Top 6 Places to Visit in Egypt for Culture
Whether it’s navigating the streets and souks of the country’s heart-pulsing capital, Cairo, or embarking on a relaxing journey to take in daily life along the Nile, there is no shortage of things to do in Egypt. If you want to immerse yourself in authentic Egyptian culture, these top places to visit will introduce you to welcoming locals and their history in this land of ancient gods and mythical creatures.
1: Luxor Souk
More laid-back than the frenetic streets of Egypt’s bustling capital, Luxor Souk is a treasure house of artisan wares. This multi-block stretch of stalls brims with friendly and helpful vendors specializing in quality craftsmanship. Peruse colorful cotton scarves, Egyptian tapestries, and intricate artworks painted on delicate sheets of papyrus, or follow your nose toward baskets overflowing with aromatic cumin and cardamom spices. Station yourself at one of the many coffee shops or hookah cafes for incredible people watching as you sip a mint tea and ponder your next purchase. The marketplace is well-known for its selection of street food, including the local favorite “kofta kebabs,” grilled lamb skewers.
2: The Nile
Flowing for more than 4,000 miles through northeastern Africa, the mighty Nile is one of the world’s longest rivers—as well as one of its most legendary. Whether it’s experiencing the feeling of “slow travel” aboard a Nile River cruise or taking in one of the river’s multi-colored red and orange sunsets—which are not only spectacular, but also endlessly thought-provoking—these fabled waters should be at the top of your list. Wave to passing fishermen and children running along the shores from aboard a traditional wooden dahabeya; ponder the date farm plantations—reminders that this fertile valley spawned an incredible civilization in the middle of the desert—and balance it all with a bit of self-nurturing while basking in the sheer beauty of the “Eternal Nile.”
3: Old Cataract Hotel
Best-selling novelist Agatha Christie wrote her 1937 murder mystery Death on the Nile at this historic colonial-era resort, an extraordinary oasis that’s home to some of the most breathtaking views in Egypt, as well as some incredibly luxurious digs. Built in 1899 by English businessman Thomas Cook to host European travelers, the now legendary resort sits atop a pink granite cliff just across the water from Elephantine, a large Nile island that’s ripe with archaeological sites. After a thoughtful renovation, the hotel combines modern comforts with timeless elegance, replete with Moorish arches, ancient Egyptian motifs, and rooms split between a historic palace and a modern tower wing. Lounge by an outdoor pool surrounded by swaying palm trees, soothe aching muscles in a sumptuous spa, or soak in the same atmosphere that luminaries such as “Egyptian golden couple” Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II once enjoyed.
Even if you’re not staying in this iconic retreat, you can still sip high tea or dine on handmade pasta from its al fresco terrace, watching zigzagging Nile feluccas while savoring the warmth of the Nubian Desert.
4: A Traditional Nubian Village
Delve into Nubian culture at one of the few surviving Nubian villages in existence. Just a 20-minute boat ride from the Aswan mainland, Heissa Island is home to the brightly colored homes—painted in a rainbow of dazzling yellows, reds, and blues—of southern Egypt’s indigenous people. Learn how many Nubian families were forcibly relocated with the construction of the Aswan High Dam, browse traditional crafts, or get a henna tattoo as a temporary souvenir of your visit. GeoEx will even arrange an opportunity for you to dine with the Nubian villagers, who often perform their own foot-stomping music and invite guests to join in the dancing. If you don’t have time for dinner, join them for tea outstretched on a comfy setup of blankets and pillows.
5: Islamic Cairo
While Cairo is a modern metropolis with approximately 22 million inhabitants, the city is also home to Ottoman-era neighborhoods and a rich early Arabian and Islamic history that’s well worth exploring. These are the places where you can really immerse yourself in Cairene culture: spots such as the enormous Ibn Tulun Mosque, a red brick complex that’s one of the oldest mosques in Egypt, and the 12th-century Tomb of Sayyida Ruqayya, one of the city’s few preserved Fatimid-era mausoleums. While here, pay a visit to Salah ad-Din, the medieval Islamic-era citadel that was the seat of Egypt’s government for nearly 700 years, or shop for perfumes and hand-beat copper jewelry at the legendary Khan el Khalili souk, an open-air bazaar that attracts visitors and locals alike. For a real treat, ask your guide to order for you a serving of Egypt’s national dish, koshari, a street food that combines rice, lentils, and macaroni in a spicy tomato sauce, garnished with crispy onions. Divine!
Leave the crowds behind with a visit to Fayoum, a desert oasis about two hours south of Cairo that’s popular with locals who are looking for a little rest and relaxation of their own. This slow-paced treasure is chock-full of spectacular natural scenery, including lakes and canals, undulating sand dunes, and even cascading waterfalls. It’s also home to the Lazib Inn Resort & Spa, a “destination in itself,” as we at GeoEx can attest, and one of the nicest boutique hotels in Egypt. While here, you can ride horseback through the desert, embark on a dreamy felucca ride, go birdwatching in search of pied kingfisher and great crested grebe near the waters of Wadi Al-Rayan, or head out on a 4×4 to Madinet Madi, an archaeological site known for its late Greco-Roman period temple ruins.
Surrounding the inn is Tunis Village, a hotbed of small art galleries and pottery (you can even make your own). Another intriguing site nearby is Wadi Al-Hitan, a “valley of ancient whales” known for its hundreds of fossils of primitive cetaceans.
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Are you ready to start planning your trip to Egypt? Our experts can craft an adventure that takes in the top places to visit for vibrant culture and authentic local encounters.
To complement our recommendations for local culture, we’ve also created a list of archaeological destinations where you can explore Egypt’s ancient history through temples and tombs.