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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Top Things to do in Cairo Egypt

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

Mummies, pyramids and culture – Cairo has it all! Cairo is one of the main entry points to Egypt and one place that almost all travelers visit on their trip to Egypt due to it being right next to the Giza Pyramids. We have been to several crazy cities in our past travels, but I think Cairo might be up there as being the MOST crazy! The traffic was intense – and something that would normally take 10-15 minutes to get there by car, would take 45-60 minutes depending on the time of day. We spent 5 full days in the city, but this was mostly because we were awaiting the arrival of my mom who was coming to travel with us. In all honesty, I think about 2-3 days max would be more than enough time if you’re a huge history & cultural buff. If not, then probably 1-2 days would work! These are some of the top things to do in Cairo, Egypt as a family.

And here’s a shocker for you, the trip to the pyramids wasn’t what we expected!

Cairo Markets

There are a variety of markets to check out in the Cairo area that give you a sense of culture, especially if staying in a hotel. We visited Muizz Street and the markets that surrounded the area. The market area was buzzing and definitely a stimulation of the senses! While we didn’t buy anything, we enjoyed just wandering through the narrow alleyways. We detoured a bit from Muizz Street and found ourselves fully immersed in the local markets. The kids started to count the number of cats they saw on our walk and by the end of our time in the area a few hours later they had gotten up over 100 cats!

The one thing we did run into an issue with was finding a place to eat – there wasn’t a lot of places in the market that we could sit down and eat. Plus, each time we tried to look up something on Google maps, it ended up being a dead end. Eventually we just had to grab something from one of the street vendors. Our lunch ended up being only about $2 USD/$2.50 CDN. Later as we were leaving the market near the main tourist entrance, we stopped for tea, which ended up being just as expensive as the lunch!

There are some other popular markets in Cairo to check out which include Khan El Khalili, El Azbakeya Wall (a book market) and Souq El Gom’aa (a market on Fridays).

Pharaonic Village

If you’re traveling with young kids or you enjoy living history, then you may want to check out the Pharaonic Village, which is located on the east side of the Nile. The prices aren’t posted on the website, but they offer 3 different packages that you can choose from when you arrive. We would recommend doing the most basic package, which gives you the boat cruise around the village island to learn about Ancient Egyptian gods, daily life demonstrations & access to 5 museums that are onsite. We were a little surprised how pricey the visit was, but we had promised the kids so we decided to go ahead and make it our activity for the day. The price for the basic package was 350 Egyptian Pounds for an adult ($22 USD/$27.53 CDN) and 280 EGP for 5-10 Years Old ($17.83 USD/$22 CDN). Then if you wanted to take part in the Children’s activities like the rides and craft it was an extra 60 EGP ($3.82 USD). The other two packages included a 45-minute boat ride on the Nile and Restaurant.

Every visit include a guided tour through some of the buildings to explain what you’re looking at. They might try to upsell you at the ticket booth to do the private tour, but we just opted to do a group tour. However, because we were the only English guests there at the time, we ended up getting a private tour anyways. The tour starts with a ferry ride around the island, where the recorded audio tells you about the different Egyptian gods, important Egyptian stories such as baby Moses in the bushes, and everyday Ancient Egyptian life such as farming, shepherding and different handicrafts.

After the ferry ride we were met by our guide who showed a traditional Egyptian house for a nobleman and farmer. Of course, the Nobleman had nicer things and better set up, but both had relatively the same basics. The kids were probably most surprised by the nobleman’s bed, which had a wooden headrest at the top – not sure how anyone could sleep like that! We also were able to see how the Egyptians made the first paper with papyrus.

Two children watching intently while the papyrus is pressed to make paper.
A day of World School - Learning how the first paper was made with papyrus at the Pharaonic Village in Cairo.

There are several stops within the tour that are add-ons, such as to get a photo taken dressed up in traditional Egyptian clothes, different handicrafts for sale, etc. However, we just politely declined each of those.

After the guided tour portion, we were able to go do the kids activities as well as the museum visits. The museums were fairly basic with models and pictures. The children’s area was a hit with the kids. They were able to pick out an Egyptian themed statue and paint it and then there were some rides included as well, including a 9-D movie that made me a bit nauseous….ha ha!

We spent a good 2.5-3 hours at the Pharaonic Village.

Museums within Cairo to Visit

There are two main museums within Cairo that most people go visit while in the city. One is the Museum of Egyptian Civilization and the other is the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. We visited both of these museums in one day, but it was honestly a bit too much for the kids – they got pretty tired and bored quickly. It would have been much better if we could have split them, but with the timing of Grandma’s arrival it was the only way we could fit everything into our itinerary.

National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This museum is relatively new and just opened earlier this year (2021) in April. This museum is known for its Royal Mummy display, which contains the mummies of 22 different Royal Egyptians. Prior to the museum opening, the royal mummies were kept in different locations around Egypt. However, they brought them all up to the museum in a Royal Mummy Parade. In reading about it they went to quite the length to get some of them there – including special temperature controlled vehicles so the outside elements wouldn’t affect them, as well as bringing some of them down the Nile and even paving the roads they would take to the museum to ensure it was a smooth journey.

Standing near the doorway with signage about The Pharaohs' Golden Parade at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, Egypt.
Connor & his Grandma at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, Egypt

The museum was very nice & modern and actually has a park on the back side of it that they cleaned up from a garbage area to make into this little oasis. In some ways, if you were a visitor to Cairo and only visited this museum you might think Cairo is a nice city. The entrance was comparable to many other entrance fees with it being 200 EGP ($12.70 USD/$15.73 CDN) for adults and 100 EGP ($6.35 USD/$7.87 CDN) for students.

Kids & Adults standing in front of green oasis with Cairo, Egypt in the backdrop.
Little oasis just outside the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, Egypt.

The mummies were all displayed in the lower level of the museum in a dimly lit area. They also had guards around the displays making sure that people were not snapping photos of the mummies or being too loud. Each mummy had a brief summary about who it was and dynasty they ruled in and how long they reigned. The mummies were black, but it was interesting to see how their features were preserved and we even saw ones with the long fingernail, hair and pierced ears.

The upper level of the museum had different Egyptian artifacts on display and walked through the history of Egypt over the centuries.

Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

This museum is located in Central Cairo near Tahrir Square. It has a wide assortment of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, including a few mummies, lots of sarcophaguses and the royal collection of King Tut. The entry fee for the museum was 200 EGP ($12.70 USD/$15.73 CDN) for adults and 100 EGP ($6.35 USD/$7.87 CDN) for students. There were several guides at the entrance of the museum that you could pay to take you on a guided tour throughout the museum, but we opted not to do that with the kids and not knowing what their attention span would be like.

At some points, the museum seemed a bit redundant with the MANY different sarcophaguses and similar artifacts, including some of the things that the mummies were buried with to take with them to the afterlife. However, we were able to see how the sarcophaguses were layered within other sarcophaguses and finally within the outer tomb/chamber.

The King Tut collection was also impressive with being able to view his ornate burial mask, his sarcophaguses and the various jewelry, chairs, tools and ornate decorations that were found within his mostly intact tomb. The outer burial chamber was also on display. When the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) opens in November 2022 (according to their website), all of these pieces (and more) from the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities will be moved there.

I can definitely see why a new museum is needed, the current one could easily get crowded and it was a bit stuffy in there because of its age. At the new GEM it also sounds like they will be doing a display of King Tut’s tomb that is more realistic of how it was found. I’m sure it will be a great museum once it is finished.

Also, just be aware that if you bring in a camera you have to pay the photography fee which was a few dollars. However, ironically everyone inside was just taking photos with their cell phone, which seemed to be status quo for Egypt. [Camera phones were okay, but a real camera often had a fee associated with it.] Supposedly they had lockers you could put it in; however, we preferred just to keep it with us, so we paid the fee.

The kids had been learning about Ancient Egypt for the past month as part of Homeschool so visiting the Pharaonic Village and these museums was definitely a great way to apply what they learned.

Salah Al-in Al-Ayoubi Citadel

Mom & two kids in front of the Citadel in Cairo, Egypt.
Taking in the view of Salah Al-in Al-Ayoubi Citadel in Cairo, Egypt

This fortification completed in 1183 protected the city and was the seat of government for 700 years; today it houses a mosque and a police and military museum on the grounds. The mosque was beautiful and we were a bit surprised that I, as a woman, didn’t have to wear a head cover or long sleeves when visiting it inside. However, the view of the city below is quite impressive, as you can see for miles.

After admiring the mosque we decided to skip the Police Museum and head to the Military Museum. They had a ton of fighter jets and other military equipment outside, which Connor found super impressive. We then tried to enter the military museum, but they wouldn’t allow us to come in with a camera. We asked if we could just put the camera in the bag, but they said we had to leave it with them. We didn’t feel comfortable with that, so we just passed on going inside.

Children walking in front of the military aircraft on the Citadel grounds in Cairo, Egypt.
Checking out the military aircraft in front of the Egyptian Military Museum on the grounds of the Citadel.

Admission to the Citadel was 180 EGP per adult ($11.45 USD/$14.16 CDN) and 90 EGP per student ($5.73 USD/$7.08 CDN).

Giza Pyramids & Sphinx

Landscape view of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the background.
The Sphinx keeping watch of the the Giza pyramids - Giza, Egypt.

The Great Pyramid and Spinx are probably one of the most iconic things in Egypt. However, to be completely honest, it was one of our most disappointing days. We decided to do an organized tour with just the five of us. We had heard stories of how the guards and police will offer to take photos and then won’t give you the camera back until you pay them; and if you attempt to go on your own you often have to pay the bribes as you go. We wanted to try to avoid the headaches and wanted to get more information about the site, so we signed up for a ½ day tour of the Pyramids. The half day tour was $40 USD and included admission into the Giza Pyramids grounds and lunch.

Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived at the pyramids, we were quickly whisked from spot to spot to take photos and asked to do different poses. We did learn some information about the pyramids and how the Great Pyramid was the Khufu's tomb (grandfather), then his son’s the middle sized one and then the grandson’s tomb was the smallest of the three. Right next to the smallest one were 3 tiny pyramids that were the wives of the three. I didn’t realize that there were actually 6 pyramids on the Giza Plateau. We also learned that the sides of the pyramids are lined up perfectly with north, east, south & west.

However, we were literally only at the Great Pyramid for probably 20-25 minutes before we were taken to the overlook point. The viewpoint was an amazing view; however, we barely had time to enjoy the Great Pyramid and walk around it before we were told it was time to move on.

Two children looking out over the desert sand with the Giza Pyramids in the background.
Giza Pyramid Viewpoint of all 6 pyramids - Giza, Egypt

We had a little more time at the viewpoint, as I think they wanted you to purchase a camel ride, which we opted not to do. In hindsight, it would have been an iconic ride, but we were trying to save some money and we thought the camel rides might be a bit too inflated there. However, the kids found a gecko under the rocks and they were quite entertained by that.

We then proceeded down to the Sphinx and checked it out. From this viewpoint you could see how the Sphinx was buried under the sand for hundreds of years. The ancient Egyptians built the Sphinx to protect important areas, such as the Giza pyramids.

In all, we probably only spent about 1 to 1.5 hours near the Pyramids and Sphinx, which we would have preferred to spend much longer and get more information about. Then the remainder of the tour we were taken to a shop to try to buy some things, as well as a papyrus shop where they showed us how to make paper and were encouraged to purchase more things before we finished with lunch. None of these extras, except the lunch, were listed in the tour description. I do realize that this is just how tours are set up in this area of the world – as we have experienced this before in Morocco and Asia – however, we just thought we would have more time actually at the Pyramids vs. only half the tour being that.

If we could do it all over again.... I think we might just take a taxi to the entrance of the pyramids and pay for entry ourselves and explore on our own timeframe. If we really wanted a guide, I’m sure there would have been a guide we could have hired to take us through, as there is everywhere at most Egyptian historical sites. The only tough part with kids would have been getting from the different sites, it might have been a lot of walking in the direct sunlight (but not too long overall). We actually found the weather not as hot as expected in Cairo, so it might have been okay. Also, I think we should have coordinated a trip to Saqqara and Memphis. We later heard that the step pyramids at Saqqara are more interesting to walk into the tomb site, as well as it is a bit less commercial than the Giza Pyramids.

Where to Stay & Getting Around in Cairo

We were staying in the local area of Giza, so there were actually quite a bit of local culture right behind our apartment. In some ways, staying right in Giza was convenient, such as getting to the pyramids as it only took about 10-15 minutes. However, any time we went towards Cairo, it was at least a 45-90 minute ride because of the traffic congestion. We ended up just doing schoolwork in the Uber because it provided a good chunk of down-time to get some work done, without eating into other parts of our day. If we were to do it again, I think we would opt to stay in Cairo as most of the other places to check out are in the city, as well as it seemed slightly less crazy when we were down near Tahrir Square than out front of our place in Giza. However, we did get lots of local pricing on food & meals.

Uber was the main way we got around in Cairo, as it was the most straight forward since we were able to use the app to communicate where we were headed and have the fare established ahead of time. A ride of about 12-15 km (taking sometimes up to an hour) was about $3-4 USD.

Egypt Entry Requirements During the Pandemic

Currently, Egypt accepts all vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers, and one might think that as long as they are vaccinated then their entry would be straight forward; however, that’s not really the case. As we witnessed several people being denied boarding because of not having the ‘RIGHT TYPE’ of test or vaccination certification.

Guidelines Unvaccinated Travelers to Egypt:
  • Need to have a NEGATIVE PCR test within the last 72 hours. If traveling from USA, Canada, Mexico, China, Thailand, Central & South America, Paris, Frankfurt & London Heathrow airports, then the test can occur 96 hours prior to entry. [It needs to be a Printed Copy.]

  • The test MUST have a QR CODE OR A STAMP from the lab on the printed results, otherwise boarding of the flight will be denied.

  • Children 5 & younger did not require a PCR Test

Guidelines for Vaccinated Travelers:
  • Vaccinated travelers can show their vaccination certificate for entry, but it MUST have a QR Code on it – otherwise it is not valid. [Printed Copy also required for this.]

  • For most American travelers at this point in time, there is no QR Code on their vaccination certificate. Therefore, you could make arrangements with an Egyptian Embassy prior to your departure to get the QR Code. Or if you’re like us and no where close to an Egyptian Embassy, we just got the tests done instead, but see ABOVE for Test Requirements.

Guidelines for Both Types of Travelers:
  • Egypt requires proof of insurance for Covid related issues – although we were never asked to show this at the airport

  • Apply for Egyptian Online Visa prior to entry. You can do it at the airport as well, but it will be more efficient to do it prior to entry.

The QR Code on either the vaccination certificate or the PCR test with the QR Code and/or Lab Stamp is where we witnessed most people getting hung up in the process.

As with all things related to Covid this year, make sure you read the fine print regarding timing, entry requirements, etc. Your best source for this is directly from the government website of the country you are visiting – so make sure it has the right government extension on the web address.

Now that we have experienced Cairo ourselves, I can see why so many people say to spend the least amount of time in the city before heading elsewhere. It was definitely overstimulating. We are glad we experienced for ourselves, but honestly, I don’t think we’d plan to come back anytime soon. We are excited to see what the rest of Southern Egypt holds though.



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