It used to be that you approached Giza through green fields. Cairo’s expansion means that now you have to run a gauntlet of raucously noisy city streets clogged with buses, vans, taxis, and the odd donkey cart, not to mention a busy four-lane bypass. Unfortunately, the large concrete towers lining the road obscure the view of the Giza pyramids that loom at the desert’s edge.
Although Giza is technically a suburb, it’s one of the more popular places for tourists to stay when they visit Cairo. If you are staying in Central Cairo, you can get to the Pyramids by taking the Metro to Giza station (£E1), then the public bus that plies a route along Pyramids Road (50 pt). To get to the Pyramids by bus from central Cairo, take a CTA bus from Abdel Meneim Riyadh Station on Tahrir Square for £E2; it will bring you to the foot of the Giza Plateau opposite the Mena House Hotel. Hiring a taxi for the day to take you to the Pyramids and other ancient sites is by far the most convenient way to get to and from the site. Your hotel can arrange a taxi, or you can hail one in the street. A reasonable daylong taxi hire should cost £E30–£E40 per hour—if you bargain well.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Intricate, handwoven carpets are the big draw in this small village, 4 km (2½ miles) south of Giza on Saqqara Road, but you can see all kinds of textiles and pottery as well. The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre (daily 10–5)—named after the family largely responsible for developing the town’s crafts into an industry—is the best place to see them. Bring lunch and enjoy the lavish gardens between touring the workshops. Saturday through Wednesday are the best days to come.
Three 4th-Dynasty pyramids dominate the skyline of the desert plateau to the southwest of Cairo. The largest is that of Pharaoh Khufu (Greek name: Cheops) also known as “The Great Pyramid.” The second was built by his son Khafre (Greek name: Chephren). The smallest of pyramids was built by Menkaure (Greek name: Mycerinus), the grandson of Khufu who reigned from 2490 to 2472 BC; as of this writing, this one is closed. These are surrounded by smaller pyramids belonging to their respective female dependents, as well as numerous mastabas (large trapezoidal tombs) of their lesser relatives and courtiers. The site is “guarded” by the monumental carved-limestone Sphinx. A small museum in the shadow of Khufu’s Pyramid contains the Pharaoh’s Royal Solar Boat, by tradition the boat used to transport the Pharaoh on his final journey to the afterlife after his mummy was entombed. The pyramid interiors are open on a rotating basis, and ticket numbers are limited to 150 per morning and another 150 per afternoon. A range of mastabas will be open to view on any given day. The ticket office will give you current information when you buy your ticket. Many people will come up to you at the pyramids and try and sell you services. These are not necessarily scams, but they are overpriced. You can simply and firmly say no and then walk away.
Carved from the living rock of the pyramids plateau during the 4th Dynasty, the enigmatic limestone Sphinx is attached to Pharaoh Khafre’s funerary complex. The figure of a recumbent lion with a man’s face wearing a nemes (traditional headdress of the pharaoh) was thought to be Khafre in the guise of Ra-Harakhte, a manifestation of the Sun God. The role of the Sphinx was to guard the vast royal necropolis that incorporated the pyramids and mastabas (large trapezoidal tombs) on the Giza plateau, and it’s visited as part of the longer visit incorporating these other monuments at the site. It’s possible to get close to the Sphinx along a wide viewing platform that has been built around it, but climbing is forbidden and there’s no entry into the small interior chambers (most of the sphinx, however, is solid rock). The light shows are scheduled nightly; see schedule online.