So your heading to Egypt… It can be pretty overwhelming when you look into just how many tombs, temples, shrines and beautiful Ancient Egyptian sights there are to see in this fascinating country. My recent tour with Travel Talk opened my eyes to the immense history behind the mythology and religions that shaped ancient Egypt and its modern counterpart.
Before heading off to Egypt, you should look at the logistical side of getting between sights, and which need day tours. I highly suggest going with a group tour, like Travel Talk, as we had this route all planned for us!
STARTING IN CAIRO:
Welcome to Egypt! The bustling metropolis of Cairo is full of vibrant and exciting places to visit Ancient Egyptian sights. We were only here four days in total (two days with guides, two days without) so you can definitely fit everything you want to see in just a few days.
GREAT PYRAMIDS AND SPHINX
Pretty much the number one bucket list item for everyone heading to Egypt is to see the Giza Plateau. The last standing wonder of the ancient world is located surprisingly close to the city itself, bordering the Libyan desert. The plateau is a UNESCO heritage listed site, made up of various tombs, pyramids and landmarks.
You will need to pay entry into the Giza Plateau – this costs around 60 Egyptian Pound per person (half price for students). Once inside, you will bear witness to the three Great Pyramid’s, Sphinx, several cemeteries and former workers complexes.
We headed to the Pyramids as a part of our tour, so had our own personal guide. I would suggest, if going alone, to either read up on the history of the Pyramids, or get a short 15-20 minute speech from a local guide when you arrive. You will need about 1-2 hours here – it is hot, but walking around the base alone of one pyramid takes about 20 minutes!
The Pyramids themselves are named Giza, Khafre and Menkaure. Few people hear about Giza’s rival pyramids, those of the former King Khufu’s wives and sisters. Nearby, on the plateau, you’ll also find the Great Sphinx and the Solar Boat Museum. This is where the touristy ‘Sound and Light Show’ at Giza takes place most evenings, and where you can also jump on board a camel for a ride around the ruins.
HEADING SOUTH: LUXOR
From Cairo, you can opt to head to either Luxor or Aswan, but try and stop at at least one or two of these sights to break up the journey south – it will be a long drive (10+ hours)! I suggest ticking one or two things off in Luxor, along with a hot air balloon ride and city explorations, then head down to Aswan, then back to Luxor before circling around to Cairo once again.
LUXOR TEMPLE – BY NIGHT
My favourite of the major cities, Luxor, is located on the banks of the Nile with a vast array of beautiful sights and local treasures. Luxor Temple is a large Ancient Egyptian temple complex located on the east bank of the Nile River and was constructed in approximately 1400 BCE.
This temple complex is huge and very well maintained. I suggest heading here at night as it is one of the only ones that light up and allow you in after dark, giving it a special, almost creepy feel. Luxor Temple is one of the many temples paying tribute to gods Amun, Mut, and Khonso and the royalties of Ramesses II, Tutankhamen and Amenhotep III.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
By far the most famous and elaborate temple complex filled with Ancient Egyptian sights, The Valley of the Kings lies hidden in the grand rock cliffs beside the western banks of the Nile. The nearest city here is Luxor, so it is the perfect day trip. During the later stages of Ancient Egyptian rule, the valley became a secret burial ground for the late pharaohs such as Thutmoses I, Amenhotep I, Ramses II – X, as well as queens, high priests, and other elites of the later dynasties. The most famed, of course, is that of King Tutankhamun – found in 1922 by Howard Carter.
If you have time, make sure you see Ramses VI (my personal favourite) and Horemheb – as well as King Tut, which does cost a little extra. Entry into the Valley starts at 100 Egyptian Pound plus ancillaries such as King Tut (50).
You can also choose to take donkey rides and hot air balloons over/around the Valley – the balloons were INCREDIBLE and I would suggest adding that to your bucket list asap!
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
There is nothing like a ruthless Queen’s rule to get your history juices flowing! Located right near the Valley of the Kings, also on the western bank of the Nile, stands the royal mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
The story of Queen Hatshepsut, stepmother of young pharaoh Thutmose III, is one you have to know before heading to Luxor. The Queen ruled Egypt whilst her step-son Thutmose III was too young, after the passing of her brother and husband (yuck!), King Thutmose II. She remains the first female monarch, with over two decades under her belt. The Queen was famed for dressing as a man, to avoid any disrespect of her position as the highest power in the land.
There is much mystery and turmoil regarding the end of her reign, with the kingship eventually taken back by Thutmose III. Many of her constructions have been destroyed, some even changed into depictions of Thutmose III instead of the Queeen, showing that he was not impressed she ruled instead of him for over 20 years!
Something also very special about this sight, is that it is situated in a near impossible, perfect straight line of the temple of Karnak, dedicated to the God of the Sun, Amun, in who she named her father.
Karnak, for me, was the absolute icing on top of the cake for my touring of Egypt. This colossal temple complex was built over a 2,000 year span and is the biggest in the country. The Temple area is dedicated to the mighty god Amun-Ra (God of the Sun and all life). It is something really special, and a must see when in the Luxor region.
Constructed in the Ptolemain Period (in which Greek an Roman presence was heavily influencing the land), was once located in the city of Thebes, on of the holiest placed in Egypt. Many Pharaohs (and even Queen Hatshepsut) had their own hand at revitalising this temple complex, with various parlours and hallways depicting shrines to both God and King.
The most mesmerising of these shrines is the Great Hypostyle Hall, built by Seti I, a famous king who ruled from 1290 to 1279 B.C. Here, 134 columns rise from the desert plain, dominating everything in sight. Some pillars are over 20 meters tall, and are said to have once been coated in completely reflective material (such as copper) to reflect the skies above in the most outstanding fashion. This is one not to miss!
FURTHER SOUTH: ASWAN
Now that you have made it through the rich central-south region of Luxor, it is time to make your way even further south to Aswan. Here, you can see the cross-over of cultures more intensely and even visit Nubian Villages! We, as mentioned, were a part of an organised group tour, but what was great was that we did parts of Luxor either side of visiting Aswan to break up the lengthy travel times.
PHILEA TEMPLE AND THE HIGH DAM
Now reconstructed and relocated from its former location (much like many sights here in Egypt), the Philae Island Temple can be found in the Nile’s Low Dam reservoir, in the south of Aswan. This beautiful temple is dedicated to the Goddess Isis and sits among the beautiful green shores of Lake Nasser. In 1902-1906, the Temple became submerged after the first Aswan dam was constructed. It was UNESCO and supporting countries that came through in the seventies to revive the site to its original glory. Once the Aswan High Dam was finished in 1971, the water levels stabilised an the island was then complete and opened to visit once more.
The temples of Edfu are another historically and visually interesting sights to see in Aswan. The temple itself is dedicated to not just one god, but three – Horus, Hathor and their son, Hor-Sama-Tawy. This special love story makes this sight one to remember, as it was the place of worship and sanctuary for many Ancient Egyptians.
The work of construction began in about 237 BC was finished during the reign of Ptolemy IV some 180 years later. French archaeologist by the name of Auguste Mariette uncovered this humongous landmark from beneath tonnes of sand in the 1860’s and is today one of the best-kept temples in Egypt.
Although Karnak stands as my favourite Ancient Egyptian sight, the temples of Abu Simbel will always be engrained in my mind. Located right near the border of Sudan (so a very early start will be needed – we left at 5am!) it is one of the most extravagant human-made structures on earth.
The two temples have been carved into to mountainside of Lake Nasser and are now classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They date back to 13th century BC, in the time of Ramesses II, however have been completely reconstructed in 1968.
The two temples, one for Ramesses II and one for his wife, Queen Nefertari dominate the landscape, with giant statues of the King and Queen, along with the Gods Ra-Horakty, Ptah and Hathor lining the entrance. Inside the tombs, the hieroglyphs and artwork depict the success of his empire in the Battle of Kadesh.
Please leave any comments below with your own tips, sights and places of interest for Ancient Egypt – I would love to hear them!