An Ultimate Nile Cruise Guide (And 8 Essential Tips!)
A Nile cruise is the best way to see Ancient Egypt’s most iconic temples. Here’s your ultimate local’s guide to plan your perfect Nile cruise.
A Nile cruise boat is the best (and easiest) way to see legendary Luxor, Aswan and all the magnificent Ancient Egyptian temples in between.
No itinerary to Egypt is complete without stops at these major sites – and a cruise boat is the most comfortable way to see everything Egypt has to offer.
But it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re planning your bucket list Nile adventure.
There’s around 250 different cruise boats travelling between Luxor and Aswan. How do you pick the right one? And how can you avoid the pitfalls and scams you often hear about online?
I’m an expat living in Cairo for the past decade and counting. I’ve taken a Nile cruise four different times – and they are definitely not all created equal.
So here’s my ultimate guide to taking a Nile Cruise – from how to plan your perfect itinerary, to essential tips and honest insights about what to expect.
I’ll also tell you what to avoid so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan: what to expect
All the major Nile cruise boats travel between Luxor and Aswan, hitting all the major temples in between.
That means you start your cruise at either Luxor or Aswan where the boat docks for sightseeing. Then the boat departs and visits the temples along the way (before returning the same way with a new set of passengers).
3 nights Nile cruise itinerary
Most basic 3-night cruise itineraries include a stop in Luxor where you’ll see Egypt’s most incredible temples like Karnak, Hatschepsut and Luxor Temple. You’ll also visit the breathtaking Valley of the Kings to see the famous tombs of kings like Tutankhamun and Ramses II. Luxor was once the ancient capital of Thebes so it’s the epicenter for all things Ancient Egyptian.
The standard itinerary also includes a stop in Aswan, home to the charming Graeco-Roman Philae Temple, the Unfinished Obelisk and Egypt’s colorful Nubian community. Aswan’s Nile is dotted with beautiful islands and its Nubian villages offer a glimpse into a vibrant culture.
During the cruise between Luxor and Aswan, ships usually stop at two different temples: Kom Ombo, dedicated to the ancient crocodile and falcon gods, and Edfu, dedicated to sky god Horus.
In Aswan, an optional excursion is usually offered to Abu Simbel (pictured above) – and I’d highly recommend it as it’s one of Egypt’s most stunning temples. In Luxor, optional hot-air ballooning is available with incredible views over the West Bank.
How many days do I need on a Nile cruise?
Longer cruise itineraries (between 4 to 7 nights) usually include more time in Luxor and Aswan and additional stops at temples like Esna.
If this sounds like a packed itinerary, it really is. But it’s absolutely worth it.
This 214-kilometer stretch of the Nile River is the heartland of Ancient Egypt and it’s an open-air museum of monuments and wonders.
You’ll get plenty of time to sit on the boat sundeck, sip a beer, take a swim and enjoy the scenes of rural Nile life sweeping past. But most days are filled with sightseeing with windows of downtime.
To avoid getting “templed out” and overwhelmed by all the history, study up on the temples before you leave. It doesn’t have to be a deep dive. But just watching a few YouTube videos about the temples does wonders to enrich your experience.
The best Nile cruise boats
The quality of the boats cruising the Nile varies wildly – so choose wisely!
How do you find your perfect, comfortable boat? Read reviews, do your research and get recommendations from seasoned travelers (like this one).
I booked my Nile cruise with Egypt Rest Tours and I was very happy with my cruise boat the Royal Beau Rivage.
It was clean and comfortable with a beautiful dining area and spacious rooms with Ancient Egyptian touches (all the photos in this story were taken aboard the Beau Rivage).
I also loved the food: it was fresh, varied and offered a good mix of international standards and local cuisine.
Boats on Nile cruises start from bargain, run-down ships with soggy buffets and rooms in desperate need of renovations – and these can work if you’re a backpacker on a budget.
Other ships are top of the line luxury offered by some of the world’s best-known cruise and hotelier brands like Oberoi and Viking. They feature wooden sun decks, stylish cabins, spas and gourmet cuisine.
But here’s the tricky part: 5 stars in Egypt doesn’t always mean high standards. It just means the boat was awarded 5 stars because it has all the amenities (swimming pool, bar, etc) required for a top rating. It can still be a 5-star boat with run-down facilities – so do your research.
The dahabiya: a slower way to travel
If you’re looking for a slower-paced and more immersive experience than a standard cruise boat, consider a wind-powered Dahabiya.
Dahabiyas are smaller, carrying around 10-20 passengers, slower and more historic. They are the vessels used by 19th-century travelers that originally popularized the concept of a Nile cruise. And they were famously romanticized in Agatha Christie’s novel Death on the Nile.
Dahabiyas can dock in smaller villages that larger cruises can’t reach. And this means authentic experiences like Nubian musicians around a bonfire and tea with mint at a local cafe.
Dahabiyas are a pricier option and the offer longer itineraries, more personalized service and flexible itineraries. But they’re also smaller so they don’t include facilities like a swimming pool or spacious dining room.
Is a Nile cruise worth it?
A Nile cruise is absolutely worth it. Even a 3 or 4-day cruise offers a comfortable way to visit Luxor, Aswan and all the temples in between with glimpses of the gorgeous scenery and rural life along the Nile.
A cruise lets you avoid the logistics of inter-city travel. You don’t have to book tour guides, buses, planes and taxis because everything is taken care of.
I once took a trip across this part of Egypt by plane, bus and train, and it was a lot more exhausting. Not to mention the constant packing and unpacking as you move from one city to another.
A Nile cruise lets you skip all that hassle. You get on board and sleep in the same room all through your journey, with all your meals and sightseeing included.
It might feel a bit formulaic as you’re following an itinerary with a half dozen other tour groups (most cruisers carry around 50-100 passengers). But a Nile cruise also lets you relax and focus on the sightseeing.
For me, the scenery along the way is a huge bonus. I love to sit on the sun deck or at the open window in my room to watch the greenery along the Nile and the scenes of rural Egyptian life – the fishermen, the kids swimming in the river and the azans from village minarets.
You can’t get that experience going from one temple to another on a speeding bus.
Life on board: what to expect
A Nile cruise boat is a kind of floating hotel. Most boats include a sundeck with a swimming pool and bar area, and a dining room downstairs where all the meals are served.
My boat also had a small spa upstairs and a gift shop with gold jewelry, t-shirts and other souvenirs.
The day starts with a breakfast buffet. My boat had a big selection of pastries, cereals, an omelette station, breakfast sausages, beans and more.
The day’s itinerary is posted on a TV screen or bulletin board in the reception area. It usually includes a stop at a temple for sightseeing, and times of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Coffee and juice is included at breakfast, and any beverages during lunch and dinner (from bottled water and juice to wine and beer) are billed to your room.
On most nights, cruises offer evening entertainment which ranges from belly dance and galabeya parties (where you dress up in Egypt’s traditional dress) to more sophisticated offerings like Egyptology lectures and cooking classes.
Rooms are comfortable and range widely depending on price. The most luxurious boats will have private balconies or wide windows in your room that make the most of the Nile views.
All cabins are equipped with air conditioning and a TV set, closet and bathroom with toilet and shower.
Rooms on the lower decks have smaller windows and are usually cheaper.
But avoid the cabins that are closest to the engines – they get very loud. They’re usually given to staff, but it’s always good to check because I’ve seen some real YouTube horror stories.
Nile cruise tips and recommendations
Here are some things to keep in mind based on my experience taking different Nile cruises.
Follow these tips for smooth sailing on your trip:
1. Pack some flip flops (and slippers in winter)
Not all boats provide slippers in the room so bring your own to lounge around comfortably. And don’t forget a pair of flip flops for the pool and sundeck.
2. Forget any dress codes
Lots of blogs will tell you to dress conservatively in Egypt. And while that may apply for sightseeing the mosques around Cairo, it doesn’t really matter when you’re on a Nile cruise. You’ll be going from temple to boat to temple, moving in a bubble with other travelers, so t-shirts and shorts for women when it’s hot are perfectly fine.
3. Get a local SIM card
Not all boats have free WiFi. Get a local SIM card to avoid the overpriced and measly data sold on board many ships.
4. Stock up on water and snacks
If your cabin doesn’t have a minibar, pick up your drinks and snacks while you’re out and bring them back to the boat.
5. Don’t haggle too much over souvenirs.
An unpopular opinion, but prices in Egypt are fairly low and it’s not worth the haggling to save the equivalent of a dollar or two. Many people in this part of Egypt rely on tourism for their livelihoods and they’re still bouncing back after the difficult pandemic years.
6. Wear comfortable shoes and pants
You’ll be getting in and out of boats on a sometimes slippery dock, especially in Aswan. Flimsy sandals and flowing skirts are a real nightmare.
7. Don’t worry about pushy salesmen.
They are persistent, but nowhere near as bad as click-bait YouTubers will have you believe. A simple and respectful “no thank you” (or two) usually does the job.
8. Pack some layers.
Even if the days are mild, nights get quite cold so bring a light jacket for the evenings.
What is the best month to cruise the Nile?
The best time to cruise the Nile is between October and April, when temperatures are mild and the weather is cool. You’ll be refreshed enough to get the most out of all that sightseeing.
Visit in the summer and the hot sun and balmy humidity will sap your strength. And you’ll spend all your time at the temples guzzling your water and looking for some shade.