The 10 best tours in Egypt

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.05.2023

Embark on a captivating journey through ancient wonders and modern marvels with our selection of the 10 best tours in Egypt. From exploring the iconic pyramids of Giza to cruising along the Nile River, these handpicked experiences will immerse you in the rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes of this enigmatic and historic country.

1. Take in the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx on a tour

The only survivors among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza (called al-Ahram in Arabic) are one of the best tours in Egypt. Standing at the end of a boulevard (Shari’ al-Ahram) on the desert plateau above the western edge of Giza, across the river from Cairo, they can frequently be glimpsed from the city centre, shimmering in the distance through the haze of heat and dust.

The most striking aspect of the Pyramids of Giza is their size. But even with all the facts and figures, it is still hard to believe that these ancient structures remain in such a good state of preservation. The vision and workmanship of people 4,500 years ago in creating structures that would be the world’s tallest until the 14th century is staggering.

Marvel at the pyramids in Giza, explore busy Cairo, sleep on a luxurious sleeper train and explore more temples close to Luxor. This tailor-made introduction to Egypt is fast-paced, with several nights in Cairo at the beginning and end, enabling you to see many fascinating sights in Egypt.

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sphinx pyramid giza egypt beautiful sunsets

Sphinx pyramid Giza ©Shutterstock

2. Sail along the Nile on a dahabeeyah

There are many ways to enjoy the Nile, but it is hard to beat a cruise, on a modern cruise boat, a dahabeeyah or a simple felucca. Nineteenth-century travellers, including Flaubert, Amelia Edwards, Pierre Loti, Florence Nightingale and many others, sailed the Nile on wooden boats with cabins, propelled by two Latin sails.

Some of these vessels, which are a lot smaller than the cruise boats, have been restored and have started sailing the Nile again; others are being built in the same style. They make the journey from Luxor to Aswan slowly, usually taking six or seven days, and stopping at sites such as Gebel Silsilla and Al-Kab where the bigger boats can’t stop.

It is more expensive to travel on a dahabeeyah than on a regular cruise boat but in this age of mass tourism it is a privilege to see Egypt in all its tranquillity

They have a chef on board who cooks fresh food bought daily from the markets and farmers along the river. There is no pool, no hot tubs and no nightly entertainment. However, the experience is truly unique. Like Nile cruises, shop around the operators and look at a selection of options.

With this tailor-made Cairo & a luxurious Dahabieh sailing cruise, you will explore Egypt at a leisurely pace on board a dahabieh. 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.

Cruise the Nile River ©Shutterstock

3. Luxor's West Bank tour

Luxor, 675km (420 miles) south of Cairo, is the most important and the most spectacular site in all of Egypt. Al-Uqsur (the Palaces) is the Arabic name for ancient Thebes, the splendid capital city of the New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) rulers, whose glory still glowed in the memories of classical writers a thousand years after its decline. This is, without a doubt, one of the best tours in Egypt.

Here the booty of foreign wars, tribute and taxes poured into the coffers of the pharaohs of the 18th and 19th dynasties, each of whom surpassed his predecessor in the construction of gorgeous temples and tombs, creating a concentration of monuments that rivals that of any imperial city before or since.

The west bank of the Nile was the necropolis of Thebes for more than 3,000 years. The New Kingdom pharaohs chose to be buried in the hidden Valley of the Kings, and they built their mortuary temples on the edge of the cultivation so that they would be remembered for eternity.

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.

Luxor Temple © Shutterstock

Luxor Temple © Shutterstock

4. Head to the great Abu Simbel temples on a tour

Many tourists include a day excursion to Abu Simbel, but increasingly, as the sites along the Nile get more and more inundated by tourists, the attraction of a few days of peace and quiet on the very unspoilt and unvisited Lake Nasser has grown immensely.

A few cruise boats tour the monuments around the lake – and in many cases, this is the only way of accessing the temples that were salvaged from the water and located on higher grounds.

With its smaller temples dedicated to Ramesses II and his Queen, Nefertari, Abu Simbel is one of Egypt’s most impressive sights. Dakkah, Maharraqah and Wadi As-sabu can only be visited by boat, as part of a cruise. Leaving from the Saad al Ali maritime station beside the Aswan High Dam, the cruise boats pass the temples of Kalabshah and Kertassi and the Bayt al-Wali, on the western shore, before heading into the open water.

Temple of Abu Simbel in Aswan, Egypt © Shutterstock

Temple of Abu Simbel in Aswan © Shutterstock

5. Take in Cairo on a city tour

A roaring metropolis of nearly 20 million people, Cairo is the cultural capital of the Arab world. Most visitors to Egypt spend at least a few days here, exploring its mediaeval mosques, sampling its fine museums – like the Egyptian Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Coptic Museum – and shopping in the labyrinthine Khan El Khalili bazaar.

A tour of the city’s historic mosques, madrasas and bazaars below the domes and minarets of the Citadel gives visitors a real taste of the Egyptian capital. Don’t miss the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Solar Boat Museum.

This tailor-made Five Star Egypt trip takes you 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.

Mosque of Al Rifai and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan - panoramic view of old town in Cairo

Mosque of Al Rifai and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan © Shutterstock

6. Take a city tour of Alexandria

If we are talking about the best tours in Egypt, Alexandria can't be missed. This is the second-largest city in Egypt. Set on the shores of the Mediterranean, it has long been a popular holiday spot for Cairenes, a refuge from landlocked Cairo’s searing summer heat.

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. Here, the Nile is no longer the lifeblood of the community; instead, the Mediterranean Sea and its maritime influences hold sway.

Central Alexandria is easily explored on foot. Alternatively, you might want to try the trams, which began operating in 1863. There are now 20 lines serving 140 stops. Useful routes are blue trams Nos 1 and 2 east to Montaza, and yellow trams Nos 15 and 25 along the Corniche west to Ras El-Tin and Anfushi.

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

The catacombs kom el shoqafa, top tourism sights in Alexandria © Shutterstock

7. Explore the pyramids of Dahshur and Saqqara

The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous symbol of Egypt. And among the country’s other highlights are the Step Pyramid and the decorated tombs of Saqqara, all accessible on an easy day trip from central Cairo.

If you are travelling on a tour, it is worth hiring an Egyptologist guide for a day to take you on a tour of Dahshur, Saqqara and the capital of Old Kingdom Egypt, Memphis. In the Saqqara area alone, in fact, no fewer than 15 royal pyramids have been excavated, creating a zone more than 5km (3 miles) long. And what has been discovered thus far is only a tiny fraction of what lies still buried under the sands, including – some where – the tomb of Imhotep, the great architect.

The relationship of all these monuments to Memphis is made clear by the fact that “Memphis' ' is derived from one of them: the Pyramid of Pepi I, which was called Men-Nefer, “established and beautiful”.

But the Saqqara monuments are only part of the Memphite necropolis, which actually extends north along the desert plateau beyond Giza to Abu Ruwash and southward to Dahshur and Mazghunah, a total distance of about 33km (20 miles). The two pyramids to be seen from Saqqara south across the desert in the distance are the Bent and Red pyramids at Dahshur.

Hypostyle hall at the Pyramid of Zoser - Saqqara, Egypt © Shutterstock

Explore the pyramids of Saqqara © Shutterstock

8. Go snorkelling and diving in the Red Sea

Egypt’s Red Sea coasts are a diver’s paradise, as their climate and geographical position make them ideal for the formation of coral, which grows on reefs called shaab or erg.

Mounds of coral build up like islands, the tips of which are barely skimmed by the waves. Each coral accretion consists of numerous polyps, growing together in a colony. When one colony dies, a new one grows on top, attached to the calcium skeletons of its defunct ancestors.

If you are diving the outer reefs on a tour, you also have a chance of seeing white tip sharks, a slim predators, feeding on small fish and crustaceans. In the deep south, sightings of hammerhead, grey reef and ocean white-tip sharks are not uncommon but don’t expect to see all of them on one trip. Nudibranchs, shellfish, shrimps and crabs,

For land-based diving, choose Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh or El Gouna. They serve the northern part of the Red Sea, which is also a paradise for wreck diving. El Gouna and Hurghada offer day trips to Shaab Abu Nuhas, where four wrecks are lined up against the reef, including the steamer Carnatic, which hit this infamous reef in 1869, and the more recent Giannis D, sunk in 1983.

Sharm El Sheikh serves the dive sites around the Sinai Peninsula, notably the Strait of Tiran and the wrecks of the Dunraven and the Thistlegorm. Safaga, some 60km (37 miles) south of Hurghada, offers dive excursions to reefs like Panorama and Abu Kefan, known for their prolific coral growth.

Red Sea in Ras Sedr Egypt © Shutterstock

Red Sea in Ras Sedr Egypt © Shutterstock

9. Head out on a White Desert safari

West of the string of oases that make up the Bahariya settlements is a large expanse of exposed limestone known as the White Desert. It's less popular, but still one of the best tours in Egypt. 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, spending 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. It is also sometimes included in itineraries travelling overland from Siwa to Cairo via Bahariya, again spending the night camping under the stars.

White Desert at Farafra in the Sahara of Egypt. Africa © Marcelo Alex/Shutterstock

White Desert at Farafra in the Sahara ©Shutterstock

10. Tour Aswan

Aswan. This slow-paced city in Upper Egypt is situated on the picturesque First Cataract, where the Nile is scattered with islands such as Elephantine. It is a great place to relax, with a superb winter climate. (See page 228)

Ivory, ebony, rose and gold are the defining colours of Aswan (215 km/135 miles south of Luxor). Here, a wild jumble of glistening igneous rocks, strewn across the Nile, creates narrows between the highlands of the Eastern Desert and the sandy wastes of the Sahara. The barrier to navigation is known as the First Cataract; it was once where the civilised world stopped.

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. While the town has grown immensely in recent years – this is not just a tourist centre but the lively capital of the governorate and an important university town.

Explore the history and culture of Egypt and its ancient rulers on this trip to the Best of Egypt. Start and end in Cairo and make your way down to Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Instead of domestic flights, you will hop on luxurious sleeper trains for your journey.

The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple in the town of Kom Ombo in Aswan Governorate, Upper Egypt © Shutterstock

The Temple of Kom Ombo in Aswan © Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.05.2023

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