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Things to see and do
Discover the Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings, in the Theban Hills, is where the mummified remains of many Egyptian pharaohs were interred. Although stripped of their contents centuries ago, the tombs still display fantastic wall paintings depicting the lives of the pharaohs. The most famous tomb is that of Tutankhamun, discovered in pristine condition by Howard Carter in 1922.
Marvel at the 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 dates back to around 2500BC. Wander the site to truly understand the enormity of the building task, or take in the sights by horse or camel, not forgetting to visit the Great Sphinx nearby.
Wander the 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 of the stunning Lake Nasser. Discovered covered in sand by the Swiss explorer Burckhardt in 1813, they were later moved as part of a massive UNESCO-funded project to save them from the rising water of the lake.
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 Roman Amphitheatre’s mosaics or the modern Bibliotecha and museums. Take a walk along the corniche to work up an appetite for a dinner of freshly-caught fish.
Kick back in Aswan
The former frontier town of Aswan is a popular stopping-point for cruise liners, and the feluccas drifting along the Nile at sunset is one of Egypt’s enduring sights. Attractions include Elephantine Island and Elnabatat’s Island (the ‘island of plants’), upon which Lord Kitchener built a beautiful botanical garden in the 1890s that’s still open to visitors today.
Experience 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.
Take in the Old Kingdom at Saqqara and Dahshur
Few visitors know before arriving in Egypt that the country’s Old Kingdom precedes the building of the Pyramids of Giza by many centuries. Acting as the necropolis to the ancient capital of Memphis, Saqqara’s crowning glory is the stepped Pyramid of Djoser. Nearby Dahshur is famous for its Bent Pyramid and a huge field of royal tombs.
Traverse the 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 Ismailiya comes a good second. The sight of giant tankers plying the narrow channel between the Red Sea with the Mediterranean is something you don’t forget in a hurry.
Test your skills as a camel trader
Not the place to buy souvenirs, frenetic (and fragrant) trading takes place most mornings from 0700 at the Camel market (Souq al-Gamaal). An entertaining assault on the senses, Camels are transported from Sudan to Birqash 35 km (20 miles) west of Cairo, before being prodded and poked by potential buyers.
Dive the Red Sea
The Red Sea justly deserves its worldwide reputation for underwater adventure. Teeming with colourful marine life, the crystalline waters are landscaped with coral and dramatic drop-offs. The Ras Mohamed National Park, a headland 20 km (12 miles) west of Sharm el-Sheikh, shows off this underwater world at its best.
Relax at Siwa Oasis
One of six oases in the vast Western Desert, and a good base for desert exploration, Siwa is a peaceful haven of palm-fringed saltwater lakes. Home to the Oracle Temple of Amun visited by Alexander the Great, Siwa is dramatically crowned by the 13th-century fortress ruins of Shali, best climbed at sunrise or sunset to avoid the fierce desert heat.
Play a round of golf
While it’s not a sport readily associated with Egypt, the country has made 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.
Get lost in 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 teahouse; in business for over 200 years, it is the ultimate place to people watch.
Go on pilgrimage to Mount Sinai
For centuries, Christian pilgrims have made the journey to Mount Sinai to witness the sunrise over the desert landscape. The three-hour trek is breathtaking, but if it sounds too ambitious, stay overnight at the UNESCO-listed 6th-century Saint Catherine’s Monastery, hire a camel and walk down in leisure.
Explore the temples at Luxor
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. Make the most of the experience by taking a gods-eye view in a hot-air balloon.
Take to the Nile
Ply the river between Luxor and Aswan for that quintessential Nile experience. Egrets flock to the water’s edge and Egypt’s ancient archaeological wonders, including the temple of Kom Ombo, unfold like a storybook along the bank. Lasting between three and five days, take a traditional white-sailed felucca, or splash out on a dahabiya, a luxury furnished wooden barge.
Snorkel in Sharm el-Sheik
Diving is an ever-popular way to see the dazzling marine life and coral, however Egypt’s spectacular coastline is accessible even 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.