After living here for two months, I’ve finally created my ultimate Cairo Egypt Travel Guide for 2021! Although there’s A LOT more to see in Egypt than just Cairo, chances are you’ll be starting and ending here, so this info is great to know!
Some of the things I’ll cover are best areas to stay in, things to do, safety concerns, and other important tips, like how to dress! There are so many misconceptions about Egypt in general, and I get tons of questions every day, so hopefully this can clear some of them up!
If you have any questions, please drop them below in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them!
Want to travel to Egypt with a like-minded group of people? Check out my Group Trips here next year!
Or if you’d like to go at any time with a guide, or arrange transportation/chaperone services, please contact my friends at Lady Egypt Tours!
Where is Cairo, Egypt?
Many people wonder “where is Cairo, Egypt”? and don’t even realize that it’s on the continent of Africa! It’s all the way up in the North-East, giving it coastlines on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea!
It is considered part of the Middle East, with neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Its African neighbors are Libya and Sudan.
Current Entry Requirements & Visa Info
While Egypt does currently accept a vaccine card from approved companies, right now it’s still a good idea to get a PCR test prior to arrival anyway. This is because there is ever-changing policies and rules, plus if you have a layover, you might need a test instead of vax card there.
Read this carefully because it is VERY confusing! Some airlines require a QR code for your PCR TEST! Not even the vax! The actual test! Be sure you tell your testing place you need one, or else you’ll go crazy trying to convert one online!
Here’s the full list of Egypt’s Entry Requirements and Visa Info:
- Vaccine QR Code (can’t just be the card, and only some states offer the QR code. Google “Vaccine QR code for my state” to try and get yours)
- OR/AND negative RT-PCR test (with QR code) *NOTE: RT means “real time” or “reverse transcription” NOT “rapid test” – DO NOT GET A RAPID TEST
- e-Visa from this website OR visa upon arrival, both for $25 (pay in USD or Egyptian LE in CASH if you do it upon arrival), standard visa is for 30 days.
Money and SIM Cards
The current exchange rate is around 15 Egyptian pounds (LE) per 1 USD. You can either bring your home currency and exchange it at the airport, OR just use an ATM (what I usually do). Do not try to exchange USD for LE in the U.S. They don’t have it.
Most places accept credit cards like Visa or Mastercard (not AMEX), but you’ll want cash to shop in markets and tip people.
SIM Cards are super easy and cheap. Get an Orange SIM Card at the airport for about $10 for 9 GB which should last you a month. Keep in mind that your phone MUST be unlocked to use a SIM Card. If you’ve never used one before, check out my super easy How to Use a SIM Card Guide.
UPDATE: If you don’t want to be bothered with SIM cards, I just tried a new e-SIM called Airalo that is SUPER easy! Just download the app and follow the instructions! Use the code ALYSSA258 for $3 off!
Culture, Religion, Language & Why They Matter
I’m not going to lie, I’ve only been to a handful of countries where English isn’t widely known as a second language, and where I also have to cover up, and Egypt is one of them. But it’s really not that big of a deal, so please don’t worry about it.
Egypt Religion: is predominately Islamic (Muslim). Which means you’ll see many women wearing hijabs (head coverings) however some don’t! You’ll hear the “call to prayer” around 6 times per day, which is actually quite lovely, and then you’ll see men praying, sometimes right on the floor wherever they are.
Originally the Egyptian religion was its own, and they prayed to their own Egyptian gods. But of course takeovers happened, and the most recent one was by the Arabians, so now the religion is Muslim.
Egypt Language: Along with the Muslim religion, came the language of Arabic. As I mentioned above, English is not widely known as a second language, which makes it hard to talk to people. But most guides and most market vendors speak English. You can also just use a translating app, or even a language learning app to try and learn some Arabic!
Egypt Culture: The most noticeable things about the culture in Cairo, are that everyone goes out at night and seems to sleep or stay inside during the day. Makes sense since it’s very hot during the day. Ironically though, there’s not a huge night-party-scene, because most people don’t drink! It’s part of their religion. They do seem to smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink a lot of coffee though. Contrary to some hearsay, women do work, and yes they wear hijabs, but some don’t. You are also not required to wear one. You ARE however, expected to cover up!
How to Get Around Cairo Egypt
Great news! Uber exists in Cairo Egypt, and it’s really cheap! It may be a little difficult at times because they give you the license place in numerals, and they’re actually written in Arabic, and it’s also likely the drivers only speak Arabic as well. However, you can still see what kind of car it is, and the drivers are pretty good at finding you!
Where to Buy Wine/Alcohol in Cairo Egypt
I usually don’t include sections on my posts about where to buy wine or alcohol, but since it’s actually a hard thing to do in Egypt, here it is! To be honest, in my first couple of weeks here, I just didn’t drink, because either no where I went served alcohol, or I felt awkward drinking by myself. Remember; the Muslim religion doesn’t allow them to drink alcohol! Although these days, some do.
Anyway, for the most part, any big hotel will serve alcohol, but they charge a lot for it. Luckily though, there is a liquor store chain called Drinkies that will help you out drastically! They offer the cheapest prices for wine I’ve seen in all of Egypt, plus they deliver!
Food Delivery Services
If you don’t want to go out to eat, you can easily get food delivered to you. You just need to know the name or address of your hotel!
The ones I use for food are ElMenus and Talabat.
And as I mentioned above, Drinkies delivers alcohol, but the website is a bit difficult to navigate.
For groceries, you can get literally anything on Gourmet Market! I even found Beyond Burgers and vegan cheese slices!
Best Areas of Cairo Egypt, What to Do, & Where to Stay
The confusion shall now continue, but I will try to make it as easy as possible for you. I personally had no idea where to stay or what the best areas of Cairo Egypt were, and got lucky guessing. For the most part of my two months here, I stayed in Zamalek, which I really liked, but I also stayed Downtown-ish, and in Giza.
Giza technically isn’t “in Cairo”, but it’s right next to it, and where the pyramids are, so I’m including it in the Cairo Egypt Guide.
Here’s the differences in the areas, and where I stayed (if I stayed there):
Cairo Egypt Travel Guide for: Zamalek
Said to be the “fancy” area of Cairo, Zamalek is actually a small island on the Nile, in between Cairo and Giza! It’s where supposedly a lot of foreigners live, and thus, also more expensive than most other areas. It reminded me of a mini, much older, much smaller Manhattan.
What to do in Zamalek
There’s a lot of nice restaurants in Zamalek, and even a few bars! For cheap local food, check out Zooba (there’s even one in NYC now), or Abou El Sid. There’s a good italian restarant called La Trattoria (that serves wine), and also a funky fun place with a Beyond Burger called Monkey Bar and Grill.
For a cool vibe and great view of the Nile, check out Zamalek Rooftop. Just to warn you, it’s located inside of the Nile Zamalek Hotel, which definitely looks sketchy from the outside and in the lobby! They serve wine and beer here as well.
Oh! And if you’re wondering where I got my hair done (full extensions and highlights), it’s called Toi Beauty Salon! They also do nails and massages for a reasonable price!
Where to Stay in Zamalek:
Another fair warning — you may find cute places on Airbnb to rent in Zamalek, but most of them are in old, seemingly-abandoned buildings. The two I stayed in were really awesome inside, and for a great price, but getting up to them in the buildings they were in was sketchy. Maybe too sketchy for some of you, especially if you’re a solo female traveler.
So I will give you the link to them here (he has multiple properties and was a great host). But I will also recommend staying at hotels like the ones below:
Many of the luxury hotels are located along the Nile, and offer stunning views of it along with the comfort of luxury. When I needed a break from the grit and bustle of Zamalek, I went and stayed at the five star hotels along the Nile Corniche for a refreshing getaway, almost like an oasis in the desert city.
What to Do in Downtown Cairo
To be completely honest, I didn’t wander far from the hotels when I stayed in them. I didn’t need to since they have their own restaurants, pool, bar, and views of the city! But they are also very centrally located to all the sightseeing you could want to do in Cairo. Plus you can feel comfortable wearing whatever you want at the big hotels (to an extent).
Also located in Downtown Cairo, is the Old Egyptian Museum, and the Khan el Khalil Market!
My favorite hotels in Downtown Cairo are:
Four Seasons Nile Palace
Obviously you can’t go wrong staying at a Four Seasons hotel. I was REALLY happy to hear that there was one in Cairo, because I knew it would be exactly what I needed to refresh and revamp after exploring the beautiful but chaotic city.
The Four Seasons Nile Palace was especially favorable, because it also has two amazing restaurants in it as well! Bullona, which is also a popular nightly hot spot for locals, offers the best sashimi I tasted in all of Egypt. No joke! It has a stunning atmosphere, and really incredible nightlife vibe! You may forget you’re even in Egypt! Then there’s 8 Restaurant which serves Asian cuisine, like dim sum!
Additionally, the hotel’s breakfast restaurant is an exquisite experience all together! The dining room itself is immaculately decorated, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the Nile. You absolutely must try the Four Season’s very own creation; croissant-waffles! They’re seriously drool-worthy! I also really liked the smoked salmon eggs Benedict, and the array of local food choices.
For pool lovers like me, you’ll also adore the massive 3-piece swimming pool at the Four Seasons Nile Palace, which also offers several private cabanas! There’s also an indoor pool inside of the spa, and a beauty salon!
The Kempinski Nile differs from any other Kempinski property because it’s actually a boutique hotel! It has so many charming yet cozy touches, that again, you might forget you’re even in Egypt! But the best part of all, at least for me, is the incredible view from the rooftop pool!
Head up to it for a spectacular panoramic view of the Nile and the city-scape on the other side of it. Sunsets are unbeatable from up there as well! Be sure to grab a chair early, because this little gem is no secret!
If you’re not staying at the Kempinski Nile, you can still go up to the pool for food and drinks! Pool access is only for guests though!
You can also head to the Kempinski Nile for dinner at their luxurious restaurant called Osmanly! Where you’ll be treated like royalty, and also given so much food that you won’t want to eat anything else for a week!
Le Riad Hotel de Charme
For a truly surreal experience of both luxury and culture shock, stay at Le Riad Hotel de Charme! Designed like an actual Moroccan Riad, and located right in the bustling Khan el Khalili market, your senses will be constantly overloaded and delighted!
Each room in Le Riad is decorated differently, and looks like something you’d see in a royal palace. With rich gem stone colored walls, intricate chandeliers, and antique furniture, you’ll feel transported to another era. On the rooftop you’ll find a restaurant with delicious Egyptian cuisine, and an incredible panoramic view of the market that will give you serious Aladdin vibes.
Step foot outside the doors of Le Riad, and you’re in one of the most popular sites in Cairo! In the market you’ll find vendors selling trinkets, clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, and a whole lot more! Be sure to practice your bargaining skills, by trying to get prices down to half of what they ask!
In the Khan el Khalili market, you can also find many popular photo spots. There’s several lantern shops, easy to find in the evening, and the one token shot that I’ll pin point on the map.
The market is relatively safe, just be sure to keep a hand on your belongings. Feel free to say no, and be aware that people will likely keep asking. You can either keep saying no thanks, or just ignore them. It also is open all night, with more shops and cafes opening then as well!
Cairo Egypt Travel Guide For: Giza
Again, Giza is NOT in Cairo, it is next to it. But it’s another area you can stay in, especially if your main focus of your trip is the pyramids! Because the pyramids are actually located in Giza, not Cairo!
What to do in Giza
I mostly stayed in Giza when I was doing my “work days”, which means I stay inside and work all day but still want a great view during my breaks. Personally I don’t think there’s a ton of other exciting things to do in Giza besides going places with pyramid views, but for me that’s worth it!
Here’s where I stayed in Giza:
Gem Plaza Apartments
This place is really great if you want to stay in the Cairo-Giza area for longer than a few days. Gem Plaza has many huge apartments, for really affordable prices! Plus a rooftop sitting area with a beautiful view of the pyramids! It’s owned by the tour company I collaborate with here called Lady Egypt, and their office is on the top floor. So literally ANYTHING you may need, you can simply just go upstairs and they’ll arrange it.
By the way, in addition to tours, they can also just arrange things like a driver and “body guard” for you to go do things like shop or eat! It’s a really great option if you’re worried about safety, getting lost, or just being out and about on your own in Egypt.
Can you imagine swimming in a pool on a beautiful summer day, with a view of the great pyramids in the background? Make your dreams come true at the Steigenberger Pyramid View!
The Steigenberger is listed as a five star hotel, and offers two restaurants. Fair warning, the alcoholic beverages are very expensive, so you may want to stop by a Drinkies store to grab your own wine!
Marriott Mena House
Full honesty, I did NOT actually stay at Mena House, i just go there to eat and for the epic views of the pyramids. Mena House is the closest hotel to the pyramids, and they’ve created a beautiful garden and reflection pool where the restaurants are, that give a truly unique oasis view of the world wonders. You may even be able to visualize what it looked like thousands of years ago, when the Nile River flowed there!
That being said, if you want the epic view and photo, but don’t want to spend a fortune on a hotel, just go to Mena house for a meal or drink! Their Indian restaurant there is actually REALLY good, and reasonably priced!
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