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Gazing at the pyramids of Egypt for real – a childhood dream come true

by Flitter Fever
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Got plans to go to Egypt and see the pyramids? In this article you will find practical information about visiting the best pyramids near Cairo, the bustling capital of Egypt. Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis, Djoser Pyramids and the Funerary Complex of King Teti. Learning about Egyptian hieroglyphics and history at school, Egypt fascinated me since childhood. By chance I finally went last month, a little later than expected yet full of anticipation. A childhood dream come true!

Gazing at the beautiful pyramids of Giza, some of the most fantastic pyramids near Cairo

Distances mentioned at the sites below are measured from Tahir Square in the heart of Cairo.

Giza Pyramids

Although Giza (Gizeh) is often considered part of Cairo, it has its own governance. Giza is actually the 3rd largest city of Egypt! When people talk about Giza, they often mean the Giza Plateau, which includes 9 pyramids, 3 larger ones and 6 smaller pyramids. There is a view point (see map below) from where you can see all 9 pyramids together. Every evening there is a light show, which you can see from some nearby hotels (see Where to stay). Climbing the pyramids is not allowed.

Pyramids are tombs built to facilitate the pharaoh’s after-life, symbolizing power and religion.

Great Pyramid

The main pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Cheops, also known as the Great Pyramid of Khufu or Giza Pyramid, is one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the only one that still exists. It is more than 4500 years old (2560-2580 BC)! A great site to walk around and gaze at the pyramids for real. Just ignore the local sales men and enjoy!

Egyptian man with camel at pyramid in Giza

It is teeming with camels and local guides who all want to make a conversation (and money). Just smile and say “La sjukran”, meaning “No thank you”.

  • Distance 25 min (19km)
  • Opening hours daily 08:00-16:00h
  • Great Pyramid closed from 12:00h – 13:00h
  • Light show Mon-Tue-Wed-Fri-Sat 20:30h (18:30h in winter), Thu 21.30h (19:30h in winter)

Unfortunately the interior was robbed empty, like many things in Egypt. The mummies are in museums. I would say it is not worth paying extra for going inside here, it is not like the Tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor or in the movies. But if you are looking for the best pyramids near Cairo, the pyramids of Giza should definitely be on your to-do-list!

Admission fees Giza

  • Giza pyramid area EGP 200 adult
  • Great Pyramid inside EGP 400 adult (optional)
  • Khafre Pyramid inside EGP 100 adult (optional)
  • Mers Ankh Tomb inside EGP 50 adult (optional)
  • Light show EGP 60 adult (optional)
  • 50% discount for students
Desert at Giza Plateau Egypt
The sun is shining at the Pyramid of Cheops a.k.a. Great Pyramid of Khufu a.k.a. Giza Pyramid, one of the best pyramids near Cairo

Great Sphinx of Giza

This limestone statue is a mythical mix of a lion body with a human head with a damaged nose. The Sphinx is part of the Giza Plateau and they are on a short walking distance from each other. The statue is the oldest monumental sculpture of Egypt, constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khafre (2532-2558 BC). Although 73m long and 20m high, I imagined it bigger than it appeared in real-life, yet cool to see anyway!

  • Distance 32 min (21 km)
  • Opening hours daily 08:00-16:00h
  • Admission fee EGP 200 adult*
  • Camel ride EGP 350 per hour

* show entrance ticket of Giza pyramid area to get in for free

The Great Sphinx and Pyramid on Giza Plateau near Cairo Egypt

Memphis

Memphis in Egypt (not USA) is one of the oldest and most important capitals of ancient Egyptian times, dating back 3150 BC, even before Djoser. At the time, traders, pilgrims and kings were drawn to Memphis, nowadays mainly tourists visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not a pyramid but Memphis is an interesting historical site near Cairo that I found worth visiting. Best to visit by the end of the afternoon, once most tourists are gone.

The current site includes only a sneak preview of what it used to be. An open air museum with sculptures, ruins of pillars, stone sarcophagi, hieroglyphics, a mini Sphinx, souvenir stalls and several cute street dogs. Inside there is a huge lying statue of Ramses II discovered in 1820. Ramses II is considered the most important pharaoh of Egypt.

  • Distance 45 min (32 km)
  • Opening hours daily 08:00h – 16:00h
  • Admission fee EGP 80
Memphis outdoor museum near Cairo
Ramses II statue in Memphis

The chaos of nearby town Mit Rahinah brings a smile to my face, so photogenic with butchers, local school girls, old men sitting on benches, etc.

Djoser Pyramid

Saqqara is the home of the Pyramid of Djoser, also known as Step Pyramid, the oldest pyramid of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike most other pyramids with four straight sides, what makes the Pyramid of Djoser so special is not only its age, but also its unique construction of huge stone blocks that form steps. Djoser is absolutely one of the must-see pyramids near Cairo!

A labyrinth of chambers and tunnels of almost 6 km is located underneath the pyramid, leading to a central room. Djoser is the name of the 1st or 2nd King of the 3rd Dynasty (2650-2670 BC) of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Saqqara served as necropolis, basically a big cemetery with many tombs, for nearby city Memphis.

  • Distance 45 min (32 km)
  • Opening hours daily 08:00h – 16:00h
  • Admission fee Saqqara EGP 180
The Pyramid of Djoser up close, one of the best pyramids near Cairo in egypt
In front of the entrance of the Pyramid of Djoser, one of the best pyramids near Cairo

Imagine how the pyramids were made by hand centuries ago, without the modern machinery we have now.

Tombs King Teti & Mereruka

Also located in Saqqara are the Funerary Complex of King Teti and the Tombs of Mereruka. Teti was the first pharaoh in the 6th Dynasty of Egypt (2181-2345 BC). The Funerary Complex of King Teti can be visited by descending through a tunnel so low that you constantly have to bend over. I had a look inside the sarcophagus; there were hieroglyphics but no mummy.

Mereruka was Teti’s son-in-law (married to the pharaoh’s daughter) and a powerful priest. The type of tomb Mereruka was buried in, rectangular with a flat roof, is called mastaba. With 33 rooms the Mastaba of Mereruka is the largest tomb in Saqqara of a non-royal born person.

Outside the The Funerary Complex of King Teti Saqqara Egypt
Hieroglyphics at The Tombs of Mereruka Saqqara Egypt

More pyramids

There are more pyramids and historical sites along the Nile, such as the pyramids of Dashur and the Pyramid of Neferirkare (see map below), but the above are – in my humble opinion – the best pyramids near Cairo, most worth to visit within an hour from the city within a day.

Map

This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. To customize the map to your interests, simply (un)select categories. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.

How to get to the pyramids near Cairo

First of all, you will probably take an airplane to Cairo International Airport (CAI). Check Skyscanner for all flight possibilities to Cairo. Egypt Air is the national airline that offers both international and domestic flights.

To the pyramids, Memphis, etc. you can take a taxi or join a guided tour, private or in a group, whatever you prefer. Uber works in Cairo; easy to use via the app with credit card, sometimes with a verification code for the driver after stepping in. Official taxis are often white and have an orange license plate. Working seat belts not guaranteed.

The mini-vans that drive around the city are for locals, not tourists. I would not recommend to rent a car in Egypt because of the local driving style, tourist police, accident rate and chance to end up somewhere you should not.

The Pyramid of Djoser, one of the best pyramids near Cairo
It is easy to walk around at the Pyramid of Djoser by yourself

Once you are at the pyramids, you can walk around, ride a camel or horse, or take an adventurous quad ride! With regards to walking around at Giza, I would suggest to do that in a group or with someone else, as the local street sellers can be quite annoying and pushy, especially when walking around alone. Wearing a headscarf may also help.

Guided tour

A guided tour is easy and the expertise of the guide can add value. Keep in mind that sustainable tourism includes providing work to locals. If you did not get here as part of a bigger group round trip, you may want to check out the day tours at GetYourGuide and Viator including reviews.

Where to stay

The best location to spend the night depends on your personal preferences, plans and budget. You can decide to stay in Cairo and travel to the pyramids for a day, or you can spend the night in one of the hotels near the Giza Plateau for example. If you manage to book a hotel with pyramid view, you can watch the lightshow in the evening for free from your room or balcony!

Marriott Mena House

Located right at Pyramid’s Road, the five-star Marriott Mena House offers the luxury of seeing the pyramids of Giza while having breakfast or a glass of champagne in the evening at sunset. If your budget does not allow you to spend the night there, you can always consider breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a drink here and enjoy the view for a few bucks. Room prices start around EUR 145 per night including breakfast.

Marriott Mena House
Panorama Pyramids Inn

Panorama Pyramids Inn

Less than 5 min from the Sphinx, the Panorama Pyramids Inn provides a comfortable stay and a fantastic terrace view on the pyramids of the Giza Plateau as a big bonus. Great location, 24/7 reception, free Wi-Fi, restaurant, air-conditioning and very affordable. Room prices start around EUR 32 per night including breakfast, a bargain for what is offered.

Dutch or Belgian?

Kom je uit Nederland of België en zou je ook graag eens naar Egypte op reis gaan? Kijk dan eens naar de reizen van Djoser, inderdaad vernoemd naar de mooie trappenpiramide. Ik heb deze reis zelf ook met Djoser gedaan en dat is mij uitstekend bevallen. Later zal ik hier nog meer over schrijven.

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Have you ever been to Egypt? Seen a pyramid for real? I hope this article was useful for you to explore the most beautiful pyramids near Cairo, plus some other interesting historical sites. Soon I will post another article containing more information about Egypt including Cairo sightseeing. Should you have any question or comment, please feel free to post one below.

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