Egypt things to see and do

Tourist offices

Egyptian Tourist Authority in the USA

45 Rockefeller Plaza #2305, New York, 10111, United States
Tel: (212) 332 2570
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1800.
www.egypt.travel

Egyptian State Tourist Office in the UK

Egyptian House, 3rd Floor, 170 Piccadilly, London, W1V 9EJ, United Kingdom
Tel: (020) 7493 5283.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0930-1630.
www.egypt.travel

Things to see and do

Abu Simbel temples

Dedicated to the Pharaoh Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), and his beloved queen Nefertari, the two temples at Abu Simbel stand on the shores looking out over Lake Nasser. They were discovered covered in sand by the Swiss explorer Burckhardt in 1813, and later moved as part of an UNESCO-funded project when the Aswan Dam was built and the waters of the lake rose significantly.

Alexandria

Nestling the Mediterranean, Egypt's "second city" has a French colonial atmosphere and a relaxed Greek influence, a mix of continental patisseries, art deco architecture and crowded sandy beaches in summer. Don’t miss the mosaics in the Roman Amphitheatre, the hi-tech Bibliotecha, and the new underwater museum filled with Cleopatra’s sunken relics. A walk along the corniche is a good way to work up an appetite for a freshly-caught fish for dinner.

Aswan

The former frontier town of Aswan is a popular stopping-point for cruise liners, and the feluccas (wooden boats) drifting along the river at sunset is one of Egypt’s enduring sights. Attractions include Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile, and the nearby Island of Plants upon which Lord Horatio Kitchener built a beautiful botanical garden in the 1890s.

Camel market (Souq al-Gamaal), Birqash

Not the place to buy your souvenirs, but this frenetic (and certainly fragrant) trading takes place most mornings (0700-1400) and is an entertaining assault on the senses. Camels are transported from Sudan, and prodded and poked by potential purchasers. The market is located around 35km (21 miles) from Cairo on the Western Desert fringe.

City of gold

Kom Ombo ('city of gold'), 30km (18 miles) north of Aswan is a largely Nubian settlement, known for its Temple of Haroeris and Sobek. Another common destination on Nile cruises is Edfu, famed for the largest and best-preserved Pharaonic Temple in Egypt, the Temple of Horus.

Diving in the Red Sea

The Red Sea justly deserves its worldwide reputation for underwater adventure. Teeming with a colourful marine life, the crystal waters are landscaped with coral and dramatic drop-offs. The Ras Mohamed National Park, a headland 20km west of Sharm el-Sheikh, shows off the underwater world at its best.

Go golfing

While it's not a sport readily associated with Egypt, the country is now making quite a golfing name for itself and offers around 20 courses. They range from locations within sight of Cairo's Pyramids – the most famous being the Mena House Oberoi 18-hole course - to settings alongside the Nile and the Red Sea.

Islamic Cairo

It’s bustling and busy in ancient Islamic Cairo, but the crowds thin out along the serene street of Al-Muezz Al-Din, with spot-lit mosques and mausoleums lining the pedestrianised cobbled street. A local will, doubtless, offer to take you up a minaret; ascend the one at Al-Azhar Mosque – home to the world’s oldest university – for panoramic views.

Khan-el Khalili bazaar

Take a trip to Cairo's famous labyrinthine, medieval Khan-el Khalili bazaar, where haggling for spices, copper, perfume and trinkets has been refined into an art form. Don't miss Fishawi's tea house; in business for over 200 years, it is the ultimate place to people-watch.

Luxor temples

Straddling the Nile, Luxor is the site of the ancient city of Thebes. On the east bank lies the spectacular Temple of Karnak featuring epic statues, obelisks and lotus-columned halls. In the city centre is Luxor Temple, spectacular when lit up at night. Rise above the land of the Pharaohs in a hot-air balloon and take a god's-eye view of the colossal works of ancient mortals.

Mount Sinai

For centuries, pilgrims of different denominations have been making the journey up historic Mount Sinai to witness the sunrise across the desert landscape. The three-hour trek is breathtaking, but if it sounds too ambitious, stay overnight at St Catherine Monastery, hire a camel and walk down in leisure.

Pyramids of Giza

Egypt’s main tourist attraction has long been the Giza Necropolis on the edge of Cairo. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid is the oldest here, dating back to around 2550BC and the reign of Khufu. It is also the largest pyramid, originally standing 146m (479ft) high. Nearby are the pyramids of Khafre (Khufu’s son) and the considerably smaller Menkaure’s (his grandson). Meanwhile, the Great Sphinx watches over all. Once crowded with tourists, the site has been eerily quiet since the first revolution. A visit now brings with it the unusual privilege of having the pyramids practically to yourself.

River Nile cruise

Plying the river between Luxor and Aswan, boats provide the quintessential Nile experience. They generally last between three and five days. Egrets flock to the water's edge and Egypt's ancient archaeological wonders including Kom Ombo unfold like a storybook along the bank. White-sailed feluccas ply the river, or splash out for a trip on a dahabiya, a luxury furnished wooden boat.

Saqqara

Few visitors know before arriving in Egypt that the country's Old Kingdom precedes the building of the pyramids by many centuries. Saqqara was the ancient capital's necropolis, crowned by the Step Pyramid. Nearby Dahshur is famous for the Bent Pyramid and a huge field of royal tombs.

Siwa Oasis

One of six oases in the vast Western Desert, Siwa is a peaceful haven with palm-fringed salt-water lakes, and the famous Oracle of the Temple of Amun once visited by Alexander the Great. The town is dramatically crowned by 13th-century fortress ruins of Shali, best climbed at sunrise or sunset mainly due to the fierce sun. Siwa is also a good base to make excursions into the desert by jeep.

Snorkelling in Sharm el-Sheik

Although diving is the best way to see the dazzling marine life and coral, Egypt's spectacular coastline is accessible without a wetsuit. Simply wade out with a mask or snorkel or take a glass-bottomed boat from the shores of Sharm el-Sheik and the fish will come to you.

Suez Canal

The best way to see this great feat of modern engineering is by boat; the view from the Peace Bridge that crosses the canal near Isma'iliya, is a good second best. The sight of giant tankers plying the narrow channel between the Red Sea with the Mediterranean is simply surreal.

Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is a limestone valley situated in the Theban Hills where the mummified bodies of many Egyptian pharaohs were interred. The area marks a period in ancient Egyptian history in which the pharaohs abandoned the pyramid style and chose instead tombs dug within limestone in order to preserve the mummies for eternity and prevent grave robbing. The tombs, although stripped of their contents centuries ago, still display fantastic wall paintings depicting the lives of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt, down to the minutest detail. The most famous tomb is that of Tutankhamun, discovered in pristine condition by Howard Carter in 1922. The many treasures found in the tomb are now exhibited in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.

Edited by Jane Duru
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