Best things to do in Egypt
Find out more about those top places in Egypt
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC and was famed as one of the most spectacular cities of the classical age with the towering Pharos Lighthouse and Great Library considered wonders of the ancient world. Sadly, little of Alexandria’s former splendor survives today having been destroyed by earthquakes, burned to the ground, submerged by the sea or built over in the city’s rapid 19th and 20th century development. However, what the city lacks in ancient history it more than makes up for with ample colonial heritage. Unlike other Egyptian cities, Alexandria’s streets teem with French patisseries and the faded grandeur of fin-de-siècle hotels while the city’s flea markets sell sepia photographs and other bric-a-brac dating to the city’s golden age as the 19th century playground of Europe’s rich and famous.
Built to replace Alexandria’s famed ancient library, the jaw-dropping Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which opened in 2002, has swiftly become Egypt’s premier cultural hub. With a host of fascinating museums – including one dedicated to the city’s ancient heritage – and a vast reading room that can accommodate more than 2000 people, the Bibliotheca has something to please all visitors. Guided tours of this modern marvel run throughout the day.
Built over the remains of the Pharos Lighthouse in the 15th century, the Citadel of Qaitbay is one of Alexandria’s most iconic attractions. With ornately decorated castellation and stone hewn from the great lighthouse itself, a tour of the citadel is a must when visiting Egypt’s second city.
With most of Alexandria’s ancient heritage long gone, the city can feel sorely lacking in comparison to the wonders of Giza or Luxor. However, fascinating archaeological tours look beyond the modern metropolis and show you the sites and remnants of the ancient wonders of the world, including the iconic Lighthouse of Alexandria.
One of Egypt’s most spectacular 19th century buildings, the Montaza Palace is a glorious blend of exotic oriental detailing, Victorian confidence and the chic of the French Riviera. Today the palace is a museum dedicated to its former occupants, the Muhammad Ali dynasty, and its gardens are one of the country’s most picturesque.
Discovered in 1900 when a donkey disappeared through a sinkhole in a city street, the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa are an immense Roman burial ground beneath the metropolis. Built in the typical Greco-Roman style, the catacombs are spread over three levels and were the last major monument built to the ancient Egyptian gods.
Built on the gravesite of a 13th century Sufi saint from Murcia in present day Spain, the ornate Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque is testament to the interconnection of the Mediterranean world. Tours of the mosque are recommended as expert guides can reveal the location’s complex religious history.
Founded in the 9th century, the Nile-side city of Rosetta developed into one of Egypt’s most important cities during the era of Ottoman rule. Just a short tour from Alexandria, the city’s old world charms are bound to enthrall any visitor with medieval-looking shops selling traditional wares in the labyrinthine souq, Ottoman mansion houses shaded by citrus tree lined streets and a cooling Mediterranean breeze offering respite from the Egyptian heat.
Few places in the world have as overwhelming a concentration of ancient ruins as the southern Egyptian city of Luxor. Situated on the east bank of the River Nile, the bustling desert metropolis contains a treasure trove of archaeological wonders dating from the era of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom, which rose to power between the 16th and 11th centuries BC. In the city itself the star attractions are undoubtedly Karnak, the vast religious complex central to the New Kingdom’s theology, and Luxor Temple, which is flanked by colossal statues of pharaohs. To the west of Luxor itself, the steep escarpment of Thebes rises from the river hiding the enigmatic glories of the Valley of the Kings, which is home to 63 frescoed royal tombs. Despite these awe-inspiring attractions, Luxor remains one of Egypt’s hidden gems, as it is largely overshadowed by the Great Pyramids in the country’s north.
Across the iconic Nile from the modern city of Luxor lies the Valley of the Kings, one of Egypt’s most memorable attractions. Designated a royal burial ground by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, which existed between 1550-1069 BC, the valley is peppered with 63 known grandiose royal tombs and likely others that have yet to be discovered. Tours of the vast complex are highly recommended, as expert guides offer fascinating insights into the history of the New Kingdom and recent conservation efforts.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Karnak complex is a monumental highlight of any visit to Luxor. Dominating a vast swathe of downtown Luxor, it is host to an array of sanctuaries, obelisks and temples, including the world-famous Temple of Amun – the most sacred in the New Kingdom. Guided tours of the complex are available and are best undertaken in the early morning when the sandstone monuments are bathed in the golden hued rising sun.
As the first monuments visitors have seen for millennia when entering the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the pharaohs of the New Kingdom designed them to make an awe-inspiring impression. The now faceless statues, which rise nearly 20 meters above the surrounding desert, have been mythologized since the Greco-Roman times when they were said to represent a legendary African king who slayed Achilles during the upheavals of the Trojan War.
An ideal partner to the better-known Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens is another one of Luxor’s world-class attractions. Straddling the southern edge of the Theban Hill, the valley contains 75 known tombs of Egyptian queens dating from 19th and 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom. Make sure to take a tour of the dazzlingly decorated tomb of Nefertari.
Crouching beneath towering limestone cliffs, the Temple of Hatshepsut is one of Egypt’s most evocative scenes. Despite looking modernist in design, the temple was built in the 14th century BC during the reign of the first female pharaoh, Hatshepsut. Guided tours of the magnificent complex are recommended as guides offer insights into the temple’s original layout.
Located in the quiet village of Kom Lolah, Medinat Habu is Luxor’s hidden gem. Backed by the cragged Theban Mountains, the temple was built by Ramses III to commemorate the local god Amun and is bedecked in a spectacular array of colorful frescoes.
The precinct of Amun-Re is one of Karnak’s standout attractions. Lined with sandstone sphinxes, the complex is astonishing from ground level but for those who want to gain a better view of its sheer size why not take a hot air balloon tour that offers a bird’s eye view?
Marking ancient Egypt’s southern frontier and today within striking distance of the Sudanese border, Aswan has always stood apart from Egypt’s other major cities. While the city was a garrison town used by the pharaohs to put down rebellions in Nubia, Aswan today is proud of its Nubian heritage. At the Nubia Museum artifacts of the ancient Nubian civilization are displayed, many of which were saved from destruction when Lake Nasser was created. Beyond this, the ruins of Abu on Elphantine Island showcase how developed a civilization Nubia was while the nearby Nile island of Seheyl has a number of traditional Nubian villages. What is more, while Aswan does not have the blockbuster attractions of Egypt’s other cities, it is the perfect opportunity to relax with the nearby village of Gharb Sehyel offering a chance to swim in the Nile and soak up the sun on riverside beaches.
Aswan was the source of ancient Egypt’s finest marble and nowhere is that more apparent than the quarry that houses the iconic unfinished obelisk. Still partially attached to the bedrock, the obelisk would have been Egypt’s largest had it been completed and today is one of Aswan’s most enigmatic attractions.
Established in 1997 with the assistance of UNESCO, the Nubian Museum houses artifacts that would otherwise have been engulfed by the rising waters of Lake Nasser following the damming of the Nile. For the best experience, tour guides can take you through Nubia’s history from its glory days as one of the world’s most advanced ancient civilizations to the Egyptian conquest and the arrival of Islam.
The perfectly symmetrical Temple of Kom Ombo is likely ancient Egypt’s most beautifully situated place of worship. Jutting out into the sacred Nile, the temple was uniquely dedicated to two different gods, Horus and Sobek, a local crocodile god, and was constructed in the 2nd century BC during the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
Perched nearly the colossal Lake Nasser, the 13th century BC temples of Abu Simbel are southern Egypt’s star attraction. Discovered in the early 1800s when they were near completely buried by sand dunes, the Temple of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari have been well-preserved by the dry desert climate and today offer a remarkable glimpse into the ancient Egyptian world.
Located in the ruins of the ancient Nubian city of Abu, the Elephantine Pyramid is one of the first pyramidal structures ever constructed. The basic stepped construction is thought to date from around 2600 BC and can be visited as part of a romantic felucca boat tour from nearby Aswan.
Situated in the heart of the Western Desert south of Cairo, Saqqara is the largest archaeological site in Egypt – a country peppered with some of the world’s most important ancient ruins. Saqqara was an active burial ground for more than 3000 years with its necropolis being the final resting place of innumerable Old Kingdom pharaohs, civil servants, military generals, civilians and, of course, their sacred animals. Until the 19th century, most of Saqqara was buried in sand apart from the impressive Step Pyramid, the first pyramid ever constructed. However, successive excavations have revealed Egypt’s finest hidden gem and today visitors can tour an array of frescoed tombs, the vast underground Serapeum, where holy bulls were mummified, and the awe-inspiring funerary complex surrounding the pyramid.
The highlight of any visit to Saqqara is undoubtedly the black marble Serapeum dedicated to the Apis bull. The first burial of a sacred bull took place during the 14th century BC and continued to around 30 BC and today visitors can marvel at their mummified remains and monumental marble sarcophagi in vast subterranean galleries. Guided tours of this mysterious attraction are highly recommended as guides can help explain its cultural significance.
The Imhotep Museum houses some of the best archaeological finds that have been excavated at the nearby ruins of Saqqara. The museum itself is dedicated to Imhotep, the famed architect who worked under Pharaoh Djoser during the 3rd millennium BC.
While today little more remains of its exterior than a mound of earth, the Pyramid of Teti was built to house the mummified remains of the first 6th Dynasty pharaoh and was originally clad in gleaming limestone. Despite its poor condition on the outside, the interior of the pyramid has remarkably survived with visitors able to take tours of the hieroglyph-clad burial chamber.
Erected in the year 2650 BC, the Step Pyramid of Djoser is the world’s oldest stone monument. In architectural terms, the significance of the pyramid cannot be overstated and despite its squat proportions a visit remains one of Saqqara’s most thrilling experiences.
The Bird Tomb, traditionally known as Mastaba of Nefer-her-ptah, is one of Saqqara’s hidden gems. Built during the era of the 5th Dynasty, the tomb belonged to the head stylist of the ruling family. While it may only be one room large, it is coated with meticulously painted frescoes and hieroglyphics.
While the city of Giza has been encircled by the vast and unplanned urban sprawl of nearby Cairo, this northern Egyptian city has a charm all of its own. Giza is undoubtedly most famous for its Great Pyramids, which are the last remaining extant ancient wonder of the world, and its iconic Sphinx. Towering above the surrounding sand dunes, the pyramids were built as the perfectly geometric tombs of ancient pharaohs and today are one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions. During the day the pyramids can be inundated with visitors day tripping from Egypt’s capital but in the early evening, as the tourist crowds disperse and the sun begins to set, they remain one of the most magical structures on earth.
The Giza Necropolis, known for its standout attraction, the Pyramids, is one of the world’s most legendary destinations. As the last extant ancient wonder of the world, the Pyramids are rightfully Egypt’s most visited archaeological site and for the best experience guided tours are highly recommended. More than just letting you skip the queues, tour guides are one hand to reveal the Pyramid’s mysteries.
One of Giza’s most mysterious attractions, the now faceless Sphinx is rumored to depict the pharaoh Khafre – although no one can be sure. To learn more about this iconic attraction guided tours of the monument are available.
Sprawling across Mokattam Hill in eastern Cairo, the city’s medieval Islamic fortress is one of the city’s most underrated attractions. While most visitors come for the splendor of ancient Egypt, the Citadel’s history of repelling European crusaders and housing the Egyptian royal family for most of the Middle Ages is bound to enthral.
Housing one of the world’s greatest collections of antiquarian art, the Egyptian Museum is the heart of downtown Cairo. The vast museum houses treasures from the reigns of Tutankhamen alongside a plethora of artifacts ranging from household goods to mummies whose names have been lost to history. For the best experience, knowledgeable tour guides can take you on an enthralling tour through ancient Egyptian history.
For those who fantasize about Lawrence of Arabia, there is no more iconic experience than riding camel back through the sand dunes that surround the Pyramids of Giza. For the best experience, take the camel tour in the early morning or evening both to avoid the heat of the midday sun and to see the Pyramid’s illuminated by the sun’s reddish glow.
As Egypt’s largest archaeological site, visitors could easily spend days exploring the tombs, pyramids and other ancient ruins that pepper the Western Desert at Sakkara. Built as the vast cemetery for the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis, the area is the final resting place for innumerable deceased pharaohs alongside other notables from ancient society. For those visiting Sakkara as a day tour from Cairo, guides are highly recommended to make sure that you manage to see all the world-class attractions.