Cairo in 3 Days
Chances are that you arrived the night before Day 1, so you should be ready to dive right in. With only 3 days, you're not going to be able to cover everything, and you'll have to make some choices as you go.
Day 1: Exploring Cairo's Neighborhoods -- After a good breakfast, head to Khan al Khalili via taxi by around 10am. You want to catch the stores as they open and before the other tourists crowd in and start driving the prices up. A late morning tea or coffee at Fishawy's will keep you going until lunch at the Naguib Mahfouz Café. As you refuel, make a choice: If you've had it with the hustle and bustle, catch a taxi to Coptic Cairo and retreat to the relative calm of the Coptic Museum and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. If you're just hitting your stride with the whole souk experience, take a walk down to Bab Zuweila, and from there to the Tentmakers' souk. Check out some of the monuments of Islamic Cairo on your way to the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Mosque of Al Rifai. Try to be back in Zamalek by the late afternoon for a long elevator ride up the Cairo Tower. This is great place to get your bearings -- look at where you've been for the day and where you're going tomorrow. If you like a sundowner with your sundown, try the view from Mojito instead: you can't see quite as far, but the menu's a lot more tempting. For your first dinner in Cairo, try Abu Sid's in Zamalek.
Day 2: Pharaonic Sites & More -- You can't be in Cairo and not see the pyramids, so that should be the first thing you do today. A bus tour from Thomas Cook or Travco is not a bad idea, but you could also just grab a cab off the street (or have your concierge arrange a car for the day) and head out there after breakfast. For lunch, you have two good choices and a fallback. You could take a sandwich from Maison Thomas if you're in Zamalek, or a Cilantro or Beano's outlet if you're not, or (if you have a driver who knows where it is) you could go to Andrea's. Fallback is either the Pizza Hut by the exit from the pyramids or the Mena House Oberoi, depending on your budget.
The afternoon presents a couple of options: If you're game for more Pharaonic sites, head upriver for Saqqara, Memphis, and Dashour (whether you can actually get all of these in depends on how quickly you're willing to go through the sites). If you're not into seeing pyramids but want to see a little of the countryside around the city, head in the other direction to the Camel Market, or head back into town and do whichever choice you passed up in the afternoon of Day 1.
In the evening, take a faluca from the docks below the Four Seasons and spend an hour or two enjoying the sunset. If you're headed back to Zamalek for the night, try Bodega for dinner, otherwise a 10-minute walk through Garden City can get you a quiet meal at Taboula.
Day 3: Cairo Museums -- Head to the Egyptian Museum first thing in the morning and get your fill of statues, paintings, and mummies. Downtown, your best choice for lunch is Felfella's; you can walk there from the museum in about 15 minutes, but keep in mind that you are almost guaranteed to pick up a couple of helpful touts (khertee in street Arabic) on the way. They're probably not dangerous, but know that any purchases you make under their helpful supervision will cost you at least 40% more than if you made them alone. If you do have a hankering for papyrus -- a staple lure of the touting community -- avoid the shops that line the streets here, and buy from one of the street vendors (they're generally a lot more pleasant to deal with).
If the prospect of more dirt and heat in the afternoon makes you groan, take a taxi over to Zamalek and make an afternoon of the Islamic Ceramics Museum, a little shopping at Nomad, and some refreshments on the Marriott Terrace (though I don't recommend the food). If you're up for a little more action, however, head up to the Ibn Tulun Mosque and the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Consider making the Citadel your final stop of the day. You won't have much time for the museums, but late afternoon and dusk from the forecourt of the Mohamed Ali Mosque, with the view over Fatimid Cairo, is stunning. The route back to Downtown and Zamalek takes you past Khan al Khalili, which just after dark is a shopping wonderland of souvenir possibilities.
Luxor: 3 Days of Ancient Egypt
Luxor & Aswan in 3 to 5 Days -- Because of the sun -- which is strong even in the depths of winter -- the rule of thumb in Luxor is to see the major outdoor monuments as early as possible during the day.
Day 1: Intro to Luxor -- Karnak Temple is best seen first thing in the morning. Take a break halfway through the morning by the sacred pool. Lunch at the Oasis Café, and then wander the excellent Luxor Museum in the early afternoon, followed up with the close-by Mummification Museum. Stroll down to Luxor Temple at dusk as the big lights come on and the day starts to cool. Dine on some of the best Egyptian food in Egypt at Sofra.
Day 2: Tombs & Temples -- This morning it's the Valley of the Kings. Take plenty of water and a snack. If you've got time, hit the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut before lunch on top of the Nile Valley Hotel. If you're not tombed and templed out, and the heat's not too bad, head back to the desert for a second round with the Valley of the Queens for the afternoon, rounded out by sunset at Medinet Habu. Dinner at the El Moudira would be a nice way to round out the evening. Even if you have a driver, make sure he only takes you back to the boat dock so that you can enjoy the nighttime crossing of the Nile; the road trip back to the east bank is dreary and long. If at lunch you decide that you've had it with the heat, dust, and dead folk, then make like Howard Carter and head for the garden of the Old Winter Palace for afternoon tea. You can always head back to Medinet Habu in the evening if you feel like it.
Day 3: Exploring the West Bank -- A balloon ride is a great way to see where you've been and where you might be going. There's also still plenty left on the West Bank to keep you well occupied for the morning once you set down. I recommend squeezing in both the Ramesseum and the Valley of the Nobles before giving up and heading to El Kababgy for lunch. After lunch you can either play catch-up and do a museum such as the Luxor Museum or the Mummification Museum, or do a little shopping until it's time to go to the train station or airport.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.