Stretching 4,000 miles from East Africa to the Mediterranean, the Nile River presents one of the best ways to experience Egypt. Historic cities, archaeological wonders and thrilling desert adventures await.
At the lower base of the Nile River and located just north of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser is the city of Aswan -- Egypt’s gateway to Africa. On the city’s east bank, see the Nubian Museum and Unfinished Obelisk, the largest known ancient obelisk, while the west bank holds the Tombs of the Nobles and the seventh-century Monastery of St. Simeon. Other popular attractions include the High Dam, Philae Temple, Aswan Souk, the Nubian villages and Aswan Museum on Elephantine Island and the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener’s Island, where you’ll find birds, palm trees and hundreds of plant species.
A short excursion from Aswan is Abu Simbel near the Egypt-Sudanese border. Built by Pharaoh Ramses II more than 3,000 years ago, these temples are examples of ancient Egyptian architecture and showcase statues carved from solid rock and towering 60-plus feet high.
Just above Aswan is the Greco-Roman Temple of Kom Ombo. Built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, this double temple honors Sobek the crocodile god on the southern end and Horus the falcon-headed sun god on the northern half. A number of crocodile mummies also are on display here. In nearby Edfu, there is another Greco-Roman temple dedicated to Horus the sun god. One of the best-preserved temples in Egypt, it features rich designs and elaborate details depicting ancient mythology.
North of Edfu on the Nile is Luxor, known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians. Once the dynastic and religious capital of the country, Luxor often is thought to be the most amazing open-air museum in the world with its massive array of ruins and monuments set among the deserts, river and cosmopolitan cityscapes.
On the city’s west bank lies the necropolis of ancient Thebes, an archaeological delight and home to the ethereal Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. You’ll see magnificent tombs carved into desert rock here, including those of King Tutankhamun and Queen Nefertari. Other highlights on the west bank include the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, ancient Egypt’s longest-ruling female pharaoh, as well as Medinet Habu and the Colossi of Memnon.
The contemporary city of Luxor is on the east bank. Public transportation, museums, shops and most hotels and restaurants are found here, along with Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temples. Luxor Temple was largely the work of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, though many succeeding rulers built onto the temple afterward. See massive statues of Ramses II, Alexander the Great’s shrine and Abu Haggag Mosque. Walk along the Avenue of Sphinxes to Karnak, the largest temple complex built by man, with its elegant courtyards and brilliant Hypostyle Hall. Also on the east bank are Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum.
Continuing north along the Nile River brings you to Cairo, Egypt’s capital. This lively metropolis is a dynamic blend of ancient wonders and modern amenities. The capital stretches out along both banks of the Nile, with the governorship of Giza on the west bank and that of Cairo proper on the east bank.
Perhaps the most famous of Cairo’s sights are the Great Pyramids of Giza on the west bank -- three pyramids built more than four millennia ago, honoring Kings Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura, set atop the Giza Plateau and guarded by the Great Sphinx. Each Egyptian pyramid was carefully designed and constructed to protect the bodies of deceased pharaohs as they transformed and ascended to their place among the gods. Of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza are the only ones that still exist.
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the largest of the three monuments. Originally about 480 feet tall, the Great Pyramid’s base has sides that are longer than 754 feet and are oriented in the direction of the four cardinal points of the compass. The pyramids of Khafra and Menkaura stand beside the Great Pyramid and add to the wonder and power of the Giza complex. Nearby is the ancient funerary barge of King Khufu in the Solar Boat Museum, and just past Giza is the world’s oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid in Saqqara.
In Cairo proper on the east bank is Tahrir Square in downtown. A hub of metropolitan activity, the large square features many attractions, including the Arab League headquarters, Omar Makram Mosque, the American University in Cairo and the National Egyptian Museum. The museum offers the greatest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, including King Tutankhamun’s gold mask and the Mummy Room where 37 Egyptian pharaohs lie at rest. Also on the east bank is centuries-old Khan al Khalili souk, where shoppers can haggle for a diverse assortment of goods.
Historic mosques can be found all over Cairo, including Al Azhar Mosque, established in A.D. 972, and the massive Madrasa of Sultan Hassan. The narrow streets of Coptic Cairo, formerly the Roman fortress known as Babylon, will lead you to the Hanging Church (so named because it was built above a gatehouse at the fortress, its nave suspended above a passageway), the Convent of St. George, Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Coptic Museum.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, stylish Alexandria lies at the foot of the fertile Nile River delta. Crowned the “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” this is Egypt’s second-largest city and largest seaport. Make your way to the Citadel of Qaitbay to see the Mamluk fortress built in 1480, then view the ancient Pompey’s Pillar, the second-century Roman Theatre and the Cemetery of Mostafa Kamel. Head to Kom el Shuqqafa for Roman catacombs and a fascinating mix of Roman and Egyptian iconography, or visit Montaza Palace, housing extensive gardens, a casino and a museum.
Bibliophiles won’t want to miss the Alexandria Library with its planetarium, museum of archaeology and almost 8,000 ancient manuscripts and rare books kept in the basement. Popular museums include Alexandria National Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Greco-Roman Museum. When you’re ready to relax, take part in the city’s cafe culture by enjoying coffee or tea and people-watching on a cafe terrace.
The Red Sea & Sinai Peninsula
East of the Nile and on the Red Sea Coast is the resort town of Hurghada, where sandy beaches greet sun seekers and water sports enthusiasts. Hit the beach during the day and explore the restaurant and bar scene at night.
The Sinai Peninsula is Egypt’s easternmost region, lying between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and Red Sea to the south. The most noteworthy landmark on the peninsula is Mount Sinai, reputedly where Moses received the Ten Commandments. At the foot of Mount Sinai is St. Catherine’s Monastery, located where God is said to have spoken to Moses at the burning bush. As the oldest continually working Christian monastery in the world, St. Catherine’s is rich in religious art and houses a collection of ancient manuscripts second in size only to the Vatican’s.