Things to do in Aswan

Things to do in Aswan

Beautiful, laid-back Aswan! For many, this is the starting or the ending point of a Nile Cruise. For others, it is the base for a day trip to Abu Simbel. With its palm-tree studded shorelines, feluccas that sail the Nile River, and beautiful temples, Aswan looks and feels a lot different than many other places in Egypt.

In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Aswan. We stayed for 4 days in Aswan. 

How to get there 

The easiest way to get to Aswan is by plane. EgyptAir has cheap domestic flights. The flight from Cairo to Aswan takes around 2 hours. If you prefer slow travel you can take the night train from Cairo and watch the background of Egypt. 

You can also get there by bus or train from Luxor. 

We got there by night train from Cairo which took around 15 hours.

Where to stay 

We stayed at the Happi Hotel. Comfortable and clean rooms, good location, and really helpful staff. 

How to get around 

Most of the places within Aswan are walkable as the city is not very big but some areas are only accessible by boats. You can easily take a local boat from Elephantine Island and Aswan’s west bank.

The Unfinished Obelisk

Aswan was the source of ancient Egypt’s finest granite, used to make statues, temples, pyramids, and obelisks. The large unfinished obelisk has provided valuable insight into how these monuments were created, although the full construction process is still not entirely clear. 

As its name suggests, the obelisk which would have been the heaviest single stone monument the Egyptians would have ever created was never finished. Three sides of the enormous shaft were completed when the workers discovered a crack in the granite and abandoned it, still half attached to the bedrock it was being carved from. 

The Unfinished Obelisk is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 60 LE per person. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Nubia Museum 

The Nubia Museum is a treat, a showcase of the history, art, and culture of Nubia. Established in 1997 in cooperation with Unesco, the museum is a reminder of what was lost beneath Lake Nasser. 

Exhibits are beautifully displayed in huge halls, where written explanations take you from 4500 BC through to the present day. 

The Nubia Museum is open daily from 6 am – 10 pm and the entrance fee is 100 LE per person. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Fatimid Cemetery 

The Fatimid Cemetery is one of the most important groups of Islamic tombs in Egypt. Among the modern graves are some ruined mud-brick domed tombs, some of which go back to the Fatimid period (9th century). The domes are built on a drum with corners sticking out like horns, a feature unique to southern Egypt. 
 
The Fatimid Cemetery is worth a visit. 

The Fatimid Cemetery is open daily. You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

The Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel 

One of the best hotels in Aswan is the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel, a heritage hotel housed in a magnificent colonial building. An iconic landmark of Aswan, the historic hotel is worth a visit even if you’re not staying here. 
 
The hotel brings you back to the days of Agatha Christie, who is said to have written a part of her novel Death on the Nile here. 
 
We had lunch on the terrace from where we had an amazing view of the Nile and the desert. 

You can get there by Careem or on foot depending on where you are staying in the city.

Explore Elephantine Island

Elephantine Island is the biggest island in the Nile near Aswan. It’s a nice place to wander around, taking in the quiet, dusty streets and traditional villages.

The island is a great spot to experience traditional Nubian village life. Elephantine Island’s two neighboring villages of Siou and Koti are a maze of streets with mudbrick houses. The Nubians traditionally live in houses painted in bright, vivid colors which are an interesting sight. 

The Nubian people who live here; an ethnic group that populates Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt are some of the kindest, most hospitable people on earth. We got invited for tea!

You will see kids playing in the streets, men smoking shisha,…

You can get to Elephantine Island by boat from Aswan for 2 LE.  

Ruins of Abu

At the southern tip of Elephantine Island are the Ruins of Abu, which was once the center of ancient Aswan. Here you can wander through the jumble of small temples and buildings that showcase Aswan’s importance as a Nubian trading post. 

The largest structure here is the reconstructed Temple of Khnum. Built-in honor of the god of inundation during the Old Kingdom, it was used for more than 1500 years before being rebuilt in Ptolemaic times. 

Another highlight is the nilometer, an example of the engineering skills of ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians used the nilometer to measure the river level, the times when the water lowered and when it rose, allowing them to estimate the height of the yearly floods, and then predict the harvest. 

The Ruins of Abu are open daily from 8 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 35 LE.

Aswan Botanical Gardens 

Next to Elephantine Island is Kitchener’s Island, home to Aswan’s Botanical Garden. The island was given to Lord Horatio Kitchener in the 1890s when he was commander of the Egyptian army. 

Indulging his passion for beautiful palms and plants, Kitchener turned the entire island into the stunning Aswan Botanical Gardens, importing plants from the Far East, India, and parts of Africa. Now covering 6.8 hectares, the gardens are filled with birds as well as hundreds of species of flora. 

The Aswan Botanical Gardens are open daily from 8 am – 6 pm and the entrance fee is 30 LE. You can get there by boat from Aswan. 

Philae Temple

Built to honor the goddess Isis, this was the last temple built in the classical Egyptian style. Construction began around 690 BCE, and it was one of the last outposts where the goddess was worshipped.

The whole temple complex was moved from its original location on Philae Island, to its new location on Agilkia Island, after the flooding of Lake Nasser.

Don’t miss the sound and light show at night. 

The Philae Temple is open daily from 7 am – 4 pm and the entrance fee is 100 LE. The temple is only accessible by boat and you will need to negotiate for the price. Don’t pay more than 50 LE. You can take a Careem to the boat dock from Aswan’s city center. 

Aswan High Dam

Not far from the Philea Temple is the Aswan High Dam that created the artificial Lake Nasser. The High Dam is an engineering marvel that after 5000 years, gave humans the ability to control the yearly flood cycle of the Nile River. 

The Egyptian Government constructed the Aswan High Dam as a replacement for the Old Aswan Dam, which in the second half of the 20th century had some major flooding issues. Although the dam helps to supply electricity to the whole of Egypt and stop the annual Nile flood, it came with huge sacrifices. 

Many Nubian villages were submerged, displacing inhabitants and forcing them into city life. Many important ancient temples had to be relocated; including Abu Simbel which was moved in its entirety. 

On the western side of the dam, there is a monument honoring Soviet-Egyptian friendship and cooperation.  From the top, you have an amazing view of the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser. 

You can get there by Careem from Aswan’s city center. The entrance fee  High is 30 LE.

Visit the Tombs of the Nobles 

Few people visit this ancient site, but if you like going off the beaten path, you’ll enjoy the Tombs of the Nobles, perched on the top of the dunes overlooking the Nile. The views of the entire Nile valley from here are spectacular. 

These are mainly tombs of Egyptian princes dating back to the Old Kingdom. In the tombs, you will find colorful paintings and hieroglyphics. Excavations are also still being made by archaeologists these days, so many of the tombs are closed due to maintenance work. 

The Tombs of the Nobles are open daily from 8 am – 4 pm and the entrance fee is 40 LE. You can get there by boat from Aswan. 

Visit Nubia

Nubia is the region along the Nile river between Aswan and Khartoum, Sudan. It was the site of one of the oldest civilizations in Africa, dating back to 2500 BC. In this area, you can find some of the most colorful villages in the entire country. 

The most famous Nubian village is about 4 kilometers south of Aswan on the west bank of the Nile River. 

One of the best things to do in the Nubian Village is to just wander around, explore, and admire all the beautifully painted houses.

 As crazy as it sounds, many of the Nubian people have real crocodiles as pets in their homes! One of the main attractions here is the crocodile house. The Nubian people will gladly show you their pet crocodiles and ask for a tip. 

You can get there by boat from Aswan’s port which takes around 45 minutes. Negotiate the price and how long the captain has to wait to bring you back before getting in the boat. 

We enjoyed the boat ride to get there and loved wandering around the village but the crocodiles felt like a tourist trap. 

We only recommend doing this if you have plenty of time! 

Wander the Aswan Souq 

During the late afternoon and well into the evening, a popular thing to do in Aswan is to go and wander through the Aswan Souq. Here you can buy spices, perfumes, and small souvenirs. We loved wandering around here. 

Temple of Kom Ombo

Standing on a promontory at a bend in the Nile, where in ancient times sacred crocodiles basked in the sun on the riverbank, is the Temple of Kom Ombo. Kom Ombo is one of the Nile Valley’s most beautifully sited temples.

Unique in Egypt, it is dedicated to two gods; the local crocodile god Sobek, and Haroeris, meaning Horus the Elder. The temple’s twin dedication is reflected in its plan: perfectly symmetrical along the main axis of the temple, there are twin entrances, two linked hypostyle halls with carvings of the two gods on either side and twin sanctuaries. It is assumed that there were also two priesthoods. The left side of the temple was dedicated to the god Haroeris and the right half to Sobek.  

Reused blocks suggest an earlier temple from the Middle Kingdom period, but the main temple was built by Ptolemy VI Philometer, and most of its decoration was completed by Cleopatra VII4s father.

The Temple of Kom Ombo is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 80 LE per person. You can get there with a private driver or you can join a guided tour in combination with the Temple of Edfu. 

Temple of Edfu 

This Ptolemaic temple, built between 237 and 57 BCE, is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in Egypt. Preserved by desert sand, which filled the place after the pagan cult was banned. The temple is dedicated to Horus, the avenging son of Isis and Osiris.

Edfu was a settlement and cemetery site from around 3000 BCE onward. It was the home and cult center of the falcon god Horus of Behdet.

Two hundred years ago the temple was buried in sand, rubble, and part of the village of Edfu.  The excavation was begun by Auguste Mariette in the mid-19th century. 

The Temple of Edfu is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm and the entrance fee is 100 LE per person. You can get there with a private driver or you can join a guided tour in combination with the Temple of Kom Ombo. 

Take a Day Trip to Abu Simbel

If there is one thing you do in Aswan, make it a day trip to the amazing Abu Simbel Temples! This was one of the highlights of our trip! 

The Great Temple of Abu Simbel is one of the most awe-inspiring monuments of Egypt. It was cut into a living rock by Pharaoh Ramses II around 1264 BC. The temple is known for the four imposing seated colossal statues that dominate its facade. 

The Temples of Abu Simbel are open daily from 6 am – 6 pm and the entrance fee is 160 LE. You can get there by a private driver from Aswan or join a guided tour. 

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