Few places in the world are as captivating as Egypt. The country offers bucket-list views of the pyramids and the chance to walk through history at destinations like the Valley of the Kings, but Egypt isn’t just for history buffs. Egypt is for foodies, architecture aficionados, culture lovers, photographers, and adventure travelers. It starts as a once-in-a-lifetime destination, although one visit is hardly enough.
After months of planning and saving, I finally booked my trip to Egypt for the spring of 2019. From the second I landed in Cairo, I knew it was the right decision. My fiancé and I spent days exploring Cairo before heading down to Luxor and then spending our final two days in Giza. It was everything I’d dreamed of as a photographer who loves learning about and documenting different cultures.
Here’s why you should head to Egypt, too.
1. It Offers Ancient History At Its Finest
Destinations like Rome and Athens may boast impressive historic sights, but nothing can match the ancient history that permeates this North African country. From the Great Pyramid of Giza — the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one that remains — to the Valley of the Kings, where dozens of pharaohs (including the famous King Tutankhamun, or King Tut) are buried, Egypt’s landmarks are legendary.
The Valley of the Kings, located in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, was one of the most impressive historic sights on our tour. You can actually see King Tut’s mummified body in his tomb! The 2,000-year-old Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor is equally remarkable. The 200-acre area of temples and monuments is located near the equally awe-inspiring yet smaller (and less crowded) Luxor Temple.
Of course, we haven’t even gotten to the treasure trove of history in Giza, where the Great Pyramid and Sphinx stand tall. Visitors can actually climb into the pyramid — we did — but it’s a harrowing, narrow climb that definitely fueled my claustrophobia. (In all honesty, I wouldn’t do it again — there’s nothing to see inside.)
2. The History Goes Beyond Ancient Egypt
While most people think of ancient history when they think of Egypt, the area boasts an equally impressive amount of medieval history, particularly in and around Cairo. In Old Cairo, for example, we booked a walking tour with Walk Like An Egyptian to learn about Egypt under Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt in the 12th century; the Ottomans; and the Mamluks. The tour even covered recent Egyptian history. The tour included a stop at the magnificent Mosque of Muhammad Ali, a 170-foot-tall monument built for the Ottoman governor Muhammad Ali of Egypt.
3. The Architecture Is Magnificent
If you appreciate architecture, you’ll love the monuments sprinkled throughout Egypt. For starters, the Karnak Temple Complex and Luxor Temple display mind-boggling ancient architecture with hieroglyphics, statues, and mazes of pillars that were all built around the sun and moon phases.
Head up to Giza, and of course the Sphinx and pyramids will captivate you, but don’t miss the soon-to-open Grand Egyptian Museum, which promises to be one of the world’s largest once it’s finished in 2020. Even in the construction phase (which you can see from the street), it’s obvious that the museum will be yet another Egyptian wonder.
In Islamic Cairo, the dazzling architecture continues along the popular Al-Muizz Street (also part of the Walk Like An Egyptian tour). Minarets speckle the sky while the alleys come alive with dozens of intricate mosques and mausoleums, some even lined with mother of pearl on the inside.
4. You Can’t Beat The Shopping
Sure, steins from Germany and rugs from Morocco make great souvenirs, but Egypt’s traditional crafts — think papyrus, alabaster, and the ancient textile khayamiya — are truly unique.
In Luxor, craftsmen make all sorts of home décor out of alabaster from the region’s mountains. We watched the stonemasons work and learned about the process before stepping into the shop to buy some of their goods.
In Old Cairo, we fell in love with khayamiya, an intricate textile hand-stitched with traditional symbols such as the Eye of Horus. We came home with a khayamiya pillowcase that now decorates our living room. Other khayamiya products include quilts and wall hangings.
5. The Food Is Unique And Flavorful
Food is a peek behind the curtain of a culture, which is why I spent hours researching the best traditional dishes to eat in Cairo. It turns out that there are dozens to choose from! Some of the best dishes include ful, a fava bean stew, and feteer, a flaky layered pastry that can be savory or sweet.
While we tried these dishes on our own in several local restaurants, we didn’t fully grasp their significance until we took a food tour with Bellies En-Route. This tour was probably the best investment of our trip, and not just because we had the chance to try delicious new dishes like koshari (rice, macaroni, and lentils with tomato sauce) and salad water (a refreshing palate-cleanser).
On our tour with the cofounder of Bellies en-Route we learned about contemporary life in Cairo — where people eat, what people do for fun, and how things have changed since the revolution. Next time I’m in Cairo, I’ll be taking this tour again.
Be sure to bring an appetite! You’ll be eating for 3 hours — and the food is so good that we ate just about every bite.
6. Luxury Hotels Aren’t As Expensive
Before researching Egypt, I never thought I’d be able to afford a hotel with a balcony overlooking the pyramids or a pool with a view of the Great Pyramid. But I was wrong! We spent our time in Giza at the luxurious Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, and our room with a view wasn’t more than $120 per night. It came with access to the pyramid-view pool, not to mention a pyramid-view outdoor dining table and basically pyramid-view everything!
In Luxor, we stayed at the Pavillon Winter Hotel, which was equally as impressive with its massive pool, luxurious amenities, balconies overlooking gardens, and poolside grill. We forced ourselves to leave the property to eat in town, but if we’d been there another night, we definitely would have ordered room service!
7. The Scenery Will Take Your Breath Away
I realize that many destinations boast spectacular scenery, but Egypt was unlike any place I’ve seen — especially when viewed from a hot-air balloon. We took a balloon ride in Luxor, where we had the chance to fly over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise with views of the Nile River and the glowing orange horizon.
And that was just the beginning. Egypt from the water — we took a felucca boat tour, a must-do in Cairo or Luxor — is equally as stunning. The boat tours take you up a portion of the historic Nile, typically around sunset so that you can see the cities at their finest.
The views continue atop the Cairo Tower, a free-standing viewing deck in the Zamalek neighborhood that’s perfect for watching the sunset while appreciating just how expansive Cairo really is. From the Cairo Tower, you can see Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo, the pyramids, and beyond.
After visiting the viewing deck, spend some time exploring Zamalek’s waterfront for more views of Cairo. It’s one of the city’s safest and most charming neighborhoods.
Planning An Egyptian Vacation
How To Get There
Flying into Cairo is the easiest option. You can get a taxi at the airport, although it’s better to book a car ahead of time. We hired a driver through Viator. For the price of a taxi, he was waiting for us with a sign by the arrivals gate.
How To Get Around
You can always get a taxi, but they’re known to prey on foreigners. Uber is available in Egypt, although it’s easier and safer to have your hotel book your car service. We found peace of mind in hiring a local guide for most excursions.
How To Handle The Language Barrier
Most people in Egypt speak Arabic, and few speak English (other than a few words here and there). This is another reason why it’s important to have a guide.
Ready to book your trip to Egypt? Good! Here’s how to prepare for visiting the Giza pyramids.
6 Odd Museums You May Not Have Heard Of
- HENRY MOORE
Whether you’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt, Impressionist art, or simply the bizare, these six world class museums contain fun-filled displays for everyone. But you may not even be aware of them.
1. Sir John Soane’s Museum: London, England
A visit to the historic house, museum, and library of noted 19th-century architect Sir John Soane is not your average day out. Throughout his life, Sir John created what the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture calls “one of the most complex, intricate, and ingenious series of interiors ever conceived.”
In accordance with Soane’s wishes, the house has been left virtually untouched since his death, and has stood as his gift to posterity for nearly 180 years. Sir John was an obsessive collector of the art, drawings, architectural models, and artifacts, and these line virtually every square inch of the walls of his home. From paintings of famous artists to a sarcophagus of alabaster that was carved for the Pharaoh Seti I (1291-78 BC), a day at Sir John’s promises to be one of the most interesting museum experiences of a lifetime. Best of all: admission is free!
2. Florence Griswold Museum: Old Lyme, CT, USA
At the turn of the 20th century, a ship captain’s daughter named Florence Griswold decided to turn her family’s sprawling Georgian mansion into a home for the most talented artists of her time. It would go on to become the center of the Lyme Art Colony, out of which sprang some of the greatest masterpieces of American Impressionism.
Today, the mansion has been turned into a museum where visitors can see a vast collection of art, including many works which were painted by former residents such as Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, and Matilda Browne. You’ll even see works that some of the artists painted directly onto the doors and panels of the house. You’re also welcome to walk through the lush gardens on the 13-acre property.
3. Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA): Cancun, Mexico
Where do you go if you want to see one of the coolest museums in Mexico? As it turns out, you’ll have to pay a visit to the ocean floor.
Located from 9-20 feet below the surface of one of the clearest bodies of water in the world, the Museo Subacuático de Arte includes 500 life-sized sculptures depicting everything from local residents to South American celebrities. This underwater art gallery is even eco-friendly, as the sculptures are made from special materials that promote the growth of coral reef. You can get an up close and personal look at the artwork by snorkeling or scuba diving down to visit, or you can view it from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat.
4. Museum Island: Berlin, Germany
Perhaps the only thing better than discovering one of the world’s best museums is discovering five of them at once. This UNESCO heritage site is actually five museums, all located along the river Spree on their own “island.” All five boast their own unique collections, and each is easily worthy of half a day’s exploration.
A trip to the island affords you the chance to gaze upon several relics of the ancient world, including the famous bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, the Ishtar Gate, and the Pergamon Altar. Here you’ll find world-class collections of art and arcana, including items from Ancient Egypt, Byzantium, and prehistoric kingdoms whose names are long forgotten.
Not only are these museums all located in one convenient place, you can also explore them all for the price of one!
5. Miraikan: Daiba, Tokyo, Japan
If you’ve always been fascinated by science, or wondered what the future of humanity might hold, then a trip to Miraikan should make your to-do list. This cutting-edge Japanese museum invites visitors to check out state of the art exhibitions showcasing the latest discoveries in science and technology. You can also as attend various classes and talks. At Miraikan, you can visit a hands-on model of the Internet, take a virtual trip to space, and even meet the museum’s humanoid robots. Though no one may be able to say for sure exactly what the future holds, a visit to Miraikan will leave you well-equipped to make an educated guess.
6. The Egyptian Museum: Cairo, Egypt
How do you pack 5,000 years of Egyptian history into an afternoon? With a trip to the must-see Egyptian Museum in Cairo! As you might expect, it’s home to the world’s most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities, including the famous golden mask of the teenaged Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The museum spans 110 halls, housing over 160,000 artifacts from the prehistoric through the pharaonic eras.
From ancient statuettes of divinities to royal mummies, no trip to Egypt is complete without allowing yourself a firsthand look at the marvels of the great civilization that sprung up along the Nile in the morning of the world.
Whether you long to explore the world of underwater art, or to take a simulated trip into space, we hope one of these museums will add a bit of fun and fascination to your next great adventure!