Best Historical Places to Visit in Cairo

Places to visit in Cairo

Updated On: May 23, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Cairo, the capital of Egypt and home to more than 10 million people is one of the great megacities in the world. The metropolitan megacity is the largest in Africa and the Middle East.

Cairo has different nicknames that capture its spirit: “the city of a thousand minarets,” “the city that never sleeps,” and “the city of the dead.” As the nicknames suggest, Cairo is a vibrant city full of life and history. There are many places to visit in Cairo.

Cairo is probably the first stop for anyone who visits Egypt. The city is located right on the famous Nile River and comprises many places worth visiting. Even though Cairo is famous for the Pyramids, it is not all that the city has to offer. Cairo is filled with many museums, monuments, historical edifices, and brilliant architecture. The city’s Pharaonic, Coptic, and Islamic monuments depict its diversity and inclusivity.

Located in the Middle East, Cairo’s weather is mostly hot. During the summer, daytime highs typically reach 35°C (95°F) with high humidity, due to its location near the Mediterranean Sea. Rain is rare and usually falls during winter. On the other hand, Cairo has pleasant winters. The winter days are almost always sunny which saves you from the gloomy feeling of winter. Cairo’s winters usually have a high of 20°C (68°F). So, it is better to visit Cairo during winter to avoid the hot summer weather.

Top Places to Visit in Cairo

The various places to visit in Cairo might confuse you as a visitor as you won’t know what to choose. Avoid the confusion with our list of the top places you have to visit in the vibrant capital. Use the list to arrange your Cairo itinerary the next time you are here.

The Pyramids of Giza

Best Historical Places to Visit in Cairo
The pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt; the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact

Seeing thousands of pictures of the Pyramids would never beat the real-life experience of getting close to the beautiful monuments. The Pyramids have never failed to wow millions throughout the centuries. If you do not have to visit the Pyramids on your bucket list, they are surely one of your top places to visit in Cairo.

These majestic masterpieces were built almost 5,000 years ago, at the beginning of human recorded history. The three Pyramids of Giza include the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, and the other two, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure.

The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the three main pyramids and is the site’s most famous monument. It was built around 2570 BC by the Pharaoh Khufu, hence its name, and is one of the most well-known monuments in the world. It is believed that 100,000 men worked on the construction of the Great Pyramid for three months every year. For 3,800 years, the Great Pyramid was the tallest building in the world until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1311 AD in England.

The Pyramid of Khafre is exactly 160 meters to the southwest of the Great Pyramid. It was built by Khufu’s son Khafre. Even though the Pyramid of Khafre appears more significant than the Great Pyramid, this is not true. It just stands on a higher part of the land. The top of the Pyramid has managed to preserve the exquisitely burnished blocks of high quality that once covered most of it.

The Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three Pyramids. It stands 65 meters high and was built by the 4th-dynasty pharaoh Menkaure as his own tomb.

If you visit the Pyramids between October and March, tickets are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, if you are already at the location, the monument closes at 5 p.m. During summer, from April to September, the visiting hours are from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, and the Museum of Cairo are the different names used to describe the great museum located in Tahrir Square in Cairo. The Museum is one of the most exciting places to visit in Cairo. It was initially established by French Egyptologist August Mariette on the bank of the River Nile at Boulaq in 1857. It was then moved to its location at the distinctive powder-pink mansion in Downtown Cairo in 1897.

The museum has a collection of around 120,000 items, making it one of the largest museums in the region. It shows some of the rarest historical antiques, which give it its reputation as one of the world’s most incredible exhibition halls. With various collections dating back to prehistoric times, the artefacts and antiques shown at the museum reveal an extensive scenario of Egypt’s civilization. The museum also holds the record of having the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiques.

After reaching the museum, the first thing you can see is different collections and artefacts from the New Kingdom, the period from 1550 to 1069 BC. These include coins, coffins, giant statues, tables, and pieces of manuscripts. Unfortunately, most of the manuscripts have decayed as a result of ageing. Unlike the manuscripts, the coins have been restored and made of gold, silver, and bronze. All these exciting pieces can be seen when you pass the security check at the museum’s entrance. Then, you can move to the next part of the museum, the first floor.

The 1st floor (second level) contains thousands of smaller items from the last two dynasties that ruled Egypt. These items include collections from the Valley of the Kings and the Tombs of Pharaohs Thutmosis-III, Thutmosis-IV, Amenophis-II and Hatshepsut. However, the most famous artefacts on the floor are those discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. They take up a large area of the floor.

The treasures found in the Pharaoh’s tomb include chariots, gloves, jewellery, and the famous Golden Death Mask Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun’s tomb contained four gilded shrines nested, one inside the other. All four of these shrines are on display in the museum. Other famous items worth visiting in the museum are the Inlaid Diadem with Vulture and Cobra Uraeus.

The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Make sure to get that permit, as there are many things you’d like to keep a memory of.

Al Azhar Mosque

Best Historical Places to Visit in Cairo
View at Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

Al-Azhar Mosque was built in 970 AD by Jawhar Al-Siqilli, a ruler of the Fatimid Dynasty of Egypt. Construction took two years. The name Al-Azhar means “The Splendid” and is thought to relate to Fatimah Al-Zahraa, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, an admired figure in Islam. Caliph Al-Muizz commissioned the construction of the mosque for the then-newly established capital city, Cairo. The Fatimid Dynasty made the decision to build Al-Azhar as an establishment of their power in the Islamic world.

Al-Azhar mosque is undoubtedly the finest building of the Fatimid era in Cairo and one of the city’s oldest mosques. Being one of the earlier mosques in Cairo is not the only sign of Al-Azhar. By 988 AD, it was turned into the second oldest continuously run university in the world. Since then, Al-Azhar has been one of the top universities for studying Islamic law and one of the most influential Islamic schools of higher learning.

The mosque is a living example of the architectural brilliance of the Fatimid era. It comprises five outstanding Minarets, a large prayer hall, and the famous, elegant marble courtyard. The courtyard is rectangular and is surrounded by arcades. All the arcades have keel-shaped arches, which is a unique style of Fatimid architecture. Across the courtyard lies the main prayer hall, spanning 3,000 square meters. The original prayer hall was built as a hypostyle hall with a roof supported by columns. The mosque generally has limited decoration, and all its existing decoration is made of stucco, which is a unique aspect of the mosque.

Al-Azhar mosque is located at the centre of downtown Cairo. Since its establishment, Al-Azhar has been a spectacular landmark of the city. The mosque has 8 enormous gates inviting its visitors to get inside and explore its stunning beauty. The mosque’s main entrance is Bab Al-Muzayinin (Gate of the Barbers). The Gate is a double-arched portal made of stone with recessed arches around the two doors. This main gate was not constructed until the mid-eighteenth century.

The mosque’s location in the busy downtown area provides a sanctuary for its visitors to stop for a moment and respite from the outer world. It is one of the city’s key markers. When you are in Cairo, make sure to visit the splendid mosque. It is one of the most important places to visit in Cairo. There is an entry fee of around $1 per person.

The Hanging Church

The Hanging or Suspended Church, in Arabic Al-Moallaqa, is the famous name of Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church. The church is one of Egypt’s oldest churches. Its name ‘Hanging’ comes from the fact that it was built on the ruins of the Roman fortress. The first construction of the Hanging Church probably appeared in the 3rd or 4th century as a very humble building with palm logs and stones as a fundament. The permanent structure was built later in the 690s.

This famous church was the house of the Coptic Orthodox pope’s seat from 1047 to the 13th century. Being the Coptic Patriarch’s residence for centuries, the Hanging Church witnessed essential elections and religious ceremonies. It was also the place to host synods that determined when Easter should be celebrated. The church contains three sanctuaries on the eastern side: the one in the middle is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the one to the left is named after St. George, and the one to the right is named after John the Baptist. Painted baldachins are placed above the altars inside the sanctuaries.

The historical and religious importance is not all that the Hanging Church has. This most famous church in Coptic Cairo contains stunning examples of Coptic architecture. It has heavy doors adorned with ebony, ivory and marble pillars. The church’s ceiling resembles Noah’s ark, and two bell towers loom above it. The church is one of the first in Egypt to be built in a basilica style. The porch dates to the 11th century and has miraculously survived centuries of shuffling feet and processions.

There are 110 icons in the Hanging Church. The oldest is the “Coptic Mona Lisa,” which dates back to the 8th century AD and represents the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist. Other altar icons date back to the 18th century.

Gorgeous lotus-shaped wooden panels decorate the wall above the altar. They are placed right below images of Jesus’ disciples, which are painted in a distinctive Coptic style.

This distinctive church is a must-see. It is one of the places to visit in Cairo. There is no entry fee to see the church. The Hanging Church is open to visitors every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. A Coptic Mass is held from 8:00 am to 11 am every Wednesday and Friday and from 9:00 am to 11:00 am on Sundays. Everyone is welcome to observe. While there is no dress code required, it is appreciated to wear something that goes down to at least your knees and avoid sleeveless attires.

Khan El Khalili

Khan Al Khalili is a medieval-style bazaar located in the heart of Islamic Cairo. It was built on the old burial site of the Fatimid Caliphs. While trading in the bazaar started in the 14th century, the skinny alleyways and elaborately carved monumental gates were constructed in the 16th century under the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt. While some shops are in narrow alleys, others are arranged around small courtyards.

The shops in Khan Al Khalili have everything from soap powder to actual gold. However, the market is very famous for several goods. These include spices, fabric, perfumes, silver, and gold. An important thing to mention is that if you are a fan of belly dancing, this is your golden chance to get your belly dancing costume. Many merchants have booths selling authentic copper accessories at very affordable prices. The market is also a great place to pick the souvenirs you want to take back home with you.

The great thing about shopping at Khan Al Khalili is that even if the merchant you are dealing with does not have what you want, they will find another merchant. This shopping experience is a great chance to try out your haggling skills. Haggle, haggle, haggle, then haggle some more. Do not buy anything at Khan Al Khalili without haggling! You will be surprised at how much of the price you can get off just by haggling.

For your well-deserved shopping break, the area is full of spots to get something to eat or drink. The space is home to various old cafes, the most famous of which is El-Fishawi. This is one of the oldest cafes in Cairo; its establishment dates back to 1797. This café was also one of Naguib Mahfouz’s favourite cafes, and it never closed its doors. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can sit down at any other café and enjoy Arabic coffee, usually brewed with spices.

Another coffeehouse worth a visit is El-lord, where you can enjoy your drink while listening to the great songs of Umm Kulthum. As for food, you can either go into one of the traditional restaurants at Khan Al Khalili or get a small bite from one of the street vendors in the area.

If you want to experience the vibrant Cairene streets fully, Khan Al Khalili is definitely one of the places to visit in Cairo. Even if you do not want to buy anything, walking in the alleyways is an experience in itself. The market usually opens around 9:00 a.m. and does not close until past midnight. Try to avoid going there on Sunday, as most of the traders at the market take that day off.

The Coptic Museum

Cairo’s charm lies in its diversity. It is a city where different religions and cultures exist in beautiful harmony. This has been the reality of the cosmopolitan city for as long as history can remember. A proven example is the famous places and monuments belonging to various civilizations. An essential witness to Cairo’s diverse history is the Coptic Museum. Founded in 1908, the Coptic Museum has abundant information about Egypt’s early Christian period, making it one of Cairo’s most exciting places to visit.

The story of the museum starts when Marcus Simaika Pasha, after obtaining the approval of the Patriarch, succeeded in getting the Coptic Museum built in 1908 as part of a plot intended for the construction of a church. The museum was inaugurated for the first time in 1910. The museum’s collections were first obtained by family legacies and donations. It then became a State museum in 1931, and its collections have continued to grow since.

In 1939, the Service of Antiquities decided to transfer the totality of the Christian Antiquities exhibited in the Egyptian Museum to the Coptic Museum. Since then, all findings originating in Christian sites have automatically gone to the Coptic Museum. Nowadays, the museum occupies an area of 8,000 m2 of buildings and gardens and houses one of Egypt’s finest collections of Coptic art. The museum has around 1200 real treasures on display. However, the museum’s total collection is 16,000 pieces of art.

The museum, with all its galleries, is a stunning place. It shows many elaborate wood carvings, cloths, manuscripts, priestly garments, frescoes, and wooden panels, as well as painted wooden ceilings and marble fountains collected from old Coptic palaces. There is a wealth of clothes that highlight a wide diversity of techniques and materials. They cover Biblical subjects as well as scenes from daily life. It also hosts the oldest book of Psalms in the world, the Psalms of David.

When you visit the Coptic Museum, make sure to allow yourself a couple of hours to see most, if not all, of its treasures. The museum is open to the public daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

An important note is that you are not allowed to photograph anything inside the museum unless you have written approval from the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The Museum is a walking distance from the Hanging Church. You can plan both visits on the same day as both are interesting places to visit in Cairo.

Aisha Fahmy Palace

Art brought from the royals directly to you at Aisha Fahmy Palace. Princess Aisha Fahmy was the daughter of Egyptian aristocrats and army chief of King Fuad I, Ali Fahmy. The palace was designed by Italian architect Antonio Lasciac and built in 1907. It is 2,700 square meters by the Nile River. It has a charming classic European Style and Rococo interiors. The palace consists of two receptions, a basement, and a roof.

The palace initially belonged to Aisha Fahmy’s father, Ali Fahmy. After his death, she bought her siblings’ shares in the palace as its sole owner. She led an interesting life and lived in the palace until her death in 1962. The palace was given to the Egyptian government. It was first made into a presidential mansion. Then, in 1975, it became part of the Arts and Literature Association. In the following year, it became the Center of Arts.

The two-story building contains five rooms with various original textile art and European oil paintings. A room originally used for playing billiards and a billiards scoring board was turned into a living room, where the name of Fahmy’s father has been engraved in the wood. The furniture in the living room doesn’t belong to Fahmy, as the government and curators carefully chose the furniture to match the decorations in the room. The existence of unique silk and linen canvas uniquely characterizes the palace chambers.

The second floor has a room dedicated to antiques and another room that was a gift from the Japanese embassy to Fahmy. The architecture of the room represents Japanese civilization. Another distinguished room is the princess’s bedroom, which was decorated with shiny gold leaves.

The artistic paintings on the windows and museum chandeliers have not changed since Fahmy’s time. Only broken glass in some windows was fixed, and the drawings were revived. However, the palace’s basement has been transformed into an exhibition hall.

Since 1976, the palace, now a museum, has hosted numerous art galleries exhibiting works of Egyptian artists and the art of the palace itself. Aisha Fahmy’s Palace was recently restored by the Egyptian authority and reopened in 2017 as an art exhibition. The place is worth a visit. Even if you are not into displayed works of art, the brilliance of the palace’s interiors deserves to be checked.

The visiting hours are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily, except for Friday. There is no entry fee, and photography is allowed for free as well. One note is that you will need to leave your passport with the policeman at the gate for entry. Art lover or not, Aisha Fahmy Palace should be on your list of places to visit in Cairo.

The Citadel

Best Historical Places to Visit in Cairo
Saladin Citadel of Cairo, Egypt, under an overcast sky

The Citadel of Salah Al-Din Al Ayyubi is an impressive defensive fortress in Islamic Cairo. The invincible citadel was built by Salah Al-Din in 1176. It has a strategic location on the hill of Muqattam, which allows a panoramic view of old Cairo and gives the citadel an advanced defensive position.

Even though the citadel’s construction started during the reign of Salah Al-Din, it was not completed in his lifetime. The building was completed during the reign of Sultan Kamel Ibn Al-Adel, who decided to reside in it. This made the Citadel of Salah Al-Din Al Ayyubi the official residence of official rulers until the mid-19th century.

While the citadel is one of the most iconic monuments and places to visit in Cairo, its original layout has disappeared except for the eastern outer walls. The current layout is a collection of the legacies of different rulers who made their additions to the citadel. Here are some of the legacies and monuments you can visit while you are at the citadel:

1. Mohammed Ali Mosque

Mohammed Ali Pasha, an Egyptian ruler under the Ottoman Empire, built this mosque in 1830. Pasha took the citadel as a governing centre and built a mosque to carry his name and commemorate his memory.

2. Al Jawhara Palace Museum

Mohamed Ali Pasha also commissioned this palace, which was designed by artists and architects from different countries. It is an aesthetic masterpiece. Nowadays, the palace is a museum that houses unique antiques, such as a 1000 kg chandelier in the audience hall.

3. Carriage Museum

Opened in 1983, the National Museum of Carriages has a stunning collection of royal carriages. The carriages displayed at the museum date back to Khedive Ismail’s reign until King Farouk’s. The museum was renovated in 2013 and is in front of Mohamed Ali mosque.

4. Military Museum

This museum was initially placed at the Ministry of War in downtown Cairo. It has been recently renovated and relocated to the citadel. It displays many objects, including the weapons used in war events of the Suez War, the Arab-Israel war and even some pharaonic military items.

Other edifices at the citadel include the El Nasser Mohammed mosque and the Sulaiman Pasha mosque. The citadel comprises several gates that are worth checking. It is an essential landmark of Islamic Cairo; it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1976.

You can visit this immune citadel any day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The citadel is vast, so plan to be there for at least 4 hours to enjoy most of its offerings. Also, climb to the citadel’s roof during sunset to get a dazzling view of Cairo and maybe some fantastic pictures.

These are some of the historical places to visit in the vibrant city of Cairo. The city, like its Nile, is overflowing with sights. Each of the monuments tells a story about the past events and different empires that shaped the city we see today! Allow yourself a couple of days to visit these historical sites and learn more about the wonders of this city.

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