For centuries, tourists have flocked to Egypt to admire its ancient pyramids and temples. The country also has its fair share of natural wonders. The River Nile is the longest in the world, and the Red Sea coast is a playground for resort-style relaxation and adventurous watersports. At the heart of Egypt’s cultural identity is Cairo, a cosmopolitan capital where historic churches, mosques and museums rub shoulders with luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. Discover all this and more with our helpful guide to Egypt’s top attractions.
Learn About Cairo’s Multicultural History
At one time or another, Cairo has been occupied by Romans, Byzantines, Coptic Christians, Islamic caliphs, Mamluks, Ottomans and British colonialists. Its architecture reflects its multicultural heritage, as you’ll discover on a walking tour of medieval Cairo Citadel or with a visit to landmark religious sites such as the Hanging Church or Al-Azhar Mosque. For an overview of the country’s ancient history, head to the Egyptian Museum, open from 9:00am every day.
Experience Contemporary Cairo in Zamalek
Head to Cairo's trendy Zamalek neighborhood (located on Gezira Island in the middle of the River Nile) to discover contemporary art galleries, 5-star hotels and world-class restaurants. El Sawy Culture Wheel is a hub for concerts, plays and lectures; while the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art and the Cairo Opera House are located nearby. Floating venue Le Pacha 1901 boasts no fewer than nine gourmet, riverfront restaurants.
Shop for Souvenirs at Khan El-Khalili Bazaar
Little has changed at Khan El-Khalili Bazaar since its foundation in the 14th century. In Cairo's most authentic souk, narrow cobbled streets open into alcoves packed with fragrant spices and handcrafted silver jewelry. Come to stock up on souvenirs, remembering that haggling is expected. Afterwards, unwind with a cup of mint tea or Arabic coffee at famous marketplace café Fishawi’s. Located in Islamic Cairo, the bazaar stays open from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Marvel at the Ancient Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza lie on the outskirts of Cairo. The largest of the three pyramid complexes is the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing today – an impressive feat, considering that the pyramids were built some 4,500 years ago. In front of the pyramids lies the Sphinx, a cat-like creature carved from a single block of stone. Tickets to view the Great Pyramid cost EGP 100.
Visit the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
Those with a passion for pyramids should also make sure to visit the Pyramid of Djoser, located just south of Cairo at Saqqara, the necropolis of ancient Memphis. The pyramid was built in the 27th century BC, using a unique stepped style that pre-dates the smooth-sided pyramids at Giza. It is the oldest stone-cut monument in the world. The best way to visit Saqqara is on a day tour from Cairo.
Walk Amongst Luxor's Ancient Monuments
The modern city of Luxor sits on the east bank of the River Nile, on top of the ancient pharaonic capital of Thebes. Its temples, statues and monuments give a sense of the city’s past grandeur. The top attraction is Luxor Temple, which was commissioned by Amenhotep III in the late 14th century. Monumental statues of Ramesses II guard the temple gate, and walking in between them is a breathtaking experience.
Explore the Karnak Temple Complex
The Karnak temple complex is located just north of Luxor. Karnak was a place of great religious importance for the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, and it became the main place of worship for the ancient Thebans. Today, you can walk amongst an astonishing collection of sanctuaries and temples dedicated to the Theban Triad. The largest is the Temple of Amun-Ra, which costs EGP 120 to enter.
View Ancient Tombs in the Valley of the Kings
Across the river from Luxor lies the Theban necropolis, the Valley of the Kings. There are more than 60 subterranean tombs here, built for the mummies of New Kingdom pharaohs from as early as the 16th century BC. The pharaohs were buried with their worldly treasures amidst spectacular hieroglyphs. You’ll have to pay an extra EGP 100 on top of the standard ticket price to visit the most famous tomb – that of boy king Tutankhamun.
Uncover Ancient and Modern History at Philae
The Philae temple complex was built by Nectanebo I and added to by Ptolemaic and Roman rulers up until the 3rd century AD. As such, it provides an architectural account of Egypt’s transition from paganism to Christianity. In modern times, it was moved brick-by-brick from its original location on Philae Island to nearby Agilkia Island after the former was flooded during the construction of the Aswan Dam. Learn more on a day tour from Aswan.
Admire Incredible Reliefs at the Temple of Horus
The Temple of Horus at Edfu may not be the oldest structure in Egypt, but it is one of the best preserved. The sandstone structure was built between 237 and 57 BC by the Ptolemaic kings, who dedicated it to the cult of the falcon god Horus. When paganism was banished, the abandoned temple filled with desert sand which kept its fabulous reliefs and statues intact. It is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Discover the Symmetrical Temple of Kom Ombo
The Temple of Kom Ombo is unique in that it is divided into two symmetrical halves. One is dedicated to Horus the Elder, the other to the crocodile god Sobek. Each half contains an identical entrance, hypostyle hall and sanctuary, and many of the temple’s reliefs show traces of their original color. Don’t miss the nearby Crocodile Museum with its collection of mummified crocodiles.
See it All on a Nile River Cruise
One of the most atmospheric ways to see the ancient sights between Luxor and Aswan is to sign up for a multi-day River Nile cruise. There are countless different options, from historic steamships like the S.S. Sudan to luxury cruisers like the Oberoi Zahra. The latter has its own on-board spa and swimming pool. Budget travelers can explore with a no-frills tour on a traditional felucca.
Stand in Awe Before the Abu Simbel Temples
The two temples at Abu Simbel were built during the 13th century BC as monuments to Ramesses II and his queen, Nefertari. They were also relocated to higher ground to prevent flood damage in the 1960s. The entrance of the Great Temple is guarded by four colossal statues of Ramesses II. Inside, eight more enormous statues represent the pharaoh in his deified form and can be viewed on an Abu Simbel tour.
Experience Berber Culture at Siwa Oasis
Experience the road less traveled at Siwa Oasis, a desert settlement located near the Libyan border. The town is known for its unique Berber culture, its abundant date and olive plantations and the ruined temple of the ancient Oracle of Ammon. The latter was once visited by Alexander the Great. Make sure to check current travel warnings before booking a trip to Siwa, as the Western Desert can be unsafe.
Make the Pilgrimage Up Mount Sinai
Located near Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, Mount Sinai is a place of pilgrimage for Christians who believe that this is where Moses saw the Burning Bush and later received the Ten Commandments. At the foot of the mountain lies St. Catherine’s Monastery with its museum full of religious icons and relics. There are two routes to the summit: the challenging Steps of Repentance, or the more forgiving Camel Trail.
Soak Up the Atmosphere in Cosmopolitan Alex
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and, as one of the most important cities of its time, was home to a wealth of iconic landmarks. These included the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After a period of decline, Alex is once again a thriving port with an enviable culinary scene and several excellent cultural venues including the amazing Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Cross the Suez Canal in Port Said
The coastal city of Port Said marks the northern entry into the historic Suez Canal. Wander along the port’s waterfront boardwalk to view the supertankers preparing to make the journey from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. To experience a crossing for yourself, hop aboard the free ferries that run from Port Said to Port Fuad. On the way across, you’ll traverse the border between Africa and Asia.
Learn to Scuba Dive in Sharm el-Sheikh
Egypt’s entire Red Sea coast is a treasure trove for scuba divers, and peninsula resort town Sharm el-Sheikh is a great place to learn. There are plenty of different dive schools to choose from, allowing you to shop around for the best course price. You’ll also have access to beginner-friendly shore diving sites as well as spectacular reefs in nearby Ras Mohammed National Park.
Dive the Wreck of the S.S. Thistlegorm
Experienced divers can explore the S.S. Thistlegorm, often ranked as one of the best wreck-diving sites in the world. The freighter was drafted into military service during the Second World War and arrived in the Red Sea in 1941. Shortly afterwards it was sunk by German bombers with ammunition, armored vehicles and military motorcycles on board. Book your dive with a local operator like Eagle Divers.
Stay in a Luxury Hurghada Resort
Hurghada is a popular getaway for divers, watersports enthusiasts and sun worshippers. It’s also home to several luxurious 5-star resorts including The Oberoi Beach Resort Sahl Hasheesh and Premier Le Reve Hotel & Spa. Expect landscaped grounds, sprawling swimming pools, fine-dining restaurants and of course, excellent spa and watersports amenities. The offshore Giftun Islands are an idyllic day-trip destination.
Swim with Dolphins at Marsa Alam
Marsa Alam has earned a reputation as one of the best places in the world to swim with wild dolphins. Tours depart from the marina and head to offshore Samadai Reef, known locally as Dolphin House. The horseshoe-shaped reef is home to a resident pod of spinner dolphins, who are usually happy to interact with snorkelers. Remember that although sightings are likely, they aren’t guaranteed.
Go Kite-Surfing at El Gouna
Adrenalin junkies can get their kite-surfing fix at El Gouna, another idyllic Red Sea resort town. Perfect conditions include pumping cross-shore winds and an abundance of shallow water to suit all experience levels. The two main kite-surfing beaches are called Buzzha and Mangroovy, and peak season runs from April to October. Don’t have your equipment with you? There are plenty of shops offering gear rentals and lessons.
Tour the Aswan High Dam
Those with an interest in Egypt’s modern history should visit the Aswan High Dam. Built to control the flooding of the River Nile and to generate hydroelectricity, its construction was one of the biggest projects of the post-revolution government and has had a massive effect on the Egyptian economy. Tours depart from Aswan city and usually include a visit to Philae temple complex and the Unfinished Obelisk as well.
Book a Lake Nasser Cruise
The Aswan High Dam project led to the creation of Lake Nasser on the Sudanese border. At 298 miles in length, is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Multi-day Lake Nasser cruises give you the opportunity to admire beautiful scenery and wildlife, to fish for Nile perch and tigerfish, and to visit the lake’s ancient sights. The most famous of these is Abu Simbel.
Go Off the Beaten Track in the Nile Delta
For a completely different Egyptian experience, head north into the vast expanse of arable land known as the Nile Delta. Here you'll find a green patchwork of paddies intersected by tranquil waterways. There are ancient sights at Tanis and Bubastis, while Rosetta is known for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture. Tanta, the delta’s largest city, hosts a religious festival in October; and Lake Burullus is a birder’s paradise.