Travel

Top 10 Places to Visit in Egypt

Egypt is known as the oldest tourist destination on the planet – and for good reason. As the home of one of the most advanced ancient societies in human history, as well as numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Egypt is the type of place that fascinates and awes anyone who visits.

From the crowded city of Cairo that is both ancient and modern, to the unique culture of the Siwa Oasis, to the luxurious life of Sharm El Sheikh, to the famous Pyramids of Giza, Egypt is an incredibly diverse country that has incredible cultural and historical wealth.

Due to the 2011 protests and the resulting turmoil that still continues today, tourism in Egypt has dropped significantly as citizens of other countries are advised to stay away. This has not stopped everyone from deciding to visit, however – far from it. Plenty of tourists are taking advantage of the current lull in order to get a completely unique experience of Egypt. Viewing places like Giza without being overwhelmed by crowds is a once in a lifetime opportunity, after all.

Whether you visit Egypt now or twenty years from now, chances are good that the main places of interest will remain there for centuries. History has proven that Egypt will always be an incredible place to visit

01. Giza

The top place to visit in Egypt, Giza is the site of some of the most impressive ancient monuments in the world, including the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and a number of other large pyramids and temples. The pyramids of Giza form what is surely one of the oldest and most well-known tourist spots in the world and the suburban city of Giza itself sits surprisingly near to the plateau of Giza where the three pyramids stand, forming a hazy backdrop to the bustling city.

Attractions & Activities
While Giza itself is a modern, thriving suburb of Cairo, this is not what gives the Giza Plateau its worldwide fame. Predictably, tourists flock to Giza to see the sole remaining member of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.

This UNESCO site is called the Giza Necropolis, which is another word for burial site. It includes the three pyramids as well as the Great Sphinx of Giza, which can be experienced on your own, with a guided tour, or with a private car and guide. It is even possible to do a camel tour around Giza!

During a tour of the area, you may also get to experience the ancient capital of Egypt, Memphis, where tourists can walk through the ruins of Rameses II’s pillared hall.

When visiting the pyramids of Giza, you will definitely get a taste of aggressive salesmen who stand around the base of the pyramids during the busy tourist season. Be very cautious if anyone offers to take your picture, as they will certainly expect a hefty tip. Pay the extra cost to go inside one of the pyramids – it is well worth it. However, it includes some small spaces, so claustrophobes may want to wait outside.

02. Cairo

No matter what kind of traveler you are, Cairo is one of those cities that has something for everyone. This hot tourist destination is often considered one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth and, if you don’t mind the crowds, is the perfect place to explore Egyptian history and culture.

Attractions & Activities
Pyramids aside, there are plenty of sites in Cairo that you absolutely can’t miss. The first of these sites is the Egyptian Museum, which is a place that even people who dislike museums will enjoy. Located in Cairo’s city center, the Egyptian Museum will give you a taste of Egypt’s incredible history with ornate coffins, ancient architecture, and amazing artifacts waiting to be discovered.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into Egypt’s Muslim history, take a stroll through the Citadel and Mosque of Muhammad Ali. This breathtaking mosque, built in 1848, is one of the most picturesque buildings in Cairo and is an easy walk from the Egyptian museum. If you wish to go inside, arms and legs must be covered up.

To get a colorful look at the busy market life of Cairo, head to the Khan El Khalili bazaar. It’s the biggest and best market in Cairo where you will feel as if you’ve been transported back in time to an old Arab souk. Clothing, jewelry, lamps, tea, and plenty of other items can be found here – and it gives you the chance to practice your bartering skills.

Finally, to experience the Cairo’s minority Christian side, check out Coptic Cairo. It is a historical place that reflects the religion’s beginning in Egypt and includes a museum as well as several grandiose churches. You’ll really feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages as you walk around this district.

03. Sharm El Sheikh

This Sinai Peninsula city, occasionally referred to as the “City of Peace,” sits as far south as it can get without actually dipping into the Red Sea. Only 35,000 people live there, making it tiny in comparison to Cairo’s 10 million. It has turned into a popular tourist destination as well as a resort city and because of its location, Sharm El Sheikh (or “Sharm,” as the locals say) is a hotspot for scuba diving and other water sports.

Attractions & Activities
As mentioned already, Sharm El Sheikh is a diving hotspot. In fact, it’s the main activity found in this resort town – period. The underwater scenery in the Red Sea is known for being particularly vibrant and colorful. The Tiran Reef and Ras Mohammed Reef are within a two-hour boat ride of Sharm El Sheikh, and are widely regarded as some of the best diving locations on Earth.

A desert safari is another option – and it looks just like you would imagine. Either a Deep, camel, or your own two feet can carry you along the safari route through the Sinai desert. There are incredible canyons and mountains to explore – just be sure to choose a responsible guide who knows what they are doing.

If you can’t get enough of adventure sports, there are an infinite amount of options available in Sharm El Sheikh; parasailing, quad biking, go-karting, and horseback riding are all popular options for tourists.

04. Luxor

Luxor’s name means “the palaces/’ and it is a dream destination for history lovers, as a stroll around the city will already give you a first person view of a huge number of ruins from the Ancient Egyptian city, Thebes. The ancient city of Thebes is thought to be one of the greatest open-air museums in the world and is the number one reason why thousands of tourists flock to the majestic city of Luxor each year.

Attractions & Activities
The ancient ruins of Thebes are located on the western bank of the Nile, while the modern city of Luxor is mainly on the eastern bank. Usually tourists stay on the eastern side and travel across the river for day trips, but recently more hotels have emerged on the western side of the river, allowing the possibility of staying there overnight.

That being said, it might be a good idea to sleep on the eastern side anyway – there are more shops, restaurants, public transportation stations, and hotels located on this side, making it a more tourist-friendly place to stay.

There are almost too many things to see in Luxor. The main attractions include all of the temple ruins – include Luxor Temple, and Karnak Temple; as well as several museums that will inform and amaze any tourist – these include the Luxor Museum, and the Mummification Museum.

On the western bank, the main attractions include the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Medinet Habu, the Ramesseum, the Tombs of the Nobles, Deir el-Bahri, Malkata, and Colossi of Memnon. 

05. Alexandria

Founded by and named after Alexander the Great, Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city – but at just 5 million residents it seems tiny in comparison. Previously a thriving cosmopolitan capital city, the main tourist draw is now mainly its cultural and historical attractions. Visitors can find glimpses of the past through the city’s modern-day disguise. Each conquest led to new architectures, so Greek, French, and Roman elements can all be found if you look closely enough.

Attractions & Activities
There are almost too many historical monuments to count in Alexandria. Start with the Citadel of Qaitbay, which was first built in 1477 CE but has been destroyed and built up again more than once. It was intentionally built on the exact site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and once served as a protector of the city. It is now a Maritime Museum.

If you feel like dwelling with the dead, there are two places to visit. First is the Cemetery of Mostafa Kamel (which is a bit of a hidden gem). Named after Mostafa Kamel, a major twentieth century politician, it contains four tombs that are more than two thousand years old.

If you’re feeling brave after that, head down to Kom el-Shouqafa, which is located in the oldest part of town. It’s contains a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects, and it is also considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.

Brighten your spirits with a viewing of Pompey’s Pillar, a huge granite column from the third century AD. Meander your way around it to view the surrounding ruins and sculptures. Then head to the Roman Theatre, which was built a century before the Pillar. The thirteen tiers of this impressive amphitheater were built entirely out of marble, and back in the day it could hold 800 people.

Montazah Palace should be your next stop – it is a much more recent building, completed in 1892. Although it now includes a casino and luxury hotel, the Montazah Royal Gardens are the real draw nowadays. For a small fee you can walk through these magnificent gardens, which even includes a beach.

If you’ve had enough time outdoors after the garden walk, your next stop should the Alexandria National Museum. Located in the Latin quarter of Alexandria, the Alexandria National Museum will give you a taste of ancient archaeology, including Prehistoric artifacts all the way until the Islamic era.

06. Hurghada

Once a tiny fishing village, Hurghada has come a long way thanks to the tourism industry. It is now one of the most popular beach resorts in all of Egypt, famous for its many hotels along the shore and scuba diving opportunities. It is fairly close to Luxor, so thousands of tourists combine visits to these two locations each year, leading to the prosperity of this beautiful resort town. Its location on the coast of the Red Sea attracts beach-goers and adventurers alike.

Attractions & Activities
While virtually every water sport can be found in the water near Hurghada, scuba diving and snorkeling are by far the most popular. The coral reefs in the Red Sea are remarkably colorful, and there is a huge variety of tropical fish to be found.

Hurghada is particularly user-friendly for beginner divers. The local divers are experienced with teaching newbies. Finding a diving escort or guided diving expedition won’t be difficult, nor particularly expensive. Ask your hotel to set you up with one, and let the adventures begin.

If you prefer dry land adventures, you can ride motorbikes or beach buggies through the neighboring desert for just as much fun. If you’re feeling more courageous, you can actually take a quad- bike through the Sahara Desert to meet up with a Bedouin tribe for tea.

You can also go camel riding through the Biblical plains for some incredible views. Or take a boat out to the remote Big and Little Giftun islands. In case you didn’t get the picture, Hurghada has a myriad of unique activities for you, so you could never justify staying in your hotel.

07. Dahab

Like Hurghada (and many other Egyptian tourist attractions), Dahab used to be a small fishing village and has now turned into a booming tourist hotspot that has thrived since the early 1980s. Located 80 kilometers northeast of Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab is another place made popular for its Red Sea diving opportunities.

Attractions & Activities
The possibilities for outdoor activities are infinite in Dahab. Experienced scuba divers will love the dives here – but newbies are advised to look elsewhere for their first scuba diving experience. “The world’s most dangerous diving site/’ called the Blue Hole, is found in Dahab, as well as The Canyon, another internationally renowned scuba diving location. Divers come from around the world to experience these challenging diving spots.

Besides diving and snorkeling, Dahab is well known for its excellent windsurfing. It receives more consistent wind than its Red Sea coast counterparts like Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, making it an ideal place for windsurfers.

Other water sports are also widely available, as well as numerous activities on land. Camel riding, horseback riding, cycling, mountain biking, Deep trips, and quad bike trips are all activities worth experiencing in Dahab. More activities are cropping up each year, giving tourists the chance to do more and more.

08. The Nile

Well known as the longest river in the world, the Nile stands at an amazing 6,853 kilometers long. It runs through eleven African countries, and it notably runs northwards. It has been significant in the history of Sudan and Egypt, as it was largely their main source of fresh water. It branches in two after passing through Cairo, thus forming the Nile Delta. Both branches flow straight into the Mediterranean Sea, one of which occurs at the city of Alexandria.

Attractions & Activities
One popular way of experiencing the Egyptian Nile is by doing a river cruise. These cruises often start and end in Cairo, working their way through Giza, Saqqara, down to Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the southernmost city of Aswan, and finally heading back to Cairo.

They include stops, often overnight ones, along the way so you can have the complete experience of the cities and sights along the Nile. These cruises range in duration from a few days to ten or more days, and there are a wide variety of companies and prices to choose from.

Alternatively, you could go on a felucca cruise that starts in Aswan. A felucca cruise is a ride on a sailboat that is the traditional wooden style, and runs only on wind and the current. It doesn’t go nearly as fast as the other cruises, which is what makes it even more genuine.

Generally, felucca cruises are arranged on an individual basis, so you can go whenever you want. You will eat and sleep on the boat, so make sure you have a sleeping bag. These cruises are more traditional, cheaper, and more individualized – making it perfect for travelers looking for a more unique experience.

09. Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis is a vast oasis in the middle of the Western Desert, just east of Egypt’s border with Libya. It is 1600 square kilometers, making it the perfect place for an isolated settlement in the middle of the desert. With approximately 25,000 people living there, it has ancient buildings made from mud-brick such as those in the old town of Shali, the ruins of an oracle of Amon, temples, mosques, and the Siwa Salt Lake. For anthropology and archaeology buffs, Siwa Oasis is an absolutely fascinating place to visit.

Attractions & Activities
The main attractions in Siwa Oasis include the 6th century BC Temple of the Oracle of Amun that was originally dedicated to Zeus. Because of the legendary power of this oracle, many kings tried to destroy it over the centuries; even Alexander the Great himself asked the oracle if he was the son of Zeus. Although poorly restored, you can (and should) still view it.

More ruins can be found at the Temple of Umm Ubaydah. Although it was blown up for building materials in the late 1800s, you can still find some ruins there including a wall with a number of impressive hieroglyphics.

A somewhat more exciting place to visit would be Cleopatra’s Pool, which is a popular swimming location that is fed by a natural hot spring. Bring a swimsuit and take a dip to experience it for yourself.

For a more eerie location, check out the Mountain of the Dead, located just one kilometer north from the Siwa town center. Open most days between 7 am and 2 pm, it is a place filled with rock cut tombs mostly from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. The 1500-year-old Graeco – Roman mummies are the highlight of this place, and for their age are in remarkably good shape.

10. Saint Catherine & Mount Sinai

Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai is one of the oldest functioning Christian monasteries in the world. It was founded in 565 and also houses the oldest operational library on Earth. The Monastery is often called Santa Katarina, but its official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. It’’ s located on the Sinai Peninsula and is actually at the foot of Mount Sinai, not the peak.

Attractions & Activities
While St. Catherine’s Monastery is worth the trip already, you would be missing out if you didn’t climb to the peak of Mount Sinai. Any time of the day will offer a stunning view and amazing journey, but lots of people prefer to go up at night to view the breathtaking starry sky and the awe-inspiring sunrise the following morning. Locals make a night trip possible by renting out blankets and mattresses that are in various states of cleanliness, but at least are quite inexpensive. Beware of the cold at the top of the mountain – bring more layers than you expect you will need.

There are two routes you can take up the mountain, neither of which will take more than three hours. One option is the Steps of Penitence, which are 3750 stone steps carved out of the mountainside that provides incredible views at any time of the day. This will take you between one and three hours, depending on your physical fitness level.

The second option is called the Camel Path, which you can either walk up yourself or ride a camel up. No matter which route you choose, a guide will be required, and the entrance fee of around 85 Egyptian pounds will be charged – unless you can bargain for a lower price.

There is now a town called al-Minya that has emerged next to the monastery that has hotels and swimming pools, making it a comfortable option for curious tourists to spend the night – unless, of course, you’ll be sleeping under the stars on top of Mount Sinai.

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