A roaring metropolis of nearly 20 million people, Cairo is the cultural capital of the Arab world. Most visitors to Egypt spend at least a few days here, exploring its medieval mosques, sampling its fine museums and shopping in the labyrinthine Khan El Khalili bazaar. But if you find yourself with just one day – or a layover at the airport – fear not, there's plenty to see and do in 24 hours.
Can you do Cairo in one day?
Whilst one day in Cairo may not be enough to see everything the city has to offer, it's certainly enough time to get a taste of what makes the city so special. With a well-planned itinerary and a willingness to explore, you can fit in a number of major attractions. Here’s how.
On this tailor-made Nile Cruise in Egypt, you will experience Cairo with the pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum before flying to Luxor to board your Nile cruise. Highlights include Karnak temple, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut temple and an optional visit to Abu Simbel. Spend your last night in fascinating Cairo.
RoughGuides Travel Tip: check the best areas to stay in Cairo
Morning in Cairo
Start your morning early at El Fishawy, a historic coffeehouse that's been serving locals and tourists for more than 200 years. After breakfast, make your way across town to see the Pyramids of Giza. The most striking aspect of the pyramids 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. The vision and workmanship of people 4,500 years ago in creating structures that would be the world’s tallest until the 14th century is staggering.
Aim to arrive around 8 am, just after the gates open, to beat the crowd. Afterwards, if there's time – and it's opened – stop at the new Grand Egyptian Museum near Al Remaya Square in Giza, 2km (1.25 miles) north of the pyramids.
The site covers 50 hectares (120 acres) and the museum 24,000 sq metres (258,000 sq ft). With more than 100,000 exhibits, it will be the largest archaeological museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization. Already, the full Tutankhamun collection of 5,000 items has been moved here, and only about a third of the treasures have ever been on public display.
Afternoon in Cairo
For lunch, head back across into the historic centre to Felfela, a cosy restaurant that serves up delicious mezze and grilled meats. After lunch, take a stroll through the warren of alleyways that make up Khan El Khalili. Formerly famous for Turkish goods, many traditional workshops continue to operate in and around this tourist bazaar, including the adjoining goldsmiths’ souq, which is still popular with locals.
There is a variety of goods for sale designed for the tourist trade including silverware, stained-glass lamps, incense, carpets, spices, gold jewellery, perfume, papyrus, gallabiyahs and belly dancing costumes. Naturally, haggling is expected, and some might find it annoying to be badgered by the vendors, but it’s a colourful place where visitors can get any kind of Egyptian souvenir all under one roof.
Depending on how long you are browsing and buying, it’s possible to squeeze in a quick trip to the Egyptian Museum on the north side of Midan at-Tahrir. First commissioned in 1835 by the government, who were desperate to stop widespread plundering and looting of the country’s many archaeological sites, it moved between several locations until this present building was built in 1902 under Pasha Abbas Hilmi.
It now holds more than 100,000 of the world’s greatest collections of Egyptian artefacts, from statues to mummies, jewellery and mosaics.
RoughGuides Travel Tip: check the best day trips from Cairo
Evening in Cairo
For dinner, head to Naguib Mahfouz Café, a cosy spot tucked away in the heart of Islamic Cairo. Try the traditional Egyptian stews, all washed down with a cup of mint tea.
After eating, head to the Cairo Jazz Club. From the moment you step inside, you'll be swept up in a whirlwind of sound, flavour, and energy. But don't be fooled by the name – it offers more than just jazz. The stage may have seen more than its fair share of smooth grooves and soulful rhythms, but there's always something new and exciting happening here.
Else try Gŭ Lounge for some evening cocktails, a nightcap – and maybe some clubbing if you stay late enough.
Marvel at the pyramids in Giza, explore busy Cairo, sleep on a luxurious sleeper train and explore more temples close to Luxor. This tailor-made introduction to Egypt is fast-paced, with several nights in Cairo at the beginning and end, enabling you to see many fascinating sights in Egypt.
Can I leave Cairo Airport during a layover?
If you find yourself with a long layover in Cairo, there's good news – passengers with a valid onward flight ticket and a layover of six- to 48 hours can leave the airport without a visa. If you need longer than 48 hours, you can apply online for an Egyptian eVisa as long as your onward flight is within the next 30 days.
How much money do I need for 24 hours in Cairo?
Cairo is a relatively inexpensive city compared to major tourist destinations in the West. With a budget of around US$50 per day, you can enjoy a comfortable stay, eat well, and see some of the major attractions.
Explore Egypt at a leisurely pace on this tailor-made sailing cruise. 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.