Top 10 Things to do in Egypt

Checking Off the Bucket List

In the U.S., we grew up learning about ancient Egypt, the pharoahs, Cleopatra, the flooding cycle of the Nile, all of it. All my life I looked forward to visiting. It was with rabid excitement that I stepped off the plane to walk through a chaotic customs. I reveled in the queue, the stamps, the smell, and the run-down look of everything. I could not wait to get out into the frenetic city of Cairo and start exploring. Egypt definitely was full of bucket list items, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Top 10 Egypt

Here are our top 10 things we think you shouldn’t miss if you visit this fascinating country!

Top 10 Egypt

1. The Nile River

With its crocodiles and hippos, we couldn’t wait to see the Nile.  We took a trip to the banks just to look not long after we arrived.  We also went straight to the train station to arrange our tickets to Luxor where we would ride a felluca on the river.  Some people take Nile cruises on large boats, and some people take a few days on a felluca.  Regardless what works for you, spending some time on the life-giving waters of the Nile is a must!

 

Top 10 Egypt

 2. Karnak Temple

By far one of our favorite sites, Karnak Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)  is everything we expected and more.  Tall majestic statues, lines of lions, scarabs, palms, and lots of frescoes and carvings, it is a marvel.  To think it was erected two thousand years ago just boggles the mind.  A very important temple in its day, it was dedicated to the God Arun.  Each year it hosted a festival to realign the chaos of the Nile flooding.

Top 10 Egypt

3. Abu Simbel

If it wasn’t impressive enough when it was built to honor Ramses II, the whole complex was moved when the Aswan High Dam was built in 1968.  What a feat!  Getting to this world heritage site, Abu Simbel, is half of the adventure.  Unless you fly in, you must attach yourselves to a tour group that leaves extremely early in the morning and drives as a caravan through the early morning desert.  The huge stone temples are so big that it is a bit overwhelming.  The first thing you notice are the four colossal statues carved into the temples that stand over 20 meters high.

Top 10 Egypt

4. The Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza

It would be very surprising to find out someone visited Egypt and did not visit the pyramids at Giza, which are by far the most famous of all the sites and of course inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Located so close to Cairo, it is the easiest site to access, and you get to see the famous pyramids as well as the sphinx.  The site is completely set up for tourists.  There are guides, horses, camels, horse carts, photographers, and of course souvenirs.  It is a bit much, and is usually crowded, but it’s still a must.  You can enter some of the pyramids, like the Great Pyramid of Khufu.  It is dark, narrow, and claustrophobic as you ascend the small wooden walkway to get to the central chamber.

Top 10 Egypt

5. The Valley of the Kings

On the west side of the Nile, near Luxor, is the Valley of the Kings (also a world heritage site). Located in a natural wadi (valley eroded by water), archaeologists have located 63 tombs for the kings and royalty of the New Kingdom.  Many had been robbed, but many like the most famous one of King Tut were left untouched and full of treasures for thousands of years.  Each tomb is completely different, and it is worth paying extra to see them since only three are included in the entry price.

Top 10 Egypt

6. Cairo and the Khan el-Khalili Market

Cairo is a huge, bustling, chaotic city, but well worth spending some time in.  The market area is especially interesting.  Spices, souvenirs, food, really all kinds of things can be found and bought there.  Even if you’re not a shopper, though, people-watching is always best at a market.  Here you can find a tea or hookah cafe and while away the hours watching the vendors and customers alike.

Cairo also is the home of the Egyptian Museum which, along with all of its other treasures, houses the contents of King Tut’s tomb.  Full of gold, sarcophagi, and all things Egyptian, it is well worth arriving there first thing in the morning and planning on taking some time. And don’t miss the mummies!

Top 10 Egypt

7. Hieroglyphics 

Deciphering the ancient writing of the Egyptians is fun and entertaining for visitors of all ages.  There are coloring books and informational texts that will aid in translation, but it is so much fun to wander through a temple and see how extensive the writing was.  It is on carvings and frescoes, walls, columns, everywhere.  Can you read it?

Top 10 Egypt

8. Ride a Camel

There are many opportunities to head out to the desert and ride a camel.  Probably the most popular place is in Giza, but if you will be traveling to other cities, cost and time-wise it will be better to wait.  One fun place to ride is across the river from Luxor.  Camels are rented and ridden on an ancient road to the monastery.  It’s an experience of a life-time, especially when you see plenty of locals on both camels and donkeys sharing the “road” with you.

Top 10 Egypt

9. Visit a Nubian Village

Unlike the Egyptians, the Nubians are a completely different people. They look different, have different customs, and live in colorfully painted villages.  Walking around a Nubian village is like being transported to another country and time altogether.  One of the easiest ones to visit is across the river from Luxor, and all you have to do is take a water-taxi to get there.

Top 10 Egypt

10.  Eat!

No trip is complete without sampling the local delicacies.  From sugar cane juice to tea, from kebabs to stuffed vegetables there is a lot to try and a favorite dish for everyones’s palate.  In Cairo you will find fast food sandwich stalls that are quick and tasty.  Some of our favorites were the liver sandwiches, the stuffed grapeleaves, and of course the many spreads like Baba Ghannoug to smear your bread with and savor.

Top 10 Egypt

Practical Information:

Like many countries there is a difference in price for Egyptians and tourists, a big difference.  Be prepared to pay for your opportunity to visit many of the tombs, pyramids, and temples.  In almost every case, there is an overall entry price which allows you admission to the site as well as some of the lesser known tombs and areas, but for the big names there will be an additional cost, sometimes rather exorbitant.  King Tut’s tomb is probably the best example of this.

Photography is not allowed inside the tombs and temples, but of course you will see plenty of people taking photos nonetheless.  Often a guard will look the other way when offered “baksheesh” (a tip).   If you are allowed to take photographs, please remember that the flash deteriorates the frescoes, so it is much better to take the photos with whatever light is available.

Getting around Egypt takes a little bit of effort, but is completely doable.  There are domestic flights that are reasonably priced as well as trains that traverse the majority of the country.  The cheapest way to get around is by bus.  If you plan on taking private cars or taxis, you will pay for the privilege.  Day tours provide a driver and guide which will help you negotiate throughout.

Have you visited Egypt?  What is on your top 10 list?

Top 10 Things to do in Egypt

A great resource!

40 Comments

    1. Michelle, No. I think you would be very safe, but of course there are always precautions that you can take. In the current world situation, I would sty in small groups. It’s worth it!

  1. What a great post, Corinne. I like how you covered the main tourist attractions and the ones off the beaten path too. Egypt has long been on my travel wish list. I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel to finally see those temples up close. Of course, my kids would love those camel rides. Now, if I can only convince my husband to go 😉
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Snapshots from Sigatoka River Safari FijiMy Profile

    1. Mary, I’m surprised that anyone in your family is hestitant. You guys go everywhere! The kids would love the camel ride we did, not the one at the pyramids…

  2. This looks absolutely amazing. Egypt has been on my list for years, but I’ve heard many mixed stories from travelers. From what I hear it’s either a ‘you hate it or love it’ kinda place. So I’m quite curious!
    Found you through #SundayTraveler
    Esther recently posted…Discover the best of Ghent in 7 stepsMy Profile

  3. I would love to visit Egypt and the pyramids some time. This is such a great list and a nice departure from many of the “Egypt was a disappoinment” blog posts I’ve been reading lately. You’ve given me so many great ideas. My hubby went once when he was a kid and has decided that once in a lifetime is enough. I need to change his mind.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…The Wet Market Chicken StallMy Profile

  4. I still wonder why I haven’t made it to Egypt yet. We almost did in 2012. I had a guide lined up and was all set to book, when our plans changed, and friends invited us to France. Somehow it never made it back on the itinerary. One day. I love your photos, they both satisfy my desire to see more and increase my longing to get there. As for paying a different price than the locals, it reminds me of Morocco or Russia.
    rhonda albom recently posted…Wellington Zoo, A “Must See” in New Zealand’s Capital CityMy Profile

  5. Looks like a wonderful trip Corrine! You didn’t per chance get any photos of that Russian pornstar performing at the Pyramids did you? Just heard about that over the weekend and thinking of what great culture we are bringing to the places we visit…
    Abu Simbel looks amazing. Are there still a lot of tourists going to Egypt? I’ve heard a lot of reports about a slowdown in tourism. I’ve heard that it’s affecting especially the Red Sea resorts (which I’m told quite spectacular).
    Nice post, very impressive photos.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Why Vientiane is worth a visitMy Profile

  6. Hi Corinne Vail,

    Great choices and I love the photos! I’d love to visit Egypt someday. Egypt was definitely full of interesting sights! I like how you covered the main tourist attractions and the ones off the beaten path too. Egypt has long been on my travel wish list. I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel to finally see those temples up close. They are some of the most amazing attractions across the entire world. I just love them.

    Thanks For Sharing
    Keep Posting More…..

  7. Egypt is so larger than life and its sights are really massive and magnificent. I am always fascinated by the Egyptian culture and its history. The temple of Karnak is really awesome, what a great structure, really breathtaking.

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