When you think of Egyptians, who do you think of first? King Tut? Cleopatra? Did you know that Cleopatra (VII) wasn’t even Egyptian? She was born in Alexandria but came from a long line of Greek Macedonians initially from Ptolemy I. There was a mixture of cultures and rulers of this area. Still, she was famous for being the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty to speak Egyptian.
Did you also know that Egyptians were some of the first civilizations to keep pets? They thought animals were incarnations of gods, and they loved them, many would-be buried with their pets or mummify them when they died. They had all kinds of pets but were particularly fond of cats.
I learned many things in Cairo, yes you can probably watch the history channel and learn something, but there is nothing more fulfilling than standing next to a real mummy tomb hearing all about it. When you are in the very place where some of the greatest rulers and civilizations lived, it hits differently.
So, you’ve always wanted to visit The Great Pyramids of Giza? Me too! Since I was young, I, like many, was intrigued by Egyptian history. I saw all kinds of movies about tombs, treasures, and mummies. I found the history not only mysterious but insanely fascinating. They seemed so effortlessly intriguing and compelling. Ancient Egypt lovers alike are drawn to traveling to the country and exploring it themselves. You can drown in the history, culture, and experience. It is all around you. It’s all over Cairo.
While there is so much to see in Egypt, you won’t need much time in Cairo. You can see most of it in 48 hours. There are some great day trips you can do if you have more time in the area and aren’t going on to Aswan, Sharm El Sheik, or beyond.
If you have 72 hours, you could make a day trip to Alexandria to visit the port and library, or you can see Memphis and Sakkara. You can book a tour, or hire a private driver for cheap for these places. I would choose Memphis if you have some extra time, it’s 15 kilometers from Cairo and is the ancient capital of Egypt.
Although there were things about Cairo I was surprised about and a little sad about, it is still somewhere I think everyone should see and experience. The history alone should take you there, not to mention how kind and insightful the people are. I was happy and pleasantly surprised, just how incredible the people were. They are hospitable and want visitors to learn about their country and its history. I made some great friends there and contacts that I hope to always keep in touch with. It’s funny how people can be so different from you, yet we are all also remarkably similar in so many ways.
Here’s a story, on my first day in Egypt, I arrived at the Citadel unprepared. They only took cash. Of course. The nearest ATM was a 10-min car ride, and there were no taxis. A man aware of my situation, came up to me and asked if I needed cash. I did. I only had about 3 USD. He agreed to drive Gabby and me to the nearest bank or ATM. His English was decent, and he looked nice. I agreed. Now before you think I’m crazy, I typically monitor situations and go with my gut and the energy of people. I didn’t feel he was someone I should worry about, plus my location is always shared with my boyfriend so he would be able to track my movements if anything were to happen. Nota, the man took us straight to the ATM and got us ahead in the line, there is a separate line for men and women, and he asked the bank security to let us go forward. They had known each other. We got our money and headed back to the Citadel. Nota agreed to then be our driver for the entire day for a fraction of a regular taxi or private driver. He took us to many different places and showed us the secret spots in Egypt. I felt a little sad about how little he was making on this day, so Gabby and I took him to the Nile River for some drinks, food, and shisha. (hookah). He facetimed his wife, and we met her and his small child. He was so kind. He told us how he had spent almost every day at the Citadel since he was a small child. He learned English from begging for change and helping tourists until he was older and began driving them. He was a fascinating person. He told us a lot about how people in Cairo live. It’s an impoverished city, and many work extremely hard for little pay and little monthly salaries. It made me realize how lucky we are to live the lives we live in a country of opportunity etc. We used Nota a few more times on our short trip to Cairo. I would recommend him as your driver if you need one. He’s a family man, safe, and very knowledgeable. He knows everyone around, can translate for you if required, and accommodates your schedule. E-mail me if you want his info! I’m happy to give it.
Ok, now I’ll get on a schedule of your 48 hours in Egypt.
The best place to stay in Cairo depends on what you prefer. I would recommend staying outside of Cairo in a quieter area. I recommend Giza or where I stayed, which was further outside Cairo. It was lovely to be away from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the city. It’s one of the craziest cities I’ve been in as far as traffic and noise, etc.
Swiss Inn Pyramids Golf Resort was where Gabby and I stayed, and it was great! The location, the property, the golf course, the food (the food was one of my favorite things about the hotel). They’re spot on there. We had a great room with a pool view, and it was perfect. The staff was very friendly and helpful to all our needs. I even had a golf lesson with the pro, and he was super helpful in improving my swing and form. The pool at Swiss Inn Pyramids was great to lounge at as well and had some great food and drink options. The weather was perfect in the fall, not too hot, but hot enough to enjoy the sun and pool. They can also sort airport transfers to and from the airport. They have drivers that work for them that will make sure you arrive safely. I did this and then used Ubers and Nota for some other trips within Cairo.
Wake up, have a great breakfast at your hotel. (Swiss Inn Pyramids) Most hotels offer free breakfast in the rate, so enjoy that. After breakfast, around 9 am, call an uber, Nota, or your driver and head to the Cairo Citadel. The Citadel is a fortress on a hill with sweeping views over Cairo city. It was home to many Egyptian rulers. There you will find great city views, a mosque, museum, sultan’s residence, and Muhammed Ali’s tomb inside. The whole area is very historic and massive. You can also enter this Mosque as opposed to others. You cannot if you’re not Muslim. Just bring a scarf to cover your head and make sure you’re dressed conservatively. I recommend spending about an hour there, two with a guide if you want to learn all about it.
Next drive by some of the mosques, maybe stop for a snap outside. You won’t be allowed inside, so just a quick shot is good and to see the grand architecture. The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, Al-Hussain Mosque, and Al-Azhar Mosque. They are beautiful and magnificent.
Next, head to the City of the Dead, aka Cairo Necropolis, a place of the edge of Historic Cairo full of cemeteries, tombs, mausoleums, and burial sites. It is full of the dead. It is interesting to see all the tombs, especially of those of the rulers and famous.
I must say though, the saddest thing about this place isn’t the dead, but the living that has been forced to inhabit these cemeteries due to overcrowding in the city and little money. It is a place where both the living and the dead coexist. While some think it’s not a place to bring tourists, I think it is interesting. It will give some people perspective just how blessed they are and how to have a little humility and gratitude.
After this, I would head to Old Cairo and walk around the historic worshipping center combining Islam, Christian, and Jewish cultures. It houses the oldest mosque in Cairo, (Amr Mosque), churches, and a synagogue dating back as early as the 9th century. The Hanging Church of The Virgin Mary, a church built in the 4th century that was built on the ruins of two old towers remaining from The Fortress of Babylon. I would take a walk inside this charming, historical, and rustic church.
After this, I would head to The Nile. You can walk around it, sit at a floating restaurant, or take a sunset cruise. I went and sat just on a floating restaurant because of the time, but I think a journey would have been refreshing if you find a good one that’s not too crowded. The sunset was beautiful here. The Nile is where we had dinner and shisha and some drinks. It was also so cheap.
After this, I would head back to your hotel and relax, OR you can check out The Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This was one of the oldest bazaars in the world. They have spices, luxury fabrics, perfumes, traditional clothing, and Egyptian souvenirs. It’s a place if you want to get a feel of the busy city and shop. There are a few historical monuments around this area. I went here, and it was ok unless you’re set on gifts for friends. I don’t think it’s a must-do if you are crunched for time. I did get a cute little headpiece there for two bucks I wore to the pyramids, though. It just depends on what you’re looking for and if you have the extra time. No need to stress if you miss it, especially if you have been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, you won’t mind missing it. You can get some of the same souvenirs at the tourist attractions from people selling them there.
End of the day, head back to Swiss inn and relax. Have some snacks, wine, and shisha at the outside bar. It’s an excellent atmosphere and perfect for a nightcap.
Wake up extra early. Have a delicious breakfast and head to The Great Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx. They open either at 7 or 8 am, depending on the season. I arrived five minutes early so that I would be the first person inside. I wanted to get epic photos without the insane masses of people that bus there early in the morning. There usually are crowds about 90 mins after it opens. So go early! You won’t regret it. It’s also such a different, more mesmerizing experience seeing it alone without many people there.
I recommend going to The Sphinx first. Get photos in front of her and just stand and gaze at her while pinching yourself that you finally made it to Giza. That’s what I did! I then walked inside and did more gazing. Lol. You don’t need much time here. Maybe thirty minutes to an hour at most. Make sure you don’t just snap your pictures, but you take it in. I advise having a guide to tell you about the area, but if you already feel you know a lot about it, then forget it. Hiring a guide is typically relatively cheap though, and helps support the local economy. I advise it!
After the Sphinx, take a cab or your driver, and head to the pyramids. I started at the largest one first. This one was huge, and you can buy a separate ticket to go inside of it, but you must do that when you walk in. It’s a little pricey, but you can walk inside and walk up a lot of ramps to get to the top. It’s pretty dark inside and just a hollow pyramid, but you can do it if you want and don’t think you’ll be back. I didn’t do it, but Gabby did and said it was super cool and worth it. Not because the inside is some crazy beautiful thing, but it was the experience of being inside of The Great Pyramid and to say she’s seen and done it. I get that! I feel like I’ll be back, so I’ll do it next time. I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to take photos inside of it either. Technically you aren’t meant to climb the pyramids, but many people do, and they do not enforce this much on the large one. They don’t let you climb to the top, but you can get away with climbing up a few. It also doesn’t seem to hurt the structure since they are so insanely large and durable. I couldn’t believe just how significant each stone was. I pictured them quite small. Remember to wear comfortable shoes while here as it’s a lot of walking and walking in sand.
Next, we drove to the other two pyramids. You can walk, ride a camel, ride an ATV, horse, or drive a car. A lot of people ride camels and horses to get more unique perspectives. Still, I don’t support animal tourism at all, and I saw some of the camels poorly treated. It’s just not something I find necessary. You have two feet, and you’re on vacation. Walk or drive yourself. Animals shouldn’t be slaves for you. That’s just my take, but I do not ride animals, nor do I support them in slavery and imprisonment.
I would spend a couple of hours here, exploring and getting fun photos. You won’t need all day. In the evening, I believe they do a cool light show, and you could come back later if you have the time. A great view is going inside the Pizza hut and ordering some food if you don’t want to pay. There is also a hotel nearby you can watch from the rooftop. The Panorama Pyramids Inn, although this may be for guests or a small fee.
After you leave the pyramids, I would head to the Egyptian Museum, aka the Museum of Cairo. This large museum is home to over 100,000 items, including artifacts, mummies, statues, jewelry, etc. It is enormous, and you will need a few hours (3-4) at least to go through it all. I strongly recommend buying the extra ticket to the mummy exhibit. That was so insanely cool and my favorite part of the Museum. There truly is so much in this building. I know they mean to move it into another, even more substantial building, but for now, it’s still in the same building. There is everything you would want to see in terms of Egyptian and Ancient Egyptian history. There is also a gift shop and restaurant outside to stop for drinks and snacks. I would recommend having cash with you. Also, there is an extra fee if you have a professional camera, they search your bags so you can’t hide it. Take your time through this and make sure you hit every floor and every section, even if you just start to skim things as it can seem overwhelming, but intriguing to say the least.
After the museum, If you’re not heading back to the hotel before dinner, I would eat around the Museum. There are some fantastic places to grab a fabulous dinner. Some ideas would be Vivo Restaurant, Sabaya, India along the Nile, Birdcage, Felfela, The Blue Restaurant and Grill, and Osmanly Restaurant. These are also ideal for any night you need a good dinner. Most are a little nicer, so if you want something more casual, I would head towards the Nile or find a buffet or café. Also, I ate dinner at my hotel, Swiss Inn Pyramids, and it was amazing! It’s a buffet, but the food is incredible, and there is so much choice! You’ll get a good meal for a reasonable price if you’re tired and wanting to get back.
There you have it! There is my 48-hour guide! Next time I go to Egypt, which will undoubtedly be in the future, I will spend another 48 hours in Cairo to see some things I missed (day trips) and then head to Luxor. I’m dying to go there and have heard incredible things, so I would include that in your Egypt trip if you feel you’ll only go once. Aswan and Sharm El Sheik also look stunning! Enjoy this historic country!
Some Basic Tips for Cairo!
*Bring comfortable shoes! You will do a lot of walking.
*Make sure you have a scarf or something to cover your head and shoulders if needed.
*Remember the dress code and dress appropriately and respectfully. This means covering the legs and shoulders.
*At times it’s ok to take the covering off your shoulders if you’re taking some pics at the tourist spots, but generally stay respectful of the culture and religion.
*Make sure you have cash. A lot of places don’t take a card, and it’s just much easier. That was something I regretted is constant ATM trips.
Learn a few Arabic phrases, it’s appreciated!
Plan for heavy traffic consistently. The traffic here is crazy and always so busy, so getting around takes much longer than you think.
Drink Bottled water. Stay hydrated, it’s hot, and walking all day in the sun will dehydrate you.
Bring some Toilet paper with you for the bathrooms, and also coins. Many public restrooms still require a small fee. Also, bring hand sanitizer.
Don’t take valuables out especially expensive jewelry etc.
Cairo is generally a safe place, but use common sense and stay vigilant in your surroundings.
Remember to tip and try and leave it in cash and hand it directly to the waiter or tour guide etc.
Taxis and Ubers are cheap. I used Uber if I could choose, so there was a record of my trip and the driver. This was purely for safety reasons. Make sure the driver and car always match the app.