Cairo Travel Guide

A comprehensive Cairo travel guide to explore the culturally and naturally rich areas of Southern Illinois.

Introduction to Cairo

Cairo is a small city located in Southern Illinois, in the Midwest region of the United States of America. It is the perfect destination for those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of big cities and wish to explore a city filled with cultural and natural attractions. Cairo is situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and is known for its both outdoor activities, and culturally important attractions.

List of Places to Visit in Cairo

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  • Cairo Customs House Museum: The museum showcases the city’s rich cultural heritage and its economic and strategic importance as a river town. Visitors can explore the exhibits of the museum, which includes a collection of artifacts and antique pieces, including the 1929 Cairo River Gauge.
  • Magnolia Manor: Built-in 1852, it served as headquarters for the Union Army during the Civil War. The house is now a museum, and visitors can experience the grandeur of Southern architecture while exploring the exhibits that showcase Cairo’s history.
  • Fort Defiance: It is a historic Civil War site that was once used as an encampment by Confederate troops. The site is now a park and is visited for its natural scenic views, as well as its historic significance.

Natural Attractions of Cairo: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  • Trail of Tears State Forest: It is spread across approximately 5,000 acres of pristine wooded land. The park offers hiking and biking routes, horse riding, and is popular among bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.
  • Shawnee National Forest: It is known for its enchanting natural beauty and wildlife. Visitors can choose from various activities like hiking, camping, fishing or hunting.
  • Cache River State Natural Area: The area is home to various animals, including white-tailed deer, beavers, coyotes, and bobcats. Visitors can enjoy the scenic beauty by kayaking or canoeing in the area.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Cairo

Cairo is a haven for adventure enthusiasts. Visitors can choose from various hiking and biking routes to explore the natural trails and scenic beauty. Some of the popular routes are:

  • River to River Trail: The trail is a 160-mile route connecting the Ohio and Mississippi river banks the trail runs across the Shawnee National Forest and passes through various state parks such as Ferne Clyffe State Park.
  • Tunnel Hill State Trail: The trail runs for 45 miles and was once an old railroad bed. The route runs through forests and over bridges and is ideal for running, hiking or biking.
  • Panther Den Loop Trail: The trail is a 4.4-mile loop that takes visitors through lush forests and to a scenic overlook of Panther Den.

Best Things to Do in Cairo: Activities and Tours

  • Ohio River Dinner Cruise: Visitors can enjoy a dinner cruise on a riverboat tour on the Ohio River, and enjoy the beautiful sunset views while dining.
  • Cairo Riverfront Park: The park offers various recreational activities such as hiking, biking, picnicking, and fishing.
  • Little Egypt Arts Festival: The festival is held in downtown Marion every September and features a wide range of art and culture exhibitions, antique shows, and live music performance.

Week-Long Itinerary for Cairo

Day Activity
1 Arrive in Cairo. Explore the city, and visit Cairo Customs House Museum.
2 Take a day trip to Fort Defiance Park and Shawnee National Forest.
3 Experience the natural beauty of Cache River State Natural Area.
4 Go hiking and biking on the Tunnel Hill State Trail.
5 Explore Magnolia Manor and other historical sites in the city.
6 Indulge in recreational activities at the Riverfront Park.
7 Depart Cairo after a week of exploring the city and its surroundings.

Food and Drink Scene of Cairo

Must-Try Dishes

  • Horseshoe Sandwich: It is an open-faced sandwich that originated in Springfield, Illinois, and is now popular throughout the state. The sandwich is made with toast, cheese, and fries, with meat as an option.
  • Pulled Pork: It is a popular BBQ dish and can be enjoyed in many restaurants in and around Cairo.
  • Fried Chicken: The southern favorite fried chicken is a must-try dish in Cairo.

Local Beverages

  • Southern Illinois Wine Trail: The wine trail offers visitors the opportunity to explore the various vineyards and wineries located in the Shawnee Hills region of Southern Illinois.
  • Local Breweries: Cairo has several breweries that serve the finest craft beer, including the Big Muddy Brewing and Scratch Brewing Company.

Where to Stay in Cairo: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

  • Quality Inn & Suites: It is a budget-friendly hotel and located at the heart of the city. It offers modern amenities and facilities, including a fitness center and free Wi-Fi.
  • Stay Lodge: It is an ideal option for travelers looking for extended stays. The hotel offers basic amenities such as free parking, free Wi-Fi, and kitchenette facilities.
  • Waverly Inn: A bed and breakfast located in Carbondale, just a few miles away from Cairo. It is a perfect option for those seeking a more home-like ambiance.

What to Buy in Cairo: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

  • Local Artwork: Various local artist galleries offer unique artwork that can be purchased as a souvenir or gift to bring back home.
  • Handcrafted Products: Visitors can purchase handmade jewelry, pottery, and other crafts directly from the artisans.
  • Southern Illinois Wine: Visitors can purchase local wine from the vineyards and wineries along the wine trail.

Local Culture and Customs of Cairo

Cairo’s culture and customs reflect the region’s rich history and heritage. Visitors are advised to respect the local traditions and practices of the locals and follow the cultural etiquette.

Best Time to Visit Cairo

The best time to visit Cairo is from late summer to early fall when the weather is mild, and the leaves start to change colors. The peak tourist season is from May to October.

Do’s and Don’ts of Cairo


  • Respect the local traditions and the culture of the locals.
  • Be mindful of your personal belongings while exploring the natural trails.
  • Take a Riverboat tour for an evening sunset view of the city.


  • Litter in the natural parks and trails.
  • Ignore the weather forecast, especially while exploring the natural trails.
  • Be disrespectful to local customs and practices.

Safety and Health

Safety in Cairo

Cairo is generally safe, and visitors should not have any issues while exploring the city and its surroundings. Visitors should be mindful of their personal belongings and avoid unlit areas at night.

Health in Cairo

Visitors are advised to carry an adequate amount of insect repellent while exploring the natural trails and parks as there is a risk of tick and mosquito-borne illnesses.

Getting to Cairo: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Cairo

The nearest airport to Cairo is the Barkley Regional Airport, located in Paducah, Kentucky, approximately 25 miles away.

Bus Stations Near Cairo

Greyhound operates a bus service to Cairo from several cities, including St. Louis, Chicago, and Memphis.

Other Options

Visitors can also opt for rental cars or take a taxi or Uber to reach Cairo.

How to Get Around in Cairo

Visitors can rent a car or take a taxi or Uber to get around in Cairo. Biking and hiking are other alternatives to explore the natural trails and scenic beauty.

Where to Go Next from Cairo: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

  • Shawnee National Forest: The forest offers several natural trails, rock formations, and scenic beauty.
  • Metropolis: The small town is known for its giant Superman statue and is located approximately 30 miles away from Cairo.
  • Carbondale: Located approximately 36 miles away from Cairo, Carbondale is a college town and the home to Southern Illinois University.


Cairo is a hidden gem located in Southern Illinois. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the region, explore its rich cultural heritage, and indulge in local food and drinks. The city offers several outdoor activities, making it an ideal destination for adventure enthusiasts. Visitors can also explore nearby destinations to make the most out of their trip to this charming city. With its friendly locals and charming ambiance, Cairo is a must-visit destination in the Midwest.