Egypt tourist attractions are like nothing you will find anywhere else in the world. Ancient Egypt, before its ultimate collapse some 1,700 years ago, was the Land of the Pharaohs, and monuments like the legendary Great Pyramids and Sphinx, and the many royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings stand as a commemoration to all of the Egyptian pharaohs who once ruled this ancient land.
Airport: Cairo International Airport (CAI) — the primary entry point and the hub of the national carrier Egyptair
Country Code: 20
Credit Cards: Visa and Master Card are popular in Egypt. Debit cards linked to credit cards may not work in some situations.
Currency: Egyptian pound (EGP)
Departure Tax: There is no departure tax levied in Egypt.
Drives on the: Right
Electricity: 220 - 240 V (German, French and Russian configuration)
Ethnic Groups: Egyptian, Abazas, Turks, Greeks, Bedouin Arab tribes
Location: In northern Africa; east of Libya, north of Sudan, west of the Red Sea, and south of the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt links two continents, stretching across the northeastern corner of Africa and the southwestern edge of Asia.
Official Language(s): Arabic
Religion: Islam is the predominant religion. All types of Christianity are also represented.
Time Zone: EET (UTC+2)
Tipping: Tipping is expected, whether service is good or not. Tip in local currency. Transfers, luggage assistance, and guided tours are all tipped per journey. Restaurant service is expected at 10%.
Egypt’s traditional tourist season runs from late November to late February, seen by most as the best time to visit, though in recent years Luxor and Aswan have only really been busy with tourists during the peak months of December and January. The Nile Valley is balmy throughout this winter season, although Cairo can be overcast and chilly. Winter is also the busiest period for the Sinai resorts, while Hurghada is active year round. Aside from the Easter vacation, when there is a spike in tourism, March or April are also good times to visit, with a pleasant climate.
In May the heat is still tolerable but, after that, Egyptians rich enough to do so migrate to Alex and the coastal resorts. From June to September the south and desert are ferociously hot and the pollution in Cairo is at its worst, with only the coast offering a respite from the heat. During this time, sightseeing is best limited to early morning or evening. October into early November is perhaps the best time of all to visit, with an easily manageable climate and crowds.
Weather and tourism apart, the Islamic calendar and its related festivals can affect your travel. The most critical factor is Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting, which can be problematic for eating and transport, though the festive evenings do much to compensate.
Home of the ancient Pharaohs, Egypt is a dazzling destination of temples and tombs that wow all who visit. It's not all historic treasures though. With vast tracts of desert, superb scuba diving, and the famed Nile River there's something for everyone here. Beach lovers head to the Sinai to soak up the sun, while archaeology fans will have a field day in Luxor. Cairo is the megalopolis that can't be beaten for city slickers, while Siwa oasis and the southern town of Aswan offer a slice of the slow pace of the countryside. Egypt has so much for travelers to see and do; it's the perfect country for a mix of activities combining culture, adventure, and relaxation.
Pyramids of Giza
The last surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza are one of the world's most recognizable landmarks. Built as tombs for the mighty Pharaohs and guarded by the enigmatic Sphinx, Giza's pyramid complex has awed travelers down through the ages and had archaeologists (and a fair few conspiracy theorists) scratching their heads over how they were built for centuries. Today, these megalithic memorials to dead kings are still as wondrous a sight as they ever were. An undeniable highlight of any Egypt trip, Giza's pyramids should not be missed.
Luxor's Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings
Famed for the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut, the Nile-side town of Luxor in Upper Egypt has a glut of tourist attractions. This is ancient Thebes, powerbase of the New Kingdom pharaohs, and home to more sights than most can see on one visit. While the East Bank brims with vibrant souk action, the quieter West Bank is home to a bundle of tombs and temples that have been called the biggest open-air museum in the world. Spend a few days here exploring the colorful wall art of the tombs and gazing in awe at the colossal columns in the temples, and you'll see why Luxor continues to fascinate historians and archaeologists.
Egypt's most tranquil town is Aswan, set upon the winding curves of the Nile. Backed by orange-hued dunes this is the perfect place to stop and unwind for a few days and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere. Take the river ferry across to Elephantine Island and stroll the colorful streets of the Nubian villages. Ride a camel to the desert monastery of St. Simeon on the East Bank. Or just drink endless cups of tea on one of the riverboat restaurants, while watching the lateen-sailed feluccas drift past.
Even in a country festooned with temples, Abu Simbel is something special. This is Ramses II's great temple, adorned with colossal statuary standing guard outside, and with an interior sumptuously decorated with wall paintings. Justly famous for its megalithic proportions, Abu Simbel is also known for the incredible feat, which saw the entire temple moved from its original setting - set to disappear under the water because of the Aswan dam - during the 1960s in a massive UNESCO operation that took four years.
Egypt's kookiest natural wonder is the White Desert where surreally shaped chalk mountains have created what looks like a snowy wonderland in the middle of the arid sand. The landscapes here look like something out of a science fiction movie with blindingly white boulders and iceberg-like pinnacles. For desert fans and adventurers, this is the ultimate weird playground, while anybody who's had their fill of temples and tombs will enjoy this spectacular natural scenery.
River Nile Cruise
Cruising the Nile is a popular way of visiting upper Egypt. The Nile River has been Egypt’s lifeline since ancient times and there is no better way to trace the passage of Egypt’s history than to follow the course of the Nile. Almost all Egyptian cruise ships travel the Luxor-Aswan route which is safe, scenic and terminates at two of Egypt’s most important towns. Taking a Felucca down the Nile is an adventurous option. Feluccas are sail boats that have been used on the Nile since antiquity. A Felucca is not quite as comfortable as a luxury cruise ship but nothing can beat sailing in a quiet rig that was designed thousands of years ago.
Red Sea Reef
The Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt, is one of the most beautiful places in the world to go diving. The waters of the Red Sea are renowned for their spectacular visibility and features some of the most exotic seascapes. With its wide expanse of coral formation on the reefs, it is home to thousands of different sea creatures. Red Sea beach resorts are located on both sides of the sea, on the east side and part of the Sinai peninsula is the long established Sharm el Sheikh and its neo-hippy counterpart, Dahab. On the west coast of the Red Sea lies relatively old and touristy Hurghada and a cluster of new resort towns.
The Islamic calendar determines most holidays and festivals in Egypt; however, several Coptic Christian holidays are widely celebrated. For instance, Sham Al-Nessim is celebrated on Coptic Easter. This holiday itself, however, has Pharaonic origins as a celebration of the arrival of spring.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar-based calendar so Islamic holidays shift 10-11 days relative to the Western calendar each year. For this reason, the Islamic holidays will cycle through the entire Western year over 30 years. Days also begin at sundown on the Islamic calendar so the festivities usually begin on the evening before you might expect them.
Ramadan in Egypt
By far the most crucial holiday in Egypt and also the most likely to affect your time here is Ramadan. The holiday is named for the month of the Islamic calendar in which it occurs as a celebration of the first part of the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed. Most Muslims fast (avoiding food, drink, sex, cigarettes) from sunrise to sunset throughout the month. Ramadan is generally a time of heightened piety. Muslims who might drink otherwise will often refrain and there is a more considerable effort to adhere to traditional values.
The fast can affect schedules with restaurants and shops staying closed during the middle of the day and opening after the fast is broken at sundown. Opening hours for tourism sites may shift as well, closing one hour earlier to allow employees to get home to break the fast.
Traveling during Ramadan does have its perks. Getting into the rhythm of the fast can be an enriching experience. After sunset, the streets come alive and people stay out celebrating and eating late into the night. If you walk in the street around sundown there is a good chance that you will be invited to eat with a group of fast breakers. Non-Muslims are not expected to observe the fast but should be conscientious of the fact that most people around them are fasting. Refraining from smoking and eating in public is considered polite.
Other Islamic Holidays
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan and in the cities is marked by big celebrations. Many Egyptians who can afford it take this time to travel. Eid al-Adha is equally or more important, marking the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son in the name of God. Families remember the sheep that he ultimately sacrificed instead of his son with their own sacrificial slaughter. There will be sheep and other livestock tethered all over the cities and villages in the weeks leading up to the holiday, waiting to be slaughtered after the morning prayers when the holiday arrives. A few weeks after Eid al-Adha is the Islamic New Year. The last major Islamic holiday is Moulid al-Nabi, the Prophet’s Birthday.
all of these holidays are widely observed. Many bars and restaurants will refrain from serving alcohol during these holidays as it is illegal for them to serve Egyptian nationals. Hotels will likely not be affected by these changes though.
In addition to the Moulid al-Nabi, which is celebrated across the Muslim world, there are many other smaller, local moulids that celebrate the lives of Muslim saints or holy men. These events are supposedly intended to obtain blessings from the saint being honored, but in practice, they are huge social events. Large moulids may attracted crowds in the millions, dancing, chanting, selling goods, and generally having a good time. These events are the most prominent displays of Egyptian popular culture in the entire year.
Cairo, Tanta, and Luxor all host large moulids. Al-Hussein, Sayeda Zeinab and Imam Al-Shafi’i Mosques all host large moulids in Cairo at different points in the years, but there are many smaller celebrations. If you are lucky to hear about one, keep in mind that these festivals are raucous, crowded affairs, full of music, ritual prayers, and dancing.
Coptic Christmas and Coptic Easter are both national holidays. Coptic Christmas is on January 7th and in recent years more of the trappings of the Western Christmas celebration have been making it to Egypt. You may see more Santa hats, Christmas lights, and Christmas trees than you ever expected to see in Egypt around this time of year.
Coptic Easter also coincides with a much older holiday that traces its roots back to Pharaonic times called Sham al-Nessim. The name means ‘sniffing the breeze’ and it is a celebration of the arrival of spring that usually takes place in April. The holiday carries some traditions that might be familiar as they parallel the Western celebration of Easter, such as egg painting. In general, Sham al-Nessim is celebrated outdoors with families enjoying picnics in green spaces and enjoying eating specific foods like a type of pickled fish called fesheekh.
The Souks, or the local markets, and the more massive bazaars are among the most remarkable attractions of Egypt. If you ask anybody, a local or a tourist visiting Egypt, about the most famous and the largest bazaar in Egypt, the answer would be the same; it is the Khan El Khalili Market in the Hussein District in Cairo.
This 500 years old maze of streets, lanes, stores, and shops occupies the center of Islamic Cairo and forming one of the most famous touristic markets in the world.
Although Khan El Khan El Khalili would appear in the beginning as if it only serves the needs of the tourists who are looking gifts and souvenirs to take with them back home.
However, if the guests go deeper inside the lanes and narrow streets of the bazaar they will find small workshops producing beautiful jewelry, glass, copper, and brassware where the tourists can get excellent prices from the artisans.
Egypt has many other remarkable markets all over different cities and several regions like the markets of Alexandria, Portsaid, since it is a tax-free zone, the Luxor touristic and local markets, the Aswan touristic markets, and many other markets in Cairo and all over Egypt.
Among the most important behaviors that tourists, or even Egyptians, have to learn before shopping in one of these markets, especially the touristic ones, is how to bargain and how to negotiate to get the best price.
Bargaining has always been a craft in itself in many countries from all over the world and it is the art of getting the storekeeper to sell you the most excellent products with the best prices possible through many known techniques.
In the contrary of the traditional nature of the local markets, or the souks as they call them in Arabic, many larger cities in Egypt like Cairo and Alexandria have some large malls and shopping centers like City Stars, Nile Hilton Mall, Nile Mall, and Geneina Mall in Cairo, San Stefano Mall, Zahran Mall, and Grand Plaza Mall in Alexandria where globally recognized brand names can be found in a much elegant atmosphere for shopping.
Food and Drink of Egypt
The Egypt cuisine combines elements from across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Greece and France, reflecting the diverse influences that have shaped her history. The influences vary across the country. Mediterranean influence is more apparent in Alexandria, while in Aswan the influence of Nubian culture and Sudan is more prominent.
There is a wide variety of offerings available ranging from the cheap food carts and street food that serve Egypt’s working class to fancy restaurants that cater solely to tourists and the upper class.
In the streets of any Egyptian street, it is easy to find an assortment of small cafes and food carts that serve cheap meals for as little as a 5 or 6 LE. The staples of the Egyptian diet, fuul, taamiya, and bread (‘aish, which means both ‘bread’ and ‘life’ in Egyptian Arabic), are easy to find. Cafes and small restaurants make several another type of typical Egyptian fare easy to find at affordable prices.
Bread is eaten with all meals and comes as two types of flatbread: ‘aish Baladi, prepared from coarse whole wheat flour, and ‘aish Shamsi, cooked with more excellent white flour.
Fuul is slow cooked, mashed fava bean, often eaten as a satisfying first meal in the form of sandwiches made with flatbread, tomatoes, onions, spices, and chopped hard-boiled eggs.
Taamiya is the Egyptian word for falafel, the fried patties of spices and chickpeas that are popular throughout the Middle East. It is usually served in sandwiches with tomatoes, pickles, and tahina (sauce made from sesame paste).
Koshary is another traditional Egyptian staple that is available in simple restaurants identifiable by the giant vats of pasta and rice seen in the windows. It consists of pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils, and fried onions topped with a tomato-garlic sauce. Even a large portion only costs about 15 LE.
Fiteer is something like a cross between a pizza and pancakes. The soft-layered pastry is prepared with a wide variety of toppings ranging from cheese and vegetables to sugar or honey. Ranging from 10 LE up to around 30 LE, depending on the size and toppings.
Shawarma is chopped chicken or lamb that is usually cooked on brazers visible from the street. Served on several types of bread, this is a delicious (and superior) version of the doner kebabs that are widely available in most European cities. Prices between 15 and 30 LE depending on size.
For small snacks, there are also nut and sweet shops (ma’la) available on most major streets. They offer a variety of seeds and nuts, as well as candies, chocolate, and drinks. Fruit is also excellent in Egypt. You will see the fruit of the season on sale on the side of the roads. It is generally very cheap, except for apple, which is imported.
Food is small restaurants is generally safe to eat. Food carts can be more suspect and we recommend never eating any food that is not hot or prepared for your order.
Beyond the basic Egyptian staples, a wide variety of food is available in more expensive restaurants that cater to the middle class and tourists.
Classic Egyptian offering in restaurants includes kofta or kebab with an assortment of salads and dips (hummus, tahina, babaganoug, etc...) or grilled chicken. Stuffed pigeon is also a popular dish. The small birds are stuff with spiced rice or wheat. Mahshee, vegetables or vine leaves stuffed with rice, is also a popular appetizer along with other mezze (plates of olives or potatoes and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways).
In Cairo’s wealthier neighborhoods, there are also a variety of upscale restaurants that serve different cuisines from around the world. These restaurants tend to be more expensive and the prices can reach over 200 LE a person.
Fish and seafood restaurants are also popular, especially in Alexandria, Aswan, and on the coast, where there is more ready access to the sea or Lake Nasser. Nile perch, snapper, sea bass, squid or shrimp will usually be sold fresh out of an icebox by the kilo and then grilled or fried.
Tea (shai) is the national drink of Egypt. Invitations to sit and drink tea together are an important part of the culture. Egyptians generally drink tea sweetened with large amount of sugar.
Turkish style coffee (ahwa) is also very popular. Tea and coffee are usually offered together at the countless small cafes that are scattered along any Egyptian street, called ahwa. These cafes also serve shisha, which is popular throughout Egypt. Traditionally, these places were reserved for men, but this custom has loosened in recent decades and it is not uncommon to see women in these cafes now.
Fresh juice shops are a delightful staple of every Egyptian city. Egypt produces a large amount of fruit and the people have quite a taste for fresh juice. These shops are found all over the place, marked by the displays of in-season fruit hanging in front of them. The juice is a refreshing treat at any time, but especially during the heat of the summer. Depending on the season, the juices available may include orange (bortu’an), banana (moz), mango (manga), strawberry (farawla) and several others. The juice from crushed sugar cane (‘asab) is also very popular, catering to the Egyptian sweet tooth.
Alcohol is not widely consumed openly given the predominance of Islam in Egypt, but it is not difficult to find. Beer is the most popular beverage and it can easily be purchased in stores scattered around the cities. There are also Egyptian wines available, produced at a winery near Alexandria. Egyptian spirits are also available, but they are generally to be avoided. Buy duty free on the way into the country. There is a 3 bottle liquor allowance upon arrival.
In smaller towns, it may be more difficult to find a shop selling beer and other alcoholic drinks, especially in more conservative places like the oases of the Western Desert. Drinking in public and public drunkenness are not socially acceptable and should be avoided.