Egypt, and especially the Nile Valley, has so many wonderful sights to see it would be impossible to do everything on one short trip to Egypt. A first visit to Cairo will almost inevitably mean you will wish to see the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum, while a visit to Luxor would not be complete without going to the Karnak Temples, the Luxor Temple and of course, the fabulous Valley of the Kings.
Many people will choose a holiday in Egypt featuring several destinations. For example, you may stay a day or two in Cairo, take the short 45-minute flight to Luxor for a few more days and then, maybe, board a cruise boat for a trip up the Nile to Aswan. There are flights from Aswan directly back to Cairo. Alternatively, a trip to the Nile Valley may be extended with a visit to an oasis in the Western Desert, to the Red Sea coast or to Sinai. We offer suggestions for the ‘must see’ sights and excursions in Egypt:
Alexandria and the North Coast
Alexandria is a great summer holiday destination. Be sure to visit Montazah Palace, once the summer home of the Egyptian royal family. It houses a museum and has a great view of the coastline and sea (Allow 2 hour). Visit the Graeco- Roman Museum, located in the heart of the city (Allow 2 hour) and the Qaitbay Citadel, built on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Allow 1 to 2 hours to appreciate the atmosphere of the waterside and maybe have some lunch).
You can then head out to one of Alexandria’s archaeological sites, such as the Roman amphitheatre at Kom Al-Dekka, Pompey’s Pillar, the ancient catacombs at Kom el Shoqafa or the Al- Shatby Necropolis site. All are within easy reach and make great detours. Choose the ones you prefer, look them up on the map, and then allow good time to appreciate their ancient history (Allow 3 to 4 hours).
Finally, no visit to Alexandria would be complete without a visit to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It may be something you would wish to do on a first visit or a second, but you should allow plenty of time in your schedule to see the massive libraries, the art galleries, museums dedicated to antiquities, manuscripts and science, and its planetarium (Allow 1 day or 3 hours for a quick visit).
A pleasant excursion from Alexandria would be a visit to El-Alamein to visit the war museum that tells of the area’s role in the Second World War, and the Commonwealth War Cemetery or the Italian and German cemeteries (Allow 1 day).Rosetta, or Rashid, is another great excursion. Located around 60 kilometres east of Alexandria, it was where the Rosetta stone was discovered in 1799.
The stone was instrumental in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic style of writing. (Allow a half day).
Cairo and Giza
Cairo is a city where you would get a glimpse of its wonders in just a day or so.
Conversely, you could spend days in the Egyptian Museum alone. You may even wish to spend several weeks in the city to really explore its fabulous streets and sights. Top of the list will almost inevitably the Pyramids.
The Pyramids of Giza stands to the west of Central Cairo, as they have for centuries. The site is not far from those of the ancient cities of Memphis and Saqqara. The Pyramids, including the Great Pyramid built for pharaoh Cheops of the 4th dynasty, the slightly smaller Pyramid of Chrephren dated from around 2500 BC and the Pyramid of Mykerinos, plus several smaller ones for the kings’ families, are the last remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
You can go inside the Great Pyramid and Chephren’s Pyramid. From here it’s a short hop by vehicle to the Sphinx (Allow 3 hours in total). If you plan to visit the Solar Boat Museum that houses a full-size ancient Egyptian boat allow a bit extra time, say around a further half hour.
Don’t miss Saqqara and The Step Pyramid of Zoser.
Take time to explore Central Cairo. It has the Corniche el-Nil that runs alongside the Nile, which makes a pleasant morning walk. You can cross to Gezira Island and go up the Cairo Tower for a panoramic view of the city, or visit the 19th century Opera Square and Ataba square, or the Manial Palace (Allow 1 day). In the evening head for the new Opera House for a spot of classical music, opera, theatre or ballet.
The Egyptian Museum is home to one of the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world. You could spend a few hours here and see only a fraction of the 250,000 or so antique pieces on display, including the famous Tut Ankh Amum (Tutankhamun) collection of treasures. There are mummies and tombs, ancient architectural pieces, an embalming table and a replica of the Rosetta Stone in the foyer (Allow 2 hours to several days).
East of Central Cairo is the Islamic part of the city, where you will find the famous network of streets of the Khan el-Khalili.
It is the largest bazaar in the Middle East and one of the oldest markets in the world. You can buy everything from spices to gold, copper and silver pieces, fashions, leatherwear and traditional Egyptian musical instruments (Allow 1 to 2 hours).
Old Cairo has some of the most historic and important Christian buildings and churches in the city, including the Church of St Barbara, one of the largest in Egypt, the Church of St George and the oldest the Church of St Sergius. There’s also the enchantingBen Ezra Synagogue, the Amr Ibn al-As Mosque and the beautifulHanging Church, so called because it is built high on top of the old Roman fortress structure, the Babylon Fort. The Coptic Museumhas one of the finest collections of Coptic art in the world dating from Pharaonic times to Graeco-Roman and Islamic. The little alleyways of Coptic Cairo are a delight to explore (Allow 2 hours).
Don’t miss the El Fayoum oasis in the Western Desert, includingLake Qarun and some fine monuments, the remains of the Hawara Pyramid built by Amenemhat III.
Luxor is, arguably, the finest outdoor museum in the world. Depending on your depth of fascination with ancient Egypt, you could spend hours, days or even weeks exploring its fabulous temples, visiting the Luxor Museum full of ancient antiquities and seeing the tombs of the Valley of the Kings.
The Karnak Temples is the largest ancient religious site in the world. Visitors can see the Precinct of Amun-Re, the only area open to the public. There are three other areas, the Precinct of Montu, the Precinct of Mut and the now dismantled building, the Temple of Amenhotep IV. It is a fabulous collection of ancient buildings and structures, columns, courtyards, statues including one of Ramses II with his wife Nefertari, pylons and obelisks, even a sacred lake. The entrance dromos is lined with a row of statues both sides, and is known as the Avenue of Rams. It is a ‘must’ (Allow 2 hours).
The Luxor Temple, located right on the corniche, and wonderful lit up at night, can be easily combined with a visit to the Karnak Temples. They lie along the same road within a short distance of each other.
Dating from the time of Amenhotep II and Ramses II, the temple has pylons, statues, columns and fabulous colonnades, one a hundred metres in length and built by Amenhotep III himself, courtyards and an obelisk. It is a twin. The other is erected in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. There are also some good examples of Roman stuccoes (Allow 2 hours).
Allow some time to visit the Mummification Museum on the corniche.
On display are a mummified human, crocodile and fish, plus tools used to remove bodies’ vital organs and drain fluids, embalming fluid, canopic jars and coffins (Allow 2 hour). Take time to explore the East Bank of Luxor too. See the Winter Palace Hotel where Agatha Christie is said to have penned her classic work ‘Death on the Nile’, the El-Mekashkesh Mosque and the great Coptic basilica next to Luxor Temple (Allow 2 hours).
The Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor at Thebes is easy to reach by a bridge a little way upstream. Allow about 30 minutes or so for the journey by vehicle and schedule in more time if you wish to take an excursion to the bank’s other main sights, the Madinet Habu Temple, the two huge statues known as the Colossi of Memnon, the funerary temple of Ramesseum and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir El Bahari.
CRUSING ON THE NILE AND LAKE NASSER
A great way to relax and see the sights is to take a cruise along the Nile or a sail around Lake Nasser. From the decks of a felucca, a traditional wooden sailing boat, or a luxury boat you can see many temples along the way. On the shores of Lake Nasser, for example, there’s the wonderful sight of the Great Temples of Abu Simbel for Ramses II and the Small Temple of Abu Simbel for Nefertari, which date back to Pharaonic Egypt and the reign of Ramses II. They were moved in an UNESCO project to their present site when the Aswan Dam caused water levels to rise and they were in danger of being submerged under the water. They were, literally, carved out of the mountainside (Allow 2 to 3 hours). Motorboats take visitors on shorter trips too.
Luxor’s East Bank is the spot where most of the cruise ships leave for their trip to Aswan. The sight of the cruise ships or ornate steamers, many affording top notch luxury facilities, making their way upstream is a familiar sight. They have comfy air-conditioned guest suites, often complete with King-size beds, and gourmet restaurants and bars on board.
From Luxor, you will pass by the Valley of the Kings to Esna, on through Edfu and Kom Ombo where you will see the Temple of Sobek and Hareoeris, and on to Aswan.
Cruise ships also start at Aswan and so the journey will be in reverse. At Aswan, you will see Elephantine Island, which once marked the southernmost border with Nubia, and the beautiful Kitchener’s Island full of exotic plants. They lie in the centre of the river. Cruising is a wonderful way to see the stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan (Allow from 3 to 4 days). If you wish to continue your cruise experience, take a boat from Aswan to Abu Simbel.
You will see some wondrous sights like the Temple of Wadi El-Subua and the Temple of Amada along the way.
You may also like to stop awhile at the villages of New and Old Gurna (Allow 3 hours).
Once at the Valley of the Kings you could spend hours.
The Valley of the Kings dates back to around the 16th to the 11th centuries BC as a necropolis of the Pharaonic Egypt’s New Kingdom dynasties. It is approached through a barren landscape of sand dunes and hills until you reach the centre of the valley. Here you will be able to visit several tombs, including that of Ramses I and Ramses III, plus probably the most famous of all the tomb of Tut Ankh Amon (Tutankhamen) discovered in 1922 (Allow 3 hours).