17 Best Things to Do in Egypt
One of the most popular countries to visit on the continent, Egypt lies in the northeast corner of Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Home to incredible tourist attractions such as the Valley of the Kings, the Great Sphinx, and the pyramids at Giza, it is famed around the world for its ancient monuments and age-old archaeological sites.
While its astounding tombs, temples, statues, and obelisks almost beggars belief, Egypt also boasts plenty of stunning scenery. Besides the life-giving waters of the Nile and the scenic sands of the Sahara, you can find beautiful beaches, colorful coral reefs, and abundant marine life lining its sun-scorched shores. In addition to these things to do in Egypt, the country has a rich culture and heritage for you to delve into, with fantastic museums and monasteries alongside a plethora of Ancient Egyptian attractions.
17. Temple of Isis at Philae
Located in southern Egypt, the Temple of Isis lies on a small island in a reservoir of the Aswan Low Dam, surrounded by the swift-flowing waters of the river Nile. Originally located on Philae, it was dismantled and then relocated and reconstructed on Agilkia Island in the 1970s to protect and preserve the ancient complex from flooding.
Impressively, the temple is the oldest built in the classical Egyptian style and dates back to the third century BC. Dedicated to the goddess Isis, it features sturdy stone columns and carefully carved capitals, with age-old hieroglyphs also on show.
Besides the terrific Temple of Isis, there are some stunning shrines, statues, and sculptures for visitors to check out, with Aswan’s alluring sights lying not far away.
One of the most important and impressive archaeological sites in Egypt, the ancient city of Abydos lies in the center of the country, just a couple of hours north of Luxor. Home to an astounding array of temples, tombs, and tantalizing treasures, it was here that the early pharaohs were buried, with the royal necropolis of Seti I being the undoubted highlight.
Wandering around the extensive yet largely unexcavated site is an awe-inspiring experience as massive monuments and cavernous chapels, chambers and courts lie all around. Once the main cult center of Osiris, the god of the afterlife, Abydos is thought to have been founded over six thousand years ago, remaining in use as a necropolis for most of that time.
15. Temple of Edfu
Boasting an extraordinary entrance, the Temple of Edfu lies on the banks of the river Nile, between Luxor and Aswan. Built between 237 and 57 BC, the Ptolemaic temple is dedicated to Horus; one of the most important ancient Egyptian deities.
Very well-preserved, it showcases remarkable reliefs and delightfully detailed carvings and hieroglyphs; even its roof is intact. Surrounding its sanctuary are nine chapels, and large stone columns line its divinely decorated halls.
It is its gigantic gateway that is the Temple of Edfu’s standout feature; it is guarded by grand granite statues and decorated with reliefs of long-gone pharaohs.
14. Bibliotheca Alexandrina
One of the most important centers of learning and culture in the country, Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located in Egypt’s second-largest city of Alexandria, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Opened in 2002, it attempts to replicate, commemorate, and celebrate the knowledge and learning that once took place in the Great Library of Alexandria – one of the ancient world’s greatest institutions.
It certainly achieves its goal. Within the complex are a number of magnificent museums and art galleries and a fabulous planetarium, while its main reading room can hold up to eight million books. The library exhibits lovely architecture: its design imitates the rising sun, and its exterior is coated in symbols and scripts from all around the world.
13. Red Pyramid
Surrounded by the endless sands of the Sahara, the Red Pyramid is located some 40 kilometers to the south of Cairo at the Dahshur necropolis. Widely believed to be the first successful smooth-sided pyramid ever built, it dates to 2590 BCE and lies next to the Bent Pyramid, an earlier and unique but ultimately unsuccessful attempt.
Once encased in white limestone, the 105-meter-high pyramid is now a ruddy red – residents of Cairo carted off its outer layer and used it to erect buildings. Visitors to the Red Pyramid can enter its interior chambers through a series of narrow passageways and marvel at the astonishing feat of engineering which paved the way for the pyramids at Giza to be built.
12. Siwa Oasis
Set in a scenic yet secluded spot in the Sahara, Siwa Oasis lies not far from the border with Libya. It boasts its own unique desert culture and distinct dialect. Mostly made up of Berbers, the town is primarily known for being home to the powerful and prestigious Temple of the Oracle, which even Alexander the Great came to consult.
While its revered ruins attract the most visitors, astounding archaeological sites, such as the rock tombs of Gebel al Mawta and the crumbling mud-brick fortress of Shali, are also well worth checking out. Siwa Oasis has a rich history, culture and heritage for you to delve into, with stunning salt lakes and desert scenery found nearby.
11. Blue Hole (Dahab)
One of Egypt’s most popular dive sites, the Blue Hole, lies just north of Dahab on the southeast of the Sinai Peninsula. Dropping straight down for over a hundred meters, the sinkhole is brimming with colorful coral reefs and shimmering shoals of fish.
Due to the abundance of marine life and shoreline accessibility, recreational scuba divers line up to explore its underwater riches every day. While it is perfectly safe, the Blue Hole has unfortunately claimed the lives of a number of deep divers as they attempted to pass through its archway – a 26 meter-long tunnel which lies more than 55 meters below the surface.
10. Al Azhar Mosque
The first mosque founded in the city, Al Azhar was built by the Fatimids in 972 in their newly established capital of Cairo. Located in its mesmerizing medieval quarter, the mosque exhibits exquisite architecture, with majestic minarets and madrasas lying alongside divinely decorated prayer halls and marble-coated courtyards.
In addition to the fine features and flourishes that date to the Mamluks and Ottomans, among others, Al Azhar is also one of the oldest seats of learning in the world and still functions as a university to this day.
9. St Catherine’s Monastery
Set in the center of the Sinai Peninsula, St Catherine’s Monastery lies not far from the small town of the same name, beneath the wonderfully weathered Willow Peak. Sacred to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, it is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, having been established in the year 324.
Enclosed within its ancient walls, you can find a lovely church, mosque, and library, as well as innumerable important icons and mosaics. On top of its historical, cultural, and religious value, St Catherine’s Monastery also boasts some superb scenery: it is set in a spectacular spot in the desert.
8. Pyramid of Djoser
Out of all of Egypt’s astonishing and awe-inspiring archaeological sites, the Pyramid of Djoser stands alone as the first colossal stone monument constructed in the world. Due to the amount of labor and level of societal organizing needed, its construction represented an astounding leap from previous architectural styles and norms.
Dating all the way back to the 27th century BC, the stunning step pyramid was built to house the burial chamber of Pharaoh Djoser, and many tunnels and galleries can be found inside it. Part of the sprawling Saqarra necropolis, the phenomenal pyramid is flanked by colonnaded corridors, monumental halls, and courts, and lies some 30 kilometers to the south of Cairo.
7. Egyptian Museum
Full of glittering jewels, marvelous mummies, and stupendous statues, the Egyptian Museum is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of ancient artifacts. First opened in 1902, the large pinkish-red building can be found in Downtown Cairo overlooking Tahrir Square.
Wedged within its grand galleries are over 100,000 objects, with sublime stone sculptures and tantalizing treasures wherever you look. While its intricately decorated furniture, boats, and sarcophagi make for fascinating viewing, the undoubted highlight is the glittering Gold Mask of Tutankhamun, which is renowned around the world.
6. Ras Mohammed
Lying right in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, the small and scenic peninsula of Ras Mohammed juts into the warm waters of the Red Sea. Now a national park, its desolate landscapes contrast delightfully with the colors and life found beneath its waves.
As such, it is one of the most popular places in Egypt to go scuba diving and snorkeling, with the famous Shark and Yolanda Reef sites being the pick of the lot. Besides its gorgeous coral reefs and shimmering shoals of fish, Ras Mohammed also has some beautiful beaches and superb scenery for visitors to enjoy.
5. White Desert National Park
Boasting some of the most unique, unusual, and incredible landscapes in Egypt, White Desert National Park lies in the west of the country, not far from Farafra. Here, you’ll find sparkling white chalk rock formations, outcrops of glinting quartz, and the magically named Crystal Mountain.
Sculpted over millennia by the desert winds and sands of the Sahara, their surreal shapes and colors are mesmerizing to gaze upon, with the best views to be had from atop the two towering Twin Peaks. As the fantastic formations are so spectacularly lit up at sunset and sunrise, it is well worth camping the night in the national park to see them in all their glimmering glory.
4. Karnak Temple
Renowned for its staggering size, scale, and splendor, the Karnak Temple complex covers a vast area and is one of Luxor’s most popular attractions. While work first began on the site around 2000 BC, approximately 30 pharaohs contributed to its dazzling and decadent design, with each ruler adding their own temples and sanctuaries, chapels and obelisks.
Wandering around the temple really does feel like stepping back in time as you pass by colossal colonnades, human-headed sphinxes, and astounding architecture. The standout sight is the great Temple of Amun-Ra that dominates and defines the complex and boasts a majestic hypostyle hall.
3. Valley of the Kings
One of the most remarkable archaeological sites on Earth, the Valley of the Kings lies on the west bank of the river Nile, facing Luxor. Cut into the surrounding cliffs, valleys, and mountains are an incredible 63 royal tombs, with pharaohs such as Tutankhamun and Ramesses buried here from the 16th to 11th century BC.
Most of these chambers are sumptuously decorated with religious texts and resplendent reliefs, although their glittering treasures and sarcophagi have long since been removed. Visiting the age-old tombs is an awe-inspiring experience as you navigate cool rock-cut corridors and emerge into burial chambers painted with arresting scenes from Egyptian mythology.
2. Temples of Abu Simbel
Set in the deep south of Egypt, not far from the border with Sudan, the Temples of Abu Simbel look out over the shimmering waters of Lake Nasser. Carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, the twin temples are one of the most iconic sights in Egypt thanks to the enormous rock relief figures flanking their entrance.
While the famed facades attract the most attention, their interiors are just as delightful to explore, with statues, reliefs, and pillared halls all on show. Almost as impressive as the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor is the fact that the complex was relocated entirely in 1968 to avoid the rising waters of the Aswan Dam.
1. Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza
Lying on the outskirts of Greater Cairo is one of humankind’s most astonishing architectural achievements – the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. Built between 2580 to 2510 BC are three phenomenal pyramids, with the enormous Great Sphinx and its human-like features set beside them.
While the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure both make for stunning sights, the Pyramid of Khufu – the oldest, largest, and most intact of the trio – is the real showstopper. Towering to a staggering 146 meters, it is made out of more than 2.3 million blocks, with grand galleries and burial chambers found within.
Exploring the Giza Pyramid Complex on foot or camelback is an experience like no other as you pass by some of the oldest buildings on Earth with the desert stretching out all around you.