If you are in Cairo for a day or two, most likely the great pyramids of Giza are on the top of your to-do list. And they should be…they are spectacular. But what if I told you that just a short drive outside of Cairo you can visit pyramids that are even older than those in Giza? Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara contain some of the oldest and best-preserved sites not only in Egypt, but in the world.
Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara can be visited on a day trip from Cairo and Giza. And this day trip beat all of our expectations.
Touring the pyramids of Dahshur feels like an adventure. To get inside of the pyramids, you will descend down tight, steep tunnels and then explore the ancient chambers inside of the pyramids. In some ways, it’s much more thrilling than a visit to the pyramids of Giza. It’s also much less crowded.
Memphis was the first capital city of Egypt. A visit here is quick with a tour of the open-air museum.
Finally, you will visit Saqqara, which was the necropolis for the city of Memphis. It is here that you can see the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser and the oldest complete stone building complex in the world.
A visit to Dahshur, Memphis and Saqqara is one of Egypt’s best history lessons. I will give you the basic facts in this post, but it really helps to have a knowledgeable guide or Egyptologist who can fill you in on all of the details (more on this at the end of this post).
Important Note: You can visit these sites in any order. We started in Dahshur, the site that is farthest from Giza, and worked our way back towards the city.
A Brief History Lesson
Dahshur is an ancient, royal necropolis that is located 30 km south of Giza and 40 km south of Cairo.
Dahshur is where the ancient Egyptians perfected their pyramid-constructing skills. It is here that several of the first pyramids were built and it took a few tries to get things right.
The Bent Pyramid was the first attempt at building a smooth sided pyramid. It was constructed between 2613 and 2589 BC under the rule of King Sneferu. It gets its name from the different angles of inclination. The pyramid rises out of the sand at a steep 54 degrees and then abruptly changes to a shallower 43 degrees, giving it a “bent” appearance. Archaeologists believe that the angle of the pyramid was changed in order to prevent its collapse.
Once it was discovered that 43 degrees was the magic number, King Sneferu ordered the construction of a second pyramid, the Red Pyramid. This was the first smooth sided pyramid to be constructed. It gets its name from the red limestone that was used in the construction of the pyramid.
After King Sneferu’s death, his son, Khufu, went on to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The two pyramids you will visit are the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. However, several smaller pyramids are located in the area. Off in the distance, you might notice something that looks like a misshapen hill. This is the Black Pyramid. It is a badly eroded pyramid and it is actually newer than the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid.
When you arrive in Dahshur, you will arrive at the Red Pyramid first. You can visit these two pyramids in either order, but I recommend starting at the Red Pyramid.
The Red Pyramid
The Red Pyramid is the 3rd largest Egyptian pyramid, after Khufu and Khafre in Giza. You can simply admire it from the outside but with your entrance ticket to Dahshur, you can enter the Red Pyramid.
First, you will climb up a long staircase that has been carved from outside of the pyramid. The steps are uneven but there are railings in some spots. This is the easy part.
Show the attendant your ticket and enter the pyramid.
To go inside of the pyramid, you will have to descend down a long, somewhat steep tunnel to get to the chambers. It’s harder than it looks, since you will walk backwards, hunched over, so your back does not scrape the ceiling.
This tunnel is approximately 60 meters long (200 feet), although it starts to feel longer than that once you get to the bottom. The taller you are, the more challenging it will be.
It is easier to turn around and walk down the ramp backwards. You will walk on a wooden ramp that has slats every few feet to keep your feet from slipping. There is also a railing on each side of the tunnel to help you keep your balance.
This is a narrow passageway, and during busier times of the day, there will be two-way traffic in this tight space.
Pro Travel Tip: If you suffer from claustrophobia, even if it is mild, consider skipping this. This is a tight space and you will have to stop occasionally, either to rest or to wait for people passing in the opposite direction. During our visit, there was another visitor with mild claustrophobia and they couldn’t handle the climb down the passageway.
Pro Travel Tip #2: If you suffer from any problems with your knees, neck, or back, I also recommend skipping this. It takes several minutes to climb down through the tunnel and it can feel exhausting. You will be hunched over and walking down, and then back up, while in a squatting position. It can be very tiring to climb back up the tunnel.
My 71-year old mother did fine in this passageway, although the climb back up was challenging for her. She chose to skip the visit to the Bent Pyramid.
It’s surprisingly hot and humid down in the chamber of the pyramid. It also reeks of ammonia.
Once inside the pyramid, there are several empty chambers to visit. A long, wooden staircase takes you to a higher, empty chamber.
To exit the pyramid, climb back up the same tunnel.
The attendant will offer to take your photo in the tunnel entrance. In return, it is expected that you will give him a small tip (our guide recommended 10 EGP as a tip). If you have no interest in a photo, simply say “no thank you.”
The Bent Pyramid
Just a few minutes away is the Bent Pyramid. Not only is this pyramid unique for its multiple angles, but it is also unique in that its limestone casing is mostly intact.
The Bent Pyramid just recently opened to tourists (in 2019). It had been closed for 65 years during a long and much needed restoration project.
Entering the Bent Pyramid
Going inside the Bent Pyramid is very similar to the Red Pyramid. First, you will climb up a long series of wooden staircases to get to the entrance.
The passageway to descend down into the Bent Pyramid is longer and narrower than the passageway into the Red Pyramid. If you struggled at the Red Pyramid, consider skipping the Bent Pyramid.
This tunnel is 80 meters long (260 feet) and the slightly smaller than the Red Pyramid. Tyler and I kept scraping our backs on the ceiling of this tunnel. However, it really does feel like an adventure, descending down dark, narrow passageways into pyramids that are thousands of years old.
Once inside the pyramid, there is a large, empty chamber and a very long wooden staircase that ends at an upper chamber. Inside of this chamber are hundreds of bats. Surprisingly, even with the bats, this pyramid does not smell bad or reek of ammonia, like the Red Pyramid (at least during our visit in 2019).
To exit the pyramid, climb back up the long tunnel. I’m in relatively good shape and my legs were very tired by the time I reached the exit.
Take a Stroll Around the Outside of the Pyramid
It’s a nice, easy walk around the outside of the Bent Pyramid. Off if the distance you can see the Red Pyramid and the crumbling Black Pyramid.
Bent Pyramid with the Red Pyramid off in the distance.
Kara, Valerie, Tim and Tyler with the Black Pyramid in the background.
There is also a much smaller pyramid, a satellite pyramid, located next to the Bent Pyramid.
Planning Your Visit
Entrance Ticket: 60 EGP adult, 30 EGP student with valid ID
Camera Ticket: 300 EGP
Vehicle Parking Fee: 10 EGP per vehicle
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
A visit here lasts 1 to 1.5 hours if you enter both pyramids.
Memphis was the first capital city of Egypt, and some records state that it could have existed as far back as 6000 BC.
This city was founded in the 1st dynasty by King Narmar. It was the first capital city founded after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The name “Memphis” is derived from the Egyptian name Men-Nefer. The Greeks renamed the city “Memphis.”
What remains today are the foundations, the stumps of pillars, and some statues, which you can visit in the open-air museum that is located in the village of Mit-Rahineh.
Highlights of a visit here include the alabaster sphinx and seeing the massive statue of Ramesses II.
Planning Your Visit
Entrance Ticket: 80 EGP adult, 40 EGP student with valid ID
Vehicle Parking Fee: 10 EGP
A visit here lasts 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara, is the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. This area contains numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser), the oldest stone building complex in the world.
The Step Pyramid was constructed in the 27th century BC. It was built under the order of Pharaoh Djoser by his chief architect, Imhotep.
The early royal tombs were underground rooms that were covered with a mastaba (a mudbrick structure that is constructed in the form of a bench).
Imhotep formed the Step Pyramid by stacking six of these mastabas, one on top of the other, until the structure reached the height of 62.5 meters. It was encased in white limestone. The construction of the Step Pyramid is what inspired the future pharaohs to build the more modern pyramids (such as the Bent and Red pyramids).
Surrounding the Step Pyramid is the funerary complex, which consists of several halls and courts, all enclosed within a limestone wall.
Pyramid of Unas
Inside the Pyramid of Unas
Also at Saqqara, you can visit the tombs of other nobles and generals from the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. These are photos from inside the tomb of Idut.
Planning Your Visit
Entrance Ticket: 180 EGP, 90 EGP student with valid ID
Camera Ticket: 300 EGP
Vehicle Parking Fee: 10 EGP
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
A visit here lasts about one hour.
Planning Your Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara Day Trip
Below is a map with the locations of Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara. For reference, I included the driving route between Dahshur and the pyramids of Giza.
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving route between Dahshur and the pyramids of Giza). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Visiting Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara on a Tour
The easiest way to visit Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara is on a tour. Your transportation is taken care of and you get to tour the sites with a knowledgeable Egyptologist.
We hired Egypt Tailor Made, not only for our tour of Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara, but also for the remainder of our time in Egypt. Laila was our guide in Cairo and we highly recommend her. She speaks excellent English, kept us well fed with falafel, and has a wealth of knowledge about Egypt.
Egypt Tailor Made can customize your day trip to Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara, adding on the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum, or other sites in Cairo.
We were so impressed with their service that we worked out a special offer for our audience. If you book a guide and driver with Egypt Tailor Made, you will receive a 10% discount with the promo code “Earth Trekkers 10% off.”
Arranging Your Own Transportation
If you want to do this on your own, you can hire a taxi for the day. Expect to pay roughly 500 to 600 EGP for the day, but this price can vary widely, depending on your negotiating skills and your driver.
Allow three to four hours to visit all three sites, not including transportation time from Giza or Cairo. It takes approximately one hour to drive to Dahshur from Cairo and Giza, depending on traffic, so your entire visit will last five to six hours.
8 am: Leave Cairo/Giza
9 am: Arrive at Dahshur, visit the Red and Bent Pyramids
11 am: Arrive at Memphis, visit the open-air museum
12 pm: Arrive at Saqqara, visit Saqqara
1 pm: Drive to Cairo/Giza
2 pm: Arrive in Cairo/Giza
It is possible to visit the Pyramids of Giza on the same day. If you arrive in Giza by 2 pm, you will have three hours to tour the pyramids before closing time (5 pm).
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Marriott Mena House in Giza and it was fantastic. Some rooms have balconies with a view of the pyramids. What a way to start and end your day with this view! Breakfast is a buffet with endless choices of food (it’s one of the best hotel breakfasts we have had yet). Plus, you can sit outside and stare up at the Great Pyramid over a cup of coffee.
If you have any questions about this Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara day trip, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Egypt:
- Egypt Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Traveling to Egypt
- 10 Day Egypt Itinerary: Cairo, Luxor, Aswan & Abu Simbel
- Where to Get the Best Views of the Pyramids of Giza
- Complete Guide to the West Bank of Luxor
- 15 Best Things to do in Cairo
Read all of our articles about Egypt in our Egypt Destination Guide.
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