Top 5 Must-Sees in Egypt (that aren't the Great Pyramids)
by Melissa Fitzpatrick
When we think of Ancient history, one of the first places we think of is undoubtedly Egypt. This incredible country is home to some seriously impressive and awe-inspiring landmarks and artifacts from times gone by, and yet the number one sight we attribute to it is irrefutably The Great Pyramids, which attracts millions of visitors every year, even despite the political unrest of recent years. I fulfilled my childhood dream of visiting this breathtaking country back in 2017 and it quickly became my absolute favorite country to date. After experiencing much of what the country had to offer, I was shocked and saddened to find that only a small number of visitors bother to venture any further than Cairo during their visit. As impressive as the pyramids are, the purpose of this article is to highlight other sights in Egypt that are absolutely unmissable on any visit.
5. Luxor Temple
History buffs will know that Thebes was the capital of Ancient Egypt and in more recent, modern times we call this wondrous city Luxor. Often referred to as the world’s greatest open-air museum, Luxor has oodles to offer for everyone, even if your history knowledge could use a refresher. Two must-see landmarks on this top five list can be found in and around Luxor, including Luxor Temple. Found on the East Bank of the Nile River and at the heart of the modern town, Luxor Temple is a strikingly beautiful structure built by the New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses II. An Avenue of Sphinxes has almost completely been excavated that connects Luxor Temple with the Temple of Karnak, some 3 kilometers away. The deeper into the temple you go, the further you seemingly step back in time. I highly recommend visiting this landmark in the evening, as the lights bounce off the pylons to create dancing shadows for a truly unique experience.
4. Red Sea
Whether you’re an avid diver or just in need of some rest and relaxation, you simply cannot skip a visit to the Red Sea. Two of the most popular spots for tourists are Hurghada on the East coast and Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern point of the Sinai Peninsula. If you enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving, these destinations offer some of the best diving areas in the world. In Hurghada, head to Giftun Island for crystal waters and an abundance of sea life. Likewise, if you’re in Sharm el-Sheikh, head for Dahab or if you are a highly experienced diver looking for something more adventurous, head to the Blue Hole – but be warned, the Blue Hole is considered to be one of the most dangerous and deadliest dive sites in the world due to its unpredictable nature. Do you prefer to keep your feet in the sand? Don’t worry – there is still PLENTY on offer without getting your feet wet. Many of the resorts are located on the beachfront so feel free to grab a lounge chair and your favorite book for a day in the sun. If you feel like spoiling yourself, why not indulge in a spa day or head for the shopping malls for a bit of retail therapy. If you’re feeling adventurous you can rent an ATV for a day of dune bashing in the desert, all topped off with a Bedouin-style dinner under the stars. There is truly something for everyone, and the Red Sea is the perfect place to unwind after an exceptional journey through history.
3. Valley of the Kings/Valley of the Queens
We’re back in Luxor and for good reason. Located on the West Bank of Luxor, Valley of the Kings has been a royal burial site for more than 4000 years. The valley contains more than 60 royal tombs and each one is quite unique from the rest. This is where you will find the final resting place of famed boy-pharaoh King Tutankhamun, who’s mummy can still be viewed in his tomb to this day. Although the tombs are bare of any treasures, they are works of art in their own right and it’s worth visiting a few if you have the time. I found the memorial temple of Queen Hatshepsut to be overpoweringly impressive. It has almost a modern feel to it despite being thousands of years old, and it really makes you imagine just how glorious it would have been in its hey-day. For a unique perspective over the two Valley’s, opt for an early morning hot air balloon ride. Although it was an early start, it was absolutely worth it for the views over the valley, the Nile River and the city of Luxor, not to mention one of the best sunrises I have ever witnessed.
2. Cruising the Nile River
Hands down my all-time favorite experience of this entire journey and one that I simply cannot wait to do again (and again, and again) was cruising down the Nile River. Depending on your preferred style, you have a couple of options. If you’re adventurous and you like to ‘do how the locals do’, you should definitely cruise by Felucca, which is a traditional wooden sailing boat. Many reputable companies will have a second boat in tow equipped with bathroom and kitchen facilities so don’t worry, you won’t be starving or hanging your rear over the edge. Each night we docked on the bank and enjoyed the fresh breeze. During the day, we took some beach breaks and even dove off the top of our boat into the river for a cool off. If you prefer something a little more upmarket, you can go the five-star way on a Nile Cruiser with a private cabin with ensuite facilities, a restaurant, bar, a pool on the sundeck and entertainment. Either way, a Nile cruise is an absolute MUST do.
1. Abu Simbel
Drum roll please! The number one sight in Egypt that YOU. CANNOT. MISS. is the jaw-dropping, eye-popping Abu Simbel Temple located in Upper Egypt, next to Lake Nasser – the world’s largest artificial lake. This spectacular temple was built for Ramses II and features four colossal statues of the pharaoh at its entrance. Over time the temple was lost as a result of shifting desert sands but was rediscovered in 1813. Due to the risk of flooding and being lost forever the temple was carefully deconstructed and relocated to preserve it. What’s most impressive about Abu Simbel? The original temple was aligned perfectly so that on two specific days of the year – 21 February and 21 October, Ramses II’s birthday and coronation day respectively – the first morning rays illuminate the figure of Ramses II inside the hall. How’s that for precision? When the temples were reconstructed, they were done so with this in mind, so the phenomenon still occurs and is celebrated with a Sun Festival each year.
This list has barely scratched the surface of just how much this majestic country has to offer, but it’s a good start. If you’re planning a trip to Egypt, I hope you’ll consider extending your stay to experience as much as you possibly can.