Great Sphinx one of the highlights of visiting the pyramids

Egypt Travel Guide

This travel guide for Egypt highlights the top sites, how to get there, safety, scams, and logistics to help you plan your trip.

This travel guide and the posts on Egypt are updated as of January 2022.

I’ve been to Egypt twice now, first visiting Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel and being blown away by all the amazing history here. I just revisited Cairo (how can you not see the pyramids twice if you have the chance), then went to Sharm el-Sheik, to go scuba diving, before visiting the sites in Alexandria. Each city offering a unique twist to the beauty of Egypt. And each offering more than I expected.

One of the things that surprised me each time I visited, on top of all the amazing sites, is how friendly Egyptians are and how much they love Americans. It makes visiting so pleasant (although admittedly a little overwhelming).

I had people waving and shouting to me from shops and sidewalks welcoming me to Egypt, people wanting to help me when I was lost, and people just wanting to talk with me. And as crazy as it sounds, be prepared that many will want to take selfies with you. Even posing their kids with you!

Riding camels while visiting the pyramids.

Top Attractions In Egypt

Cairo

Cairo, Egypt’s capital, formally known as the Arab Republic of Egypt, has an extremely rich and diverse history, rightfully earning its reputation as a bucket-list travel destination.

Greater Cairo is not only the home of the only wonder of the ancient world left standing, the Great Pyramid of Giza, it’s also where the Holy family took refuge after fleeing from Bethlehem, and where the Romans built the fortress of Babylon on the Nile, all before being conquered by the Fatimid caliphs of Tunisia in 969 and officially becoming Cairo.

It’s dirty and noisy, the traffic is insane, with horns constantly honking, and the people can be very overwhelming, as they all seem to want to talk to you, but it also has so much to offer, making it 100% worth it.

Pyramids and Great Sphinx

The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx are without a doubt the top attractions in Greater Cairo. Located just outside downtown, in Giza, the views are mesmerizing and their mysteries captivating.

Pyramids of Giza, a top site in Egypt Travel Guide
Pyramids of Giza
The Sphinx, a top site in Egypt Travel Guide
The Sphinx

Also make sure to visit their predecessors in the royal necropolis nearby, including the first true smooth-sided pyramid, built by the father of the pharaoh that built the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Central Cairo

Central Cairo is a great base for exploring the sites in Greater Cairo, and where you can experience typical Egyptian life firsthand. The city can be overwhelming, but it’s worth a little excess to explore the area and meet the people that live here.

El-Tahrir Square, at its heart, is notorious for the Arab Spring protests in 2011. You can also find the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) here, which opened in 2021. This is also where the original Egyptian Museum is located, although it is now closed.

The new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which will be the largest archeological museum in the world, will open in Giza, near the pyramids, in late 2021.

And when the noise and chaos of Cairo becomes too much, you can walk to quieter Gezira Island for the panoramic view from Cairo Tower, and a different cultural experience, visiting art museums, galleries, and the Cairo Opera House.

The view from Cairo Tower is one of the best things to do in Cairo.
Cairo Tower View

Islamic Cairo

Also called Historic, or Medieval Cairo, this walled royal city was built by the victorious Fatimid caliphs in the 10th century. They named the city al-Qahirah, which means ‘the conqueror’. The name was later shortened to Cairo.

Designated as an UNESCO heritage site, it contains one of the world’s largest and densest concentrations of Islamic architecture. You can wander along one of Cairo’s oldest street, Al-Mu’izz street, to explore its spellbinding mosques, tombs, and madrasas (Islamic schools).

Mosque in Qualwoon
Al-Mu’izz Street

The Cairo Citadel is also nearby, which was the seat of the government from the 13th-19th century. In addition to Muhammed Ali Pashar Mosque, there are also several museums, including the National Military Museum, Police Museum, and Al-Gawhara Palace Museum.

MohMed Ali Mosque in Egypt Travel Guide
Mosque of Mohamed Ali
The Citadel in Egypt Travel Guide
Citadel

There’s also a stellar panoramic view of Cairo from the Citadel.

View From Citadel

Coptic Cairo

Coptic Cairo is where the Romans built the Fortress of Babylon, to protect a dock facility (there once was a canal from the Nile reaching here).

Fortress of Babylon in Egypt Travel Guide
Fortress of Babylon

Today, there are several historic Coptic churches, a Coptic Museum, and a convent, built within its ruins, including Saint Sergius and Bacchus, built over the site where Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus may have rested at the end of their flight to Egypt.

Hanging Church
Coptic Cairo in Egypt Travel Guide
St George, Roman Ruins, & Hanging Church

The Hanging Church, called so as it ‘hangs’ above a passage of the ruins of Babylon, was the seat of the Coptic pope in the 11th century.

Luxor

Luxor, formerly known as Thebes, was the Pharaoh’s capital at the peak of their power during the New and Middle Kingdoms. The many temples and tombs here serve as their legacy and are exquisite.

Temple of Karnak in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Karnak
Temple of Luxor in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Luxor

You can explore the Temple of Karnak, the biggest single religious building in the world, the Temple of Luxor, and Road of Sphinxes on the east side of the Nile. All also impressive when lit at night.

On the west side you can visit the magestic temples of Medinet Habu, and Hatshepsut.

Medinet Habu in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Medinet Habu
Temple of Hatshepsut in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Hatshepsut

There’s also the pharaoh’s tombs, like Tutankhamen’s, in the Valley of the Kings. You can also visit Queen Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens, as well as tombs in the Valley of the Nobles, and the excavated city and tombs in the Valley of the Artisans.

Aswan

Aswan is more relaxed than Cairo and Luxor, making it the perfect antidote to all the attention you get in Egypt’s more touristy cities. A 3-4 hour drive south of Luxor, or 3-4 day Nile cruise, there are more archeological and cultural sites here.

Felucca in Aswan
Temple of Horus in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Horus

Several tempels can be stopped at along the way to Aswan, like the Temple of Horus and Kom Ombo, and more just south of Aswan, like the Temple Complex of Philae and Kalabsha.

Temple Complex of Philae in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple Complex of Philae

You can also visit a colorful, Traditional Nubian village, explore the sites on Elephantine Island, or visit the giant broken obelisk, still only partially carved out of the quarry here over 3,000 years ago.

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel, by the Sudanese border, is another 3-4 hours south of Aswan, but definitely worth the journey. The massive temples here were carved into the rocks during the reign of Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great. They memorialize Ramesses II himself and his beloved wife Queen Nefertari.

Temple of Nefertari in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Nefertari
Temple of Ramesses II in Egypt Travel Guide
Temple of Ramesses II

Remarkably, these temples were cut into pieces and moved to save them from flooding when the Aswan High Dam was built (along with others in this region). A project that took almost 5 years and cost about $40 million USD!

As there’s not much more to see in the area, I recommend a taxi or day trip tour from Aswan as the best way to visit. Or, you can visit via Nile cruise, seeing the temples as they were originally intended, from the river.

Alexandria

Alexandria sits on the Mediterranean in northern Egypt. Founded by Alexander the Great over 2,300 years ago, it was once considered the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient Mediterranean.

Pharos, its ancient lighthouse, was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, before earthquakes turned it to rubble. Now, the Citadel of Qaitbay, partly built with its ruins, sits in its place.

Qaitbay in Egypt Travel Guide
Citadel of Qaitbay

It was also home to the great Library of Alexandria, the largest of the ancient world, possibly holding up to half a million important texts as well as Celopatra’s Palace, which was ruined and submerged after a tsunami. Unfortunately, the only ancient monument left standing in Alexandria today is Pompey’s Pillar.

But, there are more contemporary sites to see. In addition to Pompey’s Pillar and Qaitbay, like the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, the ancient Roman ruins of Kom el Dikka, and the modern Biblioteca Museum, which has multiple museums and galleries as well as a Planetarium Science Center.

Roman Ruins
Library of Alexandria in Egypt Travel Guide
Bibliotheca

Sharm El-Sheikh

A resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm El-Sheikh is known for its sandy beaches and some of the best scuba diving spots in the world. It’s also home to Thistlegorm, one of the top wreck sites to dive. I got my advanced open water scuba diving certification in Sharm and was amazed with the beauty of the reef!

Although most come here to swim and/or dive, you can also hike Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments. There’s also St. Catherine’s Monastery, which sits at the base of the trail.

Na’ama Bay is the popular spot in Sharm el-Sheikh with the most hotels, restaurants, bars and a lively nightlife. I personally found the area to be a bit too touristy for my tastes, but the area is beautiful, especially the pricier hotels, like Movenpick, below.

Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt Travel Guide
Sharm El-Sheikh From Movenpick

Hurghada and Dahab are also well-known and loved dive sites in the area too.

Best Time To Visit

Weather: The best time to visit Cairo is late October to April, when days are warm, but not too hot. Evenings, however, can be cool, especially in December and January. These last two months are when many tourists visit, so busy.

May through September is very hot, especially south towards Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel. June, July, and August are usually the hottest. If you don’t mind the heat, this is a great time to avoid the crowds and get a deal.

At Sharm El-Sheikh the same holds true, but if you plan to snorkel or dive, September to November is best. This is when the water is warm enough to dive without a wetsuit and the air temperature is not too hot.

For Alexandria, spring, March to June, and fall, September to November are best, due to temperatures.

Ramadan: The actual dates of Ramadan vary each year, but are generally in April and May. In Ramadan locals abstain from food and water during the day, so some locations may have limited hours. Eid, directly after Ramadan, is a holiday and time for celebration, called ‘the breaking of the fast’, and is a great time to learn more about the culture.

Languages

Literary Arabic is the official language, although Egyptian Arabic is the most common, with several other varieties of Arabic throughout the country.

English is taught in schools and is the language of tourism, so you’ll find most people speak English in the tourist areas. A small percentage also speak French.

Alexandria

Money Matters

Currency: The currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), with Arabic on one side and English on the other. You will often see the price preceded by LE, or livre egyptienne, the French translation. You may also see £E or E£, especially online.

Conversion rates as of January 1, 2024:

  • USD (1)=31.07 EGP
  • Euro (1)=34.25 EGP
  • CNY (1)=4.36 EGP

Credit Cards & ATMs: ATMs are readily available in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria, but also some in Luxor and Aswan. Check high end hotels if you cannot find one. Be sure to have small bills as tipping is big in Egypt and no one will ever admit to having change for larger ones. Debit and Credit cards from major banks are usually accepted, especially at higher-end establishments. Equipment for these cards, however, is not always be available, especially in smaller cities, so also have cash.

Tipping: Often a service charge is added to the restaurant bill ‘for the house’, but tipping the waiter/waitress 10% on top of this is the norm. Other common tips include; tour guides $3-6/day, housekeeping staff $1-2/day, cruise staff $4-5/day, and walking tours 10-20%. You can tip in USD, Euro, or Egyptian Pound (but not foreign coins). Backsheesh, which means tip or bribe, is often expected for a variety of services. For example, at sites where photos are not allowed, guards will sometimes request ‘backsheesh’ for a photo. You secretly ‘palm’ it via a handshake. Also, note that bribes are illegal, so never try to tip, or bribe, officials.

Negotiating: Bargaining is common in Egyptian markets. And some shops, especially in touristy areas, will raise prices for foreigners (you can try to bargain here too). Keep it lighthearted though, realizing a dollar or two may mean little to you and a lot to the seller.

Egypt Travel Guide – Safety

More often than not, the US and other countries note to exercise increased caution in Egypt due to terrorism. This can happen anywhere, including tourist sites. Sadly, there have been several terrorist incidents within Egypt over the years, often leaving both tourists and locals killed. Understand that traveling under these warnings can be risky.

Always check the current safety status before booking and prior to arrival. Your government should have information pertinent to your home country. See the Egypt Travel Advisory to read the latest US travel warnings.

Register for the STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) if you are a US citizen, or similar program in your country, to be alerted in case of emergency. Outside of terrorism, it is safe to walk solo, but remember to dress according to conservative Egyptian standards, covering arms, legs, and chest with loose clothing.

Otherwise, Egypt is relatively safe. You can be friendly, but avoid being overly so. Also, avoid walking at night in downtown Cairo. If you must, be stand-offish, so your demeanor is not considered an invitation. After a Christmas concert, I walked over a mile from the Cairo Opera House, on Gezira island, to my hostel around 11 PM, going past El-Tahrir square. Not ideal, but I wanted to see the show and had felt safe walking the area during the day. I walked ‘determinedly’ and was not bothered by anyone.

If you’re American, you’ll find that just about everyone will want a selfie of you with them. It can get a little overwhelming, but they’re so genuinely happy about it, you can’t say no.

Sunset in Sharm El-Sheikh

Egypt Travel Guide – Scams

As noted above, Egpyt is relatively safe, but there is always someone trying to make an extra buck. And Egyptians are masters at trying to make a connection to gain some sort of sale from you, or a tip, which is called ‘backsheesh’ here. Always remember that if things seem too good to be true, or are too much of a coincidence, they probably are. The following are some things to watch out for.

Taxis

Taxi drivers seem to be ruthless everywhere, but in Egypt they are especially challenging. First and foremost, know the name of your destination in Arabic. I found myself negotiating with countless drivers only to realize they didn’t understand where I wanted to go after we took off. Then they usually demanded more money, claiming they didn’t understand. Lol. Second, try to get them to use the meter. Unfortunately, most will disagree. If they refuse, negotiate the price in advance. If you’re not sure of the price, ask at your hotel. Or, you can bypass the whole taxi experience by using Uber or Careem. In most cases. Taxi drivers wanted more than Uber. I even used Uber prices to negotiate with taxi drivers. All that said, as exacerbating as the taxi drivers here are, the costs here are minimal, so don’t sweat it too much if you get overcharged.

Also, always have the fare in small change. No taxi driver will ever admit to having change.

Getting To The Pyramids From Cairo

Beyond the taxi issues above, your driver may claim at they can’t take you to the main gate of the Pyramids, stopping at the horse or camel riders. They can take you all the way to the main gate.

At the gate, there will be several people standing there offering to be your guide. They may insist that you have to have a guide to enter, but this is also not true. You can enter and walk on your own.

Trying to negotiate anything at the pyramids on your own is fairly pointless, unless you’re an expert. These guys are masters and hold all the cards. It’s best to book a taxi and anything else you want at the Pyramids in advance, then refuse anything else. Or, skip the entire hassle and stay in Giza, where you can walk to the gate any time you want. If you stay close enough, you can also get most of the evening light show for free from the rooftop of your hotel.

Just One Minute

Everyone will want, “just one minute” of your time. I know it feels rude to ignore them, but they are relying on your western politeness to get to know you better and sell you something. It’s best to know a few worlds in Arabic, like ‘salaam alaikum’, which means ‘peace be with you’, or ‘la shukron’, which means ‘no thanks’. ‘La’ means ‘no’ if you need to be more firm. Seriously, walk with headphones on if you must as the attention is constant, especially close to the pyramids and in Luxor. Once you’ve been stopped by one, you’ll know what I mean.

Come See My Shop

On my first visit, someone tried striking up a conversation with me on the street and invited me to see his shop. Being polite, I agreed. He said it was just around the corner. After several ‘corners’ were turned, I realized that I had been taken. Then, of course, once in their shop, you feel obligated to look around and sometimes to buy as they are just so friendly and persistent. They may even offer you tea, but don’t accept as they may demand payment.

Verify The Currency Type

Make sure the price you quoted is in Egyptian pounds and not UK pounds or US dollars.

Fake Guides

Verify guides with your hotel, trip advisor, or a web site before agreeing to use a guide. For scuba dive shops, the cdws.travel used to have a list of blacklisted scuba shops, or scuba shops that were operating illegally, however, the link is currently erroring out. You can still check their website to see if they add it at a later date. Scroll to the very bottom and look for the word Blacklist.

Buying Alcohol At The Duty Free Off Your Airline Ticket

This is not actually a scam. I’m adding it as you may be asked to do this and it’s OK. Alcohol is very expensive in Egypt and if you befriend a local soon after you arrive, they may ask to buy alcohol under your airline ticket and passport at the duty free. I did this. We walked to the Duty Free at the Intercontinental Hotel in Cairo and I gave the cashier my ticket and passport. My ‘friend’ was able to purchase up to 3 or 4 bottles of booze, paying with his cash. Do not hand your passport to a local or pay with your cash. They simply noted the sale in my passport as there is a maximum you can purchase with your ticket.

Getting Around Egypt

Within Cities

Taxi

Taxi is the best option for travel within cities, but comes with its frustrations. See Taxis under Scams above. Know that in the summer, very few taxis have air conditioning, or ice, as some call it there. This makes negotiating even more frustrating, so be extra prepared with info.

Metro

If you’re adventurous, the metro in Cairo is a good way to get around. It’s inexpensive and usually faster than a taxi. It’s best to print out the Cairo metro map and understand your plan before going to the station.

I would not advise the metro during rush hour though, as it gets super, super crowded. Note also that there are separate cars for men and women, with the woman’s cars usually the middle two cars. Done to protect women from sexual harassment, it’s OK for women to ride in the men’s cars, just not the other way around.

Between Cities

Taxi

Although distances are far, taxis can also be arranged from Luxor to Aswan (3-4 hours), Aswan to Abu Simbel (3-4 hours), and Cairo to Alexandria (2-3 hours). If driving betwen Luxor and Aswan, arrange to stop at some of the temples along the way. See Taxis under Scams above.

Train

Train is a popular option for travel between cities. It’s comfortable, and affordable, but notoriously late. The train from Cairo to Alexandria is 3-4 hours, Cairo to Luxor about 10, and Luxor to Aswan 3-4 hours.

With the long ride Cairo to Luxor, there are overnight options, a deluxe sleeper (private room with bathroom) or regular seat. In fact, they don’t want tourists on the day train to Luxor (claiming safety reason), so tourists cannot buy this at the ticket window. Try through your hotel, travel agent, or online.

I’ve also read that you may be succesful by simply board the train, taking a seat, and paying the ticket man when he walks through. This may require you moving your seat, or if fully booked, standing. Seat 61 is a great resource for buying train tickets here.

Bus

There is bus service from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh, taking 7-8 hours and buses between Cairo and Alexandria, taking 2.5-3.5 hours. There are also minibuses.

The SWVL app is a great source for details and pricing. I rode a minibus from Alexandria to Giza for less than $7 in 2021, while Uber would have been about $70. It does usually require additional taxis as the pick up and drop off locations are not always convenient, but even with this, it’s an inexpensive and convenient option. It does require use of a SIM card though, as the driver will call to confirm your location before pickup.

Cruise

Nile cruises are very popular and a great way to see the sites. Although cruises can be taken all along the Nile, the stretch between Luxor and Aswan, is the most popular. There are also key temples to visit along the way, making it ideal.

The advantage to a cruise only between Luxor and Aswan is that you can still visit Cairo and Luxor independently.

Fly

Flying is usually the most expensive option, but still reasonably priced (and usually less than the sleeper car on the train). There are regular flights from Cairo to Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, and Sharm el-Sheikh, some as low as $30 or $50.

Note that I had to check my bag as you cannot carry liquids on the plane. This is just good to know in advance so you can pull anything valuable out prior to the airport.

Drive

Driving in Cairo is absolutely insane, so I don’t recommend it. It’s a complete free-for-all mess with lots of honking horns. Driving between larger cities is an option for the adventurous, but also not recommended. For some reason, many motorists don’t use headlights at night, so never ever drive after dark.

For more details on transportation, see my posts on Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel.

Visa Information For Egypt

US, most European, and Chinese citizens can obtain a visa on arrival. Cash only. According to IATA, Chinese citizens can enter visa free if they have a return ticket, confirmation of stay at a 4 or 5 star hotel, and equivalent of $2,000 USD.

An eVisa is also available, taking up 7 business days. They do have a rush and super rush option for a higher fee, but paying on arrival is really convenient.

Make sure to use only the official eVisa website (above). Both visa on arrival and eVisa are $25 for single entry (30 days) as summer of 2021. See the Visa Policy of Egypt for more details on visas and information on other countries.

Egypt Travel Guide: Top Destination Blogs & Stories

The following are some of the top destinations in Egypt, as well as blogs and stories of my visit. Select the icons, or words below, to read more.

Egypt truly is a fascinating place and I’m so glad I went. I think you will be too.

I hope my Travel Guide for Egypt has been helpful. If you have any questions, or have comments, please note them below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Note: To The best of my knowledge, all the information in this travel guide for Egypt is correct, but from time to time, things change. If you see an incorrect detail, please contact me.

To read more about me and my philosophy on travel, see my about me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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