See & Do
With thousands of years of history, Egypt has a rich array of attractions, from the Pyramids and the superb architecture of Luxor or Abu Simbel to amazing desert landscapes and some of the best beaches in the region.
Visiting Egypt without seeing the Pyramids at Giza is simply not an option. Arguably the greatest ancient site in the world, the complex includes the only surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Cheops.
Nearly 150m in height at construction over 4500 years ago the pyramid is truly an amazing feat of engineering. Countless books have been written about the structure's astrological and mathematical significance, only serving to heighten the mythical greatness of the Ancient Egyptian Empire.
The Statue of the Sphinx with its leonine body and Pharaoh's head draws almost as many visitors as the Great Pyramid. Although eroded by the wind it's as mysterious in its construction as its larger neighbour. According to some reports the poor creature's nose has traditionally been used for target practice by more than one passing army. The minor pyramids that surround the sites are likewise impressive and offer plenty of opportunities for exploration. South of this wondrous plateau lie two other lesser known pyramid complexes, Sakkara, home to Zoser's Step Pyramid and beautiful relief sculptures on other monuments, and Dashur, about 15km further south of Sakkara, where the Pink and Bent Pyramids are cheaper to enter and usually deserted.
One of the great rivers of the world, the Nile is an important part of the Egyptian experience. The lifeblood of Egypt the river runs the entire length of the country and its regular flooding (called the Inundation and now stopped by the dam at Aswan) was essential to the Ancients for the fertile soils it distributed on the river's banks.
It's hard to believe that the Ancient Egyptians never took the trouble to try and locate the Nile's source, but they did settle along hundred of kilometres of its length, establishing many great settlements and monuments on its banks. A cruise up the river is an unforgettable journey through unique sites of historical interest including Luxor, Thebes and the Valley of the Kings, and the marvellous temples of Abu Simbel.
Whether you take a short cruise on the river's muddy route through Cairo or take a pleasure trip lasting a couple of hours along the blue stretches of the river above Aswan you'll never forget the experience.
The Egyptian Museum
Located in Cairo's Midan Tahrir (Liberation Square), this is inarguably one of the world's great museums. Crammed with more than 100,000 antiquities from every period of Egyptian history there is almost too much to take in.
Highlights include the massive statue of Chephren, builder of the second pyramid at Giza and a room dedicated to Akhenaten, the so-called "heretic king" and husband of Nefertiti. The crowning jewels though are the Royal Mummy Room, which exhibits the bodies of 11 of Egypt's kings and queens, and the Tutankhamun Galleries, with the boy-king's stunning, solid gold death mask taking centre stage.
Open: daily 09h00-19h00 (Closed on Fridays 12h30-14h00). Admission EGP50. An extra fee of EGP80 applies if you want to see the mummies or take a camera into the museum.
Traditional Sufi Dancers have become part of Egyptian culture. Also known as the Whirling Dervishes the history of the dancers has its roots in Turkish Sufi Islam, who attain enlightenment and communion with Allah by spinning themselves into a trance like state.
Cairo's own troupe of Whirling Dervishes provide a magical (and still free) display of stupendous ability, colour, dance, and music among the ancient minarets and palaces of Islamic Cairo. Held every Wednesday and Saturday (unless they are on tour) by the footbridge at the Khan el-Khalili in Islamic Cairo. Performances are at 20h30 in winter, 21h30 in summer. Arrive early as the small square fills very quickly.
Luxor and Karnak
A mind-boggling array of religious and ceremonial architecture is located in the vast complex of the city of Thebes, where some of the best-preserved temples and ancient buildings in the country are located.
First established by Amenhotep III the site was added to by Pharaoh Rameses II and Alexander the Great. The city is a maze of ruined statues and temples. On the West Bank of the Nile stand the twin Colossuses of Memnon and the Valley of the Kings - where Tutankhamun was interred.
Karnak, is the largest Temple in Egypt and is particularly noteworthy for its colossal statues and columns. This is where one of the most spectacular sound and light shows in Egypt takes place. The beautifully illuminated night tour is well worth taking part in.
Tomb of Nefertari
Of the tombs that scatter the West Bank, the recently opened Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens is comparatively expensive (EGP100 only 150 tickets sold each day) to enter. The reason why soon becomes clear however.
Built under the auspices of the prolific Rameses II it seems likely that Nefertari was the most favoured of his wives and her tomb is as sumptuously decorated as any in Egypt. The wall paintings of Egyptian iconography and glyphs look as though they were done only yesterday so clear are the colours and detail.
It's undoubtedly the finest of all the tombs in the Valley of the Queens and even rivals the great mausoleums of the Valley of the Kings.
Note: The Tomb of Nefertari has been closed for restoration work for some time. For updates check with your local Egyptian tourist office.
Far down the Nile lies Abu Simbel, yet another of Rameses II grand architectural achievements. The Temple here is hewn from the solid rock of the mountainside and is guarded by four seated colossuses.
It's one of the most famous picture postcard images of Egypt. Abu Simbel is doubly awe-inspiring for its modern displacement by UNESCO to save this wonderful complex from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. On the way back to Aswan is another UNESCO success story, the Temple of Isis, moved from its similarly flooded island of Philae.
Old postcards show the columns rising out of the waters as tourists rowed around the remains, now the ruins can be seen on the overland route back to Aswan.
The largest of Egypt's oases lies on the western fringes of Egypt, less than 50km from the Libyan border.
The Siwa Oasis is peopled by the Berber tribe, desert dwellers for generations stretching back centuries. The Oasis is home to crystal clear hot and cold springs, date and olive groves, all amidst the rolling dunes of the Great Sea of Sand.
The journey from Cairo can be gruelling at ten hours by tarmac road via Marsa Matrouh, but it allows a unique opportunity to experience a genuine desert at ground level. If that doesn't appeal then it might be of use to know that an airport has just been constructed at Siwa. With the big appeal of the place being its very isolation however, Siwa will no doubt lose something of its charm with the march of progress.
The Western Desert, Gilf Kebir and Qattara Depression
Home to the eerie wind-blasted monoliths of the White Desert, the volcanic peaks of the Black Desert, and unlikely oases of hot springs and cool pools. Stunning colour clashes of lush green, deepest blue, and infinite yellow make Egypt's Western Desert a must-see for any tourist wanting a taste of adventure.
Bahariya and Farafra oases are the start points for short desert safaris. They lie five to six hours south-west of Cairo by tarmac road. The former is the site of one of the country's largest caches of mummies, discovered in 2001. Many of the exhumed examples are on display in the Oasis's Mummies Hall.
If you fancy something a bit more intrepid head for the incredibly bleak and desolate landscape of the Empty Quarter in the Southwest of Egypt's Western (or Libyan) Desert. Made famous by the film The English Patient, you can see for yourself the wonders of this most desolate of locations. Highlights in this most desolate landscape include the Cave of Swimmers and its intriguing cave drawings.
Desert trips out this far (the Southwest section of Egypt, close to the Sudanese border) take as much as two weeks and cost thousands of dollars. If you have the means, it'll be the adventure of a lifetime.
Red Sea Diving
The spectacular rose-tinted mountains of the Sinai Peninsula reach the Red Sea, world famous for its splendid coral and fish life.
It's one of the world's premier diving sites with Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada on the mainland the premier resorts. Beginners will find few places more pleasurable to learn the basics while for more accomplished divers opportunities exist to dive wrecks or swim with wildlife including the region's population of Hammerhead sharks and even the occasional Whale Shark, the largest fish in all the seas.
For those that would rather stick to terra firma (a case of the more firmer the less terror perhaps) the mountains offer opportunities to embark on climbing and hiking expeditions, providing a wonderful ground level glimpse of an ancient and unspoiled land.
Egypt's Mediterranean Coast is a favourite with tourists being eminently accessible for European holidaymakers and offering as much (if not more) sun and sand as you get anywhere in Spain or South France.
It's also slightly cooler and less arid than resorts further inland. As with anywhere in Egypt the region oozes with history. The city of Alexandria has its own fame, including stories of Cleopatra and of course the city's founder Alexander the Great, the Library once the world's centre of learning, and remains of the ancient port of Heraklion.
The region is also steeped in modern history and was the site of many battles during World War Two. About two hours west from Alexandria lies El Alamein, which holds cemeteries for soldiers of all nationalities who fell in battle. The area is also great for divers with several sunken architectural sites off the coast of