Tourism in Egypt is back on the rise as the once-popular destination for visitors finally starts to recover from a decade of conflict. In 2010, Egypt saw record numbers of visitors to destinations like Alexandria, Cairo and the Red Sea. Only now in 2019 are traveler volumes now starting to return to where they once were.
Among the destinations to visit in Egypt, Cairo is the most popular, partially because it’s the main connection point for many destinations and also because of the full breadth of activities available in the bustling African city. And don’t think that visiting Cairo is all about the pyramids either — a visit to North Africa’s largest city isn’t complete without a journey into its cultural reaches or a visit to one of its best restaurants. Read on for the top activities.
The Pyramids in Giza
It’s impossible to avoid the pyramids when visiting Cairo. Situated on the Giza Plateau just west of the city, the pyramids dominate the skyline in many parts of the city. Hawkers sell pyramid trinkets on the street; everyone has a preferred tour operator; there’s always a secret tour or a corner unseen or a special guide that can get you special access.
With all of the variables that go into each trip to the pyramids, there are two good things to always keep in mind. The first is that it’s hot and there’s little space for shade — so bring something cool to wear and a big bottle of water. The second is that everyone is after your tourism dollar, so be prepared to be offered everything under the sun for a price — whether that’s a camel ride, secret tour or tourism trinket. Head in with your thickest skin and it’ll be a great trip.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
It’d be tough to find a museum anywhere in the world with more of Egyptian history and grandeur than The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (or simply: The Cairo Museum). With a prime location right in the center of downtown, The Cairo Museum is a must-see for a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian artifacts including mummies, colossal statues, figurines and anything else that one might find in an ancient pharaoh’s tomb.
Unfortunately, the museum was broken into and several items were stolen during the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, though many of the pieces lost in that event were later recovered. The Cairo Museum also isn’t the most polished or lavish facility, so those used to western-style preservation in terms of humidity control and Nitrogen-filled, anaerobic chambers might get heartburn during their visit. Those simply looking for a jaw-dropping array of mummies, however, will find the museum a delight.
The Grand Egyptian Museum
Perhaps realizing the deficiencies of the Cairo Museum, the Egyptian government and The Supreme Council of Antiquities has been hard at work in opening a new collection to store and display artifacts called The Grand Egyptian Museum. The new facility, which will be just west of the pyramids on the Giza plateau, features a better home for many of the country’s ancient artifacts and promises to better preserve the Egypt’s delicate past.
The Grand Egyptian Museum is slated for an opening in 2020, though according to CNN it’s already possible to get behind the scenes tours.
Sail the Nile
Though sailboats (locally known as feluccas) have long been replaced as the preferred mode of transit across the Nile River, they remain a key component of the thriving tourism industry in the city. Depending on your aspirations, its possible to book anything between a private sunset jaunt to a multi-day, down-river cruise — just get a trusted recommendation before setting sail.
Take a Food Tour With Bellies En-Route
For a city that relies so heavily on tourism it’s a bit surprising that there isn’t a stronger food culture in Cairo, but Bellies En-Route is trying to change that. Founded in 2016, Bellies En Route takes visitors on a food whirlwind through Cairo, tasting everything from local falafel to kushari to Egyptian Lasagna. Last year, a writer from The Independent heaped praise on the foodie tour while even the BBC has stopped by for a quick bite with the co-owners.
Khan Al-Khalili Bazzar in Islamic Cairo
Shopping (and haggling) is a staple of life in Cairo, and there’s no place better to do this as a tourist than Khan Al-Khalili Bazzar. Situated due east of the Egyptian Museum in the Islamic quarter of Cairo, Khan Al-Khalili has all of the trademarks of a Middle Eastern bazaar: labyrinthine streets and back alleys; tea shops with sleeping cats and old men smoking hookahs; shops with hundreds of glass lanterns and “authentic” papyrus; hawkers, hawkers and more hawkers.
Those used to the tourist markets of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Medina in Marrakech may not find as much to love about the Khan Al-Khalili Bazzar in Cairo; though cacophonous, bewildering and sensually pleasing the market lacks some of the charm of its peers and the hawking from desperate businessmen is aggressive and hard to avoid. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you though, the bazaar is well worth the visit.