The Pyramids and Giza vibe got us laid back. It felt as if we never wanted to move our butts off our hotel balcony chairs to get to one of the world’s most populated cities – Cairo. Being a small-town lover, we had all the reasons not to go to Cairo – But a very special Museum was calling two museum haters. Thank god, we dusted off our laziness and left for Cairo. Otherwise, we would have missed an amazing city vibe and would have stuck to only Pharaohs and temples.
Our super honest Cairo Travel blog talks about amazing things to do in Cairo along with some of our stupid decisions; So that you don’t do the mistake that we did!
- Travelling in Cairo.
- Where to stay
- How many days to spend here.
- Ideal Cairo travel plan
- Why visit the Cairo museum?
- Which is the most beautiful part of Cairo?
Getting in and around Cairo as a traveller
Cairo gives tourists multiple options for public transport with a huge pinch of terrific traffic. Since we knew about how similar Cairo traffic was to Bangalore’s, we stuck to a Private car with a driver. So all the public transportation information below is from our conversations with Ibrahim sitting in the car while going to Cairo from Giza. Don’t consider self-driving unless you are ok with continuous honking, wrong lane driving and speeding – ( similar to the Indian context. )
Minivans are Cairo’s public Transport darling
These are famous among locals, and they find it to be the most convenient. If the capacity of the minivan is 8, expect 12 passengers. You find a minivan leaving Cairo to Giza at least every ten minutes.
A 30-minute Traffic jam near Cairo Museum
Metro in Cairo
The Fastest way of commuting and the best way to avoid road traffic. Most Locals use the Metro, so it is incredibly crowded.
Nile taxi in Cairo
This is not famous among the locals, but a fun way of avoiding Cairo roads for tourists. There are both -public and private water taxis. Old Cairo museum is on the banks of the Nile. So for sure, caching a Nile taxi from here won’t be a big deal. Read this article from Egypt Streets to know more about Cairo Nile Taxi.
Tuktuk in Cairo
Back in 2019, Tuk-tuks were still new to Egyptians. But our guide Ibrahim and driver disliked it for their rash driving and its contribution to pollution. Instead of helping to reduce traffic, they had created more problems. So there might be a chance where Egypt government get rid of the Tuk-tuks. So do not depend on these.
Lastly, the most common are Uber and other Private taxis – spend more, less hassle.
The Best Areas in Cairo to stay
Cairo tower in Zamalek, where wealthy people of Cairo live – Cleaner and costlier neighbourhood of Cairo.
Though Old Cairo is the best locality, you don’t get many options here. If you are looking for BnBs in Egypt, rethink – There is a mixed review on this. Research well before choosing BnBs.
We chose to stay in Giza right in front of the Pyramids. Before booking the hotel Giza, we thought of Tahrir Plaza Suites – in Cairo, within walking distance of the Old Museum.
NEAT THAIR PLAZA SUITES – ABDEL RIYAD SQUARE
How many days do you need in Cairo?
It depends on what is that experience you are seeking for. For us, it was the museum and Old Cairo only. Most blogs made Cairo sound like a place of chaos and hardly talked about the charm. But the reality is, Cairo isn’t just about chaos – The city atmosphere is great. So a day in Cairo is good if only you are in Egypt for a short trip and intend to see the city, but not experience it. If you want to attend a Belly dance show and explore the party scenes along with other historical places and food things, three days is ample.
Don’t combine seeing pyramids and Cairo in a single day. You may end up seeing things half and not experience either of them wholly
Ideal Cairo Itinerary
Once we began to wander in Cairo, it didn’t take us too long to realize how wrong we were informed about Cairo. With our guide Ibrahim’s help, we have jotted down the perfect Cairo Itinerary here. So that you won’t make mindless decisions as we did.
PS – What you see in this post is half of What we planned for the day. The scary sandstorm ruined our time. Read our post “Chronicles of Cairo- before the sand storm” to know how we escaped this dangerous situation.
Visit Cairo Museum at least for four hours. (The museum is shifted to Giza in 2021), wander in Nile Island District of Zamalek. Climb the citadel and listen to Azaan in the mosque of Muhammad Ali. Don’t forget to climb on the Gawhara terrace for a breathtaking view of the city of minarets silhouette. Spend the evenings with some green time at Al Azhar park with locals and an amazing view of the city,
Wander in Old Cairo that transposes you back in time, especially Al Muizz street. Climb the minaret of Bab Zuweila to have a sight that reminds you of Indiana Jones. Wander in the super kaleidoscopic streets of Khan-El -Khalili (and don’t shop anything). Have Arabic Coffee in Fishawi cafe where Morgan Freeman had coffee. Watch belly dance in the night – Egypt is the birthplace of Bellydance. So make sure you have saved/reserved some good amount for it.
Head to Coptic Cairo to see the place where Mary and Jesus were hiding from Herod. Have lunch at Abu Tarek- for the best Kosher meals in Cairo. Discover Fascinating History at the Hanging Church. Pray at the world’s most unique church – The Cave Church. Visit Baron Empain Palace. Take a Nile Taxi to enjoy the city from the river. Take a break from History and hit a pub to savour Cairo’s nightlife.
Why you must visit Egyptian Museum.
WOODEN STATUE OF SHERIFF WITH GLOWING EYES – The most handsome guy in all of Egypt must be him
The only reason for visiting this museum is to see the Mummies. The plan was to spend thirty minutes seeing the usual museum stuff like coins, pots and swords. And head to the Mummy hall on the upper floors as quickly as possible. We stood near the ticket office, warming ourselves on that cold and sunny day, waiting for Ibrahim to get us the tickets.
Ibrahim took us around, showing us a few important and his favourite things. Then clearly, we understood that – WE WERE WRONG! It is not that boring Museum filled with coins and pots or marble statues of emperors. So many ultra-detailed Sarcophagus(Coffin), part of burial chambers, thousands of statues, jars used for keeping Pharoah’s organs while Mummifying, statues with glowing eyes, gold plated coffins, gold cladded statues – God! “Entire Egypt’s history lies under one roof. ” Let us, Chuck, all other plans and see the Museum to the fullest”, we decided.
Quick tips for visiting Egyptian Museum
- The entrance fee is Payable in Egyptian Pounds only.
- Museum entry fees are 120EGP or 9USD /person (In 2019 for the old museum)- No multiple entries are allowed, and Mummy hall entry fees are excluded.
- Entry fees to Mummy hall – 250 EGP or 19 USD /. Entry to pet Mummy hall is free.
- There are three mummy halls – Two for the Royals ( Pharaohs and Queens), and the third one is for their pet ( You can enter the Pet Mummy hall with your regular ticket). However, once you exit one Royal mummy hall, you can not enter it again with the same ticket. So make sure to spend enough time inside before coming out.
- Photography without flashes is allowed inside the museum except for Mummy hall ( I heard from Mamdouh that they allow photography in mummy halls after September 2019 with an additional cost to the Mummy hall ticket)
Mummies of Pets? – spookier than the Human Mummies.
- Tutankhamun’s hall doesn’t need a separate ticket, but photography is now allowed – You can try hiding your phone and try to capture a few shots of his immensely beautiful treasure, though.
- Amenities – In house cafe, Toilets, souvenir and bookstore, wheelchair facility.
- The Cairo museum shifted to Giza. This Grand Egyptian Museum is supposedly bigger and better. Check here for their latest updates.
It is so fascinating to see the extensive study done by Egyptologists here. Each statue and each item are explained in detailed writing. It is better to visit the Pyramids first and know the stories before seeing the items related to them.
The puzzle we solved in Memphis ( Finding the Cartouche, observing the head mask and headdress.) was useful. The head mask without a snake is all Queen’s. The one with a snake on the head belongs to a Pharoah. There are records and details for each of these things.
Who does it belong to, and where did the archaeologists excavate it from? What is the age of a particular item? Which dynasty do they belong to? I obviously remember none.
By the way, these are all GOLD ( Except the last one in the collage)
We took the stairs where walls were cladded with a long Papyrus scroll full of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Are you Wondering what Papyrus is? Read our post here to know all about the Papyrus scrolls of Egypt.
The most celebrated Pharaoh – TUTANKHAMUN AND HIS TREASURE –
While we were doing our homework before coming to Egypt, I watched a documentary, King Tut – PBS Special. The summary of the documentary goes like this – Tut became a king when he was nine years old and died at the age of Nineteen. Everyone believed he died in a chariot accident and didn’t know where he got buried. An explorer Howard Carter discovered Tut’s tomb – the smallest of all the tombs at King’s Valley, Luxor. The tomb that was hidden for thousands of years revealed one of the richest treasures ever buried in a Pharaoh’s Tomb. Tiny tomb – Huge treasure.
Everything was made of gold – including his coffin and sandals!
TUT’S TREASURE DISPLAYED IN THE UPPER FLOOR HALLWAY
After all the research, scientists believe that his death was by disease. A broken leg and traces of Malaria in his DNA could be the reasons for his untimely death. Moreover, Tut’s father married his own sister like the other Pharaohs to keep the bloodline pure. The scientists believe this could be the reason for genetic disorders and his low immunity level of Tut, which caused his death from an unhealed leg wound or Malaria.
YOU ARE LOOKING AT THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE COFFIN ( I THINK IT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COFFIN)
Photography was banned in the hall where they kept Tut’s Coffin. Somehow I managed to click one! The jewellery collection of Tut is so exquisite that it will put even the best of the best jewellery designer to shame. I managed to click only this picture.
Mummy Hall in Egyptian Museum
RATE THE FRIGHTFULNESS ON 10 – THE FIRST MUMMY WE EVER SAW IN OUR LIFE
There was never a dull moment in the museum. Indulged in antiques, we had kind of forgotten the soul purpose of our museum, ” Seeing Mummies in Mummy Hall.” The crowd was less on the upper floor. Since it requires an additional ticket with extra cost, not everyone will opt for it. But trust me, It is an incomplete trip without seeing the real mummies in Egypt.
Without a long waiting line, we quickly grabbed our tickets. I am not a ghost believer. I don’t know if they exist in reality or not. But While entering the Mummy hall, I remembered a spooky story I had watched on the Discovery channel where a boy was possessed by an Egyptian Mummy. Those stories may not be true, but it gives you chills, especially when you know that you encounter preserved dead bodies that are 2000 years old.
The scarily beautiful Egyptian Mummies
Laughing at myself, we entered the Royal Mummy hall, where the room’s temperature and condition were mechanically controlled to suit preserving the centuries-old Mummies. With a few tourists, pin-drop silence, in a humidity-controlled room – the Pharaohs and queens were resting in Peace! The Original linen cloth wrapping, nails, teeth, hair, opened mouth, blackened body – A perfect horror movie scene it was. This was crazy to stare at a person who died 2000+years ago! It felt as if the Pharoah will rise any moment, spitting insects out of his mouth, scratching the glass box he was kept in.
“Whatever may happen, I just don’t want to see the scarabs coming out of her body,” Sahana muttered, staring at a queen’s mummy. The guards were very particular and super cautious when someone takes their phone out. It is hard to cheat them and multiple CCTV cameras inside. If you are caught clicking, it might be a punishable offence. So be. Be ultra-careful while you cheat.
After spending a splendid 4 hours in the museum, we came out.
I don’t think we will ever spend that much time in any other museum. Whatever stories and facts we had heard the previous day came alive in the Egyptian Museum.
Khan El Khalili – the Old Cairo’s Market
I wonder how many souqs are there in the world. But I am sure, I get excited every time we visit a new one. The ancient silk route, souqs and Caravanserais connected Egypt back then, Now it looks like a fairytale – for Jasmine and Alladin filled with shops along the skinny lane. The spice aroma, carpet colours, sparkling lamps and arched entranceways to the narrow alleys can take you wandering hours together. in this 14th century market
Belly dance outfits, jewellery in a narrow alley – are a perfect set-up that can take you back in time to the Ottoman era. We hardly could track the path of our walking – It is like a maze of narrow, colourful bays. So navigating here as a first-timer all by yourself can feel like solving a Takeshi’s castle puzzle. Make sure to hire a guide or take a heritage with a good guide so that you know the history and he tells you the story.
There were hardly any locals shopping. Like us, there were only fewer tourists – That was surprising!
It was already 12, still no sign of locals shopping. Sahana was all set to go bankrupt with unlimited shopping. Meanwhile, we heard a lady bargaining as good as we do back home in India. The razor-sharp bargaining in Arabic sounded like a symphony. The hand gestures of bargained and seller looked like they were the conductors of an orchestra. The other shops played grooving Egyptian music. Some men sat and smoked hookah by the landed side with limpid eyes-undisturbed by the live musical symphony – That was a sight!
Excitedly, my lady held a lamp and it read “Made in China” Shockingly, we asked Ibrahim where to find made in Egypt things. He laughed and said, “we locals hardly shop here. Most things here are made in China. The bazaar got replaced with Made in China stuff which is cheaper. Tourists come here to enjoy the colours and the cafes” The museum surprised us, but the Bazar shocked us. The market is brilliant but not authentic. So we decided not to shop much other than some souvenirs. We dropped our idea of “Shopping till we drop.”
We kept walking through the different alleys, of course with Ibrahim guiding us. The Mamluk era architecture was enthralling. The niches and glazed tiles above the entrances were asking for a makeover. But the streets remained happy without garbage, unlike Giza in most places. The typical Egyptian behaviour towards Indian tourists continued here – Calling us by the names “Amitab Bachhan, Shah Ruk Khan”
The Old Cairo Bazar and the oldness vibe – That is Sahana and our guide Ibrahim photobombed by a stranger.
From the vivid Bazar, we moved on to the residential area. The beige sandstone, wooden latticework windows, articulated cast iron railing, Corbel streets and NO TRASH on the walkways! We were back in medieval times. If this was in a movie, typical Medieval Egyptian music with Rattles, Lute, Tambourine, and drums would be the background music. PERFECT STREET FOR STROLLING.
Ibrahim took us further to where local Egyptians were hanging out. Locals were catching their week’s gossip with their friends. Few ladies in Modern Jalebiyas and a hijab, super stylish young girls without HIjab were covering their head only when they see older men. Men wore sexy jackets; old men watched the street scenes with their Hookahs – A phenomenal place. There are no vendors to nag you to buy some fake souvenirs or force you to take their camel ride. A blissfully vibrant place it was. You can spend one whole day hopping from street to street, sipping Kadkades in different cafes just being an observer.
Al Muizz Street
Settled down and people watch
Ibrahim had not expected us to settle down there. He thought we would leave the place quickly. He smilingly said,
“It looks like you are gonna stay here for the whole day. Most tourists get tired after wandering in this skinny maze. So let us go to your dream cafe Al-Fishawi and let us get refreshed”
That clearly didn’t happen and we had to leave the place immediately within the next few minutes due to a scary sandstorm. But somehow we made it to the citadel before going back to Giza.
The moment you are out of Khan-el Kalili, you spot the tall concrete buildings. When I think of Modern Cairo, these Bazaars feel like a 1900s Fiat car parked between Two 2018 model Ferrari cars.
Cairo Citadel and the invisible view
Forget having Kosher meals, we hardly could walk! Somehow our driver drove us to the citadel so that we don’t end up going back to the room as early as 2 PM without experiencing much of Cairo.
As a traveller and unaware of the sandstorm consequence, we both were over-excited to wander in that bad weather. The sepia mode sky made Cairo look unique. So somewhere on the horizon, we saw domes and Minarets calling us to visit them even in that blurry weather mode.
There were hardly any visitors due to the bad weather. The clever ones stayed on the bus. The over-adventurous like us got off the car to walk in the sandstorm. Trust me we could feel tiny sand particles rubbing the skin!
The high walls of the citadel could easily tell anyone how powerful king Saldin was and how important it was for him to safeguard himself from the enemy ruler’s attacks. The 1180s Citadel was considered one of the most ambitious and well-done projects of its time. Because of this, Cairo was never seized completely by any outside ruler even though they attacked Cairo. Once Ottomans began to rule the region, in 1840 a Turkish architect came from Istanbul and built the Mosque of Muhammad Ali – Well that explains, why this mosque reminded us of Hagia Sophia!
Like any typical mosque, this also had a courtyard surrounded by cloisters. The inside of the mosque was decorated with Egyptian carpets and ceilings with bling lights. We came out to the terrace to have that “Most famous view of Cairo” from the citadel – And all we could do was see each other blur though we stood next to each other.
It is super clear that we underestimated Cairo. As a cherry on top, the weather was angry at us. comes up on media for dirt and garbage. I don’t deny that fact. But as a fault finder, you can point out any nation to be imperfect. So Egypt is one nation that we were influenced negatively by bloggers thinking “Too much time in Egypt isn’t worth it”. Each place in Egypt proved that wrong. So did Cairo. Hence, we are sure of visiting Egypt again and experiencing it better
What are your thoughts on Cairo? Let us know in the comment section below.