Planning your Egypt vacation? Great! This guide will help you do just that.
Egypt spans from the northeast corner of Africa to the southwest corner of Asia. Officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, it borders Sudan to the south, Libya to the west and the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast. The second largest Arab country also includes the Sinai Peninsula. It’s a member of the United Nations and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) amongst other organizations.
The Mediterranean country is long known for its ancient civilizations and historical monuments. Its world-famous pyramids, glorious beaches, and prime diving sites make it a very attractive destination. With the only remaining survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, bustling medieval bazaars and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Egypt has plenty to offer. Use this Egypt vacation guide to plan your own trip to Egypt.
- Egypt vacation: quick facts
- Egypt governorates
- How to travel to Egypt
- How to travel around Egypt
- What to pack for Egypt
- The best time to visit Egypt
- What to eat in Egypt
- Famous events in Egypt
- Bank holidays in Egypt
- Cultural customs to be aware of in Egypt
- Where to stay in Egypt
- Don't forget travel insurance
- Basic phrases and their pronunciation
- Is it safe to travel to Egypt?
- The use of cash and cards in Egypt
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Egypt
- Tipping in Egypt
- A brief history of Egypt
- Posts about Egypt
Egypt vacation: quick facts
Size: 1,002,450 km² or 387,048 sq mi
People living there: more than 87,700,000
Governmental structure: Egypt’s government is based on republicanism, with a semi-presidential system of government
National day: July 23
Time zone: Eastern European Time / UTC+2 / GMT+2
Currency: Egyptian pound
Power voltage and socket type(s): 220V, plug types F and C. If these don't match with your devices, make sure to bring a universal adapter.
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Islam is the official religion of Egypt and is regulated by the government. 90% of the population are Sunni Muslims, followed by Christians and Shia Muslims.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: Modern Standard Arabic is the official language, though Egyptian Arabic is the most spoken. English is generally only spoken in urban or tourist areas.
Drives on this side: right
International driver's licence accepted? yes
Phone code: +20
Vaccinations needed? Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended for most travelers
Can you drink the tap water? no
Want a bit more quirky and fun facts about Egypt? Check out this post.
Egypt is divided into 27 governorates, each administered by a governor who is appointed by the President of Egypt.
1. Alexandria Governorate
Located in northern Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s one of the most important seaports in the country. Its capital, Alexandria, was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE and is one of the largest cities in Egypt.
Visit 15th-century fortresses, museums and the Catacombs of Kom el-Shuqqafa. Explore the main souq in Midan Tahrir for silver trinkets and fresh produce.
The southernmost governorate in Upper Egypt, its capital is Aswan. Bordering Sudan to the south, the Nile flows through the city. Visit ancient temples and delve into Egyptian history with a stop at Abu Simbel Temples, The Temple of Horus at Edfu and the Temple of Kom Ombo. You can also jump on a 4-day Nile cruise starting from Aswan and ending up in Luxor.
With so many things to do, Aswan is one of the top places to visit in Egypt.
3. Asyut Governorate
Stretching across the river Nile, Asyut can be reached easily from Cairo. This governorate is well known for its heritage and treasures dating back to ancient times. Popular attractions in the area include the ancient graves and tombs of Mir rock, the Badari archaeologic sites and the Al Muharraq Monastery at al Qusia.
4. Beheira Governorate
The Beheira Governorate embraces the delta west of the Rosetta Branch. The capital city is Damanhūr with other towns including Idkū and Rosetta. In general, the region is not highly populated with agriculture being the main occupation. Damanhūr means ‘the city of the God Horus’ and was dedicated to the Egyptian deity Horus.
5. Beni Suef Governorate
Located in the center of Egypt, Beni Suef is the capital of the governorate. Initially a small village, the capital has expanded into a prosperous city. Just 115 km south of Cairo, one of the most famous places to see is the Medium Pyramid. The ancient pyramid complex was built for Pharaoh Huni, the last ruler of the third dynasty. There are several mansions in Beni Suef that are a fantastic example of classical Egyptian architecture.
6. Cairo Governorate
The most populated governorate in Egypt, its capital city is Cairo. Located along the east bank is the center of downtown Cairo, Tahrir Square, a hub for tourist activity. The square includes the Egyptian Museum and the modern Umar Makram Mosque. Cairo has plenty to offer in terms of culinary experiences with lots to choose from including family-run restaurants as well as Egyptian fine dining.
7. Dakahlia Governorate
Just northeast of Cairo, the capital of the Dakahlia Governorate is Mansoura. Visit the Mansoura National Museum, where you can see a number of artifacts used by Louis XI from when he was held captive in the city in 1250.
8. Damietta Governorate
Located in the northeast of Egypt in the delta area, its capital is Damietta city. The region houses a large number of educational institutions and historically the city of Damietta is well-known for the Battle of Faraskur. Must-visit destinations include the Al-Bahr Mosque, Al-Maainy Mosque, and the Amr Ibn Al-a’as Mosque.
9. Faiyum Governorate
The region is situated near the center of Egypt, southwest of Cairo. Although the landscape is mainly covered by desserts and dry mountains, there is also the Faiyum Oasis. Faiyum city is the oldest city in Egyptian history and is only 4 km from Lahun Pyramid. Another popular attraction is the Wadi Al-Hitan, a collection of hundreds of fossils of primitive whales.
10. Gharbia Governorate
In the north of Egypt, Tanta is Gharbia’s capital city. With more than 4 million residents, Tanta is the fifth most populated city in Egypt. Tanta is famous for its eight-day Moulid festival held every October. Many tourists like to visit the Museum of Tanta and the Metropolitan Coptic Church.
11. Giza Governorate
Located on the west bank of the Nile, it can be found just opposite to Cairo. The most notable tourist destination here is, of course, the Pyramids of Giza. On the outskirts of Cairo, you’ll find the infamous Giza Pyramid complex including the Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure and the Great Sphinx. Another historical site to visit is Abusir, built during the 5th dynasty, it contains 14 pyramids.
12. Ismailia Governorate
In northeast Egypt, the capital city of the region is Ismailia. It is known as the eastern gateway of Egypt to Asia. Ismailia sits on the bank of Suez Canal and is a beautiful city to explore. The Ismailia Museum was built in 1932 and exhibits archaeological artifacts.
13. Kafr El Sheikh Governorate
Kafr El Sheikh Governorate is located in the north of Egypt, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Top things to do include visiting the Mosque of Sayeed Talha Abi Said el-Telmesanay and the Mosque of Sayeed Ibrahim el-Desooky. You can also find the Balteem summer resort which is a favorite location for both Egyptians and visiting tourists.
14. Luxor Governorate
Luxor city, the capital of the governorate is pre-historic and one of the most iconic cities in the world. Luxor is a popular holiday destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In ancient times it was known as the city of Thebes. Visit the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor Temple and the Colossi of Memnon.
15. Matrouh Governorate
In the northwest of Egypt, the region is often called the Marsa Matrouh governorate, after its capital. The capital city is well connected to the oasis of Bahariya and Siwa, a perfect option for heat-stricken travelers in the summer looking for somewhere to cool off.
16. Minya Governorate
Minya is named after its capital city and has a remarkable history. The village of Bani Hassan at Shuruq has many artifacts from the Middle Kingdom. Popular sites to visit are located at Tunat al-Jabal and the southern part of Al-Minya city.
17. Monufia Governorate
Situated around the Nile Delta, north of Cairo, its capital is Shibin Ei Korun. Many of the people residing in the region live in rural areas. Known as an agricultural area due to its fertile land. If you’re in the area, visit the Denshway Museum and the Sadat Museum
18. New Valley Governorate
In the southwest, the New Valley Governorate includes part of the Libyan desert area of the Sahara desert. Consisting of nearly one-third of Egypt, the region is the largest and one of the biggest areas on the African continent. Its capital is the Kharga Oasis. There are many beautiful historical sites to visit including the Dendera Temple complex, the Temple of Hibis, Osireion and the Temple of Hathor.
19. North Sinai Governorate
Due to the risk of terrorism and its proximity to the Gaza Strip, both UK and US advisory warns against all travel to the northern Sinai Peninsula.
20. Port Said Governorate
Sitting directly on the Mediterranean sea, it’s the second largest harbor in Egypt. Visit the El Nasr Museum, Port Said Military Museum or take a boat down the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal stretches from Port Said to Port Tawfiq, connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
21. Qalyubia Governorate
Lying to the east of the Nile, the region connects Lower Egypt with Upper Egypt. Its capital, Benha, is located between Cairo and Alexandria. Many one-day tours head to this region, due to its port location, to spend the day exploring.
22. Qena Governorate
In the south, the region’s capital is the city of Qena. One of the most iconic Egyptian buildings in the area is the Temple of Hathor in Dendara. Built at the end of the Pharaonic period, much of the building remains very intact, carved with hieroglyphs.
23. Red Sea Governorate
Located between the Red Sea and the Nile in the southeast of Egypt, its capital is the city of Hurghada. The gorgeous coast has been attracting beach lovers and scuba divers for years. With 5-star resorts and restaurants, explore Egypt’s marine life or spend the day snorkeling. Popular attractions include the Temple of Philae, Agikia Island, and the Hurghada Grand Aquarium.
Read here about my scuba-diving initiation in El Gouna in the Red Sea Governate.
24. Sharqia Governorate
Situated in the north, its capital is the city of Zagazig. In the region, you can find the archaeological site Tell El-Dab’s, where Avaris, the capital city of the Hyksos, once stood.
25. Sohag Governorate
With a long stretch of the Nile Valley, the Sohag Governorate is located in the southern area of Upper Egypt. The region has a few archeological sites to visit including the temple built for the goddess Repyt by Ptolemy XV Caesario.
26. South Sinai Governorate
A travel warning also extends to the southern part of the Sinai peninsula. This is with the exception of the Red Sea resort area of Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the most popular beach places in Egypt. This resort town has sandy beaches, clear waters, and coral reefs. Picture palm tree-lined promenades and first-class restaurants and bars.
27. Suez Governorate
Located in the northeast of the country, the governorate has the same boundaries as the city of Suez. The city dates back to historic times and although there are few tourist attractions, you can take a boat tour on the canal to see the sites.
How to travel to Egypt
When traveling to Egypt, all visitors need a valid passport with at least six months remaining and the majority of you will need visas as well. Citizens from the US and EU who travel to certain resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba can enter for a maximum of 15 days with a free entry stamp on arrival.
If this doesn’t apply to you, you’ll need to obtain a visa. The simplest option is to get an e-visa. You can apply online and will receive your e-visa via email. You can choose either a single entry visa for trips up to 30 days or multiple entry visa for a period over 90 days.
There is the option to get a visa on arrival but you will need to queue, fill out a form and a pay a fee in cash at the airport. The e-visa is the quickest way to gain entry into Egypt.
You can’t reach Egypt by bus from its neighboring countries, Israel, Sudan, and Libya. The best way to reach Egypt is by plane.
There are no direct trains into Egypt from its bordering countries.
There are intermittent ferry services along the Nile between Wadi Half in Sudan and Egypt’s High Dam. You can also use the car ferry service from Jeddah to Suez via the Suez Canal. There are no direct ferry routes linking Egypt to mainland Europe.
Flights to Egypt
The easiest way to reach Egypt is by air. The country is well served by international flights from all over the world. The largest airport is Cairo International Airport. Hurghada International Airport is the second busiest airport after Cairo. The Borg El Arab International Airport serves Alexandria and nearby areas of the Nile Delta.
How to travel around Egypt
Independent travel around Egypt
On the whole, public transport in Egypt is pretty good. The rail network has limited routes but is useful for long-distance journeys rather than shorter ones. The rail network links the Nile Valley, Delta, and Canal Zone. Egypt has three main bus companies with major routes having newer a/c buses.
Driving in Egypt is not the easiest way to travel around. The heavy traffic and roads will be a challenge. For smaller journeys, fixed fare taxis are a good alternative. You can also travel by boat along the Nile with many cruises sold as package holidays.
If you do want to book a rental car, check here for a good overview of options.
What to pack for Egypt
Generally, Egypt has an arid desert climate, with warm or hot days and cooler nights. With only two seasons, a mild winter comes from November to April followed by a hot summer from May to October. Temperatures can vary widely throughout the country with inland desert areas seeing lows of 7ºC at night and 43ºC during the day, in the summer.
Egypt sees fewer than eighty millimeters of precipitation annually in the majority of areas. Summers can bring unbearably hot temperatures with the record high for Aswan being 51ºC. Hot temperatures are easier to tolerate along the coast thanks to a cool sea breeze.
Whatever else you pack, there are three things you should have with you regardless of when you go:
- Modest clothing, especially when you're a woman.
- A refillable water bottle.
- For women, a wide scarf like this pashmina that is light but big enough to cover your hair, shoulders and/or legs when needed.
What to pack for Egypt in summer
- sun cream
- a hat
- lightweight, loose-fitting pants like these ones
- sports/hiking shoes
- good walking sandals
- a light sweater
What to pack for Egypt in winter
The best time to visit Egypt
In terms of weather, the best time to travel to Egypt is from October to April. This is when temperatures are cooler however it is during peak tourist season. Therefore, popular tourist sights may get very crowded and hotels and resorts will be more expensive.
If you prefer to travel on a budget with fewer crowds, then going in July and August is an option. Tours and accommodation can be much cheaper however the hot temperatures can be hard to deal with. For most people, the weather plays a big part in choosing the best time to travel. If you’re heading to the Red Sea, then June to September is a fantastic time to visit. Summer temperatures feel much cooler on the coast.
What to eat in Egypt
- Ful Medammes, traditional breakfast made of fava beans cooked with salt and oil
- Koshary, rice, macaroni, lentils and chickpeas covered with caramelized onions and red sauce
- Mahshi, vegetables such as eggplants or bell peppers stuffed with a rice filling
- Shawarma, chicken or beef marinated with Middle Eastern spices and cooked on a spit all day
- Molokhia, stew made up of leafy greens prepared in chicken, beef or seafood broth mixed with garlic and coriander
- Fattah, a combination of crispy bread, meat, rice, and tomato sauce
- Roz Bel Laban, rice cooked in milk or cream, with sugar topped with pistachios
- Ta’meya, similar to a falafel but made from fava beans instead of chickpeas
- Hawawshi, ground beef or lamb, cooked inside of a pocket of Aish Baladi bread in a wood oven
- Sayadeya, fillets of white fish marinated in lemon juice and spices, lightly fried and laid on a bed of yellow rice, topped with tomato sauce
Famous events in Egypt
- 3alganoob Music Festival, Tonoda Bay (April) – the only modern music festival in the country features Egypt’s most interesting performers from alternative rock to electronica.
- Siyaha Festival, Siwa Oasis (October) – Around October’s full moon, thousands of Siwans celebrate the date harvest.
- D-CAF, Cairo (March) – a three-week contemporary arts festival in Downtown Cairo. You’ll see both local and international acts with music, dance, art, and film across the district.
- Alexandria International Film Festival, Alexandria (November) – one of Egypt’s key cinematic events, independent filmmakers from all over the world showcase their work at the festival.
- Moulid of Abu Al Haggag, Luxor (May) – a traditional festival, the five-day carnival is in honor of 13th-century Sufi leader, Yusuf Abu Al Haggag.
- Cairo Jazz Festival, Cairo (September) – the three-day celebration brings in local and international musicians with performances on the GrEEK Campus and the Cairo Jazz Club.
- Citadel Music Festival, Cairo (August) – the festival features some of the biggest stars in classical Arab music as well as some contemporary performers.
- Egyptian Marathon, Luxor (January) – Every year a marathon is held, starting at Deir Al Bahri. More than 1800 people take part, there is also a junior 5km or 10km walk-and-run option.
- El Gouna Film Festival, El Gouna (September) – starting in 2017, you’ll spot Egypt’s top performers and artists. A must-visit for cinema fanatics.
- International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theater, Cairo (October) – taking place at several venues throughout Cairo, the festival hosts unique performances from around the globe.
Bank holidays in Egypt
- Coptic Christmas Day
- Revolution Day Holiday
- Sinai Liberation Day (April 25)
- Coptic Easter Sunday
- Sham El Nessim
- Labour Day
- End of Ramadan
- End of Ramadan Day 2
- End of Ramadan Day 3
- Revolution Day (June 30)
- Revolution Day (July 23)
- Eid Al Adha
- El Hijri
- Armed Forces Day (October 6)
- Mawlid al-Nabi
Cultural customs to be aware of in Egypt
Before you travel to Egypt, it’s important to be aware of a few things. Intimate behavior in public such as kissing or cuddling is a no-no. Be aware of the importance of dress as well. If you’re in your resort, then it doesn’t really matter what you wear.
When you venture further out, women should avoid wearing skimpy clothing and should dress modestly, especially when visiting mosques. Carrying a scarf on you is a great way to cover your shoulders quickly if needed. Be mindful to not directly eat with your left hand as Egyptians see this as your unclean hand.
Where to stay in Egypt
Booking.com is my go-to site for booking hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts. It has a bunch of filtering options so I can easily get a list of only the hotels that meet my criteria – like having good WiFi and a good location, for example. If you're looking for accommodation in Egypt, I recommend checking there.
When I want to stay at an apartment rather than at a hotel, I book via Airbnb.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan and research a trip, there are always things that happen beyond your control. Something might get canceled, you can get ill or hurt while traveling or one of your electronics might break or get stolen. When misfortune strikes, travel insurance has got you covered. I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on. Don't have insurance yet? You can get a free quote here:
Basic phrases and their pronunciation
What is your name?
I don’t understand
I don’t speak Arabic
Do you speak English?
What’s your name?
How are you?
Where is the subway?
How much does that cost?
Can you help me?
Where is a good restaurant?
How do you say that in Arabic?
What time is it?
anaa la ’atakallam al- xarabiyya
hal tatakallam ’ingilizi?
’ayna metro al-’anfaaq?
kam huwa th- thaman?
hal tastaTiixa ’an tusaaxidani?
hal hunaaka maTxamun jayyidun?
ezzay to'olha bel Aarabi
Is it safe to travel to Egypt?
The tourist industry in Egypt has taken a bit of a nosedive in recent years with the revolution in 2011 and terrorist attacks in recent times. Apart from avoiding the Libya border and the South and North Sinai which borders the Gaza Strip, Egypt is still a destination many holidaymakers flock to yearly.
Tourist spots such as Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan are all deemed as safe for visitors, however, it is common to be hassled by stall holders in bazaars trying to sell you everything under the sun. Just smile and walk away.
Follow the usual rules, be careful with the traffic and generally be aware of your surroundings. Use common sense in very touristy areas and watch out for petty crime and scams. Generally, you will be greeted with smiles during your visit.
The police presence in Egypt may be more than you’re used to seeing but it’s a common sight in Egypt. Money changing tricks can be quite abundant so always change money at a local bank or withdraw cash from an ATM.
The use of cash and cards in Egypt
Big hotels and large restaurants in the main cities will take major credit and debit cards like Visa and MasterCard. However, the majority of places don’t accept cards so you’ll need to have Egyptian pounds on you.
You can find ATM’s throughout the country to withdraw money, although fewer in smaller cities and nearly none in very rural areas.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Egypt
As I have a Belgian/European SIM card, I would normally pay roaming charges when calling, texting, or using data in Egypt. To get around this, I use the Solis mobile hotspot by Skyroam and buy day passes for the duration of my trip.
Aside from day passes, Skyroam also offers monthly prescriptions providing you with 4G throughout your trips. I've been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I'll go over my phone's data plan.
Check out Skyroam here.
Tipping in Egypt
Wages in Egypt are low and tips are expected in the entire tourism and service industry. It's not uncommon to be asked for baksheesh (a tip) either but how much you should give isn't always very clear. There are quite a few unwritten rules about who to tip what in Egypt that you should be aware of.
A brief history of Egypt
In 7000 BCE, the settlement of the Nile began with hieroglyphics and writing used as an instrument of state. In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and founded Alexandria. The Macedonian dynasty ruled until 31 BCE. Egypt then came under Roman rule with Christianity introduced into Egypt shortly after.
Cairo was established as the capital in 969. In the 16th century, Egypt was absorbed into the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Suez Canal was built in the 1800s that saw Egypt go near-bankrupt, leading to a gradual British takeover. In 1883, British troops defeated the Egyptian army and took control of the country. Egypt gained independence in 1922, although British influence remained until the 50s.
In 1953, the coup leader of the Free Officers’ Movement became president as Egypt was declared a republic. The last of the British forces finally left Egypt after the evacuation treaty was signed in 1954. The nationalization of the Suez Canal brought an invasion from Britain, France, and Israel but failed due to US opposition. The late 1900s saw President Nassar in office before dying and being succeeded by Vice President Vice-President Anwar al-Sadat and then President Mubarak.
In 2011, the country was engulfed in widespread protests against the government, leading to Mubarak’s resignation. A state of emergency was declared, ending in May of 2012. The country has battled with Islamic State attacks in recent years with a state of emergency declared in 2017. President Sisi is now in his second term of presidency. Egypt’s ancient history and rich culture attract tourists every year, with 8.3 million visitors in 2018.
Posts about Egypt
Click here for all the posts I've written about Egypt.
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