Who doesn’t dream of a trip to Egypt? For centuries, the mysteries of the pharaohs have captivated people around the world. What was it that first drew you to Egypt? Perhaps you studied their ancient civilisation in primary school, or maybe it was the first time you read Agatha Christie’s classic Death on the Nile. Maybe it was even after you watched The Mummy Returns at the cinema — but in that case, don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone your little secret.
Whatever your reason for visiting Egypt, you’ll find it’s a truly remarkable country. With ancient pyramids, mysterious monuments and intriguing hieroglyphics, this is a place where history comes to life. There’s also Egypt’s majestic nature. The enormous Nile River winds its way slowly through the country. For centuries, this natural wonder of the world has been a source of inspiration for explorers, adventurers and poets. From the bustling streets of Cairo to the shifting, windswept sands of the great Sahara Desert, Egypt is a country that never fails to amaze. As you plan your perfect getaway, check out this travel guide to the best places to visit in Egypt.
Giza and the pyramids
What else could be at the top of the list? As far back as the 1st century BC, the ancient Greeks made the very first of the seven wonders of the world. The pyramids of Giza are the only surviving wonder from the original seven, and they’re just as breathtaking today as they were when the Greeks visited them two thousand years ago.
The pyramids were built as elaborate tombs for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, showcasing a remarkable grasp of geometry and construction techniques. The most impressive of them all is the Great Pyramid, which stands at a towering height of 138 metres. Visitors can enter through the Robber’s Tunnel and catch a captivating glimpse of the interior of a pyramid. A word of warning: it’s not for the claustrophobic! So, if the thought of narrow spaces brings you out in a cold sweat, you’re better off staying on the sand and admiring the pyramids from the outside.
While you’re in Giza, you’ll also want to take a look at the Sphinx. This ancient monument is famous all over the world, cementing Giza as one of the best places to visit in Egypt. Tourists line up to take a photo of themselves with the Sphinx in the background, so it looks like they’re planting a kiss on the stone lips. Time to start thinking of a more original way to get that must-have holiday snap…
Made of limestone, the Sphinx depicts a mythical creature with a human head and the body of a lion. It dates back to around 2500 BC, and nobody quite knows what happened to its nose. For years, there were rumours that Napoleon’s troops had knocked the statue’s schnozz off with a blast from a cannon, but it seems that the nose went missing long before then. The most likely explanation is that someone chiselled it off in one of the most notorious acts of vandalism in human history. It’s hard to believe now, but most of the Sphinx was buried beneath the desert sands for centuries, with just its famous head visible. In the 19th century, archaeologists dug the Sphinx free, revealing the breathtaking size of the monument’s body.
After a few days in the desert, Cairo can feel overwhelming. With 12 million people crammed into its dusty buildings, this is a truly enormous city. It’s also home to some of the best tourist attractions in Egypt, making it one of the most intriguing historical places in the world. Spend a morning at the Egyptian Museum of Tahrir Square, where you can see Tutankhamun’s ancient treasures and spine-tingling mummies from days gone by.
Of course, Cairo’s history doesn’t end with the fall of the pharaohs. The city is also home to a mediaeval district filled with old Islamic buildings, including spectacular mosques and tiny artisan workshops, where families still spend hours in painstaking traditional crafts. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Citadel of Saladin is well worth a visit. This enormous structure once protected Egypt from the Crusaders. Inside its fortified walls are several mosques.
Cairo has a number of beautiful mosques that welcome non-Muslims at certain times of day. Today, they’re still used as houses of worship, so visitors must dress respectfully and behave appropriately. That means no muscle shirts or booty shorts. You might want to wear socks, as you’ll need to take your shoes off to enter a mosque.
Most trips to Egypt will involve passing through Cairo at some point, and it deserves a spot on any list of the best places to visit in Egypt. Although it’s not in the middle of the country, it’s very much the centre of Egyptian life. If you want to take a cruise down the Nile or a road trip into the heart of the White Desert, you’ll probably go to Cairo first and use the city as your base for exploring this fascinating country.
Sharm El Sheikh
When you think of a beach holiday, Egypt might not be the first country that springs to mind. A trip to Sharm El Sheikh will change that. Once a humble fishing village, this hotspot is now Egypt’s premier seaside resort. It’s on the Red Sea, one of the world’s warmest bodies of water. The water is swimmable all year round, so if you fancy a winter beach break, this is the place to go.
Sharm El Sheikh is home to the Ras Muhammad National Park, a favourite for divers all over the world. The colourful coral reefs here teem with marine life, so you’ll want to spend as much time as possible under the water. If you’re not a diver, then snorkelling is just as fun — and if you’d rather not get your feet wet, then just go for a boat trip and admire the playful dolphins splashing about.
While visiting Sharm El Sheikh, don’t spend all your time in the sea. Mount Sinai, a sacred mountain in the Abrahamic religions, lies a short distance from the city. At 2,285 metres above sea level, this mighty peak attracts both religious pilgrims and thrill-seeking adventurers. Whatever your reason for hiking it, you’re sure to agree it’s one of the best places to visit in Egypt.
The best time to climb Mount Sinai is at sunrise or sunset. From the top, the panoramic views are utterly spectacular. If you’re going for a sunrise climb, you’ll need to be ready at midnight. As you get close to the summit, you’ll have to choose your route. The Camel Path is wide and straightforward, rising slowly up the side of the mountain, while the Steps of Repentance provide a very steep alternative that will leave you gasping for breath. Both paths meet near the summit, where you can enjoy magical views of the surrounding area.
This ancient city still carries the name of the man who founded it back in 331 BC: the one and only Alexander the Great. If you’re looking for historic sites to see in Egypt, you’ve come to the right place! It was once home to the Great Library and the Great Lighthouse, two of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but over the centuries, earthquakes brought them both tumbling to the ground. However, the old Roman theatre still stands, complete with beautifully preserved mosaics on the floor. Some of the ancient rocks used to build the Great Lighthouse can still be seen — but they’re at the bottom of the seabed, and you’ll need to strap on your scuba gear if you want to get a good look at them.
Don’t miss the Alexandria National Museum, one of the best places to visit in Egypt for fans of history. It has one of the most thorough collections of ancient artefacts. The museum shows how the city evolved down the centuries, starting with the days of Alexander and continuing to the era of Cleopatra, the country’s final pharaoh. This time was followed by the Roman conquest of Egypt and then the Coptic and Islamic periods. Allow yourself a couple of hours to explore this museum, as it will take you on a journey through Egypt’s long and complex history.
The Valley of the Kings
After the Egyptians stopped building pyramids, they chose a new way to honour their dead pharaohs: mighty indoor tombs, often protected by elaborate curses. You’ll see these in the Valley of Kings, located near the city of Luxor. This historical attraction is regarded by history buffs as one of the best places to visit in Egypt. More than 60 pharaohs were buried here, and their tombs are incredibly impressive — especially when you consider that the interiors were not intended to be viewed by living eyes. Colourful hieroglyphics and ancient artwork adorn the walls, giving you a glimpse into the life of the pharaohs.
The undisputed highlight of the Valley of the Kings is Tutankhamun’s tomb. Before you enter, you might want to read up on the mummy’s curse. Historians will tell you that the curse is a myth — but do you really trust them?
Luxor stands on the site of ancient Thebes, once the capital of Egypt’s New Kingdom. If you’re just coming here to cruise down the Nile and visit the Valley of the Kings, you’re missing out. The city itself is well worth a closer look. Highlights include the Karnak Temple, the largest religious building ever built. It took a full 2,000 years to finish, which may make you feel more sympathetic the next time you hire a tradesman to do up the bathroom.
Luxor has plenty of ancient sites, but it’s also a bustling modern city. While most people add it to their list of places to visit in Egypt for its historical sites, be sure to check out the modern parts, too. It’s one of the best cities for foodies, so while you’re there, why not try some Egyptian dishes? Many of the country’s favourite meals are vegetarian-friendly, like ful wa ta’meya, the Egyptian version of falafel, or ful medames, a mashed bean dish that dates all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. If no meal is complete without meat, then try stuffed squab or richly spiced kofta. In areas with lots of foreign visitors, you’ll be able to buy beer to wash it all down, but locals don’t drink, so don’t be surprised if neighbourhood restaurants have no alcohol at all.
With a more chilled-out vibe than big cities like Cairo and Alexandria, Aswan is a great place for visitors wanting to explore the Nile. Although it’s a fraction of the size of Cairo, it’s still one of the best places to visit in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians considered this city to be the gateway to Africa, as it marked the southernmost point of their kingdom. Today, there are about 120 kilometres between Aswan and the border with Sudan. Like many Egyptian cities, Aswan showcases a blend of old and new. Around the modern buildings, you’ll find ancient obelisks that the early people of Aswan loved to construct at every opportunity.
The Nile has always been the lifeblood of Aswan. Over the centuries, the river burst its banks and flooded the city with alarming regularity. This eventually led to the construction of the enormous Aswan Dam in the 1960s. To make way for the reservoir, two ancient temples from the era of Ramesses II were taken down and painstakingly reconstructed, brick by brick, on higher ground. While you’re in town, you can spend time admiring these ancient constructions or just cruise down the river to the white-water rapids at the First Cataract.
Like Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada is a former fishing village that’s become a seaside resort. The warm waters of the Red Sea make it a great choice all year round, and it’s home to a number of luxury hotels. It has become a trendy option for wealthy tourists from all over the Arab world. If you’ve ever wanted to rub shoulders with a sheikh, this is the place to be.
By day, you can spend your time in Hurghada snorkelling, scuba diving or zooming across the waves on a jet ski. In the evenings, the city comes alive, teeming with restaurants, bars and late-opening shops. You might want to stick with window shopping, though — the prices in these high-end boutiques aren’t exactly friendly to travellers on a budget.
Want to swim with sea turtles? You don’t need to go all the way to the Caribbean. Marsa Alam is one of Egypt’s most remote seaside towns. Its location — far away from the better-known Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh — means it offers a little slice of unspoiled paradise, with some of the best diving in the region.
Marsa Alam is much quieter than other resort towns. If you’re looking for a party, this isn’t the place for you. Want to immerse yourself in nature and steer clear of other tourists? Then add this to your list of the best places to visit in Egypt. The waters here are home to sea turtles, dugongs and whale sharks, and it’s one of the best places in the world to swim with wild dolphins. You can also take a day trip to Wadi el Gemal, a national park known as the Valley of the Camels, where you can see Egypt’s most famous animals in their natural habitat. Don’t get too close to these bad-tempered beasts — a spitting camel is no joke!
Many of the best things to see in Egypt are in the Nile Valley. This lush strip of green cuts through the harshness of Egypt’s White Desert. As the most fertile part of the country, it’s no wonder that Egyptians have lived here for millennia. Just beyond the Nile Valley, the landscape changes abruptly, becoming arid and unwelcoming. In this vast expanse of sand, you’ll find Saqqara.
Saqqara is yet another ancient burial site, set on a high sandy plateau overlooking the river. It’s named after the ancient god of the dead and was once the cemetery for the city of Memphis. There are tombs and other burial sites dotted across the plateau, including the oldest pyramid in Egypt.
As you explore Saqqara, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a maze. It’s easy to get lost among the many different pyramids and tombs. Most of the site is open to the public, so you can explore it at your leisure. Up here on the high ground, you’ll be able to admire both the ancient monuments and the breathtaking views: Saqqara is one of the best spots in the entire country to see the Nile in all its glory.
Ready to see the majesty of Egypt? You’ll see the very best that the country has to offer in this 12-day tour. Start in Cairo and make your way upriver, following in the footsteps of the ancient pharaohs. As you head deeper into the kingdom, you’ll discover many of the best places to visit in Egypt. It’s an unforgettable trip that’s sure to have you counting the days until you can come back for another holiday.
Want to know the best time to visit Egypt? Find out here!
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