Giza Pyramids, Egypt

Giza Pyramids on the edge of Cairo, Egypt

The Giza Pyramids looking east towards Cairo. Photo by Berthold Werner.

From left is the Great Pyramid of Pharoah Khufu (Cheops in Greek), then Khafre, Menkaure and little Pyramid of Queens, backed by Cairo city. Khafre’s pyramid (with the cap) seems taller/larger than Khufu’s but that’s an illusion due to the steeper angle of the sides and the more elevated land it was built on. Khufu’s, built 2560–2540 BC, is taller and uses more volume of stones.

Visiting the Giza Pyramids

Great pyramid entry, Giza Pyramids, Egypt

The entry to the tomb inside the Great Pyramid (the small, dark, lower one, not the grand depression top left). Photo by MusikAnimal.

It’s quite an experience to be inside that mass of ancient carved rock but there’s little to see and it’s hot, steep, narrow and quite claustrophobic. No photos allowed inside.

The Pyramids squat just on the edge of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, about 25 km (15 miles) from the city centre but only a few dozen metres from some buildings. The area is formally known as the Giza Necropolis and Great Pyramid is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still visible and Africa’s most awesome monument by far.

The Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or Pyramid of Cheops, shares the Giza Plateau with the two slightly smaller pyramids of Khafre (aka Pharoah Chephren) and Pharoah Menkaure as well as some tombs and smaller monuments such as the Sphinx. Many Egyptologists believe, by the way, that the Sphinx’s face is that of Pharaoh Khafre.

The sides of all three pyramids are precisely aligned to magnetic north, south, east and west; the bases are square, level and built on rock, not the sand that covers most of Egypt.

The Great Pyramid took about 20 years to build and was finished around 2560 BC. It was then the tallest man-made structure in the world for almost 4, 000 years.
Originally the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface, and what is seen today is the underlying core structure. originally 146 m (481 ft) high and contains an estimated 2. 3 million blocks of stone each weighing 2. 5 tonnes or more. The largest block weighs as much as 15 metric tons.

Rock was quarried from just south of the site, worked and placed in position by thousands of paid labourers, not slaves, who were probably farmers in their off-season when fields were flooded during the Nile’s annual inundation.

Garbage Alert

Pity about the litter, garbage and junk lying around the Giza Plateau and indeed around Egypt generally. Egyptians are not alone in their inability to see a rubbish issue, it’s a problem we’ve come across throughout the poorer parts of the Middle-East and North Africa. Something to do with nomadic desert evolution. Drop some crap in the desert and move on. . Poof! Gone!
This enviromental neglect only stops when a government steps in and clearly Egyptians have other concerns at the moment. Tourists: consider the rubbish to be a part of the rich plastic tapestry of life in this part of the world.

Best time to visit the Giza Pyramids

The Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids, Egypt

The Great Sphinx of Giza squatting implacably before the Khafre Pyramid. They were built at about the same time, presumably under Khafre’s orders. Photo by Diego Delso.

Best: October – February. Temperatures are OK March-May but sandstorms (khamsin) can appear during this season and may cloud the entire area for a couple of days though usually less. The storms screw up visibility, while sand particles get into every bodily or device orifice. It rarely rains but winter nights get relatively chilly. Statistically it rains three days in a year in Cairo region, never in Luxor.
Worst: June-September (extreme heat).


There are two ticket offices: the first is near the main road/Mena House entrace, the second is down near the Sphinx. Use the Sphinx entry to reduce crowds, especially of the Sphinx area. Student IDs are very useful and will earn holders a 50% discount.

Opening Times

The official opening times of Giza Pyramids as well as  Saqqara and Dashur pyramids is 8am to 5pm though timing may change any day (! ) so confirm with your hotel staff before heading off. The prime time to visit should be on the dot of opening when the vast tour groups (perhaps) have not yet arrived, nor some of the hawkers, nor the heat of the day during the summer season (what are you doing here in that season anyway? ! Like adverse conditions, do you? ).

If you arrive, for whatever reason, after closing time one option is to make a deal with a local for a camel or horse ride up to a low sand hill from where you have a panoramic view with the sun behind you (such as the photo at the top of the page). But, remember to strike a clear deal beforehand and pay on arriving back. Some innocents pay early and then get further demands when they are on the hill a couple of kilometres out.

camel gif

Hawkers and Hiring a Camel, Horse or Guide

Camel rides at Giza Pyramids, Egypt

Notorious camel touts in front of the Khafre pyramid. Photo by Kallerna.

Take care when hiring a camel (or horse/guide) for a ride around the Giza pyramids. The touts can be whiny pests and endlessly demanding (actually that’s a working definition of a North African tout flogging anything from carpets to guided tours), both before and after you have made a deal to ride the noxious beast.
That being said they’re basically OK people who are desperate for your business after a few hard years so try to find one you like or get along with on some level, and negotiate your price very thoroughly beforehand and don’t pay until you have arrived back and dismounted, ready to leave. Be firm in the face of outrage!

Do not give your entry ticket to anyone outside the Pyramid zone metal detector gateway. Some hawkers try to get their hands on the tickets and thus become the de facto guide – even tho’ they know little about the site and are only interested in your tip. Do not give up your ticket and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and refuse tip. If you want a tour, better ones can be booked in advance and will offer more accurate details of what you are seeing.

You can avoid this kind of unsettling hawker-torment behaviour by hiring a proper guide beforehand or joining a tour group, big or small. Or tough it out, dress poor and say ‘La, shukran‘ (no thanks in Arabic) a lot. Final thought: if you’re alone try plugging your ears with music!

Sound and Light Show

light show at the Giza Pyramids, Egypt

The sound and light show at Giza pyramids. Not grand enough by half we thought so go with low expectations and you may enjoy it. Left is Khafre’s pyramid and right is Khufu’s. Photo by MusikAnimal.

If you are here to see the pyramids and are lucky enough to be well-off then the Mena House is the place to be. Full Disclosure: Nothing! No relation! We wanted to stay there ourselves but couldn’t afford it!

Funeral Ship

Khufu ship museum, Giza Pyramids, Egypt

Cheops/Khufu pyramid and the appallingly unattractive and obtrusive Khufu Ship Museum, or whatever. Note the mild sandstorm blurring the view of Cairo. Photo by Hajotthu.

Pharoah Khufu’s after-life funeral barge, 43. 6 metres (143 ft) long, found in a pit beside the pyramid, is now on display in the Greatest Eyesore known to Mankind. What’s wrong with undergound?

Climbing the Giza Pyramids

This activity is officially forbidden and extremely dangerous with a number of tourist fatalities over the years as the stones are ready to crumble at the next step. Confession: in my reckless youth I did climb the Great Pyramid. It was before dawn and I climbed one of the corners which was less degraded than the central ‘steps’. Physically it wasn’t too tough and dawn over Cairo was spectacular, as was the sight of a fox trotting around about halfway up, looking for birds eggs I believe, as there were many nests among the stones.

Getting to the Giza Pyramids (Al-Haram)

Pyramid street, Giza Pyramids, Egypt

The always busy and never pretty approach to the Giza Plateau, Pyramid street. Photo by Aligatorek.

By metro

Metro Line 2 runs from all Cairo stations to Giza district but not to the Pyramids so get off at the station named Giza and locate the pyramids road tunnel after which you’ll find inexpensive shared taxis for hire. White taxis should have a meter and if the driver doesn’t set it running immediately open the door and pretend to get out. The meter should be active before the car moves away.
The Pyramids are about 8 kms away, hopefully a 15 minute trip depending on traffic conditions.

By taxi

The Pyramids are just on the edge of western Cairo, not far depending on the traffic situation and where you are (Heliopolis? Far, far away! ) but it’s the fastest and easiest way to get to the pyramids. Taxis come unmetered and metered and you’ll have to haggle with whichever, especially if you don’t want to visit the family perfume shop on the way.
If there is a meter then ensure it’s turned on before you set off. If not fake door-opening, abandon-ship and hopefully the driver will turn the meter on. If there’s no meter then ask the price and offer (Bicam ila Haram? ) and offer half his demand or less. You may lose him so prepare to up your price for the next one.

By bus

From central Cairo large white, air-conditioned coaches stencilled CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) numbered 355 or 357, travel across Cairo every 20 minutes from the airport, through Heliopolis, on to the town centre at Midan Tahrir (near to the Egyptian Museum) and continue out to the Pyramids. Tickets are cheap.

There are also very cheap public buses (900 or 997) from the big central bus station near the museum. We can’t recommend this system unless you are a very savvy traveler, as it’s complex and pickpockets and assorted foreigner-unfriendly types may be on board with you.

Other Pyramids far from the Madding Crowds

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqquara (aka Saqara)

Saqqara, Djoser step pyramid, Egypt

The Step Pyramid of Djoser, just south of Giza pyramids at Saqquara is a worthwhile half-day trip. Photo by Dennis Jarvis. Yes, this is a normal way to tether a camel in the desert where posts are rare and camels are eager to trot off. Not comfortable for the beast but then neither is the life of the average Egyptian.

A slow and gentle drive 30kms south alongside the Nile to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser (aka Zoser), Egypt’s first pyramid evolved from an ancient traditional style of tomb called mastaba that had sloping sides. The Step Pyramid of Zoser was built between 2649 to 2575 BC. It’s not huge and somewhat crumbly but is decaying with style in a very quiet and evocative environment.

The Bent Pyramid of Snofru at Dashur

The Dashur pyramid an hour's drive south of Cairo, Egypt

The Dashur pyramid an hour’s drive south of Cairo (37 kms). Photo by Olaf Tausch.

Dashur is where Snofru tried again for the perfect pyramid, almost right that time, with nicely smoothed sides and it didn’t collapse, but it did start to crack so designers, after receiving a good thumping from the Pharaoh’s heavy mob, altered the upper angle, giving the structure strength, a hunch and a name: The Bent Pyramid.
Pharoah Snofru succeeded in Dashur on his third attempt, building a the world’s first smooth pyramid, the Red Pyramid, though it has lost its smooth casing now as well as its name; known officially as Shining Pyramid North or by locals as Bat Pyramid, it’s worth the crack.

email from Henry:
As one would expect we did all the usual things in Cairo and went to see the pyramids at Giza and the museum which were of course magnificent. We also took in the older pyramids at Dashur and Saqqara which were less spectacular, but much more interesting and atmospheric because there were fewer tourists around and we could go down into them and see the tombs inside.