Cairo is not only the most populous city in the Middle East, it’s a blend of Egyptian history and the Egypt of the future. In terms of Egyptian history, you of course, have the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, not to mention the most famous Egyptian artifacts—like the Egyptian Museum’s Tutankhamun Collection—in Cairo. Looking ahead, the brand-new Grand Egyptian Museum is slated to be finished toward the end of 2020, and with its completion comes urban redevelopment in Cairo. This pull of old and new is really a larger metaphor for where Cairo is both architecturally and politically; They’re building new foundations while preserving ancient relics. They’re learning from the political events of the last 10 years and using that knowledge to move forward, while still celebrating their history.
To make the most of one day in Cairo, here’s how you can plan your 24-hour Egyptian itinerary.
8:30 a.m. Start your day with breakfast at The Onyx Lounge, the Fairmont Nile City’s chic-but-relaxed lobby restaurant. The Onyx is the hotel’s breakfast venue and is also the go-to spot in the city for afternoon tea. You’re going to need some sustenance before a day of exploring Cairo’s past and present, so take an hour of relaxation here while tucking into their continental breakfast. The Onyx Lounge serves Fairmont Lot 35 teas and a high-end coffee selection—to caffeinate like a local, have a medium-sweet Turkish coffee.
9:30 a.m. Start your day with perhaps the most coveted sight-seeing experience in all of Egypt—the Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are a 45-minute drive southwest from the center of Cairo toward the 6th of October city. You’ll want to go with a driver and guide, which you can arrange either in advance or through your hotel upon arrival. The three pyramids of Giza are the last of the original seven wonders of the world. This plateau is often referred to as the Giza Necropolis and is also home to the great Sphinx. You’ll want to spend at least a couple hours touring the entire area, even taking time to enter one of the pyramids (though, be warned, those passageways can make even the most seasoned travelers feel a bit claustrophobic).
12:15 p.m. Something to know before you go to Egypt is that koshary is the national dish. It’s essentially lentils, pasta, rice, and usually chickpeas tossed together. When prepared, each of the four items is cooked separately, and then mixed the way you’d toss up a salad. The combination is finally topped with tomato sauce (though, keep in mind, that it’s Middle Eastern tomato sauce rather than Italian tomato sauce, and might have more paprika or cumin than you’re used to) and crispy fried onions. Koshary (also called koshari or koshuri, depending on the establishment’s English translation) is the ultimate inexpensive, comfort food. For some of the best koshary in the city, Koshary Abou Tarek is an institution, frequented by both locals and tourists. It’s on Maarouf Street street in downtown Cairo.
1:30 p.m. The largest display of Egyptian antiquities in the world is found at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities—more commonly just called the Egyptian Museum. Right now, the Egyptian Museum is in downtown Cairo. However, the Grand Egyptian Museum, where all the ancient Egyptian relics will migrate to when it opens toward the end of 2020, is outside the city near the Giza Necropolis. Whether you visit the current museum in the heart of Cairo, or the brand-new Grand Egyptian Museum, your highlights will be the King Tut collection (including his gold-plated mask) and the Mummy Room (or Royal Hall of Mummies). Ahead of the Grand Egyptian Museum’s opening, Egyptologists are working on the restoration of King Tut’s golden coffin for display, which promises to be a huge tourist draw.
4:30 p.m. The famed bazaar (or “souk”) in the heart of Old Cairo is Khan El-Khalili, home to picturesque cafes and vendor-lined alleyways filled with handmade Egyptian crafts. This is not your average tourist market by any stretch of the imagination. In lieu of kiosks selling kitschy sweatshirts, you’ll find local artisans selling beautiful stained glass, antiques, and authentic gold and silver pieces. If you’re looking for a cafe where you can stop for a Turkish coffee or mint tea, pop into El Fishawy. As one of the oldest cafes in Cairo, El Fishawy was supposedly a hang out for noted writers and authors of generations past, like Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz.
6:15 p.m. The stars need to align for you to grab a table at the delightful foodie hot-spot Fasahet Somaya. The restaurant is open for only two hours a day—5 p.m. to 7 p.m.—and does a few dishes, all based on seasonal produce. And Fasahet Somaya, set behind a small, bright blue door, is owned and run by a female chef.
9:00 p.m. Fairmont Nile City’s Champagne Bar is the perfect spot for a nightcap, whether you fancy a flute of bubbly before bed à la Queen Elizabeth, or prefer a well-made cocktail or a glass of wine. This lounge is the “first of its kind in downtown Cairo,” offering a luxurious setting for travelers looking for an elevated spot to decompress and process what they’ve seen after a day spent touring Cairo.
Where to Stay
Stay at the Fairmont Nile City, a gorgeous modern structure with Art Deco touches, sitting on the banks of the Nile. Their guest rooms and suites offer either a city or Nile view and the property has a 25th-floor pool. For a true taste of Egyptian luxury in Cairo, book one of the Fairmont’s Nile Suites. These suites give guests access to an on-call butler service 24 hours a day and access to the Fairmont Gold Lounge, as well as an 800-square-foot room and unobstructed views of the river Nile.