Beyond the pyramids: 10 other things to see in Egypt

things to see in Egypt
The Pyramids at Giza. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

The Pyramids at Giza in Egypt just might be the greatest tourist attraction in the history of the world. After all, these amazing structures have been drawing visitors for centuries, with people like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte all dropping by to bask in their glory. The Great Pyramid in particular more than lives up to the hype as the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that remains standing, although its smaller companions are quite impressive too.

But Egypt has many other amazing temples, tombs, monuments, and natural landscapes that are worth visiting as well — some of which even rival the pyramids in terms of grandeur. Here are 10 other destinations that visitors to the Middle Eastern country should have on their list of places to see.

The Great Sphinx of Giza

things to see in Egypt
The Sphinx. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Perhaps the second most popular tourist stop in all of Egypt is the legendary Great Sphinx, which is located on the Giza Plateau in the shadow of the pyramids themselves. Built to honor the pharaoh Khafra, whose face once adorned the famous statue, the Great Sphinx stretches more than 200 feet in length and stands an impressive 65 feet in height. With the head of a human and the body of a lion, this massive sculpture has stood guard over the region for more than 4,500 years.

Abu Simbel

things to see in Egypt
Abu Simbel. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Located in Egypt’s deep south, not far from the border with Sudan, are two temples dedicated to Ramses II — perhaps the greatest pharaoh of all — and his wife, Nefertari. Collectively, these two temples are known as Abu Simbel, and they represent one of the greatest displays of ancient Egyptian craftsmanship found anywhere in the country. The site requires a bit of an effort to reach due to its remote location, but it is more than worth the trip.

When visiting, keep in mind that the temples no longer sit at their original site. They were both relocated to their current location back in 1968 when the Aswan Dam was nearing completion.

The Temple of Karnak

things to see in Egypt
Karnak Temple. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

The absolutely massive Temple of Karnak in Luxor is considered the largest religious structure ever built, covering nearly 250 square acres. Construction first began around 2055 BC and continued for the next 2,000 years as successive pharaohs added on to the site. As a result, there are numerous chapels, obelisks, and statues to be found there, each more impressive than the last.

One of the highlights are the incredible pillars in the Great Hypostyle Hall, which contains 134 columns, each 80 feet high and 33 feet around, divided into 16 rows. Together they create a stone forest that looks like something right out of a movie set.

Luxor Temple

things to see in Egypt
Luxor Temple. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Just across town from the Temple of Karnak sits another impressive example of ancient Egyptian craftsmanship. Luxor Temple was yet another site that was built over a long period of time, as individual pharaohs added their own personal touches to the structure. It contains chapels and statues built not only by Ramses II, but also Alexander the Great, who ruled Egypt starting around 332 BC. This temple is one of the few to bear his likeness, although it is the massive stone obelisk and twin statues that stand guard over the entrance that are most likely to leave a lasting impression.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes

things to see in Egypt
Avenue of the Sphinxes. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Luxor’s two great temples sit just a few miles apart and are joined by an ancient road that is actually a work of art in and of itself. The Avenue of the Sphinxes is lined with more than 1,000 statues depicting the half-man, half-lion figure that played an instrumental role in Egyptian mythology. Over the centuries, the road was actually covered in silt, and new structures were built on top of it. But for the past 10 years archaeologists have been excavating the ancient route that linked the two holy places. During that time they have uncovered numerous statues and begun restoring them as best they can. While that work isn’t quite complete yet, the Avenue is certainly an unexpected sight to behold in the busy urban center of modern Luxor.

Valley of the Kings

things to see in Egypt
Valley of the Kings. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

For more than five centuries, the ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs in a remote location not far from the city of Luxor. Sitting in the shadow of a pyramid-shaped mountain, this place became known as the Valley of the Kings, and over the years more than 63 tombs have been discovered there. These burial sites contain some of the best depictions of ancient paintings and hieroglyphs found anywhere, most of which look exactly the same now as they did when they were first painted on those walls more than 3,500 years ago.

Included amongst the rulers that were buried in the Valley was King Tutankhamun, a relatively insignificant pharaoh who has gained renown in modern times mainly due to the fact that his burial chamber had not been looted by grave robbers over the years. As a result, when that tomb was first opened in 1922, the wealth contained inside remained intact and a legend was born.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

things to see in Egypt
Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Built to honor Egypt’s only female pharaoh, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is an incredible sight to behold. Carved out of the side of a mountain, it contains multiple chambers, numerous pillars, and stunning chapels dedicated to the gods Amun-Ra and Anubis. Hatshepsut was able to maintain power for more than two decades by disguising herself as a man, but when she was eventually overthrown by her nephew, most of the statues and paintings that bore her likeness were torn down. Thankfully, this temple remains standing, although over the years it has been destroyed and rebuilt on at least three occasions.

The White Desert

things to see in Egypt
The White Desert. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Not all of Egypt’s wonders were constructed by man. The White Desert, located in the heart of the Sahara midway between the towns of Dakhla and Bahariya, gets its name from the chalk rock formations and deposits that cover the landscape there. Over the centuries, the wind has carved some incredibly unique formations, creating sculptures that resemble giant mushrooms, floating clouds, and other distinct shapes. As a protected national park, access to the White Desert is somewhat restricted, but it is easy to gain access on an authorized tour. This remote place is starkly beautiful and will leave a lasting impression on any traveler.

Mediterranean Beaches

things to see in Egypt
Mediterranean beaches. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Most travelers don’t consider Egypt as a beach destination, but the country does border the Mediterranean Sea and has some surprisingly lovely beaches along its northern coast. Most visitors will flock to beaches near Alexandria, the ancient capital when Alexander the Great ruled the country. But the locals prefer to visit the city of Mersa Matruh, which is certainly less touristy. The beaches there are clean, breathtaking, and inviting, although they can get a bit crowded during the high season. Still, Egypt’s Mediterranean Coast is an unexpected surprise for a country that is more well known for its ancient wonders.

Sunset over Siwa Oasis

things to see in Egypt
Sunset over Siwa Oasis. Photo: Courtesy of Kraig Becker

Located deep in the Western Desert, not far from Egypt’s border with Libya, Siwa Oasis is a wonderful respite from the larger cities of Cairo and Luxor. This quiet little village is a great place to relax, catch your breath, and soak in the soothing waters of the natural springs that are found there. One of the highlights of any visit to Siwa is watching the sun set over the Sahara. The town itself is nestled in a lush, fertile oasis, but the towering dunes of the desert can be seen not far outside. Watching the sun slowly sink behind those dunes is incredibly relaxing and a perfect way to end the day.

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