Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: A Travel Guide For First-Timers
Sharm El Sheikh has been THE international beach destination darling of Europeans, Middle Easterners and domestic Egyptian tourists for decades now, and for very good reason. It has year-round warm weather, azure water, soft sand beaches, a plethora of hotels and resorts and some of the most spectacular diving in the world (according to international divers, we’re not being biased!).
Recently other Red Sea beach towns like Hurghada, El Gouna and Marsa Alam have been giving Sharm El Sheikh (or Sharm as we locals call it) a run for their money in popularity, but Sharm remains the OG of the Red Sea beach resort scene.
Read more: Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera - Where To Stay
Go to Sharm if you want: affordable resort luxury. Sharm El Sheikh is very much an all-inclusive hotel package destination – this is where to go if you want to stay at affordable but still 5 star luxury beach resorts, with everything you need for a great beach vacation all within your hotel.
Don’t go to Sharm if you want: a backpacker’s type of beach holiday or anything off the beaten track. Up the Sinai coast of Sharm El Sheikh is the bohemian beach town of Dahab, which is far more suited for that kind of trip. Nuweiba and Ras Shitan also are home to dozens of camps right on the beach.
Quick Facts About Sharm El Sheikh
Sharm is on the tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba meet the waters of the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea, leading to its wildly diverse marine life
Sharm El Sheikh used to be a fishing village before it was turned into a port due to its strategic naval positioning. Israel invaded and occupied the Sinai Peninsula, including Sharm, from 1967 to 1982. When Egypt reclaimed it in 1982, it was deemed the ‘City of Peace’ and development ensued to make it an international tourist destination
Best Time To Go To Sharm
Sharm El Sheikh is a year-round destination, but its ‘high season’ is the spring and fall, with average daily temperatures of 25-30 degrees Celsius and cloudless skies – aka, ideal beach weather.
From June to August it’s significantly hotter, with temperatures reaching the mid to high 30s Celsius. If you love the sun and heat, then summer is a good time to go because you’ll find more affordable deals and less crowds than the high season.
Even in the winter, Europeans and Brits still escape to Sharm to enjoy the sun and warmth. From December to February, the daytime temperature averages around the early 20s Celsius, and even if the sea might be too cold for you, lots of resorts have heated pools, so you can still enjoy swimming.
How To Get There
1. Flying (recommended): Sharm El Sheikh has an international airport which receives dozens of international and domestic flights a day. Sharm is around a 4.5 hour flight from many European cities and around 5.5 hours from British cities, and there are tons of budget flights with really cheap airfare or combo airfare/hotel packages.
If you want to fly domestically, most flights within Egypt going to Sharm el Sheikh will originate from Cairo or at least transit there. There’s only a weekly direct flight between Sharm and Luxor, and there are no direct flights between Hurghada/Sharm or Aswan/Sharm. You’ll have to transit in Cairo. A direct flight between Cairo and Sharm is around an hour.
2. By Car: No matter where you are in Egypt, your hotel or anyone in the know can arrange to hire a private car and driver to take you to Sharm El Sheikh. The drive from Cairo is around 6 hours.
3. By Bus: Several different bus companies serve Sharm, most originating from Cairo. The most popular are Go Bus, Superjet and East Delta. They’re air-conditioned buses and the trip averages around 8 hours.
Important local tip: if you’re entering Sharm (or the Sinai peninsula as a whole) via car or bus, then make sure you have proper ID on you because there are A LOT of security checks on the road. They’ll ask to look at your passport and ask where you’re going, and might search your car and bags. Make sure that any alcohol bottles you have are unopened and that you have a receipt for them (to prove they’re not bought from the Egyptian black market).
In general, flying into Sharm is much easier just because you skip the hassle of the Sinai road security checks which can take a long time, adding hours to your overall journey. Once you’re actually in the city of Sharm (where the airport is), getting around is much easier.
Is there a ferry between Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh?
No, there’s currently no ferry available for travelers between Hurghada and Sharm, even if you find confusingly vague information online.
Do You Need A Visa For Sharm El Sheikh?
If you’re flying directly into Sharm El Sheikh (ie., Sharm is your entry point into Egypt), and if you're not staying in the Sinai peninsula for more than 15 days, then you don’t need to buy an entry visa at the airport. You'll get something called a 'Sinai Stamp' for free on your passport -- emphasis on the 'free' part, don't believe anyone at the airport who says they'll get you a stamp for the "low price" of a couple of euro - this is a scam, just ignore them and go straight to an airport official.
If you plan to go to Cairo, Luxor, Hurghada, or any other Egyptian destination outside of the Sinai peninsula, or plan to stay longer than 15 days, you’ll need to get the visa. It’s $25 upon arrival.
Where To Stay In Sharm El Sheikh
Which hotel in Sharm should I choose?
Sharm has really boomed as a beach destination since 1982 – there are now over 350 hotels! Choosing a hotel out of so many can feel overwhelming, but it’s really just about your personal preferences. There’s everything from adult-only hotels to hotels created specifically for families with kids; all-inclusive hotels (all meals and drinks included), to more budget stays; hotels right on the beach, and others that need a shuttle to bring you to the beach, etc. You get the idea – there’s everything lol.
Lots of people come to Sharm via preset flight/hotel packages provided by different travel agencies, whether in Egypt or their home country. But if you’re more of an independent traveler, then we recommend making a list of things that are important for you during your Sharm trip and then searching for hotels that match your criteria on the usual online hotel booking sites. Example: heated pools, in-house diving centers, or specific facilities/amenities. A little research goes a long way and can really make a difference – and of course, make sure to read guest reviews and the fine print!
You can also find cheap flights on sites like Skyscanner and the likes, so you don’t need to depend on a travel agency.
Which area in Sharm is best to stay in?
For the most part, Sharm is divided into 3 main areas: Nabq, Naama Bay and Hadaba (also known as Ras Um El Sid or Old Sharm).
Nabq is northeast of Sharm Airport and is the quietest, with long stretches of beachfront luxury resorts (not to be confused with the Nabq Protectorate, which is next to the neighborhood of Nabq in Sharm but protected from development).
Between Nabq and Naama Bay are Knights Bay, Sharks Bay, and Coral Bay, also home to lots of 5 star resorts like the Four Seasons. Between Coral Bay and Naama Bay is Soho Square, a nightlife spot run by Savoy Hotels.
Naama Bay used to be known as ‘central Sharm’ because of its myriad hotels and promenade of shisha cafes, shops, restaurants and bars. While the hotels are still beautiful and act as an oasis from the hustle and bustle outside, and the beaches are very easy to wade into with minimal coral, the promenade itself has seen better days and the shopkeepers and touts can be obnoxious.
Hadaba (Ras Um El Sid) is what’s considered Old Sharm (the first part of the city to be developed), and is home to the Old Market and Al Sahaba Mosque.
Local tip: Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which area of Sharm you stay in, considering as they all have beachfront hotels where you’ll be spending the majority of your time. Your choice of hotel is more important than your choice of area.
How To Get Around Sharm
Unfortunately there’s no Uber (or Careem, the Middle East version), so you’re stuck with taxis. Most of the cabs in Sharm won’t have a running meter, so it’s important you tell the driver where you’re going and negotiate a price before climbing in. They can easily ask for astronomical prices, so make sure to haggle (unless you feel comfortable paying what they’re asking for).
You can also arrange with your hotel to get you a private car & driver, but that’s obviously more expensive than a cab.
Is Sharm safe? And is Sharm safe for solo women travelers?
Yes, it’s safe! So much so that extremely important international conferences (like the recent COP27) are held there, with politicians, dignitaries and VIPs all staying in the city. Sharm had a rough few years after the 2011 revolution because it’s such a tourist hub, but the good news is that Sharm is now one of the safest cities in Egypt because of all the ensuing security measures.
Like we mentioned above, driving to Sharm from Cairo is a hassle because of all the security checkpoints on the roads, where they search everything from cars to bags. So while annoying, it’s a good problem to have.
Sharm itself is a walled city, with heavily monitored entrance and exit points – so basically anyone who’s in Sharm has to have a reason to be! All hotels and resorts have their own security as well obviously, and all public areas are under tight surveillance by the Tourist Police (both in uniform and plainclothes).
If you’re a solo woman, you’ll hopefully feel 100% safe enjoying your resort – everyone there wears normal swim and beachwear, so don’t feel like you have to cover up at your hotel. Even when you’re in public places, the attire is much more relaxed than in cities like Cairo or Alexandria.
What COULD possibly be annoying to women travelers (well, to everyone really but especially women) is how pushy and annoying the shopkeepers and touts can be about selling you their wares or ushering you into their cafes/restaurants. Just say no firmly and politely and keep it moving; they’re obnoxious but harmless.
Things To Do In Sharm El Sheikh
We wrote a long article about the 12 best things to do in Sharm El Sheikh, so all the meaty info is there.
But if you want a quick spoiler of the top things people love: scuba diving, snorkeling, boat trips and relaxing on serviced beaches.
Where To Go Out In Sharm El Sheikh
If you decided to take a break from your hotel and see what else is going in Sharm, then the main places you’ll probably be heading are the following:
1. Soho Square
Soho Square has restaurants, bars, cafes, shisha, ice skating, kids’ arcade, bowling, culturama, tennis and squash. It’s clean and organized and run by the Savoy Hotel group, so not chaotic like Naama Bay or the Old Market.
Soho Square’s restaurants: L’Entrecote (steakhouse), Zen (Chinese), Akuna Matata (international fusion), Teppanyaki (Japanese), Luxor (Egyptian), Bombay (Indian), Mai Thai, Sushi Lounge, Koutouki (Greek) and Mandarin Bistro.
Soho Square’s bars: Ice Bar, Crystal Lounge, Oxygen Bar, Queen Vic British Pub, Mandarin Bar, El Kahwa and Kitano Top Bar.
Local tip: some of the restaurants/bars have a dress code of no shorts and flip-flops for men.
2. Naama Bay
Naama Bay has restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, shisha, fast food, shops and casinos. It’s a bit chaotic and shopkeepers can be pushy, but it can still be fun.
If you’re looking for quick fast food on the go, here you’ll find McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut.
Some of Naama Bay’s restaurants: Peking (Chinese), Abou El Sid (Egyptian), TGI Friday’s, Pomodoro, Tandoori, Hard Rock Cafe
Some of Naama Bay’s bars: Camel Bar & Rooftop, Tavern Bar, Bus Stop, Pirates Bar, Blue Stone Pub
Some of Naama Bay’s clubs: Pacha, Little Buddha, Space
3. Hadaba/Old Sharm
Besides souvenir shopping (and haggling) in the Old Market, if you want to go to a beach bar for the day, then Old Sharm has El Fanar Beach (with Farsha Lounge overlooking it, which happens to be one of the most beautiful spots in Sharm and home to one of the best views in all of Egypt!). El Fanar Beach and Terrazzina Beach also have frequent beach parties.
If you’re looking for some great old school restaurants, there’s Sinai Star (best seafood in Sharm), El Masrien (Egyptian classics) and Fares (also seafood). These places aren’t exactly ambient but the food is great.
Read more: 12 Local Egyptian Foods You Have To Try At Least Once
Egypt has a strong tipping culture, especially in the service industry. There’s no set percentage or number that works across the board, it’s really up to you and what you feel comfortable with (knowing that tips are always greatly appreciated because wages are so low in Egypt!)
A couple of local tips about tips (heh heh):
It’s always best to tip in the local currency of EGP
If you have to tip in foreign currency, please make sure it’s dollars/euros/sterling because it’s harder to exchange lesser-used currencies
If tipping in foreign currency, please give actual bills and not coins because foreign exchange bureaus won’t accept coins – so it’s like you tipped them nothing in the end
Usual people to tip: servers, hotel staff (especially cleaning crew – if you don’t see them before you check out, leaving some money in your room for them is appreciated), tour guides or boat crew (anyone who took you on an excursion of sorts)
Who you don’t need to tip: taxi drivers (they’re probably ripping you off to begin with), anyone who demands a tip but has provided no service (while this sounds illogical, it does happen)
Basically the same way you came, lol. Your hotel can arrange an airport transfer for you or you can take a taxi (to the airport or bus terminal, whichever way you’re leaving).