The enchanting lands of Egypt await anyone’s arrival to explore one of the world’s top bucket list destinations. I definitely consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Egypt – and even more so being able to visit when it was less crowded and the weather bearable.
For me, Egypt conjures up the memories of all the films and animations set in this fairytale land that I devoured over the years; the Prince of Egypt, the Mummy, Cleopatra… the list goes on. I first visited Egypt in 2006 but never ventured out of Cairo. When I got the opportunity to visit again in 2021, I knew I had to tick off some of the legendary sites from the films off my bucket list.
If you are thinking about travelling to Egypt, I have the perfect insight to make the most of the trip. Come along with me as I take you through my recommended six-day Egypt itinerary. Get ready to experience a rich cultural heritage, history, and much more.
Day One – Cairo
Our Egypt journey starts in Cairo. If you are like me, you probably cannot wait to get out of your hotel room to begin exploring Cairo on your first full day in Egypt. You must have heard that Cairo has crazy traffic. This Cairo itinerary helps you to visit attractions within the same localities to save on time.
Grab some fresh coffee and falafels (street food is great in Egypt, by the way) before heading to your first attraction of the day. It will be a light day to help you recover from the jet lag. The Egypt National Museum (open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is an excellent place to get acquainted with Egypt’s fascinating history and how its civilization has emerged over time. The museum has gone to great lengths to carefully curate the different eras and unpacks the country’s rich history in a way that leaves you gobsmacked.
Next, visit the Citadel of Saladin (open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), a medieval fortress that stands majestically on Mottakam Hill. The Citadel has rightfully earned a place on the famous UNESCO World Heritage list. Its impressive stature is evident even before you arrive at the premises. The inside is lined by massive columns that are nothing short of an architectural feat with a beautifully decorated mosque inside.
As you will be nearby Al Azhar Park, walk around the lush green landscape considered one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world. It has incredible views of Cairo; no wonder its gardens welcome more than 2 million people a year. It would be sacrilege to not stop for a traditional Egyptian lunch at the Studio Misr restaurant at the park.
Tip: The Al Azhar Park, like most places in Egypt, does not allow you to enter with a DSLR camera. You would have to pay extra to bring it in or leave it at the security office.
After lunch, head over to the city of the dead. History vultures will love this place which comprises an 8km cemetery built over 800 years. This ancient city that was a famous trade route to Syria is still very much a lived-in city. The City of the Dead used to be a haven for robbers and insecurity, but this has changed. Guided walking tours are available for online bookings. Ancient Egyptian rulers constructed monuments in the city that have been recently renovated. You can also visit the jewellery-making social enterprise run by local women or attend cultural events and concerts hosted in the area.
Tip: The best place to view the whole city of the dead is by the Azhar tunnel, which gives you a bird’s eye view of the city.
Before you head back to your hotel, drop by Egypt’s most famous Souk, Khan el Khalili. Here you will find everything from souvenirs to clothing, carpets, shishas, and all sorts of merchandise.
Tip: If you are here to purchase, walk around first and compare the prices before committing to anything. Do not be afraid to bargain. But suppose you are only here for photos. In that case, the famous location you see on everyone’s Instagram also happens to be the stall with the best antiques.
Tip: For directions to this Insta-famous stall, message the owner on Instagram. Make sure to buy a souvenir from him.
Day Two – Cairo
It is impossible to visit Cairo without checking out the Pyramids of Giza. After all, they are the most famous of the seven wonders of the world! It is tempting to go on your first day, but I saved it for day two because you’ll need lots of energy as you go around the pyramid sites in the heat. And better believe it, if there is one place where there is always a crowd, it is here.
Visit the Great Pyramids in the morning, where you will learn all about the construction and legacy from onsite guides. You can even venture inside of them. If you want to take your trip up a notch, why not take a camel ride around the pyramids and inject some income into the local economy while you are it. Plus, who does not want a photo with a camel in Egypt?
Wrap up the experience with lunch at the Instagram-famous restaurant, 9 Pyramids Lounge. To say it has a gorgeous view of the pyramids is a massive understatement. The restaurant has become oh-so-famous, prior booking is required, and I mean months in advance. To be honest, the food and the service is not great, but the view makes it all the more worth it.
Tip: Even though it’s often all booked up, try making a reservation. You might just be lucky. Once again – DSLR photography is not allowed here as well…
Afterwards, with the sun shining and unbelievable heat, you’ll be glad to cool off on a sundowner cruise. If you have not taken a Nile River cruise on a Felucca (traditional boat), have you even been to Egypt? You won’t believe the tranquil relaxation the cruise evokes, especially in contrast to the hustle and bustle of Cairo city.
The Nile cruise will leave you blissful and ready for your next Egyptian adventure.
Places to eat in Cairo
Tree Trunk Café is a charming spot with an eclectic vibe with many plants and dreamcatchers hanging from the ceiling. Pastries are delicious here.
The Marriott Mena House Hotel is not just a great brunch spot, but it is also one of the best places to catch a view of the pyramids. It is also a fantastic accommodation option for Cairo within a few minutes drive from the Pyramids.
Day Three – Alexandria
It’s time to say goodbye to Cairo – for now! As the Pyramids fall below the horizon as you drive off, you will be en route to another exciting destination – Alexandria or simply Alex, as referred to by locals. It is only a three-hour drive from Cairo, or you can take the train for a more local, budget-friendly option. It is possible to do all of Alexandria’s sightseeing in a day.
Although less crowded than Cairo, the city also has congested traffic – at all times of the day – so you want to plan your list of things to do in Alexandria in advance.
The first place to go in Alexandria, which is also at the furthest tip of the city, is the Montazah Gardens. Here you can enjoy the sights of the Montazah Palace and the Mediterranean Sea. The beautiful gardens make for an excellent photo background.
Tip: The best view of the palace is from the backside, where there is a bridge.
Two of the must-visit attractions in Alexandria are the ruins of the Library of Alexandria and the current Bibliotheca Alexandrina ( open 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) located next to each other. The Library of Alexandria was famous for being among the largest, most prestigious libraries in the ancient world. Who does not want to see that!
Tip: The inside of the bibliotheca is closed to the public at 11:00 a.m. check before visiting.
Make sure to check out the Citadel of Qaitbay. It opens at 9 a.m. You should try to get there early to avoid the crowds. The Citadel, located on Pharos Island, is at the tip of the Corniche in Alexandria – it is the opposite end of the palace. While DSLR cameras are allowed here, lenses longer than 105 ml are not. In my opinion, wandering around the Citadel on your own is enough to make the most of the experience. You do not need a guide.
Tip: There is a really cool mural at the exit of the Citadel where buses are packed that is worth checking out before you depart.
Pompey’s Pillar, an Alexandria landmark, is a single column (and the largest in Egypt) standing on a rocky hilltop in the city’s outskirts. While there isn’t much to see besides the Pillar, it is the only ancient monument remaining in its entirety in Alexandria, making it worth seeing.
The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa are a bit outside of town and off the tourist radar. You definitely need a local to get there. This archaeological site has tombs, statutes and objects belonging to the Pharaohs. While not considered one of the seven wonders, it is important enough to be considered one of the wonders of the Middle Ages. Visiting the burial sites is an adventure on its own as you access it through a spiral staircase leading to the underground tombs.
Save time and drive back to Cairo early enough to rest up for tomorrow’s adventures.
If you have time to stay the night in Alex, end the evening with dinner at Teatro Eskandria. A popular cultural café that serves authentic local dishes, and you might get to see a live performance. Book a stay in one of Alexandria’s stylish (yet affordable) 18th-century hotels linked below and drive back to Cairo in the morning.
Where to eat and drink in Alexandria
Teatro Eskandria for the best Brazilian coffee
Dinner at Jeeda’s or at the Santorini restaurant at the Hilton
Stop for drinks at Au Prive
Where to stay in Alexandria
Book a stay at the Steinberger Cecil Hotel if you want to feel like you are in an episode of Downton Abbey. Its famous former guests include Winston Churchill. The hotel reeks of tasteful luxury. Everything from the elevator to the décor is an 18th-century luxury.
Tip: Check out their famous cocktails at the bar – trust me, you will not regret it.
Day Four – Aswan
Wake up early because today, you’ll be headed to Aswan, which is as exotic as it sounds. I wanted to get a broad overview of Egypt’s different cities, and Aswan was the logical next place to go from Cairo.
Aswan is south of Cairo, and the flight is just under an hour. I recommend the early flight that departs from Cairo at 6:30 a.m. so that there is enough time to go sightseeing.
What Aswan is most famous for and by far the highlight of my Egypt trip is the Abu Simbel temple. The temple is a three-hour drive from the airport but well worth it! You’ll be amazed by the scale of these rock-hewn temples and the statues guarding them. Be sure to take tons of photos and consider getting a guide to get more historical context.
Tip: There are almost no restaurants or coffee shops on the way to Abu Simbel, so grab your coffee before you embark on this journey. The only coffee kiosk is two hours from the airport.
There are no toilets within the temple vicinity, so use one by the entrance before you get in to avoid walking back in the scorching sun.
When you arrive back in Aswan, an absolute must-do is strolling around the vibrant, brightly coloured Nubian village on the bank of the river Nile. The village is home to the Nubian people, who immigrated to Egypt from Sudan more than 8,000 years ago. They have a unique culture and traditions that they have maintained over the years, including their own sacred language, Nuba, that foreigners are not taught.
Nubians are so friendly with incredible hospitality. Some of their traditional homes have been turned into quaint guesthouses with cafes and restaurants offering unique Nubian delicacies. The village has a vibrant souk-like market where you can purchase spices and souvenirs, including the traditional ‘jalabiya’ clothing. For the daring type (which I am not), you also have an opportunity to pet a crocodile. The Nubians traditionally considered crocodiles to be a blessing, and some keep them as pets.
Of course, make sure to stop by the Insta-famous Anakato Hotel to snap photos of the iconic traditional Nubian Houses bursting with vibrant colours. It’s a must-see before leaving Aswan.
Afterwards, check in to your hotel for a well-deserved rest.
Day Five – Aswan
Give yourself a break and have a lazy start on your second day in Aswan. Then go see the beautiful Philae Temple, dedicated to Goddess Isis, an embodiment of a superwoman, an enchantress believed to be the giver of life, a healer and protector of kings. What better reason do you need to visit?
You can only access the temple by boat. You will already be impressed by the massive gateway leading to the main temple. The guards are pretty vigilant here and eager to show you the numerous hieroglyphic paintings of pharaohs – for a tip. You would need at least half of a day to do a proper visit.
I suggest ending your time in Aswan early. Give yourself a local experience by taking a train ride north to our next destination – Luxor!
Where to stay in Aswan
If you are looking for a luxurious experience, the Sofitel Cataract, is your best bet. The Sofitel’s claim to fame is that it was constructed by Thomas Cook and has welcomed many celebrities during its existence.
Tip: If you want to enjoy the luxurious trappings it offers without staying here. You can also book a day pass to enjoy the premises for a 300 EGP cover charge which can be redeemed for food and drinks.
The Movenpick Hotel is a slightly cheaper option.
For a truly local experience, stay a night at Kendaka hotel in the Nubian village.
If you have extra time in Aswan, consider day trips to Edfu and Kom as well as Ombo temples.
Take the afternoon train from Aswan, to arrive in Luxor in the evening of your day five. Check into your hotel and have a sumptuous meal. After dinner ( if you are staying in the city centre), take a walk to the nearby Luxor temple and see this great fortress shining in contrast to the night.
Day Six – Luxor
Turns out, Egypt is one of the few places in the world where hot air balloon rides are actually affordable (as cheap as $60 ). I highly recommend you get up at 4:30 a.m. for this surreal, once in a lifetime experience, floating above some of Egypt most iconic sites while seeing the golden sun peak over the horizon. The massive balloons hold up to 28 people, are considered some of the largest in the world and are very safe.
Tips: I booked with my tour company, but you can book it at your hotel. Bring a light sweater, even though it’s not actually freezing. They offer to take videos of you for $20, which is a rip-off considering the videographer does not actually get into the balloon with you. I mean, what’s the point.
You’ll be back at the hotel in time for breakfast (and a power nap), then you’ll be all set to go sightseeing. I recommend you start your sightseeing in East Luxor and visit Karnak and Luxor temples. Both of these sites are within walking distance of the city centre.
Karnak is a much larger temple boasting over 134 columns and can take a couple of hours to cover. Luxor, on the other hand, you can cover within 30 minutes.
Drive to West Luxor (45 minutes’ drive) and visit Hatshepsut temple, the Valley of the Kings ( I found the excellent photo spots here were at tombs number 6 and 8). The tomb of Queen Nefertiti is exquisite and is located in the valley of the queens. The colours there are more vibrant than in the other tombs as they have not been distorted over time. However, there is a $90 extra charge to visit it. On your way back, stop by the giant statute, Colossi of Memnon.
Tips: DSLRS not allowed inside the Valley Temples. Make sure to adequately charge your cellphone. Temples open at 6 a.m. and close by 5 p.m.
Pro tip: You can buy the Luxor premium pass for 2,000 EGP ($127), which gives you access to all the tombs, including the exclusive ones, and is valid for a few days.
After this visit, take the evening flight back to Cairo, completing your amazing six days in this dreamy wonderland.
Where to stay in Luxor
The Sofitel Winter Palace is a destination in its own right. (and which luckily, I could only afford because they had incredible offers) is another must-visit experience. Constructed in 1886 as a royal palace, it has maintained its luxurious ambience with some of the original Palace artefacts, including the menu covers still intact. Eat at their famous French restaurant. They only reserve tables for 7:30 and 9 p.m.
The elegant French restaurant at the Sofitel is where food made for kings comes to life. It also makes for a romantic spot for a date night.
Tip: You have to dress formally at this restaurant. This rule is strictly enforced. Alcohol is more expensive than food at this restaurant – actually, this is the case for most of Egypt.
My six days in Egypt were an unbelievable experience that took me on a journey across most of the country. My trip was organized by iEgypt Tours & Travel. As much as I got to see a lot on the trip, there are still tons more that I’m definitely adding to my itinerary during my next trip.
If you are planning to visit Egypt, stay tuned for my upcoming post to learn more about my favorite landmarks! For tips on other historical cities see this post about Pakistan’s Lahore Old City and this Guide to visiting Uzbekistan’s Silk Route Towns.
Have you been to Egypt? Let me know in the comments what was your favourite attraction or activity.