What to see and do in Aswan
Aswan is the third most popular place to visit in Egypt, behind Cairo and Luxor as it boasts interesting Egyptian monuments, temples and other interesting attractions. It lies on the banks of the Nile river and was located on the main trade route between Egypt and the southern lands, bringing gold, ivory and slaves into the country. Aswan was also an important centre due to its quarries of granite, sandstone, and quartzite used in the construction of various monuments throughout Egypt. Aswan is also the final stop of the Nile River cruise that departs from Luxor touching the most important attractions along the Nile and its surroundings.
How to reach Aswan
Aswan is the final stop of the charming Nile River cruise that starts from Luxor. If you don’t book the cruise, the city can be reached by flight from Cairo. The Aswan International Airport is located approximately 25 kilometres from the town and it’s easy to take a taxi to the centre. Alternatively, it’s also possible to reach Aswan from Cairo or Luxor by train. Its modern Railway Station is located at the northern end of the city. The train ride from Cairo takes about 12 hours, whereas the ride from Luxor takes about 3 hours.
Where to stay
Aswan is the third biggest city in Egypt and a very tourist place. It offers a good range of accommodations for all the travellers, from cheap to high-end hotels. We slept at Cleopatra Hotel, a good accommodation with a small tourist desk to book tour and activities and a currency exchange service.
Other good accommodations:
- Citymax Hotel;
- Hapi Hotel;
- Obelisk Nile hotel;
- Basma Hotel;
- Nubian Lotus;
- Tolip Aswan Hotel;
- Sofitel Legend Old Cataract;
- Movenpick Resort Aswan.
Where to eat
There is a good choice of local restaurants in the city centre and onshore as well offering tasty local dishes and Nubian cuisine. Some of these also sell alcoholic beverages. We ate at Abeer restaurant, at Al Masry restaurant and at Nubia Beach where you can also listen to the Nubian musicians who perform live for the guests. If you like eating international cuisine, try The Terrace Restaurant or the high-end 1902 restaurant at Sofitel Old Cataract hotel. Our favourite dishes are fresh skewer-grilled kebabs with kofta, Nile perch with mixed vegetables, and kushari (a mix of noodle, rice, lentils, chickpeas, garlic, fried onions and spicy tomato sauce). For those looking for fast food, Mc Donald is along Kornish al Nile street.
Tip: avoid not well-cooked food and anything that may have been washed in tap water, such as salads as fruit, to reduce the possibility of sickness and diarrhoea.
Currency converter and method of payment
Egypt’s official currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP). 1 Euro is about 19 EGP, whereas 1 USD is about 16 EGP. If you need to change your currency, in Aswan you’ll find money changers, banks and ATMs. Also, many hotels offer a currency exchange service. The method of payment is mostly by cash but many restaurants and hotels accept credit cards.
Remember to purchase travel insurance that protects you against injuries (the US’s medical expenses are very high), illness and theft. We never go on a trip without it. We suggest Worldnomad.com, an insurance company with qualified customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage.
The best attraction in Aswan
1. Elephantine Island
The Elephantine island is peppered with palm tree plantations and charming Nubian villages of colourful mud-brick houses. The island also comprises the Ruins of Abu, which is Aswan’s most ancient settlements, the Old Kingdom Temple of Khnum and the Temple of Satet. At its southern end, is the Aswan Museum that hosts a collection of artefacts that span Elephantine Island’s history up to the Roman era. The Elephantine island offers a wide range of accommodations as well.
2. Nubian Museum
This interesting museum consists of 3 floors of exposition and hosts a marvellous collection of artefacts from the ancient Nubia Kingdom of Kush, as well as wonderful black-and-white photos of UNESCO’s incredible project to save Philae Temple and Abu Simbel. The entrance fee is 50 EGP (9 USD). If you have time, right behind the museum is the slumping mud-brick mausoleums of Aswan’s Fatimid cemetery.
3. Temples of Philae
The Temple of Philae is our favourite attraction in Aswan. The complex, a UNESCO heritage site since 1979, is located on an island of stone slicing into the Nile River and surrounded by lush shrubbery. The most important temple on the island is the Temple of Isis, dating back to the Ptolemaic era. Very beautiful the A long processional way the Great colonnade with 32 columns which, erected in a later period, was completed by Ptolemy III. Just like Abu Simbel, the temple was saved by the rising waters of Lake Nasser and moved from its original home on Philae Island to nearby Agilika Island. Entrance fee 50 EGP (9 USD). You could also attend the marvellous Sound and Light show at the Temple of Philae.
4. Monastery of St. Simeon
The ruins of the Monastery of St. Simeon lie on the Nile river west bank surrounded by golden sand dunes. It was founded in the 7th century and abandoned in the 13th century due to water shortages. It’s one of the largest and best-preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt. The monastery was built on two levels – the upper level of mud brick and the lower level of stone, surrounded by a 6 m high ring wall -, and used by the monks to travel into Nubia, with the purpose of converting the Nubians to Christianity.
5. Felucca tour
It was one of our favourite activities in Aswan and it’s really worth it, especially in the late afternoon to watch the sunset. Also, the Nile River is dotted with many islands holding picturesque mud-brick Nubian villages and hemmed by the West Bank’s colossal sand dunes. It’s a relaxing and interesting tour not to be missed.
6. Uncompleted Obelisk
It is a giant obelisk that is etched into the stone but was never completely carved out. 40 meters long with a base of 4 x 4 meters, it dates back to the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III. It lies located in the old granite quarry and worth a visit to see how the ancient Egyptians carved the stone with which they built temples, statues, obelisks and many other majestic works.
7. Old souk
It’s a great place to live a slice of local life, take nice pictures and pick up some local Egyptian goods from the south of the country. You can find everything from handicrafts to local clothing to fruit, spices and vegetables.
8. Aswan Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is located on Kitchener’s island and you can reach it by taking a local felucca boat or a motorized boat. It hosts a huge variety of plantations and trees including some rare palm trees such as the Royal Palm tree, the Sabal Palm tree, and the Phonic Pam tree. Entrance fee 10 EGP.
9. Abu Simbel Temple
Abu Simbel Temple is located about 300 km south of Aswan and is one of the most beautiful attractions in all of Egypt. The complex consists of two rock-cut temples dating back more than 3000 years, covered with statues and engravings of various deities. The temples were built by Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), one of the most powerful pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, who wished to demonstrate his power and divine nature in him. The site can be reached with a day excursion through Aswan tour operators (about 3 hours by car) or with a domestic flight.
Guided tours and activities in Aswan
If you want to join a shared or private guided tour, you’ll find several tour operators and even small tourist desks in many hotels. Alternatively, you can have a look at Viator.com and GetYourGuide.com, two reliable web platforms where the local operators advertise their tours and activities.
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