Egypt is known for
Along the Nile, in the lush river delta and in sprawling salt lakes, bird life flourishes. Underwater coral reefs teem with colour. Even Egypt’s arid deserts host a surprising array of plants and critters.
Aswan Get up before dawn to spot squacco herons, hoopoes and more with expert birders.
Wadi Rayyan This brackish lake, not far from where the ancients worshipped crocodiles, is a lifeline for migrating birds – take your binocs on a rowing boat.
Shiatta Gazelles and flamingos frolic at this salt lake in the desert west of Siwa.
Lake Nasser Take a tour with African Angler to snare some fish for dinner – or just enjoy the view.
Marsa Alam Reefs off the coast here are home to mantas, spinner dolphins and even sharks.
Most of the gems of Egypt’s Islamic period era, from the 8th century to late Ottoman times, are in Cairo. But other gorgeous examples of building craft can be found elsewhere in the country.
Bein Al Qasreen A string of the finest buildings from the Mamluk era, now restored as an open-air museum.
Mosque of Qaitbey Trek to Cairo’s not-actually-that-spooky City of the Dead to admire the most beautiful stone dome in Cairo.
Al Qasr This oasis town was built in the Ottoman era, starting in the 16th century – check the beautifully carved lintels over doorways.
Rosetta’s Ottoman Houses Try to find the secret staircase to the women’s gallery in one restored residential compound, and admire the millworks at another.
Al Quseir The old Hajj port is a tumble of Ottoman-era buildings that seem lost in time.
Seeking blissful isolation? The desert landscape in Egypt is vast and surprisingly varied. And there’s just as much variety in how you can explore it.
White Desert National Park For a truly mind-bending experience, schedule your overnight trip to this eerie landscape during the full moon.
Great Sand Sea These picture-perfect dunes extend hundreds of miles into Libya, but you can get a taste of the emptiness on a short trip out of Siwa.
Monastery of St Simeon For desert beauty without the days-long trek, visit this Coptic site in Aswan.
Eastern Desert Once criss-crossed by ancient trade routes, with rock inscriptions, gold mines and great landscapes, now only accessible with a guide.
Markets & Shopping
Whether you’re just browsing or searching for gifts for everyone on your list, Egypt’s souqs are the perfect destination, with as much entertainment as anything else – not to mention more offers of tea than you could ever drink.
Khan Al Khalili Cairo’s medieval trading zone is still a commercial hub for souvenirs such as a gold cartouche necklace – the perfect place to polish your haggling skills.
Souq Al Gomaa Get in the scrum at this weekly Cairo junk swap, and you might come out with new clothes or old taxidermy.
Oum El Dounia One-stop shop in central Cairo for the best and most-stylish Egyptian crafts.
Attareen Antique Market Another Alexandria trove, where you can find some mid-20th-century gems.
Habiba Another excellent selection of the best of Egyptian crafts.
Egypt isn’t a high-adrenaline destination – the river and the desert heat have a way of slowing things down. But these more active outings can still inspire.
Hot-air ballooning Get a bird’s-eye view of the tombs at Luxor.
Sandboarding Who needs snow? Try this dusty sport near Al Fayoum, after spotting whale fossils.
Desert horse riding The most romantic way to see the desert around Siwa.
Given Egypt’s Pharaonic riches, you could find something with a story thousands of years old in any destination. These are some of the more out-of-the-way sites to add to your itinerary.
Medinat Madi You need a 4WD to get here, but the sight of sphinxes half-buried in drifting sand is exactly what archaeology buffs come to Egypt for.
Red Pyramid At Dahshur, south of Cairo, you’ll likely be the only visitor to this enormous monument, making the climb inside its tunnels all the more exciting.
Deir Al Muharraq In Egyptian terms, Christianity is relatively new history – but this Coptic monastery claims the world’s oldest church, from AD 60.
Tombs of Roy & Shuroy Smaller than most, but hardly ever visited, these Luxor tombs reveal some finely executed paintings.
Traditional arts are harder to come by these days, but several organisations work towards their preservation or revival.
Fair Trade Egypt This shop in Cairo is a good starting point for finding traditional Egyptian crafts.
Makan An intimate space in Cairo hosting an intense Nubian musical ritual called a zar.
El Dammah Theatre Another traditional-music incubator in Cairo, this space sees regular shows by Suez Canal–area artists and others.
Eskaleh This Nubian cultural centre and hotel offers guests a chance to immerse in local food and music.
Bedouin knowledge In all of Egypt's deserts, Bedouin of various tribes retain their knowledge of the wilderness, the night sky and traditional herbal medicine.
For those who long for the age of steamer trunks, pith helmets and softly scudding overhead fans, Egypt delivers. The country’s long history of tourism means there’s plenty of yesteryear to be found.
Mena House Hotel Splash out in the Pyramids-view suites, or just sip a beer amid the luxury enjoyed by Khedive Ismail.
Pension Roma A bargain way to live in the past, this Cairo hotel has antique furniture and original details like privacy screens.
Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel One of Agatha Christie’s favourites, and a great place to watch the sun set.
Watania Sleeping Train Egypt’s trains have seen better days, but they can still be a relaxing way to see parts of the country, especially the sleeping car on the route to Aswan.
Carter’s House & the Replica Tomb of Tutankhamun Walk around the house where Carter lived while looking for the boy king.
Sipping tea is a national pastime. The big cities, where this break is most needed, are best, but even in the hinterlands you’ll find a convivial ahwa, as Egyptians call their coffeehouses.
Fishawi's The ahwa in Cairo’s Khan Al Khalili has been open for centuries, and some regulars look like they’ve been smoking shisha here almost as long.
Sultan Cafe Luxor's newest and biggest cafe is attracting a crowd of local men and women with its huge TV screen and range of shakes and juices.
Trianon Alexandria is known for its cafes where legendary writers have taken a breather. This one was Cavafy’s favourite.