Cairo is a vibrant metropolis with a breathtaking history. The city combines millennia-old cultural monuments with a lively, modern atmosphere and offers travelers a fascinating insight into the history of mankind. In this comprehensive travel guide, we provide exclusive local insights, highlight key attractions, culinary highlights and cultural features, and offer a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most diverse metropolises of all time.
Metropolis in the Orient, the City of a Thousand Minarets
Cairo uniquely combines the heritage of the pharaohs with modern elements, allowing travelers to travel back in time through the eras of world history with its impressive architecture and cultural offerings. Egypt’s capital is the ideal place to have unique and unforgettable experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Sights in Cairo
In Cairo, visitors can expect an impressive variety of sights that are unique both culturally and architecturally. Considered the cradle of civilization, the city is home to some of the most important evidence of the ancient Egyptians and offers travelers the opportunity to experience firsthand the fascinating history and culture of this unique region. Cairo’s top sights-such as the Citadel of Saladin, the Egyptian Museum, the Grand Bazaar Chan el-Chalili, the Muhammad Ali and Al Azhar Mosques, the Coptic Quarter with the famous Hanging Church, and of course the incredible Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx-take visitors on an unforgettable journey. Exploring these fascinating sites offers a deeper understanding of Egypt’s rich history and cultural heritage and guarantees an unparalleled experience in this breathtaking metropolis.
The Egyptian Museum
The Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses one of the world’s largest collections of Egyptian art and antiquities. Unique in the world, the collection includes more than 120,000 artifacts covering Egypt’s rich history from the predynastic period to the Greco-Roman era. Highlights of the museum include the gold treasure of Pharaoh Tutankhamun and the impressive statues of Pharaohs Ramses II and Amenophis III. The Egyptian Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the fascinating history of Egypt. In 2023, the spectacular museum near Tahrir Square is scheduled to move with its entire collection and reopen in an imposing new building near the Pyramids of Giza.
Citadel of Saladin
The Citadel of Saladin, also known as Salah al-Din Citadel, sits atop a hill in the Mokattam district and offers stunning views of the city. It was built in the 12th century by Sultan Saladin to protect the city from enemies. Today, the citadel houses a number of museums and historical monuments, including the impressive Muhammad Ali Mosque. The Citadel of Saladin is a must-see for any visitor to Cairo who wants to experience the history and culture of this fascinating city.
Chan el-Chalili Bazaar
The Chan el-Chalili market is one of the oldest and most famous bazaars in the world and a colorful highlight for any visitor to Cairo. The narrow, winding streets of the bazaar are a veritable maze of stores, workshops and tea rooms where merchants have been hawking their wares for centuries. Visitors can expect a firework of colors and smells here. Countless small merchants offer traditional Egyptian handicrafts such as metalwork, textiles, perfumes and jewelry, as well as spices, soaps and authentic delicacies. A visit to Chan el-Chalili is not only an absolute must for tourists, but also a much appreciated shopping experience for locals.
Muhammad Ali Mosque
The Muhammad Ali Mosque, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, is one of the impressive examples of Ottoman architecture. It was built in the 19th century and is located inside the Saladin Citadel. The mosque is famous for its magnificent dome, tall minarets and beautiful alabaster decorations inside. Visitors will be amazed by the majestic atmosphere and rich history of the Muhammad Ali Mosque. The mosque is one of Cairo’s landmarks and captivates visitors with its unique location and comprehensive beauty.
The Al-Azhar Mosque is absolutely worth seeing and is one of the oldest and most important Islamic institutions in the world. It was built in 972 and today houses the renowned Al-Azhar University, which is considered a center for Islamic studies and scholarship. The architecture of the mosque is impressive and shows the evolution of various Islamic styles over the centuries. The white marble floor is so bright that the sun dazzles and so pure that you can see yourself reflected in it. Visitors can tour the mosque while admiring the magnificent columns, courtyards and domes that make it a jewel of Islamic art and architecture. Also of special note are the wonderful blue carpet and the brilliant white columns the prayer halls, which make this mosque so unique.
The Coptic Quarter in Cairo is a historic district characterized by its narrow, winding streets and magnificent Coptic Christian churches and monasteries. The contrast and symbiosis with which this quarter fits into the strongly Muslim Cairo is unique. In “Coptic Cairo” visitors experience the rich history and culture of the Christian – and also Jewish – community. Major attractions in the Coptic Quarter include the picturesque Hanging Church, St. Sergius and St. Barbara churches, and the comprehensive and picturesque Coptic Museum, where visitors can spend many hours.
The Hanging Church, also known as al-Kanīsa al-Muʿallaqa, is one of the oldest and most important Coptic Christian churches in the world. It was built in the 3rd century and got its name because of its location over a gatehouse of the Roman fortress of Babylon. The church is known for its magnificent icons, frescoes and woodwork, which are an impressive testimony to Coptic art and history. The Hanging Church is located in the heart of the Coptic Quarter and can be reached by climbing 29 steps after passing through a narrow gate, which is why it is popularly known as the Stairway Church.
The Coptic Museum
The Coptic Museum in Cairo houses an impressive collection of Coptic art and artifacts that document the history and culture of the Coptic community in Egypt. The museum was founded in 1910 and displays objects dating from the time of the Pharaohs to the Islamic era. Highlights of the museum include magnificent icons, textiles, manuscripts and architectural fragments that reflect the rich cultural diversity and heritage of the Coptic community in Egypt. The Coptic Museum is a fascinating place that allows every visitor to gain a deeper insight into Coptic history and culture.
Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and are among the oldest and most impressive structures ever built by mankind. These monumental structures, built thousands of years ago, are a fascinating testament to the history of civilization and world culture.
The three great pyramids built for the pharaohs Cheops, Khafre and Mykerinos are not only a sign of grandeur and magnificence, but also a testament to the engineering prowess and advanced architecture of the ancient Egyptians. The discovery and exploration of the Pyramids of Giza has fascinated and inspired scholars and historians from around the world.
Exploring pyramids and burial chambers
Today, the Pyramids of Giza are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and an important part of Egypt’s cultural heritage. Visitors can explore the pyramids while enjoying the impressive architecture, mysterious burial chambers and breathtaking scenery in the surrounding desert landscape. A visit to the Pyramids of Giza is an unforgettable experience and belongs on every Cairo traveler’s bucket list.
The Pyramids of Giza have immense significance in human history and are a symbol of the power and influence of ancient Egyptian civilization. They also represent the human ability to overcome great challenges and build monumental structures that endure to this day.
Great Sphinx of Giza
In close proximity to the pyramids is the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is also one of the most famous and mysterious monuments in the world. This impressive statue, which represents a reclining lion with the face of a man, was probably built during the reign of Pharaoh Khafre in the Old Kingdom. The Sphinx has been keeping watch in the desert for thousands of years, captivating visitors from all over the world. The exact meaning and function of the Sphinx are still the subject of debate and research, adding to its mystical charm. Despite its gigantic length of over 73 meters and height of 20 meters, it seems almost small against the backdrop of the pharaohs’ tombs. Iconic is also the missing nose – which not quite so true legend after – a non-thick Gaul has broken off.
Hotels and Accommodation in Cairo
Cairo offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. From posh five-star hotels – which can be a real oasis of relaxation in the desert – to budget hostels and guesthouses, there is something for every traveler. Many of the most famous hotels are located along the Nile River, offering breathtaking views of the river and the city skyline. Visitors seeking a more authentic experience can also stay in traditional boutique hotels or guesthouses in Cairo’s historic center. Basically, European guests are recommended to book at least one hotel category higher than usual. The differences here are gigantic: while simple accommodations are often in an absolutely desolate condition, guests in higher booking categories experience pure luxury and the very finest service for relatively little money.
Other sights in Cairo
Besides the world-famous pyramids and the Sphinx, Cairo has many other fascinating sights to offer. The city is rich in culture, history, and impressive architecture, all of which are worth exploring to get a full sense of the diversity and richness of the Egyptian capital.
Tahrir Square, also known as “Liberation Square,” is a major political and historical center in Cairo. The square was laid out in the 19th century and played an important role in recent Egyptian history, especially during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Today, Tahrir Square is a lively, bustling and particularly busy place near the Nile River where locals and tourists gather, surrounded by important buildings such as the Egyptian Museum and the Abdeen Palace. There are also some highly recommended top international hotels such as the The Nile Ritz-Carlton and the Steigenberger El Tahrir (travel tip!) are located right here and offer great views of the magnificent Egyptian Museum, the large TV tower and the Nile.
The Abdeen Palace was built in the 19th century as the residence of the Egyptian royal family and later served as a presidential palace. Today, the palace houses a number of museums, including the Silver Museum, the Weapons Museum, the Royal Family Museum and the Presidential Museum. Visitors can explore the palace’s magnificent halls and gardens while admiring the rich history and impressive architecture of the Abdeen Palace.
Cairo Opera House
The Cairo Opera House is an oasis of culture and art in the heart of the city. The modern cultural center, offers a diverse program of music, dance and theater and was opened in 1988. The Opera House is an architectural masterpiece and a symbol of Cairo’s cultural diversity. Enjoy a performance in the elegant auditorium or visit one of the many art galleries and exhibitions that the Cairo Opera House houses.
The Sultan Hasan Mosque
The Sultan Hasan Mosque is an impressive structure dating back to the 14th century and is one of the most important historical sights in Cairo. It impresses with its sublime architecture and magnificent decorations. The mosque was built during the Mamluk dynasty and also served as an Islamic educational institution. The magnificent courtyards and domes of Sultan Hasan Mosque are incomparable.
City Gate Bab Zuweila
The historic gate to the Old City “Bab Zuweila” is one of the oldest and most impressive city gates of Cairo and an important landmark of the Old City. Built in the 11th century, it was part of the Fatimid city’s fortifications and served as an important entrance to the city. From the top of the tower you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of historic Cairo and the vibrant metropolis of today. The many surrounding bustling alleys with small local markets are also particularly worth seeing.
The Military Museum
The Military Museum in Cairo offers a comprehensive overview of Egypt’s military history from Pharaonic times to the present. The museum features an impressive collection of weapons, uniforms, war equipment and historical documents. Visitors will gain a deep insight into the role of the military throughout Egyptian history and can trace the evolution of war strategies and techniques over the centuries.
Eating and Drinking in Cairo
Egyptian cuisine offers a variety of delicious dishes and flavors that are influenced by the country’s rich history and culture. Especially in Cairo, you can enjoy an incredibly wide range of traditional Egyptian dishes. These include specialties such as ful medames (boiled beans), ta’meya (falafel), koshari (rice, lentils and noodles with tomato sauce), mahshi (stuffed vegetables) and shawarma (grilled meat). In the city on the Nile there are countless restaurants, street food stalls, markets, cafes and restaurants where you can experience oriental cuisine at any time of day.
For an authentic Egyptian experience, visitors should also be sure to make a detour to one of the traditional tea rooms that are widely available in Cairo. Here you can watch the noisy hustle and bustle of the city while sipping a glass of mint tea or strong mocha. Particularly noteworthy are also the desserts, delights and pastries such as Om Ali, Basbousa and Kunafa, which are offered in many colorful variations.
Trip preparation and valuable tips
Cairo is fascinating and diverse and definitely worth a visit. At any point before and during the trip, however, you should be emphatically aware Egypt is not an easy destination. The climate, infrastructure, economy, climate, public safety and cleanliness are relatively sustainable, but adapted to the location as expected for a country between Africa and the Middle East. The desert city is gigantic in size, incredibly hot, beguilingly noisy and miserably poor. The streets are filled with donkey carts and tuktuks, crumbling and unfinished houses, old diesel engines, and free-roaming dogs and cats. The sometimes garbage-infested poverty-stricken neighborhoods should be avoided by tourists – an independent and well-prepared trip is nevertheless absolutely worthwhile and an experience of a lifetime. Also the boundless hospitality of the Egyptians at cordiality hardly to surpass.
Climate and Travel Time for Cairo
Cairo has a hot desert climate characterized by hot summers and mild winters. The best time to visit Cairo is from October to April, when temperatures are more pleasant and the weather is less extreme. During this time, temperatures range from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius during the day and cool down to about 10 to 15 degrees Celsius at night. During the summer months from May to September, temperatures can rise to over 40 degrees Celsius, which can make sightseeing and exploring the city strenuous.
Cultural peculiarities in Cairo
Cairo is a city with a rich cultural history that combines many different traditions and customs. It is important to respect the cultural characteristics of the city and adapt to local customs. Some tips travelers should take to heart:
- Dress: In Cairo and Egypt in general, care should be taken to dress appropriately. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, while men should wear long pants and shirts. When visiting religious sites, such as mosques, churches, and synagogues, it is especially important to be respectfully dressed.
- Photographing: When photographing people, visitors should ask permission. Government institutions, police officers and soldiers may not be photographed under any circumstances. In some museums and historical sites, photography without permission is prohibited.
- Tipping: In Egypt, tipping (baksheesh) is common and expected in restaurants , cafes, hotels and services. It is customary to tip about 10-15% of the bill amount, depending on the quality of service.
- Negotiating: Haggling over prices is common in Cairo and in Egyptian markets and bazaars. Travelers should be prepared to bargain for prices and be polite, respectful, but also persistent and firm.
- Taxis: Taxis are very cheap and the safest mode of transport. The fares should be negotiated before starting the journey. Also here is often a lot of room for negotiation.
Entry and visa for Cairo
Travelers from most countries need a visa to enter Egypt. Visas can be applied for in advance at Egyptian consulates or embassies, or purchased as a “visa on arrival” upon arrival at Cairo airport. Visa fees vary depending on nationality and length of stay. Travelers should ensure that their passport is valid for at least six months and has sufficient blank pages.
Important vaccinations and medications
The most important vaccinations for Egypt are hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and tetanus and diphtheria. In addition, depending on the type, duration and route of travel, vaccination against meningococcal disease, yellow fever and rabies may also be recommended. It is advisable to consult with a physician or tropical medicine specialist well in advance of travel to complete the necessary vaccinations, as depending on the agent, multiple doses of vaccination may be required to establish complete vaccine protection.
Travel pharmacy and medications
With regard to the first-aid kit, it is advisable to carry medicines for diarrhea, pain and fever, as well as insect bites and sunburn. Also, an effective mosquito repellent should not be missing in any case. If necessary, special medications against altitude sickness, motion sickness or malaria prophylaxis may also be needed, depending on the itinerary and planned activities.
It is important to take care of vaccinations and travel pharmacy in time to be able to travel healthy and carefree. Some in Germany common and partly over-the-counter drugs fall in Egypt, however, are considered a drug and may not be imported – here a short online research is recommended in each case.
Particular caution is also recommended when eating unwashed fruits and vegetables, as well as when coming into contact with Nile water.
Day Trips from Cairo
Cairo is an ideal base for day trips to some of Egypt’s most impressive historical sites. Some of the most popular day trips from Cairo include:
Memphis and Sakkara: The ancient city of Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt and today houses an impressive collection of ruins and monuments, including the stunning alabaster Sphinx. At the nearby necropolis of Sakkara, visitors can admire the Step Pyramid of Djoser, considered the oldest known pyramid in the world.
Dahshur: The pyramids of Dahshur, including the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, are lesser known than the pyramids of Giza, but equally impressive. A visit to Dahshur offers a quieter and less touristy experience than Giza, allowing visitors to explore the impressive structures at their leisure.
Alexandria: The port city of Alexandria, about 225 kilometers from Cairo, is known for its rich history and impressive ancient sites, such as the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, the Roman Amphitheater and the Citadel of Qaitbay. Alexandria can be conveniently visited as a day trip from Cairo, offering visitors a fascinating introduction to Egypt’s Greco-Roman history.
Book tours and activities in Cairo
There are a variety of operators offering tours of the city’s major sights, boat trips on the Nile, desert safaris and cultural experiences. By booking tours and activities, travelers can gain a deeper insight into Cairo’s history and culture and enrich their travel experience.
» Tip: To get the most out of a stay in Cairo, it’s a good idea to book guided tours and activities in advance – it saves time and money!
Some of the recommended tourist activities in Cairo include:
- Professionally guided tours to the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx
- Visit the Egyptian Museum with a knowledgeable guide
- Boat cruises on the Nile at sunset or during a dinner cruise
- Desert safaris by quad
- Camel or horseback riding near the pyramids
- Cultural experiences, such as Egyptian cooking classes or visits to local handicraft workshop
- Authentic traditional evenings with dance and music
When booking tours and activities, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the providers and read reviews from other travelers to ensure the best possible experience.
Booking a Hotel in Cairo
An exciting and inspiring vacation in Cairo begins with choosing the perfect accommodation. To find the right hotel for every taste and budget, it is recommended to book early and compare different options. Booking early increases the chance of finding a good deal and securing the best available rooms. Use the numerous booking platforms to read reviews and compare prices before making your decision.
Overall, Cairo offers a fascinating mix of history, culture and modern city life that will captivate any visitor. By carefully planning and organizing their trip, including booking accommodations, tours and activities, travelers can ensure that their stay in Cairo will be a memorable one. Prepare to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring world of the pharaohs, discover the treasures of the Egyptian Museum, and enjoy the lively atmosphere of the city. Cairo is waiting to be explored!
Practical Tips for Visiting Cairo
To get the most out of your Cairo stay and avoid any unpleasant surprises, follow these handy tips:
Safety: Although Cairo is generally considered safe for tourists, travelers should always be vigilant and keep an eye on their personal belongings. Avoid traveling alone in remote areas and be wary of accepting offers from strangers.
Traffic: Cairo is known for its chaotic traffic and often crowded streets. Cabs and ridesharing services are the best and most convenient means of transportation to get around the city safely. When crossing streets, pay massive attention to traffic and it’s best to “hang onto locals” to get safely to the other side of the street.
Drinking Water: It is recommended not to drink tap water. Instead, travelers should buy bottled (and sealed) water or use water filters.
Language: The official language in Egypt is Arabic, but while some people in tourist areas also speak English, even in the capital it often doesn’t get you very far. It can be helpful to learn or carry printed copies of some basic Arabic words and phrases to communicate with locals, show respect for the local culture, and get where you’re going reliably..
Money: The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (EGP). It is advisable to carry cash in small denominations, as many stores and service providers do not accept credit cards. Free ATMs are widely available in Cairo, but it is advisable to withdraw cash only from official commercial banks.
Respect for Religion: Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, and religion plays an important role in people’s daily lives. Travelers should respect religious customs and traditions, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan, when public eating and drinking may be restricted during the day.
Cairo offers a wealth of fascinating sights, cultural treasures and vibrant experiences that will captivate any visitor. With careful planning and preparation, including choosing the right accommodation, booking tours and activities, and taking into account practical tips and local customs, any visit to Cairo will be an unforgettable experience that you will remember fondly. Whether you’re exploring the majestic pyramids of Giza, enjoying the bustle of the Chan el-Chalili bazaar, or marveling at the impressive collections of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo will provide you with countless unforgettable moments.
Let Egypt’s rich history and culture enchant you, experience the vibrant city life. Prepare to uncover the secrets of the ancient pharaohs, marvel at the impressive architectural masterpieces and immerse yourself in Cairo’s vibrant and diverse culture. Pack your bags, plan your trip, and discover the many wonders that Cairo has to offer!