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Exploring the Best of Cairo: A 24 Hour Itinerary

Let's embark on an unforgettable 24-hour journey through Cairo, exploring the treasures of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and gazing in awe at the iconic Pyramids of Giza, all while immersing yourself in the vibrant culture of the bustling city.
5 stray dogs propping themselves up on a short, crumbling wall in the desert, watching a caravan of camels walk toward the pyramids in Giza.
Five dogs watching a caravan of camels walk toward the pyramids in Giza. Photo by Emily Fata.

On this whirlwind journey through Cairo, we found ourselves immersed in the vibrant heart of Egypt's bustling capital. In just 24 hours, we experienced a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and sensations that encapsulated the essence of this historic city. From the timeless grandeur of the Pyramids of Giza to the bustling energy of the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, each moment was an adventure waiting to unfold.


Curious about what should be on your 24 hour Cairo itinerary? I've got you covered!


A Cairo Interary Must: The Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx


A woman in a flowing pale pink dress standing on a short ledge with her arms stretched out to the side, with the desert and three Pyramids of Giza in the background.
Me in front of the Pyramids of Giza. Photo by our tour guide.

For me, exploring the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx was utterly surreal. Embarking on a long-awaited journey to Egypt, I found myself immersed in the allure of its ancient wonders.

 

Despite a misguided hotel choice in Giza, Cairo’s vibrant atmosphere welcomed us with open arms, offering a safer and more engaging experience. Standing before the majestic Pyramids of Giza first thing in the morning during our 24-hour stint in the city, I was overcome with emotion, marvelling at the engineering prowess of the ancient Egyptians. I still find myself wondering, How on earth did they manage to pull this all off? It really is a testament to how astounding of a civilization they truly were (and perhaps gives us something, in the modern day—ironically enough—to aspire to).

 

Navigating the intricate chambers of the smallest pyramid left me in total awe, walking within that tangible connection to a civilization lost to time. Despite the walls being plain and the number of tourists bustling around me, there were a few moments where you can find yourself alone in this big, empty chamber and could listen to your breathing, feel the coolness of the stone wall against the palm of your hand in the middle of an African desert, and feel the history of the space. It might sound cheesy, but there is a connection to the past that is to be experienced, if you pause and allow yourself to feel it.

 

From here, we travelled to the funerary embalming temple, which led out to the majestic Sphinx, and I was again unable to stop myself from thinking about the mysteries of ancient Egypt and the enduring legacy it has left behind. It’s huge! It’s stunning! It’s magnificent and incredibly old and intricately carved to perfection! And it has held up for thousands of years! Can we all just take a moment to allow that to sink in?


A Personalized Hieroglyphic Souvenir


As we headed from Gaza into Cairo, our tour guide asked if there was anything we wanted to do, in particular. When we were in Sharm El-Sheikh, I had found a little jewellery shop along the main strip that sold all sorts of silver pieces and, because Egypt is known for their affordable silver, I had popped into to buy a few things—particularly on the hunt for a hieroglyphic cartouche. No one else in our little travel group wanted one for themselves, but by the time we got to Cairo, the regret was weighing on my cousin, who wished she had got one for herself.


And I was regretting not getting one in gold, since I barely wear silver anymore and find myself wearing gold jewellery more often than not. So, we told the tour guide we needed to go to a store that sold handmade cartouches, and she brought us to the perfect spot.


A silver cartouche resting on a metal plate while a jeweller's hands fire the small hieroglyphic symbols onto the pendant.
The jeweller firing the tiny hieroglyphic symbols into place on my cartouche. Photo by Emily Fata.

As my cousin perused the many cartouche designs and silver weights to find the perfect one, I set to finding one in solid gold. When I saw a €900 price tag on the gold after only paying about €15 for a heavy, solid silver one in Sharm El-Sheikh, I realized that even my stellar negotiation skills couldn’t lower the pendant to a price I’d be willing to pay.

 

“What can you do for me, sir? Help me out,” I told the shopkeeper. “I want a gold necklace, but I’m not paying anywhere close to €900. Not even €500.”

 

After a whole lot of haggling, he offered me a gold-plated version instead for €95, telling me that as long as I avoided touching it with alcohol—sanitizer, perfume, and the like—it would be just as good, and no one would know the difference. I talked him down to €25, only €10 more than I had paid for the plain silver one on the first leg of our trip, and even asked myself if our group could go and see how they created it behind-the-scenes (to which, as the friendly Egyptians do, he obliged).

 

Thus, I was able to watch my cartouche be ‘assembled,’ from the jeweller carefully pulling each symbol from a tray with tweezers and delicately placing it on the silver base, to firing them into place, and polishing it. Then, he brought it over to a little corner of what I can only describe as a lab, dipping it into a number of different simmering pots, electro-cleaning the pendant, placing it in acid, rinsing, and polishing it to a shine again. (I’m possibly missing some other steps, but this is what I remember!)

 

The end result was a stunning cartouche that would be mistaken for solid gold and that matches perfectly with the majority of my other jewellery.


The Roman citadel of Babylon, outside the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura
The Roman citadel of Babylon, outside the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura. Photo by Emily Fata.

Add the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura to Your Cairo Itinerary


One of the most famous (and oldest) churches in Cairo, Egypt, is the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura, also called the Church of St. Virgin Mary. Built above the southern gate of the Roman citadel of Babylon, it was given the Arabic name Al-Muallaqa, which translates to “the suspended” or “the hanging.” Hence the name, the church appears to be hanging over the entrance due to its placement. It’s so beautiful to see!


A look inside the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura, with rich red velvet carpeting and tapestries, wooden walls carved with intricate patterns, and Byzantine-style paintings on saints on the upper part of the wall close to the ceiling.
Inside of the Hanging Church in Al Dayoura. Photo by Emily Fata.

Here’s a little history lesson for those of you who, like me, travel to see the most beautiful (and most interesting!) things in the world.


With roots in the 3rd century AD, the church is regarded as one of Egypt’s earliest Coptic churches, even though the majority of the existing building is from the 9th century. For Coptic Christians, it is a significant historical and theological location because it is thought that the Holy Family stopped there on their trip into Egypt. The Hanging Church is well known for its distinctive Byzantine, Roman, and Coptic architectural designs, which had me completely enamoured. Inside are exquisitely carved marble columns, old wooden screens, and a collection of priceless religious relics and icons. Not to mention the intricately carved walls, carefully painted saints, and the sheer amount of gold foiling.


Nonetheless, while the church has experienced multiple restorations and modifications over the course of its lengthy existence, both its architectural charm and spiritual value have been preserved. It is still a bustling place of worship and a beautiful tourist destination today, giving guests a look into Egypt's rich Christian past (which, admittedly, I did not know that this place existed before our tour guide brought us here).


The Egyptian Museum in Cairo


Not to be dramatic (okay, maybe to be a little bit dramatic), coming to this museum, to me, felt like the real religious pilgrimage of the day. No kidding though, I actually wanted to cry when I arrived, that’s how excited I was. When I say that I have had an obsession with ancient Egypt since I was a child, I really do mean it. This is the same person who, at 10 years old, learned the hieroglyphic alphabet and, later in university, would go to the Royal Ontario Museum every Tuesday (because students got in free) to roam around the ancient Egypt exhibit. Obviously, I dreamt my whole life about coming here.

 

An ancient Egyptian carving inside The Egyptian Museum in Cairo depicting a son, mother, and father.
A carving inside The Egyptian Museum in Cairo depicting a family. Photo by Emily Fata.

But I digress. All you really need to know is that this is one of the biggest and most important museums in the world devoted to Egyptian artifacts.

 

Known by its official name, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, it houses an astoundingly vast collection of items from the Greco-Roman and prehistoric periods, encompassing almost 5,000 years of Egyptian history. Amazing, right?


Since its founding in 1902 by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, the museum has amassed approximately 120,000 objects (swoon), with many more being kept in its basement due to space constraints—this is why they are actually building the newer, modern Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo that has not officially opened yet, as of my writing of this article. This new museum will be one of the largest archaeological museums in the world and will showcase Egypt’s ancient heritage in a state-of-the-art facility. Still, here there are numerous statues, sarcophagi, jewels, papyrus scrolls, and other relics, including Tutankhamun’s treasures, that are on display in this museum.

 

On the second floor, we found ourselves in the rooms dedicated to King Tut, which you’re not allowed to take any pictures within. Howard Carter made the 1922 discovery of the Tutankhamun collection in the Valley of the Kings, and it is one of the most well-known displays in the Egyptian Museum. So many of the treasures, such as his famous golden mask, jewellery, chariots, and other personal items, were found in Tutankhamun's tomb. The lives and beliefs of ancient Egyptians during the New Kingdom era are amazingly revealed by these artifacts, and to be able to see them up close was mind-blowing. The fact that they’re preserved so well after so many years and that I, a Canadian born across the world, am able to see them in the 21st century is baffling in the very best way.


Swaths of linen on display at the Egyptian Museum
Swaths of linen at the Egyptian Museum. Photo by Emily Fata.

The museum is also home to the mummies of multiple pharaohs, the Narmer Palette, the statue of Khafre, and an extensive collection of artifacts and hieroglyphic inscriptions from different eras of ancient Egyptian history, among many other highlights besides the Tutankhamun collection. One of my personal favourites was the colossal statue of Amenhotep III and Tiye, a monolith statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III (from the 18th dynasty), his ‘Great Royal Wife’ Tiye, and three of their daughters—one of which would eventually be the mother of Tutankhamun). It is the largest known dyad ever carved, standing at 13.5 metres (approximately 44 feet) in height. What’s particularly lovely to me is that the couple were carved to be of equal heights, whereas Pharaohs are typically depicted as taller than the wife to showcase that he, the man, was 'more important.' However, Amenhotep III loved his wife so much and viewed her as an equal to him, and so the statue was commissioned for the couple of be shown as equals to all Egyptians.


Khan el-Khalili Bazaar: A Shopper’s Paradise


Last on our day-long adventures in Cairo was a marketplace, which turned out to be one of the city’s most well-known and lively bazaars: Khan el-Khalili.


This space is famous for its varied selection of stores and booths, lively atmosphere, and history; since the 14th century, this market, which is located in the centre of Old Cairo, has served as a major centre for trade and business. Over the years, Khan el-Khalili transformed into a bustling bazaar from its original use as a caravanserai, or a site where travelling merchants and their camels would rest. It is still a very popular attraction to both tourists and locals alike, giving visitors a taste of Cairo's rich cultural past and an amazing shopping experience.


One of the colourful laneways lined with merchants inside Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. You can see many people purchasing goods and shopkeepers talking to patrons.
Wandering through Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. Photo by Emily Fata.

Shops offering a variety of commodities, such as traditional crafts, textiles, spices, fragrances, jewellery, and souvenirs, fill the labyrinth of streets within the bazaar. Wandering through the alleyways that resemble a maze, visitors can bargain with merchants and find interesting finds everywhere they look. To be completely honest, I didn’t even buy anything myself here, but there’s this excitement that comes with haggling in markets that I love, and so I was happy to negotiate and whittle down prices on behalf of my friends and cousin like it was my day job.


Apart from being a retail destination, Khan el-Khalili is also a bustling social centre where residents congregate to interact, enjoy tea or coffee at traditional cafés, and take in the energetic atmosphere. There’s no shortage of things to see, and walking through the space, listening to conversations (which, as you probably are safely assuming, I could not understand because they were in Arabic), and taking in the sensory bombardment is thrilling. While we didn’t stop to eat, it’s a great place to taste local specialties and immerse yourself in Cairo's culinary culture in the market, where a lot of the cafés and restaurants serve authentic Egyptian food.

 

As you’re getting ready to leave Khan el-Khalili, be sure to pinpoint the nearby important landmarks, including as the famed El Fishawi Café (a historic cafe that has been serving patrons for generations) and the Al-Hussein Mosque, one of Cairo's oldest mosques.


All in All


My whirlwind journey through Cairo was a kaleidoscope of vibrant sights and captivating experiences, condensed into a mere 24 hours. From the moment we arrived, Cairo's lively spirit immediately embraced us, infusing our adventure with an irresistible energy.


As the sun rose over the horizon in front of the timeless grandeur of the Pyramids of Giza and the mysteries of their construction and the civilization that created them, to navigating the bustling streets of Cairo, we immersed ourselves in the city's vibrant culture. Each moment in this city was a sensory feast, a symphony of colours, sounds, and aromas that enveloped us in the essence of Cairo.


 

6 Comments


marysa
Feb 23

You saw so many neat things while you were there. What a great experience! Such a neat destination to explore.

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budman3557
Feb 22

Cairo is a fascinating place, so rich in history. The first thing anyone thinks about, when visiting this area, is the great pyramids, but like you show, there is much more to Cairo than that.- Bryan Carey

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Archana Singh
Archana Singh
Feb 21

Cairo is such a fabulous place and can really baffle you with so many options. This itinerary is perfect for 24-hour exploration. Thanks for sharing.

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Rosey Marie
Rosey Marie
Feb 21

I imagine the history alone is astounding. I think it would be wonderful to visit.

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Richard Lowe Jr
Richard Lowe Jr
Feb 19

I've always wanted to go to Egypt to see these old tombs and buildings. I love learning about history. Thanks for the article and photos.

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