It’s by far the largest city in Egypt and with an estimated population of over 21 million inhabitants, the largest city in Africa as well. Cairo offers a fascinating mix of ancient Egyptian monuments and Islamic architecture in a sprawling city near the Nile Delta.
Even though the modern-day city of Cairo was only founded in the year 969 A.D. during the Fatimid Caliphate, some remnants of the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis can still be found in the historic area of the city known as “Old Cairo.”
The city is also home to the largest film industry in the Arab world and one of the oldest educational institutions in the world known as the Al-Azhar University. Moving around in the city can be done by metro, one of only two metro systems in all of Africa, the other one being in Algiers, Algeria.
If you plan to visit this fascinating city in Egypt, then here are some of the most famous buildings in Cairo to put on your bucket list.
1. Giza Necropolis
The Giza Necropolis, also known as the “Giza Pyramid complex,” is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt, mainly because it features some of the country’s most famous landmarks.
Located on the outskirts of Cairo on the Giza plateau, the necropolis covers a huge area of 16,203.36 hectares (40,039.37 acres) and is home to the world’s tallest pyramid known as the “Great Pyramid of Giza,” built by Pharaoh Khufu around 2600 B.C.
The other main attractions apart from the various mortuary and valley temples are the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, as well as the Great Sphinx of Giza, arguably one of the best-recognized ancient Egyptian monuments ever built.
The great recent news is that the Egyptian Minister of Tourism is putting in a lot of effort to make the site more tourist-friendly. About €17,000,000 will be spent towards this goal in the early 2020s.
Info on UNESCO website: Memphis and Giza Necropolis
2. Cairo Tower
Towers with observation platforms are usually one of the best locations in a city to get a clear overview of the place. That’s especially the case in a city as flat as Cairo.
One of the most remarkable towers in the city is called the “Cairo Tower,” a structure completed between 1956 and 1961 located on Gezira Island in the central part of the city.
This tower stands 187 meters (614 feet) tall, a height that makes it the tallest structure in both Egypt and all of North Africa. Therefore, it’s sometimes called the “second-most popular landmark after the Great Pyramid of Giza.”
The main attraction of the tower is its observatory which is located at a height of 143 meters (469.2 feet), offering fantastic views of this enormous metropolis.
3. Egyptian Museum
Visiting the Giza Necropolis is one of the best ways to discover ancient Egyptian landmarks still in position. If you want to learn even more about ancient Egypt, then there’s a special place to go to in the heart of Cairo.
The Egyptian Museum, also known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is one of the largest museums in Egypt and has a collection size of 120,000 ancient artifacts.
The building was completed in the year 1902 and has been one of the famous buildings in Cairo ever since.
Some of the highlights of this fascinating place are the Gold Mask of Tutankhamun, made of 12 kilos of solid gold, and statues of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
Do you want to see the throne that Tutankhamun sat on about 3,300 years ago? You can in this museum!
Official website: The Egyptian Museum
4. Al-Azhar Mosque
In a city that has been referred to as the “City of a Thousand Minarets,” the first one ever constructed holds a special place.
This is the case for the first mosque that was built in the city known as the Al-Azhar Mosque. It’s located in a section of Cairo known as “Islamic Cairo” or “Historic Cairo” because it was here that city was established in 969 A.D.
Apart from serving its religious purpose, the mosque also developed into an educational facility, starting in the year 989 when 35 scholars were housed here. This means that the mosque complex is also home to the second-oldest university in the world.
The complex has been expanded greatly since its founding in the 10th century and has known a rocky history to say the least.
Regardless, it’s one of the most fascinating attractions in Cairo due to its millennium-long history and a must-see building when you plan to visit Egypt’s capital.
Official website: Al Azhar Mosque
5. Manial Palace
One of the most famous people in the recent history of the country is the founder of modern-day Egypt, a man known as Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849).
He was the head of the so-called “Alawiyya dynasty,” also known as the Muhammed Ali Dynasty, and one of the most astounding palaces in the world was built by one of his successors named “Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik.”
The Manial Palace is located in the El-Manial district in the southern part of Cairo and has been transformed into a fascinating museum.
If you’re interested in discovering how the rulers of Egypt during the 19th and 20th centuries lived, then this museum is simply a must-visit attraction in Cairo.
Apart from the amazing architecture of the interior of the building, it also features an English Landscape garden estate park that is home to a Persian Garden, an amazing place to relax in the hectic city of Cairo.
Official website: Manial Palace and Museum
6. Cairo Citadel
One of the most imposing buildings in Cairo is its citadel, a structure also referred to as the “Citadel of Saladin.” This is a reference to the man who initiated its construction, Salah ad-Din (1137-1193).
This medieval structure didn’t just serve its purpose as a military fortification just southeast of the city’s historical heart, but also as the residence of Egyptian rulers for numerous centuries.
It was also the official seat of government between the 13th and 19th centuries, a period well over 700 years. That’s because it has a commanding position in the Mokattam hills of Cairo.
This amazing historical landmark was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1976 and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.
The complex features several museums for you to visit as well, including the Al-Gawhara Palace Museum which was commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha himself in 1814.
Official website: Cairo Citadel
7. Mosque of Ibn Tulun
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun is located just south of the historical heart of the city and is one of the oldest Muslim buildings in Cairo.
The construction of this mosque started in the year 876 and was completed just a few years later in either 878 or 879. This makes it one of the oldest mosques in Egypt and even all of Africa.
It was built in the Samarran architectural style, a reference to architecture that emerged in Samarra, a city in modern-day Iraq. Here you can find the distinctive spiraling minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra.
It’s also the largest mosque in Cairo in terms of area and the huge courtyard originally featured a fountain covered by a gilt dome that was supported by 16 marble columns.
8. Qalawun Complex
The Qalawun Complex was named after the man who constructed it, Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun (1222-1290). It was completed between 1284 and 1285 and features several buildings.
The complex is located in the Bayn al-Qasrayn district in central Cairo and features a hospital, a madrasa, and the mausoleum of the Sultan.
It’s considered to be one of the prime examples of Mamluk architecture, a style that thrived during the Mamluk Sultanate between 1250 and 1517.
This is especially reflected in the detailed ornamentation of the stones and marble that were used to build the complex. This makes it one of the highlights of Islamic architecture in Cairo.
9. Cairo Opera House
The Cairo Opera House is locally known as “Dār el-Opera el-Masreyya,” a name that translates to “Egyptian Opera House.” This means that it’s the main opera house and performing arts venue in Cairo and all of Egypt.
The funds for building this enormous complex were a gift from Japan to commemorate the visit of the Egyptian president Hosni to the country in April 1983. That’ was quite generous indeed.
The construction started in 1985 and the opera house was officially inaugurated on October 10, 1988. This event was attended by Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, the brother of the Japanese Emperor.
The complex is much more than an opera house because it features 7 theaters, of which the main auditorium can seat 1,200 spectators, a music library, an art gallery, and a museum.
Official website: Cairo Opera
10. Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan
The Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan is one of the greatest buildings in Cairo. It is located just west of the Cairo Citadel in the historic district of the city.
The huge structure combines a madrasa, an Islamic education facility, with a mosque and was completed between 1356 and 1363. It was commissioned by Sultan an-Nasir Hasan after who the mosque was named.
This incredible building looks huge and that’s simply because it is. The buildings have a length of about 500 meters (1,640 feet) and a width of 68 meters (223 feet).
You especially notice the vast scale of this building when you enter it because the entrance gate has a dazzling height of 38 meters (124 feet).