Temple of Philae one of the top things to see in Aswan and Egypt travel guide

Things To See In Aswan

There are amazing temples and many interesting things to see in Aswan, which is 3-4 hours south of Luxor, making it another ideal stop in Egypt.

This post cover the highlights of these sites, as well as information on how to visit.

About Aswan

Aswan is lovely. It’s also more peaceful than Cairo and Luxor, making a few days here the perfect antidote to their chaos. Especially if you select a room with a view of the Nile to watch felucca sail by.

Felucca on the Nile one of the things to do in Aswan
Felucca on the Nile

Known as Swenett in ancient Egypt, its southern position made it the gateway to Africa, along a key trade route for ivory, silver, gold, camels, and furs from Africa. It was also a military town, protecting Egypt’s southern border, as well as a quarry for the many ancient temple statues and obelisks in Egypt.

Today, this area is known as Nubia, which encompasses southern Egypt to Khartoum in Sudan. The name is derived from the Noba nomads that moved here from Sudan after the collapse of their kingdom.

Nubians still live here today and along with the amazing temples in this area, you can also visit a Nubian village to learn more about their unique culture.

Temples To See North of Aswan

There are three notable temples north of Aswan, making them ideal to visit when traveling from Luxor. If however, you’re verging on temple fatigue, just stop at the Temple of Horus, which is a highlight.

The Temple of Khnum at Esna

The Temple of Khnum, dedicated to ram-headed Khnum, is located 34 miles (55 km) south of Luxor in the modern town of Esna.

Only the hypostyle hall of this site has been excavated. It sits 29’ (9 m) below town level, while the rest of the temple remains unexcavated below the city.

Temple of Khnum | Scott

If you want to experience some local culture, there’s also a lively market to visit here.

The Temple of Horus at Edfu

The Temple of Horus, built between 237 and 57 BC, is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt, making this one of the top places to see along the way to Aswan.

Dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed God, the exterior reliefs tell the story of Horus’s revenge upon Set for killing his father, Osiris. More of this ancient mythological story plays out at the Temple of Philae.

The Temple of Horus one of the things to see in Aswan
Temple of Horus

The interior has a replica of a sacred barque (or bark), which was a boat that the gods used for travel.

Temple of Horus Detail
Sacred Barque

Edfu is 71 miles (115 km) south of Luxor and 65 miles (105 km) north of Aswan.

Temple of Horus
Temple of Horus

The Temple of Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo is a smaller temple built between 140 – 87 BC. It‘s unique as it’s a dual temple, dedicated to both Horus the falcon-headed deity and Sobek the crocodile-headed deity.

You can also visit the Crocodile Museum next to the temple, which displays hundreds of crocodile mummies from the area.

Kom Ombo temple is one of the things to see in Aswan
Temple Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo is 40 miles (65 km) south of Edfu and 31 miles (50 km) north of Aswan.

How To Get To The Temples North of Aswan

As three temples are on the east side of the Nile, it’s relatively easy to combine visits along the way to Aswan.

Cruise: Most of these temples are river cruise stops to and from Aswan, particularly the Temple of Horus, which is the most impressive. Not all of them however, so check itineraries for the ones you want to see.

Train: The train from Luxor to Aswan takes 3.5-4.5 hours and stops at each town above. Trains here, however, are notoriously late, making this option complicated if visiting all three. Estimated times from Luxor are; Esna (1-1.5), Edfu (1.5-2), and Kom Ombo (2.5-3).

Taxi: You can also hire a private taxi to stop at one or all three along your route. Times are similar to those listed above, but with more control, it’s easier to visit all three.

Of course, you can also visit these temples from Aswan by cruise, train, taxi, tour, or felucca.

Temples To See South of Aswan

There are also several impressive temples south of Aswan, from Philae down to Abu Simbel, all part of an UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Nubian Monuments.

The Temple Complex of Philae

Although there are several temples at this site, the main one is the Temple of Isis (380 – 362 BC).

The walls depict the ancient mythological story of Isis, who brought her husband Osiris back to life after being killed by his brother Set to usurp the throne. Isis then conceived a child with Osiris, called Horus, who later won the throne from Set.

Temple of Philae one of the top things to see in Aswan and Egypt  travel guide
Temple of Isis
Detail of Temple of Isis
Temple of Isis Vestibule

Equally as amazing as the temple and its story, is how it got here. UNESCO organized its move with several other Nubian Monuments, block by block, when they were threatened by flooding from the Aswan High Dam. This effort took years and was known as Save The Monuments of Nubia.

How To Get To The Temple of Philae

Located on Agilkia Island, it’s about 12 km south of Aswan. There are several ways to visit.

Cruise: This is often a stop on cruise ships.

Taxi: Take a taxi from Aswan to Marina Philae Temple, where you can negotiate a boat to the island. Try to join with others for a group rate, especially on the return trip where tourists are often gouged as there are no other options.

Day Tours: Day tours can easily be arranged from Aswan as well as evening tours for the popular sound and light show. Note that although the evening show is beautiful and interesting, the sound portion is a little overly dramatic. It can also be difficult to walk on the rocky ground in the dark.

Kalabsha Temple

Another temple moved by UNESCO, Kalabsha Temple, is about 11 miles (18 km) south of Aswan. Devoted to the Nubian fertility and sun god, Marul, it’s from the early Roman era, 30 BC.

Almost as beautiful as the Temple of Philae, this temple gets very few visitors, so it’s a good option if you want to see a temple in Aswan in peace.

How To Het To Kalabsha Temple: This Temple is near the High Dam, but best accessed by boat. Book a tour, or arrange transport through your hotel.

Gerf Hussein, Temple of Beit el-Wali, and the Kiosk of Qertassi are other interesting sites nearby, so see if you can add them to your tour.

Abu Simbel

If you’re in Aswan, stunning Abu Simbel, 3-4 hours south is a must-visit. Built by Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, he also built a temple here to commemorate his beloved wife Nefertari.

You can learn more about this site and how to visit Abu Simbel here.

Abu Simbel

Other Sites In & Around Aswan

Elephantine Island

Elephantine island, named after giant elephant-like rocks nearby, is in the center of the Nile at Aswan. There are several things to see here, including visiting the Aswan Museum and an ancient Nilometer, which was used to check Nile water levels.

And if you‘re in need of some western-style luxury, you can also visit 5 Star Movenpick Resort which has a 360 degree panoramic view from its bar.

How To Get To Elephantine Island: To visit, you can arrange a taxi boat or take the public ferry from the Corniche on Aswan’s waterfront.

Nubian Village

Visiting a Nubian village is a great way to experience the culture of this area. Gharb Soheil village is a popular destination with its colorful houses, friendly people, traditional handicrafts, and sandy beach.

How To Get To Gharb Soheil: Located on the west side of the Nile, you can book a tour, or negotiate a felucca or motorboat from the Corniche at Aswan’s waterfront area.

Ancient Inscriptions Of Seheil Island

2.5 miles (4 km) south of Aswan is Seheil island, known for its 600 ancient rock carvings. They date from Prehistoric to Graeco-Roman times, with people engraving names, prayers, images, and dedications to deities.

The carvings on Sehel Island are one of the more unique things to see in Aswan.
Sehel Island Carvings | Kairoinfo4u

The eastern hill summit is where to find the well-known ‘Famine Stela’, which tells a story from the 3rd Dynasty.

How To Get To Soheil Island: To get to Soheil Island, book a tour or negotiate a felucca or motorboat from the Corniche in Aswan.

Tombs of the Nobles

Hundreds of rock-cut tombs for ancient, high-ranking Egyptian Nobles. Some of the larger tombs can be entered and explored.

How To Get To Tombs Of The Nobles: Located across the Nile from Aswan, you can book a tour, negotiate a felucca, motorboat, or take the public ferry from Aswan. You will need to walk up a desert track once there.

Monastery of St Simeon 

Dedicated to St. Simeon, this monastery was built in the 10th century. 

How To Get To St. Simeon: Located across the Nile from Aswan, you can book a tour or negotiate a felucca, or motorboat. This stop also requires walking up a desert track.

Unfinished Obelisk

The unfinished obelisk, which cracked while being carved from the bedrock, is the largest known ancient obelisk. Ordered by Hapsetshut (1,508 – 1,458 BC), it would have been 137’ (42 m) tall, weighing over 1,000 tons.

How To Get To The Unfinished Obelisk: Located on the east side of the Nile, south of Aswan. You can book a tour or hire a taxi. In addition, depending on your location, you may be able to walk from town.

Aswan High Dam

Admittedly not the most exciting stop, but you can also visit the Aswan High Dam. It provides water for 33600 km² of irrigation land in Egypt and Sudan, generates power, and controls flooding.

Summary

As you can see, there are many interesting things to see in, and around, Aswan. Plus it’s a good place to use as a base to visit to Abu Simbel, which is a must-visit site in Egypt.

Not only did I enjoy the sites here, but after more than two weeks in Cairo and Luxor, I really needed a rest. Aswan was a perfect way to end my trip in Egypt, before I flew back to Cairo for a few days, then flew on to Dubai.

To read more about Egypt, also check out my posts on Cairo, the Pyramids, Luxor, Abu Simbel, and Alexandria, and to help you plan your trip to Egypt, see my Egypt Travel Guide.

Note: Egypt has had known issues of terrorism for years, so always check government websites for warnings before planning a trip. If you’re a US citizen, sign up for the STEP program to be alerted if issues arise. If you’re not a US citizen, see if your country offers something similar.

Kalesh (Taxi) Outside Temple of Horus

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