The Ultimate Cairo and the Nile Bucket List

Egypt is the ultimate bucket list trip. Everyone wants to see the Pyramids, everyone wants a selfie with the Sphinx, and travelers in the know definitely want to stand next to the temples at Abu Simbel! Whether you’re planning your trip or just dreaming it up, here is your ultimate bucket list for a trip to Cairo and up the Nile!

Visit the Pyramids

This is at the top of the list for a reason! They’re only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, the ultimate mystery (how did they do THAT?!), the most recognizable icon in the entire world. The Pyramids are even better in person, even more fascinating than you think, and even bigger than you can possibly comprehend until you see them in person. Wow, y’all.

The Pyramids are a World Wonder for a reason!
All the details: Everything You Need to Know Before You Visit the Pyramids

Photograph the Sphinx

Everyone who sees the Pyramids is also there for at least one other reason: The Sphinx. It’s another mystery, albeit a smaller one. Buried under the sand for centuries, it was excavated in the 1880s. His missing nose has been the stuff of legend and speculation for as long as anyone can remember (and beyond), but fewer people realize he also used to have beard!

The Sphinx is smaller than the Pyramids, but don’t be disappointed!
Also helpful: What to Know Before You Visit Cairo

Explore the Egyptian Museum AND the Grand Egyptian Museum

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, has been open since 1902. But with 120,000 items in their collection, they’ve needed to expand almost since they’ve been opened! The new, Grand Egyptian Museum has been on the brink of opening for over a decade now, but I think it might really be happening in 2023! Even when it does finally open, you’ll want to visit both!

I can’t wait to go back to Cairo to see the new Grand Egyptian Museum!
More here: How to Right-size Your Expectations of Travel in Egypt

Visit the Original Pyramid in Saqqara

The Pyramids we’re all familiar with are not the first! In fact, a “true” pyramid as we know it took a few tries to get right. The first was actually a take on a tomb called a mastaba that Egyptians had already been using. The first iteration of a pyramid was six of these stacked on top of each other. You can see this, plus the Bent Pyramid, and Red Pyramid, at Dashur and Saqqara!

The original Pyramid looks different from the one you’re familiar with!
Read next: Your Handy List of Ancient Egyptian Facts

Marvel at Karnak Temple

The second-largest religious complex in the world is located in the heart of ancient Egypt: Luxor. The complex involves more than two dozen temples within its boundaries, but the most picturesque spot is the famed Hypostyle Hall. Also unbelievable? This temple complex was built over the course of two thousand years! You can’t go to Egypt without visiting Karnak Temple!

You will be amazed at how big this place is!
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit Luxor

Walk through Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple, less than three kilometers from Karnak, also made its way on to this list, and when you visit, you’ll know why. It dates back to 1400 B.C., and in its long life it’s been an Egyptian temple, Christian church, and Muslim mosque. It’s one of the best-preserved temples we have from ancient Egypt, despite its proximity to the Nile. It was built with sandstone from the Rebel el-Silsila quarry, which you may have seen on your Nile cruise!

Luxor Temple
Also helpful: How to Spend Two Days in Luxor

Explore Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple

There is exactly one queen buried in the Valley of the Kings. Why? Because she ruled as a king for over two decades. Egypt prospered during her reign, and she got along well with the priests (who were kind of really in charge), but she was almost successfully erased from history by her successor (who also happened to be her step-son). Her name was Hatshepsut, and her mortuary temple is one of the most iconic spots in Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple
Essential info: Why Egypt is a Safe Place to Travel (even as a woman!)

Go Inside Queen Nefertari’s Tomb

Another queen who made history? Nefertari, favorite wife of Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great. Hers is one of the most vibrant, beautiful, well-preserved tombs in the Valley of the Queens or Valley of the Kings. Entry to her tomb in the Valley of the Queens is the most expensive ticket in Egypt–more than King Tut’s Tomb or even the Great Pyramid. Is it worth it? Here’s a sneak peek!

Nefertari: Fashion Plate
More here: Everything You’ll See and Do on Your Nile Cruise

Visit King Tut’s Tomb

Come for King Tut, stay for everyone else! While his tomb is the smallest, he gets the last laugh. It’s also the most famous, thanks to being discovered completely intact thousands of years after he was buried!

You’ll have to pay for an extra ticket to go down into this tomb, but it holds a unique feature: King Tut’s mummy. The other tomb’s mummies are on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo, but Tut is still resting in his final resting place.

It’s small in there, but well worth the visit!
Also helpful: Your Ultimate Guide to the Valley of the Kings

Take a Nile River Cruise

You will definitely catch views of the Nile on your trip to Egypt. But if you truly want to experience Egypt, you’ll need to take in the views from the Nile! You can choose from a large cruise ship, felucca, or traditional dahabiya. I’m partial to the smooth, small, quiet dahabiya boats because our experience was so fantastic!

Just call me Cleopatra, Queen of De-Nile.
Read on: What It’s Like Sailing in a Traditional Egyptian Dahabiya Boat

Explore the Temple of Khnum at Esna

Ready for the past in living color? Head to Esna. The original paint at the Temple of Khunum has been so well-preserved because it was covered over with sand, silt, and soot for thousands of years. It’s still being cleaned, and the area around it has yet to be excavated. It’s not only an amazing example of how colorful all the tombs and temples once were, it’s also a peek into the way archaeology and restoration happen in Egypt.

The vibrant colors here will blow your mind!
Read next: What to Know Before You Visit Egypt

Take a Love Boat to the Temple of Philae

The Temple of Philae is one of the temples that was moved due to the creation of Lake Nasser in the 1960s. It was built for the goddess Isis, whose husband, Osiris, was chopped into tiny bits that were scattered all over Egypt. She loved him so much that she searched and searched to find almost all the pieces, and then she became pregnant with their son, Horus. The only way to get there? By boat! Or shall we say, love boat.

We found love at the Temple of Philae!
More ideas: The Best Things to Do in Aswan

Sail in a Felucca

A felucca boat is a small, traditional Nile river boat. They are operated only by a tall sail and a rudder, no motors! It’s a peaceful way to cross or cruise the Nile. We spent a day sailing around the islands in Aswan’s Nile waters.

Don’t miss a felucca boat sail in Aswan!
Must read: Why Egypt Elite is the Best Tour Company in Egypt

Take a Half Day Trip to Abu Simbel

Looking for larger than life? I know where you can find it! The temples at Abu Simbel were built for Ramses II (Ramses the Great) and his favorite wife, Nefertari. What’s more amazing than the fact that these monuments are still around since the 13th century B.C.? The fact that they had to be cut into massive pieces and moved before they were lost forever to Lake Nasser.

You can drive (4 hours each way) or fly (40 minutes each way) to see them in person. My personal recommendation is to fly, and also to bring an eye-popping outfit. Your photos will be amazing.

You will be so glad you took this trip!
How to do it: Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting Abu Simbel

Stay at the Old Cataract Hotel

This is the most luxurious hotel in the world. Staying here was the most amazing experience of our entire trip to Egypt. It overlooks the most beautiful section of the Nile, and the service is incredible. Agatha Christie spent a year at this hotel writing Death on the Nile. I’m pretty sure I could spend a year writing a book here, too!

We loved our stay at the Old Cataract Hotel!
Get all the details: What It’s Like Staying at the Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan

Need more? Get everything you need (and then some!) on my dedicated Egypt Page!

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