Cradle of the ancient pharaohs, Egypt is a dazzling destination of temples and tombs that wow anyone. But these are not all historical treasures. With vast expanses of desert, superb scuba diving and the famous Nile, there is something for everyone here.
Beach lovers head to Sinai to soak up the sun, while archeology enthusiasts will spend a field day in Luxor. For city dwellers, Cairo is the unbeatable megalopolis, while the oasis of Siwa and the southern city of Aswan offer a slice of the sluggishness of the countryside.
Egypt has so much to see and do for travelers, it is the perfect country for a mix of activities that combine culture, adventure and relaxation.
1. Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza is the last survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. For the mighty pharaohs built as tombs and guarded by the enigmatic Sphinx, the Giza pyramid complex through the ages has impressed travelers and has had archaeologists (and a few conspiracy theorists) scratching their heads over how they have been built for centuries.
Today, these megalithic memorials to dead kings are still as wonderful as they ever were. Undeniable highlight of any trip to Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza should not be missed.
2. Luxor Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings
Famous for the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut, the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, the city of Luxor on the Nile in Upper Egypt is full of tourist attractions. This is ancient Thebes, the power base of the New Kingdom pharaohs, and home to more sites than most can see in a single visit.
While the West Bank is full of bustling souks, the quieter West Bank is home to a collection of tombs and temples that has been called the world’s largest open-air museum. Spend a few days here exploring the colorful tomb wall art and admiring the colossal columns of the temples, and you’ll see why Luxor continues to fascinate historians and archaeologists.
3. Islamic Cairo
The narrow, atmospheric alleys of the Islamic quarter of the capital’s Cairo are teeming with mosques, madrassas (Islamic learning schools) and monuments dating from the Fatimid eras to the Mamluk eras. This is where you will find the Khan el-Khalili maze trading souk, where boilermakers and craftsmen still have their small workshops and the stalls are laden with ceramics, textiles, spices and perfumes.
Around the market is a tangle of roads, which is home to some of the finest preserved architecture from the ancient Islamic empires. To explore, there is a wealth of history here. Visit Al-Azhar Mosque and the dazzling Sultan Hassan Mosque, and be sure to climb to the roof of the ancient medieval Bab Zuweila Gate across the neighborhood.
The quietest city in Egypt is Aswan, located on the winding curves of the Nile. Backed by orange-hued dunes, for a few days this is the perfect place to stop and relax and soak up the laid back atmosphere. Take the river ferry to Elephantine Island and through the colorful streets of Nubian villages. Ride a camel to the Desert Monastery on the East Bank of St. Simeon. Or just drink endless cups of tea in one of the riverboat restaurants, while watching the late sailing feluccas drift away.
There are plenty of historical sites here and plenty of temples nearby, but one of Aswan’s most popular activities is simply relaxing and watching the river life go by.
5. Abu Simbel
Even in a land adorned with temples, Abu Simbel is something special. It is the great temple of Ramses II, adorned with a colossal statuary which stands guard outside. Rightly famous for its megalithic proportions, Abu Simbel is also known for the incredible feat, which saw the entire temple moved from its original setting – on the verge of disappearing underwater because of the Aswan Dam. – in a massive UNESCO operation during the 1960s that took four years.