Updated: Dec 15, 2022
If you’re planning on visiting Egypt for the first time and trying to figure out your itinerary, it can be just a tad overwhelming – there’s a ton to see, and it’s spread all over the country, so choosing where to go and what to skip can be hard.
Below we break down 10 of our favorite local Egyptian cities, towns and destinations, and which place you should visit based on your own personal interests.
Visit Cairo if you want: to see the Pyramids and get a taste of the ‘real’ Egypt
Egypt’s capital Cairo should obviously be part of any Egypt itinerary. It’s home to the Pyramids of Giza (read our full Pyramids local’s guide for first-timers here), some of the best museums in the country, and a plethora of ancient, medieval and contemporary sightseeing attractions.
Read more: Top 10 Things to Do in Cairo, Egypt
Besides all that, Cairo is the place to visit if you really want to get a pulse on what’s the ‘real’ Egypt. It’s a megacity of over 20 million, and no other place in Egypt will give you quite such an insider’s view on the culture and lives of modern-day Egyptians. It’s also by far the best Egyptian destination for restaurants and nightlife.
Visit Luxor if you want: to immerse yourself in Ancient Egypt and/or go on a Nile cruise
Modern-day Luxor is the old Ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes, and it’s here where you’ll find the lion’s share of Ancient Egyptian temples and tombs, like the world-famous Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings.
Read more: 5 Must-See Temples in Luxor
It’s also where Nile cruises start or end (cruises sail between Luxor and its southern city Aswan, and you can embark from either destination depending on your itinerary). Luxor as a city doesn’t have much going on in terms of dining/nightlife, so you’ll spend most of your time post-sightseeing either at your hotel or on the cruise ship.
Visit Hurghada if you want: Red Sea beach resorts, family-friendly water activities, scuba-diving
Looking for a white sand and azure water beach holiday? Hurghada and its neighboring resort towns like Makadi Bay and Sahl Hasheesh have literally hundreds of hotels to choose from, from waterpark resorts for kids to adult-only secluded getaways.
Hurghada is also known as a great diving and snorkeling destination, but if you prefer to spend time on the beach as opposed to under it, there are a handful of pristine Red Sea islands easily accessible by boat from Hurghada’s marina. Hurghada city proper has a bunch of restaurants and bars, so you’re not stuck in your resort all night should you want to go out and explore.
Visit Aswan if you want: to go to Abu Simbel, experience Nubia, go on a Nile cruise
Visiting Aswan is usually paired with Luxor, because the Nile cruises (which run from 3 to 5 days) sail between these two Ancient Egyptian cities. Historically the ancient land of Nubia was directly to the south of Aswan, extending from modern-day southern Egypt into northern Sudan. Nubia became part of Egypt during the New Kingdom, and Nubian heritage and culture is extremely important in Aswan until today.
Read more: Aswan, Egypt - A Local’s City Guide
Aswan is also famous for the Great Temple of Abu Simbel, which is about a 3 hour drive south of the city. Most people visit Abu Simbel as part of a day trip from Aswan. Similar to Luxor, Aswan doesn’t have much going for it when it comes to dining and nightlife, so it’s definitely predominantly a sightseeing destination.
5. El Gouna
Visit El Gouna if you want: a relaxing beach vacation in a resort town with a lot of restaurant and activity options
El Gouna is an eco-conscious beautiful little town on the Red Sea coast slightly north of Hurghada. It’s home to a wide range of accommodation options, from airbnbs to 5 star hotels, and has some of the best restaurants and bars in the country. Unlike most other places in Egypt, El Gouna is completely walkable for visitors and transportation is easy and straightforward via tuktuks in this gated town.
Read more: El Gouna, Egypt - A Local’s Guide
While El Gouna’s beaches aren’t as nice as Hurghada’s, they have very pleasant serviced beach bars and a myriad of centers for beach activities. El Gouna is also one of the best spots in Egypt for kitesurfing, whether you’re a beginner looking to learn or an experienced kiter.
Visit Dahab if you want: to stay in a little bohemian beach town in Sinai or to go diving or snorkeling
Dahab is on the Gulf of Aqaba leading into the Red Sea in the south of the Sinai Peninsula. It was originally a Bedouin fishing village, then became popular with divers and backpackers over the years, or those who were looking for a more back-to-basics beach experience away from the massive resorts of neighboring Sharm el Sheikh.
If you’re into quirky little beach cafes, shops and casual restaurants, then Dahab is for you. While they do have some bigger hotels, the majority of Dahab’s accommodation options are hostels, budget hotels and airbnbs. Dahab is also a good spot to use as a base for exploring Sinai, whether it be by ATV safaris, mountain hiking, day trips to St. Catherine’s, or kitesurfing and windsurfing in Sinai’s shallow lagoons.
7. Siwa Oasis
Visit Siwa Oasis if you want: to go off the beaten track and explore Egypt’s remote desert and Great Sand Sea
Siwa Oasis is so deep in Egypt’s Western Desert that it’s closer to the Libyan border than to any other Egyptian town or city. Siwa was isolated from the rest of Egypt up until the 1980s when a road connecting it to Marsa Matrouh was built, so its heritage, culture and language is uniquely Siwi. Both Egyptians and visitors alike go to Siwa to disconnect, camp, stay in primitive ecolodges, and absorb Siwa’s quiet tranquility.
Read more: 10 Unforgettable Things to Do in Siwa Oasis
Besides the oasis itself, Siwa has a multitude of different sites to explore, like Shali Fortress, Mountain of the Dead, Cleopatra's Bath and the Temple of the Oracle of Alexander the Great, as well as hot springs and salt lakes.
8. Sharm el Sheikh
Visit Sharm el Sheikh if you want: to relax in an all-inclusive Red Sea resort, go on diving or snorkeling trips
Sharm el Sheikh is the Sinai Red Sea darling for all those who want to chill at their hotel’s beach, lounge by the pool, and eat and drink to their heart’s content with the resort’s all-inclusive packages.
Read more: Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera - Where to Stay
Sharm el Sheikh is also known worldwide for its incredible diving and snorkeling. Whether you’re snorkeling from your hotel’s beach or diving from a boat, Sharm and its neighboring protectorate, Ras Mohamed National Park, have some of the best aquatic life on the planet. It’s easy to fly into Sharm El Sheikh’s airport because they have dozens of international and domestic flights daily, so you don’t have to worry about the long drive from Cairo (about 6 hours).
9. Nuweiba & Ras Shetan
Visit Nuweiba & Ras Shetan if you want: to stay at beach camps and disconnect from it all
Nestled between mountains and the Gulf of Aqaba is a strip of coastline called Ras Shetan, between the towns of Nuweiba and Taba on the Sinai peninsula.
Ras Shetan and Nuweiba are known for their bohemian beach camps, usually run by local Bedouins. The camps are a mix of beach huts or bare-bone chalets, and you’re more than welcome to set up your own tents right on the beach. If you’re staying in a beach hut or tent, then you’ll have access to a communal bathroom.
Most of the camps have simple menus and you can eat your meals in the shared main hut right on the water. At night, there’s usually a large campfire where the Bedouins and guests from all over the world talk, play instruments and sing.
10. Black & White Desert
Go to the Black & White Desert if you want: to explore and camp in Egypt’s Western desert
Deep in Egypt’s Western Desert, between Farafra and Bahareya Oases, are Egypt’s Black and White Deserts. They’re only about an hour and fifteen minutes apart, so you can easily camp in both on a 2 night trip (or just camp in one and visit the other).
Read more: 12 of the Most Beautiful Views in Egypt
What makes the White Desert in particular so popular for campers are the massive white chalk formations, which are some of the coolest natural wonders in Egypt. They were formed over millennia of wind and sandstorms, and it’s among these alien-looking formations that you’ll set up camp. The Black Desert gets its name from a layer of black volcanic material concentrated on top of the yellow sand dunes, a remnant of ancient eruptions.
You might also like: Ancient Egypt Bucket List - 20 Must-See Ancient Egyptian Sites