10 Unmissable Things to do in Aswan, Egypt

By on April 30, 2018 in Africa, EGYPT, Top 10's with 4 Comments

10 Unmissable Things to Do in Aswan, Egypt

It’s always hard to pick favourites, especially in a country as mind-blowing as Egypt, but if I had to pick a top spot in this formidable country, then my prize would go to Aswan.

This Nile-side city in the south of the country is as chilled and relaxed as it is jam-packed with incredible sights to see.

From the utterly mesmorising temples of Abu Simbel and Philae to the peaceful boat rides to Elephantine and Kitchener Island, Aswan is full of rich historical treasures, peaceful Nubian villages and stunning Nile views.

Arriving here from Sudan, Aswan was my first taste of Egypt and what a taste!

(Read more in my post Travelling from Ethiopia to Egypt by Road)

With some of the friendliest people in the country, a mega-chilled vibe and roof terrace panoramas to die for, here are the unmissable things to do in Aswan that will have you falling in love with this destination as much as I did.


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#1 Stroll Elephantine Island

The biggest island in the Nile near Aswan, Elephantine Island is a delightful place to stroll around, taking in the quiet, dusty streets and traditional villages.

The Nubian people who live here – an ethnic group that populate Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt – really are some of the kindest, most hospitable people on earth and you won’t be able to go far without being invited in for tea!

Kids play in the streets, men gather on the pavements smoking sheesha, women chat together in the doorways and families of sheep jostle their way past you.

All in all, Elephantine Island provides a great insight into local life and will cost you just 2 LE  (Egyptian Pounds) each way on the boat from Aswan to visit.

 

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#2 Test the Nilometer

Egypt, Aswan, Nilometer

Elephantine Island is also home to the Aswan Museum, but perhaps its more famous attraction is the Nilometer, an incredible measuring system the ancient Egyptians used to assess the height of the Nile.

Situated within the Museum complex, entrance here is 70 LE and includes the Nilometer, a small garden area, an excavation site currently being worked on by a Swiss / German team and a look inside the small exhibition hall.

A “guide” will show you the way to go after the entrance. It’s a basic service, with little English, but helpful anyway and free – besides a tip of course… this is Egypt after all!

Check out the temples and their original stonework first before making your way to the Satet Nilometer.

With steps that lead down to the river and clever markings that help judge its height, this is a fascinating glimpse into the highly sophisticated skills of a civilisation that existed here over 3,000 years ago.

At the bottom of the Nilometer is a nice archway, framed perfectly for your Instagram shots and you can even sit on the bottom step and cool off by dipping your toes in the world’s most famous waterway!

 

Most of Aswan’s attractions are based around the Nile, the islands and the temples.

Staying in the city therefore isn’t strictly necessary as wherever you are, boats and buses will be required to access most things you want to see.

For more info, check out my post about the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Aswan.

 

#3 Marvel at the Unfinished Obelisk

Egypt, Aswan, Unfinished Obelisk

Aswan was the source of many of Ancient Egypt’s longest lasting monuments and many of the relics you’ll see as far north as Luxor were constructed from the stone mined here.

You can actually go and see some of the huge granite quarries yourself in Aswan and, of particular interest, is the Unfinished Obelisk.

It would have been the largest single standing stone in Egypt – had it not cracked in the middle (DOH!) –  and now lies abandoned in the quarry where it was left thousands of years ago.

Visiting this attraction is definitely one of the best things to do in Aswan because it gives you such a great idea of simply how much work went into the stonemasonry of this ancient civilisation, of course, before the development of modern tools!

Carving out a huge slab of granite from the landscape is no easy job in the baking heat with only a small stone to chip away with, let me tell you!

 

THE BEST PLACE TO STAY IN ASWAN ON A BUDGET

I loved the Eka Dolli Guesthouse where I stayed in Aswan.

Located within a Nubian village, its peaceful rooftop terrace, great free wifi, huge free breakfasts and friendly staff make it excellent value.

Don’t worry that it’s set a little out of town either, the owner here will often take you to many attractions free in his car, as well as arrange your tours to Abu Simbel and other further away destinations at some great rates.

 

#4 Visit the Nubian Museum

Definitely the best museum in Aswan, the Nubian Museum is a highlight recommended by the Egypt Lonely Planet and I agree!

It wonderfully showcases the culture of the Nubian people and has been curated in conjunction with UNESCO as a reminder of what happened to the communities after the creation of the High Dam and Lake Nasser, which flooded much of the original valley here.

 

#5 Snap the High Dam

Egypt, Aswan, High Dam

A short trip, but nevertheless worthwhile to help you understand the major defining feature in the Nile’s landscape, a short drive to the High Dam is definitely one of the top things to do in Aswan.

Costing just 30 LE to enter, walk to the dam wall and peer over the edge of this great engineering feat.

In the creation of the dam and the subsequent Lake Nasser, many Nubian villages in this area were lost, but the dam also stops the annual flooding of the Nile and damage in the rest of Egypt, so its construction is something of a controversial point.

There’s also a huge monument here constructed as testimony to the Soviet- Egyptian friendship.

If you’re feeling extra keen, you can pay additional to visit this, otherwise, you can see and snap it from the road!

 

5 ESSENTIAL PACKING ITEMS YOU SHOULDNT GO TO EGYPT WITHOUT

#1 Egypt Lonely Planet – A great travel aide to this country with tons of historical info, the Egypt Lonely Planet will help you get the best from your time here.

#2 Arabic Phrasebook – Most people in Egypt who are connected with the tourism industry speak good English, but learning some Arabic never goes a miss, especially if you want to ensure you’re paying the best prices! The Egyptian Arabic Lonely Planet phrasebook is a super affordable packing must-have.

#3 Good Camera – Egypt is one of those ultimate bucket list destinations and travelling here with a good camera will help you preserve the memories. I highly recommend the mirrorless Sony A6000. Light, compact and robust, it’s been perfect for my Africa travel adventures.

#4 Sun Hat – This country is hot and dry, like really hot and really dry. When you’re walking around temples and other sights you’ll be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, so making sure you pack a sunhat for adequate protection is key. I love this one from Hello Sunshine.

#5  Amazon Audible – Travel in Egypt can often involve long train or bus journeys, so having something to listen to while you enjoy the scenery is a must! I love Amazon Audible, which is the best audiobook service around!

 

#6 Sail to Kitchener Island

Egypt, Aswan, Boat Ride

Just to the west of Elephantine Island lies Kitchener Island and heading here on a cheap boat ride is another great thing to do in Aswan.

Once on Kitchener Island you can visit the Temple of the Nobles, as well the famous Aswan Botanical Gardens, which were created by Lord Horatio Kitchener after he was generously given the island in the 1890’s.

 

#7 Walk to the Monastery of St Simien

This is definitely a little off the beaten track in Aswan and not many tourists make the climb to the Monastery of St Simien, which means you’ll probably have it to yourself if you go there.

I recommend visiting in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is not so hot, as there is a far old scramble up a sand dune to get to this monastery which sits at the top of a hill.

Taking a boat from Aswan is easy and a camel can then help you with the climb if required.

 

3 Extra Things to Do in Aswan

#1 See the Coptic Cathedral

#2 Shop at the Souk

#3 Drink Tea in a Nubian House

 

#8 Wander Philae Temple

One of my favourite in Egypt, Philae temple sits on its own island in the Nile, so sailing here and snapping the reflection of the temple in the water is a real treat.

Because it’s on an island, Philae feels very peaceful and when I visited, there were few others around.

Allow at least 45 minutes to wander around this complex, marvelling at its colourful inscriptions, stone windows and beautifully lit hieroglyphics.

Entrance for Philae Temple is 100 LE and the boat ride is 120 LE return – do not pay more than this! The boatmen may try to insist it’s 120 LE each way, but don’t believe them for a minute!

 

#9 Felucca to Kom Ombo

Egypt, Aswan, Kom Ombo Pillar

If you have a few days spare in Aswan, then one of the best things to do is to take a felucca ride up the Nile to the Kom Ombo temple.

Only accessible via boat, this is a beautiful temple and sailing gently up the Nile to visit it is certainly worthwhile.

 

#10 Be Amazed at Abu Simbel

And coming in as the top thing to do in Aswan is to take a trip to the amazing temple of Abu Simbel.

Built by Ramses II, this awe-inspiring construction is actually a 3 hour drive each way from Aswan, but let me tell you, it is WELL WORTH IT!

Transport is cheap and readily available from Aswan (250 LE for a return journey) and once you pay the entrance fee for the temple (175 LE) a guide is included.

Tours normally start at around 4am, meaning you’ll be back in Aswan by lunchtime.

During this, you’ll get to see 2 of Egypt’s most famous temples which overlook Lake Nasser and are HUGE!

Most famous are the 4 statues that greet you outside the main temple and inside, more treasures await you!

The wonder is only increased when you learn that each stone was painstakingly moved and reconstructed in the current position, on higher ground, after the flooding of Lake Nasser.

Whatever you do, make sure you get to Abu Simbel and take your camera!

One of the best ways to discover the marvel of Abu Simbel is to take a tour there with a local. You can find a list of guided tours (including costs and reviews) here at GetYourGuide. I love GetYourGuide because they’re easy to use and book with, and offer some of the best prices around.

 

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So that’s my list of the 10 unmissable things to do in Aswan, Egypt.

Have you visited this awesome city?

What was your favourite thing to do there?

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Hanh says:

    Hi Steph,
    Thanks for your very useful posts. I’m looking for how to arrange a budget trip to Abu Simbel ? I found some talks about convey cars but that’s all. And private tours are extremely expensive. How did you get to Abu Simbel ?
    I also intend to take Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor, do you think that it includes some of places that you mention in this post ? I think of arriving to Aswan 1-2 days before the cruise departure to visit its neighborhood, will it be enough ?
    Thanks for your advices,
    Best, Hanh

    • Steph says:

      Hi Hanh, excited to hear you’re travelling to Egypt. Sure you’re gonna have a fab time. I booked my Abu Simbel trip through the guesthouse where I was staying in Aswan – Eka Dolli Guesthouse. The trip included early morning pick up from the hostel and then group shuttle to Abu Simbel and back. Entrance extra was extra, but as this was very reasonable it was a cheap day trip. Also worth noting that a guide at Abu Simbel is included in the entry price, so don’t let them charge you extra for this. If I remember correctly, I think that all in all the whole trip was less than $20 – 25 USD. Normally the Aswan to Luxor cruises, include temple visits up the Nile and a tour in Luxor, rather than Aswan – so I recommend seeing the sights in Aswan yourself first. 2-3 days is best for seeing everything, Do check when booking your cruise however what is included. I’ve written a post about cruising this route and several others all about my time in Egypt, so just search Egypt on the homepage of my blog and you’ll find loads of info. Happy travels 🙂

  2. Hanh says:

    very helpful advices, thanks a lot 🙂
    best, Hanh

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