For many first-time visitors to Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza, a Nile cruise, and the archaeological treasures in Luxor make the must-see list. But Egypt offers many more exciting experiences. Journey out into the dusty desert and visit the oases, scuba dive in the Red Sea, or hike to the top of Mount Sinai. These all make the list of the best things to do in Egypt.
Egypt is more than just pyramids and temples, as you will see in this post. Egypt is also home to beautiful beaches, magnificent sand dunes, unique desert landscapes, pristine coral reefs, and luxurious resort towns.
Best Things to do in Egypt
In no particular order, here are the best things to do in Egypt. At the end of this article, you can see them all on a map.
1. Visit the Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza, along with the Sphinx and a handful of smaller tombs, form one of the most iconic sights in the world.
The Pyramids of Giza were built almost 5,000 years ago, at the beginning of human recorded history.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops, is the oldest of the three main pyramids on the Giza plateau. This pyramid was built around 2570 BC and it is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In fact, it is the only Ancient Wonder to remain largely intact.
Plan on spending a minimum of 3 hours at the Pyramids of Giza. This gives you enough time to go inside the Great Pyramid, visit Panoramic Point, go on a short camel ride, visit the Solar Boat Museum, and snap a photo with the Sphinx.
2. Cruise on the Nile River
Drifting on the Nile River, past the ancient tombs and temples, is one of Egypt’s top experiences. Most cruises sail between Aswan and Luxor, with visits to Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo along the way.
You can travel the Nile River by cruise ship (the most popular option), on a dahabiya (smaller wooden ships, perfect for those who want to travel in a smaller group or want a more romantic experience), or a felucca (a small, Egyptian sailboat).
Feluccas on the Nile River in Aswan
3. Get a History Lesson in the Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Egyptian artifacts. Highlights of a visit include seeing the solid gold mask and the golden sarcophagi of Tutankhamun, the Royal Mummies room, and a mind-blowing number of statues, jewelry, and treasures.
A visit here typically lasts two hours. The Egyptian Museum is located on Tahrir Square in Cairo. To get here, we recommend hiring a driver and guide, but you can also use Uber, taxis, or public transportation. It takes roughly 30 minutes to travel between the Giza Plateau and the Egyptian Museum.
Important Note: The Grand Egyptian Museum is expected to open in 2021. Once open, it will replace the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square. It is located next to the Pyramids of Giza, so it will be very easy to combine these two sites without needing to navigate the streets of Cairo.
4. Explore Historic Cairo
Cairo is the capital of Egypt. It is located on the Nile River, right where the desert transitions into the Nile Delta.
Islamic Cairo is the historic heart of Cairo. This area contains one of the largest collections of historic architecture in the Islamic world. Numerous mosques, madrassas, fortifications, and tombs date from the Islamic era of Egypt (639 to the early 16th century), making Cairo one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities.
The top things to do in Islamic Cairo include Al-Azhar Mosque, Salah El-Din Citadel, a stroll down Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatima Street (al-Muizz for short), shopping in Khan el-Khalili, and Al-Rifa’i Mosque.
Mosque of Muhammed Ali
Coptic Cairo is located in Old Cairo in the southern part of the city. The first settlements here date back to the 6th century BC. Many of the places to visit here originate from Egypt’s Christian past, but you can also visit a synagogue and the first mosque built in Africa.
The top places to visit in Coptic Cairo include the Hanging Church, the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As.
Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus
5. Visit the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara
Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara, is the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. This area contains numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser), the oldest stone building complex in the world.
On March 5, 2020, after 14 years of restoration work, the Step Pyramid opened to the public. You can now descend down narrow stairways and walk through the labyrinth of passageways that sit beneath the pyramid.
6. Go Inside the Pyramids in Dahshur
Just a short drive outside of Cairo sit two of the oldest pyramids in Egypt, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. This is where the ancient Egyptians perfected their pyramid-building skills, constructing the first smooth sided pyramid in the world (the Red Pyramid).
Touring the pyramids of Dahshur feels like an adventure. To enter the pyramids, you will descend down tight, steep tunnels and then explore the ancient chambers inside of the pyramids. In some ways, it’s much more thrilling than a visit to the pyramids of Giza.
Inside the Red Pyramid
Learn how to visit Saqqara and the pyramids in Dahshur on a day trip from Cairo in this post.
7. Visit Alexandria
Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt and a popular tourist destination. You can visit Alexandria on a day trip from Cairo or spend a night or two in the city.
Top sights include the Citadel of Qaitbay, the Alexandria National Museum, the Serapeum, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Corniche, the Stanley Bridge, the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, and Montazah Palace Gardens.
8. Relax in Sharm El-Sheikh
Sharm El-Sheikh is one of Egypt’s most popular beach resort towns. If you want to chill out on the beach or take a break from the tombs and temples, this is a great place to add to your travel itinerary.
Top things to do here include scuba diving, visiting the Ras Mohammed National Park, shopping in the Sharm Old Market, and relaxing in Naama Bay and Shark’s Bay.
9. Visit Taba and Dahab, Resort Towns on the Gulf of Aqaba
Located on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, on the Sinai Peninsula, sit two small resort towns.
Taba is the northernmost town on Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera. It sits just across the border from Eilat, Israel so this town is Egypt’s busiest border crossing town. The best things in Taba include scuba diving, going for a swim in Fjord Bay, visiting Salah El-Din Castle and Castle Zaman, and taking a day trip to the Colored Canyon.
Formerly a Bedouin fishing village, Dahab is one of Sinai’s best diving destinations and is world-renowned for its windsurfing. From Dahab, you can dive in the Blue Hole, which is nicknamed “The World’s Most Dangerous Diving Site.”
10. Hike to the Summit of Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai is a popular pilgrimage site in Egypt. According to the Old Testament, this is the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. It is sacred site for Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
Most hikers start in the pre-dawn hours, reaching the summit in time to watch the sunrise.
The hike starts at Saint Catherine’s Monastery. This Greek Orthodox Church was built between 548 and 565 and it is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are two paths to the summit, the easier and wider Camel Path and the shorter, more challenging Steps of Penitence. The hike is 4 miles round trip.
Most hikers stay in either Dahab or Sharm El Sheikh.
11. Scuba Dive in the Red Sea
The Red Sea is one of the world’s top scuba diving locations. With pristine reefs, numerous shipwrecks to explore, warm water, and excellent visibility, Egypt’s Red Sea is a bucket list destination for many scuba divers.
12. Visit the Resort Towns of Hurghada and Marsa Alam
Hurghada is a very popular resort town on the Red Sea. Upscale hotels line the beaches, making this a popular winter destination for many Europeans. Go scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing and kitesurfing, visit the Giftun Islands, swim with dolphins, and even take a day trip to Luxor.
Marsa Alam is an up-and-coming resort town on the Red Sea, south of Hurghada. On Abu Dabab beach, you can see sea turtles. Marsa Alam is also a world-renowned kitesurfing destination, and, like the other towns on the Red Sea, a great place to go scuba diving or snorkeling.
13. Explore the Valley of the Kings
Without a doubt, a visit to the Valley of the Kings is one of the best things to do in Egypt.
The Valley of the Kings is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. This is a royal burial ground, with exquisitely decorated tombs for the pharaohs who ruled Egypt between 1539 and 1075 BC. There are over 60 tombs in this small area, although only a handful are open to public.
Tomb of Seti I
Inside the tomb of Ramesses V and VI
Currently, eight tombs are included on your main entrance ticket into the Valley of the Kings. Of these eight tombs, you can visit three with your entrance ticket.
For an additional fee, you can also visit the tombs of Seti I, Tutankhamun, and Ramesses V and VI.
14. Visit the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens was the burial site of the wives of the pharaohs. The tombs that you will see here are smaller and lack some of the grandeur of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, with one big exception.
The tomb of Queen Nefertari is one of the most spectacular tombs that you can visit in Egypt. The level of detail is amazing and the colors are more vibrant that what we saw in many tombs, temples, and pyramids in Egypt. If you want to get an idea of what the tombs looked like 3,000 years ago, put the tomb of Queen Nefertari on your list.
15. Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
For 20 years, Hatshepsut ruled over Egypt, and she is considered to be one of the most powerful female rulers in the world.
In the cliffs of Deir el-Bahri sits Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, her most famous architectural achievement. This colonnaded structure has a much different appearance than many other temples in Egypt, but that is what also makes it so memorable.
There are three terraces connected with long ramps. This temple complex contains the Birth Colonnade, which tells the story of Hatshepsut’s divine creation with Amun as her father. The Punt Colonnade tells about her expedition to Punt and the luxury goods brought back to Egypt. You can also see the Temple of Hathor and the Temple of Anubis.
This temple is one of the most popular sites on the West Bank of Luxor so expect big crowds.
16. Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu
This huge temple complex is dedicated to Ramesses III. There are several courtyards, pylons, and peristyle halls, with inscribed reliefs depicting the defeat of the Sea People during the rule of Ramesses III. It is located on the West Bank of Luxor.
17. Marvel at the Karnak Temple Complex
Karnak Temple is the second largest temple complex in the world (Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest). For over 2,000 years, starting in 2000 BCE, temples, monuments, and buildings were added to the complex. Approximately 30 pharaohs added something to the Karnak Temple Complex.
Karnak Temple is the second most visited site in Egypt, coming in right behind the Pyramids of Giza. This is one of the best things to do in Egypt.
Walk along the avenue lined with ram-headed sphinxes, enter the awe-inspiring Hypostyle Hall, see the obelisks of Tuthmosis I and Hatshepsut, and see the beautiful reliefs on the pylons.
18. Visit Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple looks and feels like a smaller version of Karnak Temple, although this temple served a different purpose than many found in and around Luxor. This temple is not dedicated to one particular god or pharaoh. Instead, it may have been where many of the kings of ancient Egypt were crowned. This temple was built in 1400 BC, mostly by Amenhotep III and Ramesses II.
19. Day Trip to Abydos and Dendera
Located on the Nile River, just north of Luxor, sit two of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt. The sacred city of Abydos is home to the temple of Seti I. The Hathor Temple in Dendera is one of the most colorful temples in Egypt, with an intricately detailed ceiling and one of the most amazing hypostyle halls that we saw in Egypt.
Inside the Temple of Seti I in Abydos
The ceiling of Hathor Temple in Dendera
Hathor Temple, Dendera
From Luxor, you can visit Dendera and Abydos on a day trip. It’s a long day, coming in at around 10 hours, and much of this time is spent in a car. But if you want to see two spectacular temples, this is well worth your time. Since it is not on the main tourist trail, crowds can be low, even during peak season.
20. Visit the Temple of Horus in Edfu
This temple can be visited while on a Nile Cruise or on the drive between Luxor and Aswan.
This is a magnificent temple that is dedicated to the god Horus. It was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BC.
It is in excellent condition, despite being over 2,000 years old (although it is relatively young by Egyptian standards). The first pylon is in almost perfect condition and you really get an idea of how these temples looked when they were first constructed.
21. Temple of Kom Ombo
The Temple of Kom Ombo is a double temple that was constructed for two sets of gods. One half of the complex is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god who is associated with fertility of the land along the Nile River. The other half is dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed god.
You can visit Kom Ombo on a day trip from Aswan, during a Nile Cruise, or on the drive between Luxor and Aswan.
22. Visit the Amazing Twin Temples at Abu Simbel
Sitting on the bank of Lake Nasser is one of Egypt’s most striking monuments, the twin temples of Abu Simbel. Built by Ramesses II over 3,000 years ago, these temples have stood the test of time. The story behind Abu Simbel becomes even more fascinating when you learn that the entire complex was dismantled and relocated to higher ground, after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
To get here, you can plan a day trip from either Aswan or Cairo. Travel times can be long (if you travel by land) or expensive (if you travel by air), so is it worth it? Absolutely! The temples of Abu Simbel are some of most impressive and unique temples you will see in Egypt, so it is well worth the visit.
23. Visit the Beautiful Philae Temple
The Philae Temple is one of the best-preserved Ptolemaic temples in Egypt, joining the list with the temples of Dendera and Edfu. More than two-thirds of the surviving buildings of the temple complex were built during the Ptolemaic period (332 to 30 BC). Isis was the primary deity who was worshipped here, although Osiris and Hathor were also honored.
When the Aswan Old Dam was constructed in 1902, Philae Island became submerged underwater. The only time that the island, and the temples, were not underwater was during the summer months, when the gates of the dam were opened. In the 1960’s, under the direction of UNESCO, the temple was dismantled and reassembled on the nearby island of Agilkia.
Philae Temple is located in Aswan. Learn more about how to visit Aswan and Philae Temple here.
24. Visit the White Desert, Egypt’s Alien Landscape
The White Desert is a national park that is located in the Western Desert of Egypt. Uniquely shaped limestone rock formations decorate this desert landscape.
To get here, it’s a long drive from Cairo and you will need a 4×4. Most people visit the White Desert on a guided tour. A visit to the White Desert usually includes a quick visit to the Black Desert and to the Bahariya Oasis.
25. Explore the Oases in the Western Desert
Journey away from the tombs, temples, and densely populated cities of Egypt into the Western Desert. It is here that you can visit the oases, where groves of palm trees and freshwater springs dot the immense desert landscape.
Egypt has several oases that are located in the Western Desert.
Siwa Oasis, located in western Egypt near the Libyan border, is considered to be the most beautiful oasis. It is also the most remote, located 560 km from Cairo. Alexander the Great came here to consult the oracle at the Temple of Jupiter-Amun.
The Bahariya Oasis, which is located 330 km from Cairo, has several small ancient sites. A visit here is often combined with the White Desert.
The Fayoum Oasis is a quasi-oasis that is located next to the Nile River, south of Cairo. Visit Wadi El Rayan, a national park that contains man-made lakes and several waterfalls. You can also explore The Valley of the Whales, where you can see the skeletons of sharks, whales, and other fossils that date back millions of years.
Best Things to do in Egypt: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Should You Hire a Guide on Your Trip to Egypt?
Typically, we travel independently, and very rarely do we hire guides or take tours. But Egypt is different. You will see an unbelievable amount of ancient sites and the history is fascinating. To get the most out of your experience, we recommend hiring an Egyptologist.
For our trip to Egypt, we hired the company Egypt Tailor Made. For most of our visit (every day with the exception of our day trip to Abu Simbel), we had a driver and guide/Egyptologist. It was a great decision. We traveled in a private group, our guides Ali and Laila were knowledgeable and entertaining, and we learned a lot from them. We could just sit back and enjoy the trip and let our guides handle the logistics.
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