A Day in Cairo: Your Ultimate Guide to Egypt’s Bustling Capital

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Cairo travel guide

Originally featured in National Geographic Traveller (UK).

7am: The Dawn of Adventure in the Desert

The first rays of the sun paint the sky a little before 7 a.m. during Cairo’s bustling winter season. The Pyramids of Giza, which lie a mere nine-mile jaunt westward from the heart of Cairo, throw their gates open at 8 a.m., no matter the season. This early-morning window allows for ample time to fully immerse yourself in the grandeur of these ancient architectural wonders that are 4,500 years old. Oh, and don’t forget their ancient sentinel, the Great Sphinx. Fun fact: The Great Pyramid alone is constructed from an estimated 2.3 million stone blocks and stands as the last remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

11am: Civilization, Here We Come!

Though the much-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum is still in the works, it’s an easy chaser to the Pyramids. Until then, head back to downtown Cairo to visit the newly minted National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. Its underground hall is the crown jewel of the museum, offering a detailed account of Egyptian culture, from its nascent stages to the 19th century. While the exhibit count might seem scant, the quality more than makes up for it. And hey, don’t sleep on the Textile Hall. Cap off the cultural tour with a trip to the neighboring Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre, where you can witness craftsmen in action and perhaps snag a gem from their top-notch gallery-store.

1pm: Christian Cairo, Anyone?

Often overshadowed by its Islamic heritage, Cairo has a significant Christian history. Legend has it that the Holy Family sought refuge in a cave that now lies beneath the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church. The most renowned site in the Coptic quarter, though, has to be the Hanging Church, an architectural marvel perched atop a gateway from the Roman Fortress of Babylon. Complement this visit with a trip to the Coptic Museum, where you’ll find an intriguing blend of Ancient Egyptian, Roman, and early Christian art.

3pm: Munch Time!

Get ready for Koshary, Cairo’s go-to street food—a mouthwatering mishmash of pasta, fried rice, and brown lentils, topped with fried onions and chickpeas, and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce. And you thought your mom’s casserole was a wild mix! Swing by Abou Tarek, where they serve nothing but this divine dish, and find out why locals swarm the place. Post-feast, wander over to Tahrir Square and pay a visit to the original Egyptian Museum, particularly if the Grand Egyptian Museum remains a “coming soon” affair.

5pm: Time-Traveling on Foot

As the sun mellows down, saunter through Bab al-Futuh, the north entrance to the 11th-century fortified city of Islamic rulers. Stroll down pedestrian-friendly Al Moez street, dubbed by the United Nations as ‘the greatest concentration of medieval architectural wonders in the Islamic world.’ This isn’t just a museum street, mind you. It’s still a bustling marketplace boasting gems like the Al Asmar Mosque and the Madrasa-Mausoleum of Qalawun.

6pm: A Shopper’s Fantasy

Next, dive into the labyrinthine world of Khan el-Khalili, Cairo’s most iconic marketplace. Though often branded as a tourist trap, this souk offers an authentic glimpse into Cairo’s historical charm. It’s like stepping into a magic carpet sale, with an astonishing array of goods ranging from genuine antiques to tacky knickknacks, all bathed in the ever-changing light of dusk and artificial luminescence.

8pm: Souk It To Me

If you’ve still got some juice left in the tank, make your way past the grand Al Azhar Mosque to Bab Zuweila. What looks like a dead-end unveils Cairo’s last covered marketplace, Al Khayamiya. This souk specializes in hand-stitched fabrics traditionally used for tents but also suitable for wall decor, bedspreads, and cushion covers.

10pm: Night Owls Rejoice

Round off your whirlwind day with three distinctly Cairene nightlife options. If you’re after some vintage vibes, visit Khan el-Khalili’s Naguib Mahfouz Café, where the wait staff sport tarboosh hats and musicians keep the atmosphere lively. For a more bohemian setting, drop by El Horreya near Tahrir Square—a 1930s-style café-bar where the ceiling is as high as your spirits will be, and the local Stella beer is served at a refreshing temperature. If you’re up for something swanky, head to Opia, the 36th-floor cocktail lounge at the Ramses Hilton, for a taste of high-life cocktails coupled with panoramic Nile views.

The Deal

For those who want to experience all this and more, Steppes Travel offers an 11-day Egypt adventure, including three nights in Cairo at the Marriott Mena House. This package includes guided tours and private transfers, costing £6,025 per person, flights not included. Added perks include a Nile cruise and a two-night stay in Aswan.

This piece is brought to you in collaboration with the Egypt Tourist Authority.
Originally published in the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here. (Available in select countries only).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cairo travel guide

What landmarks can I visit during my 24-hour stay in Cairo?

You can visit a variety of landmarks including the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, the Coptic quarter with the Hanging Church, and Al Moez street, which is rich in medieval Islamic architecture.

Is there a specific local dish that I should try while in Cairo?

Absolutely, you should try Koshary. It’s a unique blend of pasta, fried rice, and brown lentils, garnished with fried onions and chickpeas and accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce. Abou Tarek is a popular place where you can taste this Cairo specialty.

What are some shopping options in Cairo?

For a shopping experience that combines culture and commerce, consider visiting the Khan el-Khalili souk. You can also explore the Fustat Traditional Crafts Centre for local artisanal goods, or Al Khayamiya for hand-stitched fabrics.

Are there any nightlife options that offer a unique Cairo experience?

Yes, for a dose of historical flair, you can visit Naguib Mahfouz Café in Khan el-Khalili. For a bohemian atmosphere, try El Horreya near Tahrir Square. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the 36th-floor cocktail lounge at the Ramses Hilton, Opia, offers panoramic Nile views.

What are the options for guided tours and accommodation?

Steppes Travel offers an 11-day Egypt package including three nights in Cairo, staying at the Marriott Mena House. The package includes guided tours and private transfers and costs £6,025 per person, excluding flights.

Where can I find more information or subscribe to more travel guides?

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK). You can subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine to get more in-depth travel guides and insights.

More about Cairo travel guide

  • Pyramids of Giza Official Site
  • National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
  • Coptic Cairo Information
  • Khan el-Khalili Souk Guide
  • Abou Tarek Koshary Restaurant
  • Steppes Travel Egypt Packages
  • National Geographic Traveller (UK) Subscription
  • Al Moez Street History and Architecture
  • Ramses Hilton, Opia Lounge
  • Egypt Tourist Authority Official Website

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LazySusan September 3, 2023 - 2:10 pm

24 hours? haha, I’d need like 24 days to see everything! But great article for quick trips.

HistoryBuff September 3, 2023 - 6:27 pm

solid article but I wish there was more on the ancient Egyptian civilization. I mean, you’re in Cairo, right? still, good job!

CultureVulture September 3, 2023 - 7:39 pm

Loved the part abt Al Moez Street. so much history in one place. This article is really informative. Keep it up!

AdventureSteve September 3, 2023 - 10:06 pm

Good stuff here! But you forgot the camel ride at Giza, man. thats a must-do!

BudgetBen September 4, 2023 - 4:42 am

£6,025 for an 11-day package? yikes. Any cheaper options for us budget travelers?

NightOwl September 4, 2023 - 5:31 am

Naguib Mahfouz Cafe is kinda overrated tbh. But that 36th-floor cocktail lounge? Sign me up!

TravelGuru92 September 4, 2023 - 5:54 am

Wow, just wow! This guide is the bomb. Never thought Cairo had so much going on. Pyramid in the morning, koshary for lunch, and Nile views at night. I’m so booking my ticket!

FoodieSarah September 4, 2023 - 7:46 am

omg, koshary is life! Thnx for mentioning Abou Tarek. best place for koshary, hands down.


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