This blog post was updated on August 2, 2019.

If you want to put on your Indiana Jones hat and explore Cairo, chances are, you’ll be directed to the Pyramids of Giza. Coming at you from every postcard stand across the city, Cairo is proud of housing the last remaining wonders of the ancient world and for good reason. While those pyramids seem to get all the love when it comes to ancient sites in and around the city, you might be surprised to find a wealth of other historic treasures lurking in the area. After exploring the Pyramids of Giza, try out these old timers in and around Cairo; all you have to do is find some cheap international flights to get there to begin your adventure!

Coptic Cairo

Main Gate of the Hanging Church (El Muallaqa) in Coptic Cairo - Egypt

Upon first glance of Cairo, you’d think it to be just a modern, sprawling city. However, dive into Old Cairo and you’ll find a very different scene. Set on the southern edges of the city, this section of Cairo lays claim to Coptic Cairo, the heart of the old city settlement. The area once held the Babylon Fortress, a 6th century BC creation that was later expanded under Roman Emperor Trajan. You can still spot traces of the walls of the fortress today. Coptic Cairo also houses the city’s oldest church (the Hanging Church), the oldest mosque (Mosque of Amr Ibn Al Aas), and the oldest synagogue (the Ben Ezra Synagogue). You can explore all three while getting lost in another interesting part of Cairo’s past.

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The Pyramid of Djoser

Ancient step pyramid of Djoser (Zoser) at Saqqara plateau, Egypt, near Cairo

While the Pyramids of Giza might be grander, they had to start somewhere and that somewhere may as well have been less than an hour from Cairo. Set up in Saqqara, the largest archeological site in the country, ancient history fans will want to make their way to the Pyramid of Djoser. While this step pyramid measures under 200 feet tall, it is believed to be the earliest stone monument in the world. Built between 2630 BC and 2611 BC, the pyramid was commissioned for Pharaoh Djoser, the second king of the third dynasty of ancient Egypt. His architect, Imhotep, ended up designing a structure that later influenced those famous Pyramids of Giza. He strayed away from using mud bricks and instead implored stone. The structure was also considered unique at the time with its step construction. While you can’t visit the interior and the burial chambers within, you can marvel at the entire funerary complex, including this revolutionary pyramid, on a day trip from Cairo.


Panoramic view to Bent Pyramid of Sneferu Pharao and Red satellite Pyramid , Dahshur, Cairo, Egypt

Head a bit farther south, a little over 20 miles from Cairo, and you can meet a pair of pyramids that don’t draw the crowds and tourists of those up in Giza. The archaeological site of Dahshur was originally home to a number of pyramids, but today only two remain, both built for Pharaoh Sneferu. Both of the same size, the two pyramids collectively are the third largest in all of Egypt, only falling behind the two largest at Giza. The first, the Bent Pyramid, takes its name from its unusual appearance. When architects tried to build it at a steep 54-degree angle, instability resulted in a change of plans to 43 degrees, causing the pyramid to look bent. The other, the Red Pyramid, can be entered by way of over 120 steps.

The Cairo Citadel

Citadel of Saladin

While not as ancient as the Pyramids, the Cairo Citadel still warrants a look for its history. Built by Saladin (the first sultan of Egypt and Syria) in 1176, the fortification would later be expanded, rebuilt, and retouched by Egypt’s rulers for the next 700 years. Its commanding location was by design — perched on a hill above the city, proving ideal from a defensive standpoint. While much of its 12th-century origins don’t remain, the citadel still provides a wealth of attractions from mosques to palaces to museums to camera-ready viewpoints.

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The Serapeum of Saqqara

The ruins in Saqqara, Cairo - Egypt

Due northwest of the Pyramid of Djoser, you can marvel at one of ancient Egypt’s unique underground burial chambers — the Serapeum of Saqqara. With origins around 1400 BC, this ancient site holds underground galleries with large stone tombs dedicated to sacred Apis bulls. Believed to be living incarnations of the god Ptah, the bulls were mummified, placed in stone sarcophagi, and then taken down into the Serapeum. This ancient site is unique as it displays an animal necropolis big enough for a bull.

There is so much history to soak up in Cairo, that it would be a shame to stop your excursions just at the Pyramids of Giza. Start looking for cheap international flights, plug these ancient sites into your itinerary, and discover a whole other side of Cairo that you would not have imagined in your wildest dreams!

Have you been to any of these ancient sites in and around Cairo? Share your experiences with us in the comments section.

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About The Author

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at