Egypt has seven sites that are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourism in Egypt is based on its historical sites. As tourists, we usually go to Egypt to see those monuments. Herodotus, a Greek historian, once said that Egypt was “a gift from the Nile.” In fact, Egyptian landmarks have always supported a large rural population that works the land. This is because Egypt is one of the most productive agricultural countries in the region.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt
But these days, most Egyptians live in cities. Manufacturing and trade have gradually taken over agriculture as the most important parts of the Cairo economy. Cairo is the capital of Egypt and one of the largest cities in the world. The tourism industry has always brought in a lot of money from other countries. During times of political and social change in the area, however, this sector has been very unstable.
Memphis was the first capital of ancient Egypt. It was built in 3000 BC, and its necropolis is near where Cairo is today. Memphis was the place where the pharaohs lived and where the country’s government was run. It was also a holy place for the ancient Egyptian gods.
Memphis still has a lot of temples and monuments, and you can see how the royal tombs changed from their first shapes as “mastabas” to their final shapes as pyramids. In Memphis’ Pyramids Field, there are more than 38 pyramids, including the pyramids of Giza, Abusir, Saqqara, and Dahshur. You can easily plan a short day trip to Memphis, the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, and Dahshur from your Cairo hotel or any of the tour groups you can book online.
In the 10th century, Cairo was built, and it quickly became the new center of the Islamic world. It was at its best in the 14th century. Historic Cairo, or “Old Cairo,” as we locals call it, has been built on and around modern Cairo. Moez Street is the most famous street in Old Cairo. It has been called “the greatest concentration of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world” by the United Nations.
You can find beautiful mosques in Moez Street and other parts of Islamic Old Cairo. In Coptic Cairo, which was the first stronghold of Christianity in the country, you can find cathedrals and churches that are hundreds of years old. There is also the world-famous bazaar Khan el Khalili, which grew out of a caravanserai and is right next to Moez Street. You can easily get there by taxi from anywhere in Cairo.
Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis
During the Middle and New Kingdoms, Thebes, which is now called Luxor, was Egypt’s second capital, after Memphis. World-famous temples like Karnak, Luxor Temple, the world’s largest open-air museum, Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are all left over from this Nile-side capital in Upper Egypt. To get there, you can fly into Luxor Airport, take a (very long) train from Cairo, or take a cruise from Aswan. Should you go?
Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
UNESCO actually saved this amazing archaeological site as part of an international effort to move the huge Ancient Egyptian monuments away from the flooding of the Nile river between 1960 and 1980. Now that they are safe, Ramses the Great’s temples at Abu Simbel are just as beautiful as when they were built around 3200 years ago. From Aswan, the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae Temple offers a peaceful view of the Nile. You can get there by flying into Aswan Airport, taking a long train ride from Cairo, or going on a cruise from Luxor.
Wadi el-Hitan Whale Valley
In Fayoum, Egypt, in a place called Wadi el Hitan (Whale Valley), there are some very strange and cool whale fossils. These whales were different from most whales because they had legs on the back of their bodies. UNESCO says, “These fossils tell one of the most important stories of evolution: how the whale went from being a land animal to an ocean mammal.” This is the most important place in the world where this stage of evolution can be seen. Drive from Cairo to Fayoum to get there. Is it a must-see, unless you’re really into archaeology or have a lot of time to spend in Egypt? It’s pretty cool, but you can skip if you’re short on time.
Saint Catherine Area
Mount Sinai is on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In Egyptian Arabic, it is called “Gebel Moussa,” which means “Moses’ Mountain.” All three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) believe that Moses met the Burning bush and got the Ten Commandments here. The Orthodox Saint Catherine Monastery is at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was built in the sixth century and is the oldest Christian monastery in the world that is still used for its original purpose.
UNESCO says, “Its walls and buildings are very important for studying Byzantine architecture, and the monastery has some of the best collections of early Christian manuscripts and icons in the world.” The rough, mountainous landscape, with its many religious and archaeological sites and monuments, makes a great background for the monastery.
To get there, fly into Sharm el-Sheikh airport and arrange a tour from there or Dahab. From Sharm, it takes about 3 hours to get there. Is it a must-see if you’re not already nearby, which means you’re already in the Sinai area, or if you’re not very interested in its religious significance or hiking, since thousands of people walk or ride camels to the top of the mountain every year?
Abu Mena is what’s left of an early Christian holy city. It was built on top of the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria, which is about 50 kilometers south of where Alexandria is today. Menas may have died in the late 3rd century or early 4th century. The only thing left of the old Christian city today are the foundations of some of its most important buildings, like the basilica.
Abu Mena was put on UNESCO’s list of “World Heritage in Danger” because the water table rose, making the foundations of the remaining buildings unstable or causing them to fall down. From Alexandria, you can drive there. Should you go? Actually, no. Abu Mena doesn’t have much left of it, but if you’re in Alexandria and have some free time, it’s always a good idea to see a World Heritage Site, especially one that might be lost forever.
Most of the time, there are two seasons in Egypt. Egypt’s winter usually lasts from November to March, and the summer usually lasts from May to September, with a few short months in between. Summers are hot and dry, and winters are mild and cool. In January, the average temperature range in Aswan is between 48°F and 74°F (9°C and 23°C), while the average temperature range in Alexandria is between 48°F and 65°F (9°C and 18°C). The summers in the middle of the country are very hot, with average highs of 91°F (33°C) in Cairo and 106°F (41°C) in Aswan.