The Best Places to See in Cairo
There are a number of things to see in Cairo, and - depending on how long you you will be spending here - there are a number of places you should consider checking out. Before your trip, you may want to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy to inspire the Egyptologist in you.
1. The Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
The oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The pyramids were built by Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The Great Pyramid of Giza (the Pyramid of Khufu) is the oldest of the three. However, the pyramid in the middle - the Pyramid of Khafre - has the iconic top which makes many visitors confuse that as the Great Pyramid. The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human.
2. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
Over 120,000 artifacts were collected and transferred here from sites all over Egypt. You won’t find artifacts like King Tut’s Golden Mask in any other place than this Museum.
3. Memphis & Shakkara
Memphis was one of the oldest and most important cities in ancient Egypt, located at the entrance to the Nile River Valley near the Giza plateau. Saqqara (a.k.a. “Sakkara”), is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Interesting Fact: Egyptian archaeologists have recently discovered an exceptionally well preserved and fully colored with a sculpture inside of Wahtye, a high official priest who served during the fifth dynasty reign of King Neferirkare - dating back more than 4 400 years!
If you are in Cairo for just a very short period of time, or if you find that you will have extra time in your schedule, consider checking out Pharaonic Village. We went here for an afternoon on our first full day in Cairo as we were originally just planning on getting oriented. It turns out that this village is a micro-Egypt, complete with historical Egyptian culture, a replica of an Egyptian temple and King Tut’s tomb, a number of mini-museums, and even a short Nile River cruise. As it turns out, local children are typically brought here for history courses as well.
Our favorite parts were learning about how Egyptian history connected with Exodus in the Bible, the Nile River cruise, and learning about the history of the different Pharaohs - as well as the many parts of Egyptian culture - while on a boat ride. We do recommend skipping on the meal as it was fairly basic and you won’t get a chance to eat it until the end of the tour anyway (we were hoping to have it first, for lunch, before we got started - but ended up being hungry until dinner). Additionally, this village gave us an amazing into to - and a greater appreciation and comprehension of the depth of - everything we were going to see later. It was certainly worth the trip.
5. Fayoum Oasis - Wadi El-Rayan
Modawara mountain and the waterfalls of Wadi El-Rayan are not to be missed and the highlights of the Fayoum Oasis. Although the waterfalls were man-made to allow runoff from the main farmland area into the Wadi El-Rayan valley, they are still enchanting and the views of the lakes from the small mountain are extraordinarily beautiful!
6. Madinaty City or New Cairo City
Madinaty is a suburb, aimed at becoming a complete city, in northeast Cairo Governorate, Egypt. It boasts itself as a “peaceful fully integrated community fulfilling all residents' needs in a tranquil modern lifestyle… [and] hosts a variety of services and amenities including healthcare facilities, national and international education, a banks district, a shopping mall, a sports & social club…” While we stayed in Madinaty by chance, we were so grateful for that fact after we spent some time exploring the city of Cairo. The perfect spot for a person who likes suburban life over city life. New Cairo City, slightly more developed than Madinaty, is another large suburb that gives a similar feel.
7. Al Mokattam Mountain Coptic Cave Churches
The Cave Churches host over 70,000 Coptic Christians per week, but the main “Summer Church” can seat only 20,000 at a time. Seeing the churches built into and as part of this mountain cave is just amazing in and of itself - but you also learn much about the living conditions in Mokattam City as you drive through to arrive at the Churches and of the stories they tell at the location.
8. The Hanging Church, the Cavern Church & the Ben Erza Synagogue
All three are located right near each other in Old Cairo. The Hanging Church is next to the Coptic Museum and lies atop of the Fortress of Babylon and has a few glass floors where you can look straight through to the floor of the Fortress below (It gets its name because it “hangs” above the Fortress). Walking down some stairs and through a walkway, you’ll come across the Cavern Church - a place where the Holy Family stayed while in Egypt. Just a block or so from there is the Ben Erza Synagogue, which is a uniquely old world synagogue of the likes that are rarely seen today.
9. The Coptic Orthodox Cathedral
Located in Northern Cairo, this is the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope and is the largest Cathedral in all of Africa and the Middle East.
10. The Salah Al. Din Citadel & Alabaster Mosque
It is basically impossible to miss the Salah El-Din Citadel while in Cairo simply because it stands so high and is in a central location. It is one of the world's greatest monuments to medieval warfare. The Mohammad Ali Mosque, also known as the “Alabaster Mosque”, resides inside the Salah Al. Din Citadel complex. The citadel is a medieval Islamic fortification. The location, on Mokattam hill near the center of Cairo, was once famous for its fresh breeze and grand views of the city. The mosque is quite grand and has ornate lighting. Included with admission to the Citadel is also the National Military Museum.
11. The Mosques of Al-Rifa’i and Sultan Hassan
The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan is a massive mosque and madrassa located in the Old city of Cairo and was built during the Mamluk Islamic era in Egypt. Its construction began 757 AH/1356 CE and included schools for all four of the Sunni schools of thought: Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanafi and Hanbali. Sultan Hasan ascended the throne at the age of 13 and then arrested Emir Manjaq, who controlled all of the state's affairs, and placed people of his own favor into positions of power. Just next to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan is the Al-Rifai Mosque, which dates from around 1361, and was architecturally conceived as a complement to the older structure. This was part of a vast campaign by the 19th century rulers of Egypt to both associate themselves with the perceived glory of earlier periods in Egypt's Islamic history and to modernize the city.
Best Luxury Hotel, Experience & Location: Marriott Mena House, Cairo (as low as $139 USD per night)
Best Value & Location Hotel: Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa (as low as $89 USD per night)
Best Experience & Location Bed & Breakfast: Guardian Guest House, Giza (as low as $39 USD per night)
Cheapest Decent Hostel & Location: Midtown Hostel (as low as $9 USD per night)
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