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Top 10 things to do and places to visit in Egypt

Taking a long weekend to Egypt but not sure what you can fit in? Here's our pick of the top 10 things to do in Egypt, including lots of ideas if you want to get out of Cairo or enjoy the country's excellent diving.

1. Abu Simbel Temples

These rock temples are part of the Nubian Monuments UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Egypt’s best places to visit if you’re interested in history. They were created in the 13th century BC during the Pharaoh Ramesses II dynasty but eventually became derelict. They were buried in sand and remained undiscovered until 1813 when they were found by Jean-Louis Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer. In 1968, in an exercise that cost millions of dollars, the temples and sculptures were actually relocated in their entirety to make way for an artificial reservoir. The Great Temple is the largest and most intricate of the Abu Simbel complex. Four large 20 meter statues of Pharaoh Ramesses sit at the entrance and the top frieze is decorated with 22 baboons.

Address: Aswan Governorate, Egypt

Opening hours: 9am – 5pm

Entry: $10 (Dh37) per person

Best places to visit in Egypt: Abu Simbel Temples

2. Karnak Temple Complex

This is another one for the list if you’re a history buff. The complex dates back to the Middle Kingdom and Ptolemaic periods and is believed to be the second largest religious temple in the world. It comprises of temples, pylons, and chapels and is split over four sections. You can only currently visit one of the four sections – the largest – which is an area dedicated to Amun-Re, the Theban Triad’s chief deity. It includes the great hypostyle hall and an incredible frieze depicting ancient Egyptian history. There are also daily Karnak Sound and Light shows at 7pm, 9pm and 10pm. The first show is in English every day apart from Sunday and Wednesday, when the first is in German and the second in English. Find more details here.

Address: El Karnak, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt

Opening hours: Daily, 6am – 5.30pm

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3. The Pyramids of Giza

No trip to Egypt would be complete without a visit to the Pyramids of Giza which sit just outside Cairo. The three pyramids are an incredible 4,000 years old but their construction still baffles experts and wows visitors. The Giza pyramid complex is an archaeological site consisting of the three pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and several cemeteries. The most popular pyramids are the Pyramid of Khufu, the largest on the site, and the Pyramid of Khafre. The former – known as the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Giza – is the last remaining wonder on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a truly stunning sight. If you’re visiting Egypt, make sure you book one of the many tours to see it.

Best places to visit in Egypt: Pyramids of Giza

4. Great Sphinx of Giza

This is easily the most instantly recognizable structures in Giza, and something of an Egyptian icon. The carved statue has the head of a human and the body of a lion, and is an incredible 20 meters high and 73 meters long. Unlike the rest of the pyramids, the sphinx was carved into the limestone bedrock rather than built from the ground up. It’s suffered from erosion over the years but is no less of an incredible sight. Make sure your tour to the Pyramids of Giza includes the sphinx, as not all of them do. You can also reach it by donkey or camel but there have been serious concerns raised about the treatment of the animals so we recommend you stick to the four-wheeled mode of transport.

Best places to visit in Egypt: Great Sphinx of Giza

5. Red Sea

The Red Sea is by far one of the best places in Egypt to snorkel and dive. Recent large-scale development along parts of the coast has earned it the nickname ‘Red Sea Riviera’, but it’s still one of the best places in the Middle East to dive. Head to Marsa Alam in the south to access fabulous dive sites like the Elphinstone Reef, Abu Dabbab (where you might be lucky enough to see dugongs – a rare type of manatee), and Dolphin House reef. The north Red Sea is generally busier with tourists, with destinations like Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada on the coastline. Despite this, there’s still some excellent diving to be done. Jump on one of the many dive boats and head to Thistlegorm Wreck or the large Abu Duhas Reef. As always, check the reviews of any dive company you choose, and make sure you’re covered under your insurance.

6. St Katherine’s Monastery

Built in around 330 AD, the St Katherine’s Monastery is one of the oldest active monastic communities anywhere in the world. It’s named after St Katherine, the martyr of Alexandria who was killed because of her religious beliefs. The monastery became an incredibly important site for pilgrims, many of who traveled from far and wide to visit. Inside, you’ll find a descendant of the original burning bush, the Well of Moses, gift shop and the excellent Monastery Museum which houses parchments from the Codex Sinaiticus. Remember the monastery is still a functioning monastery so dress and act respectfully; no bare arms or legs.

Address: St Katherine Protectorate, Egypt

Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 11.30am. Closed to the public on Friday

7. Cairo

It seems wrong to give Cairo just one spot in the list of best places to visit in Egypt because it’s got so much going on. The Egyptian Museum is a visitor favorite and absolutely stuffed with antiquities including the Statue of Khafre, mummies, and Tutankhamen’s treasure trove. Khan el Khalili Bazaar is a wonderful place to spend an evening haggling and sipping coffee and, is located in the stunning Saffron Tomb Mausoleum. If you plan on sticking around in the capital, read our guide to the best hotels to suit every budget.

Read more: 8 things everyone should see and do in Cairo.

8. Luxor

As well as the Karnak Temple Complex, Luxor is also home to many more of Egypt’s best historical places to visit. The main one is the Luxor Temple, built by the New Kingdom pharaohs, which sits in the center of modern Luxor. It’s a beautiful place to visit at sunset and easier to navigate than Karnak. Highlights include the Temple of Amin of the Opet and the Great Court of Ramses. When you’ve had your fill of temples, head to the Luxor Museum which is one of the best museums in the country. It includes pieces collected from the temple complexes from the Old Kingdom, including what is believed to be the mummy of Ramesses I.

Address: Luxor Temple, Luxor City, Luxor Governorate. Luxor Museum, Corniche el-Nil, downtown Luxor

Opening hours: Luxor Museum, EGP70 (Dh15) for tourists, EGP35 (Dh7) for students

Best places to visit in Egypt: Luxor

9. Egypt Western Desert

Egypt’s Western Desert is truly a thing of beauty. It includes the massive White Desert National Park with its large chalk rock structures that jut out from the red sand below, Siwa’s date palms, the medieval town of Al Qasr, and the Necropolis of Al Bagawat. If you like to camp, pay the entry fee to the National Park and an extra EGP20 (Dh4) for every night you want to camp, find a secluded spot and simply pitch your tent. However, recent rules said foreigners were no longer allowed to camp but the rule seems to be largely ignored by everyone, including the park rangers. If you’re part of an organized tour, these fees will be included in your ticket price. If you’re visiting Al Qasr, check out the old village which has been sympathetically restored to its original form.

10. Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is another of Luxor’s incredible historical sites. Ancient Egyptians built elaborate underground mausoleums for their pharaohs and this particular valley was the burial ground for some of the most revered pharaohs including Ramses II and Tutankhamen. They were buried with luxuries they might need in the next life – including jewels and wine! Many of the tombs have suffered at the hands of treasure hunters and looters, but they’re still a staggering place to visit. Only certain tombs are open at any one time to limit the damage done by constant footfall. You can find out more about the tombs here.

Address: Luxor, New Valley Governorate, Egypt

Opening hours: 6am – 5pm. Tickets on sale until 4pm

Entry: A single ticket allows entry to 3 of the 63 tombs, excluding Tutankhamen’s tomb. Ticket price is EGP80 (Dh17) for adults and EGP40 (Dh8) for students. Tickets for Tutankhamen’s tomb cost EGP100 (Dh21) for adults and EGP50 (Dh10) for students

*Published November 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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