If you have two weeks and a sense of adventure, Egypt might be the perfect tour destination. Despite its 5000-year-old history, you can easily see the best of Egypt in 2 weeks or less.
Classic sights in Egypt
Conveniently, Egypt's most famous sights are also world heritage sites. Egypt has 7 UNESCO sites, 6 cultural and one natural, and we planned our itinerary around them. We’ve visited UNESCO sites all over the world and have never been disappointed or sorry we went. This itinerary includes all but two.
- Historic Cairo
- Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
- Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley)
- Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis
- Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
- Abu Mena – We wanted to visit Abu Mena Monastery but couldn't. Even though it's between Cairo and Alexandria, the early Christian holy city is closed to the public.
- Saint Catherine Area – We didn't include this because Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a 5-hour drive from Cairo. It's down near Sharm El-Sheikh at the tip of the Sinai peninsula.
For some people, diving in Sharm el-Sheikh and climbing Mount Nebo to the monastery are bucket list items. No worries, it's easy to arrange an excursion there. Here are some to look at.
That’s why we left wiggle room in this itinerary: Everyone’s different. You need time for things like that.
One week in Egypt
If you're visiting a series of destinations and only have a week to see Egypt, here's the itinerary we would recommend.
- Day 1: Arrive in Cairo. See the Pyramids of Giza and (time permitting) visit Saqqara.
- Day 2: Sightsee Cairo. Begin with the Egyptian Museum, then visit the Citadel, Old Cairo and the Bazaar.
- Day 3: Fly to Aswan to begin your Nile cruise. Enjoy lunch on board, then spend the afternoon touring Aswan High Dam; the ancient Temple of Philae, and the remarkable Unfinished Obelisk. Related tours here.
- Day 4: Cruise to Edfu. Excursions at Kom Ombo and Edfu
- Day 5: Cruise to Luxor. East Bank sightseeing, including the Temple of Luxor. Optional nightly Sound and Lights Show at the Luxor Temple complex.
- Day 6: Tour Luxor West Bank. Optional early morning balloon ride (see below). Visit Valley of the Kings and the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Fly back to Cairo.
- Day 7: Fly out.
10 days in Egypt itinerary
This is basically the same itinerary we did ourselves. For those of you who don't want to go with a private tour company, we've included links to related tours for your convenience. To be honest, we are surprised at how cheap some of them are.
Day 1: Cairo
Your international flight will most likely land in Cairo. Cairo is an overwhelming, crazy city, so we recommend making your way to your hotel and relaxing for a while. Allow yourself time to adjust to the heat, dusty air and loud street noise.
We used a tour company, so our tour manager met us at Cairo International Airport. Cairo has hectic streets and crazy drivers. It was nice to be a bit insulated from the chaos in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle on the way to our hotel. After we had checked in, he reviewed our itinerary with us to confirm pick-up times for each tour.
Overnight in Cairo.
Day 2: Memphis and its Necropolis + Saqqara + the Pyramids of Giza
Morning: Begin your day at Giza, before the crowds and haze descend on the site. Play with perspective by posing with the three enchanting pyramids of Cheops, Khafre. Then head to the nearby Great Sphinx. The iconic head of a pharaoh with a lion's body dates back to the time of Khafre.
Also be sure to see the Valley Temple, which is connected to the Pyramid of Khafre. He was a busy king.
Walking all the way around the base or climbing the steps will give you a clear sense of a pyramid’s massive size. Makes you wonder, how did they do that?
Afternoon: Memphis, the ancient capital of Old Egypt during the Old Kingdom, was founded by King Menes. Visit the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, which was designed for King Djoser by his chancellor, Imhotep.
Imhotep was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death. He had an impressive list of credentials: Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief.
Overnight in Cairo.
Day 3: El Fayoum (Valley of the Whales)
Morning: After all the big-city chaos, it's time to enjoy a little of Egypt’s natural side by visiting Wadi Rayyan (Wadi al-Rayan), a protected area in Egypt's harsh and deserted Western Desert. This 100 km drive will help you understand more about Egyptian mythology. The western lands were where the sun god Ra went to die each day. The pharoahs were buried on the western side of the Nile, too. It's all connected.
The first stop is also its best known: Wadi Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales). This UNESCO site holds hundreds of whale skeletons as well as dramatic rock formations that challenge the imagination. Scientists say the desert had been an ocean at one time. Could be. We believe the whales were marooned there as the waters receded from the Great Flood.
Afternoon: After lunch, climb Mudawara Mountain for a spectacular view. The two gigantic freshwater lakes you'll see are connected by Egypt’s only waterfalls. After a day of desert heat, Wadi El Rayan Waterfalls will be a refreshing final stop before returning to the city.
Overnight in Cairo.
Day 4: Historic Cairo
Morning: Historic Cairo is a UNESCO site as well. Even if you're not a museum fan, we suggest you begin your Cairo tour with the Egyptian Museum. This is where you can see the famous Tutankhamun treasures, as well as over 120,000 other fascinating artifacts.
Related tour: 4-Hour Guided Tour of the Egyptian Museum
Tip: The room that houses King Tut’s treasures can be extremely crowded. For the fewest crowds, arrive at 9 AM, when the museum opens, and head straight to that hall.
Afterward, visit Salah El Din Citadel, which was constructed by Salah El Din (Saladin) in 1183 AD. He built it to defend Cairo from the onslaught of invading Christian Crusaders. Then visit Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque, named for the man who ruled Egypt over 45 years (1805-1849).
Afternoon: Visit Old Cairo to enjoy the Hanging Church, Ben Ezra Synagogue and a few other sites. Spend some time at Khan El Khalili Bazaar, one of the most famous and oldest bazaars in the Middle East.
Related tour: Cairo Citadel, Old Cairo & Khan El Khalili Full-Day Tour
Overnight in Cairo.
Day 5: Alexandria
Morning: Another escape from crazy, hazy Cairo, on an amazing day trip to Alexandria. First stop: Pompey's Pillar, built in honor of the Emperor Diocletian at the end of the 4th century. Then drive to visit the Catacombs which are the largest Roman Cemetery consisting of three levels cut in the rock.
Related tour: Full-Day Tour of Historical Alexandria from Cairo, Egypt
Afternoon: See the Qaitbay Citadel which was built on the site of the ancient Pharos of Alexandria, using some of its stones. The Pharos was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Next to Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a major library and cultural center built to commemorate the famous Library of Alexandria, lost to a fire in antiquity.
Overnight in Cairo.
Day 6: Luxor + board Nile Cruise
Even if you're on a budget, don't discount those multi-day Nile river cruises. Thanks to the drop in tourism, prices are an unbelievable deal right now. Our cruise ship was running at only about 30% capacity, although we couldn't tell from the abundant food offerings!
Planning tip: If time is limited, opt for the Aswan-to-Luxor route. Due to the Nile's strong flow, cruise itineraries run for 4 Days downriver from Aswan to Luxor and for 5 Days upriver from Luxor to Aswan.
Morning: Fly from Cairo to Luxor (choose 07:20-08:30 or 10:45-11:55 am). We took the earlier flight so we could check in early and explore the ship at our leisure. That also gives you time to walk around Luxor's corniche (riverfront).
Afternoon: The ancient Egyptians knew Luxor as Thebes. The East Bank of the River Nile is home of Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis, a UNESCO site. As you tour Karnak Temple (the biggest temple in the world), Sphinx Avenue, and Luxor Temple, Pharaonic history begins to come to life.
Related tour: Full-Day Tour of the East & West Banks from Luxor
Evening: After dinner, take an evening stroll on the corniche. Or enjoy the Karnak at Night light show. Buy tickets here.
Overnight in Luxor on board the ship.
Day 7: Luxor
Before dawn: Take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. It's a memorable experience and you will return to the ship before breakfast.
Morning: Visit the ancient tombs and temples of Luxor's West Bank: the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut Temple at El Deir El Bahari, and the Colossi of Memnon. (Valley of the Queens is also on the West Bank, but it’s not always included in the itinerary due to distance.)
Afternoon: Enjoy the passing Egyptian landscape as you cruise toward Edfu. In the afternoon, visit the sun deck and watch as the ship passes through the Nile Lock at Esna, the largest lock in the world.
Overnight in Edfu on board the ship.
Day 8: Temple of Edfu + Kom Ombo
Morning: Horus Temple at Edfu.
Afternoon: Sail to Kom Ombo to visit an unusual double temple, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile god, and the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder). Then, stop in at the Crocodile Museum to see a few of the 300 crocodile mummies discovered nearby. Return to the ship for dinner and sail on to Aswan.
Related tour: From Aswan: Day Trip to Kom Ombo and Edfu
Overnight in Aswan on board the ship.
Day 9: Aswan High Dam + Unfinished Obelisk + Philae Temple + Nubian Village
Morning: Pay a visit to the Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960s to control Nile flooding. Then continue to one of ancient Egypt's stone quarries to see the immense Unfinished Obelisk, and finish the morning at the majestic Philae Temple.
Related: Get Your Guide offers a number of excellent tours in Aswan.
Afternoon: Take a trip upriver past the Nile's first cataract, and cool off with a dip in the Nile waters. Then continue on to visit a local Nubian village, either on a camel or on a boat.
Meet a traditional Nubian family, learn about their lifestyle and culture and gain insight into the traditions the Nubians have followed for thousands of years. (Note that this may be an add-on excursion. It's worth it, though!)
Overnight in Aswan on board the ship.
Day 10: Disembark + fly home
Try to book a flight that departs later in the day. This way, you can disembark early from the ship, as we did, and drive to Abu Simbel. It's one of the most impressive UNESCO sites in Egypt and you'll be glad you woke up early to see it.
Related tour: From Aswan: Private Tour to Abu Simbel
The 2-week Egypt itinerary
Here's where your own fun begins! You have four flexi-days for your own plans.
Begin with our itinerary, then add sights and activities that fit your interests. Maybe you'd like to spend a bit of time diving in the Red Sea at Hurghada, visit the Egyptian Mount Sinai, or see more Egyptian temples, like Dendara.
Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
- Cairo Food Tour
- 1-Hour Felucca Ride on the Nile
- Hurghada Jeep Safari, Camel Ride and Bedouin Village Tour
- Sharm: Overnight Moses Mountain Climb & Sunrise Breakfast
- From Dahab: Blue Hole Diving Day Tour
- Hurghada: Classic Family Red Sea Cruise
Is Egypt safe to visit?
You probably know that Egypt has endured a lot of upheaval in recent years, and many countries have not yet lifted their travel warnings. Naturally, this has made tourists nervous. Tourism has plummeted nationwide and devastated local economies.
Our three outspoken guides gave their honest opinions about safety in their country. We were surprised to learn that attacks are directed at fellow citizens when groups have wanted to get the government's attention. Tourist areas are safe to visit now, they said, as long as you don't travel to the most remote parts of the country. They warned that visitors should stay away from the Libyan border and in north Sinai, but few people would want to go there anyway.
What does all of this mean for you?
With tourists seeking alternate destinations, many of the country’s hotels and sites are left nearly empty. Prices have dropped, resulting in an inexpensive and less crowded experience.
We’re the last people to suggest you should take your personal safety lightly. It just means that you need to dig beneath the surface of headlines and hype. Do your own research, talk to any Egyptians you know, and remember that the real-life situation isn’t necessarily what the media might be saying.
This is where it pays to hire a guide or take a tour, private or otherwise. Tour companies keep up-to-date on political unrest and take their clients’ safety very seriously.
Should you take a tour in Egypt?
Some places are perfect for the independent traveler. And some, well, aren't.
We're not saying you can't see Egypt on your own. You can, of course. However, Egypt is chaotic and if you're not used to it, the Arab culture can be hard to deal with.
Seriously consider taking a tour or hiring a professional, even if it's not your usual style. We can't express how much it helps to travel with someone who “knows the ropes” and can tell you what you're looking at.
Why take a private tour?
Considering this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we decided to pay for a private tour. We used Memphis Tours based on their glowing reviews. They created a custom itinerary for Egypt based on our must-see sights, made all our arrangements, and guided us throughout our trip. All our guides were certified Egyptologists. Highly recommend this if you want to understand the sights and culture.
From our experience, the advantages to booking a tour or hiring a guide include:
- They make most or all of the arrangements, saving you time and streamlining the experience.
- They can help you understand the culture.
- They can warn you about health risks (and remind you not to eat the salad)
- They can “run interference” for you if you're being hassled for baksheesh (we hated that about Egypt)
- They speak the local dialect (our guide negotiated a great price, then saved me from being taken advantage of at the Cairo bazaar)
- Best of all, many tour guides are certified Egyptologists. That's a good thing, because you would miss out on a lot if you don't understand what you're looking at.
Why take a group tour?
Depending on the price, group tours might seem a good option, but be selective. Trust us: Being herded from place to place can easily suck all the fun from a trip.
- They have to stay on schedule so you can feel rushed.
- They have to keep everyone happy, so your personal preferences aren't a priority.
- Worse, you're part of a herd. How can you fully appreciate a place if you are never alone with it?
The cruise portion of our trip included a shared guide, but we only shared with a handful of people. After he showed us the important things at each site, we had plenty of time to explore on our own. He stuck around to answer any questions we had, which was super helpful. Finally, he made sure we got back to the ship in time.
No one wants to wait for one last person, or worse, find out the ship left without you.
Whatever you do, don't let price stop you from enjoying Egypt.
There are ways to save money, even in Egypt.
- Travel in the shoulder season, from March – April or October – November. Hotel rates are lower then. Plus, you will encounter fewer crowds.
- Another way to save money is to make your own travel arrangements.
- You can book tours and day trips to some sites and see others (like museums or the pyramids) on your own.
Be sure to factor in the cost of transportation, food and/or lodging when planning your Egypt itinerary. Remember that Nile cruises include all three in one single price.