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Cairo is one of the world's great megacities. As beautiful as it is crazy, and as rich in historic finery as it is half dilapidated, Cairo tends to be a city that travelers love and hate in equal measures. Its sheer noise, pollution, and confounding traffic are an assault on your senses, but look beyond the modern hubbub, and you'll find a history that spans centuries. Full of vigor, Cairo is where you really get a feel for Egyptian street life. No trip to Egypt is complete without a stay in the city Arabs call Umm al-Dunya (The Mother of the World). Find the best places to visit and interesting things to do in this buzzing metropolis with our list of the top attractions in Cairo.
The Pyramids of Giza are Cairo's number one half-day trip and a must-do attraction on everyone's itinerary. Right on the edge of the city, on the Giza Plateau, these fourth dynasty funerary temples have been wowing travelers for centuries and continue to be one of the country's major highlights. Despite the heat, the dust, and the tourist hustle, you can't miss a trip here.
The Pyramid of Cheops (also called the Great Pyramid or Pyramid of Khufu) is the largest pyramid of the Giza group, and its interior of narrow passages can be explored, although there isn't much to see, except a plain tomb chamber with an empty sarcophagus.
Directly behind the Great Pyramid is the Solar Boat Museum, which displays one of the ceremonial solar barques unearthed in the area that has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.
The absolutely staggering collection of antiquities displayed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum makes it one of the world's great museums. You would need a lifetime to see everything on show.
The museum was founded in 1857 by French Egyptologist August Mariette and moved to its current home — in the distinctive powder-pink mansion in Downtown Cairo — in 1897. Yes, the collection is poorly labeled and not well set out due to limits of space (and only a fraction of its total holdings are actually on display). It also suffers currently with some empty cases due to artifacts having been transferred to the GEM, but you still can't help being impressed by the sheer majesty of the exhibits.
Al-Azhar Mosque is the finest building of Cairo's Fatimid era and one of the city's earliest surviving mosques, completed in AD 972. It's also one of the world's oldest universities — Caliph El-Aziz bestowed it with the status of university in AD 988 (the other university vying for "oldest" status is in Fes) and today, Al-Azhar University is still the leading theological center of the Islamic world.
The main entrance is the Gate of the Barbers on the northwest side of the building, adjoining the neo-Arab facade built by Abbas II. Leave your shoes at the entrance and walk into the central courtyard. To your right is the El-Taibarsiya Medrese, which has a mihrab (prayer niche) dating from 1309. From the central courtyard, you get the best views of the mosque's five minarets, which cap the building. Across the courtyard is the main prayer hall, spanning a vast 3,000 square meters. The front half is part of the original building, while the rear half was added by Abd el-Rahman.
In a commanding location at the foot of the Mokattam Hills, Cairo's citadel was built by Saladin in 1176. The original structure he laid out has long disappeared except for the eastern outer walls, but a legacy of rulers has made their own additions here.
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali is the most famous monument and the main reason for visiting. Nicknamed the "Alabaster Mosque," its white stone and tall, disproportionately slender minarets are one of Cairo's great landmarks. The other big reason to come up here are the views across the city; head to the Gawhara Terracefor the best panorama in town.
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