At some point in time, everybody has dreamed of an Egyptian Vacation. It’s the land of the pyramids, one of the world’s greatest open-air museums, and the cradle of civilization. Of course, sometimes those dreams turn into an Egypt history class nightmare of begets begetting, which shouldn’t be surprising in an ancient Egyptian civilization that predates the Bible. Don’t worry. We will not do that to you.
You will need some context to understand the thousands of years of Egyptian history. We’ll provide that to you with a handy interactive Egypt map and introduce all the major tourist sites in roughly chronological order. Read on as we give you the low down cliff notes version of the sites to see with a few fun facts about Egypt along the way.
A Brief History of the Land of the Pharaoh
Here’s my promise to you. In this section, there will be no begets and no dates, just the bare minimum to provide historical context. Ancient Egypt consisted of three kingdoms and six periods. During these times, there were 32 dynasties and 170 pharaohs.
During the three kingdoms, known as Old, Middle, and New, the Upper and Lower regions of Egypt became unified. Times were good, and there was enough surplus wealth to build massive monuments. During the other times, not so much so. Foreign invaders, famine, and domestic unrest plagued Egypt. It’s all the pharaohs could do to stay in power. The one notable exception to this trend is the Greco-Roman Period, which saw the rise of Alexandria, Kom Ombo, and Edfu.
That’s it. That’s all you need to know about Egyptian civilization, which lasted longer than Western Civilization has been around. That’s not entirely true. The best way to explore Egypt is to visit in person. The second best way is to plan a visit. If you just want to learn Egyptian history, take the Crash Course.
Egypt Tours in Memphis and Dahshur
The capital of the Old Kingdom was Memphis, a town strategically situated at the mouth of the Nile Delta, near modern-day Cairo. It controlled the trade up and down the Nile, as well as the fertile floodplain of the delta. Religion centered around the ancient Egyptian gods Ra, the sun god, and Ptah, the creator god.
During the 3rd Dynasty, Imhotep, the master builder, designed and constructed the Pyramid of Djoser, the first of its kind. Egyptian Pyramid design continued to evolve during the 4th Dynasty, but not without a few hiccups. The Medium Pyramid collapsed during construction due to being built on unstable soil. The Bent Pyramid changed inclination angle the middle of construction to accommodate design flaws. It wasn’t until the Red Pyramid of Dahshur that the plans for the smooth-sided pyramid were perfected.
Fun Fact: The Red Pyramid is the third largest pyramid in Egypt.
Egyptian Holidays at the Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx
With the smooth-sided pyramid design perfected, the time was right to build the great pyramids of Egypt. Construction moved to Giza to take advantage of stable ground and nearby quarries. The Great Pyramid of Giza, Pyramid of Khafre, Pyramid of Menkaure, and the Sphinx were built over a span of about 100 years. The Great Pyramid is the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World and by far the oldest one on that list. Visiting the pyramids of Giza is a must of every Egyptian holiday.
The 5th Dynasty showed little interest in pyramid building, and the 6th Dynasty saw the end of the Old Kingdom and centralized power in ancient Egypt for hundreds of years.
Fun Fact: The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 3800 years.
Egyptian Tours to Luxor (Thebes), Luxor Temple, and Karnak Temple
Luxor (historically known as Thebes) rose with the Middle Kingdom. In fact, it was the capital city of the Middle Kingdom. It was one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities of its time and one of the best Egyptian tours today.
The Luxor Temple was the coronation temple for rulers of the Middle and Late Kingdoms. As such, it’s grand and awe-inspiring on the inside, especially the entrance with flanking obelisks. Technically, there’s only one obelisk now since the other was moved to Paris in 1836.
While the Luxor Temple was secular, the Karnak Temple was the religious center of Thebes. With the new capital and new Dynasty came a new religion and a new god (Amun – the hidden god). Each successive Pharaoh built a little more onto the temple. From concentric rings of walls to the Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple is one of the most visited places in Egypt.
Fun fact: Animals that were considered sacred in Amon were kept at the temples in Karnak. Geese, rams, and over 420k head of cattle have been found.
Egyptian Tourist Attractions at Aswan
Since antiquity, Aswan was an outpost city. Its location at the first cataract of the Nile was the end of the navigable river. The same hills that created the rapids also contained a granitic rock called Syenite that’s used to craft obelisks and statues that were shipped throughout the kingdom. It also created the perfect topology for the placement of the Aswan High Dam.
Nothing says outpost city like taking a small boat to the Temple of Philae. This island was one of the most sacred places in the kingdom because it was known to be the burying place of Osiris, god of the dead and rebirth. Today, it’s an Egypt tourist attraction just below the Aswan Dam.
Fun Fact: Queen Hatshepsut commissioned the unfinished obelisk at Aswan for the Karnak Temple
Ancient Egypt History at Abu Simbel
If Aswan was the last outpost, Abu Simbel was the first city beyond the border. It sits about 280 km south of Aswan in what was traditional Nubian territory before the Middle Kingdom expanded.
King Ramesses II built the Abu Simbel temple complex from 1264 BCE to1244 BCE to “impress upon the Nubians Egypt’s might and Egyptianize the people of Nubia.” They are best known for their massive rock relief figures at the temple entrance, which are impressive today. You can only imagine how the affected Nubians three thousand years ago.
The Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser threatened this ancient Egypt historical site. In 1968, a massive multi-national team came together to save the temple and relocate it to higher ground. They completed the task impeccably, including the celestial alignment that would illuminate the back wall of the temple, but leave Ptah, god of the underworld, in the dark on certain days of the yea
It’s also remarkable how Ramesses, an Egyptian Pharaoh so powerful he was deified while he was alive, treated his queen, Nefertari. He built a temple that was almost as grand as his own, which never happened in ancient Egypt. Of course, being a living god, his was bigger.
Fun Fact: The present location of Abu Simbel Temple is in a man-made mountain
Discover Ancient Egypt at Valley of the Kings
Now our tour of Ancient Egypt to travels back up north to Luxor and transitions into the New Kingdom at the Theban Necropolis (city of the dead) on the west bank of the river. Burials at the Necropolis started in the Middle Kingdom and continued throughout the New Kingdom. There are multiple sites within the Theban Necropolis, including the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Valley of the Kings contains 63 tombs in two valleys, the East Valley (Kings Valley) and West Valley. There are 18 tombs open for tourism at varying times in the East Valley and only one open in the West. King Tut’s Tomb is perhaps the most famous but least impressive tomb in the valley. The other tombs extend deep into the hillside with colorful and well-preserved paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting the life and accomplishment of its royal occupant.
Valley of the Queens is adjacent to the Valley of the Kings where the wives and family of the monarch were buried. The tombs are smaller but feature the same well-preserved painting and stories. Standard entry includes access to three tombs, and entry to the famous tomb of Nefertari can be arranged by private tour.
The Temple of Hatshepsut is often touted as the number one attraction in Luxor. Its grand architecture complements the jaw-dropping landscape. It honors Queen Hatshepsut, one of the most influential rulers of the New Kingdom.
Fun Fact: KV63 was the most recently discovered tomb in King’s Valley. It was found in 2005 using ground-penetrating radar.
Nile Cruise to Edfu and Kom Ombo
Nile Cruises regularly travel between Aswan and Luxor. Along the way, they pass by two interesting archeological sites Edfu and Kom Ombo, both dating primarily from the Greco-Roman Period. During this time, the Greeks tried to unify Egyptian mythology with their own. They equated Horus to Apollo, and build the Temple at Edfu for his worship. The Edfu Temple is one of the most well preserved archeological sites in Egypt.
Kom Ombo has always been an important population center in Egypt. It’s the last flood plain before Aswan suitable for large scale agriculture. Before the Greeks came, there was a fascinating cult of the crocodile god Sobek that mummified crocodiles. Even the Roman coins of that area depicted Sobek. Other oddities of the Kom Ombo Temple are rare depictions of the first surgical instruments in Egypt and numerous reliefs of Queen Cleopatra.
A Nile river cruise is an easy way to explore the countryside on a trip to Egypt.
Fun Fact: There were approximately 300 mummified crocodiles discovered around Kom Ombo
Things to do in Alexandria Egypt
Alexandria became the capital of Ptolemaic (Greek) Egypt and Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1,000 years. During that time, another Wonder of the Ancient World was constructed there, the Pharos Lighthouse. The Library at Alexandria was the center of knowledge in the Hellenic World.
Both of these wonders live on today in their own way as things to do in Alexandria, Egypt. A series of earthquakes toppled the lighthouse, but the rubble was used to build the Citadel of Qaitbay. Julius Caesar burned the ancient Alexandria Library, but the new library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is a brilliant combination of an academic resource, an homage to the past, and a museum of history.
Alexandria continued to be the capital of Egypt until 641 CE when the Muslim conquest founded a new capital at Fustat (Cairo).
Fun Fact: UNESCO is considering designating the harbor of Alexandria an underwater heritage site.
Cairo Day Tours
Cairo, separate from the antiquity sites which surround it, came into power following Muslim conquest. It’s one of the largest Muslim cities in the world, and that heritage and legacy should be celebrated. Cairo day tours feature several famous and beautiful mosques as well as Coptic Christian churches. The Khan el-Khalili bazaar stretches out in an incomprehensible maze of shopping and bartering.
Cairo is also home to the Egyptian Museum, with a collection of over 120,000 items from ancient Egypt. In 2020, the museum will be superseded by the new Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza. I was able to go on a behind the scenes tour of the Grand Egyptian Museum, and I can tell you that it’s going to be incredible.
Fun Fact: Cairo is the largest city in Africa
Modern Egyptian Vacations at Sharm El-Sheikh
Sharm is the newest province in Egypt, after being repatriated in 1982 following 15 years of Israeli occupation. Since then, it has grown from a sleepy fishing village to a significant tourist destination. Visitors come for the tropical weather, white beaches, and deep blue diving.
The waters of the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez meet at Ras Mohammed National Park. By day, divers can visit up to 250 different coral reefs and see 1000 species of fish. Warm seas and fantastic visibility make this a world-class dive destination. At night, they can enjoy vibrant and modern nightlife during their Egyptian vacation.
Fun Fact: Sharm El-Sheikh has the warmest nights in all of Egypt
Is It Safe to Travel to Egypt and should I Book an Egyptian Tour
Everybody wants to know is it safe to travel to Egypt. Tourism plummeted in 2011 following the January 25 Revolution. It’s been recovering lately and approaching historic levels. Egypt is generally considered safe to travel if you use reasonable caution. We recommend you read our article on is Egypt safe for more details.
With the only remaining wonder of the ancient world and over 4,000 years of history, it’s no wonder that a trip to Egypt is a traveler’s dream. This much history and culture can be overwhelming, but don’t worry. Every site has English speaking tour guides to help interpret what you’re seeing. It’s not a bad idea to consider an Egypt tour package. They handle the logistics, pick top quality guides, and put together a seamless visit to one of the most chaotic countries out there.
I went with Innovative Travel because they have over 28 years’ experience in diverse holiday styles. They offer 24/7 local back up in the destination, so if anything does go awry, there will be local support on hand to take care of you. I needed better connectivity to manage my social media during my Nile River cruise. They bent over backward to get me the bandwidth I needed to stay connected.
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Planning Map for Your Trip to Egypt
Below is our planning map for your trip to Egypt. It contains every place mentioned in this article with a brief description. If it doesn’t load right away just refresh your browser. 😉
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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