We have an Egyptian saying that goes “once you drink from the Nile River, you must return again”. Thank goodness Egypt has lots of amazing destinations for family holidays so you can keep coming back to experience Egypt. Whatever holiday you plan, here is everything you need to know before your holiday in Egypt.
If you want a diving holiday, you can go to the Red Sea. Do you want to relax on some of the best beaches in Egypt? Then go to the Mediterranean Sea. The kids want a desert adventure? How about exploring one or two of the oases in the Western Desert? Yearning for some ancient history or culture? Then make sure your holiday in Egypt includes a few days in Cairo. Or take a luxury Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan.
Holiday destinations in Egypt
A lot of the tourists I have met fly in directly to their diving holiday in Egypt without spending any of their holiday in Cairo. Personally, I think it is a shame to miss out on the amazing sightseeing in this city. There is a lot to see – whether ancient Egyptian, Coptic or Islamic. The city boasts tens of museums and art galleries to visit, as well as cultural and contemporary attractions. There are lots of restaurants serving traditional Egyptian food and I wholeheartedly recommend a dinner cruise on the Nile River. However, like any big city you visit, you need to be vigilant. Take care of your personal belongings and make sure you know where you are going and how to get there.
Named after its founder Alexander the Great, this Mediterranean city has a charm of its own. It used to be home to thriving communities of Greeks, Italians, Armenians and Jews adding to its rich cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are a lot of interesting places to visit in Alexandria such as the Citadel of Qaitbay, the Biblotheca Alexandrina, Montazah Palace, Serapeum and Pompey’s Pillar and Roman Amphitheatre. If you enjoy museums, you can also visit the Alexandria National Museum, Graeco-Roman Museum, and the Royal Jewellery Museum.
This city at the furthermost western border of Egypt is known to the locals as having some of the best beaches in Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea. It is a long drive from Cairo – around 6-7 hours. So it might be a good idea to stop for a few days in Alexandria or the Northern Coast. The town has a few restaurants and cafés but nothing too fancy. Just bear in mind that the local tribes are quite conservative. There are markets next to the corniche and on the main road. They sell local produce such as mint, olives, dates, figs, grapes and watermelons as well as handicrafts like bags, accessories and carpets.
This is usually the place where Egyptians spend their summer holidays in own or rented houses and flats. It takes 4-5 hours from Cairo by car or bus, and you can also fly in to the Borg El Arab Airport. There are restaurants and cafés in some of the beach resorts. Plus some larger ones have mini shopping arcades where you can grab any essentials. The nightlife is great too so if you have someone to watch the kids, you can enjoy some grownup time! If you are a fan of WWII, you can also visit the Alamein War Museum, the German War Memorial and the Italian War Memorial.
Renowned for its ancient Egyptian sites, the city of Luxor can be visited on its own or combined with Aswan as part of a luxury Nile cruise. Your itinerary will be packed with excursions to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple and Temple of Hatshepsut. If you have time, you can even squeeze in a visit to the Luxor Museum or Howard Carter’s house. And if you are not afraid of heights like me how about a hot air balloon flight?
My dream is to retire in Aswan – at least during the winter! You must visit the ancient Egyptian temples such as the Temple of Philae and the Temple of Kom Ombo. The Nubian museum is amazing especially for children. The unfinished obelisk reveals the techniques that were used to build these huge monuments. Kitchener’s Island is home to a botanical garden and a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. You must take a “felouka” on the Nile River and also visit a Nubian village and buy some souvenirs from the local markets. If you have time you can take a car or plane to visit the Abu Simbel Temple complex.
Another favourite for Egyptian families is Ain Sokhna which is Arabic for “hot spring.” Because it gets really hot in summer with temperatures above 40 degrees, it is usually popular during other months. If you don’t want to rent a villa or flat, you can stay at some of the cosy hotels. Since it is located on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez, there are no high waves and the beaches are really kid-friendly.
Sharm El Sheikh
Some of the most famous Egyptian beaches are in Sharm El Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. There are hundreds of hotels scattered across Naama Bay, Shark Bay and Nabq Bay. So you don’t have to worry about finding a hotel room. If you want a restaurant, café or souvenir shop you can head to the Old Town or to the Naama Bay promenade. For a unique diving experience, make sure to dive at Ras Mohamed.
If you want a quick and easy beach holiday in Egypt then I recommend you visit Ras Sudr. It is on the Gulf of Suez on the Red Sea and is a 4-hour drive from Cairo. The weather is amazing all year around because even though it is in the hot Sinai desert, it is very windy! This makes it a popular destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing fans.
If this is not your first holiday in Egypt and are looking for something that is not your typical beach resort in Egypt, then Dahab might be the place for you. You can enjoy all the activities you love about the Red Sea such as diving, snorkelling, kitesurfing and boating but without all of the frills of a 5-star hotel.
This is a perfect destination for a family-friendly desert holiday. You can stay at a lodge or a camp right on the beach. If you want to go on a hike through the desert, the local Bedouins can be your guides. Points of interest in Nuweiba include the Weshwashi Valley, the Malha Valley and Coloured Canyon. A must-visit is the Saint Catherine’s Monastery where you can see the Moses well and the Burning Bush, and also climb up Mount Sinai.
Popular with Egyptians and tourists alike, many would agree that Hurghada simply has the best resorts in Egypt. You can stay at one of the luxurious hotels in downtown Hurghada or head to the thriving new towns that offer some of the best beaches in Hurghada such as Makadi Bay, Soma Bay, Sahl Hasheesh and Gouna. There are golf courses, water parks and excursions to gorgeous islands. You can go there by car or bus, or you can fly in to the Hurghada International Airport from a lot of airports around the world. There is also an airport in Gouna.
It used to be just another busy port. But with its unique location on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea, Taba has become a viable option for a sunny beach holiday. In the rare case that you tire from chilling on the beach or spending hours snorkelling with colourful fish, you can take a short boat trip and visit the Saladin Fortress on Pharaoh’s Island.
This is my happy place! In my opinion, it has some of the best beaches in Egypt on the Red Sea. The snorkelling is world-class and if you are an experienced diver, I guarantee you will fall in love with Marsa Alam. There are plenty of activities to do on land too like desert safaris on quad bikes or day trips to nearby towns like Quseir and Luxor. It also has some of the best all-inclusive holidays to Egypt – something I find very convenient if you are travelling with children.
This is a great option for a winter holiday for the whole family. If your kids love dinosaurs, then don’t miss the Valley of the Whales and the Fossils and Climate Change Museum. You have to spend a day walking around Tunis Village in Fayoum which is known for its pottery workshops and amazing graffiti. You can also go on a desert safari and go sand boarding on the dunes. If you enjoy camping, there are local guides who can organise a night or two under the stars near the Magic Lake.
Personally, I have never been to Minya although my family on my mother’s side originally hails from there. There is a lodge that I am dying to visit called New Hermopolis which is open from October to May. They arrange excursions to visit the ancient Egyptian city of “Amarna” and the city of “El Bahnasa” which was founded during Ptolemaic Egypt. There are several sites of ancient tombs dating back to the Middle Kingdom such as “Bani Hassan” and “Deir El Bersha”. There is also the Monastery of the Virgin Mary at an area called “Gabal El Teir” in the town of “Samalut” which is believed to be one of the places where the Holy Family rested during their flight to Egypt.
A famous oasis in the Egyptian Western Desert, it has been romanticised in books and movies. While you are there you can enjoy the hot springs at Cleopatra’s Spring or Fatnas Spring. Other attractions to see are the Temple of the Oracle which Alexander the Great visited centuries ago and “Gabel El Mawta”. This is Arabic for Mountain of the Dead and has tombs from Ptolemaic and Roman times. The 13th century Fortress of Shalli is spectacular. Some Egyptians and foreigners have moved into the old houses there after renovating them.
A desert adventure I thoroughly enjoyed was in the Dakhla oasis. You can spend a day visiting ancient Egyptian tombs in an area called Al Al Mozawakka and a temple called “Deir El Hagar”. You can also have a tour around the old city of Al Qasr dating back to the 13th century. Or drink some tea while enjoying the views of the Dakhla sand dunes. If you are arriving through the nearest airport in the Kharga oasis, you can spend some time there visiting souvenir shops and local factories that make pottery and carpets.
Not one of the top Egypt beaches that comes to mind, but it is definitely worth a visit for its turquoise waters. The closest airport is the Marsa Alam International Airport, but you will need a car for another hour to get to your hotel. Popular activities include sightseeing, snorkelling, diving and camel riding which you can all enjoy as a family. You can also arrange an excursion to the historical city of Luxor for a day or two.
Language in Egypt
Arabic is the official language in Egypt. Classical Arabic is used in academia, religion and politics but colloquial Arabic is used in everyday life. Some Egyptians also speak a second language such as English or French. Egyptians, especially the elderly, tend to use a lot of traditional proverbs to make a point in any discussion. Egyptians are usually cheerful and friendly although Egyptian humour does not always translate well!
Religion in Egypt
The official religion in Egypt is Islam with around 90% of Egyptians identifying as Sunni Muslims and 10% as Christians and other religious minorities. That being said, it is a good idea to be respectful of the local culture and mindful of the conservative nature of many Egyptians during your holiday in Egypt.
Hugging and kissing in public are frowned upon. Some Muslims do not shake hands with someone from the opposite gender. A lot of Muslim women are veiled for religious and cultural reasons. But the veil or “hijab” is not mandatory, so if you are a woman you don’t need to worry about covering your hair.
Best time to visit Egypt
The weather in Egypt depends whether you are staying in the north or in the south of Egypt. Some cities in the south of Egypt – also known as Upper Egypt – such as Luxor and Aswan are more enjoyable during the winter months. Some beaches in Egypt can be visited all year round. But as a general rule of thumb, it is best to avoid the hot summer months of July and August for your holiday in Egypt.
Shopping in Egypt
If you forgot to pack something don’t fret because cities like Cairo, Alexandria and Hurghada have large shopping malls with international brands. Even the smallest village has pharmacies and supermarkets so you can buy necessities. You can always ask your hotel concierge or tour guide for advice on where to buy souvenirs and they will probably recommend someone they personally know.
What to wear for your holiday in Egypt?
The weather is usually pretty warm most months so just make sure your clothes are layered, comfortable and breathable. Take a sun hat or cap with you if you are going out sightseeing during the day and use sunscreen every day even during winter.
If you are going to visit mosques, churches, markets and museums please dress modestly. Shorts and crop tops do not blend well in the cities of Egypt! Pack a smart outfit or two. Maybe you decide to attend a show at the Cairo Opera House or crash a local wedding reception!
If you going on a beach holiday in Egypt and staying at one of those Red Sea resorts, then you can dress more liberally, as you would in any other seaside town around the world.
Eating out during your holiday in Egypt
If you decide to venture outside your hotel or resort in Egypt, then be wise with your dining choices. Egyptian street food is definitely yummy but read reviews or ask for recommendations beforehand. There are a few decent restaurants that offer their spin on traditional Egyptian food. I have to say that some of them are overpriced in my opinion but at least you can guarantee their quality.
Most restaurants have an indoor section and an outdoor section. You will want to reserve a table in the outdoor section if it is not too hot or humid for your comfort. Unfortunately, many establishments still allow smoking indoors, even so-called family restaurants and cafes. Yes, even Starbuck’s – ridiculous I know!
Please drink only mineral water. Tap water is fine but only if it is boiled for a nice hot cup of tea with fresh mint. That means no ice cubes either!
Traditional Egyptian food
Egyptian cuisine is similar to other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. If you are pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, just tell your waiter you want a “seyami” menu. This is a common term to describe meat-free and dairy-free food eaten by Coptic Christians during their church fasts such as Lent. It would be the easiest way to explain your diet preferences.
If you have a sweet tooth, then you must try authentic Egyptian desserts such as “om Aly” and “muhalabeyya” or oriental sweets such as “konafa” and “basbousa”.
Alcohol in Egypt
If you drink alcohol, do give Egyptian beer a try, especially the local brand called Stella which just turned 120 years! Most Egyptian wine is quite vinegary though so I wouldn’t bother unless you are really desperate.
Most hotels serve alcohol in their restaurants, bars and rooms. On the other hand, very few restaurants serve alcohol in Egypt. You can order alcohol using a home delivery service such as Cheers or Drinkies and you can also buy local alcohol from the few liquor stores that are open. Another idea would be to get alcohol from the duty-free shop at the airport and you have a quota of 4 litres per adult passport.
Tipping in Egypt
“Baksheesh” is the Arabic word for tip. Like everywhere else, people who work in the service industry depend on tips to make a living. Remember to tip anyone and everyone who offers you a service.
Tipping 10-15% of the bill would work for staff such as waiters, bartenders, delivery runners, spa and salon workers, taxi and bus drivers and even tour guides. If someone is offering a specific service such as a bell captain helping with luggage or a public bathroom attendant, the equivalent of £1 or $1 would be much appreciated.
The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (EGP) or “geneh” and it is divided into 100 piasters or “ersh”. It is sometimes abbreviated as LE (Livres Egyptienne). The banknotes are EGP 200, EGP 100, EGP 50, EGP 20, EGP 10, EGP 5, EGP 1, 50 piasters and 25 piasters. The coins come in the following denominations: EGP 1, 50 piasters, 25 piasters, 10 piasters and 5 piasters. They make interesting souvenirs since both the banknotes and coins have depictions of famous Egyptian monuments.
While hotels, shopping malls and restaurants accept card payments, you will need to have some cash with you all the time just in case you want to pay for a taxi fare or tip. I would carry at least EGP 500. There are ATM machines everywhere so if you run out of cash don’t worry.
Transport in Egypt
If you are planning to visit more than one city in Egypt, you can move around by plane, train or coach. You can also rent a car and drive, or rent a car with a driver through a travel agent. My advice would be to avoid any form of public bus.
EgyptAir is the official airline of Egypt. It was established in the 1930s and is currently part of the Star Alliance. There are other private airline companies that fly domestically such as:
- Air Arabia
- Air Cairo
- Air Sinai
- Alexandria Airlines
- AlMasria Universal Airlines
- AMC Airlines
- Fly Egypt
- Nile Air
- Petroleum Air Services
- Smart Aviation Company
The Egyptian National Railways is used by more than 500 million people every year. It is a great option if you want to reduce your carbon footprint. A lot of the trains have been refurbished and the Ramses station in Cairo has been revamped recently. To book train tickets online you can visit their official website. There is another website to book sleeper trains to Luxor or Aswan.
There are several bus / coach companies that operate between the different cities in Egypt such as Super Jet, West Delta and East Delta. While those don’t have a website and need to be booked at the bus stations, tickets for another company called Go Bus can be booked online.
By underground metro (Cairo and Giza only)
While I don’t recommend using any form of public transportation in Egypt, this is perhaps the exception to the rule. The Cairo Metro has three lines and you can plan your journey on their website. Here is a list of metro stations that are next to some of Cairo’s famous tourist attractions:
- Al Shohadaa – Ramses train station
- Bab Al Shaaria – Islamic Cairo
- Giza – Giza train station
- Helwan – Japanese Garden
- Mar Girgis – Coptic Cairo
- Mohammed Naguib – Abdeen Palace
- Opera – Cairo Opera House
- Sadat – Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
- Stadium – Cairo International Stadium
Different cities have different colours for their local taxis. In Cairo, they are white or black and white, while in Alexandria they are black and yellow. Most of them are not metered so you have to negotiate the price in advance and pay in cash. Some of them are not very comfortable or air-conditioned but they are quite convenient for short trips and you can hail them anywhere. If you are staying in Cairo, Alexandria or Hurghada you can also use Uber or its regional competitor Careem.
Airports in Egypt
Here is a list of airports in Egypt in alphabetical order. Some of them are international airports and some only operate domestically.
- Abu Rudeis Airport
- Abu Simbel Airport
- Alexandria International Airport
- Almaza Air Base
- Assiut Airport
- Aswan International Airport
- Borg El Arab Airport
- Cairo International Airport
- Dakhla Oasis Airport
- El-Alamein International Airport
- El-Arish International Airport
- El-Gora Airport
- El-Gouna Airport
- El-Kharga Airport
- El-Tor Airport
- Hurghada International Airport
- Luxor International Airport
- Marsa Alam International Airport
- Marsa Matruh Airport
- Port Said Airport
- Ras Shokeir New Airport
- Sharm El Sheikh International Airport
- Sharq El Owainat Airport
- Sohag International Airport
- Sphinx International Airport
- Saint Catherine International Airport
- Taba International Airport
Public holidays in Egypt
Egyptians celebrate national holidays as well as religious holidays from the Islamic and Coptic Orthodox Christian calendar. My favourite public holiday in Egypt has to be Sham El Nessim because it is the only one that can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The weekend in Egypt is on Friday and Saturday. Here is a list of public holidays in Egypt in 2021.
- Coptic Orthodox Christmas Day – Thursday January 7, 2021
- National Police Day – Monday, January 25, 2021
- Sinai Liberation Day – Sunday, April 25, 2021
- Labour Day – Saturday, May 1, 2021
- Sham El Nessim – Monday, May 3, 2021
- Eid al-Fitr – May 12 – 15, 2021*
- June 30 Uprising in Egypt – Wednesday, June 30, 2021
- Eid al-Adha – July 19 – 23, 2021*
- Revolution Day – Friday, July 23, 2021
- Islamic New Year – Monday, August 9, 2021*
- Armed Forces Day – Wednesday, October 6, 2021
- Prophet’s Mohamed’s Birthday – Monday, October 18, 2021*
*Holidays marked with an asterisk are subject to change according to the local sightings of various phases of the moon used by the Islamic “Hijri” calendar.
Excited about a holiday in Egypt?
I really hope this ultimate guide helps you plan your next family holiday in Egypt! I will be adding more sections to this guide so if I missed something, please let me know in the comments! Another piece of advice is to check my article about the must-have apps to download before your visit to Egypt.