Pyramids, Giza

3 Days In Ancient Cairo: The Ultimate Long Weekend Itinerary

Hello fellow adventurers! Egypt holds a special place in my heart, having explored its captivating cities of Alexandria, Cairo, and Port Said on multiple occasions. As I continue to uncover the treasures of this ancient land, one destination still on my bucket list is the stunning resort town of Sharm El Sheikh for scuba diving. For those of you based in Europe, Egypt is surprisingly accessible, making it an ideal destination for a long weekend getaway. If you’re considering a whirlwind trip to Cairo, I’ve crafted the perfect itinerary to help you make the most of your time in this historic city. From iconic landmarks to vibrant markets, get ready for an unforgettable Egyptian adventure!

Introduction

Cairo, Egypt’s sprawling capital, is one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating cities. With a metropolitan population of over 20 million, Cairo is the largest city in the Middle East and Africa. The city is situated on the banks of the famous River Nile and dates back over 1,000 years.

Cairo boasts an incredible amount of history and culture. As one of the great ancient capitals, Cairo is home to the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum with its impressive collection of pharaonic artifacts. The city also has many medieval Islamic monuments from its time as the capital of multiple Islamic caliphates.

Modern Cairo is a busy, chaotic but exciting metropolis. The city streets are crowded with cars, buses and pedestrians while the markets overflow with spices, textiles, and produce. It can be a challenging city for first-time visitors but the rewards are ample for those willing to dive in. With so much to see and do, planning is key to making the most of your time. This 3-day itinerary will help you navigate this fascinating city and see the best Cairo has to offer.

Getting There

Cairo is a major international travel hub with two airports and good transport links from the airports to the city center.

Cairo International Airport (CAI) is the main airport serving Cairo. It is located about 15 km northeast of central Cairo. CAI has three terminals and serves most major international airlines.

The easiest way to get from CAI airport to downtown Cairo is by taxi. There is a taxi stand outside the arrivals area of each terminal. Expect to pay about 150-200 EGP for a taxi to central Cairo.

There are also bus connections from CAI airport to the city. Bus line 400 goes between the airport and the Abdel Moniem Riad Station in central Cairo. The bus takes about an hour and costs 5 EGP. This is a good budget option.

Cairo Nile Airport (CNA) is the smaller airport used for some domestic flights and charters. It is located in central Cairo, just north of the Nile River. From CNA, taxis are readily available for trips into downtown Cairo. The ride takes 10-15 minutes.

In summary, Cairo has excellent international and domestic air connections. Ground transportation from the airports into central Cairo is easy to arrange, with taxis being the most convenient option.

Where to Stay

Cairo is a huge, sprawling city, so choosing the right neighborhood to stay in is key for first-time visitors. The downtown area near Tahrir Square is convenient for sightseeing but can be very hectic. For a more relaxed experience, consider staying in one of these recommended neighborhoods:

Garden City – This quiet, leafy neighborhood along the Nile is home to many embassies and is very walkable. Luxury hotels like the historic Marriott Cairo and Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza are located here.

Zamalek – This upscale island in the middle of the Nile is a favorite of tourists and expats. It has a nice mix of restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Recommended hotels include the Marriott Zamalek Residence and Fairmont Nile City.

Dokki – For those on a budget, this residential neighborhood has lots of affordable hotels and is also home to the Giza Zoo and Cairo Opera House. Try the Mercure Cairo Dokki or Holiday Inn Cairo Maadi.

Pyramids Area – Staying near the iconic Pyramids of Giza allows you to avoid traffic getting into Cairo. The Mena House and Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa offer iconic views.

Cairo has accommodation options ranging from luxurious five-star hotels to budget hostels. Consider proximity to the sights you want to see, the neighborhood vibe, and your budget. Booking early is wise as popular hotels fill up fast.

Top Sights

Cairo is home to some of the world’s most famous sights and attractions. Here are the top spots you won’t want to miss on your first visit:

Pyramids of Giza

No trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the iconic Pyramids of Giza. Located just outside the city, this complex contains the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure. Dating back over 4,500 years, the pyramids are the last remaining wonder of the ancient world and an awe-inspiring sight. Be sure to go inside one of the pyramids to see the interior chambers.

Egyptian Museum

With over 120,000 artifacts, the Egyptian Museum in Downtown Cairo houses the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Highlights include the treasures of King Tutankhamun and impressive mummies. Don’t miss the Royal Mummy Room to see Egypt’s former pharaohs.

Coptic Cairo

Go back in time with a visit to Coptic Cairo, home to ancient Christian churches and monasteries. The Coptic Museum provides insight into Coptic history and culture. Nearby, visit the Hanging Church and Ben Ezra Synagogue for beautiful examples of Coptic architecture.

Khan el-Khalili

Get lost in the winding alleys of Khan el-Khalili, Cairo’s giant bazaar. Shop for souvenirs, spices, gold, and perfume among the market’s thousands of stores and stalls. Stop at a café to drink mint tea and watch the hustle and bustle around you. The market makes for an exciting sensory experience.

First Day Itinerary

Pyramids

Start your first day in Cairo bright and early to avoid the crowds and beat the heat. Fuel up with breakfast at your hotel before heading out.

First stop, is the iconic Pyramids of Giza. Allow 2-3 hours to explore the pyramids and Sphinx. Don’t forget to go inside one of the pyramids – it’s an unforgettable experience to see the interior.

Next, head to the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo. You’ll want at least 2 hours here to see the highlights like King Tut’s treasures. Break for lunch at Abou Tarek for delicious koshary.

In the afternoon, visit Coptic Cairo to see ancient Christian sites like the Hanging Church and Ben Ezra Synagogue.

End your day with a felucca sailboat ride on the Nile River at sunset. It’s the perfect way to relax after a busy day of sightseeing.

Grab dinner at Felfela – a Cairo institution known for its Egyptian street food.

Day 2 Itinerary

Cairo

Start your second day in Cairo by heading to the Egyptian Museum, home to King Tut’s treasures and one of the world’s great collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Spend a couple of hours marveling at the gold masks, sarcophagi, and statuary.

After the museum, make your way over to the Citadel, a medieval Islamic fort with panoramic views over the city. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha is particularly impressive.

In the afternoon, explore Coptic Cairo, the historic Christian quarter. Visit the Hanging Church and Ben Ezra Synagogue. Pop into the historic Church of St. Barbara and the Coptic Museum to learn about Egypt’s Christian heritage.

End the day with a stroll through the bustling Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo. Haggle for souvenirs and Egyptian cotton. Stop for a mint tea and shisha at a traditional ahwa (coffeehouse). The bazaar’s lively streets make for some excellent people-watching.

Day 3 Itinerary

Sample third-day itinerary, and ideas for excursions outside the city.

Cairo city

On your third and final day in Cairo, consider taking an excursion outside of the city to see more of Egypt’s incredible history and landscapes. Here are some top options:

  • Day trip to Memphis and Saqqara – Memphis was the ancient capital of Egypt and Saqqara contains the Step Pyramid, one of Egypt’s oldest. See ancient sites and artifacts along the Nile.
  • Coptic Cairo and Ancient Churches – Take a tour of Coptic Cairo to learn about the Coptic Christian community and visit historic churches dating back to the 4th century AD.
  • Nile river cruise – Take a relaxing cruise down the Nile to see riverside temples and greenery. Enjoy lunch on board. Stops may include Dahshur and views of the Bent Pyramid.
  • Alexandria day trip – Venture to Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria, with its Mediterranean vibe. See the library, catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, and more.
  • Wadi Degla Protectorate – For a nature break from the city, visit this protected desert area and oasis for hiking, birdwatching, and beautiful desert scenery.

When planning your last day, keep in mind the travel time to farther excursion sites like Alexandria or the pyramids. End your Egypt trip on an exciting high note before heading home.

Where to Eat

Cairo is a food lover’s paradise, with delicious local cuisine and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets.

Local Cuisine

Egyptian cuisine reflects influences from the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa. Staples include ful medames (stewed fava beans), koshari (mix of lentils, rice, and macaroni), and shawarma (meat roasted on a spit). Traditional dishes are molokhia (soup made from jute leaves) and pigeon. Egyptian desserts like basbousa (semolina cake) and konafa (pastry soaked in syrup) are must-tries.

Koshary Abou Tarek – Known for having the best koshari in Cairo. This casual spot serves the carb-loaded dish in huge portions.

Fasahet Somaya – Upscale restaurant located in an old palace. Try pigeon stuffed with rice or classic Egyptian meat dishes. Live music performs nightly.

Khan El Khalili Restaurant – Get a taste of authentic Egyptian cuisine in Cairo’s largest souk. Friendly service and reasonable prices.

Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant – Named after the famous Egyptian writer, this restaurant offers a more modern take on local dishes. Great view of the Cairo skyline from the open-air terrace.

Abou El Sid – Popular with tourists and locals, this restaurant serves Egyptian dishes like molokhia and fattah in a home-style setting.

Felfela – Specializing in vegetarian versions of Egyptian cuisine. Try their take on classics like mahshi (stuffed vegetables) and ta’miya (falafel). Busy spot with lively atmosphere.

Getting Around

Cairo can seem chaotic for first-time visitors, but it’s easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Here are some tips for getting around:

Metro

Cairo’s metro system is modern, efficient, and the easiest way to travel between major sights like the Egyptian Museum and Giza. Fares are only a couple of pounds for a single ticket. Be aware that the metro gets very crowded during rush hours. Also, the metro does not go everywhere so you’ll need to take taxis or walk between stations and attractions.

Taxis

Taxis in Cairo are inexpensive but you’ll need to negotiate the fare upfront to avoid getting ripped off. Uber and Careem are popular rideshare apps. When taking a regular cab, ask your hotel for an estimate of what the fare should be before getting in. It’s customary to round up the fare when paying. Avoid old beat-up taxis as they tend to be less reliable.

Walking

Many of Cairo’s neighborhoods are best explored on foot. Downtown and Islamic Cairo have fascinating architecture and winding alleys to get lost in. Just be prepared for lots of honking cars, uneven sidewalks, and street vendors when walking around. Wear comfortable shoes, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t walk alone at night. Stay hydrated and reapply sunscreen often.

Getting between sights by metro, taxi, and foot is easy once you understand the system. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help navigating if you get lost or confused. With some preparation, Cairo is very manageable for first-time visitors.

Packing Tips

When packing for Cairo, there are a few key items to keep in mind.

Recommendations

  • Light, breathable clothing. Temperatures can get quite hot, so pack lightweight, light-colored shirts and pants or skirts. Cotton is a good choice.
  • Sun protection. Bring a hat, sunglasses, and high-SPF sunscreen. The sun can be very strong. Reapply sunscreen often.
  • Comfortable walking shoes. You’ll do a lot of walking, so shoes with good support are a must. Sandals are fine for the day if you’ll be going into mosques (where shoes must be removed).
  • Modest clothing for visiting mosques and churches. Cover knees and shoulders. Some places may require headscarves for women.
  • Jacket or sweater for evenings. The temperature can drop once the sun sets, so have something to layer.
  • Electrical adapter. Egypt uses 220V outlets, so you’ll need a plug adapter.
  • Copies of your passport/visa. Keep copies in case they are needed for any reason.
  • Prescription medications. Bring enough for your whole trip.

Etiquette

  • Dress modestly. As a sign of respect when visiting religious sites, cover up bare skin and avoid tight or revealing clothing.
  • Remove shoes before entering mosques and some homes. There are often plastic bags for carrying shoes with you.
  • Greet people with “as-salāmu ʿalaykum” (peace be upon you). Use your right hand if shaking hands.
  • Be discreet with public displays of affection. Kissing and hugging between couples in public is not common.
  • Learn some basic Arabic phrases. People appreciate when foreigners make an effort to speak some of the local language. Hello, thank you, please, etc.
Cairo Nile river

Safety

  • Use a money belt or concealable pouch for valuables. Pickpocketing can be an issue in crowded tourist areas.
  • Only take licensed taxis with working meters. Ask your hotel to arrange airport transfers and tours with licensed guides/drivers.
  • Drink sealed bottled water only. The tap water is not potable. Avoid raw fruits/veggies unless cooked or you can peel them yourself.
  • Avoid demonstrations and political gatherings. As a tourist, it’s best to steer clear of any conflicts.
  • Get travel insurance. Be sure it covers medical evacuation in case of emergency.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a three-day visit to Cairo, Egypt, promises a whirlwind of excitement and cultural immersion. This ancient city is a treasure trove of history, offering iconic landmarks like the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian Museum. Exploring the bustling streets of Cairo’s old town, sampling local cuisine, and navigating the vibrant bazaars are experiences that will leave lasting memories. However, it’s important to stay mindful of your surroundings and respect local customs during your visit. With careful planning and a sense of adventure, Cairo is sure to enchant and inspire you, leaving you with a profound appreciation for Egypt’s rich heritage and timeless beauty. Safe travels and enjoy your unforgettable journey through Cairo!


Don’t forget to check our latest blog post The Art of Slow Travel in 7 easy steps: How to Savor Your Digital Nomad Journey to discover a transformative approach to travel that encourages mindfulness, authenticity, and the cultivation of unforgettable experiences.

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