The Giza Plateau, home to Egypt’s largest pyramids and the Sphinx, needs little introduction. But few visitors are aware of just how much else there is to see beyond the main highlights. While exploring the pyramids should be your top priority, consider coming back for a second visit. Walking around the plateau, you can find some fascinating tombs, a hilltop viewing point and even a possible second Sphinx!
We already covered the main highlights of the Giza Plateau in a previous guide, along with a suggested itinerary. To see the sites below at a relaxed pace, more than one visit to Giza is recommended.
But if you only have one day at Giza and want to see as much as possible, try heading straight for the open tombs in the Eastern and Western cemeteries after visiting the Great Pyramid. Near the end of the day, after visiting the pyramid alignment viewpoint, head straight east to check out Gebel Ghibli. Then walk north into the Central Field to see the Tomb of Khentkaus before heading home.
The Eastern Cemetery
The Eastern Cemetery refers to the entire area east of the Great Pyramid. Many visitors see the nearby Queens’ Pyramids (covered here), but few bother to venture further east than that. While you’re unlikely to find more than a few tombs open to the public during your visit (at least officially), there’s still a lot to see.
The Tomb of Qar
The Tomb of Qar is situated just next to the Pyramid of Hetepheres, and therefore gets a lot of visitors. Perhaps that disqualifies it from being a hidden gem, but it seems like most people come across it by accident. It’s not promoted anywhere, nor is there any signage out front.
Qar was an official of the 6th Dynasty. By then, the royal necropolis had returned to Saqqara, but the pharaohs still put effort into maintaining the tombs and funerary cults of 4th Dynasty Giza. Qar was one such official in charge of this maintenance.
Supposedly, there was once a limestone mastaba above the ground, but only the underground chamber remains today. Inside, the tomb is notable for its row of carved statues and beautiful hieroglyphs. There are some carved reliefs on the walls as well, though they’re very faint.
Interestingly, one of the side chambers makes a tremendously resonant sound when you stand in the middle and hum. It’s unclear, though, if this was intentional or by chance.
Just next door is a smaller, unlabelled tomb that’s said to belong to the son of one of the engineers of the pyramids.
The Tomb of Meresankh
Meresankh III was the granddaughter of Khufu and the wife of Khafre – her uncle. Her parents, Hetepheres II and Prince Kawab, meanwhile, were siblings. (Egyptian familial relations were, well, complicated!)
Her tomb was originally planned for her mother. It was likely one of the first rock-cut tombs, changing things up from the traditional mastabas built of stone or mudbrick. In later periods of Egyptian history, of course, rock-cut tombs would become the norm.
The tomb consists of three chambers. The first one is the Transverse Hall which features many painted reliefs, in addition to some niches with statues. You’ll find scenes of boating, craftsmen, agriculture and the traditional bird netting scene. The colors are remarkably well preserved.
Next to it is a chamber full of statues, featuring no less than ten figures standing in a row! They represent various members of Meresankh’s family.
The burial shaft, meanwhile, is rough and void of decoration. It’s now empty, but during your visit to the Cairo Museum, you can see the beautiful granite sarcophagus found here.
The tomb of Meresankh III is one of the top tombs at Giza and the only one for which tickets are sold. You’ll find signs throughout the Eastern Cemetery pointing you in the right direction. But once there, don’t be surprised to find it locked.
While many of the locked tombs are indeed closed at the time of writing, the Tomb of Meresankh should definitely be accessible to visitors.
You will likely have to walk back over to the Tomb of Qar and ask the guards to fetch their buddy to open it up for you. (Tourist attractions in Egypt can be quite disorganized, to say the least!)
The eastern edge of the Eastern Cemetery is well worth exploring if you have some extra time in Giza. There are dozens of tombs here, all of which are unlabelled.
It seems as if new tombs are being discovered at a much faster pace than they can be excavated. As such, you’ll find lots of holes covered up by rocks, indicating that there’s an unexcavated tomb underneath.
Surprisingly, though, quite a few of these ancient tombs are accessible. While probably not officially open, I didn’t encounter any signage or barriers prohibiting visitors from entering.
I came across pits, relief carvings and even a limestone sarcophagus. At one point, I even spotted some human bones!
Don’t expect to find anything as colorful or elaborate as the tombs you’ll see elsewhere in Giza or Saqqara. But walking into these rough and relatively untouched tombs is the closest you can get to feeling like Indiana Jones.
The Western Cemetery
As you can probably guess, the Western Cemetery refers to the part of the necropolis west of the Great Pyramid. There are quite a lot of tombs and mastabas here, while the area provides some great views of both the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre.
From prior research, I’d compiled a list of tombs to explore in the area, and I even encountered a few extra ones. These included the tombs of Iasen, Sechem Nefer, Kahif, Nsezer, and a couple more. Sadly, however, every single one of them turned out to be locked. And there were no guards in sight.
Be that as it may, the Western Cemetery was still fascinating to walk around in. I explored this area during my visit on a Friday, when the Giza Plateau is at its most packed. But despite the crowds around the pyramids, I didn’t encounter a single other person here. It made for a nice little oasis of calm amidst the chaos.
One of the notable landmarks in the Western Cemetery is the sizable Mastaba of Hemiunu. Hemiunu was the grandson of Pharaoh Sneferu, and he’s even credited with being the architect of the Great Pyramid!
His tomb, like the others, was locked. But nearby, I unexpectedly found one tomb that happened to be open: the Tomb of Neferbauptah. You can find it slightly west of the Mastaba of Hemiunu, across the desert from the northwest corner of the Pyramid of Khafre.
The Tomb of Neferbauptah
The Tomb of Neferbauptah had not come up in my research, but it made for a pleasant surprise. Supposedly, it just opened up to the public fairly recently after years of restoration. (The guard outside confirmed that this was the only open tomb in the Western Cemetery – at least at the time of my visit.)
Neferbauptah was a 5th Dynasty official whose title was Steward of the Great Estate. Apparently, he also acted as a priest during the reigns of kings Sahure, Neferirkare and Nyussere. And he was also the son of an official named Iymery who’s buried nearby.
The tomb retains much of its original color, though many of the reliefs are damaged. It consists of five chambers in total. Scenes include reaping and sowing, shipbuilding, musical performances and what appears to be a ceremonial dance.
Gebel Ghibli is a natural hill at the southeastern section of the Giza Plateau. (The name translates to ‘Southern Hill’ in Arabic). It’s visible from all over Giza, and just in front of it is a modern Muslim cemetery.
I’d seen it on my first visit to Giza and later asked my hotel owner if he knew whether or not it was climbable. He said he had no idea. But later, on my second visit to Giza, I noticed a small group of people up top, and I eagerly headed over there.
I made it about three quarters of the way up before a guard on horseback whistled at me, telling me not to come up any further. Clearly, the small group had some kind of special permission.
But the guard didn’t mind me staying where I was, so it seems like half of the hill, at least, is accessible to the public. When it comes to independent exploration in Egypt, a lot depends on if anyone sees you and what their mood happens to be that day.
Gebel Ghibli is the best place in Giza to see all three pyramids at an equal distance from one another. The view is stunning, and it makes a nice addition to the famous pyramid alignment viewpoint further west.
But is this hill just a place to appreciate the views, or is there something more to it?
Given the numerous mysteries surrounding the Giza Plateau, and all the research that’s gone into every single part of it, I wasn’t too shocked to come across some theories surrounding Gebel Ghibli.
It’s long been theorized that the arrangement of the pyramids is a deliberate reflection of Orion’s belt. Independent researchers such as Andrew Collins, on the other hand, suggest that the pyramids’ arrangement represents not Orion, but Cygnus. If true, the star at the ‘tail’ of Cygnus, Albireo, aligns perfectly with Gebel Ghibli.
Astronomy aside, we do know for sure that the southeast corners of the three pyramids align to form a perfect diagonal pointing to Heliopolis, Egypt’s most prominent Sun temple.
Whether or not Gebel Ghibli held any symbolic meaning, the ancients who planned out the Giza plateau surely would’ve stood up here to survey construction. And it’s from Gebel Ghibli that you can get a clear view of the next item on this list, the Central Field.
The Central Field
South of Khafre’s causeway is a large field of tombs and mastabas that’s quite similar to the Eastern and Western Cemeteries. Accordingly, the area is also sometimes referred to as the Southern Cemetery.
This is one of the first areas you’ll encounter upon exiting the Valley Temple of Khafre and the Sphinx enclosure. But if it’s your first visit, I’d recommend skipping this place in the beginning and heading straight for the Great Pyramid.
Later, if you find yourself with some extra time in Giza, the Central Field is well worth exploring for a little while. None of the tombs here are officially open, but you can make some interesting finds by just walking around. I came across a couple of serdabs, or statues of the deceased, just hanging out in the open.
It’s also in this general area that the Valley Temple of Menkaure is located. But as lots of the Central Field is currently under excavation, it remains off-limits.
But on your way to or from Gebel Ghibli, head over to the western portion of the Central Field. It’s here that you can spot an especially fascinating structure.
The Tomb of Khentkaus
The Tomb of Khentakus is one of Egypt’s most unique structures. It’s also called the Pyramid of Khentkaus, and it likely appeared as one back in the Old Kingdom days. But as you can see today, the core of the tomb is entirely made of natural limestone bedrock.
Khentkaus I was likely the daughter of Menkaure, the wife of Userkaf and the mother of Sahure. While Userkaf’s tomb is at Saqqara and Sahure’s at Abu Sir, Khentkaus was buried here at Giza near her father. Perhaps she took a liking to this interesting rock as a little girl, claiming it as her own.
What’s particularly interesting about Khentkaus is that she may have acted as pharaoh herself for a brief time, though this is disputed by some Egyptologists.
As I would find out during my visit, Khentkaus’s tomb is currently off-limits to visitors. But without any signage or ropes barring entry, this wasn’t clear as I approached. And I’d much rather ask for forgiveness than for permission in these cases!
I managed to walk around the entire tomb and spotted the main entrance on the opposite side. It was locked, but I could peak in through the gate for a fairly clear view.
Though the interior is rough and seemingly undecorated, I could see the entrance to the burial chamber, said to be dug 5.6 meters below the ground. Out front, meanwhile, are some granite slabs with engravings.
But I couldn’t look too carefully, as it was just around this time that a guard caught me.
He said the site was closed, and I feigned ignorance. He then proceeded to walk with me in the direction of the entrance. But rather than escort me out, he started giving me a tour!
A Second Sphinx?
‘See that?’ the guard said, pointing up at a rock formation that looked remarkably familiar. ‘It’s the second Sphinx,’ he whispered, despite there being nobody else around.
In all of my research on Egypt, Giza or the Sphinx itself, I’d never come across any mention of a second one. But from this angle, the similarities were hard to deny.
The so-called ‘Second Sphinx’ sits just next to the Tomb of Khentkaus. Like both the Khentkaus tomb and the original Sphinx, it’s comprised of natural limestone bedrock. And an outcrop at the end looks just like a head from behind.
Clearly, though, this ‘Sphinx’ is much, much rougher. And its head appears to have never been finished. Could this have been an earlier prototype that was left abandoned? Or is this not a Second Sphinx at all, but nothing more than a geological coincidence?
Notably, the Dream Stele left in front of the Sphinx by Thutmosis IV depicts two Sphinxes facing in opposite directions. At Giza, the ‘original’ Sphinx faces east while the ‘Second Sphinx’ faces west. Furthermore, Sphinx statues on display at later Egyptian temples seem to always come in pairs.
Were these repeated pairings of Sphinxes throughout Egyptian art trying to tell us something? Or was it merely just a decorative decision?
During later research on the subject, I found numerous articles about a second Sphinx possibly being located in a mound north of the original. Proponents of this theory believe it was destroyed by lightning and no longer exists, however.
The only article I came across pertaining to this particular rock formation is by Dr. Reda Abdel Halim, the General Director for Public Relations at the Giza Pyramids. Though just an estimate, he’s determined the measurements of this Second Sphinx to be remarkably close to the original.
There is no conclusive evidence, of course, that this was ever intended as a Sphinx. With that being said, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the original sculpture as well!
There are numerous tombs carved into the bedrock here. I was able to explore several of them, but aside from some hieroglyphs and some false doors, not a whole lot remains.
The Wall of Crows
At the end of your day, try stopping by the very southeasternmost parking lot of the Giza Plateau. While off-limits to the general public, you can get a clear view of the Wall of Crows from the parking lot’s edge.
Nobody’s completely sure what this wall was for, but archaeologists believe it to be one of the oldest constructions at Giza. Look at the huge megalithic rock over the entranceway. Getting it up there was clearly no easy feat!
In total, the wall is around 200 meters long and about 10 meters high.
Prominent Egyptologist Mark Lehner suggests the wall may have separated the sacred portion of Giza, designated for royals and nobles, from the precinct for commoners.
He’s currently in the middle of extensive renovations on the other side, where an entire lost city – once inhabited by ordinary laborers – was discovered. Notably, he also believes the wall to have been left unfinished.
It’s also possible that the wall was mainly built for functional purposes like flood control. Yet that doesn’t explain why so many burials – from the Old Kingdom up until the Late Period – are concentrated right alongside it. As is often the case in Egypt, it’s possible that this wall had both a sacred and a functional purpose.
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of other interesting theories about the Wall of Crows. Some suggest that it’s not a wall, but some kind of causeway. But leading where?
The wall seems to disappear within the Muslim cemetery in front of Gebel Ghibli. Many believe there could be some very important discoveries waiting to be dug up there. But for obvious reasons, excavations are unlikely to happen any time soon.
It turns out that one of the cemeteries of Giza’s common laborers can be visited by the public. But by the time I found out, it was already too late.
While numerous touts on horseback were offering to take me to this cemetery, they were just pointing over to a random space in the desert. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, as I hadn’t come across the place in any of my research.
It wasn’t until I got to the Wall of Crows that I could actually see it in the distance! Perhaps after a future return trip to Egypt, I can further add to this list.
I highly recommend staying as close as possible to the Giza pyramids and getting there just as the site opens in the morning. There are plenty of hotel options accessible from the entrance on foot (see below).
But if you’re coming from Cairo, you have a couple of options.
The most hassle free way would be to take an Uber. I had no problems taking Uber in Cairo (other than horrible traffic and drivers sometimes getting lost). As the price is determined by the app, there’s no haggling or scams you need to be worried about. Just be sure to leave your hotel very early so you don’t get stuck in traffic.
You can also take the metro to Giza Station. But bear in mind that this station is still around a 30-minute drive from the pyramids. So you’ll need to take either a taxi or an Uber from the station. You also need to be on your guard here, as all sorts of ‘friendly’ locals hang out waiting for tourists to scam.
You can also take a public CTA bus. Buses 355 or 357 can take you directly to the pyramids from outside the Abdel Menem Riyad Station near the Egyptian Museum (often just called the Cairo Museum) in Tahrir Square. They leave every 20 minutes or so.
At the time of writing, entry to the Giza Plateau costs 200 EGP. Entry to the Great Pyramid of Khufu costs 400, while entry to the Pyramid of Khafre (or Menkaure – whichever is open) costs 100 EGP.
The Solar Boat Mueseum costs 100 EGP and the tomb of Meresankh (not covered above) costs 50 EGP.
Note that if you change your mind while out in the desert, you’ll have to return all the way to the ticket gate at the entrance to purchase new tickets. It’s also unclear if all the different tickets are available at both entrances. Be sure to confirm this at your hotel.
If you plan to visit many ancient sites around Cairo, I recommend buying the Cairo Pass for $100 USD. This allows access to every site in Saqqara, Giza (including everything mentioned above), Dahshur and Memphis. It also allows entry to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and its mummy room, not to mention the sites of Islamic and Coptic Cairo. (Learn more HERE)
As the pass is only valid for 5 consecutive days, there’s no way you can see everything in the greater Cairo area with it. But you’ll likely still save some money after just 3 or 4 days. After my trip, I did the math and found that with everything I saw, I saved around $50 with the Cairo Pass.
Even better is that if you get the Cairo Pass, you can get 50% off the Luxor Pass. This includes the ‘PREMIUM’ Luxor Pass (which allows entry to the Seti I and Nefertari tombs) which normally costs $200. But with the Cairo Pass, you can buy this same ticket for $100!
I visited just about every attraction in Luxor and ended up saving around $200 thanks to having bought the Cairo Pass. That means that with both passes, I saved over $250 in Cairo and Luxor!
Note that the Cairo Pass can only be purchased at Giza and at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (be sure to ask them about it, as signage is nonexistent). Therefore, plan your itinerary accordingly if you want the pass.
To get the Cairo Pass, you’ll need to bring your original passport, a copy of your passport, a passport photo (exact size isn’t so important) and $100 USD in cash. You also need the same for the Luxor Pass which, at the time of writing, can only be purchased in Luxor at Karnak Temple and near the Luxor Museum.
The Greater Cairo Area is home to many of Egypt’s, and the world’s, most impressive sites. The city of Cairo itself, on the other hand, is overwhelming in terms of both traffic and pollution, yet rather underwhelming in regards to tourist attractions. Therefore, I recommend that people stay in Giza and not in Cairo.
I find it puzzling that so many travelers decide to stay in central Cairo and then commute multiple times to reach Giza and Saqqara. For archaeology enthusiasts, it makes much more sense to stay in or near Giza and dedicate 3 or 4 full days to exploring the various pyramid sites. As Saqqara and Dahshur are both south of Giza, which itself is southwest of central Cairo, staying in Giza gives you a big head start for those excursions.
You will want to commute to central Cairo at least once, however, to visit the Egyptian Museum and maybe an additional day for Islamic Cairo.
Staying in Giza, right by the Giza Necropolis, allows you to get there right when the pyramids open at 8:00am. That means you’ll get at least 90 minutes or more with the entire complex all to yourself (as long as you don’t visit on a Friday or Saturday, that is).
While the modern suburb of Giza has a reputation for being dirty and rundown, it’s no worse than the average neighborhood of Cairo. And while there are lots of touts around, they’re not nearly as bad as the East Bank of Luxor.
I took things even further and also stayed for a few nights in the small village of Abu Sir, just north of Saqqara. I then switched to accommodation in Giza for a few nights so that I could visit the pyramids right when they opened.
Later, at the end of my trip, I based myself in downtown Cairo for better access to the historic sites in the city center, not to mention the airport.
In Abu Sir/Saqqara I stayed at the Sakkara Inn. Not only is the hotel situated in an authentic local village, but Mohamed the owner can set you up with reliable drivers for an affordable price. (I even continued to have him arrange drivers for me after checking out, as other places were quoting me much higher.)
In Giza I stayed at Abo Stait Pyramid View Homestay. It’s literally a one-minute walk from the Sphinx entrance of the Giza Necropolis. The family who runs it was very friendly and helpful. And while the bathroom is shared with a few other guests and family members, it wasn’t a big deal.
I’m a budget traveler, but those with more money to spend will find no shortage of accommodation options in the Giza area.