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17 Best things to see & do in Ancient Egypt

  • Egypt

Last updated: 28 April, 2024
  • Cairo, Lower Egypt, Egypt

Landscape of the Giza Plateau, showing 3 large pyramids and 3 smaller ones infront

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Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx

The densely-crowded Egyptian city of Giza – on the West Bank of the Nile just outside of Cairo – welcomes millions of tourists every year to visit one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

The Giza Plateau, wedged between the city’s borders and the Western Desert, is a remarkable complex of gargantuan stone pyramids, several cemeteries, and a giant statue of a mythological sphinx – all dating back to 2,500 BC.

Good for age: 8+

  • Upper Egypt, Egypt

Until the late 19th century, travelling in Egypt meant taking a boat on the Nile, as the roads were bad and there were no hotels. A trip on the Nile is still a defining experience, revealing a tapestry of astonishing ancient monuments, beautiful papyrus-dotted river banks, and a landscape that has remained largely unchanged in 4,000 years.

Cruises usually include visits to the magnificent temples at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. All cruises end in Aswan, with a visit to Temple of Isis at Philae and an optional excursion to the Temples of Abu Simbel (strongly recommended).

There is, of course, the luxury riverboat option. The Sanctuary MS Nile Adventurer, formerly owned by Abercrombie and Kent, is a 5-star ship with 32 luxurious cabins and excellent food on board.

You could alternatively opt for a cruise on a charismatic dahabiya (a local sailing ship with 4-10 cabins). They can moor in more places than the large cruise ships, visit smaller sights on the way and get you closer to the Nile.

For the most authentic (and cheapest) cruise, feluccas sail between Aswan and Edfu or Esna, just south of Luxor. These single-mast boats have no cabins, so passengers sleep on benches or on the shore.

Adult price: £800+

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3-7 days

  • Aswan, Southern Upper Egypt Region, Egypt

Exterior facade of the great temple showing four giant statues guarding the door

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Temples of Abu Simbel

The two temples of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel are among the most impressive of all the world’s surviving ancient monuments. It remains a testament to the power of the Egyptian empire at its height under Ramesses II, aka ‘Ramesses the Great’.

Cut into the rock above the Nile flood plain more than 3,000 years ago, fronted by four colossal statues of the pharaoh. His consort Nefertari and their children can be seen in smaller figures by his feet. Queen Nefertari was the first of Ramesses’ ‘Great Royal Wives’.

The temple remains an awe-inspiring sight, despite having been relocated in the 1960s above the newly created Lake Nasser. It’s angled so that each 21 February and 21 October, the sun illuminated the gods in the innermost sanctuary. This happens a day later since its relocation, following construction of the Aswan Dam.

Adult price: £12

Good for age: 8+

  • Luxor, Middle Egypt, Egypt

Valley of kings. The tombs of the pharaohs. Tutankhamun. Luxor. Egypt. Ancient monument of architecture. Museum. Excavation. Vacation holidays background wallpaper

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Valley of the Kings

Known to the ancients as the ‘Place of Truth’, the 62 known tombs in the remarkable Valley of the Kings belong to some of the greatest of Egypt’s pharaohs, including the famous tomb of Tutankhamun.

Pharaohs began building and decorating their tombs as soon as they came to the throne, and they were stuffed with all of their belongings after their death to accompany them into the afterlife. The treasures are long gone, stolen by tomb raiders, but the hieroglyphic-decorated ceilings and walls are no less impressive.

Tutankhamun’s tomb is actually one of the smallest. Discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922, it’s the only tomb found with its treasure intact (on display in the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo).

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 13+

  • Cairo, Lower Egypt, Egypt

Close up of a funerary mask in the Egyptian Museum

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Egyptian Museum

Ancient Egypt produced one of the greatest of all civilisations and this two-storey museum is the storeroom for some of their finest artefacts. Tutankhamun’s treasures are the big draw, but there is so much more to see.

Covering more than 3,000 years, it provides an overview into the creation and development of so much that we use in our own lives, from furniture and jewellery to fabrics and sculpture. The Louvre, British Museum, Turin Museum, and New York Metropolitan all have great Egyptian collections but none come close to this.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 13+

  • Luxor, Southern Upper Egypt Region, Egypt

Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt. The Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak, comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings in Egypt.

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Karnak Temple

Karnak, or ancient Thebes, was Egypt’s foremost religious complex originally built in 2055 BC. Over the course of 1,500 years the site was continuously expanded by pharaohs, in tribute to the Theban gods; more than 80,000 workers toiled here during the reign of Ramesses II.

The most impressive sight in Karnak is the superbly preserved, 250,000sq m Temple of Amun, which boasts a magnificent hypostyle hall with 134 massive columns.

You need to visit Karnak twice – once in daylight, and once at night for the Sound & Light Show, and to see the temple lit up.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 8+

  • Aswan, Upper Egypt, Egypt

Front entrance of the Temple of Isis at Philae

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Temple of Isis at Philae

For thousands of years this temple has attracted pilgrims from along the Nile and around the Mediterranean. Begun by the Ptolemies in the 4th century BC, dedicated to the goddess and her husband, Osiris, it became one of the country’s most sacred sites during Roman times.

The temple was relocated to a new island following the building of the Aswan Dam, but it remains one of the most beautiful Graeco-Roman temples in the world, with the most romantic setting of all.

Look out for crosses and an altar in the inner courts of the temple: after the cult of Isis was suppressed, the temple was converted into a Christian church.

Adult price: £13

Good for age: 13+

  • Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt

The Bent pyramid at Dahshur, Cairo, Egypt

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The Pyramids of Saqqara & Dahshur

Just 20 miles south of Cairo, the lesser-visited Dahshur and Saqqara (also spelt Sakkara) are home to some of the world’s best-preserved ancient sites. With far fewer crowds.

Dahshur is home to pyramids even older than those in Giza – the first ever pyramids built by the Egyptians. The most famous is the Bent Pyramid – so named because of its irregular pyramid shape – built between 2613 and 2589 BC by King Sneferu.

It was followed by a second pyramid, The Red Pyramid, named after the red limestone used in its construction. The Red Pyramid is the 3rd largest in Egypt. The two biggest – Khufu and Khafre – were built at Giza by King Sneferu successor, his son Khufu.

Saqqara was the necropolis for the ancient city of Memphis, the first capital city of Egypt. The area is home to multiple smaller pyramids and a number of tombs of nobles and generals. The highlight here is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, built in around 2700 BC for Pharoah Djoser. It’s the oldest stone building in the world. Surrounding the Step Pyramid is an interesting funerary complex.

The city of Memphis itself is estimated to have been founded in 6000 BC. There’s not a lot left – just remnant ruins in an open-air museum – though the giant statue of Ramesses II makes this worth a stop.

There’s an excellent documentary on Netflix about one such tomb discovered in Saqqara. Worth a watch before you go (or even if you’re not).

Good for age: 13+

  • Luxor, Upper Egypt, Egypt

Drifting silently over the ancient monuments of the West Bank, as the sun rises over the Nile, is one of those ‘never forget’ moments. It’s a serene way to appreciate the layout of ancient Luxor, from the temples in the east to valley tombs in the west.

Peer into roofless village houses, unchanged for thousands of years, see the fertile floodplains of the Nile give way to the desert beyond, and marvel at the enormous scale of Karnak temple.

Adult price: £30

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Luxor, Upper Egypt, Egypt

Amazing Luxor temple at sunset, Luxor, Egypt.

Bucket List Experience

Luxor Temple

Unlike the complex at Karnak, which is connected by an avenue of sphinxes and which was built over the course of 1,500 years, the elegant Temple of Luxor was built mostly by one pharaoh, Amenhotep III.

As a result, it is much less complex than its counterpart, although the Romans made changes to the innermost part.

The temple used to be fronted by two colossal obelisks, but only one remains. Its twin was moved to the Place de la Concorde in Paris in the 1840s.

Adult price: £7

Good for age: 8+