I had always dreamed of going to Egypt, ever since I was a little girl. So when I finally got the opportunity to tour Cairo for 7 days, I was ecstatic with joy. I couldn’t wait to finally set my eyes on the spectacular monuments of the great ancient Egyptian civilization: the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx and of course, the mother of it all – the River Nile. As with most other travelers, Cairo was to be the beginning of my Egyptian adventure – and what an adventure it was!
|Private 7-Night Cairo, Aswan, and Nile Cruise with Flights|
Before looking at the details of my itinerary, I’m sure there are some people who prefer everything taken care of. If that’s you, this is an accommodating 7 night tour of Cairo and nearby major attractions. With hotels, meals and transport organized, you just relax and enjoy Cairo.
What You Need on my 7 day Cairo Itinerary
For my Cairo itinerary, you will need:
- ISIC student or teachers card – This card enables you to access and enjoy the attractions at half price which is great for your budget. You can obtain this in many places on arrival in Egypt. I got mine in Luxor.
- Giza Necropolis Admission Tickets – Entry to the Great Pyramid is 100 LE, while entrance to the other two pyramids is included in area fees.
- Egyptian Museum – Admission tickets to the Mummy chamber are sold separately, at the entrance to the chamber inside the museum.
- Museum of Islamic Art Admission Tickets – Sold at the entrance.
- Wekalet El-Ghouri Arts Center Admission Tickets – Sold at the entrance. Try to arrive early to get a good seat.
- The Salah Al-Din Citadel Admission Tickets – Sold at the entrance.
- Navigating the Metro and Mini-Buses – The Egyptian Metro has a women’s car which is strictly reserved for women. I realized the importance of this option when during rush hour we were packed inside like sardines without an inch of space left. If you’re driving, taking the bus or catching a taxi, try to avoid the Cairo rush hour at all costs or you could end up in traffic snarl ups that last hours.
The Cairo Itinerary
|Day||Schedule||What’s Happening!||Cost (LE)||Transport|
|5pm||Bus – Aswan to Cairo||47||Bus|
|10am||Museum of Islamic Art||40||Metro|
|Morning – Rest time…I was exhausted|
|5pm||Wekalet El-Ghouri Arts Center||30||Bus|
|10am||The Salah Al-Din Citadel||50||Taxi|
|3pm||Turgoman Bus Station||5||Metro|
|7pm||Bus – Cairo to Dahab||75||Bus|
- The ISIC card will save you heaps of money. All the ticket fees can really add up during a tour of Egypt. ISIC prices are typically half of what you should pay.
- Egyptian buses are generally in good condition – air conditioned and comfortable to travel in over long distances.
5am – Arrived in Cairo
I arrived in Cairo with travelers’ edema! My feet were swollen up to my ankles. It wasn’t really painful, more of severe discomfort that forced me to limp. I could not walk much that day so I decided to rest. I was dying to see the Pyramids but woke up the next morning and my ankles were still a little swollen. So I decided to first tour Old Cairo and save the Pyramids for later when I have full use of my legs.
This turned out to be a very good decision because days later when I visited the Pyramids, I did so much walking around for hours and had sore tired feet at the end of the day. Old Cairo was the perfect choice as it hardly closes down even at night so I wasn’t restricted with time as was the case with the Pyramids, which close at around 5pm.
While in Cairo, I stayed in Maadi, one of the suburbs which provide good access to many of the city attractions.
Day 1 – Old Cairo
10am – Khan el-Khalili
It was wonderful strolling about in the narrow streets of Old Cairo, admiring its attractive buildings with medieval façades. My favorite part was of course the famous Khan el-Khalili, the main shopping street within Old Cairo that is always a buzz of activity both day and night. It was nice looking at the diverse wares in the tiny shops and stalls: intricately decorated lamp shades, religious charms to protect against “the evil eye”, and sweet-smelling perfumes.
I mostly window shopped at clothing stalls, and tried on a couple of scarves. But I didn’t buy any because many of the clothing items available were low quality imports. I prefer buying locally made souvenirs when I travel so I always check labels or inquire about the source. The only thing I found that was Egyptian was the lovely traditional oil perfumes, of which I bought a couple of jars.
|Khan el-Khalili Tour|
A local guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the famous Khan el-Khalili markets. Get inside tips on shops, cafes and popular points of interest in the area, before being dropped off back at your hotel.
Tired from all the shopping, I stopped for some gahwa (coffee) at El Fishawy, the former hangout of one of my favorite authors, the late Naguib Mahfouz. El Fishawy is a family-owned café that is over 200 years old, with beautiful interiors and the constant aroma of coffee mixed with diverse shisha flavors. I asked the waiter about Naguib Mahfouz and he showed me the room in which the famous Egyptian author would hang out whenever he was there. It was nice to imagine that, while there, he may have drawn inspiration for his book – Palace Walk – one of my favorites.
After the coffee break, I continued my stroll around Old Cairo and went into a couple of mosques with beautiful medieval architecture. The cool thing about mosques in Cairo is that they aren’t just a place of worship, but are also peaceful spaces where you can have a rest, or just hang out with friends and chat.
5pm – Mokattam Hills
Some friends and I then drove up to Mokattam Hills for a panoramic view of the Cairo skyline. The man-made hills of Mokattam were actually the source of the stones used to build the pyramids. They are today a popular evening hangout for the residents of Cairo who go there to watch the sunset and linger for some moon gazing. But it’s not always easy to see the sun set from Mokattam because of the blanket of smog that seems to constantly hang over Cairo as a result of severe pollution.
Tip: Carry a bottle of water and wear comfortable shoes during all your tours. Although well worth the effort, Cairo attractions can be very tiring to explore.
Day 2 – Giza Necropolis
10am – Pyramids
Finally, my feet were back to normal and I could go see the most important historical site in Egypt – the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx. These monuments which date back to the times of the Pharaohs are truly the highlight of every tourist’s visit to culturally rich Egypt – as was the case for me.
On the way to the Giza Necropolis, we were accosted by unrelenting touts offering tours, deals and souvenirs. One tout even went as far as standing in the middle of the road to block our car, while others came from the sides. This forced the driver to dangerously swerve around them, which was not fun at all.
|8-Hour Private Tour of the Pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum and Bazaar including Camel Ride and Lunch from Cairo|
Get picked up from your hotel as your private guide takes you to the major attractions in Cairo – the Pyramids and Sphinx. Enjoy a 30 minute camel ride in the Sahara desert and feast on a traditional lunch while admiring Cairo’s great historical landmarks on this hassle free tour.
Tickets to enter the Giza Necropolis site are available at the entrance. The admission fees cover the site, as well as entry into the Second and Third Pyramids. The Solar Boat Museum is LE 50 extra. However, you will need to pay more to enter the Great Pyramid, the largest Egyptian pyramid. While it was quite an interesting experience entering the interior of the Great Pyramid, I do think it’s a bit overpriced.
Even more than the Pyramids, I had always been fascinated by the Great Sphinx, which is located within walking distance of the Great Pyramid. Egyptologists believe that the head of the Sphinx is that of Pharaoh Khafre (2520–2494 BC) who was buried in the Second Pyramid. Seeing the Sphinx up close with my own two eyes was quite something and the highlight of my visit to the Necropolis. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the Great Sphinx even has a tail!
Another interesting thing at the Necropolis was the ancient boat pit which buried the ship of Khufu (2589–2566 BC), the Pharaoh for whom the Great Pyramid was built. The boat pit was built in keeping with the ancient Egyptian tradition of burying ships and other items for the deceased to use in the afterlife. From this location near the boat pit, you can enjoy a nice panoramic view of the Cairo skyline.
We then moved a distance to a spot which offers a nice panoramic view of all three pyramids lined up in a row, including the Pyramid of Pharaoh Menkaure (2490–2472 BC), with the three smaller Queens’ pyramids next to it.
When the Giza Necropolis closed at around 5pm, I still hadn’t had enough. So we went across the road to a rooftop hotel for a lovely sunset view of the three Pyramids lined up, this time with the Great Sphinx in the foreground.
While I ran out of time and did not manage to enter the Second and Third Pyramids, I’m glad I was able to explore the Great Pyramid which I’m told is a grand version of the other two. I also did not have time to tour the Solar Boat Museum.
Day 3 – Cairo History
10am – Museum of Islamic Art
This is the best Museum I have been to in recent times – hands down. I’m a huge lover of art and fan of history so this was my best stop in Cairo. If you make it to Cairo, you absolutely must go here. It’s a magical place.
So much beauty that transports you to the 9th Century and back. You will especially love the Persian section – trust me. Also don’t miss out on the outdoor garden of the Museum which has beautiful fountains.
The only downer is that no cameras are allowed inside the Museum. This was a great disappointment for me as I could’ve have taken tons of great photographs here.
4pm – Al-Azhar Mosque
The Museum of Islamic Art is located within Old Cairo, so I took the opportunity to do some more touring of this historical part of the Egyptian capital. This time I visited the Al-Azhar Mosque which has beautiful medieval interiors and an exquisite minaret. The exterior of the mosque also looks amazing by night when its façade is lit up in multiple colors.
There is a strict dress code that you need to adhere to before you can be allowed into the mosques in Cairo. As a woman, I had to have my hair, neck, upper arms and legs fully covered. If you aren’t dressed accordingly, you can still rent clothing at a booth near the mosque entrance. You will also be required to take off your shoes before entering the mosques.
Day 4 – Tahrir Square
10am – Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum is easily accessible by Metro. Its location is very close to Tahrir Square, the site of the Egyptian Revolution, which I also toured. Tickets to the Egyptian Museum are sold at the gate, while tickets to access the Mummy chamber are sold inside. It took me three whole hours to browse the entire museum complex, but it was worth every minute. I only realized how tired I was at the very end, as the wonderful exhibits had completely captured my attention.
Again, the downside was that no cameras are allowed inside the Museum. Sad as I could’ve have taken many amazing photographs of what I saw inside. Note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
|Egyptian Museum in Cairo: Private Guided Tour|
If you want a private Egyptologist to give insights on the history of Egypt, this is a suitable option. With hotel pickup and drop off included, this 4 hour tour will teach you about Egyption civilization, art of mummification and see over 250,000 artifacts.
7pm – Nile Cruise
How best to end your busy day of touring Cairo than with a lovely night cruise on the Nile! It was so much fun to go sailing on the River Nile in a traditional Felucca boat just after sunset. From the river, we could see the flickering night lights of cosmopolitan Cairo, and imagine its buzzing nightlife. It gets so quiet and peaceful the deeper out you go on the river, which is great to help you wind down. This was an hour well spent and definitely worth the money.
Tip: Felucca tours do not include food or drink so carry your own. We took some water and an assortment of tasty – and highly addictive – Egyptian desserts and sweets from a shop close to the Felucca docks.
|1-Hour Felucca Boat Ride on the Nile River from Cairo|
Enjoy a 1 hour cruise down Nile River and see Cairo from a different perspective. A private driver will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.
Day 5 – Relaxing in Maadi
I spent most of the morning hours resting. I deserved it after the enjoyable, yet long and exhausting tours I had embarked on over the previous days!
5pm – Wekalet El-Ghouri Arts Center
I had always been fascinated by El Tanoura, the Egyptian folk dance, and when I found out I could watch it performed in Cairo, I jumped at the chance. The Tanoura Show is held every Wednesday and Saturday evening at the Wekalet El-Ghouri Arts Center, which is located in the heart of Old Cairo.
The performance began with a demonstration of the various musicians and their instruments. Next, was the presentation dance, a warm-up of sorts introducing the dancers, and finally the Tanoura dance. The dance is performed by Sufic Darawish men wearing long colorful skirts. The dancer spins around and around without stopping, and is said to enter a trance-like state, as his movements and the music mesmerise the audience. I enjoyed every minute of this very impressive show. It was well worth it.
|El Tannoura Show Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe Cairo|
This package includes pickup an drop off at your hotel. Enjoy the 3 hour traditional dance and music show at the Wekalet El Ghoury, a historic building built in 1504. Shows are held Saturday, Monday and Wednesday.
Day 6 – The Salah Al-Din Citadel
10am – Mosque of Mohamed Ali
I headed out to the Salah al Din Citadel in Cairo. Constructed between 1176 and 1183 AD, the Citadel was a popular favorite on numerous “Wonders of the Middle Ages” lists. The Citadel is also home to the most beautiful mosque I have ever seen: the Mosque of Mohamed Ali. The mosque boasts exquisite ancient Islamic façades, magnificent pillars, splendid golden interiors, and beautiful lights dangling from its ornately decorated ceiling.
Outside the Mosque of Mohamed Ali there was a Tarboosh maker who simply made my day. He invited me for a brief demonstration of how he makes his Tarboosh (traditional Islamic hat), put one on my head and let me take pictures. He also had an assortment of ancient Egyptian royal headgear which he allowed me to try on while striking poses associated with ancient Egyptian royalty. I laughed the entire time. This was truly one of my best and most fun moments in Egypt!
Close by and also housed within the Citadel is the Mosque of Al Nasir Mohammad Ibn Qalaum, which also has beautiful interiors worth seeing.
Tip: As with many Cairo sites, those at the Citadel have plaques bearing descriptions of the attractions. When touring, I am often just too excited to stay still and take in a detailed history lesson on the attractions. So what I normally do is just take photos of the plaques so that I can read them later when I am in the right frame of mind.
3pm –Turgoman Bus Station
I then headed over to the Turgoman Bus Station to buy my bus tickets to Dahab, which was to be my next destination in Egypt. Buses to the eastern side of Egypt are typically serviced by the East Delta Bus Company, whose offices are located at the Turgoman Bus Station.
Tip: For a proper tour of Egypt, chances are you will have to travel long distance at some point. Always make sure that you buy your tickets at least the day before you travel, so that you are able to secure a seat and know the departure time. It is important to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, to have sufficient time to go through baggage checks. When I was in Egypt, the country was still in the throes of Revolution and was therefore on a high state of alert. Baggage checks are therefore mandatory before loading your bag onto the bus.
Day 7 – Back to Old Cairo
On my last day in the Egyptian capital, I was back in Old Cairo, one of those places that you just can’t get enough of. This time I stopped by one of the eateries for some late lunch. Egyptian cuisine is really delicious, and my favorite dishes include Fatira (a pizza-like dish), Kofta (Egyptian sausage) and Kebda (spicy liver), which are mostly served with rice, salad and bread. That said, it’s also very fattening, especially when combined with Egyptian sweets and desserts. I gained a lot of weight in my first weeks in Egypt!
|Cairo Food Tour|
Get a private guide to show you where you can find the best traditional Egyptian food. You’ll be picked up from your hotel and driven in an air conditioned vehicle on this 5 hour tour.
7pm – Time to leave for Dahab and Final Thoughts
After dining on my sumptuous meal, I headed back to pick up my luggage and made my way to the bus station. For the last time, I drove past the numerous Cairo skyscrapers that often made me feel like a dwarf. While I was happy about my experiences in Cairo, I also looked forward to escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city and hitting the Red Sea beaches of Dahab for some diving, snorkeling and relaxation!
Cairo was great despite the fatigue and small challenges. Because I had traveled to Egypt while the country was still in the throes of Revolution, this fortunately meant that there were fewer tourists and crowds to maneuver around at the attraction sites. However, the curfews imposed by the Egyptian state meant that my night time activities were limited.
Whenever possible, I try not to use tour guides, but prefer to read up on the attraction on my own. So I did not use any guides during my tour of Cairo. Although, I do believe that visiting the Pyramids with an Egyptian friend did help to reduce the hassle I would have had to endure had I gone there alone.
As for my travelers’ edema: the lesson I learnt from this is to always remain standing and moving about whenever the bus stops for a break. My journey to Cairo had began on a 12 hour bus from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa in Sudan; followed by an 18 hour ferry ride on the Nile from Wadi Halfa to Aswan in southern Egypt; and finally another 12 hour bus ride from Aswan to Cairo. I didn’t move around enough, which led to my first ever case of traveler’s edema. But now I know better.
These were the highlights of my visit to Cairo. If you need some help planning your own Cairo itinerary, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below.