Egypt is a land of many ancient wonders, which draws in tens of millions of global tourists annually, all fascinated, and all enticed in by the phenomenon of the nation’s ancient past. This two-day itinerary for Cairo covers many of the capital’s quaint spots, which all have a unique tale, along with an abundance of character. However, the beauty of Cairo doesn’t come without an element of chaos, so this guide will help you plan your short stay in the Egyptian capital, furthermore, ensure that you make the most of the city’s highlights, trouble free.
This itinerary suits every type of traveller, whether you are on a solo adventure down the Nile, or passing through the Egyptian capital on your way to Sharm el Sheik or Hurghada, for a family resort style holiday. Some of the notable highlights that are covered for the best things to do in Cairo are:
- Shop at the famous Khan el Khalili bazaar.
- Learn about the Christian history of the city’s Coptic Quarter.
- Explore the Grand Egyptian Museum.
- Visit the Museum of Mohammed Ali.
- Be mesmerised by the last remaining great wonder at the Pyramids of Giza.
- Be fascinated by the world’s oldest known pyramid at Saqqara.
- Get lost inside the ancient capital of Memphis.
How to Spend 2 days in Cairo
Is Cairo safe to visit with a family?
Cairo has had a turbulent history with safety which can put off some families visiting, however, the city is heavily-guarded and all the tourist spots are fitted with security scanners to protect global visitors.
Here are some tips for staying safe in Cairo with your family:
- Choose a hotel that is located in a safe part of the city.
- Book any tours with a reputable tour operator.
- Visit popular tourist attractions during the day, when there are more people around.
- Bring sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses for the whole family.
- Drink bottled water and avoid drinking tap water.
- Keep a close eye on your children in the busy tourist spots.
Day One – Cairo’s famous sites.
Day one of this two-day itinerary for Cairo is action packed and involves a lot of walking at the famous sites, therefore, it is recommended that you use Uber to travel between the different places, especially in summer, when temperatures reach extremely high levels in Cairo. Taxis, along with the other methods of transport available in the capital will involve haggling and are likely to result in over inflated ‘tourist’ prices, however, Uber is very efficient and a fixed price, which is displayed before you book.
Khan el Khalili
The first highlight is a cultural treasure trove, which epitomizes the way of life for the Egyptian people. Be prepared to learn the art of haggling in the famous Khan el Khalili open air bazaar, as the market traders battle for your attention, creating a chaotic passage of narrow weaving paths through the backstreets of downtown Cairo.
You will experience a variety of smells, sights, and sounds as you wander around the maze of alleys, and communicate with some of the charming locals, creating a unique sensory overload. This undertone will follow you around the Egyptian capital, as you explore its historical magnificence.
Strolling the stalls can be a little overwhelming at first, due to the sheer size of the bazaar, along with the fact that everyone wants your money. However, If you get involved with the locals and have a little fun with haggling and negotiating, it can make for a great activity for a family. Your chances of haggling for a bargain will be increased greatly if you carry smaller Egyptian notes with you.
If you want to experience Khan el Khalili without the hassle factor, then it is recommended that you hire a private tour guide.
When you think about ancient Egyptian history, you think of pharaohs and tombs, but Coptic Cairo is another important part of the nations’ rich history. The Coptic neighbourhood in Cairo offers a glimpse into early Christianity across Egypt, through several important religious sites. One of the most fascinating sites is the Hanging Church which is one of the oldest churches in the country, dating back to the third century. Admiring the beautiful well-preserved architecture throughout the area is a calm escape from the madness in other areas of the city.
The Coptic Orthodox Christian community is the largest Christian denomination in Egypt & the Middle East, so offers some rich cultural heritage for visitors to learn about. If you want to gain some in-depth knowledge about the Christianity era in Egypt then you can head to the Coptic Museum, and browse the impressive collection of coptic art, which is nicely laid out and is accompanied by written descriptions. Near the Hanging Church, you will also find four other original churches, the first mosque built in Egypt and the oldest synagogue in this religious district, representing three major world religions.
The Coptic area of Cairo is easily accessible via taxi, Uber, or the Metro using the Mar Girgis (line 1 – blue) stop as your destination station.
Head to The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and Tahrir Square.
The next highlight gives you a break from the afternoon heat, whilst offering you a unique history lesson on Ancient Egypt. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has more than 120,000 artefacts on display, all from different era’s in the nation’s mystical past. Some of the other priceless antiquities available to see include original hieroglyphics, statues and exhibits.
The most impressive section is the room dedicated to King Tutankhamun, and the beautiful treasure which was found alongside his mummy, in his tomb over a century ago. His famous collection includes his gold death mask and sarcophagus, alongside other notable items which hold great historical significance. Be prepared to queue to enter the room though, and unfortunately you are not permitted to take photos of the items inside this room.
After your visit to the museum, you should proceed to the famous statue of the nationalist hero Umar Makram, which is situated in the middle of the square. This location was at the heart of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, therefore, another important piece of significant Egyptian history.
Museum of Mohamed Ali Palace.
To finish your first day exploring Cairo, a trip to the beautiful oasis like Manial Palace Museum gives you the opportunity to relax in the stunning gardens, after checking out the palace complex. The iconic site was built by Prince Mohamed Ali to preserve Islamic art and architecture, demonstrating another facet of Cairo’s intriguing religious history.
This hidden gem is home to a 34,00 square metre garden featuring many rare plants, and an abundance of greenery, creating the perfect spot to sit in a moment of tranquillity after your busy day traversing Cairo. Unlike other spots in the Egyptian Capital, the Manial Palace complex is uncrowded and a delight to wander around.
Day Two – Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara & Memphis.
After exploring Cairo at your own leisure on your first day, it is recommended that you book a tour for the second day of your stay in the capital. There is thousands of years of history to learn about between the three attractions, therefore, a local guide can give you some useful information. They also provide transport between the different landmarks, along with keeping the local scam artists and hustlers away from your group.
Pyramids of Giza & The Sphinx.
There is no doubt that the Pyramids of Giza are the highlight of any travel itinerary, as the three pyramids, along with the sphinx, are iconic global landmarks. The picture perfect setting is a truly unique travel experience, but can be very tiring in the summer heat, as a result of the walking and crowds. It is recommended that you visit early in the morning, to avoid this.
Notable activities to undertake when visiting this ancient wonder includes climbing onto the exterior of the pyramids (you can only go up a couple of blocks), which helps to reveal the sheer size of the structures, making you question how remarkable their construction is. You can enter all three pyramids at different costs (which all require a separate ticket), and head down into the narrow dark tunnel leading to an empty tomb. There is not much difference inside the pyramids, however, the Great Pyramid is significantly more expensive to visit, and a lot more busy.
Another popular activity with tourists is to ride a camel, or horse and cart, which are both one-of-a-kind experiences due to the mesmerising location, but both are notorious for scams and highly inflated tourist prices. This is another benefit of booking an official tour in advance, which can include these at a fixed price.
A selfie with the famous Sphinx of Giza is a great way to round off your morning. A very common pose with the ancient structure is to pretend you are kissing it, capturing a memorable snap.
The step pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara.
After you have ticked the great pyramids off your bucket list, it is time to visit another fascinating landmark in Saqqara. The step pyramid of Djoser is the oldest known pyramid in the world, and although it doesn’t get the same level of attention as the other pyramids, it is just as impressive. It is considered that the step pyramid is a giant stairway, starting from the depths of the burial chamber 28 metres below the ground. It is said that King Djoser would climb it after being resurrected to join sun god Ra in the sky. You can enter the ancient stone structure at an additional cost.
While exploring the archaeological site, you will also have the opportunity to visit multiple tombs, some of which still contain original hieroglyphics. There are information boards throughout the site in English and Arabic, which means you can reference some of the artefacts with different points of history.
Saqqara is much quieter than Giza, which means you get to spend some quiet time with your thoughts, as you observe the magnificent landmark. You can fully explore the whole Saqqara site in around one hour.
The final highlight of your Cairo trip is a visit to ‘Memphis’, the first capital of Ancient Egypt, which dates back to 6000 BC. The open air museum is a short drive from Saqqara, and is close to the beginning of the Nile Delta.
The main attractions of the museum are a very large limestone statue of Ramesses II, which is laid down in the viewing pavilion, as it is truncated at the knees. Then there is another Sphinx, but this one is made out of Alabaster. It is said to be one of the heaviest and largest made out of this material. Another great spot for a unique postcard snap.
That finishes your two action-packed days exploring Cairo. An abundance of ancient history, a glimpse into Egypts’ fascinating culture, and some relaxation in some natural beauty spots in a city that doesn’t stop. Other notable activities that you can add to a longer stay in the capital include, riding a felucca on the River Nile, sampling the local cuisine, and climbing the Cairo Tower for unbeatable views of the city.
This post was written by Tom Henty