What to see, where to stay and when to visit – a detailed Egypt travel guide with everything you need to plan the perfect trip.
Are you planning a trip to Egypt? The ancient country of Pharao’s is worth to be on anyone’s bucket list for sure. But putting together a solid itinerary is maybe a bit harder. This is why I wrote this detailed Egypt travel guide for you. I’m going to address all the most common questions (and even some you might not have thought about yet).
You are probably wondering about the best places to see in Egypt, right? Then, of course, a lot of travelers want to know where to stay and when to visit the beautiful country along the mighty River Nile. I’m also going to talk about the safety situation in Egypt, tipping culture and picking the right cruise
In the end, I want you to be in the position to plan your perfect Egypt itinerary and be prepared for the trip of a lifetime.
Let’s dive right into it, shall we?
Note: If you are looking for a current assessment of the situation, read my guide on whether you should book a trip to Egpyt now or not.
Some quick Egypt facts
- Name: Arab Republic of Egypt
- Language: Arabic (passable English is spoken by most people in the tourism industry)
- Religion: Muslim (Sunni; 85%) and Coptic Christians (10-15%)
- Latitude/ Longitude: 63°-68°N | 25°- 13°W
- Area: 1,010,408 km²
- Population: 100,124,354 (2019 estimate)
- Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP; 1 USD is roughly 16 Pound)
- Time zone: EET (UTC+2)
- Driving: On the right
- Electricity: 220 Volts at 50 Hz; Europlug (Type C and F; Americans need an adapter)
- Major Airports: Cairo, Aswan, Hurghada, Luxor, Alexandria, Sharm el Sheik
The top tourist attractions in Egypt
Now, let’s begin this Egypt travel guide by taking a look at the most famous places in Egypt. The country is quite big but all the major tourist attractions are concentrated in a few areas along the Nile, so it’s comparably easy to get there. You can basically start in the North and drive straight down towards the south (or vice versa).
For a first overview, I recommend you to read my list of the 20 best things to do in Egypt. Still, I’m going to give a quick overview of the most important sites here.
Most tourists start out in Cairo, which has the biggest international airport and is also the biggest city in the country (population 19,5 million).
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Cairo you should read for a start. Egypt was one of the very first countries that adopted early Islam and you’ll find some impressive early mosques and monuments from that time in the city. Like the amazing Cairo Citadel.
But it also played quite an important role in the early Pharaonic times. Just a couple of kilometers outside the city, you’ll see the famous Pyramids of Giza – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only survivor of the original 7 ancient World Wonder. If you drive out a bit further, you can also visit the even older Saqqara Step Pyramids and visit the remains of ancient Memphis.
As there is also a Coptic (=christian) side of Cairo, I recommend you to stay 3 days in the city. You’ll need it as the world-famous Egyptian Museum (where the golden treasure hoard from King Tut’s tomb is on display) is beyond outstanding as well (they are currently in the process of opening the Grand Egyptian Museum as a new home for all these ancient artifacts.
Note: It is possible to do a day trip to Alexandria from Cairo. You can marvel at the remains of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria (another world wonder) and the equally famous Library of Alexandria. A lot of Egypt travel guides recommend this, but I personally feel it is only an option if you are staying 2 weeks or longer.
From Cairo, most tourists proceed onwards to Luxor. There is a sleeper train for tourists connecting the two towns, but you can also fly in.
Here’s my guide to best things to do in Luxor
Luxor can be divided into two parts – the East Bank and the West Bank. The former is home to the outstanding Karnak temple (one of the largest temple complexes in the world) and the Luxor Temple which is equally as impressive. Also, don’t miss the Luxor Museum which houses some of the most famous ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world.
On the West Bank, you’ll find the Temple of Hatshepsut and of course the famous Valley of the Kings. There is also a valley of the queens and a valley of the nobles. In each of them, you can visit tombs from the Pharaonic times. A lot of them look like they were built yesterday. Even after 3,000 years, the colors are still so intense.
Note: Dendera temple in Quena and Medinet Habu are equally as famous and can be visited from Luxor as well. For the most colorful tombs, visit Deir el-Medina.
From Luxor, it is only a moderately long trip to Aswan, which marks the beginning of the former Nubian kingdom. A lot of people cover this trip on a river cruise ship and it’s probably the most stylish way to explore the wonders of the Nile. You can take the train as well (I’ll talk a bit more about the pros and cons of a cruise further down below).
Here are the 10 best places to visit in Aswan.
The Philae Temple and the Nubian Museum are probably the most important highlights here. You should definitely stop at Kom Ombo (the crocodile temple) and visit the Unfinished Obelisk as well, though.
There’s also the Aswan High Dam which is a bit underwhelming in person because it’s too big to actually take in while you are standing on top of it. But the colorful Nubian houses on Elephantine island and the enchanting botanical garden make up for it.
4. Abu Simbel
The last stop on the Nile is Abu Simbel A lot of people visit the mighty temple built by Rameses II from Aswan, but it’s actually almost 300 kilometers further south very close to the Sudanese border. There is no need to sleep in Abu Simbel though. Other than the temple, there is nothing else in the town.
Taking a cruise on Lake Nasser is an option, though, as there are a couple of other lesser-known temples you can explore here.
5. The Red Sea
The best way to end your trip to Egypt is snorkeling in the Red Sea. The most popular spots are Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh. Actually, a lot of European tourists come here, because it will be pleasantly warm in March and April, while the old continent is still freezingly cold.
Egypt has some amazing beaches and reefs that actually count among the best in the world. It’s a true paradise for scuba divers. Also, after having visited all these ancient temples, you might need some time to relax and some lighter fare, eh?
Planning your Egypt itinerary
So, how many days in Egypt will you need to see it all? Well, if you want to spend some time on the beach, then 14 days in Egypt will be a good start.
I put together a very detailed guide to planning your Egypt itinerary here.
Here’s the short version (but do read the full guide as there are many further options and alternatives to consider):
- Day 1-3: Cairo
- Day 4-6: Aswan & Abu Simbel
- Day 7-9: Luxor & West Bank
- Day 10-14: Hurghada
You might wonder why I propose to visit Aswan before Luxor? No matter if you are taking the train from Cairo or the plane, it won’t matter a lot. There are direct connections to each city. BUT it’s much easier to get to Hurghada from Luxor (just takes 4 hours by car) then from Aswan.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can obviously skip the beach. If you need to decide between Aswan or Luxor, then Luxor is probably much more spectacular. I love Abu Simbel (and it’s truly one of the most beautiful sites in Egypt), but in all honesty, it can’t compete with the wonders of the West Bank.
A 7-day itinerary for Egypt could look like this:
- Day 1-2: Cairo
- Day 3-5: Luxor
- Day 6-7: Aswan
In this case, I would skip the beach as I feel it’s a bit too stressful to drive all that distance for 48 hours relaxing at the Red Sea. If you are planning to continue onwards to Jordan, then you could possibly shorten it to 5 days, skip Aswan, and catch a flight (via Cairo) from Luxor.
Best time to visit
So, when is the best time to visit Egypt? Mid-March until mid-May and mid-September until Mid-November are probably the best months to visit. If you just want to see the temples, then winter can be a good option. While extremely budget-sensitive travelers could have a look at the summer months, even though it will be blistering hot.
I wrote a very detailed guide with a more detailed look at the best time to visit Egypt here.
The climate in Egypt is very arid, so you don’t need to concern yourself about rain at all. The very reason so many temples and tombs survived the ages so perfectly is precisely the fact that it almost never rains. And if it does, it’s extremely short.
Is a Nile Cruise worth it?
One of the best ways to explore the wonders of the ancient Pharao’s is doing a Nile cruise. There are quite a few different options ranging from 3 to 7 days, so there’s a fit for ever itinerary.
I wrote a detailed review of the Oberoi Zahra to give you a good impression of what a cruise on the Nile is like.
There are two things you need to know:
- Most cruise ships don’t cover a lot of distance. You are more or less sticking to the ports of Luxor and Aswan with maybe one or two stops in between. From here, small buses will take you to the attractions. Most hotels in the area will offer the same service.
- A lot of overland travel involves police convoys. So, you can’t really drive around all that freely. With a cruise, everything will be one smooth and seamless itinerary and you don’t need to change accommodation.
Also, a lot of cruises employ trained Egyptologists. I feel it adds a lot of depth to your trips if you got someone to actually explain in detail what is written on all those temple walls and tombs.
Where to stay
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
Of course, nothing speaks again sleeping in traditional hotels either. It’s easy and comparably cheap to organize transfers. Egypt as a whole is fairly inexpensive as well, so even luxury hotels will be attainable for most travelers.
That being said, this Egypt travel guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the rather low hygienic standard and I do recommend picking good hotels. Otherwise, Pharao’s curse might visit your bowels.
The best hotels in Cairo:
The best hotels in Luxor:
Excellent hotels in Aswan
The best hotels in Hurghada
What to pack for Egypt
Are you wondering what to wear in Egypt? I wouldn’t stress out about it. It’s a very hot country, so dress accordingly – light colors, light fabrics, loose cuts. Don’t forget the sunscreen, bring a hat and sunglasses and pack some swimwear. Comfortable walking shoes (sandals) are recommended.
Beware that the locals usually dress very conservatively and if you are visiting a good restaurant or a mosque, you really should cover-up.
I put together a detailed Egypt packing list here.
Is Egypt safe?
There is one question I have heard more times than I can count: Is it safe to visit Egypt? Well, is it? Yes, it totally is.
But as the question is asked so frequently, I wrote a very detailed Egypt safety guide here.
By now it has over 150 comments, so take some time and read them as well, as I answered quite a lot of further questions there as well.
Here’s the thing: Terror attacks happened in the past, and they will probably happen again in the future. But they also happened in central Europe or the US. So, I’m not sure if that is really a factor.
You should be aware that scams are frequent in the big tourism centers – especially around the big markets and museums. If you keep your wits about, that’s nothing you won’t be able to handle. There’s just one golden rule: Ignore any locals who approach you with questions (like, where are you from, etc) or presents. Just walk past.
But this wouldn’t be a proper Egypt travel guide if I didn’t mention that your biggest concern should actually be the food. Stick to: Cook it, peel it, or leave it. Avoid salads, ice cubes, fruit juices, and ice-cream and your belly should be fine. Diarrhea is no joke (my mom ended up in a hospital in Cairo a couple of years ago).
Also, the sun is very intense, so good sun protection is key. Apart from using good sunscreen, consider wearing a hat (make sure it covers your neck), and drink lots of water.
Can I visit Egypt independently?
You don’t like groups or cruises? Are you a seasoned traveler who can organize its own trip? Well, then you are probably planning to travel to Egypt independently. It’s totally doable! Even though while most bureaucratic processes take ages (even buying a train ticket can cost you an hour), the country is far less chaotic than other places in Africa.
The only thing that is a bit problematic is renting a car. The authorities want to channel tourists along secure paths. For example, it can be tricky to take the regular train between Cairo and Luxor and they will probably tell you to book the sleeper train. Getting to some temples (like Dendera, etc) involves a police escort and most overland trips as well.
But there really is no need to book a tour for Egypt. It’s probably the easiest way (but not necessarily the cheapest). If you organize transfers between the different cities, nothing speaks against booking the hotels yourself. It will be extremely easy and cheap to get local driver guides to see the different attractions.
Please consider, however, that just because you got a private guide, won’t mean you won’t be surrounded by big groups once you enter the Pyramids or the tombs of the Pharaos. So, there’s less value in doing things independently than you might think.
If you are looking for a more easily accessible country in Northern Africa, then maybe check out Morocco. Here’s my Egypt vs Morocco guide.
Egypt for solo travelers
Are you wondering if you travel to Egypt all by yourself? I want to be honest with you: The country is perfectly safe if you use your common sense, but it’s probably not the best idea for solo female travelers on their first trip. Catcalls, touching – all these of things will happen, and they will happen frequently.
It’s a totally different culture and if you don’t have tough skin and know how to walk across a market as a lone woman in the middle east, you probably will not have that much fun. Marriage swindlers are more common than you might think.
I am not mentioning this because I want you to pick a different country. I know lots of women who went to Egypt alone and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I also heard of girls who complained about getting “harasses” all the time. So do your research and maybe look up some solo female Egypt travel guides as well.
Traveling as a lone man is no problem. I might have a way tougher skin than others, but I didn’t notice even mild forms of problems.
Tipping in Egypt
Tipping (Baksheesh) is very widespread in Egypt. From housekeeping to the porter, basically everyone will expect a small tip. 5 Egyptian Pounds (about 30 cents) will be enough for these small favors and it makes sense to change money in a way so you end up with lots of small denominations. There is no need to overtip.
Local guides will expect a bit more, though I noticed that some of them came to expect highly exaggerated tips (especially if you read some Egypt travel guides on TripAdvisor). I’d stick to around 10 -15 USD per day for a good private guide. Do consider that the average income in Egypt is a lot lower than in the U.S. or central Europe. Qualified jobs in the tourism sector are usually better paid than most other industries.
In restaurants, a tip of 10-15% is the norm. For housekeeping, 3-5 Egyptian Pounds per day is perfectly fine. Consider to generously round up the fare for a smooth taxi ride. Most people will gladly accept tips in Euro or US-Dollar as well. I personally feel that tourists shouldn’t help to undermine the local currency, which is why I recommend changing some money at the airport.