For centuries, travelers have flocked to Egypt to marvel at its unique monuments and temples. With a rich history spanning millennia, adventure-filled activities and captivating scenery, Egypt offers something for every traveler. For a sweeping view of the country, here are our favorite top 10 places to visit. Giza Necropolis Constructed over 4,000 years ago,
For centuries, travelers have flocked to Egypt to marvel at its unique monuments and temples. With a rich history spanning millennia, adventure-filled activities and captivating scenery, Egypt offers something for every traveler. For a sweeping view of the country, here are our favorite top 10 places to visit.
- Giza Necropolis
Constructed over 4,000 years ago, the Pyramids of Giza evoke the splendor of the ancient Egyptians and are the last remaining seven wonders of the ancient world. The pyramids served as tombs for pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (2575-2465 BCE) and as monuments to the sun god Ra. It is believed that their smooth angled sides symbolize the sun’s rays to help the pharaoh’s soul rise to join the gods.
The largest of the pyramids, the Great Pyramid, stands at over 400 feet. It held the body of the Pharaoh Khufu, whose wives and sisters were buried in the adjacent Queen’s pyramids. To the south, the Solar Boat Museum displays the pharaoh’s 142-foot-long funerary boat, first discovered in 1954 and reconstructed in 1971. Southwest of the Great Pyramid are the Pyramid of Khafre and the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure.
The Great Sphinx sits near the main entrance to the necropolis. Wearing a headdress, the head of the pharaoh faces east toward the rising sun. With the body of a lion, the sphinx represents the pharaoh’s divine form as the son of Ra.
Consider a camel ride at sunset for a truly memorable view of the pyramids or to explore the surrounding desert. Several stables are located in and around the necropolis, and it is important to remember to bargain.
How to get there: The Giza Necropolis is located approximately 30 minutes from Cairo and is accessible by bus or taxi.
You can easily spend weeks exploring the many sights of Cairo. In Central Cairo, the Egyptian Museum houses one of the world’s best collections of ancient history, with over 120,000 items. Highlights of the museum include the Tomb of Tutankhamun and the Royal Mummy Room.
In Islamic Cairo, the mosques of al-Azhar, Ibn Tulun and Sultan Hassan feature exquisite architecture. The Citadel, built under Saladin in the 12th century, offers expansive views of the city. Markets selling everything from gold and silver to carpet and spices are found throughout the quarter. For souvenirs, head to the 14th-century Bazaar of Khan al-Khalili.
Old Cairo includes Coptic Cairo, the heart of Egypt’s Christian community, consisting of six ancient churches, a synagogue, and a convent. The most famous of these, the Hanging Church, was built on top of the southern gate of a Roman fortress and is considered one of the oldest buildings in Cairo. Near the Hanging Church, the Coptic Museum displays 1,200 pieces of Coptic works of art, dating back from the Greco-Roman times to the Islamic period.
Lying on the east bank of the Nile, Karnak is the second most visited tourist attraction in Egypt. This temple complex was dedicated to Amun, his wife Mut, their son Khonsu and the local Theban war god Montu. The complex was built out of limestone over a span of more than 1,500 years, with successive pharaohs adding new structures.
The centerpiece of the complex is the 247-acre Precinct of Amun. A row of sphinxes leads from the Nile to the first pylon. The great court lying beyond contains the Temples of Sethos II and Ramses II. The granite Colossus of Ramses II marks the entrance to the Great Hypostyle Hall, one of the key attractions of the precinct, distinguished by its 134 gigantic papyrus-shaped columns. Past the Hall are the obelisks of Tuthmosis I and Hatshepsut, sanctuary of the funerary boat, Festival Hall, Inner Sanctuary, and Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens are named after the detailed reliefs of the flora and fauna of ancient Egypt. A sacred lake once used for religious rituals stretches south of the precinct, and another set of pylons leads to the Precinct of Mut. The Precinct of Montu lies to the north.
How to get there: Buses and taxis travel from Luxor, which has an international airport. Trains run regularly between Cairo and Luxor.
- Valleys of the Kings, Queens, and Nobles
On the west bank of the Nile lies the Valley of the Kings, where the pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE) were buried in rock-cut tombs. A total of 63 tombs have been discovered, including the glorious tomb of Tutankhamun, although only 15 are open to the public. Among these are the tombs of Ramses VI, Amenophis II, Tuthmosis III, Horemheb, and Seti I. Long underground shafts lead to the burial chambers, which are elaborately decorated with scenes depicting the pharaohs’ lives and funerals, religious imagery, and text from the Book of the Dead.
The royal wives and children of the pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Queens, located southwest of the Valley of the Kings. Approximately 90 tombs have been discovered, most notably, Nefertari’s tomb. These tombs are smaller than those in the Valley of the Kings and are mostly decorated with ritual scenes. Three of the tombs are currently open to visitors.
Carved out of a limestone cliff east of the Valley of the Kings is Deir el-Bahari, a terraced temple embellished with colonnades and reliefs illustrating events from Hatshepsut’s reign, including her divine birth and voyage to the Land of Punt (modern day Somalia).
Stretching across four sites south of the Valley of the Kings, administrative officials, priests, and military officers were buried in the Tombs of the Nobles. Over 400 tombs have been discovered, and 10 are open to visitors. The tombs are vividly decorated with scenes from daily Egyptian life.
How to get there: The Valleys are accessible from Luxor by ferry, taxi, or bus.
- Abu Simbel
The two temples of Abu Simbel are carved into the cliffs on the west bank of the Nile. Four colossal statues of Ramses II stand on either side of the entrance to the Great Temple of Ramses II. Inside the main hall, eight pillars are adorned with statues of Ramses II and battle scenes decorate the walls. At the back of the temple, the sanctuary holds four seated statues of the god of creation Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramses II, and the god of the rising sun Re-Horakhty.
Next to the Great Temple of Ramses II is the Small Temple of Nefertari. Six colossal statues of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari stand along both sides of the entrance. The great hall is lined with six pillars decorated with the heads of the goddess Hathor, and the walls depict ritual scenes. A sanctuary at the back of the temple has a statue of Hathor in the shape of a cow protecting a smaller statue of Ramses II.
How to get there: Abu Simbel is 174 miles south of Aswan. Buses and taxis from Aswan take about three hours to get there. EgyptAir has one-hour flights from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel is also a stop on Lake Nasser cruises.
- Nile River Cruise
The Nile undulates across Egypt from northern Sudan up to the Mediterranean Sea, making a Nile River cruise an excellent way to view the country. There are three options for cruising the Nile: feluccas, dahabiyyas, and cruisers. Feluccas are small sailing boats that have been used by fishermen for centuries. They are the cheapest option, best suited for short trips, but lack facilities like cabins and toilets. Dahabiyyas are houseboats that can be privately chartered to carry a small group of passengers, offering a luxurious option for families, groups of friends, and honeymooners. With a dahabiyya, you can create a flexible itinerary and feel pampered with personalized service. Most dahabiyyas depart from Esna, south of Luxor. Cruisers provide the easiest way to travel the Nile, with plenty of amenities, including a swimming pool, restaurant, air conditioning, and en-suite bathrooms. However, cruisers follow fixed itineraries, usually traveling from Luxor to Aswan, with varying journey lengths and organized excursions to tourist attractions.
- Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monastery
Sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, Mt. Sinai is believed to be the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The trail up the mountain is a popular and easy climb for pilgrims and tourists. Consider starting at night to reach the summit at sunrise for an unforgettable view of the rugged landscape. Longer treks in the area with a Bedouin guide can be arranged in the village of Al-Milga.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai is St. Catherine’s Monastery, one of the oldest functioning monasteries in the world. The monastery was built at the site where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Surrounded by thick granite walls, this Greek Orthodox monastery is a maze of passageways, entrances and buildings. Although most of the monastery remains closed to the public, the basilica, Chapel of the Burning Bush, and Monastery Museum offer exceptional views of Byzantine mosaics, icons, and paintings.
How to get there: The monastery is located approximately 3.5 kilometers from the village of Al-Milga, which has bus connections to Cairo and Dahab.
- Red Sea
Home to thousands of species of fish and over 150 types of coral, the Red Sea is a world-class diving destination. One of the best diving spots is Ras Mohamed National Park, located approximately 12 miles west of Sharm el-Sheikh, where you can explore coral reefs as old as two million years and view exotic marine life. Other recommended diving sites include Thistlegorm, an excellent wreck dive approximately 25 miles from Sharm el-Sheikh; Blue Hole, a 427-foot-deep abyss located 4 miles north of Dahab; and Canyon, a long coral-filled trench near Dahab best suited for expert divers.
Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab are both good choices to unwind in between dives, stretch out on the beach, or indulge in fresh seafood. Luxurious resorts line the beachfront of Sharm el-Sheikh and offer a wide variety of water sports, including sailing, snorkeling, and windsurfing. Dahab is a smaller, less touristy option and a good place to arrange a camel safari.
How to get there: EgyptAir flies from Cairo, Luxor, and Alexandria to Sharm el-Sheikh. Buses from Sharm el-Sheikh to Dahab take one to two hours to get there.
Experience a different side of Egypt in Aswan, a slower-paced riverside city north of Lake Nasser with a distinctive Nubian atmosphere. To learn more about Nubian culture, history, and art, be sure to stop by the Nubia Museum. Nubian souvenirs and crafts, including swords, amulets, and African masks, can be purchased at the Sharia as-Souq, Aswan’s market street, or Hanafi Bazaar.
The Nile flows gently around palm-filled islands to the west of town. The largest of these, Elephantine Island, once played a role in the ivory trade and was a cult center for the god Khnum, his wife Satet, and their daughter Anket. A small collection of antiquities can be seen at the Aswan Museum. The ancient ruins of the original town of Abu, including the Temple of Khnum, are located past the museum. Colorful Nubian villages can also be found on the island.
To the west of Elephantine Island are the Aswan Botanical Gardens. The Greco-Roman Philae Temple Complex, including the Temple of Isis and the Temple of Hathor, is located further south on the island of Agilkia.
Additional Nubian villages, monuments, and ancient ruins can be visited on the west bank of the Nile, including the Mausoleum of Aga Khan, the abandoned Coptic Monastery of Saint Simeon, and the Tombs of the Nobles, which date back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms.
How to get there: EgyptAir flies from Cairo, Luxor and Abu Simbel to Aswan.
- Siwa Oasis
In a remote corner of the Western Desert, Berbers established an oasis town called Siwa that was so isolated from the rest of Egypt for centuries that locals still speak a Berber dialect. Hundreds of freshwater streams and springs water the acres of date palms and olive trees that make Siwa a green and lush oasis. Siwa’s most famous monument is the Temple of the Oracle, where Alexander the Great consulted the Oracle after conquering Egypt and was declared the son of the god Amun.
Around Siwa, visitors can relax in hot and cold springs. Cleopatra’s Bath is a local favorite. For a more secluded alternative, head to Fatnas Island or the cold freshwater lake of Bir Wahed near the Great Sand Sea. Those interested in venturing further into the desert can arrange a safari by 4WD or camel.
How to get there: Buses from Cairo and Alexandria depart daily for Siwa.
by Michelle Ong