When people hear the word Egypt, it’s often the Pyramids that first come to mind. However, this a country that has amassed approximately 7,000 years of history and civilisation. As mind-blowing as they might be, the Pyramids at Giza are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unmissable attractions.
Home of the ancient pharaohs, Egypt is a dazzling destination of temples and tombs, from the ancient wonders of Luxor to the grand structures at Abu Simbel. But the country has way more to offer than historic treasures.
The landscapes of Egypt are endlessly fascinating. You can watch the sun rise over vast tracts of desert, ride a camel to the summit of Mount Sinai, scope out the superb scuba diving at the coral reefs and shipwrecks at Ras Mohammed National Park, or head to the beaches of Sinai to soak up the sun. Cairo is a megalopolis that will leave city slickers buzzing, while those seeking the relaxed pace of the countryside can unwind at the Siwa Oasis. It's the perfect country for a mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation - there is something for everyone. And there doesn’t have to be a pyramid in sight.
22 20. Meander Through Khan El-Khalili
Established in the 14th century, Khan El-Khalili in Old Cairo is one of the most traditional bazaars in Cairo. There is a variety of goods on sale, from sparkling silverware, gold artefacts and antiques, to stained glass lamps, incense, handmade accessories and ancient pharaoh souvenirs. But shopping aside, just walking around Khan el-Khalili’s narrow alleys, and people watching at one of its many traditional cafes, provides a feast for the senses and a unique glimpse into local culture and traditions.
21 19. The Temples Of Abu Simbel
This is one of the crowning monuments of Rameses the Great, the pharaoh who would become the model for Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” Completed in 1244 BCE, these huge rock-cut temples are south of Aswan, along Lake Nasser’s shore. Both temples are dedicated to the gods. The larger has four huge statues of Ramesses II seated in front and is dedicated to Amun, Ptah, and Re-Harakty. The second temple was built to honour Ramesses' favorite wife, Nefertari, and is dedicated to the goddess Hathor.
20 18. Cruise The Nile
“Masr Hebat Al Nile” is a famous phrase Egyptians might say when the Nile is mentioned. It means that Egypt is gifted by the Nile, and it’s true. The country's ancient civilisation, agriculture, and life thrived and prospered because of the Nile. Visiting Cairo or Aswan on a boat, a cruise, or a traditional falouka for an hour or a whole day, or longer, is one of the most atmospheric and unforgettable experiences you can have in Egypt.
There are many different vessels to choose from, ranging from paddle steamers to luxurious modern cruise ships, but whatever your budget allows, don’t leave Egypt without cruising the Nile.
19 17. The Nilometer of Rhoda
In ancient Egypt, the behaviour of the Nile could mean life or death each harvest season. So Egyptians invented an instrument to measure the waters in order to predict what the Nile might do: the nilometer.
Of course, heavenly portents and priestly prophecies played their part, but only the nilometer could give a real indication of the likelihood of a bountiful harvest. One such nilometer can still be seen on the island of Rhoda in central Cairo. Although this nilometer was constructed in 861AD, it was built on a site of an earlier specimen.
18 16. A Kaleidoscope Of Colour Beneath The Red Sea
Egypt’s crystal clear waters are brimming with life, and the full gambit of diving opportunities is on offer, from wrecks, walls, drifts, pinnacles, shore dives, day boats to liveaboards. Whatever your experience, there are exciting sites to explore and to train in, if you’re a beginner or want to advance your skills.
Locations such as Marsa Alam, Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh, and Dahab offer some of the most popular dive sites in the country, while Makadi Bay, Safaga, El Gouna and the Strait of Gubal offer shipwrecks aplenty.
17 15. The Faceless Colossi of Memnon
Since 1350 BC, these faceless statues have survived 3,400 of scorching desert sun and flooding. Rising majestically from the earth, these magnificent colossi are each cut from a single block of stone and weigh 1,000 tonnes. They sit at the eastern entrance to the funerary temple of Amenophis III, located in the Theban Necropolis in Luxor, Upper Egypt.
In fact, legend has it, one of the statues is reputed to ‘sing’ every morning at dawn.
16 14. Walk The White Desert
Want to feel like you’ve landed on the surface of the moon? The White Desert begins about 28 miles north of Farafra and it’s an area renowned for its spectacular scenery. Formed by centuries of erosion and sandstorms, the chalk-white, calcium rock formations crop up across the landscape, jutting up from the desert like great abstract statues.
Opt to spend a night camping in the desert with Bedouin guides and enjoy the white desert transform into shimmering gold at sunset.
15 13. The Spectacular Luxor Temple
Take a trip through history at the incredible temple of Luxor, a must-see site on any trip to Egypt. One of the country’s largest ancient temples, it’s situated on the east bank of the River Nile in the town of Luxor.
It was founded during the New Kingdom, around 1400 BC, and it is a testimony to the continuous history of Egypt, beginning from the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egyptian rule to the 14th century AD when a mosque was built in the complex. Visit early when the temple opens, before the crowds arrive, or later at sunset when the stones glow.
14 14. The Best Preserved Temple In Egypt: Hathor Temple
If you’re looking for a jaw-dropping experience, the beautifully intricate, 2,000-year-old temple is a must-see. Hathor was a major goddess in the ancient pantheon of Egypt, who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, and the temple is located at the Dendera Temple Complex in Qena, about 60 km north of Luxor.
It is visually stunning, with its grand entrance, detailed carvings, hieroglyphs, and decorated ceilings, and the colours throughout the temple are original and amazingly vibrant.
13 13. Watch The Sun Rise Over Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai is steeped in religious history. It is said to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, and it’s also an Islamic holy site, considered to be the place from where the prophet Muhammed started his journey to heaven on the winged horse Buraq. Whatever your beliefs, it’s worth scaling its height of 2,285 meters to enjoy the breathtaking views.
You have two choices for climbing the mountain; on foot requires tackling the 3,750 Steps Of Penitence, a steep path carved into the rock by monks; the Camel Path is a gentler, winding, wide path that snakes its way up to the summit and generally takes longer.
12 12. The Siwa Oasis In The Western Desert
Isolated in the heart of Egypt’s Western Desert, away from urbanisation, is the little paradise of Siwa Oasis. This fertile basin lies 50km east of the Libyan border, and is surrounded by date palm plantations and numerous freshwater springs.
The town is centred around the ruins of a vast mud-brick citadel that dominates the view, and the town’s geographic isolation helped protect a unique society that stands distinctly apart from Egypt's mainstream culture. Local traditions and Siwi, the local Berber language, still dominate.
11 11. One Of The Largest Religious Sites Of The Ancient World - Karnak Temple
Bigger than the Luxor Temple, the huge Temple of Karnak was one of ancient Egypt's grandest and most ambitious building projects. Its multiple temple buildings are monuments to a history-book roll call of pharaohs who all wanted to leave their mark on their kingdom's most revered religious sanctuary.
The Karnak Temple complex contains a mix of chapels, pylons, decayed temples, and other buildings. It is believed to be the second-largest ancient religious site in the world, covering 100 hectares. Construction at Karnak started by 4,000 years ago and continued up until the time the Romans took control of Egypt, about 2,000 years ago.
10 10. The Blue Desert Art Installation
Belgian artist Jean Verame painted the rocks and boulders of the desert in South Sinai blue in 1980 to celebrate the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the first between an Arab country and the Jewish state.
The innovative artist used tonnes of blue, the colour of peace, paint donated by the United Nations. He spent days dyeing the rocks and stones of the area, a few kilometres from the Red Sea resort of Dahab. Little did he know that he’d create a wondrous sight that would attract visitors for decades to come.
9 9. Explore The Valley of the Kings
This valley, located on the west bank of the Nile, is known as the principal burial place of Pharaohs from the 16th to the 11th century BC. It contains around 63 mythology-decorated tombs and chambers, which were excavated for the prestigious royals and privileged figures from the New Kingdom of Egypt.
The tombs have suffered greatly from treasure hunters, floods and, in recent years, mass tourism, but they are still a startling sight and well worth visiting. Archeological experts have even built an exact, full-sized replica of King Tutankhamun's tomb, recreating every tiny detail to save the original from being destroyed by visitors.
8 8. An Adventure Through Time At The Museum
Also known as the Museum of Cairo, the Egyptian Museum is located in Downtown Cairo, on the north side of Midan Tahrir, and contains the largest and most important collection of pharaonic antiquities in the world.
Set aside a good chunk of time to browse the glittering treasures of Tutankhamun and other great pharaohs, the treasure from their tombs, mummies, jewellery, eating bowls and toys of Egyptians whose names are lost to history. Now more than 100,000 objects are wedged into about 15,000 sq metres.
7 7. The Once Great Capital Of Tanis
The once great capital of Egypt is now an evocative ruin. The treasures found in the "lost city" of Tanis rival those of King Tut's, yet for more than six decades the riches from its rulers' tombs have remained largely unknown. The history of Tanis goes back to the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, when it was the northern capital of Egypt, ruled by the Tanite Kings of the Third Intermediate Period.
Much later, the city was made famous by Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the famous film, the city was buried by a catastrophic ancient sandstorm and rediscovered during searching for the Ark of the Covenant.
6 6. Soak Up The Sun On The Sinai Peninsula
Egypt's centre for beach fun is the South Sinai region on the Sinai Peninsula. Sharm el-Sheikh is a European-style resort full of luxury hotels and international restaurants. Dahab is a low-key beach town and budget traveller-friendly, and offers desert excursions and adventures on the sea.
Up the coast, between the port town of Nuweiba and the border town of Taba, are the bamboo hut retreats that offer a quiet sanctuary. Apart from scuba diving, snorkelling is also very popular and so are other water sports, such as free-diving, windsurfing, kitesurfing.
5 5. The Crop Circle In The Sand: Desert Breath
This massive work of modern art looks like a crop circle in the middle of the desert. Located near the Red Sea in El Gouna, Desert Breath is an impossibly immense land art installation dug into the sands of the Sahara desert by the D.A.ST. Arteam. Created in 1997, it’s still visible to visitors today - you can even see it in satellite images taken from Google Earth.
The art installation has two interlocking arms spiralling out of a common centre. One of the arms has vertical cones while the other has conical depressions, and the artwork covers a massive 100,000 square metres.
4 4. Explore Cairo
The atmospheric, narrow lanes of the capital's Islamic Cairo district are crammed full of mosques, madrassas (schools of learning), and monuments dating from the Fatimid through to the Mameluke eras.
The whole area is a muddle of roads and home to some of the most beautifully preserved architecture of the old Islamic empires. Visit Al-Azhar Mosque and the dazzling Sultan Hassan Mosque, and make sure you climb to the roof of the ancient medieval gate of Bab Zuweila for the best panoramas across the district.
3 3. Surf The Great Sand Sea
The Great Sand Sea of the eastern Sahara is aptly named. It's an unbroken mass of dunes the size of New Mexico, which borders Libya and Egypt and is home to not one living soul.
Parallel dune ridges run north-south for hundreds of miles, and anyone journeying here has to be exceptionally well prepared, as there's not a single well or water source in 150,000 square miles - making it extreme even by Saharan standards. An organised tour is definitely the safest way to visit this great dune field, which offers some of the best dune surfing in the world.