The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous symbol of Egypt. And among the country’s other highlights are the Step Pyramid and the decorated tombs of Saqqara, all accessible on an easy day trip from central Cairo. The modern city occupies a position at the head of the Nile Delta that has been of strategic importance for some 5,000 years and that has consequently seen many urban foundations, of which Cairo itself is merely the latest. Guides tell visitors to consider the Nile’s west bank of as the land of the dead and Giza as the necropolis of Cairo.
The only remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
It is important to remember that the first capital of Egypt, Memphis, was on the west bank. There is precious little to see of it now, but its necropolis at Saqqara and a string of later pyramids and burial constructions offer plenty to interest visitors.
With Cairo so crowded and polluted, it is a joy to drive through the stretches of verdant countryside and open desert that run south and west of the capital.
Horse riding, readily available at the pyramids, can also be a pleasant distraction to walking around the ancient sites, if only for an hour or two.
If travelling independently, it is worth hiring a taxi for a day to take you on a tour of Giza, Memphis and Saqqara. Speak with your hotel.
Also spend time trying to understand the importance of the locations on the west bank before seeing the sites themselves. The speed of the tours here can make it hard to grasp the history and chronology of the sites.
If you want to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu, get there early, as numbers are restricted (tickets are sold from 8am each day).
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Best things to do at the Pyramids of Giza
You will need at least half a day to visit the Pyramids of Giza as there are lots of things to do. If you have plenty of time to spare, it is worth spending a whole day in Memphis and Saqqara. You could follow local tradition and take a picnic to enjoy in the ruins of the monastery of St Jeremiah.
Here are the best things to do at the Pyramids of Giza.
#1 Visit the Pyramids of Giza themselves
The only survivors among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza (called al-Ahram in Arabic) are not hard to find.
Standing at the end of a boulevard (Shari’ al-Ahram) on the desert plateau above the western edge of Giza, across the river from Cairo, they can frequently be glimpsed from the city centre.
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.
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.
There are several pyramids to see including The Great Pyramid of Khufu, The Pyramid of Khafre, which includes the Sphinx, and The Pyramid of Menkaure, which is the smallest.
#2 See Egypt 's the first capital Memphis
The most important of Cairo’s predecessors was the city of Memphis, founded by Narmer (also known as Menes), traditionally regarded as the first king of the 1st Dynasty, and said to have been the first to unite both Upper and Lower Egypt.
The city was built on land reclaimed from the Nile in about 3100 BC and lies 24km (15 miles) by south of Cairo on the western side of the Nile.
The ruins of Memphis surround Mit Rahinah village, 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.
There is little to see at Memphis except for the Alabaster Sphinx and one of Ramesses’ two colossi.
#3 See the vast cemetery of Saqqara
The site of 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, god of the burial sites.
A welcome addition to the site is the modern Imhotep Museum (admission is included in that of the Saqqara site), opened in 2006 in an attempt to redistribute many of the treasures in the Egyptian Museum to more relevant locations.
Of the many highlights are objects found inside Saqqara’s pyramids and tombs, including a delightful wooden model of a rowing boat with human figures from the tomb of Khennu, a royal scribe of the Middle Kingdom.
The mummy of King Merenre I, who ruled for five years from 2297 BC, is the oldest complete mummy yet found.
#4 Gawp at The Black Pyramid of Dahshur
The peace and quiet beauty of the palm groves around Dahshur have attracted many of Cairo’s professional class, who have built rural retreats here. The most pleasant time of year to visit the site is mid-winter, when a lake forms within an artificial embankment below the Black Pyramid.
The Black Pyramid was 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.
#5 See the Collapsed Pyramid of Maydum
Out on a limb, 55km (34 miles) south of Saqqara is the Pyramid of Maydum, which probably dates from the end of the 3rd Dynasty or early 4th Dynasty and represents the transition from the Saqqara-type step pyramid to the “true” pyramidal forms found at Giza.
This structure, with its burial chamber above ground, could have been built by an earlier king and finished by King Snefru. Also referred to as the Collapsed Pyramid due to the removed outer casing, it looks like a ruined tower surrounded by rubble.
Best places to stay
The best places to stay at the Pyramids of Giza are the uber, look-at-that-view chains with having plonked themselves in each other's eye line. If you can’t afford their prices, head in from Cairo itself. Here’s where to stay.
There are lots of wow hotels in Giza with direct views of the Pyramids and a small cluster of cheap and not particularly cheerful places as well.
A short metro ride from Downtown, there are a handful of midrange hotels in this suburb which is the closest to the Pyramids.
Things to know before visiting
The Pyramids of Giza can be overwhelming for first-time visitors, to get the most out of the ancient site, follow these tips.
- The Pyramids of Giza are open daily from 8am–5pm (October to March) and 7am–7pm (April to September). You'll need around half a day here.
- General admission tickets for the Pyramids of Giza cost EGP 200 for adults and EGP 100 for students (bring ID). This doesn't cover entry to the Great Pyramid, Pyramid of Khafre, Pyramid of Menkaure, Worker's Cemetery, or the Solar Boat Museum. All-inclusive tickets are EGP 600 for adults and EGP 300 for students. Last tickets are issued an hour before closing time.
- Between the two largest Giza pyramids is a glass building containing one of the solar boats that were buried alongside Khufu’s pyramid – although plans are afoot to move it to the Grand Egyptian Museum. The boat was discovered in 1954, in a dismantled state comprising 1,224 pieces of polished cedar, buried in a pit.
- Each evening the Pyramids host two one-hour sound and light shows, held in front of the Sphinx, in which an actorly voice relates their history. The English-language performance is held daily at 7.30pm (6.30pm in winter).
How to get there
The Pyramids of Giza are located on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. There are numerous ways to get there. Once you arrive at the Pyramids, you can explore them on foot, or hire a camel or a horse to take you around the complex.
The easiest way to get to the Pyramids is by metro and then get either a taxi or a bus to the site itself. Drives cluster around the exit to the station.
Taxis are readily available in Cairo, and you can easily hire one to take you to the pyramids. Make sure to negotiate the fare before starting the journey.
Buses 355 and 357 go directly to the Pyramids and stop a short walk from the entrance.
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Best time to visit the Pyramids of Giza
The best time to visit the Pyramids of Giza is during the cooler months, which are between November and March. During this time, the temperatures are more comfortable, and there is less humidity, making it easier to explore the site without feeling exhausted from the heat.
However, keep in mind that this is also peak tourist season, so the site can be crowded, and you may need to wait in lines to enter some of the tombs and other attractions.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October. During these months, the temperatures are still relatively mild, and there are fewer tourists, which means you can enjoy the site without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
If you do plan to visit during the summer months (June-August), be prepared for very hot and dry conditions, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F). It's essential to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Find out more about the best time to visit Egypt.