With 5,000 years of history Egypt is a country of discovery. From pyramids to medieval bazaars, desertscapes and marine life, it has the power to dazzle even the most demanding traveller. The majority of Egyptians are concentrated near the River Nile, Cairo, followed by Luxor, Aswan and Port Said.
Starting with Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, the three Pyramids are rightly the most extraordinary tourist attractions. The largest of the three, The Great Pyramid of Khufu, towering at around 150 metres above sand, was thought to be constructed around 2500BC and the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is made up of some 2.3 million limestone blocks expertly placed using a vast network of ramps and considered to be an impressive feat of engineering. Another amazing symbol of the Egyptian Gods – the 75 metre long Sphinx – is also present today despite being battered by various events in history.
The rest of the ancient sites near Cairo include Saqqara, 30km from town on the banks of the Nile located on a palm fringed field. This necropolis houses tombs from the early Dynastic period built in 27th Century BC. Dahshur is a second necropolis within reach of Cairo’s southern limits, quieter by marvelous to see the Red Pyramid predating the Great Pyramid of Giza and the first ‘smooth sided’ Egyptian pyramid. Maidum is over 50 km south of Dahshur but within easy reach of Cairo. Thought to be built as a grand tomb for the Third Dynasty’s last Pharaoh in around 2600BC.
Cairo, Egypt’s capital contains attractions of biblical proportions. Dive into ancient treasures buried in corners of the Egyptian museum, the Islamic treasures of mosques, labyrinthine alleyways of the Khan el Khallili market, to its Coptic quarter.
Nile Cruising and boating: a Nile Cruise to replicate a truly romantic journey evoking the ancient past. Most visitors book a classic seven night Nile cruise, which gives travellers the chance to witness the most iconic temples and ancient sites with an experienced guide. The cost of the cruise depends greatly on the vessel and type of cabin, they range from three star vessels to five star luxury ships such as the Oberoi with large suites. Other options include classic vessels like British built vessel like the 1918 steamer SS Misr.
Hurghada is located on the African stretch of the Red Sea Coastline. Originally a humble fishing village, it is now a thriving port with schools, hospitals, private apartments and villas for rent which cater to both Egyptian and foreign tourists. It made its name as a diving centre due to its offshore reefs and wrecks, so it is an important hub for diving trips.
The nightlife is renowned, having a shorefront Ministry of Sound, with a dancefloor spilling onto the beach, its main attraction is a 20 km strip of walkway lined with shallow beach, ideal for families to parade along and enjoy endless cafes and shops. Accommodation ranges from budget to five star luxury. Being just a 4 hour drive from the Nile, it is easy to combine with a visit to the great sites of Luxor.
Further south is Sahl Hasheesh, a giant bay of sandy beaches and coral reefs with a resort that has over 1,600 hotel rooms and nearly 500 residential units. Golf is on the agenda, as is a new marina, new hotels, entertainment venues and a new promenade.
Taba Heights is located at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba, in a stunning 5km stretch of beach backed by mountains. A purpose built resort has big brand hotels like Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Hilton and Club Med Sinai Bay. The town of Taba has a laid back vibe with a good selection of bars and restaurants cafes and shops with access to diving and coral reefs.
Dahab a one-time Bedouin village has emerged from a hippy hang out into a mainstream resort with a cluster of luxury accommodation along a calm lagoon like Le Meridien and the Swiss Inn Resort. There’s still a thriving village for those who want to delve into the cafe culture and a smattering of affordable small hotels. Just north of the centre is The Blue Hole, a giant marine paradise attracting divers from other resorts like Sharm El Sheikh.
The Nile Valley, home to the iconic pyramids, Valley of the Kings, the Sphinx and the temples of Luxor and Karnak – the Nile Valley is a mythical experience and the Nile river allows you to go through thousands of years of history. It flows upwards via Giza, Cairo and towards Alexandria, where the Delta reaches the Mediterranean Sea.
Upper Luxor and Aswan (Lower Egypt) is the most fertile section with the best preserved archeological gems of Luxor and Karnak and the newly opened Valley of the Sphinx. Modern day Luxor is simply an unmissable destination. Once known as the City of Thebes, it has the best preserved archeological sites in Egypt, notably the Valley of the Kings dated back to the 16th century and 11th century BC preserved by the hot dry climate. The Temple of Luxor, on the east bank, and the Theban necropolis on the west are just two of the ancient wonders drawing crowds since the 1920s. Gardens and colonial era buildings such as the Winter Palace Hotel, a vibrant shopping district and copius souvenir stalls make it a haggler’s paradise.
Souvenirs like papyrus artwork, spices, incense, jewellery and essential oils are available at every hotel and resort or museum. Be prepared for a lenghty sales pitch and lots of haggling and tea drinking. As a rule of thumb offer one third of the asking price before bartering up to around half.
There are outstanding restaurants which use local meats and vegetables and fresh fish from the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Fresh fruit juices are available everywhere as are alcoholic beverages as you’d find in any country. For dessert don’t miss the pastries made with honey and oil with a drink of hibiscus tea.
Egypt’s main airports are Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh, Marsa Alam, Taba and Marsa Matruh.
Visas are obtainable on arrival, costing £15 for British passport holders, although visitors to Sharm El Sheikh and southern Sinai are exempt if they remain in the resort and stay no more than 14 days. Passports must be valid for at least six months.
Currency: The Egyptian pound.
Egypt is a year round destination. Europe’s winter is best time to explore the classical sites, when tempertures along the Nile hover in the mid 20s. During summer, Red Sea tempertures often hit the high 30s, while the White (north) coast is substantially cooler.