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How To Plan A Trip To Cairo In 2024: 5 Tips For First Timers 

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5 months ago

Looking for Cairo tips for first timers? Lucky you – that means you are probably trying to plan a trip to Cairo in 2024!

After my first 24 hours in Cairo, I was completely overwhelmed by the bustling chaos of Egypt’s capital. You will get what I mean after you experience the persistent street vendors and roads without any rules. So is Cairo worth visiting? Well, I ended up staying in Cairo for over four months and can confidently answer: ‘absolutely’!  

Cairo, the sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Nile River, is a city of mesmerizing contrasts. From the timeless grandeur of the pyramids to the bustling energy of its vibrant markets, Pharaonic monuments sit side-by-side with the grand boulevards of the confident and modern Downtown Cairo. I learned about the pharaohs in school, and I always knew Cairo is one of the great cities of our planet.  

islamic medresa in old cairo
The quiet silence of one of old Cairo’s medresas

I refused to let Cairo win this battle and ultimately fell madly in love with Umm al-Dunya, ‘the mother of the world’! You are probably thinking: ‘well I don’t have four monthshow many days in Cairo is enough?

If I were you, I would really try and spend at least 3 days in Cairo. But more importantly, make sure you closely follow these key tips for visiting Cairo. From getting around Cairo to navigating the street touts like a local, I have you covered!  

Crowds of people at an antique market at Khan el Khalili in Cairo, Egypt - a major site to visit
Crowds navigate the antique markets of Cairo’s chaotic Khan el-Khalili

If it’s your first time in Egypt or you are a seasoned Nile hand, this article is your key to a stress-free Cairo experience. For a smooth and memorable visit, here are my top 5 tips you should know before visiting Cairo!  

Getting to Cairo

Flying into Cairo

As you plan a trip to Cairo, here’s everything you need to know about getting to Egypt’s capital.

Cairo Airport (CAI) is located approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) northeast of Tahrir Square. American and Canadian travelers will most likely fly directly into Cairo Airport, which is served directly from major North American hubs including New York, Washington, DC, Toronto and Montreal.  

boat on nile in cairo
The majestic Nile awaits

For UK and European travelers, the new Sphinx International Airport (SPX) serves Cairo with new up-and-coming cheap flights. At the time of writing, EasyJet and Wizz Air are offering very cheap flights to Cairo Sphinx from London, Milan, Rome and Abu Dhabi, which you can find on Skyscanner with the special widget below.

Local tip: If you are flying into Sphinx Airport, Giza is on your way into Downtown Cairo and Giza is one of our best areas to stay in Cairo. If waking up with the pyramids is on your bucket list, you will not want to miss out on Giza’s hotels.

sphinx of egypt in cairo with pyramid in background
The original Sphinx!

Getting to your Cairo hotel from Cairo’s airports

As a heads up, Google Maps is often way off – so when planning transport to or from Cairo Airport, always give yourself at least one hour on the road from Tahrir Square. 

Taxis

Easily accessible at the airport, I find Cairo’s taxis to be too much headache (hassles, touts, Cairo tour guide offers). If you do decide to travel by taxi, ensure the meter is running or negotiate the fare upfront.

man selling turkish coffee
One of the great joys of Cairo: picking up a fresh Turkish coffee on the side of the road

Ride-sharing apps

Embrace Cairo’s traffic with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Careem, which operate at CAI. They offer transparent pricing and can be more efficient than traditional taxis. 

The black and white framed photos of Egyptian intellectuals at Cafe Riche, Cairo
Don’t forget to take some time to learn the stories of Egypt’s artists, authors, poets and revolutionaries (Cafe Riche, Cairo)

Local tip: While Uber and Careem are normally priced about the same, I always recommend first time travelers in Egypt to download Careem, too. Outside of Cairo, Careem is the most popular ride sharing app in Luxor, Hurghada and Aswan.

fresh bread on streets of cairo
Fresh bread on the streets of Cairo

Hotel shuttle

Some hotels in Cairo offer complimentary Cairo Airport shuttle bus service to and from CAI for their guests. Check with your Cairo accommodation – it always makes me feel just that little bit less anxious when I see someone holding my name at airport arrivals!

Otherwise, you can book a personalised Cairo Airport shuttle for as low as US$25.

Rooftop cafe in Cairo
One of the hidden rooftop cafes of Downtown Cairo – the perfect spot to escape the busy streets below!

Metro

While there’s no direct metro link to Cairo (CAI) airport, you can take Line 3 to the Al Ahram station and then transfer to a taxi or bus for the final leg of your journey. 

Cairo’s traffic conditions can be unpredictable, so plan your transportation accordingly, especially if you have tight schedules. 

When you plan a trip to Cairo, Egypt, you want to make sure you use uber or careem, rather than a Cairo Taxi.
Cairo’s taxis are often older cars. For a smoother service, consider Uber or Careem.

Train into Cairo

If you are traveling to Cairo from Alexandria or Luxor, Cairo’s Ramses Station (the locals call it Misr Station (Misr is the Arabic word for Egypt)) is located around 20 minutes from Tahrir Square. As always in Cairo, give yourself an extra 15 minutes if you are traveling after 4 pm.  

layers of noodles, chickpeas and fried onions make up koshary - the unique egyptian dish
When visiting Cairo, you must try the quintessential Egyptian dish: Koshary

Bus into Cairo

Egyptian intercity bus companies use different stations in Cairo. If you are arriving by bus into Cairo, the odds are you will be somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown Cairo and I recommend hopping in an Uber or Careem!

Getting around Cairo 

In Cairo’s bustling streets, efficient navigation is key to both saving time and avoiding hassle.

Seljuk-era mosque in market
One of my favorite things about Cairo is the way Seljuk-era monuments are just hidden within everyday life

As you plan a trip to Cairo, Egypt, here’s everything you need to know about getting around:

Ride-sharing apps

I have said it before and I’ll stay it again: Uber and Careem are your go-to options in Cairo, sparing you the hassle of bargaining with Cairo’s taxi drivers.  

villas in garden city cairo wooden
The beautiful villas of Garden City

Metro

Cairo’s metro system is both cheap and efficient. While it might not be necessary for all your travels, it’s excellent for reaching distant destinations like the hip suburb of Maadi.  

I often get asked: is Cairo safe for women? When my friend and her mother visited Cairo last year, they kept messaging me how impressed they were with Cairo’s female-only carriages on the metro!  

Ladies Only Metro Platform in Cairo
Ladies Only Platform on the Cairo Metro

5 tips for first timers as you plan a trip to Cairo

Here are my top 5 must-know insights for a seamless Cairo trip.

1. Airport visa

Streamline your arrival by organising your Egyptian e-visa before your arrival. Make sure you are using the correct link (and be careful of scams!)

green car against villa in garden city

If you don’t have time to arrange an e-visa, don’t worry. At the time of writing, Egyptian tourist visas can be purchased at the airport for US$25 (don’t forget to bring cash!) 

Unknown Soldier Memorial in Cairo, Egypt
The modern pyramid which stands over the Unknown Soldier Memorial in Cairo which many great tours will cover

2. Avoid hassle at all costs

Cairo is a magical city, but so many visitors write off their experiences due to the hassles of a huge city.   

horse carriage in cairo
If Cairo’s traffic becomes too much of a headache – get on a horse!

Sidestep persistent street vendors and touts by blending in and dressing modestly. When approached aggressively, assertively say, “khalas, suk-na hineh” (enough, we live here) to discourage unwelcome solicitations. You might want to look away at that point, in case they realise that you’re trying to fool them!  

fresh pomegranate in cup
Fresh fruits are a great way to get a quick boost of energy in the Cairo heat!

Once again, save time and money by using Uber and the local favourite, Careem.  

If the idea of navigating Cairo alone is too overwhelming, avoid hassle and join the best tour of Cairo’s biggest attractions which, of course, includes the pyramids!

When you plan a trip to Cairo Egypt, make sure you prioritize avoiding hassle, like the touts at the Pyramids of Giza
Many travelers have their experiences at the Pyramids of Giza ruined by hassle and tour guide touts – be prepared and act like a local!

3. Get an Egyptian SIM card 

Who needs a Cairo tour guide when you have a local sim?  

Generally a local SIM in Cairo will make your life easier in so many ways from quick access to Google Maps to ordering your Careem, and, of course, to pulling up all our tips for visiting Cairo!  

Cairo Tower over the Nile
Cairo Tower watches over a tributary of the Nile

I recommend using Orange for fast and reliable internet. You will find stalls at Cairo airport or this shop in downtown Cairo is super helpful (but don’t forget your passport!)

If you would prefer to land with mobile connection ready to go, consider purchasing an eSim with Airalo. I often will pre-purchase even just for a few GB to get me started before I arrange a local SIM.

4. Be a local

Embrace Egyptian customs and act like a local in Cairo

Ibn Tulum Mosque in Cairo
The iconic minaret of the Ibn Tulum Mosque

I have already told you what to tell the street touts, but I also recommend dressing more modestly when you are in more conservative areas. For example, when you are walking around Islamic Cairo, it might be best to ensure you are wearing long pants and no singlets or tank tops.  

local merchat holding up craftwork in cairo egypt
Act like a local when shopping for local crafts

As you plan a trip to Cairo, Egypt, there is one most important tip to avoid standing out as a tourist. Use the Egyptian word ‘taamiyah‘ instead of ‘falafel’!

To plan a trip to Cairo, Egypt you will want to make sure you call Egyptian falafal by its proper name: taamiya
A classic Egyptian meal, including ta’amiya. You will want to make sure you are ordering food like a local!

5. Don’t forget about traffic!

Unquestionably, Cairo experiences significantly less traffic on Fridays and Saturdays. From Sunday to Thursday, do your best to ensure you aren’t in a car between 4 pm and 9 pm.  

busy traffic in tlat el harb in downtown cairo roundabout

Particularly, the Cairo to Giza road often gets quite heavy traffic

Cairo is a huge city and it can be overwhelming to plan a trip to cairo egypt
Old Cairo’s skyline

Where to stay in Cairo

As you plan a trip to Cairo, Egypt, you are probably wondering ‘where is the best area to stay in Cairo?’

I generally recommend hotels around Tahrir Square or Downtown Cairo. In the Downtown area, you will find everything from hostels to the best 4 star hotels in Cairo.

Al Manial Palace
Architecture and design lovers shouldn’t miss the Al Manial Palace where every room is decorated in design from a different region of the Arab world

And for something extra special, consider taking a Cairo city break and spending overnight at the pyramids at the Marriott Mena House.

The sweet tip 

How did I tame Cairo?  I avoided the endless tours from Cairo travel agencies and followed the locals.  

And where did they lead me? El Abd, for the best ice cream in Cairo!

Local tip: You want to try the Oreo flavour!  

El Abd is located in the heart of Downtown Cairo.

There is always more of Cairo to explore, so don’t be afraid to just walk around the city and enjoy all of the sights, sounds and smells.


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