Last Updated on November 11, 2021 by Nellie Huang
Always dreamt of visiting Egypt? Plan an adventure of a lifetime with my 2-week Egypt itinerary, designed for first-time visitors.
Egypt is the stuff of dreams: it’s home to the ancient Giza pyramids, the sprawling Valley of the Kings where over 63 ancient Pharaohs were buried, and the long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum (scheduled to open late 2021). Plus vast deserts, Nubian villages and miles and miles beaches along the Red Sea coast.
Like the Nile, Egypt is overflowing — overflowing with treasure-filled tombs, thousand-year-old mummies and immaculately preserved temples. It is nearly impossible for the casual traveler to see everything. Having just returned from a second trip to Egypt, I’ve found that its historical treasures are still as impressive, but Egypt needs tourists now more than ever.
Table of Contents
- 2-Week Egypt Itinerary
- My Egypt Itinerary Map
- Is Egypt Safe to Visit?
- Egypt COVID-19 Measures
- How to Get to Egypt
- Best Time to Visit Egypt
- How to Get Around Egypt
- Cairo Itinerary Day 1: See the Ancient Pyramids
- Where to Stay in Cairo
- Cairo Itinerary Day 2: Explore Coptic Cairo
- Cairo Itinerary Day 3: Get to Know Islamic Cairo
- Egypt Itinerary Day 4: Fly to Aswan
- Take a Camel to the Monastery of St Simeon
- Visit the Tombs of the Nobles
- Where to Stay in Aswan
- Egypt Itinerary Day 5: Visit Philae Temple and Museums
- Egypt Itinerary Day 6: Abu Simbel Day Trip
- Egypt Itinerary Day 7: Visit Luxor’s Temples
- Where to Stay in Luxor
- Egypt Itinerary Day 8: Explore the West Bank
- Tips on Visiting the Valley of the Kings
- Egypt Itinerary Day 9: Explore the Museums
- Egypt Itinerary Day 10: Take the Bus to Hurghada
- Where to Stay in Hurghada
- Egypt Itinerary Day 11: Day Trip to Giftun Island
- Egypt Itinerary Day 12: Wander around Downtown Hurghada
- Egypt Itinerary Day 13: Fly Back to Cairo
- How to Dress in Egypt
- Further Reading on Egypt
2-Week Egypt Itinerary
Egypt is a big country — and distances are long. You’ll need a minimum of 2 weeks in Egypt to see and experience the best of the country at a comfortable pace. On both trips to Egypt, I spent 2 weeks and still wished I had more time. This Egypt itinerary will help you make the most of your time there and experience the best of the country.
My Egypt Itinerary Map
Is Egypt Safe to Visit?
Safety issues are the main concern for most when traveling to Egypt. In recent years, Egypt experienced one terrorist attack after another in recent years, with many of them targeting tourists. Tourism numbers naturally took a nose dive in the last decade.
I have never felt that I was in danger at any point on both trips to Egypt. That said, hassling and sexual harassment are common in Egypt, especially for solo female travelers. With the right mindset and expectations, it is possible to travel safely in Egypt. Read my article on whether Egypt is safe for travel here.
Egypt COVID-19 Measures
Since 1 September 2020, all travelers must present a negative RT-PCR test certificate taken no more than 72 hours before departure. Make sure your test certificate is written in English or Arabic and be stamped by an accredited laboratory. No quarantine or mandated testing is needed.
Travel insurance is also mandatory to travel Egypt. It’s especially important to have travel insurance, especially if you’re traveling during the pandemic. Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
In Egypt, masks are mandatory and must be worn on all public transit and in taxis. However, I saw that few people were observing the rule. There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions on public gatherings, as many parts of Cairo are still crowded.
How to Get to Egypt
The gateway into Cairo is the Cairo International Airport (CAI). Flying into Cairo from most parts of Europe is rather affordable. You can fly from London to Cairo for just £250 return (5-hour flight) or Paris to Cairo (4-hour flight) for as low as €280 round trip.
To get to downtown Cairo from the airport, I suggest arranging a transfer with your hotel. My hotel offered free airport pickup even though it was an hour drive away in Giza. Otherwise there’s no shortage of taxi drivers waiting by arrivals; prepare to haggle and don’t pay more than 100 EGP (US$6).
Best Time to Visit Egypt
The best time to visit Cairo is between October and April, when temperatures are cooler, but still pleasantly warm across the country. I traveled Egypt in early March and found the weather to be really comfortable, with daytime temperatures around 75°F (23°C) and nighttime 59°F (15°C).
The summer season (May to September) is hot, although the high temperatures are alleviated by very dry air, far fewer visitors and lower prices.There also tends to be a bit of a breeze on the Nile.
How to Get Around Egypt
Egypt is a big country and distances are long — but it’s incredibly easy to travel from one city to another in Egypt. The best way to go from Cairo to Luxor/Aswan/Hurghada is flying. Domestic flights on EgyptAir is cheap and saves 10+ hours of travel. Flights from Cairo to Luxor cost around $40 each way and Cairo to Aswan $60.
For short distances, I recommend taking the train. The Egyptian Railway is good, comfortable and cheap. The best thing about the railway system is that it runs along the Nile River and you get great views as it trots parallel to the waterway.
The night train from Cairo to Luxor is a popular route, but I don’t recommend taking it. First it’s expensive at US$100 each way (flights are cheaper). If you have the time, take the day train instead, it’s much cheaper at only $15-20 each way. Check train schedule and fare here.
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Egypt. Go Bus is a popular bus company that runs popular routes like Luxor-Hurghada. It’s cheap and comfortable — first-class seats are wide, reclining leather seats with Wifi, your own screen, and free meals included.
By Taxi and Uber
Uber only works in certain cities, like Cairo and Hurghada, but it’s a lifesaver for travelers like me who don’t want to be haggling all the time. Uber drivers are respectful and trustworthy. Taxi drivers on the other hand might try to overcharge you — I met one who tried to sell me hashish and offer me “a sexy time”.
Cairo Itinerary Day 1: See the Ancient Pyramids
Most people start their Egypt trip in Cairo as it’s home to the world-famous Pyramids. I recommend spending at least 3 days in Cairo to explore the sights at a comfortable pace. Check out my Cairo itinerary for more details.
On your first day, head straight to the Giza plateau to see the most iconic historical site of the world. For nearly 4000 years, nine impeccably built pyramids have stood on this plateau, built as massive tombs on the orders of the pharaohs. Today they stand as a tribute to the achievements of ancient Egypt.
Of the three pyramids at Giza, the Great Pyramid is the largest — and it’s the only ancient wonder of the world left. You can actually enter the Great Pyramid (with an extra ticket) and climb the steep stairs that lead to the King’s Chamber. It’s definitely worthwhile to venture inside, but some might feel claustrophobic inside.
Marvel the Giza Pyramids
Prepare to spend at least three hours at the Giza Pyramids. That should give you enough time to walk all over the plateau, go inside one of the pyramids, take a horse or camel to the panoramic point, see the Sphinx and the visit the Solar Boat.
You’d be forgiven to think the Pyramids of Giza are located in the middle of a desert. The ancient site is actually surrounded by houses, shops, restaurants and dusty roads. You can easily find restaurants just outside of the exit by the Sphinx, including the famous Abou Shakra.
Visiting the Giza Pyramids: Things You Need to Know
- Go early, preferably around 8am. The tour buses start arriving around 10-11 am. During my visit in March, it was close to empty due to the pandemic; but usually Giza plateau gets very crowded.
- If you’re visiting on your own, you can easily take an Uber to the main entrance. A ride from any hotel in Giza costs around 15 to 20 EGP ($1-1.50).
- Be prepared for a lot of hassling here — female vendors shoving t-shirts into your bags, men draping scarves on you without asking. Avoid eye contact, smile and keep moving.
- There’ll be tourist touts following you everywhere. Most say they’re official guides from the Pyramids and that their service is free. At the end of it, they’ll ask for a big tip.
- The Sphinx is included in your ticket. The Solar Boat however requires an extra ticket, but I don’t think it’s worth it (based on my first visit there 13 years ago).
- To explore the Pyramid ground, you can technically walk everywhere. Most people hire a horse cart or a camel (which adds to the experience, though it’s not quite as comfortable as it looks). The official price of a camel ride is 350 EGP ($20) per hour.
Visit the Dahshur Pyramids
In the afternoon, head over to the town of Dahshur, about an hour’s drive from Giza. This area is not easy to get to, so I advice booking a day tour. On my first trip to Egypt, I booked this full-day day tour with a guide who really made the history come alive.
The two main pyramids to visit in Dashur are the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid. The “bent” pyramid has an unusual appearance is unusual. The first 49 metres, which have largely kept their smooth limestone casing, are built at a steep 54 degree angle, before tapering off towards the top.
The angular shape contrasts with the straight sides of Sneferu’s Red Pyramid just to the north. The Red Pyramid, named for the rusty hues of the red limestone, was Sneferu’s third pyramid.
See Egypt’s Oldest Pyramid at Saqqara
Saqqara is the largest archaeological site in the country. The vast necropolis is home to eleven pyramids in total – the burial places of the pharaohs – amongst which several are magnificent examples of ancient art and architecture.
The most prominent site is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, that stands over 200 feet (60 m) tall, with a base of 358 feet by 397 feet (109 m by 121 m). It was the Egyptian’s first successful attempt to build a pyramid, and is one of the world’s oldest monumental cut stone structures.
Explore the Ancient Capital of Memphis
Memphis was once the ancient capital of Egypt. It was the country’s center of commerce and trade and an important religious center. Today, what is left of the ancient city is collected in the Memphis Open Air Museum.
The highlight of Memphis is undoubtedly the magnificent fallen colossal limestone statue of Ramses II. At 33 ft (10m) tall, it’s massive and really gives a sense of the magnitude of the temple during its heydays.
Watch the Pyramids Light Show from Your Hotel
In the evening, head back to your hotel and catch the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids (skip to my recommendations for hotels with Pyramids view). This show takes place every evening at 7pm October – April and at 7:30pm May – September. During Ramadan the starting time is pushed to 8:30pm.
It’s rather kitsch to be honest, with neon green, red and yellow lights flashing about. I wouldn’t recommend going to the Pyramids for the show (tours cost around $50) — instead just enjoy the view from your room for free.
Cairo Itinerary Day 2: Explore Coptic Cairo
Visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
Next morning, head to the Egyptian Museum, where almost all of Egypt’s most highly priced treasures are stored. This is a must visit —preferably with an Egyptologist in tow. Book a guided tour here.
Inside, the grand ground floor features a variety of sacorphagus, giant stone sculptures and coffins. The first floor houses two rooms of mummies. The most intriguing attraction at the museum is Tutankhamun’s tomb, displayed alongside his complex gold coffins, gold trinkets, objects, and jewelry.
NOTE: The museum’s treasures will be relocated to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, scheduled to open in late 2021 on the Giza Plateau.
Go to the Top of Cairo Tower
From there, walk across the Nile River and head up to the highest floor (62nd level) of the Cairo Tower. This is where you get the best view of the city. Have a simple lunch at the cafe below the panoramic deck and enjoy your meal with a view.
Entry costs 200 EGP ($12). If you want to take photos with a DSLR, you’ll need to pay a whopping 300 EGP ($18) extra for it. I suggest storing your camera in the locker and use your phone to snap photos instead.
TIP: There’s a strong restriction on taking photos with DSLR almost everywhere in Egypt (due to security). Anywhere that allows it will charge a hefty fee for it. BUT taking photos with a phone is allowed and free everywhere!
Visit the Coptic Museum
Take an Uber or taxi to the Coptic Museum. The Copts follow a denomination of Christianity and Cairo is home to the largest Copts population in North Africa. Copts are actually the closest descendants of Ancient Egyptians.
A great place to learn more about the Copts, the Coptic Museum houses Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt right through to early Islam. It is a beautiful place, as much for the elaborate woodcarving in all the galleries as for the treasures they contain.
Head to the Hanging Church
The most famous church in this district known as Coptic Cairo (Masr al-Qadima) is the Hanging Church. Contrary to what its name implies, the Hanging Church—Al Moallaqa—is not actually suspended from anything. Its moniker comes from the fact that it’s built on top of the gates of an old Roman fortress.
TIP: The Hanging Church is free to enter. It’s open every day from 9am-5pm. There is no strict dress code, but it’s wise to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees.
Catch a Glimpse of Ben Ezra Synagogue
Behind the Hanging Church, you’ll find the Ben Ezra Synagogue, an architectural gem and one of the last remaining testaments to the once-vibrant Egyptian Jewish community. According to local folklore, this was where baby Moses was found.
For dinner, kick back after a busy day of sightseeing at Zooba. This modern Cairo-based chain is a great spot to try Egyptian street food bites in colorful spaces. It’s so popular among locals that it’s opened up branches in US and Saudi Arabia.
Cairo Itinerary Day 3: Get to Know Islamic Cairo
Get Lost in Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar
Start your day at Cairo’s largest and most vibrant souk, Khan Al-Khalili. You’ll find everything from frankincense to lamps and jewelry shops. Originally built as a mausoleum for the Fatimid caliphs, the complex features Ottoman architectural style.
One place you shouldn’t miss is the hundred-year-old café Fishawi, best known for its Egyptian-style coffee and ambience. The shop has served international celebrities in the likes of Egyptian Nobel Laureate author Naguib Mahfouz and Will Smith.
Meander along Muizz Street
A short walk north of Khan Al Khalili is the bustling Muizz Street, dubbed the “world’s largest open-air museum of Islamic monuments”. The street is flanked by some of Egypt’s oldest and grandest structures, as well as a series of antique shops.
A stroll reveals architecture from dynasties that have ruled the city in different eras—from the Fatimid dynasty in A.D. 970 to the more recent Pasha rule. Home to the Qalawun Complex, it also houses a spectacular mausoleum and impressive Mamluk architecture, including a minaret within a dome.
Enjoy a Stroll in Al Azhar Park
Catch a short Uber ride to Al-Azhar Park, Cairo’s greenest space. The gated park was originally a landfill, and was transformed into an urban attraction in 2005. Entrance is 25 EGP ($1.50) for adults.
Sprawling over 74 acres of central city land, it is a veritable oasis among the urban hustle of Cairo. After a walk, have lunch at the Citadel View Restaurant, and watch kids splashing in the fountains and locals enjoying a picnic on the green lawns. The traditional Egyptian fare here is fantastic and outdoor terrace is glorious.
Enter the Cairo Citadel
A short walk from the park is the Cairo Citadel. The medieval fortification was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
Its location on a promontory of the Mokattam hills commands a strategic position overlooking the city and dominating its skyline. In 1976, it was proclaimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Entrance is 180 EGP ($11) and includes entry to the mosques and museums inside.
Visit the Impressive Mosque of Muhammed Ali
The biggest attraction within the 12th century Citadel walls is the Mosque of Muhammed Ali. Situated on the summit of the citadel, this Ottoman mosque was the largest to be built in the 19th century.
With its animated silhouette and twin minarets, this is the most visible mosque in Cairo. The best time to visit is right before sunset as you can see how the city transforms from this elevated view.
Egypt Itinerary Day 4: Fly to Aswan
Next day, catch a morning flight to Aswan in southern Egypt. The flight on Egypt Air usually takes 1.5 hours and costs around $100 each way. If you prefer slow travel, catch the night train from Cairo and watch the backcountry of Egypt through whisk by (at the same price as the flight).
Coming from Cairo, you’ll welcome the slower pace and calmer vibes. Located across the border from Sudan, low-key Aswan offers the chance to catch your breath after the nerve-fraying, car-horn-tooting bedlam of Cairo. For more details, check out my list of things to do in Aswan.
Stroll Along the Corniche
One of Aswan’s great joys is simply strolling the east bank’s Corniche, watching traditional feluccas weave their way through the islands. Aswan’s real charm has always been its ambience rather than its sights. After checking into your hotel, spend some time aimlessly ambling along this Nile-side promenade.
Hop on a Felucca
If you’re only going to board a felucca on the Nile once, it better be in Aswan. There’s so much to see in this part of the Nile that you can easily weave many sightseeing spots into a half-day felucca ride. (Continue reading for what to see on a felucca journey.) A 1-hour ride costs around 80 EGP ($5), while a full-day felucca journey will set you back around 500 EGP ($30).
Visit Elephantine Island
One of the most popular spots to visit on a felucca ride is the Elephantine Island (Gharb Aswan) on the west bank. You can also take a public ferry, which leaves next to the KFC on the Aswan quay and costs just 5 EGP.
The island is a great spot to experience traditional Nubian village life. Elephantine Island’s two neighboring villages of Siou and Koti are a maze of wriggling lanes lined with squat mudbrick houses. The Nubians traditionally live in houses painted in bright, vivid colors, which are an interesting sight.
While on Elephantine Island, don’t miss Animalia, a little museum brimming with Nubian artifacts and home to a lovely terrace that makes for a great place for a tea pit stop after exploring.
Explore Aswan Botanical Gardens
Next to Elephantine Island is Kitchener’s Island, home to Aswan Botanical Garden. The island was given to Lord Horatio Kitchener in the 1890s when he was commander of the Egyptian army.
A major plant lover, Kitchener turned the entire island into the stunning Aswan Botanical Gardens, importing plants from the Far East, India and parts of Africa. Now covering 6.8 hectares, the gardens are filled with birds as well as hundreds of species of flora.
Take a Camel to the Monastery of St Simeon
If you continue sailing along the Nile River, you’ll get to the 7th-century Monastery of St Simeon on the west bank. Disembark at the river bank and saddle up on a camel to see the monastery up close.
Surrounded by sturdy fortress walls, monastery was first dedicated to the local saint Anba Hedra. It was rebuilt in the 10th century and dedicated to St Simeon. From here the monks travelled into Nubia, in the hope of converting the Nubians to Christianity.
Visit the Tombs of the Nobles
Few people visit this ancient site, but if you like going off the beaten path, you’ll enjoy the Tombs of the Nobles, perched on the top of the sand dunes overlooking the Nile. The views of the entire Nile valley from here are spectacular.
These are mainly tombs of Egyptian princes dating back to the Old Kingdom. In the tombs, you’ll find colorful paintings and hieroglyphics. Excavations are also still being made by archaeologists these days, so many of the tombs are closed due to maintenance work. The most prominent tomb is Qubbet el-Hawa, also known as ‘the wind dome’.
Egypt Itinerary Day 5: Visit Philae Temple and Museums
Next day, take an Uber and boat to the spectacular Philae Temple. This is my favorite site in Aswan and I cannot recommend it enough. Philae Temple is the single best-preserved temple in all of Egypt, comparable with Karnak Temple in Luxor.
Located on an island, Philae seemingly floats on the water of the Nile. It’s only accessible by boat and you’ll need to haggle for the price but don’t pay more than 50 EGP for the boat trip. Alternatively, book a tour of Philae and combine it with a visit of a Nubian village.
Have a Drink at Solaih Nubian Restaurant
Right across the water from Philae Temple, Solaih Nubian Restaurant is located on Bigeh Island, with awe-inspiring views of the the temple. Just get your motorboat driver to stop here for a short while before returning to shore and order a refreshing iced mint tea while you take in the view. It’s a gorgeous spot for sunset, if you don’t mind getting back in the dark.
Solaih is actually a part of Eco Nubia, a cool ecolodge with traditional mud houses on its very own island. Rooms are simple but the decor is rustic, yet stylish. By night, sit around the fire, enjoy some Nubian fare and watch the light and sound show at Philae Temple.
Visit the Nubia Museum
Although the river will always be Aswan’s biggest draw, the east bank also has a cluster of sights. On your way back to town from Philae Temple, stop at the Nubia Museum to learn more about the Nubian culture unique to Aswan.
The Nubians are indigenous people of Southern Egypt and they have unique traditions that are distinctive to that of Egyptians. This museum gives an interesting peek into the Nubian culture by presenting the history of Nubia from prehistory to the present day. It’s also home to more than 3000 objects from archaeological sites that were threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.