How do you write an introduction to a place that has been an ultimate bucket list item from childhood? Visiting Egypt was a dream come true! I had studied about Egypt since the 6th grade, first learning about Egyptian civilization in history class and then going deeper in art class for the next 5 years, studying about the various temples, statues and pyramids. Even before planning the trip, I already had a list of must see sites and places in Egypt so it was easy for me to decide which ones I absolutely needed to see when I was booking my tour. Whether you go on a private tour or join a group tour, these are the must see sites and places in Egypt that you should ensure is included in your itinerary.
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Must See Sites and Places in Egypt
This list is not in order of significance but rather ordered by each city.
Cairo and Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Built in the 26th century BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact to date. Back then, it was built to house the tomb for pharaoh Khufu, the second king of the Fourth Dynasty.
I’m not sure what was more impressive about this pyramid, the fact that it’s more than 4,500 years old, or its sheer size and grandeur.
There are a few pyramids on this plateau and together make an amazing sight to behold and is an absolute must visit place in Egypt.
Close to the Great Pyramid of Giza is the Sphinx, one of the most recognizable statues in the world! Egyptologists believe the face of the Sphinx appears to represent the pharaoh Khafre from the Fourth Dynasty. The Sphinx in the foreground with the pyramids of Giza in the background is quite the sight to see.
What if I told you there is another pyramid older than the Great Pyramid of Giza? Yes! this is true and you can find it in the Saqqara Necropolis. The step pyramid here, also known as the Pyramid of Djoser is actually 200 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza. At 4,700 years, this is Egypt’s oldest surviving pyramid and was the inspiration for all other pyramids to follow. Saqqara served as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis and you can actually go inside a pyramid or two here.
The Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. From mummies to various statues and figurines and to treasures found in tombs, the museum is a showcase of the grandeur and greatness of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The highlight of the museum for me personally were the treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun. His golden funerary mask, sarcophagus and the numerous treasures found from his tomb are all displayed here.
It’s so hard to put down in words the details in his mask and sarcophagus, the intricacy of the jewelry and the sheer craftmanship of some of the other articles. I visited the exhibition not once but twice, taking a long time each time to look at everything! I couldn’t take pictures as they were not allowed. However, please believe me when I say that I have never seen anything like this in my life!
Grand Egyptian Museum that is located near the Pyramids of Giza will replace the Egyptian Museum. The shift is expected to happen in November of 2022 but please check before you go.
Situated along the Nile river and home to almost 10 million people, Cairo is a sprawling metropolis. It may be difficult to navigate through the crowds and traffic of Cairo on your own so try and do it with a guide.
Nestled in the heart of Cairo is the open bazaar of Khan El-Khalili. The bazaar is a maze upon maze of side roads and alleys. It houses all sorts of souvenirs, spices, clothing, jewelry and is bursting with life. Stick to the main road if you are going on your own. You can definitely bargain here. Check a few stores with similar products first to ensure you are getting the best price possible.
Aswan makes for a great base to visit the Philae Temple, Abu Simbel and Kom Ombo.
This temple is from the Ptolomaic Dynasty which was the last dynasty of ancient Egypt before it was conquered by the Romans. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis although her husband Osiris and son Horus were also worshiped here. The temple walls contain scenes from Egyptian mythology of Isis bringing Osiris back to life, giving birth to Horus, and mummifying Osiris after his death.
The approach to this temple is really beautiful. You have to hop on a boat to get here as the temple is on an island. Interestingly, this temple was dismantled and moved to its current island in the 1960s before the Aswan high dam was built. The construction of the low dam from earlier was already causing the temple to be submerged in water many months of the year.
The temple of Abu Simbel was my number one bucket list item in Egypt! Abu Simbel is located in the south of Egypt just a few miles away from the Sudanese border. King Ramesses II who reigned for over 66 years, built this temple almost 3000 years ago! 4 huge statues of King Ramesses dominates the façade of the main temple, while a smaller temple dedicated to his wife Nefertari and the Goddess Harthor is set to the side of the main temple.
Inside the main temple is a long hall with statues of Ramesses that leads to the inner temple with 4 statues. These belong to the gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah, and Ramesses II. Fascinatingly, on the ascension and birthday of Ramesses II the sun come through the halls and shines directly on him and the gods Ra and Amun-Ra. It does not however shine of Ptah because he is the god of the dead.
Even more fascinatingly, both temples were completely relocated in 1968 so that they would not flood when the high dam was constructed on the Nile River. Not only do both temples look exactly the way they were before, they even repositioned everything so that the sun still comes directly in to the room with the 4 statues on the two dates mentioned above!
Kom Ombo Temple
Kom Ombo is also a double temple. One half is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of fertility of the land along side the Nile river and the other half is dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus. One of the highlights here is medicine related carvings on the walls. There is a prescription along with pictures of surgical instruments. The other highlight is an ancient calendar.
Next to this site is a museum with mummified crocodiles that’s super fascinating!
Luxor was the capital of ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom. Back then it was known as Thebes. Today, it’s one of the best places to see some of the greatest sites and monuments of Egypt.
The Luxor temple is not dedicated to one god or gods like the other temples but is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship and is where pharaohs were crowed. The temple was built in the 1400 BC mainly by Ramesses II and Amenhotep III.
The main entrance of the temple is flanked by massive statues of Ramesses II (if you are catching on he is everywhere!). The first space after walking in is the court of Ramesses II followed by a row of columns that lead to the court of Amenhotep III. Towards the end is an antechamber that was later converted to a church by the Romans in 4th century AD.
If you face your back to the entrance with the Ramesses statues, you will see a row of sphinxes on either side of a road. This road is called the Avenue of the Sphinx and leads to Karnak temple. Back in the day, this road was used as a processional road when the statues of Mut and Amun were paraded from Karnak temple and brought to Luxor temple.
Karnak Temple Complex
Ah! Karnak! Probably my second favorite on this must see sites and places in Egypt list after Abu Simbel! Incidentally it is also the second most visited site after the pyramids. Karnak is the second largest temple complex in the world! (lots of seconds!) Other than pyramids, you can basically see everything here at Karnak including temples, obelisks, columns, sphinxes and statues. Over 30 pharaohs added something to this complex for over 2,000 years! My favorite part was the hypostyle hall right after the big statue of Ramesses II. The hypostyle hall is a 54,000-square-foot space opening up to the skies, featuring 134 giant carved columns on either side. Some of the columns still have art work preserved with colors. You truly feel small standing next to these massive columns.
Valley of the Kings
This is another must see site in Egypt and is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. The Valley of the Kings is where pharaoh were entombed along with their treasures. Ancient kings opted for this valley instead of pyramids as burial chambers as pyramids were getting looted. This valley, burrowed in to a desert mountain range provided for a better option as that time. There are over 60 discovered tombs here with more to be discovered. Not all discovered are open to the public either, but you can visit the few that are. What is open changes depending on restoration work. Interestingly, the Valley of the Kings is on the west side of the river bank because Egyptians believed the dead should be buried on the west where the sun sets.
Located on the west bank of Luxor, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut is another must visit site in Egypt. This is the temple of the second ever female pharaoh to rule Egypt. Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for nearly 20 years and was very successful. One distinct feature in her statues is that she is wearing a beard. She did this to prove she can rule like a man.
This particular mortuary temple is very unique in it’s style. It has three terraces connected with long ramps. You can also see temples dedicated to Hathor and Anubis here.
The resort town of Hurghada on the Red Sea coast of Egypt is a great way to relax and unwind after days of spending in the sun! It’s a popular winter getaway for Europeans. Some of the hotels here are all-inclusive.
Activities Not to Miss
Nile River Cruise
There is something very special about cruising down or up, the world’s largest river. You have 2 options here. You can do a 5-star cruise on a cruise ship or you can do a felucca which is a sail boat. The cruise ship of course is a more luxurious experience than the felucca, which is more open air sleeping.
Something I loved about the cruise was seeing everyday life of Egyptians along the Nile river banks as we passed little villages along the river. Passing the Esna lock was also a nice experience.
Click HERE to learn more about what it’s like on a Nile river cruise!
Hot Air Ballooning
There are a few spots around the world to go hot air ballooning and Luxor is one of them. What is unique about the Luxor experience is that you get to see some of the archeological sites from above. Like most hot air balloon experiences, this too is at sunrise. While a lot cheaper than hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey, in full disclosure, I think the Cappadocia experience is a lot better. Why? 1. the other worldly landscapes of Cappadocia is amazing and 2. There are a lot more balloons up in the air in Cappadocia than in Luxor which makes it a much more prettier site to see.
My recommendation is to go on a hot air balloon in Luxor if you haven’t been anywhere else, especially given how much cheaper it is here. If you have been on a hot air balloon, still go but just know that your former experience (especially if it was Cappadocia) may have been better.
The Red Sea is one of the most popular dive and snorkeling destinations in the world. I have been to a few coral reefs around the world and the red sea did not disappoint at all. It was nice to see such a lot of live coral and colorful fish.
Number of Days
I saw all these sites and places in 8-9 days. Feel free to add more sites if you have more time. I would recommend seeing the Pyramids of Giza and the sites in Luxor if you are pressed for time. Abu Simbel, although my favorite, is also a little harder to get to. It’s a 3 hour one-way trip from Aswan through the desert.
There are a few things you need to know about visiting Egypt so that you are fully prepared and can have a great time! See below for my must knows about visiting Egypt!
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