It’s always hard to pick favourites, especially in a country as mind-blowing as Egypt, but if I had to pick my fav city in this formidable country, then my prize would go to Aswan.
This Nile-side spot, situated in the south of the country close to the Sudanese border, is about as relaxed, yet jam-packed with incredible sights, as it gets in Egypt.
From the utterly mesmerising 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 river views.
Arriving here from Sudan (read more about this overland journey I made in my post travelling from Ethiopia to Egypt by road), Aswan was my first taste of Egypt and what a taste!
With some of the friendliest people in the country, a mega-chilled vibe and sunset roof terrace panoramas to die for, here are the 12 unmissable things to do in Aswan that will have you falling in love with this destination just as much as me…
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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 populates 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 it will cost you just 5 Egyptian Pounds (LE) each way, on a boat from the Corniche in Aswan, to visit.
#2 Test the Nilometer
Elephantine Island is also home to the Aswan Museum, but perhaps its more famous attraction is the Nilometer, an incredible measuring system that the Ancient Egyptians used to assess the height of the Nile.
Situated within the Museum complex, entrance costs 100 LE and includes access to 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!
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!
What’s not to love?
#3 Marvel at the 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, ancient quarries yourself in Aswan and, of particular interest, is the Unfinished Obelisk.
This Obelisk would have been the largest single standing stone in Egypt – had it not cracked in the middle (DOH!) – and it 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 just how much work went into the stonemasonry of this ancient civilisation before, of course, the development of modern tools!
Carving out a huge slab of stone from the landscape is no easy job in the baking heat, but with only a small stone to chip away with, well, it was quite the undertaking let me tell you!
#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.
Great to educate yourself and learn more about Aswan’s central community, this one is a must during your time in the city.
#5 Snap the High Dam
A short trip, but nevertheless worthwhile to help you understand a major defining feature in the Nile’s landscape, the quick drive out of the city to the High Dam is definitely one of the top things to do in Aswan.
Costing just 50 LE to enter, walk to the dam wall and peer over the edge of this great, albeit controversial, engineering feat.
During the construction of the dam and the subsequent creation of Lake Nasser, many Nubian villages in this area were lost, but the dam also stops the annual flooding of the Nile and resulting damage in the rest of Egypt, so its construction is certainly a political and divisive issue.
There’s also a huge monument here constructed as a testimony to the Soviet- Egyptian friendship – also controversial!
If you’re feeling extra keen, you can pay additional to visit this, otherwise, you can see and snap it from the road!
#6 Sail to Kitchener Island
Just to the west of Elephantine Island lies Kitchener Island and heading here on a cheap boat ride from the Corniche is another great thing to do in Aswan.
Once on Kitchener Island, you can visit the Temple of the Nobles, as well as the famous Aswan Botanical Gardens, which were created by Lord Horatio Kitchener after he was generously given the island in the 1890s!
Also known as El Nabatat Island, this tiny spot is less than 1km long and is wonderfully peaceful.
If you’re visiting Aswan during the hotter months, you can usually catch a breeze here, which certainly adds to the appeal!
#7 Walk to the Monastery of St Simien
This is definitely a little off the beaten track in Aswan – not many tourists make the climb – so if you do put in the effort to visit the Monastery of St Simien, you’ll probably have it to yourself!
I recommend visiting in the early morning or late afternoon if you can, so the sun is not too hot – a real blessing given it’s a fair 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 to the base of the hill and a camel can then help you with the climb if required.
#8 Wander Philae Temple
One of my favourites in Egypt (and let’s be fair, there’s some pretty stiff competition!), 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 180 LE and the boat ride is 150 LE return – do not pay more than this!
The boatmen may try to insist it’s 170 LE each way, but don’t believe them for a minute!
#9 Sail to Kom Ombo
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 Kom Ombo temple.
A double temple, dedicated to both Sobek, the crocodile god, and Horus, the falcon-headed god, this spectacular site is about 50km north of Aswan.
Only accessible via boat, this is a beautiful temple and sailing gently up the Nile to visit it is certainly worthwhile.
Open between 9am and 5pm, I recommend taking a tour to this one, as it will include transport from Aswan as well as the helpful assistance of a qualified guide.
Entrance to Kom Ombo costs 140 LE.
#10 Be Amazed at Abu Simbel
And coming in at number 10 on this list of the top things to do in Aswan, it’s take a trip to the amazing temple of Abu Simbel.
Built by Ramesses 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 (300 LE for a return journey) and once you pay the entrance fee for the temple (240 LE) a guide is included.
Tours to Abu Simble from Aswan normally start at around 4am, so that you can be there when the site opens and enjoy, not only the cooler temperatures, but the beautiful morning light shining into and onto the temple as well.
After a couple of hours to explore, you’ll then be driven back to Aswan, meaning you’ll return to the city by lunchtime.
During your time at Abu Simbel, 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 when you visit Aswan.
Here’s a great tour of Abu Simbel that runs from the city and includes hotel pick up – exactly what you need at 4am!
#11 Pick up a Nile Cruise Bargain
Another great way to visit Kom Ombo Temple, as well as Edfu Temple and make the journey to Luxor too (great if you’re planning to head that way after Aswan), is to take a Nile cruise.
These 3 night trips depart regularly from Aswan and provide an amazing calm experience of sailing on the world’s largest river and seeing some brilliant historic sights.
Booked in advance, cruises can be mega pricey however, so if you want to learn how I bagged the deal of the century whilst in Aswan, check out this post I wrote that details the full adventure (and how you can replicate it!)
Otherwise, if you do want to book a cruise in advance, but not pay ridiculous amounts, check out this well-rated option.
Whatever you do, just don’t miss a Nile cruise while you’re in Egypt if you can!
It’s worth noting that cruises also run from Luxor to Aswan too. Usually 4 night journeys, they are slightly more expensive, but do mean you won’t miss out on this bucket list number if you’re travelling from north to south across Egypt instead.
#12 Stay in the Famous Old Cataract Hotel
And last but not least on this list of the top things to do in Aswan, it’s visit the iconic Old Cataract Hotel.
Now owned by Sofitel, this grand accommodation offering was originally built in 1899 and former guests include Winston Churchill, Howard Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and Agatha Christie, who actually chose to base a section of her famous novel Death on the Nile at the hotel.
With a gorgeous location, facing the Nile, the elegant Victorian character of this hotel is complimented by a lovely pool and modern spa. If you’re looking for luxury in Aswan, then this is the place to stay! Book your room here.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a great place to stay in Aswan on a budget, then I highly recommend Eka Dolli Guesthouse, which is where I stayed!
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, the owner here will often take you to many attractions free in his car, as well as arrange your trips to Abu Simbel and other further away destinations at some great rates.
For something in the mid-range, check out the Habibi Nubian Guesthouse in Aswan, which offers private rooms and apartments for some seriously super prices.
Mini Aswan Travel Guide
When to Visit Egypt?
No question in my mind that you should definitely visit Egypt during the spring and autumn seasons i.e. from April to May and September to November.
This will allow you to get the most from the country’s lovely historical and coastal sites without being too hot!
How to Get to Egypt?
Most people access Egypt by flying into the international airport in the capital Cairo.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best prices.
If you are crossing into Aswan from Sudan, check out this post which details all the ins and outs of crossing this African border.
Top Egypt Tours
I travelled Egypt as a solo female and felt perfectly safe, but if you’d rather take a tour of the country and enjoy then the company of other travellers, I totally understand.
Here’s my top picks.
Accommodation in Aswan
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.
If you’re on a budget, check out my post about the 5 best hostels in Aswan.
Travel Insurance for Egypt
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
5 Items You Shouldn’t Travel in 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!
SAVE THIS TO PINTEREST!
So that’s my list of the 12 unmissable things to do in Aswan, Egypt.
Have you visited this awesome city?
What was your favourite thing to do there?
Tell me all in the comments box below…