Here we share for you 21 things to do in Cairo in 3 days, based on what we did during our recent trip to the Egyptian capital, including some considerations on safety in Cairo.
Is it safe to visit Egypt in 2022?
This is the kind of post that needs an introduction. We visited Egypt twice – in April 2017 and January 2021. While planning and researching both trips, I lost count of the amount of times I googled ‘Is Egypt safe’.
We found very little up-to-date info on how to travel around Egypt independently, and whether or not it is safe – so much so that we were seriously thinking about canceling our first trip.
However, once again our curiosity prevailed and we ended up going, and spent three weeks traveling independently from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan, and finally enjoying one week of rest in Hurghada.
We had a wonderful time in Egypt, and quickly penned a post that started like this. Is it safe to travel to Egypt? Yes. Now stop reading, and book your flight.
However, on the day of our departure from Egypt, there were two simultaneous bomb attacks in Tanta and Alexandria, and 44 people lost their lives.
Now, can I claim that a country is safe to visit on the aftermath of a bomb attack that claimed over 40 victims? It would be disrespectful and hypocritical. Can I claim that a country is safe to visit just because nothing happened to me while I was there? It would be incredibly simplistic.
[Related – How to Visit Iran Independently]
After our first visit in 2017, we kept following Egyptian news and current affairs thanks to local friends. We also got first-hand reports from friends, family, and fellow bloggers visiting the country.
I do indeed hope you’ll consider visiting Cairo and Egypt – the country truly needs tourism, now more than ever. Can I recommend it as a safe place to visit? Nowhere is ‘100% safe’ in these uncertain times.
On the other hand, it is true that the situation in Egypt remains uncertain, and it may flare up again. The country also remains on the front pages for its treatment of journalists, academics, and human rights defenders, who are routinely detained with no explanation – the arrest of student Patrick Zaki is a recent example.
The final decision of whether or not to travel to Egypt rests with you – all I can do is share how it was for us. Spoiler alert – it was amazing.
Don’t forget to arrange travel medical insurance before you leave for your trip! We recommend SafetyWing, especially aimed at long-term travellers and digital nomads. SafetyWing offers medical assistance all over the world, including in your own country!
Check this video for a preview of things to do in Cairo in 3 days!
How Many Days in Cairo?
Cairo is a really massive city, the second-largest in Africa in terms of population. You could spend weeks and weeks touring it all, but for a first visit, we recommend spending at least three days in Cairo.
The first day could be dedicated to historic Cairo attractions like the Citadel, Islamic Cairo with Khan el Khalili and Coptic Cairo, the second day could include the Egyptian Museum and places of interest in Downtown Cairo, and the third day would be all about the #1 thing to do in Cairo – the Pyramids!
With extra days you could include some more unique places to visit in Cairo like the Cave Church in Mokattam, or a day trip to Memphis and the Saqqara Step Pyramid.
To make the most of your 3 days in Cairo, consider booking a tour – here are some of the best options!
- Pyramids of Giza, Sakkara & Memphis: Private Tour with Lunch
- Cairo: Dinner Cruise on the Nile River with Entertainment
- Cairo: Egyptian Museum Skip-the-Line Ticket
- Cairo: Best Kept Secrets Night Tour
- Cairo: Egyptian Museum & Khan El-Khalili Bazaar Tour
- Cairo Food Tour
Historic Sites in Cairo Egypt
1) Make your wishes come true at the Pyramids of Giza
Well, these need no introduction really! The Pyramids were truly one of the best travel experiences ever, and it deserves to be covered in detail in a separate post. Keep watching this space, a post will be coming shortly, including practical Pyramids info and how to avoid scams!
Find some of the best Pyramids tours here!
- From Cairo: Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara, Dahshur & Lunch
- Cairo: Half-Day Great Pyramids, Sphinx, & Solar Boat Tour
- Cairo: Pyramids, Bazaar, Citadel Tour with Photographer
- Cairo: Quad & Camel Ride Combo Tour Around the Pyramids
- Pyramids, Museum & Bazaar Private Tour with Entrance & Lunch
- Cairo: Giza Pyramids Sound and Light Show with Transfers
2) Enjoy Cairo from above at the Citadel
One of the best things to do on a Cairo visit is heading to the Citadel, for two very good reasons – first, because it’s one of the very few car-free places in town, and second because it’s a great place to enjoy a view over the city, stretching all the way to the Pyramids if it’s a clear day.
The Citadel was built on top of a hill during the 12th century by Saladin, the ruler of the city, to protect it from Crusader attacks. There are several Cairo points of interest located within the walls of the Citadel, including three mosques, the Egyptian Military Museum with a display of fighter planes outside, the Police Museum and Al-Gawhara Palace.
The Citadel is well worth exploring for half a day or so, enjoying the silence and car-free streets. We found very few tourists but lots of locals, eager to have their picture taken with us – our first encounter with Egyptian friendliness and hospitality.
Entrance ticket: 60 EGP
3) Visit Muhammad Ali Mosque and Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala’un Mosque
The twin minarets of the Muhammad Ali Mosque are the most striking feature of the Citadel, visible as soon as you approach from Downtown Cairo. The Mosque is definitely a highlight of a visit to the Cairo Citadel – from the elegant alabaster-covered courtyard to the carpeted interior, lit with lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is probably to Cairo what the Blue Mosque is to Istanbul.
However, I would also recommend visiting the nearby Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, older and less grand than Muhammad Ali, with a green-blue dome and arched interior, and hardly anyone visiting. Quirky fact – the walls of the mosque are covered in limestone taken from the Pyramids!
4) Dive into the bustle and chaos of Islamic Cairo
The district known as ‘Islamic Cairo’ roughly includes the streets located between the Bab-Futuh and Bab-Zuwayla gates, including the Al-Azhar Mosque, Khan el Khalili souk and several more Cairo points of interest – so many, in fact, that Islamic Cairo is UNESCO-listed. The road plan still follows closely that of Medieval times – think narrow streets with very little sunlight, houses, madrasas and mosques closely packed next to one another, with storefronts and open-air markets taking up every visible inch of space.
It’s the kind of place where maps are absolutely useless, where you may decide to follow a scent, a cat, or a random person and see where that leads you – after all, you’ll find your way around, sooner or later. If you’re hungry, just grab a taameya or foul sandwich from one of many holes in the wall, perhaps the best dining option unless you’re with locals. We didn’t have a guide and we regret that, as Islamic Cairo is the kind of place where most marvels lie behind closed doors, and you need someone in the know (and the right amount of baksheesh) to unlock those doors.
5) Explore the churches and unique atmosphere of Coptic Cairo
Coptic Cairo is the perfect antidote to the craziness of the Islamic Quarter and Downtown Cairo. The district is the oldest part of Cairo, inhabited continuously since the 6th century BC, and it remains the stronghold of Christianity in Egypt to this day. It’s a peaceful place, with no traffic and no noise, perfect to wander around on foot.
The most famous sight is definitely the Hanging Church, taking this name because it was built on top of the passage of a Roman fortress, suspended over the ground. Part of the floor of the church is made of glass, allowing visitors to see the Roman gatehouse below.
6) Visit the Only Round Church in Egypt
Right next to the Hanging Church there’s the Monastery and Church of St.George, one of the most important Greek Orthodox churches.
The Monastery and Church of Saint George, also located in Coptic Cairo, attract only a fraction of visitors compared to the popular Hanging Church just a few meters away, and its architecture is just as curious.
This is the only round church in Egypt, but unlike most round churches around the world, it is not meant to resemble the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The round shape was a practical choice, since the church was built on top of a Roman tower, whose foundations can still be seen today.
We recommend taking some time to explore the smaller side chapels, very fascinating in their star simplicity – you’ll see bare stone walls with icons of Saint George, with a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.
7) Walk through the Coptic cemetery
Right next to the Church of St.George, there’s an underground passage leading to the maze of streets that create the heart of Coptic Cairo, a true ‘village’ inside the city suspended in time. Another interesting sight there is the Ben Ezra Synagogue, built on the site where Moses was found floating in his basket.
Don’t miss a walk through the cemetery right next to the Church of St.George, a Coptic cemetery with some beautifully decorated graves. You won’t find gravestones, but rows of small chapels, decorated with statues of angels and saints.
It’s free to walk around and take pictures of the chapels, but please be respectful if you come upon a funeral or a grieving family, as they may not appreciate the intrusion.
8) Travel back in time to the Egyptian Museum
Even if you don’t consider yourself a museum person, you can’t miss the Egyptian Museum. The museum is located in Tahrir Square, right in the middle of Downtown Cairo, and it’s completely FULL of priceless Egyptian antiquities.
When I say full… I mean full. The museum is very old, it’s gigantic and hard to navigate, and exhibits seem to have been arranged in a haphazard kind of manner – finding what you’re looking for is near impossible. Hopefully, soon it will receive a much-needed facelift and perhaps move to a new location – but until then, it remains in Tahrir Square.
Generally speaking, the lower floor contains statues, carvings and more ‘monumental’ kind of stuff, whereas utensils, the royal mummies and the famous treasure of Tutankhamon are located on the upper floor.
If you’re pressed with time, the best choice would be hiring a guide to help you navigate the museum. Alternatively, we recommend focusing on the upper floor – you’ll find King Tut’s mask in Room 3 and the royal mummies in two separate rooms on the far end of the hallway, for which you’ll need to purchase a separate ticket.
Entrance ticket: 60 EGP Museum / 100 EGP Royal Mummies
Unique Things to do in Cairo
9) Take a break from the traffic at Al-Azhar Park
Another wonderful place to escape the traffic and crowds of the city is Al-Azhar Park, not far from the Citadel. We reached it on foot, a 20-minute walk along a busy main road. Entering the park gave us a very pleasant feeling – there are landscaped gardens, water features and flower beds, in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of ancient Islamic gardens.
The park has wonderful views both over the Citadel and the rest of the city, especially from the two viewpoints on either side of it.
Entrance ticket: 20 EGP
10) Climb Bab Zuwayla Minaret (or look for an alternative)
To see Islamic Cairo from above, we were told to climb to the top of Bab Zuwayla Minaret. However, we ended up getting sidetracked and only reached the minaret just after 5 pm, when it was already closed. Standing in the busy streets below, we could imagine how amazing it would be to see everything from above, and were already planning to return the following day, when a young man approached us and asked if we wanted to get to the top?
Long story short, for a mere 25 EGP each we were led to the rooftop of the mosque right next to the Bab Zuwayla Minaret – we weren’t quite as high up, but we still managed to get that famous bird’s eye view over Islamic Cairo, right at sunset.
11) Tour the kaleidoscopic Khan el Khalili
Khan el Khalili is Cairo’s souk, a large open-air market full of stores selling (faux) Egyptian antiques, lamps, vases, silverware, clothes, scarves, papyrus, perfumes… you name it. Yes, it’s quite touristy – the kind of place where sellers jump over each other to get your custom, luring you into their stores with glasses of tea and karkade, and you should be prepared to either bargain hard, or pay an inflated price.
Love it or hate it, it would be a shame to miss it – we recommend visiting at twilight, perhaps after touring Islamic Cairo at sunset just like we did, to see the shop lights twinkle while the night falls.
12) Visit the ‘Rock Church’ in Mokattam
If you have more than just 3 days in Cairo, you can add this unique point of interest to your list. Very few Cairo tourists make it as far as Mokattam, a world away from the Nile and Downtown Cairo. Mokattam is the neighbourhood of the Zabbaleen, literally meaning ‘garbage collectors’, the poorest of the poor in Cairo, a Christian community that sorts through trash for a living.
The Monastery of Saint Samaan the Tanner is the main reason to add Mokattam to your list of places to go in Cairo. It is also known as ‘Rock Church’ or ‘Cave Church’, because this huge amphitheatre-shaped church was literally carved out of the rock.
The church was opened in 1975 to provide a place of worship for the Zabbaleen, who moved to Mokattam at the end of the 1960s.
It is one of the largest churches in the Middle East, with enough seats for 20,000 worshippers. Make sure you visit the seven side chapels, and admire how this extraordinary church seamlessly blends into the rock.
Places to Visit in Cairo for Foodies
13) Eat grilled chicken in the open air
Visiting Andrea for lunch on a Friday is one of the most popular things to do in Cairo! Remember that Friday lunch is the equivalent of Sunday lunch in the West – locals like to have lunch outdoors, especially in the nice season.
One of the most popular Cairo places to visit is Andrea, a restaurant on the Giza plateau open for over 50 years, mainly serving grilled meat.
The most popular dish is grilled chicken, marinated with herbs and spices, served with an array of side dishes, salads and homemade bread. You can also order breakfast dishes or other grilled meats besides chicken, like quail or pigeon.
Andrea keeps going strong because of its relaxed atmosphere and location under an awning, surrounded by trees and plants, with views over Giza. Since it’s so famous, many more copycat restaurants have opened up around the city. So, if you want the ‘real’ Andrea experience, don’t forget to head to the only original restaurant in Giza!
14) Home-cooked cuisine at Fasahat Soumaya
As soon as I heard about this place, I knew I wanted to try it. Fasahat Soumaya is run by a wonderful chef dishing out home style cooking every day – but only between 5 and 7 pm! Make sure you’re at the restaurant at 5 – it’s located in a small passageway between 15 and 17 Youssef El Gendy, there are no English signs but you’ll recognise it by the big blue sign and crowds waiting outside.
There are only four tables so be prepared to wait a little bit but trust me, the food is so good and the atmosphere so cosy and homely that it’s all worthwhile! Only three or four dishes are served every day – we had meatballs, chicken livers and a delicious rice dish with yoghurt, sumac and fried bread.
15) Eat koshary from Abou Tarek
Koshary is Egypt’s most famous comfort food, a strange (but delicious) blend of pasta, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions and tomato sauce. You’ll find street food koshary served everywhere around the country for as little as 5 EGP.
If you want to taste a truly amazing koshary that will cost you only about 15 EGP or so, head to Abou Tarek, a koshary joint a few blocks away from Tahrir Square. Just two pieces of advice – go up to the first floor as the room is a lot nicer, and go easy with the spicy sauce!
We ate Abou Tarek’s koshary on our first night in Cairo, and we had our first encounter with Egyptian friendliness and hospitality when a couple invited us to join them at their table and told us how happy they were that we were visiting their country.
It was a lovely welcome to Cairo, a really special city – crazy, noisy and loud, but with lots of unique attractions and things to do.
Things to do in Cairo at Night
16) See the Nile from Above with a Drink
The luxury hotels in Zamalek and Downtown Cairo are great option if you want to head to a rooftop bar, for a sunset drink with great views over the Nile.
There are many hotels and bars to choose from, but the one we liked the best during our recent 2020 visit was the Opia Lounge and Bar at the Hilton, fun to visit both during sunset and at night. The decor is elegant, in line with the luxurious feel of the hotel, with giant chandeliers and a mixture of seating including lounges and high tables.
Menus are on iPads and include a mixture of creative cocktails, some made with spherification techniques, and classics, as well as beer and wines. You can also order creative small plates, served in 5 or 7-course tasting menus.
Make sure you reserve a table as the place is very busy, and remember there’s a minimum spend of 400 LE per person.
17) Try to find The Greek Club
We heard great things about Cairo’s Greek Club – apparently food is good and moderately priced, the atmosphere is really cool, beer is served and the restaurant room is one of the most elegant in town, without being pretentious.
This club is also one of the best places to visit in Cairo at night, and it was the chosen hangout of Cairo’s once-numerous Greek community.
There’s only a small issue – the Greek Club isn’t easy to come by, as it’s not on street level and there are no signs. The address is 21 Mohamed Bassiouny, the first building after Talaat Harb Square, and the Greek Club is on the first floor. Don’t miss the Greek salad and head out to the terrace for a fantastic view over the square and Cairo’s traffic below!
18) Eat in a local fast food open 24 hours
Fast food isn’t usually known for its quality, but Kazaz is a great exception to this rule. It’s a popular local fast food serving Egyptian and Western dishes, from taameya (falafel) to shawarma, to crispy fried chicken, mahshi (vegetables stuffed with rice), plus sandwiches.
The mahshi, falafel and shawarma are particularly good, but pretty much everything on the menu at Kazaz is excellent. The restaurant is very close to Tahrir Square, it’s open 24 hours and prices are affordable, starting at just 2.75 LE for falafel and 3.75 LE for a foul sandwich.
Other Fun Things to do in Cairo
19) Climb to the top of Cairo Tower
Are you looking to climb even higher than hotel rooftop bars? Your best bet is heading to the top of Cairo Tower, the tallest building in the whole of Egypt and North Africa at a whopping 187 meters. It actually used to be the tallest structure in the whole of Africa from its construction in 1961 until 1971, when it was surpassed by Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg.
Cairo Tower is located on Gezira Island, a short distance from Downtown Cairo. It costs 200 LE to climb, or alternatively you can book a table at the Revolving Restaurant at the top, where minimum spend is 250 LE per person. You’ll be rewarded with scenic views over the city, all the way to the Pyramids when it’s clear!
20) Day Trip to Saqqara and Dahshur
Have you ever heard about the ‘other Pyramids’? That’s right – Giza isn’t the only place where you can find these stunning burial chambers.
Saqqara and Dahshur are a popular day trip from Cairo, and you can even add in a stop in Memphis, the first capital of Egypt, with an interesting open-air museum.
Dahshur is known for the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. The former is believed to the the Egyptians’ first attempt at building a pyramid, and the result wasn’t quite perfect – hence the name! The Red Pyramid is a lot more straight and orderly, and takes its name from the red limestone used for construction. Both pyramids can be visited inside – please proceed with caution if you are claustrophobic.
In Saqqara, the main attraction is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, but in the complex you’ll also find some finely decorated painted tombs, which can be visited inside. Don’t miss visiting Saqqara and Dahshur during your 3 days in Cairo!
21) Get lost in the Grand Egyptian Museum
Are you planning to visit Cairo in late 2022? If so, you may be lucky and be able to visit the Grand Egyptian Museum near Giza, which is set to become the largest museum focused on Egyptology and Egyptian antiquities.
The project is overseen by Irish-Chinese architect firm Heneghan Peng and it’s been over years in the making. When it’s completed, it will house over 100,000 artifacts including a 9 meter colossal statue of Ramses II in the atrium. It will be divided into 4 different sections highlighting the four eras of Ancient Egypt – Old, Middle and New Kingdom, plus the Greco-Roman period.
The old Egyptian Museum isn’t going to close, but some of its exhibits will be moved to this state-of-the-art museum – which will definitely become one of the top things to do in Cairo!
When to Visit Cairo
The best time to visit Cairo is the period between October and April, when the weather is dry and pleasant, but not too hot.
Being close to the desert, the weather in Cairo is dry year-round, but it gets unbearably hot from May onwards – in summer, temperatures often exceed 40°C, and going outdoors might become difficult. If you can only visit Cairo in summer, make sure you do most of your sightseeing in the early hours of the mornings, when it’s cooler.
The peak tourist season in Cairo is between December and February, especially during the Christmas/New Year break. Don’t forget to book your accommodation and entry tickets in advance if visiting during this time!
Do you know of any other unique things to do in Cairo? Let us know in the comments!
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