Cairo is the capital of modern Egypt and the gateway to Ancient Egypt. The city is bustling, chaotic, and tricky to navigate. You will see beautiful mosques built right next to rubble. You will hear cars honking their horns 24/7. With over 25 million people living in Cairo you will be seeing a lot of people, and a lot of poverty. It’s all part of the experience and visiting Cairo is a memory you won’t forget.
Many people visiting Cairo are in Egypt to see the Great Pyramids and the other sites of Ancient Egypt. Therefore people usually only spend 2 or 3 days in Cairo. I was in Cairo for 3 total days - 2 at the beginning of my trip and 1 at the end - and found that was plenty of time to see all the highlights the city has to offer. You will definitely want one full day in the city so you can see the pyramids at Giza, but I suggest staying at least 2 days to see all that the area has to offer.
Although I am providing what I believe to be the best 3 day itinerary in Cairo, I would still suggest using a guide or tour company to handle the transportation and logistics of your travels in Egypt. You could technically do these things on your own, but there are a lot of security checkpoints, language barriers, and impossible traffic everywhere in Cairo - so for these reasons I would highly recommend a local guide.
Here is the Ultimate 3 Day Cairo Itinerary.
Day Trip to Saqqara, Dahshur, and Memphis
Ok I know, you want to go see the Great Pyramids right off the bat. In an ideal scenario, you should go and see the pyramids at Dahshur and Saqqara first to build up the hype and see the pyramids that were made before the pyramids of Giza. These are also some of the oldest sites in Ancient Egypt, dating back to the beginning of the Old Kingdom.
Dahshur has two magnificent pyramids - the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid - both built by King Sneferu. These pyramids served as the blueprints for the Great Pyramids built by Khufu and Khafre. The Red Pyramid is the third tallest of all the pyramids, and you can go inside both of them into the tomb chambers.
In Memphis, the first capital of Ancient Egypt, you can visit an open air museum highlighted by a colossal statue of Ramses II.
Saqqara was the necropolis of Memphis and is an archeologist's playground, with excavations still finding new artifacts everyday. You can go inside several Old Kingdom mastabas and see Djoser’s Step Pyramid - the world’s first known large stone structure (and the first of all the pyramids). For more information on all these sites, read Visiting Saqqara, Dahshur and Memphis.
After seeing these three sites you will have some more history and context of early Egypt and be ready to take on the Great Pyramids the next morning.
The Great Pyramids, The Sphinx & The Egyptian Museum
Your second day in Cairo will be dedicated to Ancient Egypt and take you to some of the most iconic sites in the world including one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World: The Great Pyramids.
The Great Pyramids
Get an early start and make your way to Giza for a chance to scratch off a big item on your bucket list. If you are physically able to, I highly suggest taking a camel ride around the pyramids to the view of the 9 pyramids. This is the best view of the pyramids and you can’t get there by car or walking.
You also have the opportunity to enter one of the Great Pyramids, but many say this is a waste of time and money as you will be standing in a line of people and there’s not much to see. If you do this itinerary, you are better off going inside the Red Pyramid at Dahshur.
For more information read Visiting The Great Pyramids of Giza.
After the Great Pyramids, take a short ride down the hill to see the iconic Great Sphinx. Take some time getting up close to the ancient wonder with a backdrop of the pyramids.
The Egyptian Museum
The last activity of your day will be visiting one of the best museums in the world, the Egyptian Museum. The museum itself needs quite a bit of work (the new museum is still not open as of December 2022), but the treasures inside would make any other world museum jealous.
Examine some of the best artifacts from Ancient Egypt including Narmer’s Palette - believed to be the first written document. The highlight is King Tut’s display room which has his famous golden burial mask. Everything in this room is a work of art including two golden sarcophagi and his golden dagger.
After getting a full dose of Ancient Egyptian history, head back to your hotel to rest up for another big day.
Saladin Citadel, Coptic Cairo & Bazaar
Your last day in Cairo will focus on a more modern time period in Egypt’s history. The impressive Saladin Citadel was an Islamic fortress built in 1176 to protect Cairo’s rulers against invading crusaders. From atop the fortress you can look out over the bustling, haze filled city of Cairo.
The wildly elegant Mosque of Mohammad Ali resides inside the citadel and is the highlight of the visit. This alabaster mosque was built between 1830 and 1848 and Muhammad Ali Pasha’s tomb is located inside the stunning mosque.
After your visit at the citadel, take a journey through coptic Cairo - an area in old Cairo that was a Christian stronghold in Egypt during Islamic rule. There are a few highlights worth exploring including the Hanging Church, the Babylon Fortress, and a church built over an area where it is believed Jesus and his mother hid for 3 years while fleeing persecution.
After a morning and afternoon of historical touring, wrap up your day by exploring the bustling Bazaar markets of Khan el-Khalili. Find the perfect souvenir, or get lost (not literally) wandering through the streets before returning to your hotel for the evening.
If you only have 2 days in Cairo, you should cater your itinerary to your interests. If you want to see more of Ancient Egypt you should definitely take a day trip to the Old Kingdom sites. If you’d rather see more of Cairo and the Christian and Islamic history, you should do Days 2 and 3 of this itinerary.
If you only have 2 days and really want to squeeze in another activity, you could keep Day 1 the same and then visit the Saladin Citadel or the Bazaar market at the tail end of your Day 2 - just make sure you are getting early starts to your days as a lot of these attractions close around 4-5pm.
For more information on visiting Egypt, check out The Best Things to do in Egypt and The 10 Most Unforgettable Things to do in Egypt.
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