Typically we like trying to figure out a new city on our own, but Cairo is such a massive metropolis that it would have been impossible to navigate in our two days. Any hotel in town likely will arrange custom tours for you. Guardian Guest House, where we stayed, made it very easy—we simply emailed them the list of sites we were interested in and they put together a custom tour for our group of four. It cost just $155 per person for a guide and driver for two full days, all entry fees, and a dinner cruise on the Nile! It was a great value for all we got to do, and we definitely recommend taking that route if your time is limited.
Our first day was spent entirely at the pyramids surrounding the city and you can read more about that right here. On Day Two our guide, Haisam, took us into the city to see the rest of the treasures on our list.
The Egyptian Museum houses a massive collection of artifacts. They said if you spent 30 seconds looking at each item in the museum, you would be there for 9 months! Having a guide is essential as they’ll help direct you to the highlights and give explanations, which is good since most things aren’t well marked. The treasures unearthed in King Tut’s tomb are on full display.
The Royal Mummy Room charges an extra entry fee, but in my opinion it is absolutely worth it! You will see Ramses II, who some believe was the Pharaoh of the Exodus from the Bible. Haisam prepared us for the visit by telling us, “He looks alive!” Ha! I’m not sure I would go that far, but is very well-preserved and still has hair on his head!
Al-Azhar University and Mosque
There are so many historic and interesting mosques in Cairo, but this one also has the title of the oldest University. Haisam led us around the beautiful site, then we sat in the courtyard and talked about religion and politics! It was a great opportunity to learn and ask questions about Islam and Egypt’s modern history.
Bayt al-Suhaymi House Museum
I was incredibly interested in seeing the Gayer Anderson Museum (where scenes from The Spy Who Loved Me were shot) but unfortunately, it didn’t work with our schedule. Though the rooms are nearly empty in contrast to the Gayer Anderson, the Bayt al-Suhaymi House is similar in architecture and style. Haisam said I was the first person to ask to be taken there, and he wasn’t even sure where it was! We wound our way through old Cairo til we found it, which was a delightful experience in itself.
Khan el Khalili
If I had another day in Cairo, I may have spent it here, shopping at the market and people-watching. Haisam took us deep inside the souk to El Fishawy, Cairo’s oldest coffee shop and favorite hangout of some of Egypt’s literary giants. It was nice to take a break from the hot sun with some tea and coffee!
Coptic Cairo is an area where many of Egypt’s oldest Christian churches stand. Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church is nicknamed the “Hanging Church” because it is suspended over a passageway of the Roman era fortress below. The church of Abu Serga nearby was built over the crypt where legend says the Holy Family took refuge to escape Herod during their flight to Egypt. After seeing the fantastic collection of icons inside the Hanging Church, I wish we could have made time to visit the Coptic Museum nearby which holds even more pieces of historical Coptic art.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend trying to see Cairo in a day as I believe it requires much more time to experience all the city has to offer! But if it’s your only opportunity like it was for us, then I would strongly suggest you do some research to make a list of all the sites you want to see. Then, email the list to your host and see if they will create a custom itinerary for you. They’ll be able to tell you if your list is realistic or if you need to cut out a few things to make it work in your timeframe.
We hope to make it back to Cairo someday—what else should we see?
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