Cairo. The name should thrill you to your fingertips. Pulsing, snarling and dripping with historic sights there are an absolute plethora of sights and experiences to be had in Cairo that a whole lifetime won’t uncover.
But if you’ve only got 24 hours there’s still plenty you can see and do to get a taste of the great city. In fact 24 hours should just about be enough time to see the markets, climb a pyramid, jump on a camel and still have time for a dinner of roasted kebabs.
The best way to start the day is to get in touch with Egypt’s past at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. This museum contains over 120,000 objects and King Tutankhamun’s number 1,700 alone. They include his gold funerary mask, ceremonial hat and chair. There’s also a fabulously creepy Mummy Room to visit. If you haven’t got time to visit the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, then these treasures are really a must see. They will also be a foretaste for the pyramids later in the day.
For lunch head to the Khan-el-Khalili market, known to many simply as the Khan or the bazaar. Large, lively and labyrinthine you probably won’t find enough superlatives to describe your experiences here. Bargain for souvenirs, stop off in a café, meet the locals and enjoy the sights and sounds. You will need a well-developed haggling technique if you plan to buy anything.
It’s also a good spot for lunch. Let your nose lead you to the ideal spot but generally something like kofta (meatballs) with fresh bread and hummus goes down well. You could finish this off with mint tea.
Now waste not time in getting to see the Sphinx and the Pyramids in Giza, 20 kilometers away. While you really need a few days to do them justice you can see a lot in an afternoon. Firstly do note the pyramids are right on the outskirts of town so you don’t have to travel far, but they are not as remotely and romantically located in desert sands as some tourists expect.
You absolutely must visit the Great Sphinx on the west bank of the Nile. Not only is it the largest monolith statue in the world at 73.6 metres long and 20.22 m high, it is also the world’s oldest monumental sculpture. It is estimated to have been built somewhere around 2555 BC.
The Great Pyramid of Giza is another must-see and one of the remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Four thousand years old and counting these royal monuments are truly amazing. There are entrance fees to the site and further costs to access the rather hot and claustrophobic interiors.
There are usually opportunities to go on a horse or camel ride around the pyramids. While it’s very touristy and possibly overrated, if you’re not travelling elsewhere in Egypt it might be your only opportunity. If you do go, make sure you work out the price and details before you go. Always pay at the end of the trip and stick to your original price.
If you’re not hanging around for the evening Sound and Light Show you might be able to find somewhere nearby to enjoy the pyramids from a distance. Or return to Cairo for the night-time mayhem of its crowded cafes and streets. Some of the monuments look particularly fetching in the evening lights such as the free-standing Cairo Tower and various mosques and churches.
There are some fabulous eating places to get traditional Egyptian food in atmospheric surrounds. There are enough choices to suit every kind of budget but eating somewhere local is more than worthwhile. Try fuul (mashed beans) or taameya (fried bean patties) for breakfast. For lunch try to get your hands on koshary, a macaroni and rice dish with salsa, hummus and lentils. Kofta with grilled chicken makes for a superb dinner meal, which you can follow up with a stopover in a local coffee shop. Many foreigners and expats like eating area in the upmarket district of Zamalek.