Embark on an extraordinary adventure to discover Egypt and its ancient wonders. Get ready to be transported back in time as we explore the unparalleled splendor of these iconic landmarks!
Discover Egypt – a nation of vast history and iconic landmarks
Egypt, “Pharaoh land”, is shrouded in mystery dating back through its antiquity, as locals and tourists alike try to uncover the clues left by ancient civilizations to try and piece together the tales of the past.
As a first-time visitor, it can be overwhelming planning your Egypt trip, with many of its beautiful cities offering different experiences and relics, all of which tell a different story.
This blog will help you discover Egypt the best way to ensure you leave no stone unturned in your quest for ancient answers. These seven landmarks, which follow the famed river Nile down the vast nation, will ensure you enjoy tombs, temples, and pyramids on your holiday, so it feels like you are walking with the pharaohs.
The practical information is also included so you can navigate your way through the many archaeological sites efficiently and deepen your knowledge of ancient Egypt as you do so.
Let’s look at Egypt’s unmissable attractions that should be on any traveler’s bucket list!
Discover Egypt: 7 Ancient Treasures Along The Nile You Must Visit
1. Pyramids of Giza And Sphinx
Our first discovery in Egypt is the highlight of many tourist trips and a bucket list activity. The last remaining ancient wonder of the world offers beauty and mystery in equal share.
The Pyramids of Giza are iconic and helped to put Egypt on the world map. The three structures were built with the objective of being elaborate burial complexes for the famous pharaohs: Menkaure, Khafre, and Khufu.
You can wander around all three pyramids once you have entered the Giza Plateau and enter inside all three for an extra cost. The Great Pyramid is the middle pyramid and closest to the entrance point, so it should be the first place you explore.
Foreigners are required to pay 360 EGP (£9) to enter the site, which includes access throughout the complex, except for entering inside the pyramids. You will have the opportunity to ride a camel or horse cart, but this will cost extra, and the locals are notorious for scamming tourists. Booking an official tour is advisable if you want a smoother experience.
The ancient wonders open at 7am in the summer, and an early morning visit will help you to avoid the midday heat and crowds.
Make sure you visit the iconic sphinx statue on your way out of the Giza plateau. It is thought that the landmark was constructed around 1500 BCE by the Pharaoh Khafre, and mythology suggests that the sphinxes’ face is modeled on his face.
Most tourists enjoy taking the ‘popular selfie’ pretending to kiss the mythical stone structure. You can’t miss the sphinx on your way to the exit after exploring the pyramids.
2. Saqqara Necropolis
Before heading down south along the river Nile, there is another pyramid stop, but this time at Saqqara Necropolis, which is home to the oldest pyramid in the world.
The ‘Step Pyramid of Djoser’ was first constructed over 4000 years ago by Pharaoh Djoser, wanting to mark his reign with a prestigious burial ritual. Ancient architect ‘Imhotep designed the step pyramid, which would go on to become iconic and a starting point for the many pyramids to follow in later years.
As with the Pyramids of Giza, the step pyramid is still standing strong, displaying the high level of skills that the ancient civilizations possessed to build such sturdy structures. Visitors to the Saqqara can enter inside the pyramid and wander the tunneled chambers, looking for clues from yesteryear.
Saqqara Necropolis is more than just a pyramid. The ancient burial ground was the final resting place for many important Egyptians from the former capital, ‘Memphis’; therefore, it is home to tombs, temples, less famous pyramids, and some beautiful landscapes.
The Necropolis is home to some beautiful mastaba tombs, and interestingly, more keep on getting discovered by excavation projects. In 2023, four new tombs were discovered, with a 4300 mummy inside one.
As a foreigner, you can expect to pay 60 EGP (£1.50) to enter the site and an extra small charge to enter inside Djoser’s pyramid. You should be prepared for locals hanging around the site offering to take your photos or give you some information. Visiting on an official tour helps to reduce any hassle.
Saqqara opens at 8am daily, but many tourists visit in the afternoon after the Giza plateau. This option helps you avoid the busy crowds at Giza, with this archaeological site being much quieter all year round. It is around 20km from Giza, which takes around 45 minutes due to the poorly maintained roads. You will struggle to find good public transport options.
3. Karnak Temple
Luxor is home to some of the world’s most famous temples, and the most iconic place of worship sits on the East Bank of the city.
Karnak Temple is instantly recognizable from global tourists who catch a glimpse of its impressive ‘Great Hypostyle Hall,’ which is home to 134 giant columns made from sandstone, most with original hieroglyphics carved into them. Some reach over 20 meters tall and provide the perfect backdrop for visitors searching for a postcard snap.
Karnak Temple was developed over the course of one thousand years, which made it a very unique structure within Ancient Egypt. The design of the temple complex was influenced by over 30 successive pharaohs.
There are four main areas of the Karnak complex, but only one is currently open to the public to explore: The Precinct of Amun-Re.
The largest of the areas within the complex is home to statues, original hieroglyphics, and sphinxes across its 61-acre zone. The entrance is guarded by giant colossi statues, which help to give you an idea of the scale of the place when it was thriving and one of the most popular religious buildings worldwide.
The Karnak complex is known as an open-air museum, so it is open to the sun. You should consider visiting early in the morning or on an evening at sunset to avoid midday temperatures and sun exposure.
The entrance fees for Karnak Temple are 220 EGP (£5.50), which includes access to all areas of the site. Most Luxor East Bank tours include both Karnak and Luxor Temple, along with other spots, so this makes for an efficient way of exploring the East side of the city.
4. Valley of the Kings
Luxor is commonly known as an open-air museum because of its abundant ancient relics spread across the city. The Valley of the Kings lies on the west bank of the Nile and is one of the most famous spots in Egypt.
The ancient necropolis is the final resting place for some of the most important pharaohs from past civilizations. There have been 63 tombs discovered so far, with excavation projects expecting to find more in the future. The majority of the rock-cut tombs were built for pharaohs. However, some were reserved for royal families and high-ranking officials.
It is thought that the Valley of the Kings served as an active burial ground for over 500 years between the 16th and 11th Century BC. The location of the site was chosen due to its secluded location carved into the surrounding hills, although over the millenia, looters have managed to rob most of the treasure during antiquity.
Visitors can only enter ten of the tombs on site currently, with the highlight for many being the tomb of Tutankhamun, as it is home to his original mummy, which is 3300 years old.
The most pristine tomb is ‘Ramses IV – KV2’, which is bright with original hieroglyphics and vibrant color schemes. It is by far the best-conditioned tomb on site, but its entrance fee reflects it, with it being more expensive than the other tombs.
The standard entrance cost for foreigners is 600 EGP (£15), but the total costs can add up when you start adding extra tombs to your site tour. Be warned, you do have to purchase the extra tickets at the office in the main ticket office building, so make sure you purchase any required tickets before you enter the necropolis.
5. Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple is another picturesque temple in the city which was once called ‘Thebes’, as the ancient capital of Egypt. This temple is also situated on the East Bank of the Nile, and it was famously connected to Karnak Temple by the ‘avenues of sphinx’ in yesteryear.
The Avenue of the Sphinxes is a 2.7km walkway that is flanked on both sides by hundreds of sphinx statues. Today, you can still see some of the original statues, although they are damaged. Once upon a time, it would have been a lavish walkway gleaming with gold and silver.
Another one of the iconic features of Luxor Temple are the Giant statues of Ramses II, which appear to guard the temple. Two colossi statues sit on either side of the entrance, with several overstanding statues alongside them covering the width of the ancient structure.
An obelisk stands tall just in front of the statues, although it appears asymmetrical, as a result of its twin obelisk being donated to Paris in 1836.
Alexander the Great is one of many famous historical figures who have had influence over Luxor Temple, along with Tutankhamun and Ramses II. They have all contributed towards its expansion since it was first constructed in 1400 BCE.
It costs foreigners 160 EGP (£4) to enter inside the Luxor Temple complex, however, if you want to visit on an official tour it will cost more. This is a good venue to explore with a knowledgeable local, as there is a lot of depth to the history of the landmark.
If you are staying on the East Bank, Luxor Temple is within walking distance from most accommodation options on the East side of the Nile. You will also pass many highly rated restaurants, such as ‘Sofra’, on your way to the remarkable temple.
Interestingly, there is a mosque right next to Luxor Temple, so don’t be surprised if you hear the call to prayer while wandering amongst the pharaohs.
6. Island Temple of Philae
Aswan in Southern Egypt is home to some of Egypt’s most historical landmarks, and none are as picturesque as the island Temple of Philae. Sitting on Agilkia Island, the iconic temple is also known as the Temple of Isis, as it was built to honour the goddess ‘Isis’.
Agilkia Island was not the original home of Philae Temple when it was first constructed in ancient times. In recent decades, the temple was under threat of sinking due to the construction of the high dam. UNESCO and the Egyptian Government successfully completed a relocation project in the 1960s to save the iconic structure.
Tourists can enjoy exploring the whole island complex, which is home to various landmarks, including the Kiosk of Trajan, which stands out to tourists with its grand size and open-plan columns.
To discover the beauty of this Egyptian temple, you need to head to the Philae Marina and catch a taxi boat up the Nile to Agilkia Island, which takes around 15 minutes to make the crossing. You do have to negotiate the taxi-boat fare with the boatmen at the marina, so it can work out cheaper to travel in a group or official tour.
You can experience the mighty temple in a unique way if you head there for the ‘sounds and lights show’, which is performed each evening when the sun sets. The history of the landmark is showcased through bright lights, loud music, and clever storytelling.
7. Abu Simbel Temple
Egypt’s most southern wonder is the last on our list, ‘Abu Simbel Temple’. This iconic structure is located very close to the Sudan border and is a very popular day trip from Aswan.
If you are planning on visiting Abu Simbel during your Aswan stay, you should expect an early alarm. Due to tensions near the Sudan border, official tours like to visit the Temple early in the morning and return to Aswan around lunchtime. This means that most visitors get treated to a sunrise over the vast desert landscape en route to Abu Simbel.
The iconic southern wonder was constructed back in 1274BC, and took over thirty years to complete, however this was not the end of the work carried out on Abu Simbel.
With waters rising from the construction of Aswan High Dam, the Temple was under threat of rising waters like Philae Temple, so it also benefited from UNESCO aid to complete the relocation in 1964. The temple was moved back from the banks of the river by 200 meters to protect it from damage, and although it was only a very small area to move, the project was one of the most complex archaeological projects in history.
There are two temples on site, which Ramses II built. The Grand Temple for himself, along with a smaller one for his wife ‘Queen Nefertari’. Her smaller temple features four grand colossi statues at its entrance and was carved into the mountains.
Most tours will allow you to spend two or three hours on site, which usually includes a group educational section and free time to wander off the beaten track and explore the grandeur of the landmark.
The latest entrance cost for international visitors is 500 EGP (£12.50), which includes the entrance only. Transport or tours will add additional costs; however, it is one of the most rewarding trips in the whole of Egypt!
Five Unusual Facts About Egypt
Egypt is full of surprises, as you will find out as you head down the Nile. Secrets and stories from ancient times are still uncovered in modern times. Here are some unusual facts about Egypt and its ancient traditions.
- Egyptians would often play board games to cure boredom during soaring temperatures when they were unable to achieve anything of note.
- Cats were worshipped by Egypt’s ancient civilizations and protected at all costs. You can still find adoration for the feline community throughout Egypt today.
- Sphinx statues were built by the ancient Egyptians to guard sacred sites, and the most famous one is the Great Sphinx of Giza, which was built by Pharaoh Khafre to protect his tomb inside his pyramid.
- Mummification was only used for the wealthy Egyptians as it was a very expensive process.
- Ancient Egyptians were said to have created the first toothpaste by mixing powdered pumice, salt, and mint to clean their teeth.
Getting around Egypt
Egypt is over 1 million km², and consists mainly of desert, however, most of its 110 million population live close to the river Nile. There are several ways to travel across the country between the cities.
Internal flights are a viable option when traveling across Egypt, as most flights are only around an hour in duration and are very reasonable if booked far enough in advance.
Sleeper trains have operated between Cairo and Luxor/Aswan for decades, and although they aren’t the most efficient or cleanest, they get you from A to B safely. You shouldn’t expect much sleep with this mode of transport, so don’t book an all-day tour of Luxor’s West Bank for the day you arrive in Luxor. The prices on the trains are more expensive for foreigners, so they are similar to flight prices.
Buses are a popular choice for locals travelling between cities in Egypt, and are the cheapest option, however, they are the least comfortable and take the longest time. If you are on a shorter trip to Egypt, this option isn’t great.
Travelling Around Egyptian Cities
There is an array of options for traversing the cities in Egypt, including off-the-beaten-track options such as sailing felucca boats, riding tuk-tuks, and catching a ride from horse carts. You will find many of these options are common for scams on international tourists, so it is advisable to do your research before arriving, especially at spots such as Giza and Luxor.
Helpful Tips For Your Egypt Trip
Egypt reaches very high temperatures in the summer months, so it is advisable to visit in spring or autumn to enjoy some warm weather without ruining your exploration. Plan your day trips around morning visits, especially at larger sites such as the Valley of the Kings or Giza Plateau. Luxor and Aswan are considerably hotter than Cairo, especially in the summer months.
You should carry small denominations of local currency with you, as it strengthens your negotiations when making purchases. You can expect to have to haggle for most things in Egypt, except for official tours or entry into the sites. It is card payment only for all of the famous landmarks, so make sure you carry a credit card also.
If comfort is your choice when traveling, then you should consider internal flights to travel between the different cities. They are cheap if you book in advance. The sleeper trains and buses are reasonable but take longer and can be overwhelming for some visitors.
In Cairo, you should use Uber to get around the city. The service is efficient and safe and always offers a fixed rate. Taxis, tuk-tuks, and other methods of transport are all risky in Egyptian cities, with locals trying their luck for extra cash right until the end of your interaction.
Learning basic Arabic phrases such as ‘no thank you’, ‘goodbye’, and ‘how much’ will save you some awkward encounters on the streets of Luxor, where the hassle culture is infamous.
Tour guides and other locals offering a service will expect a tip from you, so it is a good idea to have a small amount of currency handy for this.
About The Author Of “Discover Egypt: 7 Ancient Treasures Along The Nile You Must Visit”
Tom Henty is a UK-based travel blogger from the North East of England who is curious about everything related to travel. He is going to visit over 100 countries in his lifetime and has currently visited 42 countries. He loves solo traveling to meet new travelers from around the world.
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