Nestled on the banks of the timeless Nile, Cairo is a city that pulsates with vibrant energy and an intriguing blend of ancient history and modern allure. While the capital of Egypt is teeming with iconic museums and fascinating sites, venturing beyond its borders unveils a world of hidden treasures. Here are the five best day trips from Cairo.
You will need a full day to tour Giza, Memphis and Saqqara. It can be worth spending some time trying to understand the importance of the locations on the west bank before seeing the sites themselves. It is also important to plan your visit. If you want to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu, for example, you need to get there early, as numbers are restricted (tickets are sold from 8 am each day).
The most striking aspect of the Pyramids of Giza is their size. But even with all the facts and figures, it is still hard to believe that these ancient structures remain in such a good state of preservation.
Saqqara lies on the desert plateau about 3km (1.75 miles) west of Memphis. This vast cemetery, which spans a period from the 27th century BC to the 10th century AD, is possibly named after Sokar, the god of the burial sites.
A welcome addition to the site is the modern Imhotep Museum, which opened in 2006 in an attempt to redistribute many of the treasures in the Egyptian Museum to more relevant locations.
On this tailor-made Cairo luxury sailing cruise, you will explore Egypt at a leisurely pace on board a dahabieh, a traditional sailing ship. In Cairo, visit the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, and in Giza, the pyramids; cruise to world-renowned sites alongside lesser-known treasures, such as Luxor’s tombs, el Kab and Gebel Silsileh’s Temple of Horemheb.
Built of brick but unused by Amenemhet III (1842–1797 BC), one of Egypt’s most colourful kings, the dark colour that gives it its name arises from the fact that it has been systematically stripped of its original white limestone covering. The view of the pyramid across the lake is one of the most charming in Egypt, and well worth the drive from Cairo.
There are two other 12th Dynasty pyramids here, another from the 13th Dynasty, and a third not yet identified. Most striking, however, are two 4th-Dynasty pyramids, built by Snefru (2613–2589 BC). The southernmost of the two is the third-largest pyramid in Egypt and is easily distinguished, standing about 300 metres further into the desert, beyond the Pyramid of Amenem-het III, not only by its bulk but by its shape, which has led to it being called the Bent Pyramid.
The 54-degree slope of its sides changes halfway up to an angle of 43 degrees, for reasons that may be rooted in religious symbolism, or may simply be because it had to be finished in a hurry. In 2019, the Bent Pyramid was opened to the public for the first time since 1965. You can now climb down a 79-metre (260ft) -long tunnel to reach two inner chambers.
Rough Guides Tip: make sure to read our article about how to spend 24 hours in Cairo
The ruins of Memphis surround the village of Mit Rahinah, which derives its name from a temple of Mithras built here under the Romans, long after the days of the city’s greatest glory when the cult of Ptah was worshipped here at a temple adorned by huge statues. But even when power was transferred to Thebes, Memphis remained an important city.
Among the things to see at Memphis are the Alabaster Sphinx and one of Ramesses’ two colossi. The legs of this statue have been eroded, but the upper body, head and arms are beautifully carved and adorned with the king’s cartouche; the workmanship can be appreciated at close quarters. Start early and it's possible to visit both Memphis and Dahshur.
A 5-star Egypy tailor-made tour through the ancient wonders of Giza, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. Start and end your trip in beautiful Cairo, exploring the surroundings before heading down to Aswan: you will spend four nights on a luxurious Nile cruise ship, discovering ancient sites such as Abu Simbel.
Even though it was an important centre of the Hellenistic civilisation and the capital of Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1,000 years – making it the most renowned city of the ancient world after Athens and Rome – sadly there is very little left of the buildings and monuments that graced the city during these periods.
A good place to begin unravelling Alexandria’s past is the Alexandria National Museum, which is set in a fine Italian-style villa. The museum illustrates the city’s history with beautifully displayed and labelled artefacts from various eras.
The extensive excavations of Kom Al Dikka are worth visiting too. The main attraction is the small 2nd-century amphitheatre with marble terrace seating and well-preserved mosaic flooring and some fine mosaic floors of a Roman villa.
Stay until sunset to photograph the Citadel of Qaitbay, a lighthouse constructed in 279 BC that's considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Just before dusk, the warm reds and oranges of an Alexandrian sunset turn the sandstone building the colour of rich honey.
Rough Guides Travel Tip: if you are staying in Cairo, make sure to check the best areas to stay in Cairo
Faiyum’s greatest attraction is Lake Qarun. The western end approaching through the villages of Sanhur and Ibshaway, is the more peaceful stretch. The village of Tunis, where artists from Cairo have built some beautiful houses, has a potters’ school and workshop started by the Swiss potter Evelyne Porret.
Past the eastern tip of the lake is Kom Aushim, or ancient Karanis. Dating from the Ptolemaic period are extensive ruins of a temple dedicated to the crocodile-headed god Sobek, a Serapis temple and a later Roman temple to Zeus Amun. The Kom Aushim Museum is also here, displaying artefacts found in the Faiyum region, including a huge head of a Roman god, pottery and coins.