Last Updated on April 18, 2022 by Maggie McKneely
Egypt is overwhelmingly jam-packed with historical and cultural sites to check out! Here’s a 7 day Egypt itinerary to help you make the most of your time in this amazing country.
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7 Day Egypt Itinerary
People have been living in Egypt for quite some time. Like, since the beginning of human history. No big deal or anything. Because of this, it’s hard to travel anywhere in Egypt without accidentally wandering into an ancient temple or falling into a tomb or discovering a cursed mummy. (Ok, maybe not the mummy part – I think they’re all safely locked away in a museum.) So how on earth do you plan a short trip to a place with so much to see and do?!
For the first time ever, as I always do all of my own vacation planning, I booked my trip to Egypt through a travel agency, Exoticca. They were extremely helpful in navigating the local chaotic transportation, the language barrier, and figuring out an itinerary that hit all of the highlights in just a week. So to help you with your own planning, here is the 7 day Egypt itinerary that we followed!
Day 1: Pyramids, Papyrus, and the Egyptian Museum
The vast majority of travelers arrive in Egypt via Cairo International Airport, the transportation hub of the world’s 6th largest city. So since you have to start in Cairo anyway, might as well see the biggest (literally) attraction the city has to offer: the Pyramids.
When most people think of Egypt, the pyramids are what immediately come to mind. Those colossal stone mountains that rise out of the desert, that have been puzzling historians for thousands of years. The Great Pyramid, the largest of the three, is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still standing and what help make Egypt one of the best countries in Africa to visit. So naturally, this is the site that everyone wants to visit. Talk about starting off your 7 day Egypt itinerary with a bang!
Located about 25 minutes from downtown Cairo, the Giza complex includes the Great Pyramid, its two smaller companions, the Sphinx, and several smaller tombs.
Things to do when visiting the Pyramids
Go inside the Great Pyramid itself
For 400 EGP (you MUST pay in cash, in EGP), you can say that you went inside THE Great Pyramid. Talk about bragging rights! But beware: this is not for anyone who is claustrophobic or isn’t physically up to it. The path from the entrance to the royal tomb is tight, has VERY low ceilings, is very steep, and has no air circulation. It takes about 10-15 minutes in and out, depending on how crowded it is. But it’s definitely worth it if you can do it, in my opinion.
Visit Panoramic Point
Follow the main road to the end to reach Panoramic Point. This is an epic view of the three big pyramids plus the three smaller ones.
If you want, you can also ride camels here. Our tour guide didn’t recommend doing it here because it’s expensive for a very short ride (there’s a better camel ride later on in this itinerary), but some people just really want that “riding a camel in front of the pyramids” picture. This is the place for that.
Kiss the Sphinx
Or at least take a picture that makes it look like you are! At the base of the Giza plateau is the trail to the viewing platform next to the Sphinx. This is where you can get your selfie with the great cat lady herself.
Budget about 3 hours to see and do everything you want to around the pyramids.
Papyrus Museum Shop
Next up, the Papyrus Museum shop. One of the many, many things the ancient Egyptians contributed to world civilization was the invention of the first form of paper: papyrus. Our tour guide took us to the Papyrus Museum to learn all about how papyrus is made, and how to tell the difference between real papyrus art and the fake stuff that all of the street vendors sell.
Entry is free and they serve a welcome tea to visitors. Guides do a demonstration of how the papyrus plant is turned into paper, and then visitors are free to explore the gallery. The art is beautiful and the employees don’t pressure you to buy anything (a rarity in Egypt), so it is worth a short visit. As someone who collects art on my travels though, this is where I found my Egypt souvenir!
The Egyptian Museum
The last stop on day 1 of this 7 day Egypt itinerary is the Egyptian Museum, the oldest and largest archaeological museum in the Middle East. It is home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. This is definitely a must-do part of any visit to Cairo.
The Grand Egyptian Museum, located next to the pyramids, is currently slated to open sometime in 2022, so many of the artifacts once housed in the Egyptian Museum had, unfortunately, already been moved to the new one when we visited. But there are still plenty of things to see in the current museum, such as most of the treasures from King Tut’s tomb, including his famous golden face mask, 2,000-year-old papyrus scrolls, and several mummies.
However, I recommend hiring a guide when visiting the museum. We had our tour guide, but for regular museum visitors, most of the artifacts have no informational signs, and the ones that are there are not always in English. Without a guide, the museum seems like little more than a storage facility for all of Egypt’s ancient artifacts. But with a guide, those artifacts come to life.
Where to stay:
We stayed in the Ramses Hilton, located on the Nile near the Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square. It was modern, clean, the staff were super friendly and helpful, and had a rooftop bar and restaurant that offered amazing views of Cairo. But Cairo is, of course, a massive city with plenty of hotel options for any budget range. I’d recommend staying on the west side of the city, closer to the tourist sites, as traffic is horrendous.
Day 2: Aswan
Early on day 2 of our 7 day Egypt itinerary, time to fly to southern (or Upper) Egypt. The train from Cairo to Aswan takes 14 hours, but a flight is only a little over one hour! So if you want to see anything outside of Cairo, that’s the way to go.
Things to do in Aswan
Aswan is most known for its High Dam, built in the 1960s. It’s the second-largest dam in the world and it forever changed the nature of the Nile River in Egypt. Prior to the dam, the Nile was subject to devastating floods that wreaked havoc every year. As the country’s population grew, Egyptian President Nasser wanted a way to stop the yearly floods and protect farmlands, and the dam was the solution. But as a result of the dam’s construction, Lake Nasser was created, which stretches for 340 miles from Aswan south into Sudan.
So the first stop when we arrived in Aswan was a drive to see the dam! You can see the stark contrast between massive Lake Nasser on one side and the Nile River on the other, as well as learn about how the dam was built and everything that was affected by its construction.
Afterward, we headed into the town of Aswan itself for the rest of the below activities. Egypt is split into Upper and Lower Egypt. Because the Nile flows south to north (not north to south, like most rivers), southern Egypt is Upper, and northern Egypt is Lower. The way of life is very different in these two regions and the contrast is fascinating. Cairo is fast, busy, and modern, whereas Aswan is still very traditional. When we arrived in town, I noticed most of the men wearing the traditional galabaya and saw just as many donkey carts as cars.
The ancient Egyptians really had a thing for carving those giant, pointy stone objects known as obelisks. Once upon a time, they were everywhere in Egypt. Over the course of history, they’ve been given as gifts to or stolen by other nations, due to their beauty and sheer impressiveness, and can be found around the world. For example, the city of Rome has 13 Egyptian obelisks.
In Aswan lies the key to our understanding of how the ancient Egyptians created these monuments. Known as the Unfinished Obelisk, at 42 meters/137 feet, this would have been the largest of all Egyptian obelisks. But because it showed signs of cracking during construction, it was never completed and was left partially carved in the quarry where it remains today. Because of this, historians were able to learn the methods that the Egyptians used to carve these massive blocks of stone in one piece.
A visit to the site only takes about 30 minutes but is absolutely worth it.
Sail on a Felucca
A felucca is a traditional sailboat with large curved, distinctive sails used in the Mediterranean region, but particularly on the Nile River in Sudan and Egypt. Thanks to its picturesque setting, Aswan is an excellent place to take a short, relaxing cruise on one. We did this just prior to sunset, and it was lovely!
Visit a Nubian Village (and ride a camel!)
The Nubian people are distinct from the Egyptians, with their own culture, villages, and even their own language. They used to live in the area now covered by Lake Nasser, so the Egyptian government had to relocate them and build them new villages when the dam was constructed. Today, you can actually visit these villages, meet the Nubian people, and learn about their way of life.
The Nubian villages are located across the river from Aswan and are accessed via motorboat. And then if you so choose, a 30-minute camel ride from the river to the village itself (absolutely worth it!!)
The Nubian people live with an open door policy – neighbors, friends, random foreigners are all free to walk into their homes at any time. So tourists can just wander into a home, meet the family, drink their tea, and meet their pet crocodile (another feature of every Nubian home). It’s a really wild cultural experience that feels more off-the-beaten-path than most things in Egypt and I absolutely recommend it. Our tour guide arranged the trip, but this tour is highly recommended.
Where to Stay:
Aswan is the starting point for most Nile River cruises, which is what we did on our trip. So for the next three nights of the 7 day Egypt itinerary, we slept on a cruise ship. There are a plethora of cruises to choose from, depending on your budget and preferred level of luxury. Our boat was the Chateau Lafayette and to be completely honest, I would not recommend it. The staff was friendly and helpful, but the ship itself is in serious need of upgrading. But we explored several of the other ships nearby, so I know that there are much nicer options!
Day 3: Abu Simbel, Philae, Kom Ombo
Day 3 of this 7 day Egypt itinerary is where the real fun begins! And by real fun, I mean waking up at 3 AM to drive three hours south to Abu Simbel. But trust me, it is WORTH IT.
When the Aswan Dam was constructed, Lake Nasser drowned hundreds of miles worth of desert. And in that desert were dozens of ancient Egyptian temples and sites. Historians still don’t know the number of places that are now underwater. But fortunately, one of the greatest of all Egyptian temples was saved from that fate – Abu Simbel.
In 1967, with the help of a number of foreign countries, the Egyptians moved the entire Abu Simbel temple, including the mountain it is carved into, from its original location to a new one so that it wouldn’t be lost to the new lake. What a feat of modern engineering!
But what’s even more impressive than that is the temple itself. Abu Simbel is actually made up of two temples, both built by Ramses II in 1264 BC, one for himself and one in honor of his wife, Queen Nefertari. In front of the main temple are four massive statues of Ramses himself, one of Egypt’s most recognizable sights.
The inside of the temple contains a number of rooms and more impressive statues, with carvings and hieroglyphics covering every inch of the walls. But the most amazing part is the inner sanctuary. In the very back of the temple are four statues – three for the gods and one for Ramses. On October 22nd and February 22nd every year, (Ramses’ birthday and coronation day) sunlight streams into the temple and lights up the face of Ramses statue for exactly 20 minutes. The fact that the ancient Egyptians figured out how to make that happen 3000 years ago is even more impressive than moving the temple!
If you are not with a tour that arranges a visit to Abu Simbel, you can find guided trips to Abu Simbel that leave from Aswan. This one in particular has been highly recommended. Or, if you don’t want to get up at 3 AM, you can fly from Aswan to Abu Simbel and back. The flight is only about 45 minutes, but plan to spend a lot of time at the temples because there are only a small number of flights each day.
If you do Abu Simbel early in the morning, you’ll have time to check out another cool temple in Aswan when you get back – Philae Temple. Like Abu Simbel, Philae also had to be relocated in order to not be drowned by the lake. It was originally located on an island in the Nile River, so architects moved it to a nearby, higher island. Its location in the middle of the water makes it one of the more picturesque temples in Egypt.
Philae was dedicated to Isis, the goddess of love. But what makes this temple unique is that when Christians fled Rome and came to Egypt, they used Philae as a hiding place. Later on, they used it as a church and to this day, it is the only Egyptian temple with a Christian altar inside.
Kom Ombo Temple
After Philae, we got on our cruise ship at Aswan and finally began sailing down the Nile. If you take a cruise, it seems most of them follow the same itinerary. So that means that you’ll end the day by visiting Kom Ombo Temple – home of the crocodile god, Sobek.
It’s actually also the home of the god Haroeris, which makes the temple complex extremely unusual. Because it was dedicated to two different gods, it is split in half and completely symmetrical along its main axis. A highlight here is the oldest calendar in existence. It also has the oldest depictions of medical tools.
Next door to the temple is the Crocodile Museum. This is a small, one-room display that talks about crocodile mummification, a feature of the worship of Sobek, the crocodile god. A little creepy, a lot fascinating, and only takes a few minutes to go through. When you visit Kom Ombo, don’t skip it!
Day 4: Edfu and Luxor
Yes, a trip to Egypt DOES involve visiting a lot of temples. But all of the ones on this 7 day Egypt itinerary are unique and different from each other in many ways. The first temple for day 4 is no exception: the Temple of Edfu.
The ancient Egyptians built most of their towns and temples right on the banks of the Nile because they relied on the river for transporting building materials. But Edfu temple is actually more than a mile away from the river itself. So instead of disembarking from the cruise ship and walking to the temple, the main way to get there is via horse carriage (I like to think of them as modern-day Egyptian chariots!) The driver my mom and I had was a blast – he actually let me sit up on the driver’s seat and hold the reins while the horses went at a full gallop through the town!
Note: Do NOT tip your drivers until they take you back to your cruise ship or wherever you came from. There were instances where people tipped their drivers when they got to the temple, and then the driver never came to pick them up to take them back.
Because the temple is so far away from the river, it is actually one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt because it was never flooded, and instead buried by sand for centuries. It was not fully recovered and restored until the 1970s. The temple is dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed son of Isis and Osiris.
Cruise Down the Nile
Between Edfu and Luxor, at Esna, is the only lock on Egypt’s part of the Nile River. Which means that this was the day we spent the most time actually cruising on the river. Only two ships can go through the lock at once, so there can be a long wait.
Not that spending time enjoying the beautiful Nile scenery on a river cruise is anything to complain about, but the street vendors also provide quite a bit of entertainment on the river. These guys row out to the cruise ships barter with the guests up on the deck. If you see something you want, they throw it to you, and then you throwback anything you don’t want, along with the money to buy what you kept. (It was a wild experience, and I definitely bought a dress just so that I could take part in it!).
After so many jam-packed days, it was nice to have an afternoon with nothing to do but relax and enjoy the miles of mango groves, sugarcane fields, and distant mountains that line the river banks.
When we finally got to Luxor, the sun had gone down, but we still had time for one more temple: Luxor Temple.
While most temples are not open at nighttime, Luxor is, and it is a particularly magical and impressive sight to see lit up. The temple’s construction was started by Amenhotep III, but King Tut, Ramses II, Alexander the Great, and various Romans all added to it. So it contains characteristics of each period of Egyptian history. It has even been used as a church and has a mosque built on top of it, so it also documents Egypt’s religious history.
Luxor Temple is connected to its companion, Karnak Temple, by the Avenue of the Sphinxes. The 1.7-mile road dates back 3400 years but was not discovered until 1940. In November 2021, the Avenue was reopened for the first time in modern history and visitors can now walk the full length from one temple to the other.
Day 5: The Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple
In my humble opinion, day 5 was THE BEST day of our trip (hello, Valley of the Kings!?!?!?), and so obviously is the best part of this 7 day Egypt itinerary as well. Which is saying something, because every day in Egypt is spectacular.
The city of Luxor is split into the West Bank and East Bank. The East Bank is home to Luxor and Karnak Temples, as well as most of the hotels and restaurants. The West Bank is where you’ll find Hatshepsut’s Temple and the Valley of the Kings. The fastest way to get between the two banks is via riverboat, so it makes the most sense to visit all of the West Bank sites at once before returning to the East Bank.
Things to do in Luxor
The first of Luxor’s West Bank sites is recognizable to anyone who has spent 3 minutes on Instagram – Hatshepsut’s Temple. For some reason, this is every female influencer’s favorite place to break out their flowy skirts. As you’ll see, the best I could do is try and keep my scarf from eating my face because it was WINDY the day we were there.
Hatshepsut was Egypt’s second female pharaoh, but certainly the most famous. While women actually had pretty high status in ancient Egypt, women rulers were still unusual. One of the ways Hatshepsut convinced the people to accept her as their leader was to spread the story that she was actually the daughter of the god Amun. Because she knew that she was different from all of the other pharaohs, being a woman and being the child of a god, she wanted her temple to be unlike any other in Egypt. That’s why, while every other temple has the same design, more or less, hers does not.
The setting is what makes this temple so popular. It’s built into a cliff face that overlooks Luxor, just on the other side of the mountains from the Valley of the Kings. And true to Hatshepsut’s goal, its design of three different terraces with a long row of columns and a ramp that connects each level is completely unique among Egyptian temples.
While it definitely looks cool from a distance, there’s not actually too much to see in the temple itself. Our guide gave us 30 minutes to explore, and that was more than enough.
Valley of The Kings
A 10-15 minute drive around the mountains from Hatshepsut’s Temple is the famed Valley of the Kings. More than 60 tombs have been found here, including that of Ramses II and Tutankhamen, and archaeologists believe that there are more tombs yet to be discovered. Because these tombs are underground, their artwork has been largely untouched, which means visitors can see original paintings dating back 4000 years. A truly unforgettable sight!
It’s believed that the pharoahs chose this site for several reasons. First, the valley lies at the base of al-Qurn, a mountain that is naturally shaped like a pyramid. This way the pharaohs would be saved from constructing a pyramid from scratch. And second, the pharaohs believed that by burying their tombs in such a desolate location, it would protect them from being robbed like the tombs at Giza. (They were wrong about this, which is why the discovery of King Tut’s tomb was so important: the only tomb that had not been robbed, and gave the modern world an insight into just what kind of treasure these tombs once held).
While, as I mentioned, there are over 60 tombs, only a handful are open at any given time, and the list of open tombs rotates periodically. An entrance ticket will let you visit three tombs, and you can purchase an additional ticket to visit King Tut’s tomb (which we of course did, because why would you not?). If you aren’t traveling with a guide, this is an excellent post on how to decide which tombs to visit in the Valley of the Kings.
Back to the East Bank to explore the largest temple in the world – Karnak Temple.
Dedicated to the god Amun, Karnak is the larger companion temple to Luxor. And by larger, I mean that it’s 60 acres. 60 acres!!! As it was the most sacred of all religious sites in ancient Egypt, every major pharaoh made their own addition to the Karnak temple.
The most impressive section is the awe-inspiring Great Hypostyle Hall. The hall is filled with a staggering 134 columns, each designed to look like papyrus and covered in intricate carvings (and the original paint remains in many places).
The 2nd largest of all Egyptian obelisks is also at Karnak, Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisk. When it was still standing, it was 97ft tall and weighed about 340 tons.
If you wanted to see truly everything at Karnak, you could spend a full afternoon there. But to see the highlights only takes 1-2 hours, which is what we did. But it does get busy! While we didn’t see crowds anywhere else we went on our trip (perks of traveling during COVID), Karnak was VERY crowded the hour before closing when we were there. Plan accordingly. This post has some great tips for visiting Karnak.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Steigenberger Nile Palace, my favorite hotel of the trip. It’s located right on the banks of the Nile, with a beautiful tile patio for guests to eat dinner or just sit and appreciate the scenery. The rooms are extremely modern and comfortable and the onsite restaurants are all incredible. Definitely check it out for your stay in Luxor!
Day 6: Cairo
Since most people fly out of Cairo to go back home, it makes sense to spend the last day of the trip there! On the last day of our Egypt trip, we got up early once again to catch a flight from Luxor back to Egypt’s capital city. Welcome to day 6 of this 7 day Egypt itinerary.
Things to do in Cairo
Saladin was one of the most important figures from the Middle Ages in the Arab world. He ruled a large swath of area from Syria through Egypt, and the capital of his sultanate was Cairo. There he built his citadel on the highest point in the city. It was the most impressive and ambitious military fortification at the time of its construction. It was still used as a military garrison up until 1983, when it opened as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
While multiple museums and mosques are located within the citadel’s walls, the main draw for visitors is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Also known as the Alabaster Mosque, this place is absolutely stunning. The floors, pillars, and walls are all made from its namesake, alabaster stone from the mountains around Luxor. It also has some of the highest minarets of any mosque in Cairo, measuring 270ft.
The observation deck just outside of the mosque offers an incredible view of Cairo – if you are lucky like we were and get a relatively clear day, you can see all the way to the pyramids!
Because it is a Muslim religious site, visitors are required to either take off their shoes (I recommended bringing a pair of socks) or you can buy cheap plastic covers to slip over your shoes at the entrance. Headscarves for non-Muslim female visitors are not required.
While 90% of Egypt’s population is Muslim, there is also a significant Christian minority, known as the Copts. The Copts have lived in both Sudan and Egypt since the dawn of Christianity, well before the advent of Islam. Their churches in Cairo are some of the oldest buildings in the city.
The most famous Coptic church is the Hanging Church. Its name comes from the fact that it is built directly on top of an old Roman fortress, without any columns or structural supports. It was built in the 600s AD and still holds regular services and tours for visitors.
My favorite, however, is Abu Serga. As told in the Bible, the Holy family spent 3 years in Egypt, fleeing King Herrod and the Romans and their persecution of the Jews. They stayed in many places during their time in Egypt, and one of those is in the heart of Cairo. The Church of Abu Serga was built over top of a cave where Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus spent 3 months during their journey. I didn’t expect to visit a Holy site on my trip to Egypt, so this was an unexpectedly cool surprise!
Khan el-Khalili Market
A good way to end your day in Cairo is with the most chaotic of all Egyptian experiences – a visit to Khan el-Khalili Market. The souq, “market” in Arabic, is one of the largest and most popular in the Middle East. Vendors fill unknown numbers of streets and alleyways, selling everything from the typical tourist souvenirs to fabrics, household goods, and jewelry. It’s easy to get lost! There are also a number of coffee shops and restaurants in the area, in case you prefer eating and people watching over haggling.
Day 7: Home
Egypt is a magical place, and if you get the chance, GO! The most generous, kind people, thousands of years of history, beautiful scenery – I can’t wait to go back one day. A 7 day Egypt itinerary isn’t nearly enough, but it’s perfect for a first taste!
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