Lonely Planet Writer

Travel alternatives to Egypt

If your travel plans have been thrown into confusion by events in Egypt then don’t despair – we have some alternatives.

While these suggestions won’t replace the ancient or modern wonders that only Egypt can offer they may take you somewhere you haven’t thought of visiting yet while things cool down in the land of the pharaohs. That said, there’s only one Valley of the Kings, one Egyptian Museum and while there are lots of pyramids, the best ones are on the outskirts of Cairo.

For now Egypt is facing its biggest tourism crisis in a decade. So have a look at these suggestions, maybe visit a few of them, but make sure that you come back to the Egyptian capital, the Nile Valley and all the wonders found there once it’s thought safe to do so again.

For ancient things: Athens or Turkey

Detail of the statue of Athena on an Ionic column and the corner of the pedimental sculpture of the Academy of the Arts and Sciences. Photo by Neil Setchfield.

Nothing says Egypt like its ancient wonders. But Egypt’s civilisation did not exist in a bubble: for millennia it had rival states across the Mediterranean and what we now call the Middle East to fight and make peace with and attempt to out-do in the creation of grand things. Athens has a mix of in-your-face modernity and ancient ruins at its heart and its New Acropolis Museum is the best new museum devoted to the ancient world to open for years. Of course, it is a modern European capital too.

Turks like to say that Turkey has more ancient Greek remains than Greece itself and more of ancient Rome than the Romans do, and while exciting Istanbul has been getting plenty of attention lately there are ancient wonders galore at Ephesus, Olympus and Nemrut Dagi. These are sunny spots too: by the time you get there, both Greece and Turkey should be warming up nicely.

For winter sun: Morocco or Malta

People walking in Meknès. Photo by Orien Harvey.

Though Egypt’s Red Sea resorts remain unaffected by events in Cairo and other big cities, Sharm el Sheikh and other fly, flop n’ fry destinations have been known for bronzing and diving rather than some gentle cultural exploration in the sun. If the latter is your kind of thing then Morocco is a good choice, and you’ll leave the crowds behind by choosing Fès or Meknès over Marrakesh. Tangier is another fast-changing city offering a unique north African urban experience with a renovated medina, interesting new restaurants and an unrivalled shopping scene.

If you swing more towards needing sea and sunshine with a few interesting old things to inspect in between splashing in the pool or sea then Malta would be a good choice. Valetta’s compact historic centre, crammed within towering fortifications will be a highlight, but the quiet streets of Mdina, the island’s ancient capital, are the island’s finest old attraction.

For that chaotic Middle East or north African city vibe: Algiers or Beirut

Restaurants on Rue al-Maarad with clocktower in background at night in Place d'Etoile, Beirut. Photo by Tim Barker

Cairo’s large triangular and lion/man shaped ruins grab the headlines, but the real joy for visitors to the Egyptian capital is escaping the eight-lane highways and strolling the bustling streets of old Cairo where life rolls on as it has for centuries. This buzz is an authentic Middle Eastern one and while nowhere in the region matches Cairo for size both Algiers and Beirut have something of the frenetic nature of the city. While Beirut has been on the groovy list for a few years, Algiers is still clawing its way back into potential visitors consciences. Both make for fine introductions to the urban delights of the region.

The Nile: Khartoum and Bahir Dar

A wooden sailboat cruising on the White Nile, Omdurman, Khartoum. Photo by Eric Wheater.

Though the Nile snakes through upper Egypt, passes Aswan and Luxor and then make stately progress through Cairo, this is only part of the mighty river’s 4,100-mile journey from various sources to the Nile Delta. If you’re a frustrated Nile buff then may we suggest Khartoum? The thunderously-named capital of Sudan brings to mind smoky back-streets, the honk of car and scooter horns and the meeting of the White and Blue branches of Africa’s greatest waterway. It’s a gateway for seeing some of Sudan’s little-visited sights, such as the pyramids at Meroë, as well as being one of central Africa’s safest cities.

Far upstream on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, is Bahir Dar, one of Ethiopia’s biggest tourist draws. There are monasteries on islands on Lake Tana, the Blue Nile Falls not far away, and delicious fresh juices for sale around the town. Result of a visit to either? Nile itch scratched, but not in the same way a fortnight ticking off Aswan, Luxor and Cairo would.

Tom Hall is Lonely Planet's UK Travel Editor