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Things to Do in Egypt

An ancient land of towering pyramids and endless stretches of desert, Egypt is often referred to as the cradle of civilization. On the lush banks of the Nile River, papyrus reeds sway alongside pharaonic temples, and sandblasted tombs reside beneath the mysterious gaze of the Sphinx. With so much to see, a popular way to explore the Gift of the Nile is by cruise ship, with options ranging from week-long luxury jaunts to shorter, budget-friendly trips. Popular stopovers include Aswan, home to the Aswan High Dam and Philae Temple; Luxor, where temple complexes in the Valley of the Kings pay testament to pharaohs including King Tutankhamun; and, of course, Cairo, capital city and gateway to the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and a perfect opportunity for a desert camel ride). Alternatively, make Cairo your base, exploring the enormous Egyptian Museum and doing some shopping in the vast Khan el Khalili Bazaar. From the city, you can take day trips to many of the essential sites, including the ancient capital of Memphis—home to Egypt’s oldest pyramid. Following a healthy dose of history, head to the Red Sea coast to relax on the golden sands of Hurghada and experience the country’s best scuba diving in Marsa Alam, where unspoiled coral reefs teem with marine life.
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Blue Hole
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Perhaps Egypt’s best-known diving and snorkeling site, the Blue Hole is a coral-fringed submarine sinkhole just north of Dahab in the Sinai. Dropping vertiginously to depths reaching 426 feet (130 meters), with a dramatic tunnel at 183 feet (56 meters), it’s popular with submarine enthusiasts, from technical divers to snorkelers.

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Citadel of Qaitbay (Fort Qaitbey)
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Built on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the longest surviving Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the 15th-century Citadel of Qaitbay (Fort Qaitbey) is a postcard-pretty sea fort. The battlements offer sweeping city views, the small museum houses maritime relics and aquariums, and three pillars likely date from the lighthouse.

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Valley of the Kings
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Valley of the Kings is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, containing dozens of tombs filled with art and hieroglyphics. See King Tutankhamun’s tomb—the most famous sight in the valley—then tour the temples of the sons of Ramses II and of Amenhotep III and others to marvel at the centuries’ old art and artifacts.

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Giza Pyramids
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One of the most mysterious Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and the only one still standing), the Pyramids of Giza—the Great Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre, and Pyramid of Menkaure—still live up to more than 4,000 years of hype. Seeing these 4th-dynasty pyramids and their guardian Great Sphinx rising from the Giza Plateau is a must on any trip to Cairo (and the reason many travelers find themselves in Egypt).

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Philae Temple (Temple of Isis)
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The Philae Temple (Temple of Isis) was once set on a holy island in the Nile River, the site of many pilgrimages. Although projects to dam the Nile once threatened the existence of both the island and the temple, UNESCO worked to rescue and preserve the ancient monument, damming the island itself with a high surrounding wall until the Philae Temple could be moved in sections to a new location: the higher, nearby Agilka Island.

Visit the temple to learn about the temple's history, as well as Isis, who was a very important goddess in ancient times. She was known as the Mother of God, giver of life, and protector and healer of kings.

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Bahariya Oasis
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Beckoning like — well, an oasis — in the middle of a harsh, expansive desert, Bahariya is a respite from the dry sands of Egypt. Natural springs dot the oasis floor, shaded by date palms and fruit trees overhead. The black hills surrounding it are filled with quartz, and the lands contain several impressive ruins — including the Temple of Alexander the Great.

Once an ancient center of agriculture and commerce (even wine was produced here and exported to the Nile Valley) known as the Northern Oasis, it remains part of an important route and hub for visitors. Excavations have revealed thousands of ancient Egyptian mummies here, with more to be discovered. Painted churches and tombs can also be viewed. Both the lands and the remains of the civilizations that once dwelled here give an incredible sense of time and history.

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Egyptian Museum (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities)
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A centerpiece of Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) has been a mecca for Egyptologists since it opened and houses some of the world’s greatest ancient relics. While some collections are moving to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, it remains a must-see for anyone interested in ancient Egypt.

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Hurghada Marina
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Opened in 2008, Hurghada Marina is the recreational hub of the Red Sea resort. Centered on a 200-berth harbour and bordered by the Marina Boulevard—a walkway flanked by palms, parks, and ochre-painted shops and residential blocks—the marina boasts an abundance of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

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Hurghada Grand Aquarium
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Hurghada’s Marine Biology Museum reveals insights into the aquatic wonderland lying offshore.

Whether you’re a keen snorkeler or want to learn more about the world’s rare coral reefs, the museum provides all the answers, focusing on the Red Sea’s ecological environment.

You’ll also find out about the critters that live in the Red Sea, including sharks and turtles.

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Ras Mohammed National Park
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On the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Ras Mohammed National Park is home to Sharm el Sheikh’s best diving, notably Shark Reef, Yolanda Reef, and Jackfish Alley. Besides the pristine coral that awaits offshore, the land delivers empty beaches, rugged cliffs, and desert, plus mangrove swamps, salt marshes, and diverse birdlife.

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More Things to Do in Egypt

St. Catherine's Monastery

St. Catherine's Monastery

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Set beneath a mountain many believe to be the Biblical Mt. Sinai, St. Catherine’s Monastery has a heritage dating back to the fourth century AD and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Still a working monastery, St. Catherine’s has defensive walls that house chapels, a library museum, and what is claimed to be a descendant of the Biblical burning bush.

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Mt. Sinai

Mt. Sinai

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Mt. Sinai rises a lofty 7,497 feet (2,285 meters) above sea level and is an important religious pilgrimage site, where the prophet Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments directly from God. Visit the site’s ancient monastery or hike to the summit for panoramic views of Egypt’s mountainous Sinai Peninsula.

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Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

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Ancient architecture goes monumental at this landmark in Luxor, which houses magnificent statues, columns, and the largest place of worship ever constructed—just a stone’s throw from downtown traffic. Construction of Karnak Temple spanned more than 1,000 years, and it shows in the diverse art and architecture of this Egyptian site.

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Aswan High Dam

Aswan High Dam

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Built to control the Nile River’s annual floods, the Aswan High Dam transformed Egypt’s Nile Valley and created the vast Lake Nasser. The sheer scale of the dam is impressive, and at the top, you’ll find sweeping views of the lake and surrounding desert.

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Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple

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The enormous Luxor Temple was one of the great constructions of the New Kingdom (dating from the 14th century BC) dedicated to the god Amun. It was known as the “Southern Sanctuary” and was the site of ceremonies aimed at encouraging the life-giving Nile floods.

Once through the processional Avenue of Sphinxes you come to the First Pylon, which announces the phenomenal scale of the stonework here: statues, columns and obelisks all compete with each other in a race to the sky.

Ensuing civilizations have also left their marks: there’s a shrine erected by Alexander the Great, Roman wall frescoes as well as a 14th century AD mosque, ensuring this remains a place of worship in the present day.

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Khan Al-Khalili

Khan Al-Khalili

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With a history dating back to the 14th century, the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar is Cairo’s signature shopping destination. It’s an intoxicating warren of streets, houses, and merchants selling everything from gold and spices to shisha pipes and toy camels, not to mention the inevitable scarabs, pyramids, and belly-dancer costumes.

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Abu Simbel Temples

Abu Simbel Temples

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Built as royal tombs, the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor are some of Egypt’s best known archeological sites. Step past the enormous sandstone statues carved into the temple facades, and explore the interiors, which are decorated with art and hieroglyphics.

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Temple of Hatshepsut (at Deir el-Bahari)

Temple of Hatshepsut (at Deir el-Bahari)

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The vast Temple of Hatshepsut (at Deir el-Bahari) rivals the Pyramids as one of the great funerary monuments of the ancient world. Built into the towering cliff face which shelter the Valley of the Kings on the other side, it rises on three enormous terraces connected by ramps, each level marked with a colonnade of stark, largely unadorned square pillars.

Its namesake was one of the few female pharaohs of ancient Egypt, who not unfairly called her monument “Splendor of Splendors”. However, much of the construction dated from earlier rulers, starting with Mentuhotep II in 2050 BC. Numerous sphinxes and other statues have since disappeared, making the whole structure appear even more monolithic.

The cool stone interior provides welcome relief from the pitiless heat of this region, and features well-preserved wall reliefs and hieroglyphics, some in brilliant colors.

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Nile River

Nile River

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Measuring a mighty 4,150 miles (6,680 kilometers) from end to end, the Nile is the world’s longest river. It’s also the lifeblood of Egypt, flowing through the heart of the Sahara desert, and passing through cities, including Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor, and Cairo, before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.

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Saqqara (Sakkara)

Saqqara (Sakkara)

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Set about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo, Saqqara (Sakkara) was the burial place for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, now in ruins. The site features a small sphinx and several pyramids—the most famous of which is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which represented a major advance in building techniques.

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Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnon

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Little remains of the once impressive Amenhotep’s memorial temple. But the two imposing statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, erected to guard the ancient entrance, still stand watch some 3,400 years later. Today, travelers can venture to the shores of the Nile, just across from the city of Luxor, and revel at the giant manmade sculptures.

In addition to these impressive twin statues, travelers can check out two smaller figures of the Pharaoh’s wife, Tiy, and mother, Mutemwia. Visitors can also get an up close look at the sandstone panel carvings that showcase images of the Nile god Hapy. Even if most of the Colossi has been lost to weather an the ages, travelers can still get a sense of the wonder this site once held.

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Giftun Islands

Giftun Islands

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The two Giftun Islands—Giftun Kebir and Giftun Sughayer—are some of the closest to Egypt’s resort town of Hurghada and comprise part of a marine reserve in the Red Sea with spectacular coral reefs and drop-offs teeming with life. Day-trippers come for snorkeling, diving, and sunbathing on the pair of islands’ pristine, protected beaches.

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Roman Amphitheatre

Roman Amphitheatre

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The centerpiece of the Kom al Dikka archaeological site, Alexandria’s Roman amphitheater extends in 13 tiers of white-marble seating. Built in the second century AD with space for 800 citizens, it’s the only known Roman theater in Egypt and housed political demonstrations and wrestling matches as well as drama.

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Memphis

Memphis

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During Egypt’s Old Kingdom period, Memphis, located near Cairo, was home to the pharaohs who built the pyramids. But domestic architecture didn’t last like the pyramids did, so most all that remains of Memphis today is the Mit Rahina open-air sculpture museum.

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