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Best places to visit in Egypt

Egypt - the heart of ancient civilisation is simply overflowing with archaeological treasures - so how does one choose the best places to visit? Here is our list of the very best places to visit in Egypt. Without a doubt the legendary Pyramids of Giza sits at number 1.

The Pyramids | Giza | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #1

Pyramids of Giza

Sole survivors from the ancient Greek-listed Seven Wonders of the World, the amazing pyramids at Giza are the planet’s oldest tourist attraction! Known as Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus, the pyramids were already more than 2,000 years old when Herodotus the Greek historian visited them (5th century BC).

A highly skilled corps of mathematicians, masons, surveyors and stonecutters did the job of building the Pyramids. 100,000 slaves were used to carry out the backbreaking task of moving and laying the stones of the largest pyramid-Cheops. About 2.5 million limestone blocks, quarried locally and weighing in excess of 6 million tonnes, were used in the construction of Cheops.

To date 138 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. Most were built as tombs for the country's Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods. All Egyptian pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile, which as the site of the setting sun was associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology. The Pyramids contain a maze of passage ways, designed to protect the Mummies of the Pharaohs and the treasure which they would take to the afterlife.

Abu Simbel | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #2

Temples of Abu Simbel

Possibly the most awe-inspiring temple of all ancient Egypt, with its gargantuan rock-cut façade, the great Sun Temple of King Ramses II at Abu Simbel was created to revere the mighty pharaonic ruler King Ramses II. Guarding the entrance to the temple and hewn into the side of a mountain are four famous colossal statues of the pharaoh himself.

In a fit of precision and architectural egotism, Ramses II had the entire temple carefully angled and oriented in order that the sun’s rays would align twice a year on his date of his ascension to the throne (21 February) and on his birthday (21 October) and illuminate the inner sanctum of the temple. This incredible natural phenomenon provides for a most spectacular sight, which has come to be referred to as the Sun Festival of King Ramses II. Arriving to the temple before sunrise sunrise, you'll witness the shafts of light slowly creeping through the rock hewn inner Hypostyle Hall (replete with further statues of the king) and through to the Sanctuary. Significantly, the sun illuminates statues of Amun-Re, Re-Herakhte and Ramses the god, whilst the statute of Ptah - the god of darkness - remains in the shadows.

Over the centuries, the desert sands imperceptibly shifted until the temple was all but lost to humanity. It was rediscovered by chance in 1813 by a Swiss explorer John Lewis Burkhardt who saw just the smallest tip of a pharaoh's head peeking above the desert sands. It was not until the British happened upon Abu Simbel and starting excavating, that the full glory of the temple of Abu Simbel was revealed to the modern world.

Famously, the temple was re-located in a multi-million dollar operation in 1972, further up from the shoreline of Lake Nasser, which had threatened to erode the foundations of this monolithic temple complex. For this reason, the sun now strikes a day later than Ramses had originally planned, though the event itself is no less stunning.

The Valley of the Kings | Luxor | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #3

Valley of the Kings

Home of the legendary Valley of the Kings and Temple of Karnak, 4000 year-old Luxor is ancient Egypt at it’s best. Highlights include the legendary Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The Valley of the Kings is studded with often highly decorated tombs, constructed to once house the regal sarcophagi-enclosed mummies of the mighty pharaohs awaiting their passage into the after-life. Some of the best known tombs are those of Ramses II, Seti I, Amenhotep II and of course, the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

In all, more than 60 tombs have been excavated. There are at least 75 tombs in Biban al-Harim, the Valley of the Queens, around 4 of which are open. Deir al- Bahri, otherwise known as the famous Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, rises out of the desert plain in a series of terraces. Partly rock-cut, partly freestanding, it is one of Egypt’s finest and most photographed monuments.

Giftun Island | Hurghada | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #5

Hurghada, Red Sea

Hurghada was founded in the early 20th century and took on a growth explosion thanks to tourism in the 1980s. In reality, the Hurghada of today comprises three main centres and numerous self-contained tourist villages. To the north, lies Ed-Dahar, which hosts than half of the total local population, and some of Hurghada’s more expensive hotels, restaurants and the tourist bazaar. A couple of kilometres south, between Ed-Dahar and New Hurghada lies Sigala, perhaps less popular than Ed-Dahar. Still further south is New Hurghada where there are a concentration of up market hotels and restaurants. All of this development has made Hurghada one of Egypt’s most popular resort towns on the Red Sea coast. Hotels and expanded infrastructure provide holidaymakers with excellent aquatic facilities for sail boarding, yachting, deep-sea fishing, SCUBA diving and snorkeling. Hurghada’s central location provides a gateway to prime offshore reefs, which are some of the finest in the world. Hurghada also has a healthy after dark scene. For retail therapy, the town has plenty of shops selling knock-off bags and tees, snorkeling gear and suchlike. Just outside Hurghada is an ancient Roman quarry called Mons Porphyritis and Port Safarga – a famously windy place and King Kong of windsurfer paradises.

The Mask of King Tutankhamen | Cairo | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #6

King Tut Exhibit, Egyptian Museum

Discovered intact in 1922 by Howard Carter, the Tomb of Tutankhamun is possibly one of the most dazzling archaeological finds ever. Tutankhamen lived over 3,300 years ago during the New Kingdom period. For two centuries, Egypt had ruled as a world superpower, while its royal family lived an opulent lifestyle. The powerful priesthood of the god Amun had controlled vast temples and estates. Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) -Tutankhamun’s father renounced the multitude of gods worshipped by the Egyptians, abolished the priesthood and established a new order to worship the sun god Aten and changed his own name to Akhenaten, meaning 'servant of the Aten.'

Upon the death of Akhenaten, Tutankhaten (Tutankhamun) became king at the age of 9yrs. He ruled for a very short time and died in 1325 BC of somewhat mysterious causes. After 70 days, King Tut’s mortuary tomb was sealed and remained untouched until Carter’s astonishing find. King Tutankhamen’s solid gold funerary mask and his priceless cache of treasures entombed with him for his journey to the afterlife, are now on display at the world famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo and a visit is highly recommended.

Philae Temple | Aswan | Egypt
Best places to visit in Egypt: Our pick #7

Aswan & Philae Temple

The picturesque town of Aswan is set on the River Nile and it's start point for both the felucca journey downstream to Kom Ombo & also optional Abu Simbel excursions. Elephantine and Kitchener Island are worth exploring and sampling the restaurants along the corniche is a good bet. Head out by boat to Agelika Island to explore the Temple of Philae belonging to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The largest monument of the island is the temple of Isis - occupying about one quarter of the island. The walls are covered with scenes of Ptolemic kings and Roman emperors performing daily and ritualistic ceremonies. Later, when this temple became a church, Christians added their crosses to the stones.

The laid-back Nubian town itself is also a highlight for visitors as it is overflowing with colourful markets, spicy aromas, Pharaonic and roman ruins and antiquity from the ancient land of Nubia.