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The Grand Egyptian Museum Is Amazing—If You Can Find a Way to Get In

By Marla Jo Fisher
From The Orange County Register

Giza—Yes, it’s true. You can finally get into the massive and fabled billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum—if you’re lucky enough to score soft opening tickets. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you how to try.

It’s been 20 years since construction began on the Grand Egyptian Museum, planned to be a massive compendium of the best ancient artifacts in Egypt.

And history lovers have held their collective breath ever since. And held it. And held it, as one delay after another slowed the project, including the 2011 Arab Spring and, most recently, the pandemic.

But, finally, after many abandoned opening dates, it looks like the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is finally nearing completion.

The Egyptian government has quietly launched a soft opening, announcing it on Facebook, and admission is only 1,000 Egyptian pounds for foreigners—around $30 or so (cheaper for Egyptians).

You won’t get to see all the exhibition halls in this 120-acre behemoth, because they’re still being built. But you will be able to check out some of the main areas, including the massive atrium, gift shop and restaurants.

You’ll have to wait for the grand opening, someday, to see the Tutankhamun Hall with its 5,000 artifacts taken from the ancient king’s tomb, the Grand Staircase, the interactive exhibition hall, the Khufu Boat Museum and other areas.

Still, you shouldn’t dally at grabbing these tickets, because only a limited number are being released and once word gets out they’ll go fast. Learn more at

This is big news, because when I was in Egypt only a few weeks ago, it cost $2,000 American dollars to get a look inside.

Then, for a mere $2,000, you got a group tour of the handful of areas that were actually open, including the massive foyer with its 3,200-year-old statue of Ramses the Great, the gift shop and a couple of small restaurants in a separate area.

Does that sound a little pricey for a look around a foyer? Well, I thought so, when I was in Egypt at the end of February this year. I was planning to write a travel story, so I needed access. Did that make a difference? Um, no, apparently not. No one from the Ministry of Antiquities ever replied to my requests.

Still, I’m an optimistic kind of gal. So, as our private guide and driver (cheaper than you think and so much easier) drove us past the museum on our way to visit the city of Alexandria, I begged him to please, please just stop and try to get in.

“I know you think I’m an idiot, but can’t we at least try to get in?” I asked our guide, Ibrahim Draz. I suspect he was secretly rolling his eyes, telling me he’d just called them the day before, but he asked the driver to make a U-turn, and we headed for the chain-link entrance gate.

Security was tight, so our tourist van driver had to start by talking his way into the unfinished parking lot, which was still being paved and painted. (I imagine it’s still under construction at this writing.)

Eventually, he succeeded, the security guards relented, and we drove through patches of dirt and concrete, until we reached the ticket window and entrance plaza.

“You stay in the car,” our delightful guide Ibrahim and my friend Jamie told me. “We’ll go talk to them.”

I’m not sure why they wouldn’t let me come, because I’m very good at talking my way into places, but I was just as happy to sit in the nice air-conditioned van while they did the heavy lifting.

I waited. And then I waited some more.

“Something must be happening, or they would have just thrown them out right away,” I thought to myself, as a person who’d been thrown out of many places in my lifetime.

Sure enough, they came back triumphant, but there was a catch. You were supposed to make a reservation two days in advance for a tour and, you guessed it, pay $2,000, and we had done neither of those.

However, the nice guy in charge at the front entrance finally relented, and told them a secret: There was a children’s art show that very day, and the tickets were only 100 Egyptian pounds (about a buck.) We could go online, buy the tickets and then come in.

So, we sat there in the van and I bought the tickets online for a total of $10.19 for the three of us. A decent discount off $2,000 per person, right?

We had to wait 90 minutes until the exhibit started, so we managed to kill time by buying souvenirs I couldn’t afford. I really don’t want to talk about it.

Then, we came back, triumphant that we were now actually legal, walked through the gates and saw the massive entry plaza, decorated with a granite obelisk on a huge pedestal, called the Hanging Obelisk Square.

This isn’t just any obelisk, but that of Ramses II—also known as Ramses the Great—and it’s the only one known to contain his cartouche (signature) carved onto its bottom. The 80-ton obelisk has been raised, so visitors can walk underneath and see it.

Next to the obelisk are long shaded colonnades, looking like they were waiting for riders at Disneyland. I imagined thousands of people standing in those queues waiting to get in, and was delighted that we were there essentially all by ourselves.

There wasn’t a soul to be seen that day, nor at the guard entrance, nor at the door, which was shaded by a huge pyramid-shaped entry alcove. In fact, there were pyramids everywhere: on the sides of the building, on the roof, you name it. And the real pyramids of Giza could be seen from the outside of the building.

It all seemed a little over the top to me, but then you have to do something to decorate a complex that’s roughly the size of 88 football fields.

Since its inception, the GEM has been billed over the years as the largest museum in the world, the largest archaeological museum in the world or the largest archaeological museum in the world dedicated to one civilization.

I would guess the latter is the most correct, but let me tell you: This place is big.

When you finally walk into the massive glass-roofed atrium, you can’t help but gasp. The first thing you see is a 30-foot-high granite statue of Pharoah Ramses II, who built everything from temples at Karnak to Abu Simbel in the south during his long reign.

This particular 83-ton, red granite monolith stood in front of the Cairo train station for decades, until experts decided it was being damaged by traffic smog and vibration. So it was brought over to be the “wow” factor in the new foyer.

Adjacent is the red granite Column of King Meneptah, which weighs 17 tons. The original budget for the museum was $500,000, with donations from all over the world, but it’s now reportedly exceeded $1 billion.

When it opens, the museum is expecting 15,000 people a day—fewer than Disneyland, which is a similar size—but still a lot of people to spread over its acreage. Size estimates vary, but it’s considered to comprise some 120 acres.

After we admired Ramses in all his granite glory, we wandered around the foyer, which looks to be a few football fields wide on its own. The massive staircase to the exhibition halls was gated off, because they’re not ready yet.

When the exhibit halls do open, they’ll display thousands of items never before seen to the public, including 3,000 items found in the tomb of King Tut that have never been on public display.

Numbers vary, but the best estimates seem to be that 100,000 precious objects will be on display.

Visitors should definitely plan to bring their skateboards because this place is seriously huge. (I’m just kidding. Pretty sure they won’t let you bring a skateboard.)

Luckily, there’s a Starbucks under construction, because many of us will need jolts of java to get through it.

Right now, the main exhibition hall of Egypt’s treasures is Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, built in 1902, which is old, shabby, and displays priceless objects in some cases with nothing but yellowing scraps of typed paper next to them.

Even though it sorely needs updating, it still made my head spin to walk through it and see 3,000-year-old statues, sphinxes, mummies, coffins and other items too numerous to count. We’d spent three hours there the previous day, just seeing the highlights. Such as the golden funeral mask of King Tut. And the carved alabaster canopic jars that once held his brain, heart, liver and intestines.

So, if you can’t get into the GEM yet, don’t despair. There’s plenty to see in the original museum, and give yourself plenty of time and, preferably, a guide.

If You Go

The best place I’ve found for current information is the official Facebook page of the GEM:

To try to score tickets to the unfinished soft opening, go to

Note there’s an informational website here, but it is not the official website. It’s run by a private company.:

Copyright 2023 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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