Sprawling out between the shifting dunes of the Egyptian desert and the snaking Nile River, Cairo is one of the biggest cities in Africa. It’s now home to nearly 22 million people and reigns as the country’s main political hub. It’s also one of the most visited metropolises on the continent, offering sights like the mighty Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. But is Cairo safe?
That’s what this guide is here to find out. From the transport to the tap water, it will take a look at the ins and outs of staying safe on your trip to the mighty megalopolis at the heart of modern Egypt. We’ll look at the safest parts of the town and outline the main dangers that might befall you, all while taking a look at some specific questions about how safe Cairo is for solo travelers, solo females, and even expats looking to make the move permanently.
The good news is that, generally speaking, Cairo is actually one of the most peaceful and well-rated cities in the country on the safety front. It consistently gets fairly decent ratings for overall crime levels and has a well-developed mix of infrastructure for travelers and tourists. Let’s dig a little deeper…
Is Cairo safe to visit in 2023?
Cairo is actually one of the safest cities in all of Egypt. That’s largely down to the huge footfall of travelers that come and go here – a huge proportion of the 11.5 million people who visit the country will start or finish their trip in the city. Most of those leave after having seen the amazing Pyramids and the Coptic sights of Old Cairo without having had a single issue.
The stats bear that out. Numbeo – and online numbers cruncher – reveals that Cairo is rated “Low” for the risk of home burglary and “Low” for the risk of being victim of racist abuse. It’s also rated under 50/100 for the risk of car theft, attacks, and incidents of violent crimes such as armed robbery. To put that into perspective a little, that means Cairo consistently scores better than London and New York on the same safety scale.
There are some areas where you will need to pay special attention in Cairo. Foreign Office and State Department pages note how the city is in a country that currently has a “very high” risk of terrorist-related attacks. They advise steering clear of major gatherings and key political flashpoints. On top of that Cairo has bad stats for gun ownership and gun crime – it’s roughly in line with the likes of Guatemala City and Kingston on that count, with an incidence rate of 33,000 per 100,000 head of the population. These are both risks that are often mitigated by sticking to major tourist areas and paying proper attention to relevant FCO and State Department warnings.
All that considered, we can say that Cairo is generally a safe city to visit. It has low rates of crime that are actually better than many major cities in Europe and North America. What’s more, it’s visited by millions of travelers each year, the vast majority of which will come and go without a single hitch. Let’s take a closer looks at the individual risks and worries about planning a jaunt here…
Petty crime in Cairo
Cairo might be one of Egypt’s, and even Africa’s, most problem-free metropolises, and, as we’ve seen, is mostly safe for visitors in 2023, but no city is without its flaws. Number one on that list of flaws is probably petty crime, for wherever you can find tourists, you can find petty crime. Generally speaking, theft rates are relatively low. You shouldn’t have to worry too much when visiting the major sights and attractions – the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, the sprawling Al-Azhar Mosque. Security levels in those places is generally high and there’s added protection when traveling as a tour group. On top of that, tourists are even protected by a special police force should anything go wrong, as the tourism industry is so important to the function of the city.
However, petty crime and small thefts do occur in Cairo. Pickpocketing is one of the bigger problems. That’s most likely to happen to you in the maze-like district of Old Cairo, a medieval-era mix of tight-knit lanes and alleys. Other key places to watch out for pickpockets are on the bustling plaza of Tahrir Square (one of the town’s main gathering points), Khan El Khalily (the historic souk area), and on the Cairo Metro (the main urban transport system).
The main advice here is to always be aware when moving through busy areas, shopping streets, and bazaars. Try not to flash valuable pieces of jewelry or electronics as that’s the sort of thing that can make you a target for thieves and pickpockets. It can also help to store money in travel belts or a zipped container like a bumbag.
Terrorism in Cairo
Due to the political upheavals of the last decade and some less-than-friendly relations with near national neighbours, terrorism remains a very real threat in Cairo. The UK foreign office lists the overall risk as “very likely” across Egypt. The US State Department even recommends that travelers reconsider their plans on account of the heightened risk of attacks. It’s easy to see why those warnings are still in place, since there were mass bombings here as recently as 2019, and another in 2018 that even killed a number of tourists on their way to the Giza Pyramids.
Extremists are known to target security forces and Coptic Christians and other minorities in the country. Most attacks take place in urban areas and at religious sites, all despite heavy security presence. Authorities in the city are always doing their best to prevent such incidents, but visitors should remain vigilant in crowded places, maintaining a high level of security awareness at large gatherings. Better yet, try to avoid overcrowded spaces and political gatherings altogether.
Transport in Cairo
As such a densely populated capital, Cairo really struggles when it comes to traffic. The streets are choked with cars and people, and even walking around can be unpleasant with all the exhaust fumes, angry beeps, and dangerous roads to navigate. Getting around by taxi is slow, but it’s a much safer idea than hiring your own vehicle and trying to do it yourself. Basically: This is NOT the town for renting your own wheels! Simple as that.
Below the congested streets of the city lies a clean, affordable, and efficient subway system. It can be busy and tourists, especially solo females, can stand out, but the metro is mostly safe and a great way to get around. Avoid pickpockets by keeping your belongings close and out of sight. Also try to stand in clearer places away from the most crowded parts of carriages. Note: Women now also have the option to take the female-only carriages which can feel safer for tourists without all the ogling eyes.
Cairo also has a big network of buses and micro-buses that avoid some of the traffic by using the dedicated bus lanes on the ring roads that encircle all the important parts of the city. The buses are also cheap but can be less safe at night, when they aren’t as frequented by tourists and opportunistic thieves prey on vulnerable travelers.
As in any other major city, you don’t want to walk around at night if it can be avoided and a taxi is always your best bet. Use a verified company to call a cab, though. Don’t just pick a ride off the streets and never let yourself be led to a taxi by someone that approaches you. A good way to make sure it’s legit is to look for the registration number before getting in. Uber has also been available in Egypt since 2014 and is considered very safe in Cairo.
The safest areas to stay in Cairo (and the ones to avoid)
Every single city in the world has some areas that are safer than others. Cairo is no different. There are a few key parts of the town that most travelers head to, along with a select few others that people should avoid. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean you have to stay in a tourist trap. The neighborhoods that are well known among travelers are usually well known because they’re atmospheric, rich in culture, history, and character.
Here’s a quick look at the various areas of the metropolis where you’re likely to be safest, and where you’ll be close to Cairo’s main draws with the top selection of hotels:
- Midan Tahrir – There are plenty of big hotels in the Midan Tahrir area, which is the modern nerve center of Cairo
- Garden City – A green and pleasant part of the downtown that faces the Nile, the Garden City is known for its range of resort hotels.
- Maadi Corniche – The southern side of the city has the Maadi promenade, which has great views of the Nile and traditional ports.
- Zamalek – Zamalek is a bit like Cairo’s answer to Manhattan in New York, only it’s not so much about skyscrapers and shopping as it is about luxury living. A chic place to bed down it’s got some top five-star hotels and great cafes, not to mention the Cairo Tower for panoramas of the whole metropolis.
- Pyramids – This is the part of Giza that has purpose-built hotels for the travelers who are keen on seeing the – you guessed it! – Pyramids.
And just like there are areas of Cairo that are the safest, so there are areas of Cairo that you’ll probably want to avoid. For us, they include the frantic new town area of Mohandiseen, which is so hectic that you rarely have a moment to think, and the out-of-town satellite of Nasr City, which puts you too far from the main sights.
Is Cairo safe for solo travelers?
Egypt is a relatively safe nation as long as you maintain basic safety precautions and adhere to local customs. The country is ahead of other Middle Eastern nations in terms of women’s rights, but Cairo remains one of the worst megacities for female harassment, and solo travelers can receive unwanted attention.
Egyptians are notoriously friendly and welcoming, but they take pride in their cultural practices and have unwavering views about the position of women in society. There is no compulsory dress code for women in Egypt, unlike some nearby nations, but tourists should wear what might be considered conservative for Westerners and keep knees, shoulders, and cleavages covered to avoid attention.
That said, Cairo is safe for solo travelers, it is just ill-advised to walk alone at night in certain districts. Having a guide in the city will enhance your experience anyway, so consider finding a local to accompany you when moving around alone. The same goes for females and males. Some areas are heavily policed and can feel safe even after dark, but solo travelers are more likely to stand out in Cairo.
Dangers from extreme weather in Cairo
Egypt can experience some extreme weather. The country has an arid, desert climate with two seasons. Cairo is always hot with slightly cooler nights in the summer. During the long and humid months from June to August, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C+). That can can be unbearable for sightseeing and exploring the ancient complexes. Remember – there’s not much shade on offer around the Pyramids of Giza! Dehydration and heat stroke are real risks and if you’re visiting from May to October, so try to stay indoors during peak sunshine hours between 11 am and 4 pm.
All the above means that the best time to come here tends to be the winter, any time between November and March. That can see the thermometers drop to a relatively mild 21 C/70 F. However, you will want to avoid the spring months, when strong sandstorms can blow across the city thanks to the khamsin winds. There also tends to be WAY more pollution in the air during the traditional crop burning season in September.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Cairo?
In Egypt, drinking from the tap is usually best avoided. The capital is actually the only exception to that rule, since loads of chlorine is added to the supply here. That makes it generally healthier and okay to drink, but not the tastiest water on the planet by any stretch. For that reason, we’d recommend sticking to bottled water if possible.
While it is not even safe to brush your teeth with tap water in other areas of Egypt, like Dahab, you can do this in Cairo with little problem. It’s also okay to keep your mouth open while showering. You can cook with the water in Cairo, so long as it’s boiled, but you might want to look out for where restaurants and bars get their ice. You can usually depend upon fresh produce you find at markets to be clean, but it’s also fine to rinse it under a tap before consuming without the need for food disinfectant.
An interesting thing to know is that Cairo, like most of Egypt, exclusively sources its water from the Nile River. While it can feel special to say you’ve drunk from the Nile, this river serves so many cities and regions in the country that its H2O actually requires loads of treatment and processing before it’s safe for human consumption
Is it safe to live in Cairo?
Cairo has seen rapid economic development in recent years and the growing population is now made up of at least 5% expats, 12,000 of whom work in the city’s private sector. While not as strict as other Egyptian cities, much of the society in Cairo abides by Islamic customs, teachings, and laws that can be difficult to navigate as an outsider. Still, you don’t have to prescribe to Islam to live comfortably in Cairo.
The relentless buzz, swarming traffic, and poor internet speeds are likely to be the most exhausting and daunting thing for newcomers. But, once you get used to that, you should find that the frantic and frenetic side of the city makes for fascinating daily life. It might just take some time to getting used to crossing the road in streams of traffic and navigating those body-packed marketplaces.
Cairo is undeniably the most popular place for foreigners to settle in Egypt, and the best neighborhoods for ex-pats include Maadi, Zamalek, Dokki, Downtown, and New Cairo. You’ll find malls, upscale restaurants, hotels, and green spaces in all these districts and they are considered safe places for expats to roam.
Employers will often help foreigners get on their feet and provide a housing allowance. Accommodation varies in the capital but ex-pats tend to congregate and it is easy to find shared housing with other newcomers to the city through social media. Teaching English as a foreign language is a popular profession for expats, here, but the city is also good for entrepreneurs and those with experience in digital media.
Safety tips for visitors to Cairo
Here are just a few of the top safety tips that we can think of for would-be visitors to the capital of Egypt…
- Be extra vigilant crossing the street – The traffic is crazy in Cairo, always look twice before crossing the road and don’t jaywalk when it can be avoided.
- Carry your address with you – Whether it is your hotel or a vacation rental, it can be easy to get lost in busy Cairo so its a good idea to have an address you can show people or driver’s to help you get back.
- Dress conservatively – Whether you’re a man, woman, or neither, dressing conservatively is the best way to deflect attention and help you fit in. Covering as much skin as possible when navigating the city alone and visiting any religious sites is a good idea. Sunglasses can even be a simple way for females to avoid eye contact, and therefore unwanted attention, from men on the street.
- If you’re female, pack plenty of sanitary products – Pads are widely accessible in Egypt, but tampons aren’t as easy to find. Stock up on sanitary products before your trip.
- Take Ubers – Registered taxis are safe and cheap in Cairo, but drivers are known to try any scam in the book on unsuspecting tourists, whether that’s a faulty meter or a meter that works suspiciously well (ie. ticking up very fast). Uber is reliable because you can check your driver’s rating and agree to a price beforehand.
- Avoid getting scammed at attractions – Everything comes with a fee at Egypt’s touristy sites. Book through a tour group to afford excessive entry charges and take all your pictures yourself or ask a fellow tourist to snap one for you because it won’t be free if a loitering local offers.
- Leave valuables at home – From cash to gadgets and even your passport (bring a photocopy around with you instead) it is best to travel light when exploring the city and leave anything valuable back at your hotel.
Is Cairo safe? Our conclusion
We’d say that Cairo is generally a safe city to visit. The biggest major worry is likely to be terrorism, which has been a persistent problem here in the last decade especially due to ongoing political upheavals. However, you can mitigate the risk of being caught up terrorist-related incidents by steering clear of protests and gatherings. The next big risks for travelers to Cairo are probably petty theft (pickpocketing, mugging) and then physical dangers like traffic and heatstroke on account of the weather.
Overall crime stats for Cairo show that it’s actually a safer city than many places in Europe and North America. There are generally low risks for becoming a victim of violent crimes and theft, while the vast majority of people who come here looking for a glimpse of the famous snaking River Nile and the Pyramids will come and go without a problem.
What should I avoid in Egypt?
To stay safe in Egypt, there are some things you can avoid. These include disrespecting the local culture or religious practices, wasting time in traffic when you can travel by other means, dressing immodestly, bringing too many valuables out with you, booking unregistered tours or taxis, and traveling around without a guide.
Is Cairo safe for female tourists?
Egypt is far ahead in terms of women’s rights in comparison to other Middle Eastern and North African countries, but Cairo still demonstrates high rates of violence towards women and is one of the worst major cities for sexual harassment. This means women should take extra precautions to be safe in the city, but it isn’t off-limits for solo female tourists. Dress conservatively and move around with a guide or male escort after dark and you’ll be fine.
When is the best time to visit Cairo?
Anytime between October and April is a good time to visit Cairo. Egypt has just two seasons and winter in Cairo makes it much easier to sightsee with pleasantly warm temperatures but less humidity and cooler daily highs. Summer can be far too hot, especially for visiting the Pyramids in the desert when temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t drop until late afternoon.