The sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza still live up to more than 4,000 years of hype. Their extraordinary shape, geometry and age render them somehow alien constructions; they seem to rise out of the desert and pose the ever-fascinating question, 'How were we built, and why?' The oldest and biggest pyramid is that of Cheops, and you can go inside this one if you don't suffer from claustrophobia. Once they were covered in smooth white marble but that was taken for temples over the centuries, but you can imagine how even more impressive they would have been then. Climbing on the pyramids is strictly banned.The sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza still live up to more than 4,000 years of hype. Their extraordinary shape, geometry and age render them somehow alien constructions; they seem to rise out of the desert and pose the ever-fascinating question, 'How were we built, and why?'
Philae was a holy island in the Nile River where the ancient Egyptians built a temple to the goddess Isis. With the projects to dam the Nile - first with the Aswan Dam, then later in the 1960s with the High Aswan Dam - the island became increasingly submerged and the temple threatened. As part of UNESCO's project to rescue the ancient monuments threatened by the river damming, the island was itself dammed, surrounded by a high wall, until all the water was gone and the building could be cut into sections and moved. The project took 10 years.
Now the temple is on the higher, nearby Agilka Island and worthy of a visit. Isis was a very important goddess in ancient times. She was known as the Mother of God, giver of life, protector and healer of kings and her temple was once the site of many pilgrimages.
With so much to see in the Egyptian Museum, trying to get around everything in one go is liable to induce chronic 'Pharaonic fatigue'. The best strategy is to make at least two visits, maybe tackling one floor at a time. Unfortunately, there's no best time to visit as the museum is packed throughout the day.
Without doubt, the exhibit that outshines everything else is the treasure of the young New Kingdom Pharaoh Tutankhamun - don't miss the astonishing solid-gold death mask. Other highlights include the Royal Mummy Room; the Amarna Room, devoted to Akhenaten, the 'heretic king' portrayed with Mick Jagger-like lips; the Greco-Roman Mummies; the glittering galleries in Room 2 that display an astounding array of finery extracted from New Kingdom tombs found at the Delta site of Tanis; and the larger-than-life-size statue of Khafre (Chephren), which many consider to be the museum's masterpiece.
The city of Memphis was the capital of ancient Egypt. It was the King's residence and the political and administrative centre until around 2,200 BC. It had impressive fortifications and temples, largely to Ptah, the god of creation and artworks. Estimates of population vary from 6,000 to 30,000 but either way, it was one of the larger, if not the largest, cities of its era.
Archaeological digging in the area has uncovered a Temple of Ptah and sculptures, including a sphinx (smaller than the one at Giza but still impressive), and the Colossus of Ramses II. These are now housed in the outdoor Memphis Museum in Mit Rihina, the modern town in this area. In 1979, UNESCO designated the area a World Heritage Site.
Ben Ezra Synagogue used to be a Christian place of worship by the name of El-Shamieen Church and according to a legend, the building was built on the exact spot where Moses was found as a baby in his basket. However, when the Coptic Christians owning it weren’t able to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers any longer, they had to sell the church. It was sold to Abraham Ben Ezra, who purchased the building in 882 AD for 20,000 dinars and turned it into a Jewish synagogue.
The synagogue became a place where North African Jews congregated for major festivals and famous rabbis came to worship on their visits to Cairo. Then, during a restoration in 1890, the most famous and diverse Geniza in the world was found. In an empty space below the roof, roughly 300,000 priceless manuscripts were hidden away, a collection that is now known as the Cairo Geniza. The manuscripts have long since been transferred to different libraries.
The Giftun Islands are a popular excursion from Hurghada, offering snorkeling, diving, sunbathing and a welcome retreat from the mainland bustle.
Offshore reefs provide spectacular drop-offs for experienced divers, hiding moray eels and fish in amongst the corals. Closer to shore, the coral reef snorkeling is superb.
The islands are famous for their pristine protected beaches, and a resort on the larger island provides all the facilities you need for a day by the sea, along with tours and windsurfing.
Elephantine Island is the site of ancient Abu (meaning both elephant and ivory in ancient Egyptian), both names a reminder of the island's once important ivory trade. At the beginning of the 1st dynasty (about 3,000 BC) a fortress was built on the island to establish Egypt's southern frontier. Abu soon became an important customs point and trading center. It remained strategically significant throughout the Pharaonic period as a departure point for the military and commercial expeditions into Nubia and the south. During the 6th dynasty (2345-2181 BC) Abu grew strong as a political and economic center and, despite periodic ups and downs, the island retained its importance until the Greco-Roman period.
There’s much more to Hurghada than modern resorts and tourist facilities.
North of the resorts, you’ll find Old Hurghada, or Ad-Dahar. Most locals live in Ad-Dahar, and it’s here that you’ll find the most authentic restaurants and hotels.
The highlight of the old town is the souk, or market. It’s easy to while away several hours here, browsing the local produce and spices, and shopping for take-home souvenirs like rugs, water pipes and traditional clothing.
The focus of the Sharm el Sheikh resort action is Na’ama Bay, a collection of glittering seaside resorts fronting the water.
Stroll the beachfront promenade lined with restaurants and hotels, or organize a camel or horse ride to the desert Bedouin villages.
Na’ama Bay’s clubs party hard from midnight to dawn, and cafes overlooking the water are an atmospheric setting to try a sheesha water pipe.
Of course, Na’ama Bay’s other raison d’être is as a jumping-off point to hit that crystal-clear water, filled with fluttering fish, lying offshore in Ras Mohamed National Park.
For many visitors to St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, the trek to the mountain's 2,285 meter (7,495 foot) summit is a highlight of their visit.
There is a chapel at the top, reached by either following the camel trail or climbing the 3,750 Steps of Repentance. Whichever way you visit, the final stretch is a grueling 750 rocky steps to the top, where you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views, plus the knowledge that you are standing on the spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Most visitors climb the mountain before dawn, arriving in time to catch the sight of the sun rising over the desert and surrounding peaks. To make things easier on your thigh and calf muscles, take the path on the way up, and the steps on the way down.
Wreck diving is popular off Tiran Island, surrounded by coral reefs and snorkeling lagoons in the Red Sea.
The wreck of the Sangria can be clearly seen here, its doomed hull rising above the surface of the sea.
The lagoons surrounding Tiran are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and diving, and the island is a popular destination for Red Sea excursions and diving tours.
The swirls of candy-colored rock at Colored Canyon are a popular day trip destination from Sharm el Sheikh, forming some of the most impressive natural features in the world.
You'd swear the patterns covering the walls of this steep, narrow canyon were the work of a talented artist, rather than the forces of nature working their magic over millennia.
It’s a pretty easy hike along the floor of the canyon, around 800 m (half a mile) long. This is a popular spot, so to appreciate the canyon’s tranquil beauty, try to arrive early, ideally before breakfast.