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Egypt: Places to See

Rippling turquoise waters, swirling desert sands and a mighty, life-giving river hum a gentle ode to the complex and stunning country that contains them. Often considered the “Cradle of Civilization,” Egypt reflects centuries of famous historical events, achievements and pharaohs. Whether you’re looking for an enlightening experience, a thrilling desert adventure or even a beach getaway, your memories of Egypt surely will be unforgettable.

Nile Valley
On the Nile River near the country’s southern border, the city of Aswan serves as Egypt’s gateway to Africa. It’s located just north of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser. On the east bank, see the Nubian Museum and the Unfinished Obelisk, the largest known ancient obelisk, while the west bank holds the Tombs of the Nobles and the seventh-century Monastery of St. Simeon. Other sightseeing opportunities include the Aswan Dam, Philae Temple, Aswan Souk, the Nubian villages and Aswan Museum on Elephantine Island, and the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener’s Island filled with birds, palm trees and hundreds of plant species.

A short daytrip from Aswan brings you to Abu Simbel on the Egypt-Sudan border. Built by Pharaoh Ramses II more than 3,000 years ago, these temples display ancient Egyptian architecture and feature statues more than 60 feet tall carved from solid rock.

Just above Aswan is the Greco-Roman temple of Kom Ombo. Built during the Ptolemaic dynasty, this double temple is dedicated to Sobek (the crocodile god) on the southern end and Horus (the falcon-headed sun god) on the northern half. A number of crocodile mummies are on display here. In nearby Edfu, another Greco-Roman temple honors Horus. One of the best-preserved temples in Egypt, it features intricate details depicting ancient mythology.

Traveling north from Edfu, you’ll reach Luxor, known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians. Once the dynastic and religious capital of the country, Luxor often is considered the most extraordinary open-air museum in the world with its vast array of ruins and monuments set amid the sweeping scenery of desert, river and cosmopolitan city sights.

On Luxor’s west bank lies the necropolis of ancient Thebes, an archaeological wonder and home to the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. You’ll find impressive tombs carved into the desert rock, including those of King Tutankhamun and Queen Nefertari. Other highlights on the west bank include the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (ancient Egypt’s longest-ruling female pharaoh) and the Colossi of Memnon.

Luxor’s modern city spreads across the east bank. Public transportation, museums, shops and most hotels and restaurants are located here, as well as Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temples. Luxor Temple largely was the work of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, though many succeeding rulers built onto the structure later. See massive statues of Ramses II, Alexander the Great’s shrine and Abu Haggag Mosque. Walk along the Avenue of Sphinxes to Karnak, with its graceful courtyards and magnificent Hypostyle Hall. Also on the east bank are Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum.

Continuing north on the Nile River brings you Cairo, Egypt’s capital and a dynamic metropolis that blends ancient wonders and contemporary amenities. The capital stretches out along both banks of the Nile, with the governorship of Giza on the west bank and that of Cairo proper on the opposite side.

Perhaps the most famous of Cairo’s sights are the Giza Pyramids -- three pyramids built atop the Giza Plateau more than four millennia ago, honoring Kings Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura and guarded by the Great Sphinx. Of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the site of the Pyramids of Giza is the only one that still exists. Nearby, the Solar Boat Museum preserves the ancient funerary barge of King Khufu. Just past Giza is the world’s oldest pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser (or the Step Pyramid) in Saqqara.

Tahrir Square on the east bank in downtown Cairo is a hub of metropolitan activity, home to the Arab League headquarters, the American University in Cairo, Omar Makram Mosque and the National Egyptian Museum. The museum contains the greatest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, including King Tutankhamun’s gold mask and the Mummy Room where Egyptian pharaohs lie at rest. At the centuries-old Khan al Khalili souk, shoppers can try to hustle and haggle with the best of them.

Historic mosques can be found all over Cairo, including Al Azhar Mosque, established in A.D. 972, and massive Madrasa of Sultan Hassan. The narrow streets of Coptic Cairo, formerly the Roman fortress known as Babylon, will lead you to the Hanging Church (so named because it was built above a gatehouse at the fortress, its nave suspended above a passageway), the Convent of St. George, Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Coptic Museum.

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., sophisticated Alexandria lies at the foot of the fertile Nile River delta. Known as the “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” it is Egypt’s second-largest city and largest seaport. Head to the Citadel of Qaitbay to see the Mamluk fortress built in 1480, then view the ancient granite column known as Pompey’s Pillar, the second-century Roman theater and the Cemetery of Mostafa Kamel. Make your way to Kom el Shuqqafa for Roman catacombs and a fascinating mix of Roman and Egyptian iconography, or visit Montaza Palace, which houses extensive gardens, a casino and a museum.

Bibliophiles won’t want to miss the Alexandria Library with its planetarium, museum of archaeology and almost 8,000 ancient manuscripts and rare books kept in the basement. Popular museums include Alexandria National Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Greco-Roman Museum. When you’re ready to relax, take part in the city’s cafe culture and sip tea or coffee with the locals.

The Red Sea & Sinai Peninsula
East of the Nile, in the resort town of Hurghada on the Red Sea Coast, sandy beaches welcome sun-seekers and water-sports enthusiasts. Hit the beach during the day and sample the restaurant and bar scene at night.

The Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s easternmost region, lies between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south. Its most significant landmark is Mount Sinai, reputedly where Moses received the Ten Commandments. At the foot of Mount Sinai is St. Catherine’s Monastery, located on the site where God is said to have spoken to Moses at the burning bush. As the oldest continually working Christian monastery in the world, St. Catherine’s houses a rich array of religious art and a collection of ancient manuscripts second in size only to the Vatican’s.