When most people start planning a trip to Egypt, they immediately picture themselves standing in front of the iconic Pyramids at Giza; and rightfully so, the Pyramids are a wonder of the world! Aside from this major site however, many people are not familiar with what else visit in Egypt.
I certainly wasn’t familiar with any other destinations within Egypt before I took the leap to travel on a group trip. Admittedly, I didn’t do much research prior to my trip since I knew Intrepid would handle all the logistics; but once I started exploring all the interesting places around Egypt, I was hooked. This is a country with such a long and storied past that it would be hard not to fall in love with it!
With it’s dedication to historical preservation, Egypt is full of more museums and ancient temples that you might think, easily filling an itinerary where you walk the shoes of ancient pharaohs. Most of the sites on this list are also included on Intrepid Travel itineraries in Egypt if you would feel safer traveling this region of the world in a group like I did!
These are 10 Egyptian Wonders to Visit Besides the Pyramids
One of the most unique temples on this list, Philae temple near Aswan is only accessible by boat as it sits on an island in the middle of the Nile River. How did it get there, you might ask? In the 1960s, the Egyptian government built several large dams that threatened ancient ruins along the Nile. Understanding the value of its history, the government commissioned archeologists to move the sites including Philae Temple. The temple was disassembled (into 75,000 pieces nonetheless!) moved and then re-assembled in a new location safe from dam overflow. When you look at the temple’s intricate design up close, you get a true appreciation for both the work it took to build originally and also the more modern work of moving it!
The temple is dedicated to the gods Osaris and Isis, both protector gods in the Egyptian mythology. You can see some beautiful scenes explaining the story of Osaris and Isis, with carvings on every nook, cranny, pillar, wall and ceiling of the temple. It is pretty amazing! Also inside the temple is the holy room, which has an offering table only used by the pharaoh. A couple of times a year, the king would come to this temple to make specific offerings (which you see depicted on the wall) to the god of this temple. And then the room was sealed off until the next ceremony, never opened to the public.
Valley of the Kings
One of the most well-known sites in Egypt, the Valley of the Kings was the main burial grounds for the pharaohs from 1500BC to 1200BC. There are 60 discovered tombs here and are some of the best remaining examples of painted hieroglyphics. In the tombs, you will see painted scenes of the journey into the afterlife on every wall and even the ceiling—truly a sight to see! The tombs are built into the natural mountainous landscape, so you will be spending most of your time here in the hot Egyptian sun. Remember to wear a hat, pack water and apply sunscreen before your visit as it takes several hours to explore the whole area.
At any given time, there are only about 5 tombs open to the public, and your entrance ticket includes a visit to 3 of them. You can pay extra to go into King Tut’s tomb. The tombs are dug into the sides of the mountain, so you will access them via wooden walkways in the central valley. The impressive level of detail and color is visible throughout the chambers, and you’ll be awed at how well preserved they are. These dyes have last over 3,000 years and are still bright and vibrant! You will see scenes on every wall and the ceiling, depicting what the Egyptian’s believe to be the journey to the afterlife.
Memphis + Saqqara Pyramid
To see what the Giza Pyramids evolved from, take a visit to the nearby Saqqara Pyramids in Cairo. This site is home to oldest and first pyramid ever built in Egypt. It is really cool to see the first pyramid ever built, noticing the distinct differences between the ones at Giza. The burial chamber in Saqqara is open to the public, featuring some exquisite hieroglyphic carvings, which were buried under the sand for thousands of years, keeping them in almost perfect condition. This is also the only hieroglyphic scenes ever found that show how the pyramids were built.
Memphis was the original capital of the ancient Egyptian empire. There isn’t much left to see here, but this is the site of two pretty cool statues. The first is the staggeringly tall twin statues of Rames II. Rames II is one of the longest reigning kings in human history (67 years) and was probably the most famous pharaoh. He has lots of temples and statues around Egypt, but this one is tallest. The other famous statue at Memphis is the second largest Sphinx behind the Great Sphinx at Giza. You can see the full body and good details on the body and face. This one is a bit of a mystery, because they don’t know who built it or who is built for, as there are no names listed on it.
Perhaps my favorite historical site on this list, Abu Simbel is located in a remote part of Egypt near the Sudan border. Many travelers are intimidated by its location, fearing the civil unrest in Sudan and deeming it unsafe to visit. However, Egypt is a largely safe country with a dedication to protecting visitors, so tourists can feel comfortable visiting this sight with a guide or group.
This temple was also affected by 1960s dam project (mentioned below) and it was moved from its original location; but, this relocation project was much more complicated than the Philae Temple, since it was actually carved into the bedrock of the mountain. It was not something they could dissemble and put back together somewhere else. They actually had to hand-carved each and every piece off from the original bedrock, and then reattach it to a mountain at a higher elevation. It was a time consuming process and took 7 years to move it and reconstruct it.
But it now stands as a beautiful symbol to the power of mankind, both 4,000 years ago and today. At Abu Simbel there are two temples—one for Rames II and one for Queen Nefratiti—both of which are included in your entrance fee. The facade of the Rames’ temple features four massive statues of the pharaoh, but the inside might be even more impressive. You will be greeted with one of the most complicated hieroglyphic drawings in all of Egypt with over 100,000 characters in a single scene!
Library at Alexandria
Built in 2002, the new Alexandria Library pays homage to its famous ancient counterpart because every aspect of the modern building has a story behind it. If you’re especially interested in learning about it, I definitely recommend getting a tour of the library from one of their trained guides. The main theme is to blend the ancient with the modern, but there are so many interesting details to the story!
The exterior design of the building is meant to look like the sun rising from the sea just as the ancient people depicted it. On the outer wall, there are carvings of letters from every known language in the world, just as the old ancient library was rumored to have texts from every written language in the world.
Once you’re inside the Library of Alexandria, there are 4 museums, a digital exploration area, a kids library, a teenager library, a lounge, a gift shop and of course of the main library. The main library has a large glass platform that juts out into the massive reading room, giving you expansive views of the stunning interior. It is the largest open library space in the entire world, and it spans 9 different levels. The library has a collection of over 2 million books, and you could easily wander in this place for hours.
Probably the most obvious item on this list, Karnak Temple is a must-visit temple in Egypt. It is the largest of all the ruins discovered in Egypt and the second largest ancient religious site in the world (only smaller to Angkor Wat in Cambodia). This temple took approximately 2,000 years to fully construct and with each new pharaoh came new design elements, making for a fascinating walk through the minds of Egypt’s most elite royalty. You’ll spot a style mish-mash of gates, colonnades and even an obelisk as you wander the several kilometers around the site.
Unlike many other temples in Egypt, Karnak temple sits in its original location on the banks of the Nile. You’ll want to dedicate at least a few hours to visit this massive site. My favorite part of the temple complex is the columned section. This is probably what you have seen on Instagram, thanks to it’s picturesque 134 massive stone columns. All individually engraved with hieroglyphics, they tell various stories about the gods, depict offering scenes and representations of the pharaohs, particularly Rames II, who was largely responsible for the construction of this section of the temple. Some of hte columns have been recently restored and you can witness the vibrant colors as they would have been thousands of years ago.
If you’re anything like me, I was absolutely obsessed with King Tut as a child after seeing a traveling exhibit about Tutankhamun on one of my elementary school field trips. At the Egyptian Museum, you can see the whole thing — along with about 120,000 other antiquities. As I walked into the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, I was filled with that same sense of wonder as I gazed at Tut’s gilded burial mask and countless colorful relics from his tomb. His tomb contained everything that he was originally buried with and it is likely valued at over $1 billion.
There are no photos allowed inside this part of the museum, but you can take phone photos anywhere else inside. This Tutankhamun exhibit alone makes a visit to the Egyptian Museum a must-do activity while in Cairo, but it is filled with many other amazing relics including the largest royal mummy collection in the world. This extra exhibit is well worth the slightly higher admission price to see!
Note: Many of the famous antiquities in the Egyptian Museum, like King Tut’s Wing, are scheduled to move to Cairo’s new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in November 2022. If you are reading this after the new museum opens, add the museum to your Giza day, since the new museum overlooks the Pyramid site.
For all the feminist readers out there, the Temple of Hatshepsut outside of Luxor is the Egyptian temple for you! Dedicated to the first female pharaoh in Egyptian history, Hatshepsut was known for her strong personality and natural aptitude for politics. She ruled as a queen regent for a few years, until she sent the king to a military academy and ruled in his stead. Pharaohs were believed to be descendants of god Amun Rays (aka male) so in order to fulfill this necessity, she fabricated a story about being the daughter of the sun god. This is a central feature of her temple, featuring three large tiers, perfectly stacked on one another to form a sort of oblong pyramid shape. She actually helped to design this temple! There are large ramps connecting the three vertical levels that run up the entire front of the temple. Once inside, there are of course walls full of hieroglyphics paintings and stories about the pharaoh and gods.
Colossi of Memnon
Known as the goddess of dawn, these are the rebuilt remains of a temple that was discovered only about 10 years ago. The statues depict Amenhotep III, the builder of the temple. After seeing some of the other ruins, these aren’t as impressive since they were badly damaged by water, but the size is impressive, and once the rest of the site is excavated, I think it will be a much more worthwhile stop.
This is one of the few temples in Egypt that allows you to visit at night, and it completely changes the vibe. It is fun to see the temples all lit up, and adds something a little different to your antiquity routine. As of December 2021, the Avenue of the Sphinx connecting Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple is finally open. This decades long project of relocating modern homes, excavating the site and restoring the Sphinx statues cost millions; but the result is incredible. You can walk the 2.7 km long King’s Festivities Road, also known as Rams Road, from one temple to the other. This is the first time it has been like this in 4,000 years so I highly recommend it.