Best things to do in Egypt

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 24.01.2023

Egypt is the Nile, and the Nile is Egypt, or so the saying goes. But there is much more to this ancient land than that. Egypt has long exercised a potent spell over ordinary people. It has inspired poetry and literature, architecture and more. Here is our guide to the best things to do in Egypt.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.

1. Visit Abu Simbel

The monumental sun temple of Ramses II is the most spectacular of the Nubian antiquities that were relocated to higher ground on the shores of Lake Nasser. The mostly Nubian village of Abu Simbel south of Aswan, has some restaurants and cafés, as well as a few comfortable hotels. It is a relaxed kind of place, where people play backgammon in cafés or listen to Nubian music at night.

The lake looks beautiful at different times of the day, but it’s especially wonderful to visit the temple at the crack of dawn before the crowds arrive, or late afternoon.

Explore the history and culture of Egypt and its ancient rulers on this tailor-made trip to the best of Egypt throughout the country. Start and end in Cairo and make your way down to Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel.

Small Temple of Nefertari, Abu Simbel, Egypt © Shutterstock

Nefertari Temple in Abu Simbel, Egypt © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

2. Explore the Valley of the Kings

The descent into the Underworld, the Judgement of Osiris and the rebirth of the pharaoh are vividly depicted on the walls and ceilings of the royal tombs. After being embalmed and mummified, the New Kingdom pharaohs were transported in the solemn cortège Valley of the Kings. This tomb was hidden in a secluded wadi in the Theban hills.

The entrance to the valley is from the visitors' centre. Here, guides will take you through the history behind the Valley of Kings. A noddy train then takes visitors to the entrance of the valley, but it is easy enough to walk.


Hieroglyphs on the wall in King Tut's Tomb © bleung/Shutterstock

3. Taste local street food

Sold from pushcarts or in sit-down diners, Egyptian street food is tasty, cheap and nourishing. In the Middle Ages, Egyptian cuisine enjoyed a high reputation all over the Islamic empire. However, few now travel to Egypt in search of a culinary experience.

Nevertheless, Egyptians love to eat – and to share a meal. Street food in Egypt includes a variety of dishes, ranging from savoury snacks and sandwiches to sweet desserts and beverages. Some popular street food items in Egypt include:

  • Falafel: Deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices. Falafel is often served in a sandwich with vegetables and sauces.
  • Shawarma: Thin slices of grilled meat, usually chicken or lamb, served in pita bread with vegetables and sauces.
  • Koshary: A popular street food dish made from a combination of rice, lentils, and macaroni, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions.
  • Feteer: A type of savoury pastry made from thin layers of dough, filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Shawarma with chicken on wood table ©  MOUTASEM PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

Shawarma with chicken on wood table © MOUTASEM PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

4. Watch mesmerising bellydancing

The centuries-old tradition of raqs sharqi is best seen at clubs frequented by locals. Egyptian belly dancing is noted for its controlled and precise movements. Experiencing this artform will open another window into the country’s colourful culture.

Bellydancing is an ancient art form with roots in various cultures and traditions, and has evolved over time to include a range of styles and techniques. In Egypt, belly dancing is often associated with traditional celebrations and ceremonies, and is also a popular form of entertainment at restaurants and events.


Belly dancer in Egypt © Waleed Shah/Shutterstock

5. Discover the Karnak Temple

Dedicated to the ancient Theban Triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu, this vast complex reached its zenith during the New Kingdom. The Karnak Temple is an ancient temple complex located in Luxor. It is one of the largest and most impressive temple complexes in the world and is a must-see attraction for visitors to Egypt.

It is a vast complex comprising a number of temples, chapels, and other structures — surrounded by massive walls and gates. The Karnak Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visiting it is among the best things to do in Egypt. Especially for anyone interested in ancient history and architecture.

Experience Cairo with the pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian museum on this tailor-made Nile Cruise in Egypt. Highlights include Karnak temple, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut temple and an optional visit to Abu Simbel. Spend your last night in fascinating Cairo.


Karnak Temple, Egypt © serpetko/Shutterstock

6. Enjoying jeep or camel safaris is one of the most exciting things to do in Egypt

Make tracks into the dunes of the Western Desert or the canyons of Sinai. Overnight trips or major expeditions are easily arranged. Jeep safaris typically involve driving a 4x4 vehicle through the desert, stopping at various points of interest along the way. These safaris can be arranged as full-day or multi-day tours and can include visits to sites such as oases, sand dunes, and ancient ruins.

Camel safaris, on the other hand, involve riding a camel through the desert, often stopping at local villages and other points of interest along the way. Both jeep and camel safaris offer a unique way to experience the western desert and its culture, and can be tailored to suit the interests and preferences of the traveller.


Camel safari in Egypt © Banana Republic images/Shutterstock

7. Explore Islamic Cairo

Cairo is a city of a thousand minarets, with a rich and fascinating history. Head for Khan el-Khalili bazaar, or the Citadel to explore some of the city's many architectural treasures.

Centuries of Muslim rule have left Cairo with an astonishing legacy of Islamic architecture, and there are plenty of things to do in Egypt for those interested in history and culture.

Many mosques built around tombs of important religious figures have become sites of local pilgrimage. The tomb of Sayyida Zeinab is inside a large mosque and is one of the most popular. Up to a million people gather here in the first two weeks of October, when Sayyida is venerated.

Things not to miss: Detail of a wall, Khan el-Khalili souk, Cairo, Egypt.

Detail of a wall, Khan el-Khalili souk © Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

8. Take a feluccas cruise on the Nile

In Egypt, one of the best things to do is to hire a felucca —a traditional sailboat. Take a few hours to watch the sunset or for two-four day cruises with visits to temples along the way. Feluccas offer a unique and peaceful way to explore the Nile River and experience the natural beauty and culture of Egypt.

They usually carry six to eight passengers and two to three crew and the boatmen will also cook local meals (like foul, falafel, hummus and pitta bread) and advise where it is safe to swim.

You will find even more ideas for your African travels in our guide to 7 amazing African journeys.


Felucca boat, Nile river in Aswan, Egypt© Raimonds Romans raymoonds/Shutterstock

9. Drink local fresh Juice

Most towns have a sprinkling of juice bars or carts, where you can quench your thirst with whatever’s in season. From freshly pressed oranges and mangoes to strawberries and sugar cane. Egyptians will tell you that “Once you drink water from the Nile, you will always come back to Egypt”. This is a nice sentiment, however, it is best to stick to mineral water or fresh juices.

Freshly squeezed asir (juice) is excellent and very cheap. The most widely available juice is asir laymun (fresh lemon or lime), usually served sweetened unless you say otherwise. Usually there will also be a choice of asir burtuqan (freshly squeezed winter or summer oranges), moz (banana), gazar (carrot) and gawafa (sweet guava).

Fresh orange for sale in Morocco © LHamilton/Shutterstock

Drinking local juice from the fresh oranges is one of the best things to do in Egypt after a busy day © Shutterstock

10. Explore the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa

Beneath the Karmous quarter of Alexandria are the spookiest tombs in Egypt. With a bizarre fusion of pharaonic, Greek and Roman funerary motifs these tombs reflect the city’s ancient diversity.

The tombs constitute the largest Roman-period funerary complex in Egypt. They date from about the 2nd century AD, a time when the old religions began to fade and merge with one another.

The catacombs kom el shoqafa, top tourism sights in Alexandria Egypt ©  Justina Elgaafary/Shutterstock

Catacombs in Kom el-Shoqafa, Eegypt © Justina Elgaafary/Shutterstock

11. Camp in the White Desert

A tract of weird wind-eroded rock formations in Farafra Oasis is often visited on overnight safaris from the neighbouring oasis of Bahariya. Erosion by wind and rain over many thousands of years has sculpted these massive blocks into strange shapes that loom out of the desert landscape like monstrous white ghosts.

For visitors with 4x4 vehicles, the area makes a popular weekend excursion from Cairo. You'll want to spend a couple of nights camping in the desert. If you don’t have your own vehicle, the best way to see this remarkable area is to join an organised tour from Cairo.


White desert, Farafra, Egypt © sunsinger/Shutterstock

12. Take a hot air balloon ride

Enjoying a magnificent view of the Theban Necropolis on Luxor’s west bank is one of the best things to do in Egypt. Hot air balloon rides are a popular activity for tourists visiting Egypt, particularly in the Luxor region. Luxor is located in the southern part of the country and is known for its ancient ruins, including the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings.

Hot air balloon rides offer a unique and memorable way to see these sites and the surrounding countryside, as well as a chance to experience the peacefulness and beauty of the desert from a different perspective.


Colossi Memnon, Egypt © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

13. Visit the famous burial grounds in Abydos

One of the most ancient cult centres in Egypt, Abydos’ mortuary temple of Seti I contains magnificent bas-reliefs. In fact, they are the finest to have survived from the New Kingdom. Abydos is associated with the legend of Osiris.

From the Middle Kingdom onwards, every pharaoh as well as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims left some token of their presence or a false stele at Abydos. They hoped to gain favour with Osiris in his capacity as Judge of the Court of the Hereafter. The area is thus a mass of funeral stele, burial grounds, former temples and memorials.


Seti Temple in Abydos, Egypt © akimov konstantin/Shutterstock

14. Relax in Aswan

Aswan has been Egypt’s gateway to Nubia since ancient times, and its islands, bazaars and riverside restaurants can keep you happy in between excursions to sites such as Abu Simbel. Aswan, for many at the end of a Nile trip, is a laid-back, warm place that is good for lingering for a few days.

The souqs are more relaxed and less pushy than in other Egyptian towns, and there is definitely a hint of Africa in the souvenirs for sale. There are plenty of things to do in Egypt's southernmost city, including taking a felucca around the islands, sniffing the scents of the botanical garden and listening to the Nubian children sing is the perfect way to watch the sun go down behind the desert on the other side.

Try our tailor-made tour to five-star Egypt through the ancient wonders of Giza, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. Start and end your trip in beautiful Cairo, exploring the surroundings before heading down to Aswan: you will spend four nights on a luxurious Nile cruise ship, discovering ancient sites such as Abu Simbel.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Aswan


Nile river, Aswan, Egypt © Marcel Bakker/Shutterstock

15. See the sunrise from Mount Sinai

This awesome peak is revered as the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. There are two principal routes to the top and it takes about two-and-a-half-hours each way. The longer and less steep route, Siket El Bashait, can also be negotiated by camel. The steeper, more direct route, Siket Sayidna Musa, is up the 3,750 “steps of penitence”. This route is comprised of rough stone steps that were likely constructed in the 6th or 7th century.

One of the things to do in Egypt is to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza and take in the view from the top. The view from the top is magnificent, particularly at dawn or sunset. In fact, many visitors book tours that arrive at approximately 1 am at the foot of the mountain in order to climb to the top to watch the sunrise.

Mount Sinai, Egypt © Anton Kozlovsky/Shutterstock

Mount Sinai, Egypt © Anton Kozlovsky/Shutterstock

16. Visit the Egyptian Museum

Home to Tutankhamun’s treasures, monumental statues from the Old Kingdom and the Amarna era, a dozen royal mummies and countless other artefacts. The museum was first commissioned in 1835 by the government, which was desperate to stop the widespread plundering and looting of the country’s many archaeological sites.

There’s much to see at the Egyptian Museum, including wonderful objects from the lesser-known Royal Tombs. These were discovered un-plundered at Tanis in the northern Delta in 1939. No-one should miss anything if time is not a consideration, but visitors in a hurry should turn left through the entrance to see the treasures of the Old Kingdom.


Golden Pharoah Tutankhamun mask, Egypt © Sean M Smith/Shutterstock

17. Take a tour of the pyramids of Dahshur

Less famous than the Giza trio but no less fascinating – and far less crowded. The Bent Pyramid, the resting place of Snofru, has a distinctive angled top. The peace and quiet beauty of the palm groves around Dahshur have attracted many of Cairo’s professional class, who have built rural retreats here.

The most pleasant time of year to visit the site is mid-winter, when a lake forms within an artificial embankment below the Black Pyramid. The Black Pyramid was built of brick but unused by Amenemhet III one of Egypt’s most colourful kings. The dark colour that gives it its name arises from the fact that it has been systematically stripped of its original white limestone covering.

The view of the pyramid across the lake is one of the most charming in Egypt, worth the 5km drive from Saqqara. Its inscribed capstone is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

If you're looking for more non-obvious destinations for your trip to Africa, read our guide to the 10 spectacular sights off the beaten track in Middle East and North Africa.

Dahshur, Egypt

Dahshur © Shutterstock

Dreaming of seeing the ancient sites of the world? Don't miss our guide to the lost cities of the world.

18. Enjoy scuba diving in Ras Mohammed National Park

Egypt’s oldest marine nature park boasts spectacular shark reefs and the wreck of the Dunraven. Ras Mohammed is known for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and rich marine life, and is a popular destination for scuba diving. The park is home to a variety of coral reefs, shipwrecks, and other underwater attractions, making it an ideal destination for diving enthusiasts.

Scuba diving in Ras Mohammed requires a diving license, which can be obtained through a certified diving school. There are a number of dive schools and centres located in the area that offer diving courses and guided dives. Dive sites in the park range in depth and difficulty, so there is something for divers of all levels.

Find more accommodation options to stay near the Ras Mohammed National Park


Scuba divers entering a shipwreck Dunraven © Anna segeren/Shutterstock

19. Explore Alexandria

There’s plenty to discover in this Mediterranean port city. Alexandria has fabulous seafood, vintage coffee houses, a dazzling new library and the chance to dive into the ruins of Cleopatra’s Palace. A visit to Alexandria, even if only for a couple of days, is the perfect counterbalance to the intensity of Cairo. With its string of beaches and Mediterranean outlook, Alexandria is much more laid-back and a good place to relax.

Today’s Alexandria does feature an interesting crop of museums, and over the past few years the city, which has more than 5.2 million inhabitants and is the Mediterranean’s largest urban centre, has seen considerable cosmetic rejuvenation and has recovered a little of its former prestige.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Alexandria


Library in Alexandria, Egypt © Shutterstock

20. Visit St Catherine’s Monastery

Secluded beneath Mount Sinai, St Catherine’s contains several holy relics. For example, it harbours the burning bush that appeared to Moses in the Bible. It is considered one of the oldest and most important monasteries in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was founded in the 6th century and is named after St Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian martyr who was believed to be buried at the site.

The monastery is known for its rich history and cultural significance. Is known as well for its beautiful architecture and stunning location at the foot of Mount Sinai. It is an important centre of pilgrimage for Christians.

Travelling to Egypt is popular not only because of its rich culture and wide range of activities to suit all tastes but also because of its affordability. In our guide to 20 of the cheapest places to travel you will find even more attractive destinations.


St Catherine monastery in Sinai, Egypt © Mildax/Shutterstock

21. See the Giza Pyraminds and the Great Sphinx

The world’s most famous monuments have inspired scholarly and crackpot speculations for centuries. The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a list of the most impressive and iconic structures and natural wonders in the world as determined by ancient Greek and Roman scholars.

The Great Sphinx is a large stone statue located near the pyramids. It is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, and is believed to have been carved around 2500 BC. The Great Sphinx is one of the largest and most well-known statues in the world, and is a symbol of ancient Egyptian culture.

Marvel at the pyramids in Giza, explore busy Cairo, sleep on a luxurious sleeper train and explore more temples close to Luxor on this tailor-made introduction to Egypt.


Seeing the Sphinx Pyramid is one of the essential things to do in Egypt © Raimonds Romans raymoonds/Shutterstock

22. Relax on South Sinai beaches

Sinai chill-out zone, renowned for its diving, beach cafés, and camel and jeep safaris into the rugged interior. With its two coasts, oases, mountains and historic sites, South Sinai is a popular destination. The wide sandy beach of Ras Sedr is a favourite stopping place, where there are several hotels. Many Cairenes have holiday homes here.

Sharm el-Sheikh is a city located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. It is a popular vacation destination known for the most beautiful beaches in Egypt, clear waters, and warm climate. The city is located on the Red Sea and is known for its excellent scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities.

For more information about this Egyptian destination read our guide to exploring Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Sharm el-Sheikh

Dahab, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Mountains and Coast of red sea

Dahab, Sinai peninsula, Egypt © Shutterstock

23. Enjoy the springs in Siwa Oasis

With its unique culture, hilltop citadel and spring-fed pools, Siwa is rated by many as the best of Egypt’s oases. Lying 780km west of Cairo, the most remote and perhaps the most engaging of Egypt’s oases, Siwa is unusual in Egypt in that it has a distinct culture and its own language, related to the Berber languages of North Africa.

Among the orchards, palm and olive groves, lie numerous bubbling springs, and indeed, the water is so plentiful at Siwa that large salty lakes have formed and drainage is a major problem. Follow the track to the Temple of Jupiter Amun and you will reach Ain Juba, the ancient Cleopatra’s Spring or Fountain of the Sun, whose crystal-clear waters are said to have purifying properties.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Siwa

Siwa Oasis, Egypt

Siwa oasis, Egypt © Shutterstock

24. Go on a Nile cruise

A cruise on the Nile is still a good way both to visit the temples and ancient sites and to sample the peaceful life along the river. You’ll see local farmers, fishermen, small villages and beautiful views of the deserts and hills lining the Nile, and if you’re lucky, have clear skies for spectacular sunsets.

Hundreds of ships now cruise along the Nile following more or less the same itinerary but offering a wide choice of accommodation, suitable for every budget. It is advisable to book cruises before you leave for Egypt as it is usually cheaper to buy them as part of a package.

Explore Egypt at a leisurely pace on board a dahabieh, a traditional sailing ship on our tailor-made Cairo & a luxurious Dahabieh sailing cruise. In Cairo, visit the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, and in Giza, the pyramids; cruise to world-renowned sites alongside lesser-known treasures, such as Luxor’s tombs, el Kab and Gebel Silsileh’s Temple of Horemheb.


Nile cruise in Egypt © Shutterstock

25. Visit Royal Jewelry Museum

The Royal Jewelry Museum is a museum located in Cairo, Egypt. It is also known as the Cairo Jewelry Museum or the Egyptian Museum of Jewelry. The museum is home to a collection of precious and semi-precious stones, gold and silver jewellery, and other decorative objects that were used by the royal families of Egypt over the centuries.

Visitors to the Royal Jewelry Museum can explore the museum's collection and learn about the history and cultural significance of the pieces on display. The museum also offers guided tours and educational programs for those interested in learning more about the history of jewellery in Egypt. Visiting the Royal Jewelry Museum is one of the best things to do in Egypt for anyone interested in history, art, and jewellery.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Cairo

Cairo national museum in Cairo, Egypt © Shutterstock

Egyptian jewellery © Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Egypt? For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books. Also, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Egypt. For inspiration use the itineraries from our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Egypt without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 24.01.2023

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