For my last weekend in Cairo, I decided to take an organized tour of the city. I reached out to a guide who came highly recommended by a friend of mine. Within a few minutes of speaking over the phone, we had arranged an itinerary for the day. So if you find yourself in Cairo, here are some recommendations on what to see, eat and do in 24 hours.
See: The Pyramids of Giza
Begin the day with a visit to the Great Pyramids of Giza. Since I had already visited when Mark was here, I opted to skip this stop and get a late start to the morning. But if you are visiting Cairo for the first time, chances are that the Pyramids are what you came for.
Like I mentioned in this article, they are quite easily accessible from anywhere in the city using public transport or Uber if you decide to explore on your own. There are also hotels and inns close to the Pyramids where you could stay to maximize your time.
See: Cairo Citadel
Once you’re done exploring the Pyramids, head on to the Cairo Citadel. If like me, you visit on a Friday, be aware that the Mohammed Ali Mosque will close for prayers at noon. I believe it opens again shortly afterward but if you want to avoid the crowd, it’s better to visit before noon or a few hours after.
See: Egyptian Museum
Head on to the Egyptian Museum after visiting the Cairo Citadel. Visiting the Egyptian Museum was the place where I had my second ‘I can’t believe I’m actually in Egypt’ moment. This Museum is quite huge and impressive. It is definitely worth a stop on your 24-hour itinerary.
The second floor of the museum which houses relics from Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut) was an absolute delight. The details on his tomb, his iconic golden burial mask and jewels were the highlight of my visit. I also enjoyed learning about Egyptian customs and beliefs from my guide. I’m glad Mark convinced me to visit the Museum with one.
I would recommend that you do the same or at least have a guidebook or a note to take down things you want to google later on.
See: The Old City of Cairo
After hours spent at the Museum, stop to have lunch at a local restaurant or make a quick dash to Cairo’s oldest section which features the first mosque built in Egypt and churches dating back to the 4th century.
Finally, if you’re touring alone, you can end the day here or visit the local markets if you want to do some shopping. But if like me, you hire a guide, there might be one more stop on your itinerary.
Skip the shops (or not…)
More often than not, when you take a tour, operators will try to take you to a shop where they get a commission after you buy something. Usually, I am pretty upfront about excluding this from my itinerary but I wasn’t this time. My guide took me to two shops, one was a perfumery and the other, a papyrus ‘museum’
I managed to escape the papyrus shop without buying anything but the perfume merchant was pretty persuasive! I mean, he went all out! He offered me a drink, a local meal (Kushari), free WIFI and a card-cash exchange.
To be fair, the perfumes and oils also sold themselves. They smelled wonderful, so I don’t regret buying some. Once we were done with the shops, we headed to a restaurant close by to have lunch before calling it a day.
By the time I got back to my hotel, I was spent. My guide offered to take me to the light and sound show but I just couldn’t muster enough strength to leave my bed. Overall, I was very happy with the tour. I would say I saw the best of Cairo in 24 hours.
Other things to include, if you’re feeling up to it are:
- A dinner cruise along the Nile: I did this one evening during my stay. It was alright but you won’t be missing much if you exclude this from your itinerary
- The Pyramid light and sound show: I skipped this as well. If you stay at a hotel close to the Pyramid, it may be worth your while to go see it.
- Khan el Khalili – a souk in Islamic Cairo – my colleagues tell me that I didn’t really visit Cairo because I didn’t go here. I’m almost having a major case of FOMO right now. But I guess, there’s something new to see when I return to this crazy but wonderful city.