Egypt Holiday Planning Guide
The land of pharaohs, pyramids, sphinxes, and papyrus, Egypt needs little by way of introduction. Visitors find more than a textbook readout of ancient history when visiting the country--the power, scale, art, and mysticism of its centuries-old culture bleed out from each landmark attraction and seep into the everyday life. Bustling markets, the slow-flowing Nile, the vast desert, and inspiring archeological sites often sit right alongside palaces of great excess and historical importance. All ensure you have plenty to see and do during your vacation in Egypt. In the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, travel to certain areas where conflict and terrorism are deemed likely remains inadvisable for foreign visitors.
Places to Visit in Egypt
Regions of EgyptRed Sea and Sinai
: Popular resort cities scattered along the Red Sea Riviera and an abundance of both natural and archaeological landmarks offer excellent conditions for a laid-back, entertaining holiday in Egypt.Nile River Valley
: Home to the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt--ancient tombs, temples, and cities--the valley provides a deeper insight into the country's history, topography, and cultural heritage.Cairo Governorate
: This populous area includes the national capital Cairo and is completely urbanized apart from some uninhabited desert areas.
Cities in EgyptHurghada
: Besides world-class diving and snorkeling, a visit to Egypt's premier beach destination guarantees an adventurous vacation in Egypt, filled with island hopping, boating, and camel rides in the desert.Cairo
: The "City of a Thousand Minarets" and more than 20 million people harbors a rich heritage and a plethora of historic relics including mosques, lavish palaces, sacred tombs, and ancient artifacts.Luxor
: Once known as Thebes, the former capital of the New Kingdom features an intriguing blend of modern buildings intertwined with ruins of temples and tombs from antiquity.Marsa Alam
: Known for its diving spots, the bustling resort town on Egypt's Red Sea coast offers you a chance to encounter exotic marine life and swim with dolphins on your trip to Egypt.Giza
: A trip to Giza, which is best known for its pyramid complex, provides an opportunity to add quad biking, camelback rides, and pleasant cruises to your Egypt itinerary.Sharm El Sheikh
: One of Egypt's premier travel destinations, the "City of Peace" boasts some of the world's best diving and snorkeling, as well as a busy nightlife and day trip opportunities from tours of Mount Sinai to quad biking in the desert.
Popular Egypt Tourist AttractionsTiran Island
: Known for its complicated history, this small island attracts visitors with its heavenly beaches and blue waters perfect for snorkeling and diving.Ras Mohamed National Park
: Overlooking two gulfs, the national park features a desert landscape with a few oases in the inland area, and protected coral reefs that shelter most of the Red Sea's marine species.Egyptian Antiquities Museum
: Ancient history at its best, the museum boasts a collection notable for its standout pieces, including the Gold Mask of Tutankhamen, as well as coins and papyrus fragments discovered in the Valley of the Kings.Temple of Karnak
: Once probably among the largest religious sites ever built, the gigantic temple still maintains its ageless charm that draws tourists from around the world.Pyramids of Giza
: Testifying to the power of the pharaohs and the ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians, the pyramids are the last of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and should be included on every Egypt itinerary.SOHO Square
: This shopping and entertainment center features classy stores, alfresco eating areas, a number of play areas, and sports facilities.Na'ama Bay
: The jump-off point for many snorkeling and diving expeditions, the bay boasts relaxing beaches, luxury hotels, spas, shopping areas, and a number of restaurants overlooking the sandy coastline.Valley of the Kings
: Journey back in time by sneaking a peak into a pharaoh's tomb at one of the world's most significant archaeological sites and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt.Keops Pyramid
: The largest and oldest of the three main pyramids at Giza stood as the tallest man-made structure for around 3,800 years, having incalculable influence on art, architecture, and design.
Planning an Egypt Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Egypt with Kids
Given its enormously rich heritage and a plethora of modern attractions, you won't lack for places to visit in Egypt even when traveling with kids.
Start your Egypt vacation by making one of the beautiful seaside resorts in Red Sea and Sinai
area your base. This region provides a profusion of both natural and cultural attractions, from beautiful beaches and diving sites, to ancient Egyptian tombs. Sharm El Sheikh
provides unparalleled comfort with its all-inclusive seaside resorts, while Hurghada
boasts water parks and diving sites ideal for families with older children.
For a fair share of cultural attractions, visit Luxor
. A donkey ride on cushioned saddles above the Valley of the Kings is something that will stay in your children's memory forever.
The sheer size and overpopulation of Cairo
might be overwhelming for families with small children. If your kids are big enough to appreciate the iconic historic sites and incredibly rich collections of Egyptian museums, you must take them to Africa's largest city.
Things to Do in Egypt with Kids
Home to a number of upscale resort hotels, Shark's Bay Beach
can serve as your base and the departure point for boat tours and diving excursions.
Equipped with swimming pools, kiddie pools, kayaking areas, and a wealth of water slides, Aqua Blue Water Park
offers entertainment for the whole family.
If you have a budding botanist in the family, take him or her to Aswan Botanical Garden
. While there, don't miss the opportunity to visit the zoo, do some bird-watching, and have a family picnic among tropical plants.
The protected coral reefs of Ras Mohamed National Park
will allow your little nature enthusiasts to encounter dolphins and manta rays during your Egypt vacation.
Older children will love treasure hunting at Egyptian Antiquities Museum
, seeing baboon and crocodile mummies at Mummification Museum
, and crawling through narrow corridors of Keops Pyramid
in order to visits the Queen's Chamber, the King's Chamber, and the Grand Gallery.
Designed to resemble the rising sun, Bibliotheca Alexandrina
boasts four museums and a planetarium the whole family will love.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Egypt
Egyptian pharmacies and stores sell baby food, formula, and diapers, but you might want to bring a mosquito net for a crib and some medicine for an upset tummy.
Make sure your kids wear plenty of sunscreen, a sunhat, and maybe even a T-shirt while swimming, at least in the first few days of your Egypt holiday. Also, keep them well hydrated all of the time.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Egypt
Cuisine of Egypt
Legumes, vegetables, and fruit growing in Nile River Valley
are staples of Egyptian cuisine.
An Egyptian meal cannot be conceived without "eish masri," a hearty, thick pita bread, which is practically used as a utensil to scoop up other food or to wrap kebabs and falafel sandwiches.
Typical Egyptian dishes you will encounter on your tour of Egypt include "ful medames" (made from cooked fava beans seasoned with cumin), "molokhiya" (chopped bush okra cooked with garlic and coriander), and "kushari" (lentils mixed with pasta and rice).
Middle Eastern influences are obvious in the heavy use of meat (except pork) and the way it is prepared--roasted on a vertical spit for as long as a day. This Levantine style of meat preparation is called "shawarma" and can be served wrapped in pita bread or on a plate.
Other traditional Egyptian street foods include kebab and falafel, familiar and popular practically all over the world. The most popular variants of kebab dishes include "shish" kebab and "doner" kebab, both based on grilled lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or buffalo meat.
Falafel is known in Egypt as "ta'miya" and is also served in pita bread or wrapped in "taboon" (flatbread) and topped with various sauces and salads.
Visitors with a sweet tooth have to try baklava, an extremely sweet pie of many layers of pastry and spiced walnuts soaked in "sharbat"--orange blossom-flavored syrup or honey.
Shopping in Egypt
Typical Egyptian souvenirs that will remind you of your trip to Egypt include tiny models of pyramids, alabaster eggs, miniature obelisks, and carved stone cats and scarabs. Serious shoppers who won't settle for these trinkets can look for traditional textiles, leather goods, hand-blown glassware, pottery, and silver and gold jewelry with pharaonic and Nubian motifs.
A T-shirts with your loved one's name written in hieroglyphics makes for a cool gift, especially since the Egyptian cotton is famous for its fine quality worldwide.
Roam through the gold- and spice-selling districts at the historic 14th-century souk Khan Al-Khalili
, where you can shop for leather sandals, bags, and shoes, traditional Egyptian hookah pipes, and intricately designed chess and backgammon sets.Na'ama Bay
also boasts shopping areas that make for a nice change from diving and sunbathing. SOHO Square
houses a number of classy stores catering to the tastes of visitors from across the world.
If you need a break from the flashy side of Sharm El Sheikh, visit Old Market
, selling fresh produce and spices.Aswan Market
allows you to experience the local life and customs while browsing stalls packed with jewelry, handmade clothes, home decor, and colorful spices.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Egypt
Interesting Facts About Egypt
* It is a common misconception that pyramids were built by slaves--they were constructed by 25,000 paid workers
* Only royals and wealthy members of Egyptian society were mummified
* Egyptian men and women of the same social status were treated as equals in the ancient times--there were at least three female pharaohs
* In ancient Egypt, both sexes wore makeup for practical and superstitious reasons--they believed makeup had healing powers
* Hieroglyphic writing was so time-consuming that it was reserved for tomb and temple walls, while everyday documents were written in its simplified form--hieratic
* Many things in use today were invented by ancient Egyptians, including pen and paper, keys, and toothpaste
Things You Should NOT Do in Egypt
Remember that Egypt is predominantly a Muslim country and the rules of the Islamic law are strict when it comes to behaving in public.
Dress appropriately for the occasion and don't reveal too much skin, unless you're spending your entire Egypt vacation in one of the coastal, beach resort cities.
Try to refrain from public displays of affection, which includes kissing, hugging, and sometimes even shaking hands.
Drinking alcohol in the street is not only frowned upon but illegal in some areas, so be mindful of your behavior.
During Ramadan, not only drinking and smoking, but also eating in public is not socially acceptable before the night falls.
Holidays & Festivals in Egypt
Due to the use of a lunar-based calendar, Islamic holidays in Egypt shift each year.
As in other Muslim countries, Ramadan is the most important holiday, including heavy fasting from sunrise to sundown throughout the month. The fast is broken at sunset--many restaurants and shops don't open before that time.
The end of the month of Ramadan is celebrated all over the country and followed by the Islamic New Year.
Other Islamic holidays include Moulid al-Nabi, the Prophet's birthday, and local "moulids" (celebrating the lives of holy men). These events attract visitors with displays of ritual prayers and dancing. The biggest ones take place in Cairo
Other national holidays include Coptic Christmas (January 7) and Coptic Easter, both widely celebrated.
The Western celebration of Easter usually takes place in April and overlaps with a much older holiday Sham al-Nessim, which dates back to pharaonic times.
Useful Egypt Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Egypt
A handshake and a kiss on the cheek among people of the same sex are acceptable but depend on how well you know the person you're greeting. Strict Muslims may even avoid shaking hands with people of the opposite sex--to avoid seeming disrespectful, just wait for the woman to extend her hand first.
Modern standard Arabic is the official language of the country, although many varieties of Arabic are actually spoken in different parts of Egypt. Learning a few common phrases can help you get along with the locals during your trip to Egypt, especially while haggling in the souks.
Climate of Egypt
In general, Egypt enjoys a desert climate. Due to the moderating northerly winds, the weather along the coast is more temperate than in the central and southern parts.
In the desert cities, such as Aswan
, the average daytime temperatures can exceed 40 C (104 F).
In the coastal resorts like Hurghada
, mean summer temperatures hover around 32 C (89.6 F), while the winter temperatures stay close to 17 C (62.6 F).
As you move to the mountains on your Egypt tour, the night temperatures will get cooler. Avoid March, April, and May, when hot, dry, and dusty winds blow over Egypt and bring oppressive heat waves.
Transportation in Egypt
While traveling through Egypt, you can rely on all the usual means of modern transport.
Planes are great if you need to get somewhere fast--you can take flights from Cairo to all major tourist destinations in the country.
Trains commute on Alexandria-Cairo-Luxor-Aswan route daily in both directions.
Catching a boat ride on the Nile River system is still a popular way to get from place to place, and something you should definitely do on your Egypt vacation.
Avoid driving if you can--many roads remain unmarked and the traffic can get extremely chaotic and confusing. Instead, use the country's extensive long-distance bus network between the cities, and taxis within urban centers.
Tipping in Egypt
Tipping is not a commonplace practice in Egypt, so it's entirely up to you whether you want to reward your waiter, hairdresser, masseuse, or driver for the services provided.