Stand dwarfed by ancient architectural wonders, uncover pharaohs’ tombs and temples, and glide along the Nile in style – you can’t do it anywhere else.
Egyptomania has had a feverish grip on Western culture since ancient times. Flaunting cursed mummies, Cleopatra and the Great Pyramids, this 3,000-year-old civilisation beguiled even the Greeks and Romans, empires only half its age. There’s no place like it in the world – you can embark on mesmerising, unique experiences in Egypt unlike anything you'll find elsewhere.
Read on for our picks of the moments you really mustn’t miss.
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1. Take a luxury cruise on the Nile River
The fertile heart of an otherwise desert-laden country, the Nile is synonymous with Egypt. There’s no better way to experience its many wonders than by cruising this snaking waterway. Feel like a pharaoh as you step aboard a luxury riverboat, greeted by the sound of traditional drums and horns and the flash of flaming swords in ceremonial procession. By day, discover the colossal temples and relics dotting the shores of Luxor, Aswan and Edfu. At dusk, don traditional jellabiya and dine royally, or sip sunset cocktails in a pool-deck cabana.
2. Witness the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
They’re not the only ones in the world, but the pyramids in Egypt are by far the most famous (and the tallest). The Great Pyramid of Giza, tomb of Pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty, was built in the 26th century BCE and took nearly 30 years to complete. Not only is it the oldest of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it’s also the last standing. Built of immense limestone blocks, it towers over two other 'king' pyramids and several ‘queen’ pyramids, plus the Sphinx. Be sure to channel your inner Lara Croft and opt for a guided tour of the interior.
3. Discover the world's greatest open-air museum
The Temple of Luxor. It just sounds so incredibly… luxe. Built within ancient Thebes, Egypt’s capital for over 1500 years, this complex – the largest concentration of ancient ruins in the world – was created not in service to the gods, but to host the over-the-top, A-list celebrations of the kings of old. Alexander the Great bragged about being crowned here during his six-month stint kicking Persian oppressors out of the country, though history proves otherwise. Try parading down the main avenue at dusk – flanked by glowing golden palm trees and a hundred sphinxes prostrating unto your magnificence, you’ll understand why shindigs here were in high demand.
4. Take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor
Follow your intimate night visit to Luxor with a daytime flight and viewing from above. Nothing beats the dramatic reveal of the temples at sunrise, as heavenly white light floods over the horizon, bringing huge monuments like the Colossi of Memnon, Temple of Hatshepsut and Valley of the Kings into sight. Watch as dozens more balloons fill the skies around you, colourful baubles creating a festive backdrop for your airborne photo-op. In one hour or less, you’ll take in an expanse of historic sites that would require days to cover on land.
5. Walk among ancient tombs in the Valley of the Kings
Pyramids are great and all, but let’s be real – nothing stays in fashion forever. From the 16th to 11th century BCE, imperial families chiselled into the mountainside near Luxor, founding the Valley of the Kings, the cemetery for your eternal rest long before Hollywood Forever or Pere Lachaise. Deep tunnels and creepy maze-like passages offered better protection from tomb raiders after the family jewels. And with a remote location, it remained largely forgotten until 1922, when Egyptologists stumbled across King Tutankhamun's golden sarcophagus. The site is so extensive and well-hidden that archaeologists are still uncovering new tombs, with over 60 currently mapped.
6. Go Aswan Islands-hopping on a traditional felucca
The vision of feluccas sailing across the glittering Nile like hundreds of white-winged swallows has remained an emblematic image of Egypt since ancient rule. Why not spend a day lounging on a pile of radiant pillows and rugs atop one of these traditional wooden boats, exploring the palm-laden shores of Aswan? Once an important trading centre bordering Egypt and Nubia, this archipelago houses the incredibly well-preserved Philae temple complex, dedicated to preeminent gods Isis, Osiris and Horus, as well as the Aswan Botanical Garden, which maintains an impressive collection of exotic flora.
7. Dine in a floating palace in Cairo
Take a trip around the world without ever leaving the decks of Le Pacha 1901. Designed to be the floating palace of an Ottoman dignitary, or ‘pacha,’ who passed away in – you guessed it – 1901, this enormous riverboat found new life as a dinner boat in 1992. Today, you can savour Roman piazza vibes at Piccolo Mondo or escape to the Belle Epoque in Parisian-style bistro Le Steak. L’Asiatique touts the best Asian dining in Africa, or you might opt for Le Tarbouche, which serves Egyptian fare from the pacha’s own time amid the gilt interiors of his former bedroom.
8. Stand dwarfed by the colossi guarding Abu Simbel
After conquering Nubia in the 13th century BCE, Ramses II decided to prove a point to his newest subjects. A big one. He commissioned two temples to be built in the village of Abu Simbel – one dedicated to himself and the other his wife, Queen Nefertari – ensuring them each godlike status, worthy of ongoing worship by all his people, even in the afterlife. Following his 66-year reign, Ramses the Great made a mighty impression on history. Evidence suggests he was the pharaoh of Moses' lifetime, and to this day the four looming statues of his seated figure that guard Abu Simbel have become icons of Egyptian itineraries.
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