Are you ready to have your mind blown by historical and cultural overload dating back more than 4,000 years? You have come to the right place! The historical treasures of Egypt are legendary, and luckily for you, they are centred around the capital of Cairo. This is good news for your busy calendar. In this post, we present you with the ultimate Cairo weekend itinerary – the one we used ourselves with great success back in January 2019. It is perfect for those who are short on time. If you don’t even have time to read this article, but still want to know if Cairo is for you, take a look at our short video below. Hopefully, it will motivate you to pack your bags right away.
The itinerary for the weekend
06.45am – Wake up early
07.30am – Breakfast
08.30am – Driver pick-up
09.00am – Explore Saqqara
10.30am – Outdoor museum in Memphis
12.00pm – See the Red Pyramid
01.30pm – Lunch
03.00pm – Chill at the rooftop
03:00pm – Alternatively, The Egyptian Museum
07.00pm – Downtown dinner
The art of getting to your hotel
Once you have arrived in Cairo International Airport, pushed yourself through the masses and waited in the most unstructured queue of all time to get a local sim-card, your next step will be to master the art of getting a ride to your hotel.
We had done some research beforehand, and everyone said you should use either Uber or Careem (a rivalling ride-sharing service in the region). Using the surprisingly cheap data we had just purchased, we ordered an Uber. After waiting patiently for about 10 minutes (being Danish, we like when people are on time), the little toy car on the Uber map had not moved at all. We called the driver, who had clearly been fast asleep. He told us to go to B5, which we had no idea what meant, and it was next to impossible to get a good description from any of the locals in the airport. They were all struggling with English. To make matters worse, nowhere in the airport will you find a sign suggesting where ride-sharing services are allowed to pick people up. Apparently, it’s a strict no-no from the main entrance. It turns out, the Uber pick-up point is in the middle of a huge parking lot. To get there, you need to pass a horde of wannabe taxi drivers who are all eager to get your attention. Finally, we did find our sweet, sweet ride which was a car of questionable origin with a sleepy driver (Nick thought he knew each and every brand of car in existence – apparently not this one).
With the airport located about an hour’s drive from the Pyramids Complex in Giza, we guess you can imagine how our trip went? We were preoccupied for 60 minutes trying to keep our driver from dozing off and were holding on for dear life in the seatbelt-less wreck of a vehicle. Luckily it was very early morning, so traffic was light, and we didn’t have to worry about other motorists. The famous Cairo-crazy traffic might otherwise have helped keep him awake though, we will never know.
Eventually, we made it to our hotel and were hoping that the struggles of our many hours of travelling could soon be forgotten. Our hopes were not that high when stepping out of the car, though. From the street, the building and surrounding area looked a little dirty and worn down, and there were not exactly a lot of tourists around. The same could be said about our room, except for one minor detail: We could stare straight into the eyes of the Sphinx! Things got even better when we went for refreshments at the rooftop terrace. There was a lovely panoramic view of the pyramids, and they were looking absolutely glorious in the late morning sunshine. We had arrived at the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, and you could immediately tell why there is so much hype around this place! We took a seat at the rooftop, enjoyed some peppermint tea and a light lunch (which was free, hurray) and instantly forgot all the work it took to get there.
Our first hour in Cairo kinda went down like this…
Our hotel for the night
After a few hours of research on TripAdvisor and the World Wide Web, we had chosen to stay at the Pyramids View Inn. From the room, you could pretty much stare straight into the eyes of the Great Sphinx of Giza. The view only got better from the rooftop terrace. This small hotel is located right next to the entrance of the pyramids, so it couldn’t have been easier for us to pop over. We have no affiliation with the place, we just really liked it! You can read our honest review here on TripAdvisor, if you need any more convincing. They do have one or two rooms with a balcony, and you can ask for these if you call the hotel directly. However, we would say we didn’t need a balcony at all, due to the great rooftop terrace. And it was cheap too. Don’t expect a 5* resort though, facilities are rather basic, but you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway!
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Just to blow your mind, we are going to start this section with a bit of history. If you are like us, this actually makes all the difference when you are walking around the site of the ancient pyramids. If not, it will still give you some impressive facts to share at the dinner table tonight.
The Cheops Pyramid, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, is the only surviving member of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The six others have all vanished. But not just that, it is also the oldest of them all. So for how long exactly has this giant of a triangle been towering over Giza? Well, it is believed to have been built over a 10-20 year period and finalised in 2560 BC. This means it has been standing on that same spot for more than 4,500 years! That’s just crazy… When completed, it stood 147m tall and remained the tallest structure in the entire world for more than 3,800 years.
Just think about that for a moment. Really take it in.
The more we think about it, the crazier it seems. In our home country, Denmark, the highest building ever constructed is 120m. The Statue of Liberty is less than 100m tall. Big Ben as well. If it doesn’t blow your mind, that the ancient Egyptians managed to stack 2.3 million stone blocks, some of which weigh up to 80 tonnes, up to that height, without the aid of modern technology, we don’t know what will.
On top of that, the workmanship is impeccable. Everything on the pyramid is almost 100% accurate. The stones were cut using water-expansion of wooden wedges, no less, but somehow they fit together precisely. The whole structure is placed in relation to true north, and the base is completely flat to within 1.5cm. How they built a perfect triangle, on such a scale, is still a mystery. In this day and age, people are hard to impress. We have seen everything. But when you remind yourself, how much of a marvel the pyramids truly are, they become that much more amazing to walk around. They are utterly unreal.
It’s time to get back to arranging your perfect weekend in Cairo. However, if you want to read more about the pyramids, you can check out our detailed post about just that, here.
The Pyramids Complex
The Great Pyramid of Giza stands proud on a site known as the Pyramids Complex. Here Cheops was buried alongside his son Kafhre and grandson Menkaure. You can probably easily recognise the Pyramid of Kafhre due to the characteristic white top. It is the last piece of evidence that the pyramids used to be completely smooth (and shiny like jewels). When you look at the Pyramids Complex from afar, the Pyramid of Kafhre looks bigger than the Pyramid of Cheops; however, it’s all an illusion. Kafhre built his Pyramid on a plateau, for it to seem larger, without actually being it. Presumably, you do not want to upset the dead (or your father). We actually found it to be better looking than the Great Pyramid, for some reason, but all the pyramids are super impressive!
As mentioned, the entrance to the Pyramids Complex is just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. It won’t take you long to get there, and you won’t have to queue up for long. Egypt is still haunted by low tourism, having earned a reputation of political turmoil and frequent terrorist attacks. This should not be a problem for your travels, quite the contrary actually; since there are not many tourists around you will have a more enjoyable experience! We have ranted a bit about the unfair perception of the security situation on our designated Egypt page here. Of course, you will still see other people, but there are not the same masses that you find at comparable sites in Europe and America. This makes exploration of the pyramids that much more pleasing than we expected. Crucially for a travel blogger, it also makes it possible to take pictures without other tourists getting in the way.
We explored the Pyramids Complex from the back of two camels. We didn’t do enough research before jumping on the animals, to understand whether this was an ethical decision or not. We have done this afterwards, and you can read all about our thoughts in the sustainable and ethical travel section on our designated Egypt page.
Spoiler-alert: We would probably not do it again. What’s done is done, though, and we didn’t know better. We are happy at least that our camel-guy, Suleiman, seemed to really care for his animals. The problem is that it is impossible to know what happens behind the scenes, and we did see some unsettling behaviour from some of the other vendors.
The guys trying to sell you camel and horse rides will say that you are not able to go to any of the panoramic viewpoints in the surrounding desert without using a camel or a horse. After having been around the area, that doesn’t seem true to us. So, if you prefer to walk around yourself, which was our initial plan, you can do just that, and you will have a splendid time! The area is quite large though, so if it is in the middle of summer, remember a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. In fact, you should probably remember that year-round!
The Great Sphinx of Giza
You cannot go to Giza without experiencing the Great Sphinx. Luckily it will be smack-in-your-face when you enter the Pyramids Complex so you can’t miss it. It is an iconic statue, and always reminds Kia of happy childhood memories watching Aladdin on repeat! Anybody else feels that way? Nick didn’t get the reference.
When you see The Sphinx in real life, it is even more impressive, and none of us expected it to be this massive.
Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, the Sphinx didn’t lose its nose from Aladdin’s carpet fly-by. Instead, it is thought to have been used for target practice by a few of Napoleon’s soldiers.
Dinner and a Show
The hotel is quite small and doesn’t have its own restaurant. You can still have breakfast, lunch and dinner though. They will order local style food from a nearby restaurant. We generally find that Middle Eastern food is a bit of an acquired taste, but this was pretty good. It was slightly ambiguous whether they served alcoholic beverages, but just ask, and you will get whatever you want.
So before dinner, tonight, treat yourself to a cold beer while enjoying the sun setting right behind the pyramids. Then have your dinner on the rooftop as well, because at 7pm every day there is a light and sound show displayed on the pyramids.
You may think that this sound weird and perhaps you’d expect it to be a bit tacky?
Well, we felt the same way, but we were actually proven wrong. As an added bonus, we saw at least 20 tour buses drive in from Cairo, all having to pay entrance fees to the show. It will be free for you from the rooftop, and the view is even better. It also means you can enjoy it with a bottle of wine if you are so inclined.
The show lasts around 50 minutes and is always in English and then a second language, such as Chinese, German, French or Spanish. They seem to have a third show in Arabic as well. This means that the show can go on for three hours straight. This you should remember if you are staying in a nearby hotel, and want to go to bed early. We had a very long day, so we did just that. It meant we had to fall asleep to the sound of the full history of the pyramids, in Spanish. Slept like babies anyway, adventure sure makes you tired!
The light actually looks decent on the Pyramids and, although it is indeed tacky, it is not as bad as we thought. The historical sound show is quite long, and basically walks you through the whole history of the pyramids, and it’s associated pharaohs. If you are into history, then this is definitely for you. It does try to add a dramatic angle to it as well.
If you, like us, are not that much into cultural history, you will definitely enjoy the light show anyway. Just take your dinner at the same time, then you can divide your attention a little bit. You also don’t have to stay for the whole thing, but you should know that there is nothing else to do in Giza at night.
Half a day exploring the surrounding area - more pyramids!
On the second day, we had organised with the hotel to be picked up by a driver. The first stop was Saqqara, an archaeology area just 20km from Giza (however it took almost an hour to get there, due to bad roads and traffic).
The traffic in Cairo is definitely somewhat of an experience. No seatbelts only make it that more exciting… We survived, and so will you! They do drive like s*** though, and the term ‘Cairo-crazy’ driving is no joke. However, we have experienced worse… In Kathmandu, for example. A little bit of crazy traffic shouldn’t discourage you from going. Traffic is the most dangerous place to be, no matter what country or city you are in. Ask your driver to drive slowly, use the good old ‘I get car-sick easily’ excuse if you want and close your eyes if that helps. We look at it as a necessary evil – we are on an adventure, and we need to get from A to B. Getting there might as well be part of the experience.
... back to Saqqara and the Step Pyramid
This site is known for the Step Pyramid – the very first one – the pyramid that started it all. As the name suggests, they hadn’t quite figured out how to make the pyramids smooth yet, so this one is made of giant steps instead. Still looks impressive. You can easily walk around the area all by yourself, it’s quite small, so definitely no need to hop on a camel, donkey, horse or whatever else the local hustlers might try to tempt you with.
Maybe there, amidst the ruins of ancient Egypt, you need a bookmark, some cool coins, an old book or something? Hell no. You need to be quite firm, as they do not take no for an answer. In fact, they don’t even listen to “No thanks” or the Arabic ditto “La Shoukran”. Still, experience tells us you can come a long way with a smile and some politeness! Even if other people are rude to us, we always do our best to stay polite. So far it has paid off.
In this particular area, we did get approached quite a lot, presumably because we were there very early and were almost alone. Guess they didn’t really have anyone else to hustle. Lesson learned, being early birds can have its disadvantages, but then again, we had the sights almost to ourselves? Unfortunately, the Step Pyramid was undergoing some maintenance while we were there, but it was still quite fun to see the construction people walking around the Pyramid like tiny ants. It really showed how big it actually is. For us, though, maybe because of the construction, the Step Pyramid wasn’t the highlight of Saqqara. Read on to find out what was!
... more tombs
Around the same area, you can enter several smaller tombs. These had, without doubt, the most beautiful hieroglyphs we saw on our trip.
Some of them were still fully painted!
If you watched our video from further up this post, you’d have gotten a taste of these and an authentic feel of the place. However, they probably won’t be painted for long, we reckon, as people were touching them quite a lot. It was never obvious, at least to us, whether that was allowed or not. We didn’t do it, just like we didn’t climb on the pyramids, because we don’t like the idea of fu***** with 4,000-year-old wonders of the world. But it does actually seem quite normal, even with people on the big tours.
Curiously, compared to touching, it is actually pretty hard to grab a few pictures of the hieroglyphs (without flash mind you). If you are as much as thinking about taking up your phone, let alone your camera, you can be sure there’ll be a local guy standing somewhere asking you to pay for the privilege. To him directly of course, in unmarked and freshly printed US dollar bills. It definitely doesn’t seem legit, so do try to avoid paying those ‘fines’. If you want to help any of the locals, you should support those going through the trouble of actually selling you some real goods or services.
Walking in Memphis... The Egyptian equivalent at least
Next stop after Saqqara was the small town of Memphis. Originally, this wasn’t on our itinerary, because we don’t really care much for museums, but our driver seemed content on delivering the standard package. So what do they have in Memphis? A sizable outdoor museum mostly focused on statues with some kind of connection to Ramses III. The main attraction is a colossal statue he built of himself, which is too big to stand. You can see the sheer scale of this statue in our travel video if you haven’t already. Memphis was not our favourite stop; however, it might be yours! If you generally enjoy museums and the like, we are sure you will enjoy this one! And it is very nice that it is outdoors as well. If nothing else, you can use it for a toilet break – this museum boasted some of the finer ones of the trip.
All by ourselves in Dhashur - the site of the Red Pyramid
The last area visited on the drive was Dahshur, home to two pyramids of great significance: The Bent Pyramid and The Red Pyramid.
Most famous is probably the Bent Pyramid, aptly named, as it features an obvious bent around half way up. Built by the Pharaoh Sneferu, it was seemingly the first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid. It obviously went wrong, but 4,500 years later, the beast still stands. Sneferu wasn’t too happy, though. He was a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, the powerful ruler of ancient Egypt and thus probably the most powerful man alive at the time. So what would a man like that do?
Try again, of course. Only our failures make us better.
Eventually, he succeeded in his quest, finishing the first ever smooth-sided pyramid before his death, where he was then buried. The Red Pyramid was his life’s work, and it is almost as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Interestingly, who was it that built that one? Well, his own son of course – the legacy lived on.
We LOVED the Red Pyramid. Primarily because there are almost no hustlers in this area. You are able to walk around freely because there are were few tourists as well.
After spending half a day at the Pyramids Complex in Giza, this was a lovely surprise. We sure enjoyed being able to walk around and explore the sights all by ourselves. So please do remember to make this one of your stops, it’s definitely worth the trip!
When you arrive, the first thing you’ll do is head to the entrance of the pyramid, leading down to the tomb. Here you are faced with about a 100m claustrophobic descend into the heart of the Pyramid. The air stands completely still down there, and the smell of ammonia is almost overwhelming. The rooms are huge though, and although not much is going on, they are oddly impressive.
Going back up, you cannot walk upright in the tight corridor, and it is a steep climb to the exit. You will get back to the surface, blinded by the sun and with sore legs and a bent bag.
Fittingly, you and your bent back will then make your way to the Bent Pyramid.
There are even fewer people here, and you can take your time with a leisurely stroll around the giant triangle.
An official security guard approached us and let us know we could fly drones all we liked. It didn’t seem like he was trying to play us, but why else he felt the need to let us know, we are not quite sure. Anyway, it was an easy decision since we hadn’t brought one. It is worth keeping in mind though if you do bring a drone, that it will probably be fine if you are willing to make a small ‘donation’.
However, at this point, we had seen our fair share of pyramids and was about ready to get back for some lunch.
We hit our rooftop for the last time, to grab some lunch, enjoy a cold refreshment (the local beer is not half-bad), and bask in the sun for a little while. We have done exactly that countless times before, but it quickly becomes a truly special afternoon when it is with the splendid view of the pyramids keeping you company.
Alternatively, if you are historically inclined and would like to maximise your time in Cairo, now is the time to check out downtown Cairo. The primary sight would be the Egyptian Museum – we heard good things about it!
Dinner by the Nile
Dinner by the Nile – sounds romantic, doesn’t it? And of course, it was. We went to the steakhouse at Intercontinental, which had a great view of the city and the Nile. It was also really nice to get something other than kebab, kabob, shish taouk, falafel, lentil soup etc. Not that there is anything wrong with that, and we do make a point of eating local food on our trips, but you can’t always help those cravings!
This also gave us a chance to sample some real Egyptian wine. We ended up trying a few different varieties, some of which were really good and some which were outright horrendous. It seemed like a hit or miss thing, but you should give it a go. Egypt is, of course, a Muslim country, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the wine is so-so. You definitely shouldn’t be afraid to sample a few glasses though, it is super cheap, and you might get lucky.
A real Egyptian dinner
When Nick left the country, Kia had to stay for a few days for work. One of her colleagues invited her home for dinner with his parents. This was definitely one of the highlights on the trip! Everyone was super friendly, and the homemade food was absolutely delicious. This is something we will try to do more of in the future, to make sure to grab the opportunity to interact with locals whenever it arises. You can see the delicious feast in our travel video.
Scoring some easy points with the locals
Here are two tips for scoring easy points with your hosts in the Middle East. They’ll come in handy if you are ever lucky enough to receive an invitation:
- Always say Shoukran, meaning “thanks” – everybody loves when you make an effort. If you can learn some more random words, even better.
- Remember to bring a small gift. Preferably something from your home country if possible. Otherwise, local favourites like dates, chocolate and the like will bring in cheap points as well.
Some final tips for visiting Egypt/Cairo:
Do you have any questions about Cairo or the pyramids? Or any suggestions for us or others? Perhaps you have your own travel story from Egypt? We would love to hear from you, so please drop a message in the comments below or reach out on social media!