Giza (الجيزة el-Gīza) is a city located at a Governorate with the same name, to the west of the Egyptian capital Cairo, but for a long time now absorbed as part of the heavily-populated Greater Cairo metropolis. Giza is best known for the world-famous, UNESCO World Heritage site Pyramids of Giza, situated high on the desert plateau immediately to the west of the urban district, itself located in the valley and centered around the Pyramids Road, linking central Cairo with the ancient wonders. One of the premier attractions of Egypt, if not the world, the Pyramids of Giza represent the archetypal pyramid structures of ancient Egyptian civilization and - together with the Sphinx at the base of the Giza plateau - are the iconic image of Ancient Egypt.
The city of Giza is important as a secondary - and increasingly popular - option for travelers for food, accommodation and entertainment beyond central Cairo. Most of these services are concentrated along the local transport artery, the Pyramids Road.
The desert plateau of Giza, adjacent to the Pyramids, will eventually form the site of the Grand Museum of Egypt (the competition-winning design conceived by an Irish architectural team led by Shih-Fu Peng), the long-awaited primary replacement for the long-standing Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. Completion has been projected for 2015.
Not much more than a century ago, the Pyramids Road existed as little more than a dusty carriage track among irrigated fields, leading out from the city to the then small peasant village of Giza adjoining the pyramid field. Given the rapidly increasing population of Cairo in the 20th century, and the obvious tourist opportunities that the Pyramids provided, Giza has now been transformed beyond recognition to those pioneering Western travelers of the late 19th century. Major arterial roads, apartment blocks, retail strips, restaurants and night clubs now replace what used to be palm-fringed farmers' fields, and the city has now spread to the very limit of the desert plateau. Such rapid development, of course, has not been without its costs - social, economic and aesthetic - and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is now making some efforts to control and channel future (re)development in areas closest to the Pyramids themselves.
The three main Pyramids of Giza are the focal point of the Giza necropolis, or cemetery, that served the elite of the Old Kingdom capital of Egypt at nearby Memphis during the mid to late 4th Dynasty (late 3rd millennium BCE). Three pharaohs were buried here in turn - Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure - their astounding burials attracted a number of surrounding associated burials of their queens, family members and nobility.
You should be aware that Giza district, along with el-Haram, are of the most districts suffering from traffic-jam in Greater Cairo.
- See also: Egypt#By metro
Metro Line 2 now runs from Cairo into Giza, although it doesn't go all the way to the Pyramids. Get off at Giza station (not the terminus!). The pyramids are 8 km, 15-20 min trip due southwest on the long Al-Haram avenue that the train crosses over just before stopping at the station. That's effectively a "right turn" from the line you've just been taking. Any number of minibuses and buses go to the site (known as el-hàràm الهرم); they include the green public 900 and 997 buses.
Remember that the metro, especially the Giza line, are always crowded at peak times and they are mostly only operational from around 6AM till around 11:30PM unless there are some special occasions.
The Pyramids may be nearer than you think, so it's possible to take a taxi to the Pyramids from any part of Cairo at a reasonable cost, and it's certainly the fastest and easiest method. There are essentially two options for this, unmetered & metered:
Older black & white taxis - meters are not used, so don't forget to haggle. Taxi drivers will nearly always want to take you to see their "brother's" perfume shop, or their "father's" carpet warehouse on the way - if you don't want to waste time doing this, and being put on the spot to make a purchase - just make it very clear that you only want to see the antiquities.
Solid-yellow and solid-white taxis - These are metered and air conditioned. You might save yourself the hassle with the black and white taxis mentioned above, and at almost the same cost, if not less depending on your skill. On the other hand there are stories of drivers of white and yellow cabs fixing the meters, which would hardly be surprising given that it happens all over the world.
- Be aware that sometimes buses may not arrive as expected and they never arrive at fixed times.
From central Cairo, the optimum way to get to the Giza Pyramids using public mass transit options is by bus routes 355 or 357 - a large white, air-conditioned coach with CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) on the side. Travelling around every two-thirds of an hour from the airport and Heliopolis. The bus usually never stops, unless you wave to it, at the Abdel Menem Riyad station in Midan Tahrir, next to the Egyptian Museum, before continuing out to Giza and the Pyramids. Tickets costs LE 2 - a bargain!
Make sure you ask the driver whether the bus is passing by its normal route/where you are going, because sometimes they don't because of extreme traffic-jam or for being more than late for its approximate arrival time.
A cheaper alternative, but less reliable, unless you are able to sometimes run after the bus and keep standing inside a very crowded bus. By taking the ordinary buses 900 or 997, costing 50 piastres (half a pound), from the big central bus station under the overpasses, close to the museum. There are three lanes, and they leave from one closest to the rundown controllers' booth (as of late July 2010). Be careful when about getting down, most people will be honest and help you, but you may encounter scammers who take you to their camels instead of to the pyramids. For 997, the correct spot is along a long avenue, after you're spotted the Pyramids and the bus has done a U-turn and then turned left — get off when you a see a blue sign for the Light and Sound show.
See Giza with children article for suggestions on visiting Giza with children.
All the worthwhile attractions within the Giza area are concentrated on the Giza Plateau at the end of Pyramids Road. Some people are shocked to travel down a street in Giza and see the tip of a Pyramid rise up over the golden arches of a McDonalds with a sign in Arabic - your idea of pyramids rising up out of an empty desert might not match the reality.
There are two ticket offices: the first is near the main entrance, the second - near Sphinx, in the eastern part of the Plateau. If you use the second one in the morning you will avoid crowds of tourists and will have a possibility to explore the Sphinx area all alone in silence. Entry to the site is LE 60, and to enter the pyramids themselves costs another LE 30 for the Pyramid of Menkaure and LE 100 for the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Student IDs will come in handy, giving you a 50% discount. The interior of the pyramids is hot, humid and somewhat claustrophobic, with the passages steep, dusty and hard to move through, and those with any heart or lung issues or a physical handicap will want to steer clear. There are only 2 pyramids open to the public at any given time, while the third pyramid is being restored and they rotate every 2 years. For those willing to brave these conditions, however, it may be an interesting and educational experience. Personally witnessing the interior walls and passage ways of the pyramids gives one an even deeper appreciation of the tremendous achievement accomplished by the builders of these ancient structures. No cameras are allowed into the pyramids. For those on a tight budget, visiting the Pyramid of Menkaure is a very similar experience to visiting the larger pyramid and cheaper.
- Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) - the last surviving representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally 146 m (479 ft) high but now slightly reduced to a still awe-inspiring 137 m (449 ft). Over 2 million blocks of stone were used to construct this edifice, all through manual labour.
- Solar Barque Museum - located immediately alongside the southern face of the Great Pyramid, an exceptionally well-done museum showcasing an excavated and reconstructed "solar boat", buried along with the Pharaoh for use on his daily journey with the sun across the sky. Entry LE 40.
- Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) - slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid, though appearing from some angles to appear larger owing to a better position on the desert plateau
- Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) - the smallest of the Giza Pyramids at 62 m (203 ft) high (originally 66.5 m)
- Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx - the colossal, recumbent human-headed lion was conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as the sun god Re-Horakhty - "Horus of the horizon". The Egyptians call it Abu el-Hol, the "Father of Terror", and even the Greek name Sphinx is the less than pleasant "Strangler". 45 meters long, 22 meters wide, and carved from a single giant block of sandstone, the Sphinx is considerably smaller than the Pyramids around it. The missing nose is blamed on target practice by bored troops, commonly blamed variously on British soldiers in World War I or Napoleon's troops in 1798, but 18th-century drawings showing the nose already missing, pointing the finger towards the occupying Turks.
- Various Queens' Pyramids and Nobles' Tombs, located in regimented cemeteries surrounding the royal pyramids. Especially the Tomb of Seshemnufer IV which you can explore from the inside, where you can descend to the sarcophagus and get an idea, how it looks. Since this is not the main object, there are few tourists and it make this visit very interesting.
Not all the Pyramids are equally accessible for interior exploration, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities closing them to the public at least one at a time for conservation and renovation measures.
Climbing the Pyramids, although once a popular tourist activity, is both now officially forbidden and extremely dangerous - several tourists have met an untimely death attempting to. Some Pyramid guards have been known to turn a blind eye in return for baksheesh in less frequented areas, but this practice has a very negative impact on the pyramids and is strongly discouraged. However, it is easy to trespass into the Giza complex at night, and Khufu's Great Pyramid can be climbed relatively easily from the South-West corner. However, this is still still dangerous and illegal.
It's wise to arrive at the Pyramids at the moment they open, as tour bus activity and (in the summer) the heat quickly make the attractions overrun and difficult to fully enjoy.
Do not give up your ticket to anyone outside of the gate checkpoints. You will need to show it to enter through the metal detectors at the entrance to the Pyramids area, Sphinx area, and to enter the Pyramid if you choose to pay for that ticket. There are many folks who will walk up and claim (true or false?) to work for the government and ask to see the ticket/grab it, then take it and try to start a tour for you. Don't think that just because they are doing this in front of the police they are legit. They want to explain things at a fast pace, and then demand a tip. Do not give up your ticket and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and refuse tip. If you want a tour, better ones can be booked in advance and will offer more accurate details of what you are seeing. (A favorite place for them to lurk is beside the tombs outside the Great Pyramid.)
Before you get on the back of a camel or horse have a look at how they treat their animals. You might change your mind. If you anyway decide to take the offer of one of the horsemen or camel guys, make sure you discuss the price and where you go first. Ask to confirm it covers two people/two horses. Negotiate the price you want. At the end of the trip, when you get back to where you had agreed, get off the horse/camel, hand the man the agreed money and walk away. They will try to come up with all sorts of scams to get more money out of you. If you are happy and wish to give a tip, do it because you choose. Don't feel pressured into giving extra. Just walk away. They won't follow you.
- Camel rides. Avoid succumbing to the temptation of taking a camel ride around the Pyramids, if you can, the practice is noisy, smelly and overrated. Basically, there are many better places in Egypt to take a camel ride, if you must. Things are a little better run than they used to be, and the practice of taking tourists out into the desert and refusing to return unless "tipped" is rather rare now.
- Go horse riding in the desert to experience both the spirit of the Egyptian horses and the true majesty of the Pyramids seen from outside the 'circus ring' wall. Be careful of touts, however; it's best to ride from one of the better quality stables, like FB Stables. Ride in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or further afield on a half day trip to Saqqara or Abu Sir or camp out overnight with a barbecue and fire. You can also watch the Sound and Light show from FB's rooftop terrace! If you do ride with a tout (they will encourage you to do this if the area is closed for entry for example) they will make out that you will have a great view of the pyramids (which you won't), they will then charge you a fortune, ride at high speed through the streets without a helmet (or any regard for safety), they will then demand a tip as you ride back and try to take you to a 'museum' which is actually a shop (where you will be pressured to buy stuff).
- See the sunrise, the first sun beams colouring the Pyramids from the terrace on the third floor of a cafe or from the roof terrace of the hostel situated near the second western entrance and ticket-office.
- FB Stables, Gamal Abdul Nasser St, Sphinx (Turn left after the sphinx KFC, then right in Gamal Abdul Nasser Street. FB is the last stables on the left), ☎ +20 106 507 0288. Popular with expats who keep their horses at livery, Karim at FB Stables is also great for a "tourist" type ride to view the Pyramids and Sphinx from the desert. Longer rides to Saqqara and Abu Sir can be arranged in advance, as can sunrise, sunset and moonlit rides. Other than the horses and good company, one of the best things about FB is their amazing rooftop terrace (with bbq) with unrivalled views over the Pyramids - a great place to relax with a drink whilst watching the Sound and Light shows. Great horses - no beating or slapping at FB stables. Besides an amazing trip, the shisha and Karim's amazing support, it was a place to safely say yes without getting ripped off afterwards! FB's Abu Sir second stables are very relaxing too!
- Pyramids Sound and Light Show (Son-et-Lumière). Admission: foreign languages shows LE 130, 90, 75 with discounted 45 ticket only available in the 75 section. The LE 130 and LE 90 tickets are for the 1st and 2nd-3rd rows respectively and may not be worth the added expense. Arabic show LE 11, private shows in foreign languages, LE 65 + LE 300 (covers operating expenses), Arabic private show, LE 16.50 + LE 150. More than slightly kitsch and frequently inaccurate in historical detail, but a worthwhile evening activity nonetheless. The "voice of the Sphinx" narrates the history of the Giza Plateau and its place in Egyptian history, as a dazzling laser display picks out the details of the Pyramids and displays historical scenes on the side of the Great Pyramid itself. If you eat at the Pizza Hut restaurant just outside the entrance to the Sound and Light Show, there's a good chance you'll be offered to watch the show from the roof of the restaurant for a small tip. While it's not as good as watching it from a front row seat inside the fences, it's excellent value for money. As of November 2009, extremely bright lights have been pointed at the roof of the Pizza Hut and various other buildings to get tourists to attend the show. They put projection lights towards the Pizza Hut so it's not easy to see much. Pizza Hut has replied by putting up a barricade on the roof to try to block the light.
Day First Show Second Show Third Show Winter (Oct-Mar) 6:30PM 7:30PM 8:30PM Summer (Apr-Sep) 8:30PM 9:30PM 10:30PM Monday English French Spanish Tuesday English Italian French Wednesday English French German Thursday Japanese English Arabic Friday English French no show Saturday English Spanish Italian Sunday German French Russian
- Al Amir Perfume Palace, 9 Abu el Houl St., ☎ +20 2 385 4963. An overwhelming smell will hit you as soon as you walk inside, if you can stand the smell for more than a few minute you can find some great deals on perfume.
- Legends and Legacies, 20 Abuu Hazim St. (Off of Pyramid Road). A relaxed indoor bazaar.
- Beymen, FourSeasons Nile Plaza. Chic Designer Shopping including brands such Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Christian Dior and many others.
A number of Western fast food options exist immediately opposite the main ticket gates to the Pyramid enclosure, Pizza Hut and KFC included, so you can munch on a Tower burger and sip on a coke in air-conditioned comfort whilst gazing on the 4,000+ year-old Sphinx across the road! Many may prefer a more authentic experience, that said - the novelty of the situation could be interesting.
- Fish Market, 26 Shar'a al-Nil (Along the Nile, in the same), ☎ +20 2 570 9694. This eatery is located on the Nile, in a docked ship, sharing space with a TGI Friday's below. Popular with locals and tourist visitors, but the food is mediocre, overpriced, and service is haphazard. Moderate to High.
- Khan El Khalili, Mena House Oberoi hotel. The restaurant has been open for over a century and is far and away the most stylish place for lunch or just a cold beer. Expect to pay Western prices for the privilege.
- Moghul Room, Mena House Oberoi. An extremely good upmarket Indian restaurant. Reservations necessary.
- Nile Pharos (Dinner cruise), 138 El Nile St.. The boat features Pharonic decor, and offers a buffet with international and Egyptian cuisine, and belly dancing.
- Nile City, Zamalek. Stationary Boat on the nile includes several international franchises coupled an Egyptian grill and a seafood restaurant. Chilis, Johny Carinos, Fish Market & Studio Misr
You must appreciate that Egypt is a Muslim country, and therefore alcohol is not permitted, alcohol will still be served, yet generally only in hotels.
- Seqouia, Abu El Feda (Zamalek). Upmarket , middle eastern modern lounge by the nile. Known for its posh crowd 150-200 LE.
- Abu El Sid, 26 July St Zamalek. Egyptian Cuisine , favoured by tourists and expatriates 200 LE.
General accommodation options are somewhat limited within the Giza district - most travellers tend to stay in and around central Cairo itself and travel out to the Pyramids for at least part of the day. For people determined to stay in close vicinity and / or for whom cost is no issue, there are a number of very comfortable options:
- Mena House Oberoi, Pyramids Rd., ☎ +20 2 383 3222. Built in 1869 as a royal lodge for King Ismail the Magnificent, this magnificent palace has housed guests including Empress Eugenie and Prince Albert. Tastefully restored and located very close to the Pyramids. Rooms in the newer Garden wing from $150, Palace wing rooms from $210; be sure to ask for a room with a view of the Pyramids. The main Pyramids gate is only a 5 minute walk away.
The Giza Pyramids, being the main tourist attraction in Egypt, attract millions of tourists each year. They likewise attract a large number of the most determined opportunists for miles around. Report any instances of harassment by camel drivers and tourist touts to the black-uniformed (or white-uniformed in the summer) Tourist Police immediately, and be prepared for all manner of potential scams, possibly including "advice" from official-looking individuals that an attraction is closed or has an alternate entrance. Also be aware that any "favour" of any kind (offering directions, being shown something, etc.) might be done in expectation of a tip, so be cautious when accepting unsolicited help (although don't let your holiday be spoiled by overzealous caution, you also might encounter genuine help). Also note that some Tourist Police might routinely offer to help you in the expectation of a tip. Many known scammers will operate right in front of the tourist police, who are either in on it or don't bother to intervene.
Tips to avoid harassment:
- If on your own, headphones make the incessant "Hello, where are you from my friend" conversation-starters easier to ignore, smiling and pointing at the headphones seems to do the trick.
- Avoid making eye contact, starting conversations or accepting any help with taking pictures or posing for pictures for you—they will see you as an easy target for harassment.
- Say "La Shukran" (No thanks) as you do this, it shows you know a bit more than the average tourist and will not be seen as aggressive or rude. Smiling as you say it doesn't hurt as it doesn't seem to be seen as an invite to talk, but shows you are not trying to offend.
Additional useful safety tips:
- Be cautious when choosing a local horse or camel ride; you may be ripped off or put in dangerous situations. The "donkey-mafia" that operate by the doors of the main entrance will adopt the most "persuasive" and often bullish techniques to get you onto their animals, and they do not appear to understand the meaning of the word "No". They will cause such a scene when you say no and have to get off them, which will result in you having to pay for the privilege of refusing their hospitality. NOTE: Some of these people were involved in the Battle of the Camels during the revolution, in which innocent civilians were killed. Use as your conscience dictates.
- Don't climb any of the Pyramids—officially forbidden and extremely dangerous!
- As anywhere else in Egypt, in hot months especially, take plenty of bottled water with you, wear a cap and wear sunscreen—sunglasses are also definitely a good idea!