No destination will make you feel like you’ve stepped firmly into the past quite like Egypt. A country rich in 5,000 years of history, Egypt is full of ancient ruins that will define every traveler’s experience, including those who’ve chosen to visit on their own. Unforgettable bucket-list attractions that reveal millennia of cultural grandeur show themselves at nearly every turn, from sky-piercing pyramids to cavernous temples full of eras-old secrets. And with an expert Egyptologist joining all our tours, you’re guaranteed to never miss an educational moment. On our immersive trips to Egypt, prepare for the adventure of a lifetime, and like traveler Carmen, you might just find yourself realizing that Egypt is “more fabulous than expected!”
Read on to learn about the ancient ruins in Egypt that you simply can’t miss on our trips to Egypt.
10. The Great Pyramid of Giza
Did you travel to Egypt if you didn’t see the pyramids? All of our Egypt itineraries (including our brand-new Egypt & Nile River Cruise for Solo Travelers Tour) make a stop at this iconic ancient ruin. It’s full of enduring stories and fascinating bits of trivia.
For example: The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest pyramid in Egypt, and when it was first built in the 26th century BC, it stood at over 480 feet. For 3,800 years, it was the tallest building in the world. That it still stands today is testament to the exceptional engineering of that time. You’ll see this marvel from the outside and have a change to explore even further on your own. Take traveler Matthew’s word for it: “Getting to climb inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza will be an experience that we will hold in our hearts forever.”
9. Great Sphinx of Giza
Do you want to see the world’s largest monolith statue? Whether you’re on our classic Egypt & River Nile Cruise tour or the new Ancient Egypt: Giza, Luxor & Cairo tour, you’ll get to marvel at one of the most sought-after Egyptian ruins. Made of carved limestone, the majestic reclining sphinx stands 66 feet tall, and while the nose has been broken for centuries now, it’s still monumental. First built during the reign of Khafre around 2500 BC, it is one of the oldest Egyptian ruins you’ll have the privilege of seeing on our Egypt tours.
8. Karnak Temple Complex
Once part of the ancient city of Thebes, Karnak was built over the course of 1,000 years (30 pharaohs contributed to it). At its peak, it was the most important religious complex in all of Egypt. As far as ancient temples in Egypt and our Egypt & the Nile Travel Guide are concerned, this might be the most sought-after attraction. It has been said that after the pyramids in Giza, Karnak is the most visited ancient ruin in Egypt. It is so vast, that much of it isn’t even open to the public. What you can visit is spectacular, including an avenue lined with countless sphinxes.
Want to take your visit to Karnak to the next level? We offer a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride over these Egyptian ruins. “It was exciting and beautiful, especially at sunrise over the Nile,” said traveler Sally.
7. Luxor Temple
Located directly down the river from Karnak, Luxor Temple was where many of ancient Egypt’s great leaders were crowned. So, it only makes sense that the amount of history woven into the architectural fabric of these Egyptian ruins is immense. Construction on Luxor Temple took hundreds of years, with pharaohs from Amenhotep III to Tutankhamun adding on to the complex during their reign. Walking along the Great Colonnade Hall—nearly 200-feet long, flanked with 21-foot-high columns—will be one of the most unforgettable moments of your trip to Luxor.
6. Valley of the Kings
A massive collection of tombs dedicated to history’s most important pharaohs, this ancient ruin in Egypt is tucked away near the West Bank of the Nile River, not far from the temples of Luxor. You’ll get to explore the burial grounds of some of ancient Egypt’s greatest leaders, including Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. There are more than 60 tombs here, each grander than the last, with beautiful carved hieroglyphics and bright paintings boasting Old World rituals. If you want to elevate the experience, make sure you sign up to get into King Tut’s tombs. There’s an extra surcharge (don’t forget to bring some cash), but it’s well worth it to see his famous sarcophagus.
5. Temple of Kom Ombo
Perched close to the Nile’s rushing waters, this temple was dedicated to both Sobek, the crocodile god, and Haroeris, the god of the sky. It was constructed mostly during the Ptolemaic dynasty, between 180 and 47 BC, but some features were likely added during Rome’s occupation of these lands. Because it was built in homage to two deities, you’ll find a symmetrical blueprint running along the temple’s main axis. There are two sets of relief sculptures mirroring each other: one dedicated to Sobek, the other to Haroeris. There are also chambers, built with double entrances, that lead to the sanctuaries of both gods.
4. Temple of Philae
Originally located near the First Cataract of the Nile, constant threat of flood damage forced the relocation of these ancient ruins to nearby Agilkia Island. Getting to Philae offers a unique sense of arrival: You approach it by boat. And when you do, prepare to be stunned. Perched over the water and surrounded by lush foliage, the site of the temple (which legend says is one of the burial grounds of the god Osiris) is truly one of the most picturesque. And if you want to see it in an even more unique setting, you’ll want to return at night, when the temple is fully lit up.
Located just south of Cairo, this massive archaeological site in ancient Egypt was only recently discovered. Egyptologists are in fact still unearthing all sorts of incredible ancient treasures, including the funerary temple of Queen Nearit, wife of the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt, as well as hundreds of ancient coffins. But one of the most important things they found in Saqqara might be the six-tier Pyramid of Djoser, the earliest colossal stone building in the country. It is also among the oldest Egyptian ruins, built in the 27th century BC.
2. Edfu’s Temple of Horus
Cruising along the Nile includes a lot more than just relaxing on the lido deck: There is so much to do along the Nile River, and sailing it is actually the quickest way to reach ancient temples all over Egypt. There are many that dot the banks of the river, including Edfu’s Temple of Horus. One of the country’s most beautifully preserved ancient ruins, the Temple of Horus was completed in 57 BC, making it one of the “newest” sights you’ll find in Egypt. In fact, the temple was built during a period when Egypt was part of Greece.
As you approach it, you can’t miss its splendor. The massive gateway—flanked by towering statues of Horus in his full falcon glory—is 118-feet tall. Within, you’ll find intricate relief carvings, ceremonial chambers, imposing columns, and wall inscriptions that tell of Horus’ legend.
1. Abu Simbel
Like Philae, flooding forced the relocation of these Egyptian ruins. They are now located 180 miles from Aswan, on the edge of Lake Nasser. A trip to Abu Simbel requires a bit of a detour, but you’ll know right away that it’s worth it. (And that’s why it’s an add-on available on most of our Egypt itineraries, including the brand-new A Week in Egypt: Giza, Nile River Cruise & Cairo Tour.)
Larger-than-life Abu Simbel was constructed in honor of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari. The sprawling, floor-to-ceiling hieroglyphics retell his military victories. But nothing will compare to the mammoth sculpture carved into the entrance of the Great Temple. They welcome you with imposing grandeur like no other ruins in Egypt. Take it from traveler Lindsay: “All of the sights make you feel like you’re about an inch tall, but Abu Simbel really seemed enormous.”