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17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cairo & Easy Day Trips

Written by Jess Lee

Cairo is one of the world's great megacities. As beautiful as it is crazy, and as rich in historic finery as it is half dilapidated, Cairo tends to be a city that travelers love and hate in equal measures. Its sheer noise, pollution, and confounding traffic are an assault on your senses, but look beyond the modern hubbub, and you'll find a history that spans centuries. Full of vigor, Cairo is where you really get a feel for Egyptian street life. No trip to Egypt is complete without a stay in the city Arabs call Umm al-Dunya (The Mother of the World). Find the best places to visit and interesting things to do in this buzzing metropolis with our list of the top attractions in Cairo.

1. Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids of Giza are Cairo's number one half-day trip and a must-do attraction on everyone's itinerary. Right on the edge of the city, on the Giza Plateau, these fourth dynasty funerary temples have been wowing travelers for centuries and continue to be one of the country's major highlights. Despite the heat, the dust, and the tourist hustle, you can't miss a trip here.

The Pyramid of Cheops (also called the Great Pyramid or Pyramid of Khufu) is the largest pyramid of the Giza group, and its interior of narrow passages can be explored, although there isn't much to see, except a plain tomb chamber with an empty sarcophagus.

Directly behind the Great Pyramid is the Solar Boat Museum, which displays one of the ceremonial solar barques unearthed in the area that has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.

Farther south on the plateau is the Pyramid of Chephren (also known as the Pyramid of Khefre), with an internal tunnel area, which can be entered, and the smaller Pyramid of Mycerinus (Pyramid of Menkaure). Guarding these mortuary temples is the lion-bodied and pharaoh-faced Sphinx; one of the ancient world's iconic monuments.

The Giza Plateau is set to welcome another attraction when the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is finally finished. When opened, it will be the biggest museum in the world devoted to exhibiting the antiquities of a single civilization, displaying a wealth of Ancient Egypt's artifacts that have never been seen by the public before. After a stop-start construction, beset with financial difficulties, the museum opening date has been set for 2020.

The pyramid plateau is on the edge of Giza's suburban sprawl, roughly 13 kilometers southwest of the central city. Most people arrive by taxi, but it's also accessible by an easier-than-you-think combo of taking the metro to Giza and then hopping on a local minibus that drops you outside the entrance. As the pyramids' area is quite sprawling though, many travelers elect to see the area by tour. One of the most popular things to do at the pyramids is a camel ride. A good option for first-time visitors is the Private Half-Day Trip to the Giza Pyramids with Camel-Riding. This includes pickup and drop-off at your hotel, a guide, lunch, and 25 minutes on a camel.

Address: Al-Ahram Street, Giza

2. The Egyptian Museum

Mummified Monkey at the Egyptian Museum

Mummified monkey at the Egyptian Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The absolutely staggering collection of antiquities displayed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum makes it one of the world's great museums. You would need a lifetime to see everything on show.

The museum was founded in 1857 by French Egyptologist August Mariette and moved to its current home — in the distinctive powder-pink mansion in Downtown Cairo — in 1897. Yes, the collection is poorly labeled and not well set out due to limits of space (and only a fraction of its total holdings are actually on display). It also suffers currently with some empty cases due to artifacts having been transferred to the GEM, but you still can't help being impressed by the sheer majesty of the exhibits.

If you're pressed for time, make a beeline straight for the Tutankhamun Galleries. The treasures displayed here were all found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, son-in-law and successor of Amenophis IV (later Akhenaten), who died at the age of 18. The tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, contained the largest and richest assemblage of grave goods ever found intact in an Egyptian tomb.

Highlights include Tutankhamun's death mask and sarcophagi (Room 3), the pharaoh's lion throne (Room 35), and his fascinating wardrobe collection (Room 9). Afterwards, don't miss a wander through the Egyptian jewelry collection (Room 4), which contains more bling than you'll ever see again in one lifetime, and finish off by viewing the Royal Mummies Collection (Room 56 & 46), where you can say hello to Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis II, Ramses II, and Seti I in person.

Even when the GEM opens, this iconic building will still be used as a museum. It has not been announced which collections will stay here and which will be moved — except for the Tutankhamun Galleries, which will all eventually be transferred to the GEM.

The Egyptian Museum sits right beside Midan Tahrir, the central square of Downtown Cairo. The easiest way to arrive here is to take the Cairo Metro to Sadat station (on Midan Tahrir) and follow the exit signs to the museum.

Location: Midan al-Tahrir, Downtown

3. Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque is the finest building of Cairo's Fatimid era and one of the city's earliest surviving mosques, completed in AD 972. It's also one of the world's oldest universities — Caliph El-Aziz bestowed it with the status of university in AD 988 (the other university vying for "oldest" status is in Fes) and today, Al-Azhar University is still the leading theological center of the Islamic world.

The main entrance is the Gate of the Barbers on the northwest side of the building, adjoining the neo-Arab facade built by Abbas II. Leave your shoes at the entrance and walk into the central courtyard. To your right is the El-Taibarsiya Medrese, which has a mihrab (prayer niche) dating from 1309. From the central courtyard, you get the best views of the mosque's five minarets, which cap the building. Across the courtyard is the main prayer hall, spanning a vast 3,000 square meters. The front half is part of the original building, while the rear half was added by Abd el-Rahman.

Al-Azhar Mosque is right in the heart of the Islamic Cairo district and easy to reach by taxi. Al-Azhar Street runs east from Midan Ataba in the downtown area right to the square where the mosque sits.

Address: Al-Azhar Street, Islamic Cairo District

El-Azhar Mosque - Floor plan map

El-Azhar Mosque Map

4. Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo)

Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo)

Old Cairo

This small church-filled cluster of twisty laneways lies within the walls of Old Babylon where the Roman Emperor Trajan first built a fortress along the Nile. Parts of the Roman towers still preside over the main street.

The Coptic Museum here contains a wealth of information on Egypt's early Christian period and is home to one of Egypt's finest collections of Coptic art. Next door, the 9th-century Hanging Church contains some beautiful examples of Coptic architecture. Founded in the 4th century, the church was originally built over the Roman gate towers (hence the name) and was substantially rebuilt during the 9th century.

For many Christian travelers though, the real highlight of a visit to this district is the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, where local legend says the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus, and family sheltered during King Herod's massacre of male babies. Farther into the quarter, you come to the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which is said to be built near the spot where the baby Moses was found in the reeds. Just outside the quarter, you can also visit the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As; the first mosque built in Egypt.

Coptic Cairo is easiest reached by taking the Cairo Metro to Mar Girgis station.

Location: Sharia Mar Girgis, south of Downtown

Old Cairo - Floor plan map

Old Cairo Map

5. Khan el-Khalili (Souq Quarter)

Khan el-Khalili (Souq Quarter)

Khan el-Khalili shop

Khan el-Khalili is one of the world's great shopping experiences. This Middle Eastern souq (bazaar) is a labyrinthine collection of skinny alleyways established as a shopping district in AD 1400, which still rings with the clang of metal workers and silversmiths.

The main streets have long ago given themselves over completely to the tourist trade (with plenty of cheap papyrus pictures and plastic pyramids on display), but divert off the main drag into the surrounding alleyways, and the tiny stores and cluttered workshops are some of the best places to pick up traditional products in Egypt. Here, you'll find everything from antiques and gorgeous metal lampshades to locally woven textiles.

While here stop in at Cairo's most famous coffee shop, Fishawis, where syrupy Arabic coffee and sweet tea are dished out to tourists and local merchants alike at a rapid-fire pace.

For shoppers, the main souq road is Al-Muski Street (called Gawhar al-Qaid Street at its eastern end). The gold and silver workshops mostly congregate just north of this street's intersection with Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Street, while the spice market section is just to the south. The market is hemmed in on its eastern side by the Neo-Gothic bulk of the Sayyidna el-Husein Mosque, built in 1792 to honor the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

The entry to the Khan el-Khalili area is across the road from Al-Azhar Mosque.

Location: Off Al-Azhar Street, Islamic Cairo District

Cairo Bazaar Quarter - Floor plan map

Cairo Bazaar Quarter Map

Popular Tours

6. The Citadel

The Citadel

The Citadel

In a commanding location at the foot of the Mokattam Hills, Cairo's citadel was built by Saladin in 1176. The original structure he laid out has long disappeared except for the eastern outer walls, but a legacy of rulers has made their own additions here.

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali is the most famous monument and the main reason for visiting. Nicknamed the "Alabaster Mosque," its white stone and tall, disproportionately slender minarets are one of Cairo's great landmarks. The other big reason to come up here are the views across the city; head to the Gawhara Terrace for the best panorama in town.

Just to the northeast of the Muhammad Ali Mosque is the El-Nasir Mosque, built in 1318-35 by Mohammed el-Nasir. A collection of rather half-hearted museums (the Police Museum, National Military Museum, and Carriage Museum) take up some of the other buildings on site and are more worthwhile viewing for the architecture of the actual buildings rather than the exhibits themselves.

You can walk to the citadel area from Bab Zuweila, if you're feeling energetic, by heading along Khayyamiyya Street. The walk takes about 30 minutes.

Location: Off Midan Salah-ad-Din, Islamic Cairo District

Cairo Citadel - Floor plan map

Cairo Citadel Map

7. Sultan Hassan Mosque

Sultan Hassan Mosque

Sultan Hassan Mosque

One of the finest examples of Mamluk architecture in the world, Sultan Hassan Mosque is a vision of Arabic artistry with an abundance of stalactite detailing and intricate arabesque features. It was built in 1356-63 for the Sultan Hassan el-Nasir.

The exterior, with its large areas of stone, is reminiscent of an ancient Egyptian temple. The massive main doorway at the north corner is almost 26 meters high, and the minaret at the south corner is the tallest in Cairo at 81.5 meters.

The main doorway leads into a domed vestibule, beyond which are a small antechamber and a corridor leading into the ornate open Court centered around an ablution fountain. From here, an iron door leads into the sultan's mausoleum where the stalactitic pendentives of the original dome still survive. In the center of the chamber is the sultan's simple sarcophagus.

Directly facing the Sultan Hassan Mosque is the El-Rifai Mosque, built in 1912 to house the tomb of Khedive Ismail and constructed to replicate its older next door neighbor. The ex Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980), is also buried here.

Both mosques prominently sit on Midan Salah ad-Din, directly below Cairo's Citadel.

Location: Midan Salah-ad-Din, Islamic Cairo District

Sultan Hasan Mosque - Floor plan map

Sultan Hasan Mosque Map

8. Museum of Islamic Art

Severe damage sustained from a car-bomb attack in 2014 resulted in this museum shutting its doors to the public for years but thankfully it has now been reopened. Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art holds one of the most important collections of Middle Eastern artistry in the world. Ottoman tile work, Ayyubid ceramics, frescoes, delicately patterned wood-inlay, coinage, carved marble tombstones, and jewel-toned carpets, among other items are all on display.

Definitely spend some time perusing the illuminated Qurans and the exhibits of richly decorative ceramics, glassware, and metal-ware. Then move on to admire the heavily ornate jewelry collection and the rooms devoted to Astronomy and other sciences, where you'll find highly detailed astrolabes and other equipment. A visit here is a journey through the breadth and wealth of Islamic heritage.

The museum sits on the edge of the Islamic Cairo district, so it's a good place to either begin or end a visit to the neighborhood. It's within easy walking distance (once you've crossed a hideously busy main road) to Bab Zuweila.

Address: Midan Bab Al Khalq, Islamic Cairo District

9. Bab Zuweila

Bab Zuweila

Bab Zuweila | upyernoz / photo modified

Of all the Islamic Cairo district's gates, Bab Zuweila is the most interesting. You can climb to the top of this medieval era relic (built in the 11th century) for some amazing rooftop views over Islamic Cairo. The gate itself has two minarets and is the last southern gate of the old town still standing. Right next door is the red-and-white stonework of the Sheikh al-Mu'ayyad Mosque, and a few steps farther away are the fascinating artisan stalls of the Street of the Tentmakers, where Egypt's bright fabric used for weddings and other special occasions is sold in bulk.

Address: Al-Muiz li-Din Allah Street, Islamic Cairo District

10. Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street

Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street

Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street | Kyle Taylor / photo modified

The northern section of Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street is rimmed by fine Mamluk buildings, which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory. The Madrassa of as-Salih Ayyub, built in 1247, is a showcase of the tranquil simplicity of Islamic architecture.

Directly across the road from the madrassa is the drop-dead gorgeous Madrassa of Qalaun, rightly considered one of the Mamluk period's greatest architectural triumphs. It was completed in 1293 by Qalaun's son, Muhammad al-Nasir, and has an interior packed to the brim with intricate tile work, fine marble, mother-of-pearl mosaics, and stained-glass windows. Qalaun's madrassa also functioned as a hospital when it first opened.

A little farther north is the younger (built in 1309) Madrassa of an-Nasr Mohammed with plenty of ornate detailing to admire, before you come to the fabulous Egyptian Textile Museum with a collection that spans the Pharaonic era right up to the Islamic period.

Address: Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street, Islamic Cairo District

11. Ibn Tulun Mosque

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Ibn Tulun Mosque

The second oldest mosque still standing in Cairo, Ibn Tulun Mosque, was built between AD 876 and 879 and modeled on the Kaaba in Mecca (Saudi Arabia). At the time it was built, it was the largest mosque in existence.

The Main Court's colonnades have plentiful surviving fragments of intricate frieze work on display and open onto a series of narrow-fronted halls. The main prayer hall (on the southern side of the court) still holds onto fragments of its older decoration of carved stucco and wood, and the mihrab here has remnants of its original gold mosaic decoration.

On the mosque's northern side is the 40-meter-high minaret with a fine horseshoe arch over the entrance and a spiral staircase swirling through the interior. It is modeled on the minarets of the Great Mosque of Samarra on the Tigris. If you climb the 173 steps up to its upper platform there are superb views extending over the sea of houses to the north, and to the Mokattam Hills in the east.

It's an easy stroll from the Sultan Hassan Mosque to the Ibn Tulun Mosque walking straight down Al-Saliba Street.

Address: Al-Saliba Street

Ibn Tulun Mosque - Floor plan map

Ibn Tulun Mosque Map

12. Al-Azhar Park

Al-Azhar Park

Al-Azhar Park | Elizabeth Skene / photo modified

Built over what was essentially a medieval rubbish dump, Al-Azhar Park is the green lungs of the old district. It was opened in 2005 and provides a much needed respite to the overcrowded chaos of Cairo's street hustle. Inside, the gloriously manicured gardens are a lovely place for an evening stroll, especially as the views over the entire old city are gorgeous from here at sunset. There are also a couple of good restaurants on-site, so it's the perfect spot to put your feet up after a long day of sightseeing. If you come on the weekend, the park is packed full of local families escaping the surrounding roar of traffic that cocoons the rest of Cairo.

Al-Azhar Park is most easily visited by taking a taxi, but if you're already in the Islamic Cairo district and it's not too hot, you can turn east onto Darb al-Ahmar Street from Bab Zuweila and walk to the lower park entrance.

Address: Salah Salem Street

13. Zamalek

Cairo Tower

Cairo Tower

The Nile island of Gezira is home to the district of Zamalek and the majority of Cairo's arty boutiques and hipster restaurants. Dating from the mid 19th century, the entire area has a distinctly European feel to its architecture with wide boulevards rimmed by jacaranda trees and splendidly ornate Belle Époque mansions (many of which are now home to various embassies).

Zamalek is Cairo's top dining destination, but the southern tip of Gezira also has a clutch of art galleries to explore. The Palace of Arts is housed in the Nile Grand Hall on the former Gezira Fair Grounds, and features a schedule of rotating exhibitions in its galleries. Nearby is the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, which has a fine collection of 20th-century Egyptian art including works by Mahmoud Said and Mahmoud Mukhtar.

Much of the southern section of Gezira is taken up by the exclusive tennis courts and riding stables of the Gezira Sports Club, but towering above all the lush greenery is the 187-meter-high Cairo Tower, built in 1961 by President Nasser. A trip up the observation deck at sunset to see dusk settle over the city is a must.

14. Nilometer

Roda Island Nilometer

Roda Island Nilometer | David Stanley / photo modified

Lovely Roda Island — just south of Gezira Island — is home to Monastirli Palace, once the residence of an Ottoman pasha. Inside the palace gardens, right at the island's southern tip, is Cairo's Nilometer, which was used to measure the ebb and flow of the Nile and predict the annual flood heights. Unlike the Nilometers you'll see in Upper Egypt (such as the surviving Nilometer on Elephantine Island in Aswan), this one is a much later construction, built in AD 861.

Also in the palace grounds is the small Umm Khalthum Museum, which celebrates the life of Egypt's famed diva. Umm Khalthum (1898-1975) is the Arab world's beloved songstress, and you'll hear her music everywhere you go in Egypt, blasted out onto the street from ahwas (traditional coffeehouses) and on the stereo of nearly every taxi. Inside, the museum holds a collection of the singer's possessions, including her fabulously sequined stage costumes, and there's an interesting black and white documentary on her life (with English subtitles).

Outside the palace, Roda Island's streets are fun to wander and still have some dilapidated mansion architecture of the early 20th century.

15. Manyal Palace

Manyal Palace

The north end of Roda island holds the gorgeously ornate Manyal Palace. After an extensive restoration, which took several years, it has re-opened to the public. The buildings here are an eccentric riot of styles that cherry-pick influences from both traditional Arabic and palatial European designs, resulting in an over-the-top, lavish symphony of interiors.

Check out the Reception Palace, where guests were hosted, with its elaborate wood ceilings, and then the Residential Palace with its Rococo flourishes, Ottoman-style tile work, and oil paintings. The Throne Palace, decked out in gold, is the real highlight here, though.

The complex was built in the early 20th century by the uncle of King Farouk. It's set within lush green gardens on the shore of the island.

16. Mosque of Al-Hakim

Mosque of Al-Hakim

Mosque of Al-Hakim

Caliph Al-Hakim is one of the most fascinating rulers of Egypt. This Fatimid leader was renowned for his terrifying rule over the land, which included frequent murders of his royal household staff; nightly patrols of the streets of his city, dressed incognito on a donkey to make sure his subjects were behaving themselves; and issuing bizarre rulings across the country (such as banning the eating of the Egyptian mallow-leaf, called molokheya, because only he wanted to be able to consume it).

His mosque, finished in AD 1013, has functioned over the centuries as a madrassa, Crusader fortress, and mental hospital and was completely restored in the 1980s. The minarets here are the most interesting architectural elements. They were originally round, and their present square casing and domed top sections (resembling an Arab incense burner) date from their rebuilding after Cairo's 1303 earthquake.

The mosque sits in between two of the old city district's most important gates. Bab el-Futuh (Gate of Conquests) on the mosque's western side and Bab el-Nasr (Gate of Victory) to the east are similar in form to ancient Roman town gates and were both built in 1087.

You can walk between Al-Azhar Mosque and the Mosque of Al-Hakim by following Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah Street all the way north.

Address: Al-Galal Street, Islamic Cairo District

17. Downtown Cairo

Downtown Cairo

Downtown Cairo

If you want to capture a sense of late 19th-century Cairo, when the city was nicknamed the "Paris of the East," take a stroll through the downtown district with your gaze diverted up at the car-exhaust blackened architecture rather than on the bedlam at street level. The entire area is chock-a-block stuffed with gorgeous but crumbling Belle Époque buildings, which must have looked staggeringly glamorous when they were first built. Some of the best remnants are around Midan Talaat Harb.

On the western edge of Downtown, on Al-Gumhuriya Street, is 19th-century Abdin Palace, once the home of Egypt's last khedives. Today, the former private apartments of the king are open as a museum and contain a bizarre collection of pictures, tapestries, and gifts that have been given to Egypt's presidents by visiting dignitaries.

Downtown Cairo is easily navigated on foot — if you don't mind dodging traffic as you cross the roads.

Where to Stay in Cairo for Sightseeing

Cairo is a huge city with several nice neighborhoods in close proximity to major tourist attractions. Many of the luxury hotels are along the Nile River, and budget hotels are scattered around the city. Some of the best places to stay are the Garden City district and Gezira Island, both of which are centrally located in Cairo close to some of the major attractions, including the Egyptian Museum. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: In the Garden City district, along the Nile River, the Kempinski Nile Hotel is a charming boutique hotel with restaurants, rooms and suites with balconies, and a lovely pool area with views over the river and the city. Nearby and also overlooking the Nile, the Four Seasons offers spectacular views, three heated rooftop pools, spacious rooms and suites, along with multiple restaurants and a spa.

    At the southern end of Gezira Island, with incredible views over the Nile from the rooms, the restaurants, and the infinity pool, the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah is an elegant five-star property with outstanding service. All of these hotels offer easy access to the downtown and surrounding attractions.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: With a hint of faded glory, the historic Windsor Hotel was built in the late 1800s and used for a time as a colonial British officers club, and still maintains an aura of olden times. The hotel is centrally located and within walking distance of several key attractions.

    Just steps away from the Egyptian Museum is the Golden Hotel, with spacious, air-conditioned rooms and a free continental breakfast. In Zamalek, Hotel Longchamps is a relaxing boutique hideaway from the city's never-ending din with friendly staff and good-sized rooms, which feature modern, comfortable facilities.

  • Budget Hotels: Nearly all of Cairo's budget offerings are based downtown. The Bella Luna is smack-bang in the center of the action and has some of the most squeaky-clean basic rooms in town. The Osiris Hotel offers basic but comfortable rooms with a dash of traditional style, while the Berlin Hotel, within walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, offers clean, basic rooms.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Cairo

A sightseeing tour is a great way to see Cairo's highlights without the hassle of finding your way around, dealing with aggressive touts, and having to negotiate prices. Instead, you can relax and enjoy the sights while you learn about the attractions from a qualified Egyptologist. These tours also include convenient hotel pickup and drop-off, as well as entrance to many of the sites. Below are some fun sightseeing tours that guarantee the lowest price:

  • See the Pyramids: The pyramids are the highlight of a visit to Egypt, and the Private Tour: Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis, Sakkara takes you to see these icons, as well as other important sites out of the city, including the World Heritage-listed ruins of ancient Egypt's capital at Memphis. Since this tour is private, you have the flexibility to tailor the timing and add an optional upgrade that includes lunch and a visit to Giza's Solar Boat Museum.
  • See the City Sights: If you've already seen the pyramids, the Private Tour: Egyptian Museum, Alabaster Mosque, Khan el-Khalili takes you to explore some of Cairo's other top attractions guided by an experienced Egyptologist. This full-day tour is private, so you can tailor the itinerary to suit your interests, spending more time at your favorite attractions. You can also add a visit to the Papyrus Institute.
  • Egypt Major Sights and Nile Cruise: The seven-night Cairo and Aswan tour includes trips to the Egyptian Museum and the Giza Pyramids before whisking you down to Aswan for a Nile Cruise to Luxor, with a free day in Cairo at the end for you to check out the rest of the city's sights.

Day Trips from Cairo

Saqqara

Saqqara

Saqqara

The vast necropolis of Saqqara is home to the "other pyramids," and a day trip out here is just as rewarding as a trip to Giza's pyramids. The Step Pyramid is Saqqara's most popular sight, but the entire area is littered with gorgeously painted tombs, which are well worth spending a few hours exploring. Just down the road is Dahshur's Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid, which should be added to a Saqqara itinerary if you have a full day spare.

Location: 30 kilometers south of Cairo

Tanis

Tanis

The remains of ancient Tanis, capital of the Tanite kings of the 21st and 22nd dynasties, lie in the northeast of the Nile Delta region, still partly buried under the ridge of the hills. The excavated remains are not as substantial as other sites but are full of interest for the archaeologically inclined. The Temple Precinct is completely destroyed, with only scattered fragments left in place, but the royal necropolis, with its empty tombs, in the temple area is interesting to visit.

Location: 143 kilometers northeast of Cairo

Al-Fayoum

Al-Fayoum

Al-Fayoum

The Al-Fayoum depression is a wonderful day out from Cairo, with plenty of gobsmacking natural beauty and a handful of excellent historic sites all within a two-hour drive from the city. Lake Qarun is the main sight for wilderness lovers, with plentiful birdlife on display, including flamingos, while the artist village of Tunis (where some of Egypt's best pottery can be purchased) and the nearby ruins of Medinet Madi are just the ticket for more cultured pursuits.

If you have hired a driver for the day, you could also see Fayoum's clutch of pyramids all on a one-day trip. The Pyramid of Meidum and Pyramid of Hawara are the pick of the bunch.

Location: 112 kilometers south of Cairo

Ancient Heliopolis and El-Matariya

Not to be confused with the Cairo suburb of the same name, ancient Heliopolis was the Egyptian town of Yuno (known in the Greek period as Heliopolis), which is one of the oldest cities in Egypt and, from the Old Kingdom onwards, the spiritual center of the entire country. It's a site really only for the most enthusiastic of amateur archaeologists as there are only scanty remnants left of the town and of the Temple of Re-Harakhty, which once stood here. Most of the stones were repurposed over the centuries to build Cairo. All that remains of the temple is a solitary obelisk, made of red Aswan granite, standing 20 meters high.

In the desert, some five kilometers east of the obelisk, is the Necropolis of Heliopolis, dating from the Middle and New Kingdoms. A notable feature of the Middle Kingdom tombs was the large numbers of weapons found as grave goods.

Near Heliopolis is El-Matariya Church with the so-called Virgin's Tree. This sycamore was planted in 1672, replacing an older tree where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus rested during their flight into Egypt. The little garden where the tree stands is watered from a spring, said to have been called into being by the infant Jesus. The spring yields good fresh water, whereas the water of all the other springs in the area is slightly brackish.

The legend of the Virgin's tree links up with an older cult, for the ancient Egyptians venerated a tree in Heliopolis beneath which Isis was believed to have suckled the infant Horus.

Location: El-Matariya suburb, 13 kms northeast from Downtown Cairo

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More Cities to Explore: If your Egypt travels are going to take you to the country's other major cities, be sure to check out our articles on Aswan and Luxor. Here, you can explore Egypt's vast treasure trove of temples and tombs and learn more with our articles on Abu Simbel, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings.

Beach Break: Planning to hit the beach after your city stay? Discover Egypt's best beach vacation destinations with our articles on Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada, and the Red Sea Region.

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