Egypt is one of the most incredible, historical and mysterious countries in the world. From mysteries around how the Pyramids got built, to seeing the Red Sea (and remembering Moses parting it!), and all of the other incredible things that have happened there, Egypt is an amazing place to visit.
When you make it there, here are 10 of the things you must do – the essential Egypt!
1. Visit the Pyramids
Simply put, you cannot come to Egypt and not see the Pyramids. You just can’t! They are the only original wonder of the world still standing, and they are just massive! Seeing them in person is a dream come true (though beware of touts and hasslers!).
Abu Simbel is not the easiest to get to – it’s a solid four hour drive from Aswan (or you can fly), but it’s absolutely worth it. While all the main images you see of Abu Simbel are of the temple of Ramses, I was surprised to realize there are two temples there. The second, smaller one is dedicated to his queen – Nefertari.
One thing I loved was the amount of color in the insides of the temples – the decoration is just incredible.
The other cool thing about Abu Simbel is that it was going to get flooded by Lake Nasser, and thus lost to everyone. So something like 61 countries around the world rallied together and moved both temples brick by brick and stone by stone to higher ground so we could preserve them. It’s an incredible example of what can be done when we all work together!
3. Cruise the Nile
For as long as history is recorded, the Nile has been the lifeblood of Egypt. Cruising down the Nile is an incredible experience that connects you with the pharaohs (they too used to cruise down the Nile!) and is a great way to see life in Egypt along its banks.
Cruises run between Luxor and Aswan, and there are enough of them running that it’s pretty easy to find one that works with your schedule. They also include a number of excursions and tours with the cruise – so you’ll get to see the sights along the way!
For $100, you can take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. It takes about an hour, and is a breathtaking experience. You can see the sun rise over the Nile, and see the green of Luxor where the Nile waters the fields, and then see that green turn into the brown of the desert sand. You’ll float over Hatshepsut Temple, and be able to look down at the final resting place for so many pharaohs. It’s a different angle to look at Egypt, and an absolutely worthwhile one!
5. See Luxor
They say that Luxor is the world’s largest outdoor museum, and they are absolutely right. There is so much to see in the city that it could take days! (But if you take a Nile cruise, they’ll make sure you see the highlights within a day or two!)
You can see Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Hatshepsut Temple, the Valley of the Kings, King Tut’s Tomb and so much more – all right within Luxor. Truthfully, as amazing as the Pyramids are, Luxor is actually far richer in Egyptian treasures!
The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo is truly unlike any other museum in the world. They have so many treasures that the museum ends up being more like a warehouse than a museum! And where so many museums in Western cultures focus on the “story” of the artifacts and have many boards leading up to the artifacts, the Egyptian Museum has no time for that!
Some artifacts are even labeled with handwritten labels! If you want to know and understand the history of the items, it’s a good idea to brush up beforehand, or hire a guide. You won’t get much background or context from the museum itself.
Note that you will have to pay extra to take your camera in. It’s not much, but you do need to show proof you paid.
7. Swim in the Red Sea
Because of the geography of the Red Sea, there are some fish and aquatic life that are unique to the area. It’s an awesome place to SCUBA dive or snorkel – or just cool off from the hot Egyptian sun!
The Red Sea shows up so much through history that it’s a fun experience to float in the waters and imagine the history that comes with it. And the whole idea of the Red Sea parting for Moses? That will take on a whole new sense of wonder as you’re sitting on the banks of the Red Sea!
Agatha Christie sat and wrote Death on the Nile while sitting and having tea on the patio at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. There’s a reason – it’s one of the most wonderful places to watch the sun set over the Nile while watching feluccas zip back and forth.
9. Cross the Street in Cairo
Any street will do. Crossing the street in Cairo belongs on your bucket list just like skydiving or base jumping or bungee jumping do. It will give you just about the same adrenaline rush.
Walking like an Egyptian means knowing how to cross the street in a place where traffic is never going to subside and pedestrians definitely don’t have the right of way! In some ways, it feels like playing a human game of frogger. But as long as you are intentional with where you’re walking (and make that clear to any oncoming drivers), you should be fine.
Pro tips: I would wait at the side of an intersection for an Egyptian to walk by and simply follow them across the road. This trick might have saved my life.
10. Philae Temple
Philae Temple in Aswan is another one that the world saved block by block from Lake Nasser. It’s a really cool temple simply because it’s on an island. It’s fun to take a boat across the Lake to get to the entrance, and the temple itself is just gorgeous! Pair this with a trip to the Unfinished Obelisk so that you can see how obelisks were made! (It blew my mind!)