A holiday to Egypt isn’t just about journeying to a distant land, it’s actually a voyage back through time itself, to an ancient and mystical civilization. We’ve been hypnotised by Pharaonic history ever since the first tombs were discovered, and in particular the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was unearthed in 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter. When it comes to the most important landmarks to visit in Egypt, there really are so many iconic monuments and temples to visit, it can be a daunting prospect packing everything into a 1-2 week break, which is why so many people choose to see the most attractions possible from a luxury Nile River cruise.
In this post, we’ll focus on the city that most people will start their Egyptian odyssey from, or be the last port of call before returning home, the nation’s frenetic capital, Cairo. Here are our must-see landmarks in this incredible treasure trove of a city:
The Giza Pyramid Complex
Chances are you’ll already have seen the Giza pyramid complex online, on your television screen or in holiday brochures – it’s the iconic image most people associate with ancient Egypt. Also known as the Giza necropolis, this incredible complex is home to three pyramids – Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The largest of the three pyramids, Khufu, was built as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu. Also known as the Great Pyramid, this awesome structure stands at 481 metres in height and is not only the largest pyramid ever built, but it’s also the oldest of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. Indeed, it’s the only ancient Wonder of the World that’s still standing, so is truly a one and only structure. The pyramid complex not only allows access to these three pyramids, but the incredibly well preserved site also provides a fascinating insight into ancient Egyptian life and contains smaller valley pyramids, and a workers village that includes a hospital, kitchens, bakeries, sleeping quarters and even a cemetery.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
At the eastern end of the complex, you can visit the oldest Pharaonic monument in Egypt, the breath-taking Great Sphinx of Giza. This awe-inspiring statue has the body of a lion and the head of a human, complete with headdress. Constructed in 2575-2465 BCE, the head is believed to depict the face of the Pharaoh Khafre. This colossal landmark is another iconic image associated with the best Pharaonic monuments Egypt has to offer.
Khan El-Khalili Market
No trip to Cairo would be complete without a trip to the Khan El Khalili market. This 500-year old labyrinthian bazaar might not be a wonder of the ancient world, but it’s an amazing place to visit. Whether you want to do a spot of souvenir shopping or just sit back in a café and take in the colourful open-air market stalls, it’s definitely worth a visit while you’re in Cairo. If the size of the market is daunting, book a tour guide, to make sure you take in the best the market has to offer.
The Egyptian Museum
If your interest in ancient antiquities isn’t satiated by the Giza pyramid complex, then visit the Egyptian Museum, located in central Cairo, in Tahrir Square. The museum is home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and has some 120,000 precious and priceless items on display, including papyrus scrolls, sarcophagi and of course King Tutankhamun’s treasures, including the Boy-King’s solid gold death mask. Later this year, the Egyptian Museum will be replaced by the Grand Egyptian Museum. This vast museum is located outside the city centre, on the Giza plateau. The building will span 5.2 million square feet and will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization. While no official opening date has been announced to date, the museum is expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2020. As well as the exhibition galleries, the museum will also contain 28 gift shops, eight restaurants and a 3-D cinema, so you can well and truly journey back to Pharaonic times.
In your journey through time, whilst in Cairo, you can travel from the time of the Pharaohs through Christianity and into the Muslim era. Part of Old Cairo, the area known as Coptic Cairo represents the Christian stronghold of the 6th-7th Century and you can visit some amazing historic structures from this religious period, including the Hanging Church, which was built on top a Roman Fortress. Interestingly, this area was once known as the Roman stronghold of Babylon and also contains the first mosque ever built in Egypt – the Al-Azhar mosque – and the country’s oldest synagogue, so represents all three major religions.
The Al-Azhar Mosque and the Mosque of Mohammad Ali
As mentioned above, the Al-Azhar Mosque is of significant historical significance and represents the first Fatimid Islamic monument in the city. This beautiful building is definitely worth visiting not just for its religious significance but also as a place of peace and solitude away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Another mosque that should be on your tour list, the Mosque of Mohammad Ali, is also referred to as the Alabaster Mosque and is an exquisite structure with towering minarets. It was built in the Ottoman style between 1830 and 1857 by the nation’s ruler, Mohammad Ali Pasha, and is the most visited mosque in Egypt.
We hope that’s helped guide you to the best landmarks to visit when in Egypt’s capital city of Cairo, monuments that truly travel through time, charting the religious and cultural changes that have shaped this amazing city. Remember that Cairo isn’t only accessible en route to a Nile river cruise holiday, but you can also travel to the tourist attractions as a day excursion from our Red Sea resort hotels. Contact us on 020 3944 9713 today for further information on our fantastic range of luxury Nile river cruises, and amazing holiday packages in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam.