What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Egypt? Is it the Pyramids of Giza? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. They’re at the top of everyone’s list to see when visiting Egypt or Cairo and with good reason. However, they’re not the only pyramids in the Greater Cairo region and are definitely not the best if you’re sightseeing with kids, particularly little ones. Yes, you should see them. Yes, they are impressive. But the others are definitely worth visiting as well. You can hit the three major sites–Giza, Saqqara, and Dahshur–in one day, or spread them out. If you do them all at once, start at Saqqara, then do Dahshur, then end at Giza to work forward chronologically.
You’ll want to prearrange transportation, as Saqqara and Dahshur are relatively remote and it won’t be easy to get taxis. Every tour guide and company can arrange a guide, car, and driver for the day. If you do all three and a lunch break, you can do them in an 8 hour day. Start early if it’s hot as none of them have shade.
Saqqara is a sprawling complex that can take hours to do it justice. However, you can hit two highlights to give you a taste and keep it fast paced enough for kids to be happy. Saqqara is the site of the first pyramid of Egypt–the Step Pyramid. Unlike the Pyramids of Giza, it literally looks like giant steps converging at a single point at the top. It’s a very kid friendly site with a large sandy field in front where they can run, and ruins they can climb on. You’re not allowed to enter the Step Pyramid, but nearby is a small collapsed one you can enter that is kid friendly. You enter it with a ramp downward and then a low tunnel into two rooms. The rooms are covered with drawings. Adults will need to majorly bend over to go down the ramp and tunnel, but my 4 year old could walk up right and loved it. (Update 2/17/19: This small collapsed pyramid was closed when we visited on 2/15/19)
The Step Pyramid was built by Imhotep for King Horus Netjerikhet, better known as Djoser, in the 27th century BC. Also called the Pyramid of Djoser, it was built over many stages. It started as a mastaba with a burial shaft underneath. Then he enlarged it by adding four steps to grow the width and height. Later he added more steps.
Entering the complex, you’ll see a colonnade entrance, tombs, ruins of chapels, pavilions, couryards and a wall of stone cobras. After exploring the grounds around the Step Pyramid, make your way to the collapsed pyramid to enter and see the hieroglyphic texts all over the walls. The worker who shows it to you will say there is no photography (as do signs) but will hold out his hand. Give him 10le if you want to take a picture.
After Saqqara, head over to Dahshur to see pyramids number 3 and 4 chronologically. It’s about a 30 minute drive. The famous Bent Pyramid was the first attempt to build a true pyramid without the steps. Unfortunately, mathematical calculations were incorrect and halfway up they realized that the pyramid would be too tall before the sides met and it could collapse. They adjusted the angle of construction, giving it a bent appearance.
This pyramid and the Red Pyramid were both built by Snofru, founder of the 4th dynasty. The Red Pyramid is called such because of the reddish limestone used that gives it a red hue. It is the second largest pyramid in Egypt.
Near the parking lot for the Red Pyramid are bathrooms. Plan on tipping the attendant. They should have toilet paper, but it’s always good to have some. There is often a drink seller nearby too.
Kids enjoy Dahshur because there are very few people and plenty of space to run around. You can climb halfway up the Red Pyramid using a series of modern stairs and ramps for some excellent views. Feeling brave? You can enter the pyramid and wind your way downward into its depths. It’s not for the claustrophobic or for those who have a hard time with lots of stairs. My kids enjoyed the views, but stayed outside.
Either bring a picnic and eat at the parking lot for Dahshur, or head to Giza and grab lunch at one of the many restaurants there. There are some quick road side stops, some mid range Egyptian buffet places, or for a longer and fancier break, eat at Mena House with beautiful views of the Pyramids of Giza. It takes about 45 min-1 hour to drive from Dahshur to Giza.
There are a few options for viewing Giza–traditional or via horseback.
For a traditional visit, get your tickets (and use the bathroom) and start at the largest pyramid–The Pyramid of Khufu. It took 20 years and 20,000-30,000 workers (not slaves, they were paid and volunteered). Also known as Cheops by the Greeks, Khufu succeeded Snofru who built the pyramids at Dahshur. 2,300,000 blocks were used with each block weighing an average of 2.5 tons!! You can pay additional money to enter the pyramid, but it is normally very crowded, claustrophobic and almost the same as the Red Pyramid at Dahshur. I suggest skipping it.
Then walk to the second pyramid-the Pyramid of Khafre. It is the only one with its original limestone casing still intact, though only at the top. From there either have your car pick you up, or walk up the hill to Panorama, a viewpoint of all three pyramids. Along with great photos, you’ll encounter vendor stalls and camels. It’s a great spot for a camel ride if you’d like a short ride in the desert. Prices are set. When we visited, it was 100le per camel for 30 minutes. Then you should tip the boy or man who guides you about le20. Kids can sit in front of you or you can wear the smaller ones. The guides are happy to take your photo in various poses. It’s also a great spot to get up close photos with camels.
Finally, take the car over to the Sphinx. Built around 2500 BC, it is the symbolic image of the Pharaoh and the guardian of the royal necropolis. Kids will love wondering what happened to its nose and beard. When leaving the Sphinx Complex, you’ll pass by a row of vendors. If you’re short on souvenir shopping time, the prices are relatively reasonable and you can always bargain. There are bathrooms near the Sphinx parking lot as well.
You can also do camel riding around the Sphinx complex or from the pyramids down to the Sphinx. Some of this depends on if you have a car and driver or if you drove yourself.
If you’d rather go horseback riding at the pyramids, then I highly suggest FB Stables. You can read all about our horseback riding experience with them on this post. You can either just ride and view the pyramids from up high, or you can get down from the horses at various points and the handler will help hold them. FB Stables has a bathroom, great views from its roof, and can arrange tea or a light lunch. They treat their horses well.
Bathrooms–Dahshur (by the Red Pyramid parking lot), Giza (near the ticket office), and the Sphinx Complex (on the road leading to the parking lot). Bring toilet paper and have some small 1 pound coins. Attendants typically expect 2 pounds per person
Water and Drinks–you’ll see vendors at every site selling cold water and soda
Food–bring your own to Saqqara and Dahshur. There are food sites near Giza, including a Pizza Hut, Mena House (fanciest of options), and various local choices.
Shade–None! If visiting in the hot months, be prepared. Some companies suggest doing the pyramids in the reverse order I did to try and beat the crowds at Giza. Either way, it’s going to be hot.
Strollers–Leave them behind. Everything is sandy and rocky. A baby carrier is a good option for little ones, especially at the crowded Giza Complex. Saqqara and Dahshur are mostly safe for them to run around. Use a baby carrier for babies and toddlers when riding a horse or camels.
Self Driving–All three sites have parking. Giza is large through so you may want to do camels or horses rather than walk it all.
Guides–Any tour company can arrange a trip to the pyramids. Be very clear about what you want to see. I use Mostafa Fawzy and he arranges a car or van, guide, and driver, and is reasonably priced. Contact him via Whatsapp (preferred) at +20 111 733 3477 or email at email@example.com. I have also used SEEgypt.