Travelling to Egypt means leaving the modern world behind and travelling back in time. With every temple, pyramid and museum you get a glimpse into a time of Pharaohs, myths and legends. Egypt’s history spans back more than 5,000 years and history is still being uncovered today.
Egypt is still one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. It’s home to incredible culture, delicious food, mesmerising sights and history that still fascinates historians today. Janet Erskine Stuart describes this historic country aptly by saying, “Egypt is full of dreams, mysteries, memories.”
These are top ten attractions you have to tick off your list if you ever find yourself in Egypt…
Our first sight is just around the corner from the capital of Cairo. The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu (after Pharaoh Khufu), is the oldest landmark of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it is the last one to remain largely intact. Found in the Giza complex, this pyramid had the record for the tallest man-made structure until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1300 AD. This means it held the record for over 3,000 years!
This is a must-see not only because it is one of the most iconic landmarks of Egypt but also to marvel at the structure and how it was built all those years ago. Within the Giza complex, you will see the mythical Great Sphinx, as it protects the Great Pyramid and the other two pyramids that make up the Pyramids of Giza.
Interestingly, the Great Pyramid used to be covered in smooth limestone but this was plundered and used to construct buildings in nearby Cairo.
Thebes, the ancient capital of the Egyptian Empire along the east bank of the Nile, was a vast city consisting of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Karnak and Luxor. In 1979, the whole Thebes area became designated UNESCO Heritage sites. Today, the city of Luxor is home to the Karnak Temple complex and the Valley of the Kings – each deserving a spot on the list.
The Karnak Temple complex is an open-air museum displaying temples honouring the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu. Amun was the king of the gods, Mut was Queen of the goddesses and lady of heaven, and Khonsu their son, was the god of the moon. As you wander through this religious complex you will see ‘stamps’ from each pharaoh as they wanted to leave their mark on the largest religious building ever constructed. The temple at the heart of Karnak is so big that Notre Dame and St Peter’s Milan would fit within its walls.
Further along the Nile is Luxor – the Valley of the Kings. Known as the burial site for most of the kings, from the 18th to 20th Dynasties. The kings, queens and the many heirs to the throne were buried in tombs dug into the side of the mountain. The tombs were dug out of the limestone rock on the mountainside and then painted and filled with treasures (statues, food, jewels and furniture), that was needed to sustain life into eternity. Of the 62 tombs – the most famous one belongs to Tutankhamun, however, all the riches that used to be found in the tomb are now on display at the Egyptian Museum.
Related: Expat Explore offers an optional hot-air balloon ride over the West Bank of Luxor – an unforgettable experience!
As the capital city of Egypt, Cairo makes it to our list, naturally. Over the years it’s enchanted its visitors with bustling markets, noisy roads and friendly locals. You have not experienced Egypt as the Egyptians do until you’ve stepped into the culture-infused streets of Cairo. Within Cairo, you will find Islamic Cairo, which is filled with mosques, monuments and markets like the souk of Khan el-Khalili. Coppersmiths and artisans in their tiny workshops and stalls take each visitor on a journey. Wander through the alleys and experience the buzz. You can also visit the Citadel and see the city from above, or sip on a Qasab (sugarcane juice) as you marvel at the view from a rooftop bar.
With its own airport, Aswan draws just as many travellers to its shores as the capital city of Cairo, but you can expect a more relaxed environment from this town along the shores of the Nile. In fact, the best way to see the beauty of Aswan is onboard a felucca (Egyptian sailboat) and experience the waterway that made Aswan an important trading post. Along the river, you will come across small islands that are home to Nubian villages, and the large sand dunes along the West Bank.
Wander through Elephantine Island and see the Ruins of Abu (Aswan’s most ancient settlement). Experience everyday Nubian life as you walk through the colourful villages of Koti and Siou. We would also suggest jumping on a rowboat and heading to Kitchener’s Island, a lush exhibit of exotic plants from Africa and Asia once brought here by Lord Kitchener.
Did you know? Nilometers are found throughout Egypt. These stone-hewn pillars used to measure annual flood levels of Nile and tried to predict the future floods.
The Temple of Isis used to be found on the island of Philae, which is now fully submerged in the Aswan High Dam. The temple was moved to Agilika Island (and still stands there today), by a UNESCO rescue project.
While the sacred Temple of Isis is the main attraction in the Philae complex, it is also home to other buildings and temples from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The temple is dedicated to Isis, one of the oldest goddesses of ancient Egypt and was built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom (305 BC to 30 BC). Upon entry, you are welcomed by an 18m-high pylon, with engravings of Ptolemy XII smiting his enemies. As you walk from one pylon to the next, you will see the artworks unfold before your eyes.
Did you know? It is believed that the last Egyptian hieroglyph was written on the island of Philae in the late fourth century.
The Egyptians knew how to ensure that those who have left the living were remembered long past their time of death. A prime example of a life remembered is the Temples of Abu Simbel and the abundant reign of Ramses II. These temples are said to trump all other Egyptian temples in size, engineering and also the massive effort by UNESCO to protect the Abu Simbel temples from flooding after the Aswan dam was built.
These twin temples were carved out of the side of the mountain to commemorate Pharaoh Ramesses II and his queen Nefertari. He ordered their construction after his victory at the Battle of Kadesh during his 19th dynasty reign (13th century BC). As you stand before the massive guards, built in the front of the temple to protect their pharaoh, take a moment back in time and imagine those before you standing in awe of this too!
Travel tip: Be sure to catch a glimpse of the mural reliefs (in the Hypostyle Hall) portraying Ramses II’s campaign against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh.
Once a flourishing city in ancient Egypt, Edfu now houses one of the most prominent and beautiful temples – the Temple of Horus (the falcon-headed god). The Temple of Edfu is one of the most well-preserved temples and this could be attributed to the fact that it was built later than most – during the Ptolemaic era from 237 to 57 BC. It is the second-largest temple in Egypt, after the Karnak Temple.
This is a must-see not only because of its sheer size and beauty but also because of its ‘younger age’. You are able to get a glimpse of what the older temples may have looked like before they aged with time. This massive temple was covered by sand until the 1860s when a French archaeologist (Auguste Mariette) uncovered it. Lucky for us the sand preserved the structure and protected the reliefs from vandalism after pagan gods were banned in Egypt.
Downtown Cairo is where you will find Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. The museum is a treasure trove and gives you a detailed account of how the Pharaonic world used to live. While the temples show the size, the museum gives you a look into the glitz and glamour! Don’t expect a first-world museum, but rather enjoy the step back in time (literally and metaphorically). Here, you will find King Tutankhamen’s treasures, which were moved from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
During the 2011 revolution, activists formed a human chain around it to prevent artefacts from being stolen. That’s proof of how precious and iconic these treasures are to history and the Egyptians of today!
The unique calcium rock formations of the White Desert create the illusion of iceberg-like structures in the arid Egyptian desert. Here, you move away from the man-made magnificence of Egypt and catch a glimpse of Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring scenery. Not only does Egypt allow you to take a step back in time, but you also get the opportunity to see landscapes that seem out of this world.
We’ve fallen in love with this country filled with history, culture, majesty and beauty. Plan your next trip to Egypt and be sure to tick off the 10 must-sees and more! Ride a camel on the sand dunes, float down the Nile in a felucca, or perhaps submerge yourself in the Red Sea. You won’t believe your eyes!