Top 10 Absolutely Essential Experiences in Egypt

Read on for our essential guide to the top 10 experiences you simply can’t miss for the Egyptian adventure of a lifetime.
November 2022

From the great Pyramids of Giza to the ancient temples of Abu Simbel and the wrecks and reefs of the Red Sea, every corner of Egypt is drenched in the secrets of the pharaohs, and the myths and legends of antiquity. This is a country of astonishing archaeological grandeur, where Lawrence of Arabia desert dunes are sliced in two by the emerald waters of the Nile — heartbeat of the country and sap of the land. Nowhere else in the world can you cruise down the world’s longest river in a felucca at sunrise, see the Great Sphinx rise out of desert sands, and float over Luxor’s Valley of the Kings in a hot air balloon. Egypt has made a triumphant comeback into the world of luxury travel. Read on for our essential guide to the top 10 experiences you simply can’t miss for the Egyptian adventure of a lifetime.

Wonders of Cairo

1. Take in the Wonders of the Ancient Capital of Cairo

Cairo is a whirlpool of influences from all the lords of conquest. The Persians arrived in 525BC with their camels in tow, followed by the Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Mamluks, Turks, French and British, and with each arrival came a new layer of history to add to the shimmering onion. Today Cairo is a fascinating place to get a taste of modern Egyptian culture and street life, with modern shopping malls that can rival those in America, and some truly fascinating museums, vibrant neighbourhoods, and ancient cultural treasures.

There is so much to see and do here, but our top pick is UNESCO World Heritage site Old Cairo, the soul of the city. Get lost in the ancient labyrinthine streets and absorb a captivating cache of architectural riches, colourful souks, glittering mosques, vast madrassas, and lavish Turkish baths, or simply indulge in some street food and soak up the atmosphere. See an entirely different side to Old Cairo in the Coptic quarters, which predates the founding of the city. This is a collection of fortresses, Christian churches and synagogues woven into a multi-faith maze.

Enjoy majestic views over the whole city from the Citadel, one of the most impressive defensive fortresses ever built, and discover the hustle and bustle of Egyptian life in the kaleidoscopic lanes of the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, which features epic Aladdin-like scenery — the market has featured in dozens of films — and stunning medieval Islamic architecture. Feast your eyes on sparkling silverware, gold jewels and antiques, stained-glass lamps, incense, spices, and handmade carpets that will take your breath away. You’re also close to Al-Hussein Mosque, and Wekalet El Ghouri where you can experience an explosion of dance and traditional music.

Pyarmids of Giza

2. Rest Your Eyes on the Great Pyramids of Giza

There is no other experience on earth akin to resting your eyes on the enormity and silent grandeur of the three Great Pyramids of Giza — resting place of the pharaohs. The sheer manpower that was employed to build these mysterious structures defies belief. Made by tens of thousands of workers pulling 2.5–16 tonne stones with ropes and sleds through the dunes, Giza allows us to explore a long-vanished world, and the magnitude of the engineering remains one of science’s biggest mysteries.

Built by three consecutive pharaohs — Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure — the Pyramids of Giza are essentially monumental tombs constructed some 4,500 years ago, around 2550 BC. The three successive pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife, and to prepare for the next world they erected tombs for themselves filled with all the things each ruler would need to guide and sustain him in the next world. Each massive pyramid is but one part of a larger complex, including a palace, temples to the gods, solar boat pits, and other features.

Not only are they a cemetery but hidden within is a world full of unexpected secret chambers, decorated tombs and rooms — the biggest discover of which was a massive void nearly 31 metres long that lay just above Khufu’s pyramid's grand gallery. Here you can view extraordinary scenes of every aspect of life in ancient Egypt from farmers working their fields and tending livestock, to fishing and fowling, carpentry, costumes, religious rituals and burial practices. The Pyramid of Khufu allows tourists to enter through a passageway from the Grand Gallery to the King’s Chamber.

At night the Pyramid of Khufu comes alive with a Sound and Light Show, with films projected off the stone depicting life in ancient times. Egyptian Pharaohs rise to narrate stories of rule and triumph, and this is a magical experience not to be missed.

Great Sphinx of Giza

3. The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza, which sits as sentinel looking out over the Giza pyramids, is undoubtedly the most famous sculpture in the world. No other monument evokes more mystery than the ancient lion with its human head. Archaeological studies tell us that the Sphinx (unlike the pyramids) was carved from a great hulking mass of limestone. For thousands of years, the entire structure was buried up to its shoulders creating an immense disembodied head atop the eastern ring of the Sahara. Approximately 66 feet tall and 240 feet long, it is one of the largest and oldest monolithic statues on earth. No image could possibly prepare you for the scale and magnitude, and to see it in person is a truly humbling experience.

Here at A&K, we invite Dr Zahi Hawass, renowned Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities, for a private walk with guests paired with exclusive access to what we call ‘the Paws of the Sphinx’. Hawass shares the story of the Sphinx — along with his own discoveries in the region — all while you are standing in its shadow. You’ll hear the myths of kings written in hieroglyphics on the granite stelae set right between the paws, learn of the tombs of the workers that were discovered nearby, and begin to decode the origins of civilisation for a multi-dimensional perspective.

Stand between the creature’s paws, twice the height of the average human and longer than a city bus, and marvel at this awe-inspiring feat.

Abu Simbel

4. Unearth Egypt’s Ancient Temples of Abu Simbel

When it comes to icons of ancient Egypt, the ginormous rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel have earnt their place among some of the world’s most awesome archaeological marvels. Ramses II commissioned the twin temples at Abu Simbel to intimidate his enemies and seat himself among the gods. Arguably one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, Ramses commissioned more monuments than any other, had over 200 wives and more than 100 children, and ruled during the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture for sixty-eight years; so long that some of his subjects began to panic upon his death that the world would end.

Carved into the west bank of the Nile between 1274 and 1244 BC, the colossal monuments — 18-metres tall and 56 metres deep — were built so that on just two days of the year, October 22 and February 22, the sun would shine into the inner sanctuary to commemorate Ramses’ coronation and birth. The halls within display some of the most well-preserved hieroglyphics ever discovered which guests are free to explore.

Over the centuries Abu Simbel, despite its size, was lost to world — buried under the weight of wind-swept sands, until 1813 when a young boy (named Abu Simbel) led Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt to the mysterious site. What happened in 1964, however, makes UNESCO almost as marvellous as the pharaoh himself. They embarked on an unprecedented 20-year rescue effort to relocate both temples, stone by stone, to higher ground some 200 feet farther up the cliff, to save it from floods.

There are two main reasons to see Abu Simbel: a beautiful symmetry exists between its construction and its preservation — both of which leave visitors with a sense of awe at what human beings are capable of.

Luxor Hot Air Balloon

5. Soar Over Luxor in a Hot-Air Balloon

There are so many highlights in Luxor that it’s hard to know where to begin. Sitting on the banks of the Nile, and aptly named ‘the world’s greatest open-air museum’, the setting is achingly beautiful. Step back 3000 years in time to the former city of Thebes, set on both sides of the Nile and home to awe-inspiring temples, funerary complexes and ruins. In ancient times, Luxor’s East Bank was the land of the living, where the sun rose and people thrived, and the West Bank was the land of the dead, where the sun set, and people journeyed into the afterlife.

With Abercrombie & Kent explore the city with your own private Egyptologist and revel in an exclusive A&K chance to descend into the Tomb of King Tutankhamen, before visiting the former home of the legendary archaeologist who unearthed it, Howard Carter. You’ll also want to descend into the rarely-entered Tomb of Seti I in the famed Valley of the Kings — an awe-inspiring, mind-boggling experience — which is by far the most vibrantly decorated tomb in the valley. Seti I (father of Ramses II, the creator of Abu Simbel) wasted no time preparing for his afterlife; his is the deepest, most decorated tomb in the valley and this burial chamber is now among the best preserved in the country. Its walls are filled with magnificent images from many ancient texts, including the Litany of Ra, Book of the Dead, Book of Gates, Book of the Heavenly Cow and others. The colours still pop 3000 years later. With A&K, gain insider access entry to this rarely visited tomb.

Without a doubt, the best way to see Luxor is on a magical sunrise hot-air balloon ride, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole open-air museum. Leaving at sunrise, your aerial panorama passes over some of Egypt’s most iconic monuments, including the magnificent temples of Karnak and Hatshepsut, turning them a stunning medley of dawn colours as the light rises.

Luxury Nile Cruise

6. Cruise Along the Nile Absorbing Life on the Water

Cruising the world’s longest river is one of Egypt's most iconic experiences, and no journey would do the country justice without this in it. Without the Nile, none of Egypt's grand civilizations would have survived and thrived through the ages. Today the Nile still enables modern Egypt, with around 95 percent of its people living along the banks and in the river's lush green delta before it spills into the Mediterranean.

A luxury Nile cruise is a journey into Egypt's epic human history, the riverbanks scattered with Egypt's most famous vast temples and painted tomb sites. It's also a taste of Egypt at its most lush and tranquil, and an up-close experience of the country's rural riverine scenery, where children run along the banks and wave.

With Abercrombie & Kent experience life on the water and allow the banks to stir the senses aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV. This beautiful sailing boat is spacious, intimate and elegant and features on A&K's 'Nile in Style' and ‘A Portrait of Egypt’ journeys — and comes with its own private A&K docks. Views throughout are magnificent and an intimate bar and lounge area provide the perfect setting to relax and reflect on the day's activities.

For an altogether different perspective, A&K also take you on a felucca (a traditional Egyptian sailboat) around Elephantine Island and Lord Kitchener’s Botanical Gardens in Aswan, as well as Aga Khan Mausoleum, docking in smaller moorings or sandbanks for private picnicking.

The Red Sea

7. Discover a Carnival of Colours in the Mysterious Red Sea

Something would be amiss if we didn’t mention the epic diving mecca of the Red Sea. It is one of the first large bodies of water ever mentioned in recorded history. A vital trading route, this body of water has been used for commerce since ancient Egyptian times. But what is really astonishing about the sea is the level of biodiversity under its shimmering surface. Epic rainbow coral, a dizzying array of marine life and warm temperatures throughout the year make the Red Sea a much sought-after destination.

Uncover some of the most spectacular diving and snorkelling on the planet in a truly astounding underwater ecosystem. It is home to over 300 species of coral and 1,200 species of fish — 10% of which are found nowhere else in the world. Spinner dolphins, dugongs, turtles, mantas, and sharks are just some of the marine species that call these waters home, and snorkellers can swim in a kaleidoscopic wonderland of brightly coloured angelfish, butterflyfish and clownfish, while divers can discover the ghosts of lavish shipwrecks.

These reefs are up to 7,000 years old in parts, and many are protected by the Egyptian Government as part of Ras Mohammed National Park. Recline on golden sands, admire the coloured mountains that fringe the coast, take to the waters for windsurfing and sailing, enjoy hikes and walks around the mountains for breathtaking views, and discover thousands of migrating birds, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.

Pyramid of Djoser in Sakkara

8. Egyptologist Picks: Pyramid of Djoser & Tomb of Wahtye in Sakkara

Thirty-two kilometres south of Cairo, where the Nile’s crop fields give way to burnt-orange dunes, the ancient site of Saqqara and its crumbling pyramids emerge from the sand like dragon's teeth. Saqqara is hot property in the archaeology world at the moment, its most recent find yielding 250 painted coffins dating back 2500 years. This is a lesser-known site but a favourite of our resident Egyptologists, particularly the striking Pyramid of Djoser built in the 27th century BC. Pharoah Doser launched the entire tradition of erecting pyramids.

Sakkara is also home to hundreds of tombs that belong to the noble class in Egypt. Though small in size, the tombs show a great deal of special artwork not found inside the pyramids or the elaborate tombs of the kings and queens. They reveal everyday life in ancient Egypt with scenes of housewives at home with the children, farmers in the field, and others fishing or tending to their flock.

Fans of the new Netflix documentary ‘Secrets of the Sakkara Tomb’ who travel with A&K can now arrange for special access to the Tomb of Wahtye — another favourite of our Egyptologists. We take guests to Sakkara’s unique coffin, also known as the Tomb of Apis the Bull. The purpose of the tomb has puzzled Egyptologists since its discovery in 1850, but one thing we know for sure is that it is home to many mummified deified bulls.

Analysis of the skeletal remains found in the Tomb of Wahtye suggest the whole family was suffering from Malaria, which would represent the earliest known example of the disease. Evidence of cystic swelling and distension was identified in the bones of Wahtye and his mother, while the fact that his children all appear to have died young, at around the same time, indicates that the whole family may have fallen prey. This also explains why they were given hastier and more basic burials than would otherwise be expected.

Our guests are among the privileged few to descend into this massive underground structure — during a private exclusive opening — containing granite coffins that weigh over 100 tonnes each.

Temple of Isis at Philae

9. Egyptologist Pick: Romantic Myth at the Pagan Temple of Isis

Another favourite of our resident Egyptologists is a visit to the Temple of Isis at Philae on the banks of Lake Nassar, an essential highlight of any Nile cruise. This is the birthplace of the cult of Isis, which continued here until at least AD 550. The ancient cult of Isis then spread throughout the Mediterranean from the 3rd century BC and beyond. The boat across the lake leaves you near the Kiosk of Nectanebo, the oldest part, and the entrance to the temple is marked by the 18m-high first pillar with reliefs of Neos Dionysos striking his enemies.

The Temple of Isis is arguably the last pagan site to be built in Egypt and home to the most romantic story in Egyptian mythology. The myth tells the story of Isis who retrieves the body of her spouse Osiris, killed and dismembered by his brother Seth, to revive him with her magical limbs. In this way, she becomes the life-giving deity. The pagan cult later became particularly popular among the lower classes of the Roman city of Pompeii, with fans enamoured with the hope it offered for life after death.

This temple is one of the most beautiful in the country. The temple was later used as a Christian church, with crosses carved into the older hieroglyph reliefs. It was originally set on an island that flooded with the construction of the High Dam in 1960. Rescue efforts came later through UNESCO, who undid the entire temple and reconstructed it on the neighbouring Island of Agilika, on the banks of the lake.

Don't miss the sound and light show at night.

Grand Egyptian Museum

10. Discover an Epic Ode to History in the Grand Egyptian Museum

When the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) opens in early 2023, it will not only be the new crown jewel of Egypt, but it will also be one of the largest, most modern, and most renowned museums in the entire world. Add to this fame the largest archaeological museum on earth and you’re beginning to understand the enormity of the project. The museum will house about 100,000 ancient artifacts; for the first time ever, King Tut’s ginormous cache of treasures will be on display alongside artifacts from pre-historic times and every single one of the Egypt’s ages — Predynastic, Ancient Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Coptic, Islamic periods, through to contemporary modern times.

Here at A&K we take you on insider access exclusive pre-open visits to the collection and this is an experience not to be missed. If you happen to be travelling before it opens, you’ll be hitting up The National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations (NMEC) and the Egyptian Museum; both collections will be moved to GEM next year.

For many, a trip to Egypt is a bucket-list dream. We’ve been taking travellers to Egypt for more than four decades. We opened our first office in Egypt in 1982, and since then have established seven offices throughout the country, including one at Abu Simbel, making us the undisputed experts at adventures to this mind-boggling destination. We have a staff of over 350 on the ground and our own resident Egyptologist who takes guests on a journey to the greatest time machine on earth.

Reach out to our Journey Designers or contact your travel agent to learn more and start planning your luxury Egypt tour today.

Our website uses cookies. Click accept to receive all cookies or change your cookie settings here.