A complicated but fascinating country with some of the most enduring historical monuments on Earth, Egypt stands as an unforgettable travel destination.
A complicated but fascinating country with some of the most enduring historical monuments on Earth, Egypt stands as an unforgettable travel destination. It’s had to deal with its fair share of turmoil in recent times, but this North African nation remains proud, welcoming and accessible. And with treasures as timeless as the temples and pyramids of the Nile to shout about, it’s not somewhere that’s going to slip from public consciousness any time soon. A trip here still very much has the potential to thrill.
in many ways, there are two Egypts. The first is the Egypt of Cairo and the Nile, of bustling medieval bazaars, noseless Sphinxes, river cruises and Agatha Christie-era exoticism. The second, and just as integral to many visitors, is the Egypt of the Red Sea, where a spread of large-scale modern resorts caters to sun-seekers and scuba divers. Sharm el-Sheikh, with its world-class diving, high-end hotels and desert adventures, is the best known of them. Most of the country’s ancient treasures were built during the time of the pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza (the sole survivors of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World); the lotus-columned temples of Luxor and Karnak; the Valley of the Kings; Aswan and the temples of Abu Simbel: strung along the Nile, these monuments have drawn visitors for centuries. They represent a lasting legacy of one of the most fabled periods of human history.
Of course, the country is best understood not so much for its great monuments or its coral reefs, splendid though they are, but through its people. Bartering for a bargain in Cairo’s ancient Khan al-Khalili bazaar, taking tea and falling into a long conversation with a local, or simply stopping awhile in a remote village, silent but for the chatter of hooves on the tarmac, will give a glimpse of a country full of character, colour and fortitude.
Attractions in Egypt
Nestling the Mediterranean, Egypt’s ‘second city has a French colonial atmosphere and a relaxed Greek influence, a mix of continental patisseries, art deco architecture and crowded sandy beaches in summer. Don’t miss the Roman Amphitheatre’s mosaics or the modern Biblioteca and museums. Take a walk along the corniche to work up an appetite for a dinner of freshly-caught fish.
The Valley of the Kings, in the Theban Hills, is where the mummified remains of many Egyptian pharaohs were interred. Although stripped of their contents centuries ago, the tombs still display fantastic wall paintings depicting the lives of the pharaohs. The most famous tomb is that of Tutankhamun, discovered in pristine condition by Howard Carter in 1922.
The Red Sea justly deserves its worldwide reputation for an underwater adventure. Teeming with colourful marine life, the crystalline waters are landscaped with coral and dramatic drop-offs. The Ras Mohamed National Park, a headland 20 km (12 miles) west of Sharm el-Sheikh, shows off this underwater world at its best.
It’s bustling and busy in ancient Islamic Cairo, but the crowds thin out along the serene street of Al-Muezz Al-Din, with spotlit mosques and mausoleums lining the pedestrianised cobbled street. A local will, doubtless, offer to take you up a minaret; ascend the one at Al-Azhar Mosque – home to the world’s oldest university – for panoramic views.
Straddling the Nile, Luxor is the site of the ancient city of Thebes. On the east bank lies the spectacular Temple of Karnak featuring epic statues, obelisks and lotus-columned halls. In the city centre is Luxor Temple, spectacular when lit up at night. Make the most of the experience by taking a gods-eye view in a hot-air balloon.
Get lost in Khan-el Khalili bazaar Take a trip to Cairo’s famous labyrinthine, medieval Khan-el Khalili bazaar, where haggling for spices, copper, perfume and trinkets has been refined into an art form.
Don’t miss Fishawi’s teahouse; in business for over 200 years, it is the ultimate place to people watch.
For centuries, Christian pilgrims have made the journey to Mount Sinai to witness the sunrise over the desert landscape. The three-hour trek is breathtaking, but if it sounds too ambitious, stay overnight at the UNESCO-listed 6th-century Saint Catherine’s
Monastery, hire a camel and walk down in leisure.
One of Egypt’s best shopping experiences is Cairo’s medieval market Khan-el-Khalili. Everything from cheap souvenirs to household goods, reproduction ‘antique’ jewellery, brass plaques and jugs, copper utensils and cotton goods fill the narrow noisy alleyways. Be sure to visit the Spice Bazaar, where the aroma of cloves, coriander and cinnamon will leave you intoxicated. Nearby is the Perfume Bazaar. Cairo also has its share of modern shopping centres, department stores and small fashionable shops, particularly near its central intersection, Tahrir Square. In Alexandria, antique stalls cluster the area around Sharia el Attareen, while in Luxor the souk is mainly geared for the tourist market but is a fun place to wander around in the evenings.
The vendor is likely to charge what he feels happy with charging, usually a hugely inflated price for foreigners. Bargain hard! Check the price of everything before purchasing (and consuming), even food and drink. Best buys include alabaster vases, old books, brass and copperware, papyrus prints, leatherwork and ceramics. Muski glass is a popular souvenir, this colourful glass is identified by its air bubbles and has been hand-blown in Cairo for centuries. Carpets make good buys too.
As the sun sets, people start spilling onto the streets, congregating in coffee shops and restaurants. Go to any waterfront – along the Nile in Cairo and Luxor, or the seafronts in Alexandria and Sharm el-Sheikh – and you’ll find the comiche humming with the chatter of friends cruising arm in arm to catch the breeze. Street vendors selling kebabs, chai-sellers shouldering giant urns and trinket merchants with the latest colourful imports vie for the attentions of passers-by. This is the place to meet the locals, gauge the national mood and share in the jubilations of local football success.
A huge draw for visitors – both domestic and foreign – is the sound and light shows held in spectacular fashion. many of the country’s archaeological sites. Here, you can come face-to-face with the spot-lit Sphinx at Giza or watch the entire Temple of Karnak unfold to music at Luxor. The best of these shows is held at the Temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel. Commentary is often in different languages every evening so check it’s the right one for you. Sophisticated nightclubs, bars and restaurants can be found in Cairo, Alexandria and largest towns. The nightlife in Luxor and Aswan often includes barbecues along the Nile or dinner cruises.
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