Cairo in 3 days: discover the secrets of the Egyptian capital
A three-day break in Cairo offers the opportunity to discover the city’s ancient culture and the numerous monuments that have witnessed the passing of thousands of years. Everyone can feel part of history whilst touring this buzzing capital city, which is a good way of starting to discover Egypt. A well-organised schedule will allow you time to see impressive sights such as the Saladin Citadel and the City of the Dead. You can also admire the beauty of mosques such as the Al-Azhar and the Ibn Tulun, and the remarkable views from the viewing point in the Tower of Cairo. And, of course, you can enjoy the experience of seeing dawn break at the Giza pyramids, or the sun setting over the Nile.
Make the most of every minute in Cairo: catch the energy that flows in Tahrir Square, visit the bazaars steeped in history and packed with souvenirs, and immerse yourself in a city of almost twenty million inhabitants where every corner holds something to interest and surprise you.
Itinerary day 1
To round off the day, we recommend dinner at the Horus Restaurant, which affords spectacular views of the Giza pyramids. At this establishment, on the 12th floor of the magnificent Barceló Cairo Pyramids hotel, you can enjoy both local dishes and international cuisine. The décor and the service guarantee a very special experience.
On your first evening in Cairo, we suggest you view the city from the legendary river Nile, where you can appreciate the city’s silhouette from the water. The shortest trips are around an hour or an hour and a half, and include a commentary on the history of the Egyptian capital — the perfect introduction to a weekend packed with sightseeing.
If you arrive in Cairo on a Friday afternoon, you could enjoy a peaceful time visiting the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), which partially opened in 2017 and has been fully open since April 2021. Its 135,000 m2 houses a broad collection covering all stages of the country’s history. The highlight is the Mummies’ Room, which has been designed to give visitors the experience of being in the Valley of the Kings.
If, after lunch, you fancy a stroll before visiting the museum, one place you should try is Tahrir Square. It is extremely busy all day, but it is exciting to walk through, or to sit beneath the obelisk in a place that has generated huge political change in the country. Take care when crossing from one side to the other.
After such a hectic morning, sit down and enjoy the mouthwatering cooking on offer at the Abou el-Sid restaurant — a welcoming establishment with very attentive service. Portions are generous and the prices are reasonable. Don’t hesitate to book a table here if you want an authentic local experience.
This is one of Cairo’s strangest and most impressive sights, as there are several necropolises where the people are forced to build dwellings, or to live in pantheons rented out by their owners. Within this ‘city of the dead’, the tombs might be in the garden, or next to a food shop.
Itinerary day 2
To round off the day, we suggest you return to the Nile, and enjoy a dinner with views of this legendary river, with the city as a backdrop. The Pier 88 restaurant in Zamalek is on the deck of a boat, and offers thoughtfully prepared Italian cuisine. It’s not cheap, but it is worth it for the experience.
Your Cairo schedule can continue with other cultural visits, but if you feel like a rest, both mentally and physically, we recommend you devote an afternoon to yourself. How about sampling the delights of a Cairo Hamman? You will find spas in hotels such as the Barceló Cairo Pyramids, or there are others, including the Al Sutan Hamman.
A perfect spot to continue your experience of Egypt is this restaurant where you can sample the country’s gastronomic delicacies. Although you may think this is an establishment targeted at tourists, you will see lots of local people enjoying the menu if you look closely. The décor is fascinating, and the prices very reasonable. Although service can be slow, the experience is worth the wait.
This is a district of Cairo that holds many surprises for visitors, as it’s a far cry from the antiquities associated with the Pharaohs and the Muslims that we expect to see. In this labyrinth of streets, you will find Roman and Christian remains in the form of churches and synagogues. The Coptic Museum is a good place to understand the context of all this. Don’t forget to visit the Muallaqa (or Hanging Church) nor to attend a Coptic Mass if you get the chance.
A visit to the Egyptian Museum is a major undertaking, and needs a whole morning if you don’t want to rush. This old museum (which has already donated part of its collection to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation) expects to lose its prestigious status to the the Grand Egyptian Museum, which will open in 2022 in a magnificent building. Meanwhile, don’t miss your chance to see the collections held in an edifice redolent of over three thousand years of history, culture, and hidden secrets.
Itinerary day 3
A fantastic idea to round off our first day: dinner at the revolving Panorama Restaurant in Cairo Tower. This telecommunications tower also has a viewing point and a snack bar, but we recommend you enjoy the delicious Egyptian dishes offered by the restaurant, with panoramic, 360° views of the city as it lights up during the evening.
After wandering through Jan el Jalili, it is almost obligatory to call into Café Fishawi, one of Cairo’s most famous ‘tea rooms’. Writers such as Naguib Mahfuz liked to write at a table here, and the place has become a mecca for his followers. Having a cup of tea and smoking a shisha is one of the most pleasurable activities as evening falls over the city.
Khan el Khalili or Jan el Jalili is the name of Cairo’s oldest bazaar, a labyrinth of narrow streets where you can find good souvenirs to take home. Although its main street, Al Badestan, has lots of shops, it is worth venturing into the side streets to seek out more unusual treasures.
This is considered to be the largest fortress in the Middle East. Built in the twelfth century by Salah ad Din, its walls contain striking mosques such as the Muhammad Ali or Alabaster Mosque (built in 1824), and the Gawhara Palace. Its museums include the outstanding Carriage and Military museum. A walk around its walls offers lovely views and the chance to take great photographs.
For lunch, we recommend you return to the city and make for the famous Café Riche. Founded in 1908, this is one of those establishments steeped in a magic that has seduced any number of intellectuals, writers and artists. The menu offers Egyptian delicacies, but also includes French dishes. If you decide to have dinner here instead of lunch, you can round off the evening in the basement, which has a bar.
This is one of Cairo’s absolute highlights. We recommend you arrive early, before all the other visitors, so that you can enjoy the legendary pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus without the crowds. On the approach to the pyramids, you will be offered camel rides by lots of operators — this is an added option that you may wish to take advantage of.