Cairo has been a popular tourist destination for thousands of years. Mediterranean cruises usually stop for one or two days at ports giving opportunities for shore excursions. Forward planning for visits to Cairo would be wise.
Mediterranean cruise ships usually dock at Port Said or Alexandria. Both ports are about two and half hours drive from Cairo. Whether travelling independently or with a ship-sponsored excursion, a day trip to Cairo that includes seeing the city sights and pyramids needs an early start. Alexandria has a train service to Cairo, making for a much more comfortable journey than by road. Also, if the ship stops for two days in Alexandria, visitors have a chance to see two Egyptian cities. There is an evening return train to Cairo from Alexandria which works well as long as the ship is docked in Alexandria for two days. If the ship is docked for just one day either in Alexandria or Port Said, it’s better to join an excursion organised by the cruise operators.
Many tourists aim first for the Pyramids at Giza, just outside Cairo. Then they estimate how much time is left to visit Cairo’s other sights. For travellers arriving by train from Alexandria at Cairo’s Rameses II train station, it’s best just to hire a taxi to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. There should also be enough time for a short camel ride. Don’t forget to see the Solar Boat Museum, one of whose exhibits is a boat made of Lebanese cedar wood. This was to convey the pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops in Greek, to his afterlife. Khufu ordered the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Ship excursions to Cairo will usually take about 12 hours and include the Pyramids. Some operators offer an overnight stay in Cairo during a longer excursion.
Museum of Antiquities
Visitors usually need about a week to see all of the exhibits at Cairo’s Museum of Antiquities, located just to the north of Tahrir Square. These date from the Prehistoric Period to the Roman Era and include the massive statue of Rameses II as well as the ever popular Tutankhamen room. Don’t forget to visit the re-opened Royal Mummy Room; the extra fee is worth it.
Old Cairo has some of the world’s most spectacular religious treasures. It is probably only second to Jerusalem for sites of interest to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Start at the 12th century Salah el Din Citadel, a fort that stands on a limestone crag just outside Cairo and visit the 18th century Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque. The Hanging Church in Old Cairo, dating from the 7th century, is the city’s most famous Coptic Church and is located above the gateway to an Old Roman fortress. The recently restored Ben Ezra Synagogue, once a Coptic Christian church that was sold to the Jewish community in the 9th century, is just behind the Hanging Church. Moses Maimonides, a famous medieval Rabbi, worshipped there. Don’t miss the 5th century Abu Serga Church built on the spot where the Holy Family stopped on their journey to Egypt. The 9th century Ibn Tulun Mosque is Cairo’s oldest mosque, while the Al-Azhar Mosque and University, dating from the 10th century, are part of one of the oldest universities in the world.