Looking to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Cairo, Egypt in 2023.
Unfortunately, this major new institution’s opening date is still unconfirmed – but it’s now possible to book limited guided tours for a first peek. The tours visit the Grand Hall (in which the colossal statue of Ramses II is displayed), the conference center, the “commercial area” of shops and restaurants and the exterior gardens. The collections and exhibition areas are still closed and off-limits until the official opening.
Tickets cost LE1000 (about $33) for foreigners and LE150 (about $5) for Egyptians, and are available in six timeslots each day.
A major year for Egypt
It’s been quite a 12-month period for Egypt and its ancient heritage.
November 2022 marked the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the famously gold-laden tomb of Tutankhamun. The GEM will display the entire 5000-piece collection of King Tut’s burial treasures together for the first time ever, along with about 100,000 other artifacts.
Last year was also 200 years since the translation of the Rosetta Stone, which deciphered hieroglyphs and allowed them to be read for the first time in more than 1500 years. COP27, the United Nations Climate Change conference, took place in Sharm El Sheikh in November.
Ancient Egypt’s history stretches back further than most of us can wrap our minds around: the Great Pyramids of Giza, constructed in 2550 BCE, had already been standing for two millennia by time Cleopatra, the famous final Ptolemaic queen, reigned. And the pyramids in Giza aren’t even Egypt’s oldest: that prize goes to the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. Even now, new archaeological discoveries continue to be dug up in Saqqara, Luxor, Alexandria and elsewhere around the country.
To house all that history, the Grand Egyptian Museum is set to be the largest archaeological museum on the planet when it opens. At 120 acres, the museum complex is bigger than the world’s smallest country (Vatican City). The Grand Egyptian Museum is located in Giza, on the western side of the Nile River from Cairo. It’s just 2km (1.2 miles) from the Great Pyramids, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, and visitors are sure to get an excellent view of them from the museum’s stories-high glass windows.
The museum’s completion has been delayed for many years – construction started all the way back in 2005 – and the lack of an official opening has kept many would-be travelers closely following the situation for updates. GEM seemed poised to open in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic took the world stage instead. The ticket prices announced in 2020 were about US$25 for foreigners and US$3.75 for Egyptians, though, on the evidence of the limited-access tours, it now looks like those will be increased. While the limited tours may not satisfy your desire to see all that the Grand Egyptian Museum has to offer, if you're heading to Egypt soon, it's the best way to experience the site for now.
Where to eat and drink
If you want to soak up Egypt’s breadth of history over brunch, you won’t find a better spot than 9 Pyramids Lounge, on the sands of the Giza Plateau just 500m (0.3 miles) from the Pyramid of Menkaure. This spot serves Western-style and Egyptian breakfasts, as well as grilled meats and tagines for lunch. The prices are high compared with what you’ll find back in the capital, but consider it payment for the unparalleled panoramic view. You have to buy a ticket to enter the Giza Plateau, so combine your visit to the pyramids with a meal here.
Cairo, with a population of 20 million, has restaurants galore in every part of the city. To discover the best spots and sample classic Egyptian dishes, join a food tour with Bellies En Route.
Where to stay
The inimitable Mena House is one of Egypt’s few remaining grand hotels. Originally built as a hunting lodge for the Ottoman ruler of Egypt in the 1860s, it retains a dignified, historic air that seamlessly integrates modern upgraded rooms. Nearly equidistant between the Pyramid of Khufu and the Grand Egyptian Museum, its picturesque location puts you right on the path of history, with perfect pyramid views to savor from your room or the hotel’s restaurant.