The great Pyramids of Egypt, the last remaining ancient wonder of the world and one of histories greatest tourist attractions. Learn everything you need to know to travel to Egypt and visit the Giza plateau with this ultimate guide to the Pyramids of Giza.
The Pyramids of Giza are on most travellers bucket lists, and it really isn’t difficult to see why. These majestic and enigmatic structures are the worlds most famous tourist attraction with travellers and pilgrims coming from all over the world to see them since at the very least the time of the Roman Empire.
My own bucket list was no exception once upon a time, and I will never forget the first time I managed to get a glimpse of them, flashing in between the run down buildings of downtown Cairo from the back of a taxi on the way to the plateau itself. Finally reaching the entrance to the plateau and standing in front of them for the first time was an almost spiritual experience for a man who had been dreaming about seeing them since he was a young boy reading every book on Ancient Egypt and Egyptology he could get his hands on.
I have visited Cairo numerous times over the years, and each time I can never tear myself away from the Giza plateau for too long. The ancient structures were even the inspiration for my first novel!
The best thing about traveling to see the Pyramids of Egypt is that you don’t need a package tour to do it. It is just as easy and probably a lot cheaper to travel to see the Pyramids independently, so here is everything you need to know about the Pyramids and how you can go and see them for yourself.
Who built the great Pyramids of Giza and why?
Western Civilisation has attempted to answer the question of who built the pyramids for over 4500 years, not to mention when and why, and the answer is still – despite the clinically academic and simplistic answer of simple tombs for specific pharoahs – perhaps one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of our time.
Centuries of study and excavation has answered at least part of those questions. Far from being built by slaves, the Pyramids were built by vast armies of paid workers who lived for part of each year on site, as ornate tombs for the God Kings known as Pharaohs.
The three largest and most famous of the Giza plateau Pyramids belong to Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu, alongside the six smaller pyramids on the plateau for their queens and the many subsidiary pyramids and temples that once surrounded them.
The reason why – the fact that they were just tombs for ancient royalty and nobility – may be accurate, but it does not explain half of the questions and theories that are still being asked.
How old are the Pyramids of Giza?
All the research still maintains that the three primary Pyramids at Giza were built in the Old Kingdom, sometime during 2600 BCE and 2500 BCE, but there are still endless theories and studies that place them thousands of years prior to those dates that just refuse to die. Whichever field of thought you believe, visiting these ancient monuments is a life experience that no one should miss.
Practicalities of visiting the Pyramids.
Where are the Pyramids of Giza?
There are more than eighty Pyramids spread throughout Egypt, but the biggest and most famous are the three belonging to Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu on the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo.
The Giza plateau is actually located in the city of Giza, not out in the desert outside of Cairo as most people assume.
Giza is a small village turned large city on the West bank of the Nile, whilst Cairo is on the East, and it can be very easy to conflate the two as they are essentially two cities right next to each other and are easily passable between the two by foot or taxi.
The Giza plateau is located right at the edge of Giza, and is fighting a losing battle with the city constantly encroaching further and further onto it.
How to get to the pyramids of Giza from Cairo.
There are multiple options to get to the Pyramids from Cairo, depending on where exactly you are staying.
There are dozens of options for hotels and pensions surrounding the plateau that offer great views of the Pyramids themselves and are within relatively easy walking distance to the entrance itself. Sharia Al Haram (Pyramid Road) leads straight up to the main entrance, and there is a secondary entrance closer to the Sphinx in the suburb of Nazlet as Samaan. This is where most of the horse and camel stables are too.
If you are staying further out in central Giza or Cairo, (my personal favourite place to stay is downtown) you can hail a taxi which is relatively cheap (which should be around £2 ish but you will be quoted on average around £5 or as high as £10 or more), or grab an uber which is even cheaper and saves you the hassle of haggling with drivers.
Do you need a tour group to see the Pyramids?
Absolutely not. There are countless tour groups that head to Giza every day, and there are more and more as tourism slowly returns to normal, but it is extremely easy to turn up at the entrance to the plateau, buy your own ticket and visit them on your own terms.
How much is it to enter the Giza Plateau?
Visiting the Pyramids is seriously cheap, especially when you consider that this is one of the premier tourist attractions in the world. But there are different prices for different parts of the complex, with the student price usually half of the normal price.
- Entrance to the Plateau – 160 EGP
- Entrance into the Great Pyramid (when available) – 300 EGP
- Entrance into other Pyramids (when available) – 100 EGP
- Entrance to the Solar Boat Museum – 80 EGP
Prices correct as of January 2019.
Remember that these prices can change at any time but they have stayed pretty stable for many years now (as a very rough estimate they have slowly doubled in price over the last ten years which is astounding). And also remember that if you have an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or an International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC) you can get a good discount on all attractions in Egypt.
It is also important to remember the unfortunate Egyptian practice of charging extra for every single thing, so if you want to take a camera, expect to pay an extra 20 EGP for the camera ticket, if you want to take a tripod, that is an extra ticket on top, if you want to film or take video that is a minimum of 300 EGP extra, and the guards will get very funny and question you about any decent camera gear and will not allow microphones or drones in.
How do you buy tickets at the Giza plateau?
It is actually really easy. There are obviously a ton of people trying to sell you tours but you don’t need them.
Simply head to the small nondescript ticket office in Nazlet El – Samman. It is the main entrance in front of the Sphinx in Giza and most taxi drivers won’t have a problem finding it for you.
The building itself is really unassuming and doesn’t have any signage, but it is the one below the sound and light sign and opposite the infamous Pizza Hut and KFC.
The small window with bars on it is where you actually go and buy your tickets, make sure you buy the extra tickets to enter the pyramids and ones for your camera too if you want to take one in.
After that you go through the door through the small metal detector, they will check your tickets and that’s it.
If you get there at opening time it is easy and quick, with very few people going through, but the small security entrance is only built for half a dozen people at most and once all the tour groups start turning up after 0900 and the local tourists start piling in from late morning onwards it can get really busy and overwhelming.
What time does the Giza Plateau open for visitors?
The plateau opens from 0800 to 1700 hours from October to March and 0700 to 1900 between April and September.
Most tour buses start arriving en masse at around 0900, with the package tourist hordes descending like the biblical plague around half an hour or so after that, so you can easily turn up at opening time and have the entire plateau almost to yourself (with only a few stragglers and locals) for a good hour or so if you travel there independently.
What else is there to see at the Giza archaeological complex?
Seeing the Sphinx!
The mysterious Sphinx is as much a must see bucket list site as the Pyramids themselves, and despite the rumours of it’s relatively small stature not living up to the legend being true (everyone always says they expected it to be bigger), the Sphinx is still an awe inspiring site.
Known in Arabic as Abu Al Hol (Father of Terror), it was Greek travellers who named it the Sphinx after their own mythical winged monster with the body of a lion and the head of a man, and the poor structure is now more than a little worse for wear after centuries of increasing erosion and pollution damage, not to mention the nose being hacked off by Arab travellers some time between the 11th and 15th Centuries (not a cannonball fired by Napoleon as some suggest), and British ‘adventurers’ swiping part of the beard in the early 19th Century ACE to display in the British museum, it may have been the Egyptians themselves who vandalised it the most.
Most scholars now agree that the Sphinx’s current face was that of Khafre, the Pharaoh who built the second largest pyramid at Giza, and argue that it was then the Sphinx was carved out of the rock, but there are a lot of theories, and a lot of evidence to suggest that not only is the Sphinx far, far older than that by at least 8000 years, but once actually had the body and head of a lion, and the head was later re carved into the image of Khafre!
Most visitors will view the Sphinx from a platform at the side which can get very crowded with tourists trying to take those photos of them ‘kissing’ it, but it is much better to head straight here right at opening time before the hoards arrive and you can get much better access to her and explore on your own, or at least with a lot fewer people.
Solar barque museum.
This is a fascinating museum dedicated to the boats (or solar barques) that were excavated almost exactly on this spot near the Pyramid of Khufu. Scholars think that the boats were once used to carry the mummy of the deceased Pharoah down the Nile to the Pyramids (the Nile was once a lot closer and the city of Cairo a lot further away), and then buried by the Pyramids to convey the Pharaoh to the afterlife. That’s the working theory at least and the museum is a fascinating place to spend an hour or so wandering around, even if you just want to escape the heat of the desert into some glorious air con for a while.
Tomb of Sheshem Nefer Theti.
A small tomb just by the entrance of the solar barque museum in front of the Great Pyramid, this tomb is dated to Dynasty 6 of the old kingdom and was built for Seshem Nefer, an overseer in the royal funerary process. It is an interesting side visit to the pyramids themselves but do a little reading up on the history before you visit.
The sound and light show.
The nightly sound and light show at the Pyramids (narrated by the Sphinx herself no less) is a gloriously cheesy masterpiece of package tourism that hasn’t changed much at all in the last couple of decades, and is a lot of fun to sit and watch once at least.
A top tip, if you are staying in one of the nearby hotels in Nazlet as Samaan you can watch it from the rooftop, or your room depending on your view.
Tomb of Khentkawes.
This ruined structure opposite the great pyramid is the tomb of Queen Khentkawes, the powerful daughter of Menkaure. It is bypassed and ignored by a lot of tourists and is worth a stroll over to take a look yourself.
The Queen’s Pyramids.
The three smaller pyramids that can be seen alongside the three primary structures are those of various Queens, most notably Queen Hetepheres, the mother of Khufu.
Lesser royal cemeteries.
As the pyramids were being built, the smaller mastaba tombs and cemeteries were built alongside them for consorts and lesser nobles. Most of these are closed off to the public but it is still possible to see them and look inside a few that are open, and there are a couple that still have interesting hieroglyphics and paintings on the wall.
Frequently asked questions about visiting the Pyramids.
What should I wear when visiting the Pyramids?
Egyptians are more than used to seeing tourists from all over the world and are more than tolerant toward different styles of dress compared to many conservative Middle Eastern nations. Out of respect you still shouldn’t turn up with hotpants and a bikini top (especially for the guys), but normal shorts and T Shirts are generally fine.
Practicality is the rule when deciding what to wear on the Giza plateau. Clothes should be light and comfortable and suitable for protecting you from the sun. Cover up as much as is practical and comfortable, wear a hat, cap or scarf to protect your head for the sun and wear comfortable trainers if you want to clamber inside the pyramids and tombs, flip flops are not practical.
How to deal with touts and hassle at the Pyramids.
With so many tourists heading to the greatest tourist attraction in the world every day, it is no wonder that there are so many touts trying to earn a living off them. Efforts have been made to push touts outside of the fenced plateau itself, and the tourist police offer assistance where necessary, but you will still face the odd tout or two. Or three.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no danger or risk here, at best it is a slight annoyance.
The best thing you can do to deal with the touts at the Giza plateau is to just ignore them and walk away. Seriously. If you have to engage just say ‘la shukraan’ which loosely translated means ‘no, thank you’ and then ignore again.
Can you climb the Pyramids of Giza?
No you can’t, it is as simple as that, and furthermore you shouldn’t want to either.
Although it use to be possible climbing the Pyramids has been made completely illegal now, and even though there are still a few tourists who try from time to time they can and will be arrested by the Egyptian tourism police who do maintain a presence there.
For anyone who is wandering no the laws aren’t there for your health and safety either, they were put in place to stop idiot tourists ruining the ancient monument by clambering over it.
There is a small section you are permitted to climb on the Great pyramid to reach the entrance to the inner chamber, and guards will allow you to sit on the first step or two to pose for a photo, but at the end of the day they are right to protect these ancient monuments and as travellers we should be supporting that.
Where can you get the best view of the Pyramids.
This is of course subjective but the best views in my opinion are from out in the desert. Only half of the Giza plateau has been encroached on by the city itself, the other half is open to the Egyptian desert, and it is easy to walk or ride out into it to get the view of the Pyramids from the desert that most people imagine when they think of the Pyramids.
There are a couple of spots, raised rocky outcrops about a mile out from the pyramids themselves where the majority of the horse and camel riders take the package tourists to get their perspective shots holding the pyramids up.
It is very easy to walk out to these areas yourself without paying for any guides or rides, and find your own peaceful spot away from the touts and guides.
Can you ride around the Pyramids on horse or camel back?
Yes you can. There are plenty of camel and horse riding operations that will take you around the plateau into the desert and give you a great view. Just make sure that the operator you go with is responsible and treat the horses and camels well. Many do, but some don’t, and there are many examples of poor and unethical practices. Do your research and ask the right questions before you accept any rides.
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