A beach resort in Hurghada, Egypt with palm trees in the breeze looking out over a lawn and the deep blue sea just beyond.

Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh? (A Local’s Guide)

Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are two wildly popular beach resorts on Egypt’s Red Sea. And both have great beaches, crystal blue waters, year-round sunshine and some legendary diving spots.

So which should you chose? And what exactly is the difference?

I’m a long-time expat living for more than a decade in Egypt. And I’ve visited both cities numerous times.

Both have their pros and cons.

But which one is better? That depends entirely on what you’re looking for. And yes there are significant differences between these two famous vacation spots!

So here’s my ultimate guide to Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh – and how to decide which resort is the best for you.

Hurghada: the basics

Hurghada is very popular with Europeans who come here to soak up the sun and snorkel at their hotel beach.

It was once a humble fishing village, but Hurghada has blossomed into a bustling city with vibrant nightlife, trendy resorts, 40 kilometers of coastline and diving schools where you can get PADI certified.

Hurghada is also a real-life, working Egyptian city – and not just a resort town built for tourists. So you’ll see lots of daily Egyptian life, local markets and city traffic.

Sharm el Sheikh: the basics

Sharm el Sheikh is on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and it’s purely a resort town that’s not as bustling as Hurghada.

Sharm is lined with some spectacular resorts, rugged national parks and Sinai desert landscapes. It also has some world-class scuba diving and snorkeling.

Sharm el Sheikh offers a glimpse at Egypt’s bedouins – the nomadic tribes of people who call the Sinai home. Book a desert safari or have traditional tea over a bonfire for a look inside this unique culture.

Things to do in Hurghada AND Sharm el Sheikh:

  • unwind at a beach resort – many resorts have their own spectacular beaches where you’ll happily spend your holiday taking dips in the sea and lounging in the sand.
  • go snorkeling and scuba diving – there are tons of scuba diving centers where you can learn the basics or try more challenging dives. Or jus put on a pair of goggles and dip into the water at your hotel: you’ll spot lots of marine life right near the shore. Take a glass bottom boat for the easiest way to see colorful reefs and dazzling fish.
  • shop for local handicrafts – both cities have souqs lined with traditional souvenirs, scarves, spices and shisha cafes.

Things unique to Hurghada

  • visit the historic El Dahar market for local souvenirs, cafes and shisha spots. This market is more authentic and local than its Sharm el Sheikh counterparts.
  • take a day trip to Luxor: the most splendid wonders of Ancient Egypt (like Karnak and the Valley of the Kings) are a 5-hour trip away and lots of tour companies offer packaged tours going easily from Hurghada to Luxor.
  • take a boat trip to the Giftun Islands for beautiful corals, caves and marine life.

Things unique to Sharm el Sheikh

  • visit El Sahaba mosque – a lavish, new landmark that blends several different styles of Islamic architecture. It’s one of the most beautiful mosques in Egypt.
  • dive at the Ras Muhammad National Park, one of the world’s most famous diving spots. Or see the world-famous wreck of the SS Thistlegorm for more experienced divers.
  • take a day trip to hike Egypt’s famous Mount Sinai, where it’s believed Moses received the 10 commandments. Think rugged landscapes, a beautiful sunrise and local bedouin life.

Still can’t decide?

If you’re still undecided, think of it this way:

Hurghada is more bustling with Egyptian life and it’s much easier to take day trips to Luxor (and even Cairo) from there. It has good nightlife and lots of watersports.

Sharm el Sheikh is more laid back with easy access to the Sinai desert, national parks and bedouin culture. It’s a bit more upscale in general with a relaxed vibe.

How to pick a resort

Resorts in Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh range from party-central disco havens to adults only quiet beaches.

Most resorts offer all-inclusive options. But always check the fine print to know what’s included.

You’ll get all your meals included at an all-inclusive resort. But alcoholic drinks will often cost extra. Local Egyptian beers and wines (like Stella or Omar Khayyam) are much cheaper than imported liquor brands – and they’re quite good, too.

If you’re going with family, opt for a resort with a fun swimming pool or water park nearby. If you’re looking for a romantic couples getaway or a solo trip, consider an adults-only resort or a quiet option away from the main part of town.

And read online reviews! If you find recurring complaints then just avoid the place.

Getting there: flights, buses and visas

Lots of direct flights from the UK now go directly to Hurghada AND Sharm el Sheikh. So both resort cities are equally easy to reach.

You’ll need a tourist visa for Hurghada, which you can buy easily at the airport for 25 USD. You DO NOT need a visa for Sharm el Sheikh if you’re travelling to a resort and staying up to 15 days.

And if you’re already in Egypt, you can take a domestic flight to Hurghada or Sharm from major cities like Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Both Air Cairo and EgyptAir have daily flights.

If you’re on a budget, take GoBus. They’re comfortable enough to sleep – but expect frequent stops at security checkpoints.

Is it safe?

Egypt protects its tourist cities like geese that lay golden eggs. Both Sharm and Hurghada are well secured and safe. Tourist resorts have great security and attentive staff.

What to wear

Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are both touristy beach resort towns so beach wear, shorts and tank tops are acceptable and common.

You’ll find tourists – both inside and outside their resorts – wearing shorts, skirts and strappy tops.

The best beaches in Egypt

Whether you’re looking for a rustic hidden gem, a diver’s paradise or a family-friendly resort, here’s my definite list of the best beaches in Egypt.

The Red Sea off the beaten path

Marsa Alam has grown in popularity since it opened an international airport. But it still feels like a hidden gem with secluded beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Read my ultimate guide to Marsa Alam for insights into this gem known as the “Egyptian Maldives,”