30 Incredible Things To Do In Egypt (A Local’s Guide!)
From ancient temples along the Nile to architectural gems in downtown Cairo, here are the best things to do in Egypt.
Egypt boasts centuries of history, from pharaonic tombs to medieval mosques and offbeat museums.
And it has some incredible natural wonders from sand dunes to sparkling blue beaches.
There’s a lot more to Egypt than just the pyramids.
The North Coast has historic villas and charming beach towns. Aswan has colorful Nubian villages and majestic felucca boats.
There are also lots of hidden gems, from boho Red Sea towns to eco lodges in the oasis.
And then there’s modern-day Cairo with its lively nightlife, cutting-edge boutiques and chic eateries.
I’m a long-time expat living in Cairo and I’ve spent the past decade travelling around Egypt and exploring its landmarks.
And this is my ultimate list of the most incredible things to do in Egypt.
Read on for all of Egypt’s must-see destinations – and my favorite gems off the beaten path. These are all the places I wish I knew when I first visited Egypt!
Here are the best things to do in Egypt:
1. Explore the temples of Abu Simbel
The two enormous rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel are probably the most breathtaking sight in all of Egypt.
Abu Simbel may not be as famous as the pyramids – or as historically significant as Karnak – but it’s definitely the most impressive Ancient Egyptian temple in the country.
It’s so incredible that you hear audible gasps on the airplane when you’re flying over the temples and visitors get their first glimpse of these ancient wonders.
Nestled in a village in southern Egypt, Abu Simbel is a great day trip. Most visitors land at Abu Simbel’s airport in the early morning and then fly back to Aswan.
Built by Ramses II, the site contains two twin temples carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC.
The Great Temple of Ramses II has four gigantic statues of the king seated on a throne with smaller statues of his family at his feet. Inside, there’s a long hallway lined with gigantic columns, statues and murals.
Amazingly, the inner sanctuary inside the temple is positioned so the sun illuminates the sculptures twice a year.
The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Nefertari, Ramesses II’s chief consort. It’s one of a few in Ancient Egyptian where the statues of the king and his consort are equal in size.
Abu Simbel is definitely my favorite temple in Egypt – and it’s the most breathtaking.
It also has an incredible story. The temples were nearly lost in the 1960s amid rising Nile waters. They were entirely relocated in an impressive project in 1967.
2. Dig into Cairo’s street food
From crispy falafel and hearty koshari to syrupy sweet basbousa, Cairo has some incredible street food that sends your taste buds on a journey.
Cairo is a foodie’s paradise with falafel (called ta’amiya in Egypt) fried fresh at street stands in the morning. Dig into some crispy ta’amiya. And don’t miss the tasty botates sandwiches (made with french fries tucked into flat bread).
And don’t miss koshari – the vegan-friendly national dish and carb lover’s delight. Koshari is loaded with pasta, lentils and rice. It’s topped with zesty tomato sauce, garlic vinegar, chickpeas and fried onions. It’s a feast of textures and a satisfyingly delicious lunch.
Top it all off with some oriental sweets like the ever-favorite basbousa or zalabia, a kind of fried donut holes topped with syrup, chocolate or powdered sugar.
3. Go diving in the Red Sea
Egypt’s eastern coastline along the Red Sea boasts some of the best diving in the world.
With its crystal blue waters, thousands of fish species and magnificent coral, the Red Sea is a prime spot for underwater exploring.
There are even some spots where you can see colorful fish and marine life just by walking on the beach through the shallow water.
Head to El Quseir to spot hammerheads, thresher sharks and gorgeous coral formations. Visit Dahab for chilled boho vibes, Bedouin cafes and incredible marine life. Or try Marsa Alam to get off the beaten path and spot some sharks and the resident dugong.
And if you’re a novice then head to diving hubs like Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, both very popular resorts that offer a slew of diving classes and itineraries.
For history buffs, there’s Alexandria on the north coast where you can dive and view the underwater remains of Cleopatra’s palace and sunken artifacts from Napoleonic battles.
4. Explore the Pyramids of Giza
These massive ancient wonders are Cairo’s most iconic attraction – and they’re just as amazing in real life as they are in postcards.
Surrounded by the crowded city of Giza, the pyramids are the only remaining natural wonder of the ancient world. And they should definitely be your #1 stop when you’re visiting the Egyptian capital.
Though they’re notoriously frustrating for first-time visitors because of pushy vendors and aggressive camel ride salesmen.
Hire an Egyptian tour guide to get the most of your experience and shield you from the drama.
And enjoy this bucket list experience to the max with lunch at 9 Pyramids Lounge. This upscale restaurant right on the plateau has incredible pyramid views and classic Egyptian food.
Head to the Mena House for cocktails in the evening and sweeping views of the illuminated pyramids at night. Or book an AirBnB with a view to take in these magnificent monuments from your balcony.
5. Sail down the Nile in a dahabiya
A trip down the majestic Nile – with sightseeing stops at Ancient Egyptian temples – is one of the most unforgettable experiences you’ll have in Egypt.
And a wind-powered dahabiya with its spacious sun decks and private balconies is the most luxurious and exclusive way to travel down the river.
The dahabiya recalls Agatha Christie’s Egypt and a bygone era of tourism when elites took similar vessels to experience the Nile Valley.
Today, you can book a dahabiya Nile cruise with an Egyptologist on board. They’ll guide you down the river through an itinerary that often includes temples like Edfu and Karnak.
You’ll do plenty of sightseeing but also with lots of time to unwind, read on the deck and enjoy the scenery floating past. From farmers tending their fields to sunsets over the palms, the views are unbeatable.
Or book a tour on a motor-powered boat that usually goes from Aswan to Luxor. It’s more budget-friendly but just as epic.
6. Marvel at whale skeletons in the Western Desert
Wadi al-Hitan, or Valley of the Whales, is an incredible open-air museum in the Egyptian desert where you can view fossil remains of one of the earliest forms of whale.
It’s a true Egyptian hidden gem for nature lovers and travelers off the beaten path. And it’s a perfect day trip from Cairo that’s just a few hours away.
Wadi al-Hitan is the only place in the world to see archaic whales in their original location just as they were discovered.
The entire area that’s now desert was once deep under the sea. Walk through the dry sands littered with seashell fragments. And gaze at the otherworldly landscapes dotted with gigantic sand dunes straight out of Star Wars.
The fossils are remarkably well-preserved thanks to the dryness of the desert. And you can view them laying right in the sand along the winding pathways of this outdoor museum.
7. Wander through Karnak Temple
This massive complex is one of the largest temples in the world – and it contains layers and layers of history as dozens of pharaohs each added their own expansions.
Wander through the famous hypostyle hall and its labyrinth of 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. Each is covered with hieroglyphs and topped by colossal painted beams.
Construction at Karnak began in the Middle Kingdom and continued into Ptolemaic times as some thirty different pharaohs contributed to the site. The gods at Karnak range from very early earth goddesses to deities worshiped much later in history.
Karnak is an incredible place to witness the complexity and diversity of Ancient Egyptian art.
From the obelisk erected by Hatshepsut to the long avenue of human-headed sphinxes that connect the temples of Karnak and Luxor, this temple is a miracle of construction.
8. Go sandboarding in Fayoum
The sandy shores and freshwater lakes of Fayoum make a perfect daytrip from Cairo – and they draw in adventure-seekers who come to sandboard across its dunes.
The Wadi El Rayan Protected Area has stunning landscapes of blue waters that fade into golden sands. The lakes are a breathtaking sight as turquoise melds into desert shrubbery and fades into golden dunes.
Wadi El Rayan’s soft and sandy dunes are perfect for sandboarding – a thrilling sport that’s fun even if you’re a complete beginner. Sit or balance atop the board, then slide down in a whirlwind of wind and sand. And if you fall, the soft sand provides a nearly painless landing.
End your trip with a barbecue, bonfire and spirited Egyptian music. Or take in the sunset at a rustic ecolodge in Fayoum overlooking the expansive desert.
9. Float in a salt lake in a desert oasis
With its breathtaking landscapes, dreamy salt lakes and unique Amazigh culture, the Siwa Oasis is Egypt’s best kept secret.
Siwa boasts hundreds of salt pools and lakes throughout the oasis – and you can float on their water just like at the Dead Sea.
Lay suspended in the crystal blue water surrounded by shimmering towers of salt clusters for a truly otherworldly experience.
Siwa’s salty waters are said to cure sinuses, and skin and eye infections. And Siwans carve the salt into lamps that are said to filter the air when illuminated.
The Siwa Oasis, about a 10-hour drive from Cairo, also boasts Ancient Egyptian tombs, freshwater lakes in the desert, a temple of the Oracle of Amun, desert camps, ecolodges and a medieval downtown built from salt and clay.
Siwa isn’t on most tourist itineraries, but it’s absolutely my favorite place in Egypt.
10. Explore Moez Street
This famous street in the Khan el Khalili souq is packed with towering minarets, splendid mosques, Ottoman-era homes and lots of colorful spices, lanterns and souvenirs.
Moez Street is part of a 14th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it’s lined with masterpieces of medieval Islamic architecture and some of Egypt’s most incredible mosques.
Don’t miss gems like Bab al-Ghuri, a historic gate packed with shops selling colorful Ramadan lanterns.
Hire a guide and plan your trip ahead so you don’t miss any of the historical sites. And leave some time to wander, shop for perfume oils and scarves, and explore the district’s hidden gems.
You’ll wander across tiny boutiques with handbound leather notebooks, historic cafes and artisans at work on leather purses and brass platters.
11. Shop for Egyptian handicrafts
Egypt has some incredible handicrafts from hand blown glass in the City of the Dead to pottery in Old Cairo.
But shopping for handicrafts in Egypt can be a challenge – especially if you only have a few days. Souvenirs in Egypt range from handmade gems to overpriced plastic kitsch that’s actually made in China.
That’s why I don’t recommend Khan el Khalili as your prime shopping destination. You should definitely visit this medieval souq to take in the historic mosques and Ottoman-era homes. But don’t bother too much with haggling and sifting through the dupes.
Head to districts like Maadi and Zamalek to shop hassle-free at boutiques with clearly-marked prices. And have a drink, visit some art galleries and browse the boutiques to get gorgeous souvenirs you’ll actually use.
12. Visit the City of the Dead
If you’re looking for breathtaking medieval architecture, handmade crafts and authentic experiences, then just ignore the stereotypes about “The City of the Dead” and see it for yourself.
Yes it’s a necropolis and there are mausoleums and tombs among residential buildings. But this district has always been a place where people live, study and work.
There’s a vibe in the City of the Dead that you won’t find elsewhere. It’s quiet compared to most of Cairo. The narrow unpaved streets mean less traffic and noise.
And it’s quickly becoming an off-the-beaten-path travel destination thanks to some pioneering companies that offer walking tours around this often misunderstood neighborhood.
There are also a few interesting initiatives that are reviving the district’s tradition of handicrafts.
Start your tour at the Maq’ad of Sultan Qaitbey and the surrounding sculptures and murals. The Maq’ad often hosts exhibits and concerts so check their Facebook page for more.
Visit Qaitbey’s mosque and shop at two nearby glass blowing workshops. Then take a walk down Souq Street and finish off at the gorgeous complex of Faraj ibn Barquq.
13. Camp in the Sahara Desert
A night camping underneath a brilliant starry sky is an unforgettable experience that gets you in touch with nature and the sweeping desert.
The Western Desert, Fayoum and the Sinai are all great destinations to pitch a tent and enjoy a campfire.
My favorite is the Siwa Astro Camp, about 11 kilometers from the Siwa Oasis. At night, it’s perfect for stargazing far away from any city lights.
The Siwa Astro Camp is perfect if you want to feel the atmosphere of the desert. At night the camp comes alive with traditional songs by local musicians and delicious lemongrass tea by the bonfire.
14. Go kitesurfing in Dahab
Dahab is a small town in the Sinai known for its boho vibes – and it’s a world-renowned spot for windsurfing with nearly perfect year-round conditions.
With plenty of warm and windy days year round, Dahab is great for beginners through advanced windsurfers and kitesurfers.
There’s a slew of surfing schools around town to sign up for classes at all levels. And the nearby Lagoon Beach is a safe and idyllic spot for lessons.
15. Browse the Library of Alexandria
This innovative modern-day library is built on the site of the historic Library of Alexandria, the most significant library of the ancient world.
The ancient library once held the entirety of Greek literature and important works like the books of Aristotle. But it later fell into decline and was once accidentally burned by Julius Caesar during a civil war.
The current Library of Alexandria was completed in 2002 and functions as a modern-day library and cultural center. And it seeks to uphold the traditions of its ancient precursor.
Take a guided tour and immerse yourself in the stacks of books and exhibits on a wide range of topics including the history of printing, Arab folk art and the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.
The Library of Alexandria is a paradise for bookworms filled with bookish sculptures, literary exhibits and curiosities from the printing world.
And don’t miss the bookshop at the main entrance, filled with gorgeous Egyptian handicrafts and coffee table books about Egypt.
16. Stay at an eco lodge
Egypt has some incredible eco lodges nestled amid breathtaking desert landscapes.
These gorgeous getaways range from rustic solar-powered huts in the desert of Fayoum to luxurious candle-lit lodges in Siwa.
There’s nothing like a weekend at one of these desert hideaways to disconnect from your smartphone and spend quiet nights around a bonfire.
Head to Zowara in Fayoum, just a few hours outside Cairo, to stay in a round stone hut modeled after local dwellings. The cozy rooms are furnished with colorful rugs and palm furniture.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, stay at Adrere Amellal in Siwa (above) for luxury rooms nestled at the foot of a desert mountain. The lodge is build from a local mix of clay and straw in a minimal style that blends with the landscape. Lunches are served in a palm groove and include organic feasts made with produce from the local garden.
17. Take a hot air balloon over Luxor
An exhilarating flight over the legendary Valley of the Kings is an experience that’s definitely worth the ridiculously early wake-up call.
Soar above one of the world’s most important archaeological sites for breathtaking views of Luxor and incredible photo ops. The flight in the early morning lets you experience a sunrise over the valley as the sky changes from rosy to yellow.
Glide over the valley and take in the views of the surrounding farm fields and monuments in this truly unforgettable experience.
18. Unwind at the beach
Egypt’s stunning coastlines from the Med to the Red Sea are lined with five-star resorts, rustic hidden gems and crystal blue waters where you can completely unwind and unplug.
Head to Almaza Bay for elegant luxury, soft white sands and chic eateries.
Visit the backpacker favorite Dahab for snorkeling, rugged nature and windsurfing in a laid-back hippie-style coastal town.
The Cairo Citadel boasts Egypt’s most iconic mosque and a medieval fortress built by Saladin perched on a hilltop overlooking the old city.
It’s an absolute must-see on your Cairo itinerary for its impressive mosque and medieval stone fortress lined with gateways, towers and museums.
The citadel has brilliant views over historic Cairo and its minarets. You can even spot the pyramids on a clear day.
Set aside a few hours to visit this vast complex packed with mosques and terraces overlooking the city.
20. Spend a day in the countryside
Wander through fields irrigated by Nile waters, watch local farmers climbing up palm trees and have a traditional lunch in the sunny Egyptian countryside.
Most travelers only see the countryside from their tour bus windows. But a day spent in some Egyptian farm fields learning about their traditions is a truly idyllic experience.
Dahshur is my favorite spot to frolic in the fields, spot local wildlife and wander through rows of irrigated palms watered by the Nile. It’s an incredible look at a lifestyle that not many visitors get to see.
Learn about rural Egyptian life on a day tour with Dahshur locals. And top off your visit with lunch in a verdant makeshift eatery lined with palm wood chairs. Dig into molasses, white farmer’s cheese and fresh flatbread baked in traditional ovens.
Dahshur is best known for the bent pyramid that’s a precursor to the more advanced pyramids at Giza. But the surrounding countryside is a real hidden gem that royals used as their countryside getaway for generations.
21. Visit Philae Temple
Nestled on a tiny island in Aswan, Philae Temple is a beautiful tribute to Isis surrounded by luscious greenery and Nile waters.
Built by the Macedonian king Ptolemy II, the temple was one of the last active Ancient Egyptian temples where the old pagan gods were worshiped.
Take a felucca boat to this island and explore the temples, columns and hieroglyphics that line this architectural gem. And don’t miss the gorgeous grey temple cats (fed by the custodians) wandering amid the ruins.
22. Hike up Mount Sinai
Follow in the fabled footsteps of Moses and hike up Mount Sinai for stunning sunset views of the rugged mountain landscapes.
The area is believed to be the location of the biblical Mount Sinai and boasts breathtaking mountain ranges, jagged peaks and rolling valleys.
Hiking trips to Mount Sinai usually start at night from Hurghada, Dahab or Sharm El Sheikh.
The two-hour hike starts around 3 am just in time to catch the sunrise at the summit. Camping at the top of Mount Sinai is another option for the more adventurous.
And don’t miss the beautiful Saint Catherine Monastery at the foot of the mountain, where monks still live spiritual and simple lives. The 6th-century Greek orthodox monastery is one of the world’s oldest.
23. Wander around Zamalek
From designer boutiques and art galleries to hip eateries and historical gems, this leafy neighborhood is great for exploring modern-day Cairo.
Zamalek is packed with palaces along the Nile, quirky urban parks and lots of innovative restaurants and shops with one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
It has a lively expat community and it’s a brilliant choice for solo female travelers who want to wander around Cairo undisturbed.
The locals in Zamalek are very used to foreigners and you’ll find lots of international brands here from Starbucks to Auntie’s Pretzels.
But Zamalek isn’t a tourist trap, either, and it still retains its unique Egyptian character. So you can grab an authentic falafel (aka ta’amiya) along with your iced latte.
Do some sightseeing at Aisha Fahmy Palace, a beautiful Nile-side gem with great artwork and stained glass windows. Try Zooba for lunch to sample some Egyptian classics in a hip setting. And head to Diwan to stock up on books on Egyptology and just about anything related to Egypt.
24. Explore the Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings in Luxor is the final resting place of dozens of ancient Egyptian kings – and a maze of gorgeous underground tombs to explore.
The most well-known tomb is the boy-king Tutankhamun, famously discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.
And about a dozen other tombs (out of a total of 63) are usually open to the public.
They’re all breathtaking to visit. Descend the stairs and walk through the underground maze. You can still see the vibrant hieroglyphs and colorful paintings on the tomb walls, hardly faded by the centuries.
Don’t miss the tomb of Ramses IV, one of the most elaborate and best-preserved tombs in the valley.
25. Catch some live music at a Cairo concert
Cairo has a great music scene whether you’re into authentic Egyptian folk music, smooth jazz ensembles or Pink Floyd cover bands.
A night of some Egyptian live music is one of the best things to do in Cairo at night. And it certainly beats belly dance cruises and other tourist traps.
Head to Makan Egyptian Center for Culture and Art for traditional music from all over Egypt. This downtown venue hosts everything from Zar music (a music believed to heal women from unwanted spirits) to folkloric ensembles and mystical troupes playing melodies from along the Silk Road. Check their Facebook page for upcoming shows.
El Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek has rock bands, rap music and lots of great local bands from Egyptian street favorites to cover bands.
And nothing beats Cairo Jazz Club for a night of cocktails, lively crowds on the dance floor and DJs playing all the best techno and dance music.
26. Dig into some seafood along the Suez
Port Said is a coastal town at the entrance of the Suez Canal that boasts weathered villas, tempting fish markets and lots of fascinating history to explore.
Port Said has flourished as a busy sea port, suffered wars and endured numerous development schemes that have rarely taken off.
Today this off-the-beaten-path gem is incredible for exploring the Nile Delta and getting away from the tourist crowds.
Head to the fish market for brunch and try some grilled barbouni, or red mullet, and some of the best seafood you’ll ever have.
Or visit local legend El Borg for a more luxurious sit-down meal. On Tarh El Bahr Street near the beach at Port Said, this famous eatery lets you select your own fish from the piles of offerings on ice. The fish are then expertly grilled, fried or baked to perfection.
Take the free ferry across the canal into neighboring Port Fuad and stroll through the old villas that were once home to workers engineering the Suez Canal.
And spend some time on the beaches of Port Fuad with views of the enormous tankers lining up for entry into the Suez Canal. There are no huge resort crowds and that’s all part of the charm.
The coast is quiet and lined with sea shells and colorful tents where you can sip on mint tea.
There’s no better way to see Port Said than with local guides Semsemia Tours who’ll let you uncover the history and traditions of the Nile Delta.
27. Wander through the Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has the world’s largest collection of Ancient Egyptian antiquities – including many must-see masterpieces like the gold mask of Tutankhamun.
This iconic museum in Tahrir Square is simply massive. It holds some 120,000 items across two floors that are packed with artifacts. As a long-time expat in Cairo, I’ve been going there for years and I still haven’t seen it all!
The Egyptian Museum in Tahrir is one of the best things to do in Cairo, even though it’s a bit dusty and not very well labelled.
Hire a tour guide to get the most of your visit. Or go solo and explore the countless rooms filled with mummies, papyrus and hidden gems.
The museum is fascinating and vast so give yourself plenty of time to wander.
28. Take a sunset felucca ride
The majestic Nile River is one of Cairo’s most beautiful attractions and a great way to unwind.
Take in the beauty of Africa’s longest river with a sail down the Nile in a traditional felucca boat. This majestic and wind-powered vessel gives you a real taste of how sailors have been navigating the Mediterranean for generations.
These aged wooden boats with their triangular sails cut through the water and whisk you away from the city noise. They’re also great on a hot summer day. Dip your feet in the water and take in the breeze to cool off on a stuffy day.
There are several points around town where you can hire feluccas by the hour. You can bring food and drinks aboard too.
29. Discover colorful Nubian life
Take a felucca sail to Elephantine Island in Aswan to explore a colorful Nubian village where old traditions are preserved.
Stroll through this charming village lined with bright painted homes. And browse for local handicrafts, bead jewelry and woodwork.
Elephantine Island is a photographer’s dream and a perfect day-trip to unwind from a packed Ancient Egyptian itinerary.
30. Hatshepsut Temple
This mortuary temple to the famous female pharaoh is carved deep into the cliffs near Luxor. And it’s one of the masterpieces of ancient architecture.
Set among the looming limestone cliffs of Deir Al Bahri, the Temple of Hatshepsut pays tribute to the queen and the creator god Amun. And it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Egypt.
The temple includes beautifully carved colonnades, statues of Hatshepsut, an altar dedicated to Ra and a splendid sanctuary of Amun.
The temple is covered with reliefs depicting Hatshepsut’s reign like her expedition to Punt, where she gathered a booty of exotic riches.
I would love to hear from you. What’s on your Egypt bucket list?