Cairo Beyond the Pyramids-Four Fascinating Sights

Cairo is a vast city, home to 9.5 million residents. While many people visit Cairo with the express purpose of seeing the pyramids, there’s so much more to see and do in this vibrant city. We split our days spent in Cairo between the first few days and the last, with the middle section in Luxor. In all, we had about four days total to explore Cairo with our private guide. Below are some of the four fascinating places in the city we visited; Coptic Cairo, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Islamic Cairo (made up of several sights), and the markets and bazaars of Kahn al Kahlili.

1. Coptic Cairo

Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church (The Hanging Church), Cairo.
Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church (The Hanging Church), Cairo.

This half-day tour was sandwiched in between checkout out of our hotel in Giza in the morning and flying to Luxor in the afternoon. Coptic Cairo is one of the oldest parts of the city and dates back to the very beginning of Christendom. The main sights are the Babylon Fortress, the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, the Hanging Church, the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga), and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Scroll through the slideshow photos below for images of Coptic Cairo.

  • Babylon Fortress, Cairo
  • The Hanging Church, Cairo
  • Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga)
  • Inside the Cavern Church, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) in Cairo
  • Inside the Cavern Church, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) in Cairo
  • Inside the Cavern Church, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) in Cairo
Ancient doorway in the Coptic area of Cairo.

2. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

Egyptian Museum, on the edge of Tahrir Square, as seen from our hotel room.
The Egyptian Museum, on the edge of Tahrir Square, as seen from our hotel room.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was established in 1902 and holds over 120,000 items representing 5000 years of Egyptian history. We visited the museum in the afternoon we returned from Luxor. The century-old museum sits on the edge of Tahrir square and we could see the entrance to it from our hotel room at the Ritz Carlton.

  • Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Chair detail, part of the King Tut Exhibit in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Part of the King Tut Exhibit in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Stone used for preparing mummies
  • Mummified bodies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Mummified Cats in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Mummified Cats in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  • Egyptian Museum in Cairo

The new Grand Egyptian Museum, located near the pyramids in Giza has yet to open (even as of April 2020) but it was clear even in late 2018 that items were being prepared for the move and entire sections of the museum were closed and being crated up. Even so, the state of disrepair and neglect of exhibits inside the museum was apparent everywhere we looked. It was also sweltering (no A/C, not climate controlled) and very crowded inside. That said, the artifacts are priceless, and I would not have missed it. Scroll through the slideshow above to see some of the highlights.

Inside the Egyptian Museum
Inside the Egyptian Museum, crowded with too many people, dusty artifacts, and hot.

3. Islamic Cairo

The sights in this area of the city took two days of touring and covered multiple stops. We visited several stunning mosques, the gates to the city, the Gayer Anderson house, and many market areas.

Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin

Our first stop was the austere Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin which dates back almost 1200 years to AD 879. Scroll through the slideshow below to see this gorgeous building.

  • Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin
  • Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin
  • Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin
  • Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulin

Gayer Anderson House Museum

Next to the mosque is the Gayer Anderson House Museum which is worth a visit to see the fantastic collection of Egyptian artifacts as well as the beautifully restored traditional Egyptian house. The museum is made up of two courtyard houses attached to the Mosque’s outer walls which date back to the 1600s. The Egyptian government restored the houses in the 1930s and shortly after they allowed a retired British army doctor to live in them on the condition he leave his substantial collection of artifacts upon his death (which he did, in 1945).
Scroll through the slideshow below to see some of the photos of this beautiful house.

  • Gayer Anderson House Museum
  • Gayer Anderson House Museum
  • Gayer Anderson House Museum
  • Gayer Anderson House Museum
  • Gayer Anderson House Museum

Al-Azhar Mosque

The Al-Azhar Mosque is still a working religious site and because of this, as women, we were required to be completely covered from head to toe. There were coverings for rent and women who helped us on and off with them.

Al-Azhar Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque
Al-Azhar Mosque
Kristina at the Al-Azhar Mosque

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali in the Citadel of Salah el-Din

The citadel is a fortress that sits atop a large hill in Cairo. At the top of that hill is the stunning Mosque of Muhammad Ahi. This Mosque reminded me of many of the ones we saw in Istanbul Turkey, and after I researched it, I discovered that the architect who designed it was Turkish in the early 1830s was Turkish! It also has an incredible view over the entire city which includes the Pyramids in the distance. Scroll through the slideshow below to see this beautiful space.

  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali inThe Citadel of Salah el-Din
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Cat in Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali
  • Mosque of Muhammad Ali

Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan

A madrassa is a school, and in the Islamic world, it is often connected to a Mosque. This building was constructed in the 1300s and is absolutely massive in scale.

The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan

Inside the Mosque it was relatively quiet and cool, and our guide took the time to explain some of the main ideas of Islam to us. Scroll through the slideshow of photos below to see inside, though it’s hard to convey the beauty and gigantic scale of this building in just a few photos.

  • Doorway in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Cat in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Carving detail in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Exterior Doorway in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • Doorway in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
  • The Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
Woman in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
Woman in the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan

4. The Khan el Khalili Bazaar and Market areas of Cairo

One of the first market streets we visited was “Tentmaker’s” street. This is located near the Bab Zuweila gate. The artisans who work in this alleyway, also known as Sharia Khayamiya, have been there for generations. While some make tents, most of the remaining vendors actually make the quilts and textiles that decorate these desert dwellings. This may be the only surviving covered street in Cairo.

Street of the Tentmakers in Cairo
Street of the Tentmakers in Cairo

Scroll through the photos below to see more of the market.

  • Transporting bread in the market in Cairo
  • Market in Cairo
  • One of the city gates near the market
  • In the market

While in the market, we visited El Fishawy, a well-known cafe that has hosted many visiting dignitaries in its private room which is where we also sat (along with a cat and her newborn kitten!). Scroll through the photos below to see that and other pics of the market.

  • El Fishawy, a restaurant inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar
  • El Fishawy, a restaurant inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar
  • Kitty inside El Fishawy, a restaurant inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar
  • In the market in Cairo
  • In the market in Cairo
  • In the market in Cairo
  • Inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar
Inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar
Inside the Khan al Khalili Bazaar

There is so much to see and do in Cairo, I hope this gives you just a taste of the possibilities. We saw so much more than what I’ve covered here, but it’s impossible to show everything so let me know if you have questions!

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Covered Arcade in Cairo Mosque
Covered Arcade in Cairo Mosque
View through metal screen
View through metal screen in Cairo Mosque

Have you ever planned a trip to Egypt? Thinking of doing it?
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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow so nice to read an article that highlights other sights than just the pyramids. Cairo looks amazing, and i can’t wait to visit!

    1. Thanks, yes, there is such a rich history there and so much to see!

  2. Absolutely loved your photos! As I started to read through your post I kept noticing how complex the stonework is – from the pyramids to the architecture, Egyptians have serious skills in stonework! Then you drew my eye to the intricate carvings, ironwork and the colours of traditional decor. Really enjoyed seeing through your eyes 🙂

    1. Thank you! Yes, the architecture, especially on the mosques, was absolutely stunning.

  3. Angie says:

    An interesting read about alternative things to see in Cairo. I saw the Tutenkhamen treasures when they came to London many years ago but I would love to see them in the museum of antiquities, that would be such a treat and I hear that the mask of the boy king will never leave the museum again due to its fragility. The mosque also reminds me sligtly of the one I visited in Abu Dhabi.

    1. I would go back just to see the new Grand Egyptian Museum when it finally opens. I’m sure the King Tut exhibit will be spectacular.

  4. Fantastic post! What a fascinating city. Egypt is high on our list, once we’re able to get out traveling again 🙂

    1. It really IS a fascinating city! It’s worth a couple of days extra beyond seeing the pyramids.

  5. thenomadicvegan says:

    It’s great that you took the time to really explore the city! My husband and I visited Cairo back in 2003, as part of our first trip together, overland from Cairo to Istanbul. I remember some of the places you mention here, especially Coptic Cairo, but I’d love to go back one day and explore it more thoroughly.

  6. wow so cool to see beyond the pyramids, I did manage to see some of the sites around the Khan el Khalili which I loved and want to go back to explore more. I felt the same way about the museum but they took our cameras and made us check them so sadly no pictures of the inside I’m glad I went and sad about the state of the place so hopefully they get the new one open soon.

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