remember we are from Tucson, AZ). It was also great because it was not yet “tourist” season, and while there were other tourists there I imagine the crowds would be much worse during the summer time. There really is no wrong time to visit this desert destination, as the weather rarely drops below the 50s, but I recommend visiting during spring months (March-May). I would consider the weather too cold anytime before march, and no one wants to wear layers or heavy coats while touring. After May the heat comes and that’s even worse while galavanting through the desert!
What to Wear
I am a huge advocate for adhering to other cultures’ codes when visiting. This includes the way they dress. And while there are no specific laws or requirements in Egypt, there is a cultural understanding of what is appropriate for women. I described this “dress code” in my Egypt Travel Diary but will reiterate.
This culture is conservative, and your outfits should reflect that. Do you need to wear a scarf over your head the whole time? No, but you shouldn’t show too much skin. So no tank tops, open backs, crop tops, cutoffs, or mini skirts. I know the weather here is warmer so skimpy clothing is desired, but instead try to wear light breathable fabrics that flow. This will help keep you cool while still staying covered. Some great items to wear include: maxi skirts, t-shirts, anything linen (not sheer), non-tank midi-maxi dresses, loose fitting pants, lightweight button downs, etc. My rule: if I would’ve been sent home from high school for wearing it, it’s probably not appropriate.
It’s really simple to get around Cairo. There are many options! We stayed along the Nile (the Giza side) fairly close to most of the tourist hot spots. This allowed us to take affordable taxis almost everywhere, as well as use the metro!
Using the Metro:
I know tourists in a high alert country are urged not to use public transportation, but how could you not use this metro system?! It only costs 1 EGP (Egyptian Pound) per ride (thats 6 cents)!!! And it could get us to most destinations on our list (within a 15 min walk to the station). The downside is that all the maps are in Arabic. BUT if your destination is a hot spot, just ask someone which way, and they will point you to the correct direction train! Don’t be afraid to get around like the locals.
While the Metro is great, it is not super extensive, and more distant locations can get tricky. This is when a taxi comes in handy.
Getting a Taxi:
There are a TON of taxis in Cairo. And each style has different pricing/cost systems. It’s best to use the newer white taxis (vs. traditional black). From what I read the older cabs don’t have meters installed and the pricing is subject to the driver (who might try and gouge you). To get a taxi you simply stand on the street and flag one down (easy). They will honk and make eye contact, to which you gesture “yes, come here” meaning you need a ride. When they pull to the curb you give your destination and ask for the meter. If they don’t like the place or want to haggle (vs. using the meter) just walk away. They will either agree after it all or you can hail the next one (which is probably right behind him).
You can try to haggle a price, but let’s be honest it’s always going to be more expensive than the meter…or else they would just agree to turn it on. But if you insist on this, just be sure to google the government price per km to know you’re not wayyyyy overpaying. There, getting a taxi is easy. The only issue we encountered was that the drivers didn’t know ANY English (even destination names) and didn’t know where to take us. But we just used google translate from English to Arabic and would show them the destination title by finding it on Wikipedia and changing the language to Arabic…easy (if you have data service). If you won’t have cellular data while you are in Egypt, I suggest you create a translation guide of all the places you intend to visit before you head out. That way you can just point to the piece of paper!
Even better than a taxi…UBER
Uber in Cairo was great, especially since it’s about half the price of ANY taxi ride. And if you don’t know how to use Uber, click the link to enroll and learn. You do need either wifi or cell data to use Uber. So if you don’t have data service in Cairo, request it from your hotel room (using wifi) and just come down when they arrive. You don’t need connectivity during the trip! Besides the price, Uber is also better because the destination is shown to the driver in their preferred language…no translation or confusion!
The one issue we came across with Uber was pickups. The drivers don’t always use the GPS that comes with the app. They would then circle around our area for awhile. When this happened we would call and ask them to use the GPS. Within minutes they would be on the correct path. Tip: Make sure your drop pin is correct! Uber sometimes glitches and drops your location blocks away, which makes for a messy pickup (it’s happened to us everywhere not just Cairo).
Things to Do
The Egyptian Museum is a MUST while you’re in Cairo. It houses the BEST artifacts from Ancient Egypt…and this is coming from a girl who visits every Egypt Room in every museum (including the British Museum and Louvre). This collection puts any other to shame! You’ll also be able to learn a little about the places you’ll be visiting and the culture of this civilization. It costs 75 EGP per person, plus an extra 50 EGP for photos.
The museum is ENORMOUS and deserves its own full day! We split our trip into two half days. Inside the museum there was (not sure if its permanent) a Royal Mummy Room Exhibit that cost an extra 100 EGP per person. The money is WAY worth it! You see actual MUMMIES…they are awesome and very unexpected. A glimpse at a person from Ancient Egypt, the royals!
Tip: Hold on to your photo ticket, it works for any Museum in Cairo
The is a museum of Coptic art. While not my favorite destination, this was top of Caleb’s list. The Egyptian Christian artifacts are amazing, and the restoration efforts are very impressive. I found one of the rooms that housed remains from a Coptic Church the most interesting. In the carvings you could clearly see the evolution from pagan to monotheistic religion transitioning from images of various deities to portraits of Jesus.
This museum costs 60 EGP and is located in a complex with the Babylon Fortress. It was very interesting, but for non-religion buffs it may not be the top of your list. But you can still see and take photos of the Fortress Wall from outside (with no entry).
Near the complex for the Coptic Museum is the Church of St. George. It’s free and worth a quick visit if you’re in the area. Our hobby is visiting churches anywhere we travel to compare differences styles. It was a beautiful place with interesting artwork!
Past the Coptic museum is the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt. It is amazing with interesting artwork and decor, and a beautiful entryway courtyard! Caleb was impressed with all the relics lining the walls of the main room!
Cairo is the city of Mosques…there’s basically one on every corner! And while I encourage you to wander about the city to get glimpses of all the beautiful buildings and minarets (example of two above), there are two MUST see/visit mosques!
One of the oldest mosques of Cairo, it is a great sight to see. With a small donation you can wander through the deserted prayer halls. There was something so serene of the vast emptiness. I really enjoyed visiting this mosque!
We didn’t actually visit this mosque, but it is a sight to behold! It sits a top a hill, overlooking the city! At night it glows with purple lights, creating a beautiful view against the black sky! I don’t know if a visit is worth it, but for us we didn’t want to destroy the beauty it captured from afar…we kept it a memory of a glow against the sky. Look for it at night.
–A full trip to the Citadel is advised by many–
Not only is this market listed as a top attraction in Cairo, it was recommended by friends! And while a great bustling place to pick up any souvenir desired, it was not that great. For us it became redundant especially after our summer in India (identical) and a trip to Morocco. But for any traveler new to these market styles, the place would be really fun! There are also a lot of jewelry shops (gold & silver) for anyone looking for something. We did pick up some great souvenirs while there, and it’s always fun to haggle!! Do this with any free evening (market is afternoon – night).
Tip: when it comes to price and haggling, usually half of what they say is a fair price. So start below that! Example: if they say 80 EGP offer them 25. Then hopefully you’ll agree somewhere around 40 which is probably fair! Starting to walk away in a negotiation often helps. This is not the most exact science but tends to be good advice.
While on my list of things to do, an unfortunate mishap stole this time! But this park seems magnificent, and I envy the person who gets a visit. The park looks amazing and a great way to spend an afternoon. It’s so GREEN and serene with fountains and views of the city! Next time it’s a definite visit!
The Nile River
The Nile is beautiful. We spent one morning eating breakfast at a restaurant situated along the river and another afternoon enjoying dessert overlooking the Nile. I recommend taking a boat down the river if you have time! If you don’t have time, eating at a restaurant with a view is sufficient! Be sure to take a walk across one of the main bridges to catch a glimpse of its beauty!
(we saw these party boats that could be fun for a trip along the Nile)
On top of all these tourist destinations, Cairo has much more to offer! I advise just taking a walk from one destination to the next at least once on your trip! We had a great time finding our way to Ibn Tulun when we were dropped at an incorrect spot. This is when we were able to try some street food, and we got twinkies, hohos, and passed too many mosques to count. It was a fun spontaneous afternoon!
Length of Trip
The length of your trip depends on what you’re wanting to view. Of course your trip to Cairo will include one day in Giza (duh), and I HIGHLY recommend checking out the Egyptian Museum, which will take a full day. I would say a minimum of 2 days is necessary to really do the main attractions. But I would recommend an extra day for exploring all the other wonderful sights Cairo offers: Mosques, Market, other museums etc..
Food to Try
There were no restaurants we went to that stood out as a must-dine. However, there were food types that you HAVE to try before leaving Cairo.
1. A Pizza Roll
This sounds ridiculous, but honestly it was the BEST. Along the streets you will see hole in the wall vendors selling what look like personal pizzas. And they are oh so delicious. They are personal sized pita bread pizzas that are placed in the over once you order then rolled up! They are definitely Egyptian with a mediterranean + pizza mix of flavor!
2. A Street Bowl
The night we went to the market, we searched for street food. We came across a guy selling a bowl of everything. It had rice, noodles, a stew, crunchy bits…whatever. It was a more delicious version of hamburger helper! I don’t know what it was, but if you come across a street vendor selling a hodgepodge bowl of everything, TRY IT!
3. Fresh Fruit
One night walking home from our Metro Stop we passed through a local market, where they had some of the most colorfully ripe fruit I’ve ever seen. Contrary to everything you’ve ever read about other countries, I encourage you to try fresh fruit! They are always so AMAZING! Just be sure to wash them with filtered water before eating. I ate some of the juiciest strawberries of my life!
4. Turkish Coffee
This one was not for me…too thick! But for any coffee lovers you MUST try a Turkish Coffee. It’s similar to an espresso but with cloves & cardamom added! It’s very tasty, but I just couldn’t get past the thickness/texture (the spices are floating in it). It is also stronger than other coffees, making a great start to a full day of touring Cairo!
Most of all with food my advice is to eat as many meals from hole in the wall places or street vendors. I know this can sometimes lead to stomach issues, but if you’re careful it can be some of the best food you’ll ever have! Just make sure not to eat anything that has been washed with water or off of anything still wet from being washed with water (utensils, plates, bowls) — get everything to go if possible. Don’t get any meat that has been sitting out, and only eat things that are freshly cooked. And while some yummy places might look kinda questionable, don’t go to any places that are visibly disgusting…we usually draw the line if we see any rats rummaging around the place.
Would you visit Cairo on your trip to Egypt? Let me know in the comments!
For more information on flights or where to stay…check out my Egypt Travel Diary
While in Cairo you MUST allot one day for Giza and seeing The Pyramids — Giza Travel Guide
Another Must-SEE destination is the city of Luxor — Luxor Travel Guide