Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, is an assault on the senses – hot, dusty, and chaotic – but it’s also charming in its own way. Friendly locals, amazing shopping, good food, and loads of sights to see make Cairo a delight to explore!
Almost every traveler to Egypt will pass through Cairo even if it’s just to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. But rather than rushing along to Luxor or to your cruise down the Nile River, consider spending a couple of extra days in Cairo to explore the city’s fascinating history and culture.
With a city the size of Cairo (population over 10 million), it can be overwhelming to decide where to begin. We have put together this detailed 3-day Cairo itinerary so you can leave the planning to us and spend your time enjoying yourself in this exciting Egyptian city!
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Getting to Cairo
Most visitors to Cairo will arrive via the Cairo International Airport (Airport Code: CAI) which is located ~13 miles northeast of Old Cairo (where most tourist sights are located). The easiest way to get into town is by hailing a car with Uber (iPhone|Android). Uber is extremely affordable in Egypt and a ride from the Airport to Old Cairo shouldn’t cost you more than 250 LE (~$15 USD).
If you prefer to have your driver waiting for you at the airport then you can also book a private airport transfer for around $40 USD.
Where to Stay in Cairo
You’ll love the view from the rooftop pool at the Kempinski Nile Hotel. Situated right on the Nile River and just a 5-minute walk from the Egyptian Museum, the Kempinski is one of our favorite Cairo hotels. And after a long day exploring the city, make sure you take advantage of the complimentary hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas in the full-service spa!
If you really want to treat yourself during your 3 days in Cairo, then you’ll want to book at the Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah. This lavishly decorated 5-star hotel is located on Geizera Island just a few blocks from the Cairo Opera house and features both an infinity pool and a private promenade along the Nile River.
Constructed in 1869, this stunning property was originally a royal palace before being converted into a 5-star hotel in the 1970s. Full of ornate gold mirrors, plush carpets, intricate latticework, and beautiful artwork, the Cairo Marriott Hotel has done a superb job of blending historic architecture with modern-day amenities.
Getting Around Cairo
Our preferred way to get around Cairo is by Uber. As previously mentioned, you’ll find Uber to be quite affordable in Cairo – some of the Uber rides we took around the city cost us less than $0.50 USD. The downside to relying on Uber is you may spend quite a bit of time waiting for your Uber to arrive. Traffic in Cairo is notoriously bad so even if your Uber driver is reasonably close by when they accept the ride it may take a while for them to reach you.
It is also quite common (and affordable) to hire a private driver for the day to transport you around Cairo and patiently wait for you at each attraction. This is a great choice if you want to visit a lot of different sites in Cairo and you’re short on time.
You can book a private driver for 12 hours in Cairo for just $40 USD. Don’t forget that a tip (or “baksheesh” as it’s called locally) is expected for practically everything in Egypt so plan on tipping your driver an extra 50-200 LE ($3-12 USD).
If you love using public transportation, there are also 3 metro lines in Cairo. The Cairo metro is affordable, safe, and efficient. It will also help you avoid some of the city’s horrific traffic. But with only 3 days in Cairo, you may not want to spend your time figuring out how to navigate public transportation.
How to Spend 3 Days in Cairo, Egypt
Cairo – Day 1
The Citadel of Cairo
Note: Ladies, don’t forget a scarf – you’ll be visiting several mosques today and you’ll need to cover your heads to be allowed to enter.
Start your first day in Cairo at the Citadel of Cairo (also known as the Citadel of Saladin) located at the top of Mokattam Hill. The Citadel contains a few of Cairo’s most important historic mosques, plus the views of the city from the top are stunning.
But what about the Pyramids?
For our Cairo itinerary, we have adopted a “save the best for last” mentality. Of course, you can’t leave town without visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza, so if you have less than 3 days in Cairo (or if the anticipation is just too much to bear) then feel free to rearrange things and head to Giza on your first day.
Your first stop should be the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Built between 1830 and 1848, it’s the largest and most impressive mosque in the Citadel. Its courtyard originally contained the tomb of Muhammad Ali Pasha who is considered by many to be the founder of modern Egypt.
There are 2 other mosques within the citadel that you’ll want to visit. Built in 1318, the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque was originally used by the sultans of Cairo for Friday prayers. And the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha was established in 1528. It is the smallest of the 3 mosques but has the distinction of being the first designed in the Ottoman architectural style.
The Cairo Citadel also contains a few museums, however, we recommend skipping them as they are poorly signed and you only have 3 days in Cairo.
- Al-Gawhara Palace Museum – Built by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1814 and used as his family’s royal residence. It’s a nice building and some of the original furnishings remain, but there is not much in the way of museum exhibits.
- Royal Carriage Museum – True to its name it contains a small collection of unique royal carriages.
- Egyptian Military Museum – The official museum of the Egyptian Army that covers military history since the time of the Pharaohs. Unfortunately, it seems to be perpetually closed for renovation.
After you’re done exploring the Citadel, head downhill to two more of Islamic Cairo’s major historical sights – the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Al-Rifa’i Mosque.
Built in the 14th century, the enormous Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, was considered a massive architectural achievement at the time, and, even to this day, it remains the finest of Cairo’s ancient mosques.
Sitting just opposite, the Al-Rifa’i Mosque was built much later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was designed to complement the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. It now has the distinction of being the royal mausoleum of Muhammad Ali’s family.
The interiors and exteriors of both mosques are stunningly picturesque. Step inside, but don’t forget to cover your head and remove your shoes. There is no cost to enter, but there is a stand for depositing your shoes and you will likely be asked for a tip by whoever is manning the booth. The smallest denomination bill you have is sufficient (no more than 10 LE).
From here wind your way north through the streets and alleyways of Islamic Cairo to the Aqsunqur Mosque. This 14th-century religious structure features a stunning interior covered in intricate blue tilework.
Continuing heading north through Al-Azhar Park for a pleasant stroll en route to the first mosque built in Old Cairo – the al-Azhar Mosque. Completed in 972 AD just 2 years after Cairo was established as a city, this famous mosque is the second oldest university in the world and remains a preeminent institution for the study of Islamic law.
After completing your tour of Islamic Cairo, it’s time to head to one of the most famous places in the city – the Khan el-Khalili market. If you like to shop then this ancient winding souk is sure to be the highlight of your 3 days in Cairo.
You’ll find all types of treasures in this open-air bazaar – hammered copper lamps, delicate glass perfume bottles, beautiful jewelry, wood carvings with intricate inlays, and handmade leather goods. The Khan el-Khalili market caters primarily to tourists these days so you should be skeptical of the first price offered and be prepared to bargain aggressively before making any purchases.
You’ll emerge from the claustrophobic Khan el-Khalili onto Al Moez Ldin Allah Al Fatmi Street, more commonly known as just al-Muizz Street. Running over a half-mile from the Bab al-Futuh Gate in the north to the Bab Zuweila Gate in the south, Al-Muizz Street was the most important thoroughfare in Cairo’s former walled city and is now one of the oldest streets in modern-day Cairo.
Al-Muizz Street is lined with dozens of historic buildings including beautiful mosques and madrassas with lovingly restored facades making this area somewhat of an open-air museum. In addition to the various religious monuments, you will find that al-Muizz street is full of shops, restaurants, and street food vendors. It’s a very popular place for locals to stroll and shop in the evenings and the perfect place to end your first day in Cairo.
Sip a cup of tea at one of the cafes along al-Muizz Street and enjoy the people watching. When you’re ready for dinner head to the nearby Naguib Mahfouz Cafe for traditional Egyptian food in a beautiful historic setting.
Cairo – Day 2
On the second day of your Cairo itinerary you’ll be exploring Coptic Cairo. You might be surprised to learn that between the decline of the Pharaohs and the rise of Islam was a time when Egypt was a Christian-majority country.
Today you’ll be visiting the Fortress of Babylon which dates back to the Roman Empire and contains a concentration of historic Orthodox Christian churches. You’ve got a lot of churches to visit today so don’t forget your scarf. Coptic Cairo is a relatively small, contained area so you should be able to easily walk between all of the different sites.
Start your day in Coptic Cairo at the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church. One of the oldest churches in Egypt, the Hanging Church is built on top of gates of an old Roman fortress which lead to its nickname.
Next head to the Coptic Museum where you’ll find the largest collection of Coptic Christian artifacts in the world. The exhibits include beautiful stonework and Christian icons as well as the oldest known book of Psalms. The real highlight of the museum, however, is the building itself. It is full of stained glass windows and intricately detailed ceilings and windows that really steal the show.
After you have finished with the Coptic Museum head to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. With a high vaulted central dome, beautiful murals, and endless amounts of goldwork, we think that the interior of this church is the most impressive in Coptic Cairo. After exiting the Church of St. George, pay a visit to the nearby Coptic Cemetery where large, elaborate tombs are sagging and crumbling with age.
Returning to the entrance of the cemetery, you’ll take the descending staircase to the subterranean Coptic Cairo Bazaar. Here you’ll find a small winding alleyway that will lead you to the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus. Dating back to the 5th century, the highlight of this church is a small cave in the basement that is believed to have served as a shelter for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for 3 months during their time in Egypt.
If you’re not totally exhausted you can pay a quick visit to the Ben Ezra Synagogue at the end of the alleyway – it’s the oldest synagogue in Cairo. And on your way out of Coptic Cairo make one final stop at the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque – it was the first mosque built on the entire continent of Africa!
The Egyptian Museum
For the afternoon of your second day in Cairo, you’re heading to the Egyptian Museum. When you purchase your entrance ticket (Cost: 60 LE) make sure you pay the additional 100 LE for entry to the mummy rooms – they are one of the highlights of the museum.
Licensed guides hang out around the ticket office and will offer their services for 200 LE. The museum is poorly signed so if you want to have any clue as to what you are looking at, you should definitely hire a guide. That being said, if you decide to explore the museums on your own, you’ll still have a wonderful time wandering around the 107 halls filled to the brim with ancient Egyptian artifacts from the prehistoric period through the Roman times.
The Egyptian museum is literally overflowing with Pharaoh and Sphinx statues, mummified remains of both people and animals (including a massive mummified crocodile!), and intricate gold jewelry that managed to escape the hands of tomb raiders. There are so many impressive pieces of Egyptian art that many less important statues are simply pushed off to the side and forgotten – gathering dust in rarely-visited side rooms and corridors.
The museum is a bit of a free-for-all with little to no security and seemingly no rules. You’ll undoubtedly see people wrapping their arms around thousand-year-old statues for a selfie, but of course, you should be a responsible traveler and refrain from touching anything.
It’s easy to spend several hours in the museum and still not even see half of the exhibits. We recommend heading to the mummy rooms on the second floor before you’re feeling burned out. And after marveling at the impossibly well-preserved mummies make sure you visit the exhibit of King Tut’s tomb. It’s full of all the beautiful and priceless treasures found in the boy king’s tomb including his solid gold coffin and face mask!
On your way out of the Egyptian Museum, stop at Tahrir Square, famous for the political demonstrations held there leading up to the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Cairo – Day 3
The Pyramids of Giza
As promised we have saved the best part of your Cairo itinerary for last, and today you’re off to visit the pyramids! We have actually written an entire guide to the Great Pyramids of Giza that we recommend you read before your visit – it’s full of useful information like what scams you should avoid at the Pyramids.
The pyramids are located in Giza which is ~13 miles from Old Cairo. The best way to get there is to use Uber. It will take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get from Old Cairo to the Giza Plateau depending on traffic.
The Pyramid Complex – Ticket Prices:
- Giza Plateau Area only: 200 LE
- Entrance to the inside of the Great Pyramid of Khufu: 400 LE
- Entrance to Inside of 2nd or 3rd Pyramid: 100 LE
- Khufu Boat Museum:100 LE
The Pyramid Complex – Hours:
- From October to March the Giza Plateau Area is open every day from 8am – 5pm
- From April to September the Giza Plateau Area is open every day from 7am – 7pm
- The inside of the Great Pyramid is open from 8am-12pm and 1pm-4pm
It’s best to arrive at the pyramids first thing in the morning, at 7am if you’re visiting in the summer or 8am if it’s the winter. By mid-morning the Giza Plateau is already hot and crowded, so by arriving early, you can avoid both the heat and crowds ensuring you have a much better experience.
There are actually 2 entrances to the Giza Plateau and we recommend going to the one located behind the Marriott Mena House Hotel – the ticket booth is not marked on Google Maps but it is located here. Entering the Giza Plateau here means that you’ll start right next to the Great Pyramid of Khufu which is the oldest and largest of the 3 pyramids.
If you purchased the extra ticket to go inside of the Great Pyramid of Khufu it’s best to do that as soon as you arrive. The passageway through the pyramid is quite small and narrow at a few points. Once tour groups start arriving it’s an endless queue of people trying to squeeze into this tiny space which makes it rather uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
After you’ve visited the Pyramid of Khufu you should head up to Panorama Point where you’ll have a view of the 3 main pyramids with Giza in the background. It’s quite a long walk so you’ll be best off hiring a horse carriage, at least for the way up. You can expect to pay 100 LE each way for the carriage ride. Don’t pay any more and don’t let the driver tell you it’s the cost per person rather than for the whole carriage (it’s not).
After snapping photos from Panorama Point head to the group of Pyramids at the southern edge of the Giza necropolis. At 204 feet tall, the Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the main 3 pyramids. You can enter it if you purchased the appropriate ticket (100 LE), but all of the interiors of the pyramids are quite similar. If you have already been inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu there is little reason to visit the tombs inside the Pyramids of Menkaure or Khafre.
On the southern side of the Pyramid of Menkaure are 3 smaller pyramids. These are the Queens’ Pyramids and they contain the tombs of Khufu’s wives and sisters. You can actually enter the middle of these 3 pyramids for free. So if you opted out of going inside of the Pyramid of Khufu you can get your tomb raider fix here at no extra cost.
You’ll no doubt be approached by numerous touts offering you a camel or horseback ride out to the southern dunes where you’ll be able to capture an icon photo of all 6 pyramids.
It is a nice photo spot and it’s too far to reach on foot for anyone but the most dedicated traveler (and usually the local police won’t allow you to walk to that part of the plateau without a guide).
Whether you want to accept the ride is up to you. The camel or horse ride should cost ~200 LE per animal per hour and you should be able to easily ride out there and back in an hour.
The final pyramid on your itinerary is the most well recognized – the Pyramid of Khafre. Even though it’s the second-tallest and second-largest of the pyramids many people mistake this pyramid for The Great Pyramid. This is primarily due to its position directly behind the statue of the Sphynx, and because it managed to retain some of the original limestone outer casing at the top giving it an iconic silhouette.
As we stated previously, you can enter this pyramid for an extra 100 LE, but it looks like the inside of all the other pyramids. Here you will also find the Khufu Boat Museum (Admission: 100 LE). This ancient boat is the oldest intact ship in the world, and it was discovered in a gigantic pit at the base of the Great Pyramid.
You’re likely a bit tired of looking at giant conical piles of rocks, but luckily you’re almost finished. Walk down the hill to the Great Sphinx of Egypt for a few cheesy kissing photos. And if you have the patience for one last photo shoot before exiting the complex, then head to the small plateau in front of the Sphinx.
Here you can snap an iconic image of the Pyramid of Khafre directly behind the Great Sphinx. Don’t be afraid to jump into the photo yourself – visiting the pyramids is on everyone’s bucket list and you might as well have an epic selfie to remember the experience.
One final note – if you have enough time you may also want to consider spending a night in Giza at a hotel with a view of the pyramids. That way you’ll get to see the sun set and rise over the pyramids from the comfort of your hotel room!
Sunset River Cruise of the Nile
You’ve likely just walked 3-5 miles around the Giza Plateau in the hot Egyptian sun, so you’ll probably want to head straight back to your hotel for a shower and a nap.
If you decide to spend the afternoon relaxing at your hotel pool we certainly won’t blame you. But, if you’re up for one more activity to round out your Cairo itinerary then we suggest a cruise in a traditional felucca boat on the Nile River at sunset. It’s best to book your felucca ride in advance and we prefer booking our tours online at GetYourGuide.com, but your hotel can arrange it for you as well.
Sailing peacefully along the Nile with a cool breeze filling the sails of your Felucca, you’ll feel miles away from the dust and heat of the pyramids. And as the sun sets over this ancient Egyptian metropolis you’ll know it’s the perfect ending to your 3 days in Cairo.
We hope you have an amazing 3 days in Cairo! If you have anything we should add to our Cairo itinerary please let us know in the comments below.
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