Eid Al Adha, August
Cairo International Film Festival, November
In most of Egypt, winter means balmy days, perfect for sightseeing, but chilly nights, especially in unheated hotel rooms. Alexandria and the Mediterranean coast can be a bit rainy, but otherwise precipitation is rare.
Cairo International Book Fair
Held at Nasr City Fairgrounds in Heliopolis in the last week of January and the first of February, this is one of the city’s major cultural events (www.cairobookfair.org.eg). Most of the lectures and other events (and the books themselves) are in Arabic only.
Moulid An Nabi
Prophet Mohammed’s birthday is a nationwide celebration with sweets and new clothes for kids. In Cairo, the week before is an intense Sufi scene at Midan Al Hussein.
Endurance runners take to the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, starting from in front of the Temple of Hatshepsut. The race takes place in late January or early February, followed by a half-marathon in Sharm El Sheikh in March. See the website for dates.
The winter chill continues, though it’s the perfect time of year in the south. Tourists think so too, and Aswan and Luxor are packed, as are the beaches.
Ascension of Ramses II
Takes place on 22 February. One of the two dates each year (the other is in October) when the sun penetrates the inner sanctuary of the temple at Abu Simbel to illuminate the statues of the gods within. Draws a big crowd of theorists of all kinds.
International Fishing Tournament
Held at Hurghada on the Red Sea; attended by anglers from all over the world.
With warmer days come winds, especially the khamsin, a hot southerly current that causes periodic, intense sandstorms lasting a few hours and often grounding flights. Bear this in mind when booking trips through to early May.
Downtown Cairo's Contemporary Arts Festival is international, multi-disciplinary and great fun. It's also a wonderful way to see the often dilapidated venues in the city centre.
The khamsin carries on, but on days when it’s not blowing, the air is pleasantly fresh. This is the shoulder season for tourism, and archaeological sites begin to empty out.
Shamm Al Nassim
The Monday after Coptic Easter (29 April 2019, 20 April 2020, 3 May 2021). Meaning ‘sniffing the breeze’, this spring ritual came from Pharaonic tradition via the Copts. It’s celebrated by all Egyptians, who picnic in parks, on riverbanks and even on traffic islands.
Egypt’s Suez Canal area has many distinct folk traditions, including this effigy-burning party held every year in Port Said, right before Shamm Al Nassim. Rooted in 19th-century protests against the British, the conflagration feels both pagan and modern, as today’s effigies are contemporary celebrities and politicos.
This three-day live music event in Tondoba Bay, outside Marsa Alam, has grown into Egypt's premier music festival with a range of artists playing funk, rock, disco and rap.
The month in which Muslims begin observing Ramadan (starts 5 May 2019, 23 April 2020, 12 April 2021). During the holy month of fasting, daytime activity slows down even more than usual in hot weather.
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is dedicated to fasting by day and feasting by night. Foodies will love a visit during this time; ambitious sightseers may be frustrated.
Moulid of Abu Al Haggag
In the third week of the Islamic month of Sha’aban (approximately 20 April 2019, 8 April 2020, 28 March 2021), this Sufi festival in Luxor offers a taste of rural religious tradition. Some villages have moulids around the same time.
Egypt lets out a collective sigh of relief after school is let out and the summer holidays begin. The heat is in full force by the end of the month.
Eid Al Fitr
The feast that marks the end of Ramadan lasts three days and, if it’s possible, involves even more food than the past month put together.
This is a major Egyptian vacation period. Expect beach zones, especially in the Mediterranean, to be thronged. Anywhere else is so hot you can feel your eyeballs burn. Life generally takes place after sundown.
Eid Al Adha
For the Feast of the Sacrifice (11 August 2019, 30 July 2020, 19 July 2021), a four-day Islamic (and national) holiday, families slaughter sheep and goats at home, even in densest Cairo. There’s literally blood in the streets, and the air smells of roasting meat. In short, not for vegetarians.
As the summer heat finally breaks, students head back to school and the cultural calendar revs up again, especially in Cairo. An ideal time for travelling, with manageable weather and few other visitors.
Birth of Ramses
The 22nd of October is the second date in the year when the sun’s rays penetrate the temple at Abu Simbel.
International Festival for Experimental Theatre
A long-running event held at venues all over Cairo, from standard stages to antiques shops. Shows can be hit or miss, but many are very tourist-friendly as you don’t have to speak Arabic to enjoy them. See www.cdf-eg.org for the line-up.
An oasis-wide celebration of the date harvest, Siwa’s annual get-together takes place around the full moon this month. Much like a moulid, though not as raucous, there’s Sufi chanting and plenty of food.
Moulid of Sayyed Al Badawi
In the last week of October, close to a million pilgrims throng the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta, where a 13th-century mystic founded an important Sufi order. Part family fun fair, part intense ritual, it’s worth a trip if you don’t mind crowds.
With a light chill in the air, restaurants start serving up heartier stews, while visitors start trickling in to enjoy ruins and beaches at a moderate temperature.
Arab Music Festival
Early in the month, 10 days of classical, traditional and orchestral Arabic music held at the Cairo Opera House and other venues. See www.cairoopera.org for schedules, and buy tickets in person at the main hall.
Cairo International Film Festival
This prestigious festival, held in November/December, shows a vast range of Arab and international films. Unusually for Egypt, screenings are uncensored. Tickets to more controversial and risqué movies tend to sell out fastest. Schedules at www.ciff.org.eg
Not much is on the calendar in Egypt, but this is when winter tourism begins to peak, as visitors flood in for winter sun and sightseeing. There’s a surprising amount of Santa Claus kitsch to be seen.
International Cairo Biennale
This fairly conservative government-sponsored show (www.cairobiennale.gov.eg) doesn’t fully reflect the contemporary Egyptian art scene, but it’s worth checking out, although its future looks precarious. It should open late December.