Visiting the beautiful Pyramids of Giza

Visiting the Pyramids In Egypt

The Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Sphinx, have endless seductive appeal, making visiting a bucket-list item for many. Not only because they’re amazing feats of engineering built almost 5,000 years ago, but also because there are so many mysteries surrounding them. Mysteries we may never know the answers to, drawing us to them over and over.

As part of my travels, I had wanted to visit for years, but was admittedly hesitant due to risks of terrorism. Knowing anything could happen, I decided to take my chances and visit. Thankfully, it turned out to be a great time to visit. I came again in July 2021, another perfect time as tourism was low. At one point, I had the Sphinx and the tomb inside the Great Pyramid to myself!

In total, I’ve now spent over five weeks in Egypt, seeing the sites in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, and Alexandria, as well as scuba diving in Sharm el-Sheikh. It was beyond amazing to see all the ruins in person and experience some of the best diving in the world, as well as to learn about the culture and meet the locals, whom I found to be very welcoming.

This post covers the Pyramids and related sites from the Old Kingdom, known as ‘The Age of the Pyramids’, including the highlights of visiting and how to get there, helping you plan your trip.

Visiting the beautiful Pyramids of Giza

Visiting The First Pyramids

When visiting the pyramids, it’s best to start with the oldest ones first. These were the precursors to the famous Pyramids of Giza, where the pharaohs and architects learned important lessons to build the great ones. These sites are also less visited, making them ideal in times of heavier tourism.

Stepped Pyramid: Estimated 2,670 – 2,650 BC

Built for Pharaoh Djoser of Dynasty III, the Stepped Pyramid is considered the first pyramid built by the Egyptians.

It’s located in Saqqara, the royal necropolis of ancient Egypt, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Cairo. It’s near Memphis, the capital of Old Egypt.

The Stepped Pyramid is one of the highlights when visiting Egypt.
Stepped Pyramid at Saqqara

There is also a temple here and several tombs for high officials and family members of pharaohs. The Imhotep Museum is also located here, dedicated to Imhotep, the pyramid’s designer/architect.

Bent Pyramid & Red Pyramid

In Dahshur, just south of Saqqara, there are two more important pyramids, both built by King Snefru, the 1st King of Dynasty IV.

Bent Pyramid: About 2,600 BC

Built after the Stepped Pyramid, this was the first known attempt at a smooth-sided Pyramid. Unfortunately, due to an unstable base and too severe of an angle, the design failed. Finished at a less severe angle, the pyramid has a ‘bent’ appearance.

The Bent Pyramid is one of the highlights of visiting Egypt.
Bent Pyramid at Dhashur

Red Pyramid: About 2,590 BC

Sneferu’s next attempt was a success, the first smooth-sided pyramid. Called the ‘Red Pyramid’, due to the red hue of its sandstone, it was actually once gleaming white, covered in smoothly-polished, white limestone.

There are several pyramids you can enter at this site. To get inside, you climb steps about half way up the pyramid, enter an opening, then descend over 100’ down an angled, box-like shaft.

Although there’s not much inside, it’s very cool to say you’ve been inside at least one pyramid, so I recommend one, either here or at the Giza Plateau. If you’re not comfortable with cramped spaces, however, skip this.

Inside The Red Pyramid
Red Pyramid | Wikimedia Commons

The inside is where you see how meticulous the stone alignment is (above). The exterior is rougher, as the smooth white ‘casing stones’ were pillaged. Plus centuries of erosion has taken its toll.

Visiting The Pyramids of Giza

The pyramids above were all stepping stones to the most well-known pyramids in Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza. They’re on the Giza Plateau, about 9 miles (15 km) southwest of Cairo. So close that you can see the sprawling city behind them.

There are three large pyramids, built for pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure who each ruled in Dynasty IV. These were the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Sneferu.

The Great Pyramid of Giza: Estimated 2,580 – 2,560 BC

The Great Pyramid of Giza, or Pyramid of Khufu, the only wonder of the ancient world still standing, is the largest, oldest, and northern-most pyramid in Giza.

Visiting the beautiful Pyramids of Giza
Pyramids of Giza

Also encased in polished white limestone, it once stood at 481’ tall (146 m). Today, due to pillaging of these ‘casing stones’ and erosion, it’s 455’ (138 m).

Built by King Khufu, son of Sneferu (above), this smooth-sided pyramid was taller than his father’s. And in addition to the highly polished limestone covering it, Khufu’s pyramid also had a ‘capstone’ of gold the top.

The Solar Barque Museum, near Khufu’s pyramid, displays the barque, or boat, many believe was intended for his afterlife. This will soon be moved into the Grand Egyptian Museum nearby.

The three smaller pyramids you see on the plateau are also part of Khufu’s legacy, built for queens, and a daughter.

Pyramid of Khafre: Estimated 2,570 BC

Khafre’s pyramid appears taller than his father’s (Khufu), but was just built on higher ground. This is the middle pyramid and is 448’ tall (136 m).

Pyramid of Menkaure: Estimated 2,510 BC

The smallest pyramid, at 213’ (70 m), was built for Pharaoh Menkaure, Khufu’s grandson.

The Great Sphinx: Date Unknown

One of the world’s biggest monuments, no one really knows who built it, when or why, giving it powerful enigmatic appeal.

Some think the Sphinx’s face looks like Khafre and was built along with his pyramid. Others think it was built earlier, by his father Khufu, while some think it predates them both.

Carved into the limestone bedrock, they’ve also found color remnants, so think it was once covered in very bright colors. One can only imagine how awe-inspiring the Giza Plateau was.

Great Sphinx one of the highlights of visiting the pyramids
Great Sphinx

Other Sites & Things To Do While Visiting the Pyramids

Although a visiting the pyramids is the main draw here, there are a few other sites and things to do in the area.

Camel or Horse Ride: Rather than renting from from hawkers near the entrance, rent from the stables for the best rate. Also, make sure the animals look well treated before choosing an establishment or have your hotel let you know.

Explore A Pyramid: All can be entered, with the Great Pyramid of Giza being the most expensive. Note that there’s really nothing much inside and space is tight. One however, is sufficient. And if you don’t like tight spaces, don’t bother. I thought it was cool, and for a while, I was the only one inside the Great Pyramid of Giza!

Evening Pyramid Light and Sound Show: This show gets mixed reviews, with the sound portion considered a little overly dramatic. If you’re staying in a hotel/hostel nearby, you may have a view of the light show from the property, like I did (sans the sound).

Photo Spots: There are various photo spots including Panorama Viewpoint, and views from around the Sphinx, but the most mentioned spots is south of Menkaure’s Pyramid.

Visiting the pyramids, inside the great pyramid of Giza

Cemeteries & Masatabas: Wander the grounds. There are several cemeteries and mastabas where royal family members, high officials, and celebrated builders were buried.

Map of the Giza Complex
Map of Giza Plateau | Wikipedia

Museums In Cairo

Grand Egyptian Museum, or Giza Museum

When this museum opens, it will be one of the largest archeological museums in the world. It’s scheduled to open at the end of 2021.

It will be a short 15 minute drive, 40 minute walk from the Giza Plateau.

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization

This museum opened April 2021. 22 mummies, including Kings and Queens of the New Kindgom were moved from the Egyptian Museum in an event called the Pharoahs’ Golden Parade.

The museum is beautiful, with artifacts covering the history of civilization here, as well as the mummies, yet it’s much smaller than I expected. I still, however, think it’s worth visiting.

The Egyptian Museum

The original Egyptian Museum, near El-Tehrir Square is still open. Most the the key items have been moved to,other museums, but there are still tons of ancient artifacts here.

How to Get To The Pyramids

Although transportation information is updated as of 2021, always verify the situation locally.

Pyramids at Saqqara and Dahshur

The Pyramids at Saqqara and Dahshur are about 20 miles (32 km) south of Cairo and best reached by tour or taxi.

Tours: You can book tours through your hotel, Viator, or Tripadvisor.

Taxi: If taking a taxi, unless it’s an Uber, negotiate the price before getting in, especially taxis with old meters. If you’re not sure, ask estimated costs at your hotel or locals nearby. Also, make sure to have enough small bills to pay without requiring change.

The Pyramids of Giza

As these pyramids are closer to Cairo, they’re easier to access. Even closer if you opt to stay at the hotels/hostels nearby, where you can walk from.

Tour: You can book tours through your hotel, Viator, or Tripadvisor. Most tours arrive early in the morning to beat the heat, so if you’re not taking a tour, consider visiting at an alternative time. Don’t try to show up at the pyramids and arrange a tour yourself. It’s best to have this done in advance with sources you can trust. See the Scams section on my Egypt Travel Guide for more details.

Taxi: See the note above on negotiating taxis. I shared the taxi rate with someone else from my hostel. The rate for the day was decent and we received personalized attention. Plus we got to get to know an Egyptian, adding some cultural flavor. The hostel also arranged our camel rides and tour guide.

Public Transportation: You can take the metro to Giza, then a minibus to the pyramids. The mini buses are just outside the metro station. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the Giza metro station.

Many guidebooks suggest not riding the metro in Egypt, but I found it an interesting place to learn about the culture. It’s best to bring an image of the map and have a plan before going to the station. Also note that it gets extremely crowded during rush hour and there are separate cars for men and women (women’s cars are usually the middle two). Women can actually ride in either the men’s or women’s cars.

Riding camels while visiting the pyramids.

Additional Thoughts & Comments

Visiting the Pyramids & Expectations

If you visit the pyramids with high expectations, maybe from watching a lot of movies or history shows about them, you may feel let down when you see them sitting right next to the chaotic city of Cairo.

I think it’s because they’re so well-known and the media adds so much drama and hype to them. They are, however, still amazing, so I still definitely recommend going. Try instead to visit with minimal expectations and focus on what amazing feats of engineering they are.

In fact, the meticulous engineering and logistics, which aren’t apparent by looking at their aged and mostly pillaged facades, is mind boggling. Until you do the math, you don’t really realize it.

For example, the Great Pyramid of Giza (Khufu) is made of about 2.3 million stones, each weighing a ton or more. And although they’re not sure exactly how long it took to build, most say 20 years. Doing the math, this means positioning and aligning over 13 blocks per hour, every hour, of every day for 20 years! All with almost impeccable precision. It almost seems inhuman, yet, they built them with the simple tools they had 4,500+ years ago!

More Information

For more information on Egypt, see my Egypt Travel Guide, or see my posts on Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, and Alexandria.

Note: Egypt has a history of terrorism, so always check government warnings in your country before planning a visit. If you’re a US citizen, sign up for the STEP program to be alerted if issues arise. If you’re not a US citizen, see if your country offers something similar.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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