Cairo is thoroughly served by a network of lumbering sardine-cans-on-wheels and smaller shuttle-size minibuses (on which, theoretically, there’s no standing allowed), but visitors will find only a few uses for them: they’re good for slow but cheap trips to the Pyramids or from the airport, but elsewhere you can travel more efficiently and comfortably by metro and/or taxi. Signs are in Arabic only, so you’ll have to know your numerals. There is no known map of any of the city’s bus routes. Just hop on and pay the conductor when he comes around selling tickets, which cost between LE1.50 and LE2.50 depending on distance and whether there’s air-con (mint-green buses sometimes have it, as do the big white CTA buses). New, more comfortable air-con buses (LE5) started to ply some longer routes from the centre to the suburbs in 2017.
Major bus hubs are Midan Abdel Moniem Riad, behind the Egyptian Museum, and Midan Ataba.
Driving in Cairo can’t be recommended – not only is it harrowing, but you’re only contributing to the hideously clogged streets. Lane markings are ignored, indicators are rarely used and traffic lights are discretionary unless enforced by a police officer. At night some drivers use their headlights exclusively for flashing oncoming vehicles.
But Cairo drivers do have road rules: they look out for each other and are tolerant of driving that elsewhere might provoke road rage. Things only go awry when an inexperienced driver – like an international visitor, perhaps – is thrown into the mix.
The metro (www.cairometro.gov.eg) is blissfully efficient, inexpensive and, outside rush hours (7am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm), not too crowded. Given the impossible car traffic in Cairo, if you can make even a portion of your journey on the metro, you’ll save time and aggravation.
Metro stations have signs with a big red ‘M’ in a blue star. Tickets cost LE2 to any stop; keep yours handy to feed into the turnstile (or, more likely, hand in to the turnstile attendant) on the way out. Trains run every five minutes or so from around 6am until 11.30pm.
Two carriages in the centre of each train are reserved for women. Look for the blue ‘Ladies’ signs on the platform marking where you should stand.
Line 1 Stretches 43km along the east bank of the Nile via Downtown, Coptic Cairo and Ma'adi.
Line 2 Crosses to the west bank, passing through Downtown and across Gezira en route.
Line 3 Long-awaited Line 3 has opened partially from Ataba in Downtown to Al Ahram station in Heliopolis, and eventually will run from the airport to Imbaba via Zamalek.
Useful Metro Stations
Ataba Convenient for Downtown.
Bab Al Shaaria Closest to Islamic Cairo, on the north side.
Opera By the Cairo Opera House, closest to Zamalek.
Giza Next to Giza train station, handy for buses to the Pyramids.
Mar Girgis In the middle of Coptic Cairo.
Mohammed Naguib Close to Abdeen Palace.
Al Shohadaa Beneath Midan Ramses and Ramses Railway Station.
Nasser Sharia 26th of July and Sharia Ramses; closest to Downtown nightlife.
Sadat Beneath Midan Tahrir, close to the Egyptian Museum.
Cairenes use the private microbus (meekrobas) – a small van with 12 or so seats – as much as the public bus. No destinations are marked, which can make them hard to use at first. But they’re quite useful for major routes: from the Giza metro to the main gate of the Pyramids and to Midan Al Remaya (for long-distance microbuses); and from Midan Ataba to Sharia Sayyida Aisha for the Citadel, and to Midan Al Hussein for Islamic Cairo.
Locals use coded hand gestures to communicate their destination to passing microbuses; if the van has a free seat, it will stop. Fares vary according to distance, from LE2 to LE5, paid after you take your seat. This often requires passing your money to passengers ahead and receiving your change the same way (which is always done scrupulously).
It’s of limited utility, but it’s scenic; the river bus runs from the Corniche near Downtown Cairo to Giza, by the zoo and Cairo University. The Downtown terminal is located at Maspero, 250m north of the Ramses Hilton, in front of the big round TV building. Boats depart every 15 minutes. The trip takes 30 minutes and the fare is LE1.50.
Outside the midafternoon rush, taxis are readily available and will come to a screeching halt with the slightest wave of your hand. For hailing off the street, the whole Cairo cab experience has been transformed by new white taxis with meters and even, on occasion, air-con. Older, unmetered black-and-white taxis still ply the streets, but although there’s the potential for getting a cheaper fare in them, the discomfort and near-inevitable argument at the end make them not worth your while.
Meter rates start at LE2.50, plus LE1.25 per kilometre and LE0.25 waiting. A tip of 10% or so is very much appreciated, and it’s good to have small change on hand, as drivers are often short of it. Some people have reported taxis with suspiciously fast-running meters, or drivers who claim the meter is broken. If you encounter either situation, simply stop the car, get out and flag down another – the vast majority are legitimate and won’t give you trouble.
Occasionally, to make extra fares, taxi drivers pick up multiple passengers, although this isn't standard practice. This will usually result in a more roundabout journey. Feel free to wave on any driver who stops for you and already has passengers.
Hiring a taxi for a longer period runs from LE30 to LE40 per hour, depending on your bargaining skills; LE350 to LE400 for a full day is typical.
Careem & Uber
If you prefer not to hail off the street, both Uber and Middle East–based Careem (www.careem.com/cairo) operate taxi services in Cairo and are often much cheaper than standard taxis.