How to Spend 3 Days in Cairo; Plan The ULTIMATE Cairo Itinerary
I have been to Cairo 5 times now. It’s my base as I run my tours to Socotra, Yemen each year, so I know the city pretty well these days. If you’re wondering how to spend 3 days in Cairo, I’m the guy to make sure you don’t miss anything, you stay in the best area, and you maximise your time there. I’ve taken my mum to Cairo safely, taken my girlfriend to Cairo in luxury, I’ve taken my tour groups there and I’ve backpacked there on a budget. Here’s how I breakdown my Cairo itinerary each time.
I often think that budget travel is the most fun, but Cairo is a pretty hectic city to be honest, with tour guides and middle-men fighting for business. So if you’re ever going to book tours in advance, and stay in a nicer hotel, Cairo is the spot to do it. I stayed in the Dusit Thani Lakeview, about $150 a room, and in my opinion the best luxury hotel in Cairo. I’ve tweaked the 3 days in Cairo itinerary to make sure everything is covered. But in terms of the hotel I recommend and tours to book, they are from years of making mistakes until finally, I nailed the ‘3 days in Cairo’ itinerary to make sure it’s the best 3 days possible.
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Should I spend 1, 2, or 3 Days in Cairo?
In my opinion, 3 nights is enough for Cair. So if you’re wondering about a 4-day Cairo itinerary, I’d say it’s too long. Equally, 1 full day isn’t quite enough, BUT if that’s all you have, then for a 1 Day Cairo Itinerary, use Day 1 of the 3-day Cairo Itinerary below. The bazaar, the museum, and the Pyramids are the 3 main must-sees, so don’t miss those, even if you have only 1 day. Equally, if it’s a 2 day Cairo Itinerary, take days 1 and 2, and skip day 3. If you want the full Cairo experience, as I did, do all 3.
DAY 1; How to spend 3 days in Cairo:
Things to do in Cairo on Day 1:
The Pyramids of Giza
The Egyptian Museum
Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Day 1 is the biggie. Like I mentioned above, if your time in Cairo is limited to 1 or 2 days, make sure you spend one of them like this. With today’s itinerary, you have 2 options about how to achieve it. You can either do it independently, as I did the first time I came to Egypt on a super-tight backpacker budget. It’s the cheapest way, you use Uber or street taxis between each stop and buy your individual tickets each time. The other option is to take a private day tour (normally around $50 per person). Which is better? I’d say taking a private tour, each day actually.
You’ll probably only be in Cairo once, so having a private driver and a private guide means not only do you have expert insight into everything you’ll see today, it also removes all the people bothering you for their services. It’s also a thousand times more efficient than doing it yourself! Also with the day trips, all your entrance tickets are covered too, which means you don’t have to worry about dealing with cash all day long.
First up, hit the Pyramids.
They open at 8am normally (7am April to September) so be there first there to avoid the tour buses. If you travel there independently it’s 200LE ($13) to enter the main site. If you want to enter the centre of the Great Pyramid, it’s an additional 400LE ($28), and it’s really, really, really NOT worth it. Just a cramped, dark corridor with nothing in it aside from hordes of other disappointed tourists.
The best way to see the Pyramids is first hit up the Great Pyramid and listen to your guide explain the history. Amazing stuff. Then take 45 minutes or so to wander around and take pics. A great spot for pics is at the back of the Great Pyramid, hop over the road and in front of the 2nd Pyramid, there are normally no people. 3 times I’ve done it, 3 times I’ve been alone. Pretty cool!
After that, if you’re on a private tour, hop in your transport and drive to the Pyramid Viewpoint. If you’re going independently either walk (20+ mins or so) or jump in an overpriced taxi. If you’re on a tour, then they’ll take you over there. You’ll spend about 15 minutes at the viewpoint, it’s a great spot to see the 3 main Pyramids in one shot.
After the viewpoint, make your way to the main park entrance. You have one last stop before you leave the facility – THE SPHINX! It’s included in the ticket price but make sure you keep your ticket on you as they check that again before you can enter the Sphinx area.
If you arrived at the Pyramids of Giza around 8am, you’ll probably be done before 11am. You have 2 more stops on your itinerary. Next up, Khan el Khalili bazaar and the Al-Azhar Mosque right next door.
As long as you don’t arrive at the Mosque during prayer time, you’re very welcome inside, and it’s beautiful. So don’t miss it.
khan el Khalili bazaar
After the Mosque, cross under the right with the underpass and walk into the expansive khan el Khalili bazaar. Things are about to get pretty hectic, so be ready for it! It should be lunchtime already though. Venture inside the Bazaar and find the Naguib Mahfouz restaurant, it’s a nice little escape from the madness of the sellers nearby. Have a bite to eat, have a coffee and pluck up the energy to go outside and barter for your souvenirs! You’ll probably need at least an hour in the Bazaar, so factor that in after lunch.
Your last stop today will be in Tahrir square, about a 30-minute drive from the Bazaar. Tahrir Square was the centre of the Demonstrations that kicked off the uprising in Egypt in 2011, so be please be respectful when you arrive. Soak up the modern history, before you get bombarded with Ancient History in the Egyptian Museum, also located in Tahrir square.
If you travel independently, tickets for the museum are 160 EGP ($10), and another $12 to enter the Mummy hall. I’m not much of a museum guy, so an hour or so is more than enough for me, but if you’re a history buff, people have spent 3 hours+ here. Plan accordingly. Personally, I thought the real-life mummies, and Tutankhamun solid-gold headgear were real highlights.
Now, if you have time, back to the hotel for a sundowner before dinner. If you’ve been spending ages at each place, you may go straight to dinner. Your first night, you should stave off the pizza cravings and have some local food. I always take my groups to Elmalek Farouk, right on the Nile, near the Sheraton Cairo (pop this in google maps: مطعم مشويات الملك فاروق – فرع الدقى). Local, cheap, and friendly.
FAQS for 1 DAY CAIRO ITINERARY
1: Should you ride a camel at the Pyramids? Nope!
You should never ride a camel. Not in the Pyramids, or anywhere. Just like elephant riding in Thailand, camel riding too should be frowned upon. It’s cruel, the animals are kept in terrible conditions, and by partaking in the activity, you’re encouraging more people to ply this trade. Avoid it. One day it will be outlawed.
2: Are the Pyramids one the Seven Wonders of the World? Nope!
They are, however, the last remaining Original 7 Ancient Wonders of the World (if you’re wondering what the 7 Ancient wonders of the world are, check this blog post). The new Seven Wonders of the world are HERE.
Day 1 Cairo Itinerary Google Map:
DAY 2; How to spend 3 days in Cairo:
Things to do in Cairo on Day 2:
Memphis; Egypt’s Ancient Capital
Sakkar; the 1st EVER Pyramid!
A Traditional Nile Cruise
Dinner at the Best Thai Restaurant in Egypt!
That was a big day yesterday! Today, you can visit all the other main sites in Cairo, plus the absolute compulsory traditional Felucca boat ride on the Nile. Again, you have a simple choice whether to organise a private tour for today or to do it independently. I feel the same about it as I do about Day 1. Cairo is a tough city to get around, and for the sake of an extra $20 or so, to have a private car and guide is so, so much better.
Also, with the amazing history in Cairo, you need a guide at each site to explain it anyway, and to keep getting guides at each stop, a pre-booked private trip is cheaper. I’ve done it both ways, and a private tour is the best IMO.
Ok, so have breakfast in your hotel, take it easy. Your driver will pick you up from your hotel (or get an Uber if you’re doing it independently) and drive south of Cairo to Memphis. Memphis is the historic, original capital of Ancient Egypt and although there’s not too much still left standing, it’s worth the visit to see the HUGE Colossus of Ramesses II, and to hear about how Egypt formed. Also, it’s home to the 2nd Sphinx still standing in the world.
After Memphis, back in the transport, and it’s Sakkara up next. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, Sakkara is actually the first Pyramid ever built, and in fact, the first stone building ever built. That is some serious history. Many people choose to hit up the Pyramids of Giza and skip the rest, but when you hear about how important these places are, they deserve another day for sure. Also, the Sakkara complex is most beautiful than Memphis, so there a few nice pics to come too.
After your time in Sakarra, you have a real highlight still left today. A traditional boat ride on a Felucca (an Egyptian style sailing boat) on the Nile. Again, here you have a few options. The main choice, in my opinion, is to take a dinner cruise on a larger boat at sunset which admittedly sounds pretty cool. The other option is to take a private traditional boat, a Felucca, for an hour or 2.
Personally, I think the first option is a bit of a tourist trap. A buffet-style dinner with food sitting out for hours, lots of tourists, and a ‘herd them like sheep’ mentality. The second option though is a much more relaxing experience. Also, a private boat experience is far more fun whether you’re with your partner, your family or your friends.
I’m sure you’re thinking that private Felucca rides are going to be crazy expensive, right? Nope. $30 a head. And it’s on your schedule. I did exactly that. We organised an hour for me and my fiance, and that was about enough, but 2 hours is an option too. The boats generally leave near the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel.
Back to your hotel to relax before dinner. Tonight, I’d recommend a restaurant called ‘Ruen Thai‘ in the Dusit Thani hotel in Cairo. I’m based in Thailand, and my fiance is Thai, so we both know our Thai food! I had been on the road a while and wanted something non-Arabic, so we heard that the Ruen Thai had the best Thai food in Egypt, so we check it out. I’ve written a personal blog post about that, so you can read that HERE. But, to condense that message, it was perhaps the best Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to, including in my home of Bangkok. I still think about it to this day. Amazing.
Day 2 Google Map:
DAY 3; How to spend 3 days in Cairo:
Things to do in Cairo Day 3 hitlist:
Muhammed Ali Mosque
Salah El Din Al Ayouby Citadel and the City of the Dead
Baron Empain Palace
Mosque of Ibn Tulun
It’s the last day of your 3 days in Cairo, and today is a more cultural affair. Cairo’s old city is also a UNESCO heritage site, and when you’re hopping from main attraction to main attraction on the first 2 days, you kind of miss the cultural side of Cairo, and its Islamic history. So we’ll put that right here.
For the 4 sights today though, it’s best to either ask a taxi to take you for the day or take Uber independently throughout the tour. It’s quite difficult to find a day tour that takes you to these 4 sights, which is why it’s easier to do it yourself. You can find guides at each stop if you’d like to hear more about the history.
If you’re staying in New Cairo, where I stayed, I’d start with Baron Empain Palace. Tickets are about $6 for this Indian-inspired mansion and the architecture is something you wouldn’t expect to find in Cairo. It’s just recently been restored, so you’ll be amongst the first groups of tourists who can enter it once again.
Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Citadel of Saladin
After the Mosque, it’s time for the Citadel of Saladin (tickets about $8). The Citadel was a medieval Islamic-era fort overlooking Old Cairo In 1976, it was proclaimed by UNESCO as a part of the World Heritage Site Historic Cairo (Islamic Cairo) which was “the new centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century. Epic stuff. Make sure to pay a visit to the Mosque of Muhammad Al, the largest to be built in the first half of the 19th century and with great views of Cairo.
Nearby the Citadel is Cairos Necropolis or the ‘City of the Dead. Endless tombs and cemeteries from Cairo’s era of the centre of the Islamic World, stretching throughout old Cairo. All of this forms part of the UNESCO ‘Old Cairo’ and you shouldn’t miss it when you’re here, even if it’s a little sombre.
And that’s day 3 done. Your tour of Old Cairo is complete. And your 3 days are up. You’ve done Cairo justice and have seen all its main sights. Well done!
Day 3 Google Map:
Final thoughts on my 3 Days in Cairo Itinerary.
- If you only have 1 day in Cairo, do Day 1 (plus maybe the Nile cruise).
- If you have 2 days, you can either do Day 1 and 2. Or if you’re interested in the more recent Islamic vibe of Cairo, then Day 1 and Day 3.
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