Cairo Guide For First-Time Visitors
Cairo is the perfect destination for a healthy mix of history and adventure—and an experience like no other. The ancient city will easily satisfy travellers who are seeking that next-level, bucket-list trip. But there’s a lot to take in there, from the pyramids to the stunning beaches and vibrant nightlife, so a few tips can be helpful for first-time visitors. Here are some pointers to help plan your first trip to Cairo.
When to go
To avoid the heat, the best time of year to visit Cairo is between November and March, when temperatures are milder than the hot summer months. It’s important to note that opening hours at most attractions and sites are limited during Ramadan. The timing of Ramadan changes from year to year based on the Islamic calendar, so check ahead when booking your trip.
As of June 1, 2017, visitors from all nationalities can apply for an Egyptian visa through a new online portal, making the process a lot simpler. This option means travellers will no longer have to fill out and mail paper documents.
Cairo International Airport is about 15 miles or 24 kilometres from the city centre, though the trip takes roughly an hour. There will be many independent drivers waiting there upon your arrival, willing to bargain rates to get you to your Cairo hotel; first-time visitors may want to avoid the drivers, as some overcharge and take indirect routes. Uber is now available in Cairo, and is an option many people prefer. Before your arrival, you can also opt to have your hotel arrange a car and driver to meet you. Additionally, there is an official limousine station just past the arrivals hall. Trips to the city centre average about $20.
Visiting the Pyramids
The Pyramids of Giza are located about 45 minutes by car from the city centre, even though they are only about five miles in distance. It’s best to book a guide in advance, as visitors who are unaccompanied will encounter various unofficial guides at the entrances bargaining for your time and money. Most day tours include a guide, entrance fees and transportation, and can be booked from your hotel. Early morning visits are best as there are limits to the number of visitors who can enter per day.
What to Wear
The desert can live up to its reputation in terms of heat, but in the evening, Cairo can also be chilly. It’s best to dress in layers to be prepared for the temperature shift that comes by early evening. Shoes are forbidden in all Islamic holy sites, so bring socks to wear after removing your shoes. Women should plan to pack long sleeves and scarves, as their arms and heads must be covered in mosques.
Beyond the Pyramids
Of course the pyramids are the top attraction in Cairo, but there are many other must-visit attractions that are often overlooked. Make sure to include these three unique destinations: the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities for the treasures of Tutankhamen; Khan el-Khalili, the world’s largest market; and the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, one of the largest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.
Locals customs, etiquette
Egypt has similar customs to many other Muslim countries. It’s important to understand the basics when visiting to help avoid any confusion or misunderstandings. Things like taking your shoes off before entering a house and using your right hand to eat and greet are simple practises, but important ones. In general, locals prefer to avoid discussing politics and religion, and elderly people should be treated with the utmost respect. Members of the same sex greet one another with a handshake and eye contact, while members of the opposite sex should not touch upon meeting—it’s best to follow the lead of the local. Also, tipping is customary and very much appreciated.
Cairo is also a modern city with plenty of contemporary attractions. The Cairo Opera House presents incredible musical and cultural events. Al-Azhar Park, opened to the public in 2005, is listed as one of the word’s sixty great public spaces by the Project for Public Places. And of course, there are the nightclubs. Cairo is known as a city that never sleeps, and from belly dance shows to luxurious bars, some of the best modern nightlife options the city has to offer are located right along the ancient Nile River.