Giza (الجيزة al-Gīza) is an important western district of the Egyptian capital Cairo - a city in its own right, but for a long time now absorbed as part of the heavily-populated and sprawling Cairo metropolis. Giza is best known as that part of Cairo closest to the world-famous Pyramids of Giza, situated high on the desert plateau immediately to the west of the urban district, itself located in the valley and centred around the Pyramids Road, linking central Cairo with the ancient wonders. One of the premier attractions of Egypt, if not the world, the Pyramids of Giza represent the archetypal pyramid structures of ancient Egyptian civilisation and - together with the Sphinx at the base of the Giza plateau - are the iconic image of Egypt.
The city / district of Giza is important as a secondary - and increasingly popular - option for travellers for food, accommodation and entertainment beyond central Cairo. Most of these services are concentrated along the local transport artery, the Pyramids Road.
The desert plateau of Giza, adjacent to the Pyramids, will eventually form the site of the Grand Museum of Egypt  (the competition-winning design conceived by an Irish architectural team led by Shih-Fu Peng), the long-awaited primary replacement for the long-standing Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. Completion has been projected for 2012.
Not much more than a century ago, the Pyramids Road existed as little more than a dusty carriage track amongst irrigated fields, leading out from the city to the then small peasant village of Giza adjoining the pyramid field. Given the rapidly increasing population of Cairo in the 20th century, and the obvious tourist opportunities that the Pyramids provided, Giza has now been transformed beyond recognition to those pioneering Western travellers of the late 19th century. Major arterial roads, apartment blocks, retail strips, restaurants and night clubs now replace what used to be palm-fringed farmers' fields, and the city has now spread to the very limit of the desert plateau. Such rapid development, of course, has not been without its costs - social, economic and aesthetic - and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is now making some efforts to control and channel future (re)development in areas closest to the Pyramids themselves.
The three main Pyramids of Giza are the focal point of the Giza necropolis, or cemetery, that served the elite of the Old Kingdom capital of Egypt at nearby Memphis during the mid to late 4th Dynasty (late 3rd millennium BCE). Three pharaohs were buried here in turn - Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure - their astounding burials attracting a number of surrounding associated burials of their queens, family members and nobility.
Metro Line 2 now runs from Cairo into Giza, although it doesn't go all the way to the Pyramids. Get off at Giza station (not the terminus!) and ask around for minibuses for the remaining 10 km, 15-20 min trip to the Pyramids (al-ahram).
It's possible to negotiate a taxi to take to you out to the Pyramids from any of the traveller-frequented parts of central Cairo - don't forget to haggle however. Taxi drivers will nearly always want to take you to see their "brother's" perfume shop, or their "father's" carpet warehouse on the way - if you don't want to waste time doing this, and being put on the spot to make a purchase - just make it very clear that you only want to see the antiquities.
Fortunately there is another Taxi option which is the Yellow ones, these are metered and air conditioned. You will save yourself the hassle with the black and white taxies mentioned above, and almost the same cost.
From central Cairo, the optimum way to get to the Giza Pyramids using public mass transit options is by bus routes 355 or 357 - a large white, air-conditioned coach with CTA (Cairo Transport Authority) on the side. Travelling every 20 minutes from the airport and Heliopolis, the bus stops (or doesn't - you may have to flag it down!) at the Abdel Menem Riyad Station in Midan Tahrir, next to the Egyptian Museum, before continuing out to Giza and the Pyramids. Tickets costs LE 2 - a bargain!
Even cheaper and more interesting is taking the ordinary buses 990 or 997, costing 50 piastres, from the big central bus station close to the museum, ask people to find the correct lane. Be careful when about getting down, most people will be honest and help you, but you may encounter scammers who take you to their camels instead of to the pyramids. For 997, the correct spot is along a long avenue, after you're spotted the Pyramids and the bus has done a U-turn and then turned left — get off when you a see a blue sign for the Light and Sound show.
All the worthwhile attractions within the Giza area are concentrated on the Giza Plateau at the end of Pyramids Road. Some people are shocked to travel down a street in Giza and see the tip of a Pyramid rise up over the golden arches of a McDonalds with a sign in Arabic - your idea of pyramids rising up out of an empty desert might not match the reality.
There are two ticket offices: the first is near the main entrace, the second - near Sphinx, in the eastern part of the Plateau. If use use the second one in the morning you will avoid crowds of tourists and will have a possibility to explore the Sphinx area all alone in silence. Entry to the site is LE 50, and to enter the pyramids themselves costs another LE 20 for the Pyramid of Menkaure and LE 100 for the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Student ids will come in handy, giving you a 50% discount. The interior of the pyramids is hot, humid and somewhat claustrophobic, with the passeges steep, dusty and hard to move through, and those with any heart or lung issues or a physical handicap will want to steer clear. For those willing to brave these conditions, however, it may be an interesting and educational experience. Personally witnessing the interior walls and passage ways of the pyramids gives one an even deeper appreciation of the tremendous achievement accomplished by the builders of these ancient structures. The folks checking tickets at entry will state no cameras allowed, but a small tip will usually result in them allowing it.
- Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) - the last surviving representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally 146 m (479 ft) high but now slightly reduced to a still awe-inspiring 137 m (449 ft). Over 2 million blocks of stone were used to construct this edifice, all through manual labour.
- Solar Barque Museum - located immediately alongside the southern face of the Great Pyramid, an exceptionally well-done museum showcasing an excavated and reconstructed "solar boat", buried along with the Pharaoh for use on his daily journey with the sun across the sky. Entry LE 40.
- Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) - slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid, though appearing from some angles to appear larger owing to a better position on the desert plateau
- Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) - the smallest of the Giza Pyramids at 62 m (203 ft) high (originally 66.5 m)
- Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx - the colossal, recumbent human-headed lion was conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as the sun god Re-Horakhty - "Horus of the horizon". The Egyptians call it Abu el-Hol, the "Father of Terror", and even the Greek name Sphinx is the less than pleasant "Strangler". 45 meters long, 22 meters wide, and carved from a single giant block of sandstone, the Sphinx is considerably smaller than the Pyramids around it. The missing nose is blamed on target practice by bored troops, commonly blamed variously on British soldiers in World War I or Napoleon's troops in 1798, but 18th-century drawings showing the nose already missing, pointing the finger towards the occupying Turks.
- Various Queens' Pyramids and Nobles' Tombs, located in regimented cemeteries surrounding the royal pyramids. Especially the Tomb of Seshemnufer IV which you can explore from the inside, where you can descend to the sarcophagus and get an idea, how it looks like. Since this is not the main object, there are little tourists and it make this visit very interesting.
Not all the Pyramids are equally accessible for interior exploration, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities closing them to the public at least one at a time for conservation and renovation measures.
Climbing the Pyramids, although once a popular tourist activity, is both now officially forbidden and extremely dangerous - several tourists have met an untimely death attempting to. Some Pyramid guards have been known to turn a blind eye in return for baksheesh in less frequented areas, but this practice has a very negative impact on the pyramids and is strongly discouraged.
It's wise to arrive at the Pyramids at the moment they open, as tour bus activity and (in the summer) the heat quickly make the attractions overrun and difficult to fully enjoy.
Do not give up your ticket to anyone outside of the gate checkpoints. You will need to show it to enter through the metal detectors at the entrance to the Pyramids area, Sphinx area, and to enter the Pyramid if you choose to pay for that ticket. There are many folks who will walk up and claim (true or false?) to work for the government and ask to see the ticket, then take it and try to start a tour for you. They want to explain things at a fast pace, and then demand a 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. (A favorite place for them to lurk is beside the tombs outside the Great Pyramid.)
- Pyramids Sound and Light Show (Son-et-Lumière) , admission: foreign languages shows LE 60, Arabic show LE 11, private shows in foreign languages, LE 65 + LE 300 (covers operating expenses), Arabic private show, LE 16.50 + LE 150. More than slightly kitsch and frequently inaccurate in historical detail, but a worthwhile evening activity nonetheless. The "voice of the Sphinx" narrates the history of the Giza Plateau and its place in Egyptian history, as a dazzling laser display picks out the details of the Pyramids and displays historical scenes on the side of the Great Pyramid itself.
If you eat at the Pizza Hut restaurant just outside the entrance to the Sound and Light Show, there's a good chance you'll be offered to watch the show from the roof of the restaurant for a small tip. While it's not as good as watching it from a front row seat inside the fences, it's excellent value for money.
|Day||First Show||Second Show||Third Show|
|Winter (Oct-Mar)||6:30 PM||7:30 PM||8:30 PM|
|Summer (Apr-Sep)||8:30 PM||9:30 PM||10:30 PM|
- Camel Rides. Avoid succumbing to the temptation of taking a camel ride around the Pyramids, if you can, the practice is noisy, smelly and overrated. Basically, there are many better places in Egypt to take a camel ride, if you must. Things are a little better run than they used to be, and the practice of taking tourists out into the desert and refusing to return unless "tipped" is rather rare now.
- Go horse riding in the desert to experience both the spirit of the Egyptian horses and the true majesty of the Pyramids seen from outside the 'circus ring' wall. Be careful of touts, however; it's best to ride from one of the better quality stables, like FB Stables. Ride in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or further afield on a half day trip to Saqqara or Abu Sir or camp out over night with a barbecue and fire. You can also watch the Sound and Light show from FB's rooftop terrace!
- FB Stables, Gamal Abdul Nasser St, Sphinx (Turn left after the sphinx KFC, then right in Gamal Abdul Nasser Street. FB is the last stables on the left), ☎ (+20) 016 507 0288. Friendly family-run stables with well-cared for horses. Popular with expats who keep their horses at livery, FB Stables are also great for a 'tourist' type ride to view the Pyramids from the desert. Ask for Karim. Longer rides to Saqqara and Abu Sir can be arranged in advance, as can overnight rides with barbecue in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Other than the horses and good company, one of the best things about FB is their amazing rooftop terrace with unrivalled views over the Pyramids - a great place to relax with a drink whilst watching the Sound and Light show.
- See the sunrise, the first sun beams colouring the Pyramids from the terrace on the third floor of a cafe or from the roof terrace of the hostel situated near the second western entrance and ticket-office.
- Al Amir Perfume Palace, 9 Abu el Houl St., ☎ +202 385 4963. An overwhelming smell will hit you as soon as you walk inside, if you can stand the smell for more than a few minute you can find some great deals on perfume.
- Legends and Legacies, 20 Abuu Hazim St. (Off of Pyramid Road). An relaxed indoor bazaar.
A number of Western fast food options exist immediately opposite the main ticket gates to the Pyramid enclosure, Pizza Hut and KFC included, so you can munch on a Tower burger and sip on a coke in air-conditioned comfort whilst gazing on the 4,000+ year-old Sphinx across the road! (Many travellers might prefer a more authentic experience....)
- Fish Market, 26 Shar'a al-Nil (Along the Nile, in the same 'boat' as TGI Fridays), ☎ +20 2 570 9694. This eatery is located on the Nile, in a docked ship, sharing space with a TGI Friday's below. Popular with locals and tourist visitors, but the food is mediocre and overprices, and service is haphazard. Moderate to High.
- Khan El Khalili, Mena House Oberoi hotel. The restaurant has been open for over a century and is far and away the most stylish place for lunch or just a cold beer. Expect to pay Western prices for the privilege.
- Moghul Room, Mena House Oberoi. An extremely good upmarket Indian restaurant. Reservations necessary.
- Nile Pharos (Dinner cruise), 138 El Nile St.. The boat features Pharonic decor, and offers a buffet with international and Egyptian cuisine, and belly dancing.
General accommodation options are somewhat limited within the Giza district - most travellers tend to stay in and around central Cairo itself and travel out to the Pyramids for at least part of the day. For people determined to stay in close vicinity and / or for whom cost is no issue, there are a number of very comfortable options:
- Mena House Oberoi, Pyramids Rd., ☎ +20 2 383 3222, . Built in 1869 as a royal lodge for King Ismail the Magnificent, this magnificent palace has housed guests including Empress Eugenie and Prince Albert. Tastefully restored and located very close to the Pyramids. Rooms in the newer Garden wing from $150, Palace wing rooms from $210; be sure to ask for a room with a view of the Pyramids.
- The Giza Pyramids being the main tourist attraction in Egypt, attracting millions of tourists each year, they likewise attract a large number of the most-determined opportunists for miles around - report any instances of harassment by camel drivers and tourist touts to the black-uniformed Tourist Police immediately
- Don't climb any of the Pyramids - officially forbidden and extremely dangerous!
- As anywhere in Egypt, in hot months especially, take plenty of bottled water with you (and drink it!), wear a hat and wear sunscreen - sunglasses are also definitely a good idea!
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