At the tail end of a 3 week worldschooling trip across 4 countries, we landed in Cairo, Egypt. I had bucket list dreams of getting lost in busy markets, eating amazing food, and of course, seeing the famous pyramids and the Sphinx. We did all that and more, and now I’m back to share my itinerary and all my lessons learned for 3 days in Cairo with kids.
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Is Cairo Good for Kids?
Egypt is an incredible location for kids! From the world’s longest river, the Nile River, to the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx to the incredible millennia of history, it’s impossible not to be awed by Egypt.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with respect to safety in Egypt, and I leaned toward private transportation and guided tours. While I would have liked to experience more of local life in Cairo, I opted for convenience and letting someone else manage the logistics. I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the heat and the newness of the location, but I never felt unsafe.
One of the things I seek out when I’m taking a family trip is showing my boys different ways of living. I strongly believe that hate and division comes mostly from fearing what we don’t understand, and in my travels, I have constantly seen that people are good and helpful and that new doesn’t need to be scary. These are values our whole family embraces. If you haven’t spent much time in the Middle East and wonder if it’s safe to take kids there, I encourage you to consider it for a family vacation. It might prove to be one of the more transformative experiences you have together!
I want my kids to grow up knowing how to navigate new situations and keep their cool when they’re in unfamiliar places, so I welcome the opportunity to show them how big and incredible the world is. I think Cairo is good for kids for these and other reasons, and I’m glad we went!
Private VIP Airport Transfer in Cairo
Before we arrived, I booked a private VIP airport transfer from Cairo International Airport. In retrospect, I don’t think it was necessary, but I don’t regret booking it. Our guide met us inside the airport and helped us through customs and immigration. He handled our visa on arrival for $25 per person, but you can do this by applying for one ahead of time or getting it from the immigration official when you arrive. We did not check bags, but he would have helped with bag retrieval and transport as well.
We booked a round trip service, with private transportation to our hotel. Our guide did not ride with us to the hotel but just helped us get to our van and driver and wished us well.
There were parts of the process that actually seemed to take longer (on the departure side) with his help than it would have without it, but it was very useful on arrival when we were getting our bearings.
What to Do in Cairo with Kids
Normally I like to travel pretty slow, but on this trip, we were hitting 4 countries in 3 weeks (Iceland, UK, Israel, and Egypt). We were feeling pretty tired by the Egypt portion, so I ended up cutting out some activities that I really would have loved to do and see. I worried that if I pushed the pace too hard, we would all regret it! If we had had more energy, I would have split up our 3 days in Cairo as such:
Day 1 – Pyramids
Day 2 – Tour of Cairo – markets, Egyptian museum, Nile River cruise
Day 3 – Day trip to Alexandria or into the desert for adventure activities
In reality, our itinerary was this:
Day 1 – Pyramids
Day 2 – Tour of Cairo (no cruise, no Egyptian museum)
Day 3 – hang out at the hotel pool all day
This just means I need to come back to Egypt! I heard from so many worldschooling families that missing the southern part of the country, with Abu Simbel and Luxor, was unforgivable, but we just didn’t have time to fit it all in! If you’re feeling the same, don’t worry – you can do and see a ton of fun activities in Cairo with kids even if you only have a few days. The memories and the learning (omg! The history!) will last a lifetime. Now, onto the itinerary for 3 days in Cairo with kids.
Day 1: Private Tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara
We were already adjusted to the time zone, so we wasted no time after arriving in Egypt. On our first day in Cairo, we booked a private tour of the Giza pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and the Great Step Pyramid.
We worked with Mohamed from Airbnb Experiences for a private tour. He picked us up from the Marriott Mena House at 8:30 am, and had a separate driver in an air-conditioned bus ready to drive us the short way to the Giza pyramid complex. I wasn’t sure if we’d be ready to go that early, but it was the best time to visit the pyramids because it wasn’t yet insanely hot. Mohamed handled the the entrance fee and tickets for us, and we quickly got right up to the Great Pyramid.
Pre-kids, I never considered hiring a guide when I traveled, but I’m an enthusiastic convert. A guide can really bring alive the location, sharing history, context, and funny stories to keep everyone interested. They can also keep things moving and help you skip lines, which saves valuable time. In locations like Cairo, hiring a guide and driver is pretty inexpensive. The tour we took lasted more than half a day, and cost $50/person. For our group of 4, $200 + tip felt super reasonable for the value we received.
Is It Worth It To Go Into the Great Pyramid?
We chose not to pay extra to enter the burial chamber of the Great Pyramid. This is the only way you are allowed to touch the pyramids, but we saw plenty of people climbing on the lowest block of the pyramids. Our guide encouraged us to sit on it for pictures, so it seems they do not heavily enforce the “no touching” rule.
We had heard that the burial chamber is hot, small, and empty, so I worried how the kids would handle it and what would happen if they wanted to leave and we couldn’t. Ultimately, I’m glad we didn’t push this, because there was a ton to do and see and we didn’t need to squeeze any more into the day.
Camel Ride vs Carriage Ride around the Pyramids
As part of our tour experience, we were able to take either a camel ride or a horse drawn carriage around the back of the pyramids. We weren’t sure what to expect here, but it was an awesome view of not only the 3 big pyramids, but the 3 smaller pyramids made for the pharoah’s wives. It made for some of my favorite photos of the trip!
Adil and I had ridden camels in Dubai and didn’t love how slow they were, so in the heat of the Egyptian desert and with kids who were already fading, we opted for the carriage. It was tight! We had 1 adult and 1 kid in one carriage, and 2 adults and 1 kid in another. We were all squeezed in pretty tight, but it was a great way to get under the shade for a few minutes and not have to walk around.
If you have your heart set on a camel ride, it might be worth it for you, but we don’t regret taking the carriage at all. If your kids are in a similar age group to mine (6 and 8 at the time), I recommend the carriage for sure!
Before exiting the Giza pyramid complex, we stopped by a viewpoint of the Sphinx. The kids were really struggling with the heat by midday, so we opted not to go close to the Sphinx and just see it from afar. We were ready to retreat to the van for a little bit!
As a side note, I had searched high and low for a way for us to view the pyramids in private either before or after hours. I never could find any advertised VIP options for entering the pyramids alone. I later found a women-only tour that gets early morning private access, and I suspect that if you worked with a luxury travel advisor, that they might be able to make this happen. For anyone planning on their own, however, it doesn’t seem possible.
Saqqara, the Step Pyramid
In nearby Memphis, Egypt, we visited the much less busy Saqqara temple complex. Saqqara is the oldest of the pyramids of Egypt, and it was fascinating to compare it with the Great Pyramid in Giza and see how the construction techniques evolved over time. Saqqara is called the step pyramid because it is constructed like a giant staircase. It wasn’t until later centuries that the ancient Egyptians perfected the technique of a more gradual angle with smaller stones.
Though we visited Saqqara in the middle of the day (I don’t necessarily recommend this as it was SUPER hot!), I still loved my time there. Walking through the colonnade entrance to the pyramid complex was a vibe, and we practically had the place to ourselves.
PS there is a really interesting Netflix documentary about Saqqara that we watched in the days leading up to our trip to help the kids understand what they would be seeing. I recommend it!
Lunch and a Retreat to the Pool
After Saqqara, we had the option to keep going on to Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, to see some antiquities, but we needed some food! The kids had absorbed as much history as they could take, so we decided to cut the tour off after lunch and return to the hotel. This is what I love most about booking a private tour – you can adjust the itinerary and the pace to suit your needs. It works beautifully for families with kids visiting Cairo.
For lunch, our guide took us to the Mallorca Tourist Village. As you can tell by the name, it caters to visitors and they put on quite a show. Diners are welcomed with music and served a huge variety of delicious food – you only choose your drinks and the food just appears. They offer non-alcoholic drinks like water, soda, and tea. The food consisted of table-top grills that came sizzling and overflowing with lamb kebabs, grilled vegetables like onions and peppers, and chicken. Side dishes included falafel, roasted eggplant, hummus, baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, potatoes in a tomato broth, rice, and freshly baked pita.
Our guide Mohamed even got the band to come over and play a song to celebrate my son’s upcoming 9th birthday! It was insanely loud and very long, so we weren’t sorry when the song ended, but it was such a memorable moment and I doubt he’ll ever have another birthday song quite like it!
What I loved most about Mallorca Tourist Village was that they could accommodate our allergies. Everything on the table was nut- and egg-free, so my younger son could eat whatever he liked. One thing we found throughout Egypt was that they often put very thin chopped-up noodles in their rice, which made it unsafe for my husband with a gluten allergy to eat the rice at this lunch and in several other places. I had worried about nuts in the rice but definitely hadn’t worried that it wouldn’t be gluten free! Something to know if you are traveling to Egypt with food allergies.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and enjoyed dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: Private Tour of Cairo + Papyrus Shop
On our second day, my older son, our traveling teacher, and I went on a private tour of Cairo. My younger son wasn’t interested and I worried that after a day at the pyramids, he wouldn’t be able to stay interested and engaged and that we wouldn’t have an easy way to cut things short or adjust the tour. He and my husband stayed back at the hotel and had a quiet day playing games and enjoying the pool.
For our private tour of Cairo, I booked through Airbnb Experiences with Ragab. He picked us up from the hotel and had a separate driver able to take us throughout Cairo. I have a mixed review of our time with Ragab – he is an incredibly knowledgable guide and could speak thoughtfully about ancient Egyptian life and go in-depth on religion in particular. I learned a lot of things about Islam and Egypt and would absolutely recommend his tour for anyone interested in religion and history.
Where he fell a little short was in recognizing the needs of a family and keeping the information at a digestible level for an 8 year old. My son was trying his best to follow along, but quickly got overwhelmed with thousands of years of history. He got hot and bored and a little angry, so I asked Ragab if we could adjust our tour and keep things more at his level. Ragab happily agreed, and the rest of the day went better. I do recommend Ragab for families in Cairo, but you may need to speak up and not rely on him to craft the kind of tour you need for your family.
Khan el-Khalili Souk and al-Mansour Qalawun Mosque
Our private tour of Cairo started with a walk through the Khan el Khalili Bazaar, where shops were just starting to open up. We went back later after everything was hopping, and it was interesting to see the difference as the local market really came to life. It was a riot of people, sounds, smells, and activity.
After wandering through the maze of the market alleys, we stopped and got a private tour of the al-Mansour Qalawun mosque, which was ornate and beautiful. Ragab was able to get us special access to a bell tower, where we could look out over all of Cairo. It was a really special moment that we definitely couldn’t have gotten without him as our guide.
Ancient Bath House
After I asked Ragab to skip the next mosque he had planned, he switched gears seamlessly and guided us first to a street side stand for fresh juice and snack (this really perked up my son…don’t skimp on the snacks on city tours!!) and then to an ancient bath house. I didn’t get the name, but this ended up being one of my favorite parts of the tour.
We were alone in the bath house, which was carved from stone and set with marble. We saw ancient hot tubs carved into the rock, saw massage tables (flat stone tables), and wandered around this beautiful and completely overlooked piece of Egyptian history. It was nice to get inside and out of the heat, and the quiet moment was a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Cairo.
Papyrus Making Demonstration
The last stop on our private half-day tour of Cairo was a visit to one of the many papyrus stores in Cairo. We saw a demonstration of how papyrus is made by cutting reeds thinly, rolling them out flat, soaking them in water, weaving the strips of reeds together, and pressing them for 6 days until they are dry.
Yes, they pressured us to buy some papyrus, but I wanted to buy some and enjoyed the visit very much. We bought a large depiction of the Egyptian final judgement myth and they gave us 2 smaller papyri, one for each kid, with their name spelled in hieroglyphs. If you want to make sure you don’t overpay, you may want to avoid a stop at one of the touristy shops, but on my one day visiting around Cairo, I felt that it was worth it to not spend time seeking out other options.
It was a history lesson in the role that papyrus has played in human history; it was interesting, and it gave us a chance to bring home a souvenir we won’t find from anywhere else.
What to See in Cairo with Kids
If we had had more stamina, there were other options for us to during our private VIP tour of Cairo. Our guide suggested that we visit a perfume shop, where we could learn about perfume-making techniques and mix our own. We were ready to head back to our hotel by then, and I didn’t think it would be very interesting for my son, but had I been by myself, I would have loved that! Most Cairo tours will offer this as an option.
If we had wanted to spend more time around Cairo, our guide could have dropped us off at the Egyptian museum rather than return us to our hotel. The Egyptian museum is one of the best in the world, with ancient artifacts uncovered (or recovered) from ancient temples and tombs. If you’re looking for mummies, this is your spot. It is wonderful for younger kids, who may not always stay interested in museums (at least in my experience!)
Day 3: Day Trip from Cairo + Nile River Felucca Ride
If we had had more energy, I would have gotten out of Cairo for our last full day in Egypt and done one of the many amazing looking day trips I came across. I considered a private full day trip to Alexandria, a great place to see the sea, more history, and some ancient sites.
I also looked into a private full day tour of dune bashing, sand surfing, and a camel ride which looked amazing and would definitely keep the kids interested. This one allows children 2 and over.
I also would have booked a felucca ride on the Nile River because how can you come to Egypt and not see the Nile? A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat. There are tons of felucca cruises from Cairo, many of which include a dinner and musical performance. I hesitated to book an evening dinner cruise because the timing would keep my kids up too late, but they also have lunch cruises that would work better for families.
Where to Stay in Cairo with Kids
When I was looking at hotels in Cairo, I had one main goal: see the pyramids from everywhere. That left me really only one option: The Marriott Mena House Cairo. The Mena House has a fascinating history, going from a royal hunting lodge in 1869 to a private house for wealthy English expats in 1883 to the first version of the Mena Hotel in 1886. It served as a hospital in World War I. Since then, as a luxury hotel it has hosted royalty, heads of state, and countless celebrities.
In its current incarnation under the Marriott brand, it serves as a four star hotel with unparalleled views of the pyramids and a spectacular breakfast buffet. What I loved about this hotel was, of course, the view. I also loved the grounds, which were beautifully maintained and had plenty of space to wander around. The aforementioned breakfast buffet provided endless choice, and is included for Marriott Platinum rewards members.
What I didn’t love as much was the size. Marriott Mena House Hotel is a large hotel, and it caters to American and Asian tourists on organized tours, so large buses of tourists were constantly coming and going. I prefer smaller hotels and more personalized service, and the Marriott doesn’t really compare to true 5 star properties in this regard.
Another thing I didn’t love was the room sizes. We tried endlessly to get a room that was properly large enough for 2 adults and 2 children to fit, but when we arrived, we walked into a room with 2 double beds. I am an unapologetic bed snob, and I usually sleep alone in a king bed. Sharing a double with another adult was not going to happen! We were able to get a second adjoining room so we had a bit more room to spread out, but with a worse view.
Our first room was room 394, and it had a stunning view from the balcony. When we moved to adjoining rooms, we were put on the first floor, where we had a larger terrace, but where the view was much more obstructed.
The Mena House Hotel lacks much in the way of suites, and while room sizes were average with a small loveseat and a desk, they were not overly spacious.
My husband asked why we weren’t staying at one of the more luxury hotels in Cairo, like the St. Regis, the Ritz, or the Four Seasons. While I knew these properties would provide a better experience (and the newer St. Regis in the new part of Cairo is consistently a confusingly good deal), I had this vision of waking up with the pyramids as the first thing I saw in the morning that I just couldn’t shake. Marriott Mena House is the best place to stay if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a true luxury hotel in Cairo and you don’t mind not seeing the pyramids, I would recommend one of these other options.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, or want to avoid the crowds, there is an Airbnb villa rental that caught my eye near the Saqqara pyramids.
What to Wear in Cairo with Kids
Egypt is a Middle Eastern country, which means that it adheres to more conservative dress than is custom in Western countries. I thought long and hard about what to wear to the pyramids and throughout Cairo – I wanted to be comfortable but also look good in pictures! I also wanted to respect the local customs and not disrespect the culture.
For our day at the pyramids, I wore a white short-sleeved t-shirt from Athleta and this maxi skirt, paired with very comfortable tennis shoes from Paul Green. This let me get some air flow around my legs while staying covered, and the sneakers kept my feet comfortable but also covered from the sand and dust.
For our day touring around Cairo, I went with another dress, this one a knee-length v-neck dress with elbow-length sleeves that I picked up at Marshall’s (wish I could link it but I have linked similar ones below). I paired it with these Sam Edelman sandals, which are super comfortable and which look similar to the iconic Hermes slides but at 20% of the price. I wanted to keep my shoulders and arms at least partly covered, and I wanted my skirt to be on the longer side to maintain the modesty requirements of the mosques and other locations we were visiting.
My kids wore their normal t-shirts and shorts and sneakers everywhere in Egypt and they were totally fine.
A hat was another crucial part of my wardrobe. We visited in September and it was super hot. I just threw in a hat at the last minute, and I’m so glad I did. It made a huge difference in the desert sun.
My general packing tips for Cairo are to avoid form-fitting or revealing clothing. Tank tops are not a great choice, nor are mini-skirts. Opt for lightweight or performance fabrics that will help keep you cool and wick sweat. Aim to have your shoulders and knees covered, and even so, expect to get looked at as you wander the streets of Cairo.
Here’s my full packing list for Cairo:
- Maxi skirt, perfect for travel because it doesn’t wrinkle – I brought this in 2 colors
- Modest, cute dress for walking around Cairo
- Performance t-shirt because you will sweat!
- Comfortable sneakers that look good with a dress. Here’s another option from Sam Edelman, another brand I love
- Packable hat
- Anti-theft purse – this one had some bad reviews about the lining ripping but I shoved it full for 3 solid weeks and it held up beautifully
- Packing cubes – eBags are my go-tos
- Laundry soap bar so you can wash clothes in the hotel bathtub – this was one of the best things I discovered on our 3-week trip and I won’t travel without it now
Traveling in Egypt with Food Allergies
After our experience traveling in Israel with food allergies, I was nervous about Egypt, to say the least. Egypt proved to be even more challenging than Israel, due to the prevalence of nuts in their cuisine.
I also found that the level of English was not as high as in Israel, so I leaned on my Equal Eats translation cards a lot more. I was very happy to have printed off the Arabic cards and laminated them prior to our trip.
The Marriott Mena House has a stunning breakfast buffet daily. As any food allergy traveler knows, buffets can be terrifying. Though our server was more than happy to ask for a chef to walk me around the buffet and get my bearings on what was safe for my egg and nut/peanut allergy kid, we waited a very long time for someone to come help us.
The risk of cross contamination was high, with many dishes containing nuts or being garnished with them. However, we were able to find enough variety to keep him interested and full (though not without some tears about all the pastries he had to forego).
We did find that the Italian restaurant on property had pizza and pasta options that were safe, which was a joy! The pool restaurant also had several kid-friendly options that were safe.
When we were out in Cairo itself, we worked with a private tour guide for a tour of pyramids. He arranged a delicious lunch of grilled meats, vegetables, dips, and pita bread, all of which was safe and free from nuts and eggs. Of course, I still carried his epi pens and Benadryl with me and double checked everything with the wait staff. I did not breathe very easily when it came to staying safe with food allergies in Egypt, but we did make it through the entire trip with no reactions!
Lessons Learned Visiting Cairo with Kids
Our family had an amazing time visiting Cairo. The juxtaposition of modern Cairo and the ancient pyramids made for good conversations, so many learning opportunities, and it was overall a really impactful trip. I adored getting to share something as special as seeing the pyramids with the boys, and even though we bailed on our day trip from Cairo, we were still able to see and do a ton. I definitely recommend visiting Cairo with kids! Would you take the leap and plan a trip to Egypt with kids?
Want more Middle East content? Check out these other posts from our time in the region.