Aswan is one of the must-visits in Egypt. Not just because of the stunning centuries-old temples and tombs, but also because of its beautiful location right on the peaceful Nile river with even some charming Nile islands. We stayed four days in Aswan and selected for this blog the best things to do in Aswan. Make sure not to miss these 10 top sights in Aswan, Egypt.
Top 10 things to do in Aswan
# 1 The temples of Abu Simbel
The famous rock temples of Abu Simbel are a must-visit in Egypt. And since Aswan is the closest major city, this is the perfect base for a day trip. Get up earlier than early for the 3-hour bus ride to admire the two temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari in the beautiful morning light.
Reading tip: in this blog I tell you about the background of Abu Simbel and I give practical tips for your day trip.
# 2 A boat trip with a felouka during sunset
The Nile might be the most beautiful at Aswan, with its amazing islands and sand dunes on the west bank. This is the place to take a boat trip on the river. You have the choice between a motor boat or a felouka. We recommend you choose the latter! We rented such a sailing boat for two hours during sunset for just 400 EGP.
# 3 The Temple of Isis on Philae Island
Just like the temples of Abu Simbel, the one of Isis on the island of Philae has been saved from destruction. This temple would also be flooded by the Aswandam and was therefore relocated. Unfortunately, the colors of the many murals have not survived the centuries, but the temple is still a highlight for many travelers.
Practical: unfortunately you cannot get to the island by boat, because it is located exactly between the old and the new dam. So take the public bus (12 EGP for a single ticket, and a 15-minute walk) or a taxi (300 EGP return) from Aswan. Then negotiate firmly to be able to sail to the island for 250 EGP by boat.
# 4 The Simeon Monastery
On the west bank you will find the ruins of one of the largest monasteries in the history of Egypt. For 40 EGP you can wander through the ancient ruins. Want to know what we loved the most? The location in the sand dunes! We were dropped on the west bank, near the mausoleum of the Aga Khan. From there we walked to the monastery in 15 minutes. A phenomenal view over the sand dunes, the Nile and Aswan is guaranteed.
Tip: you can also go up with a camel, but I would advise against that. The animals in Egypt don’t seem to be well taken care of and I prefer not to participate in this kind of exploitation.
# 5 The Tombs of the Nobles
The Tombs of the Nobles are also on the West Bank. From the monastery you can walk through the sand dunes in 45 minutes. These tombs have beautiful hieroglyphs and wall drawings. In the meantime, they are still being dug up. We saw a team digging up skeletons at one of the tombs!
# 6 The Nubian museum
We skipped this museum, but it seems to be highly recommended. The Nubians are an age-old people who still live in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Although they have been under Egyptian rule since the time of the Pharaohs, they have managed to preserve their own culture. You will see this back in this museum. As many Nubian villages were flooded as a result of the construction of the Aswandam, part of the collection comes from those villages.
# 7 The Abu temple with the nilometers
If you have time left, you can take the public ferry (5 EGP) to the Abu temple on Elephantine Island. On the southern tip of the island you will find the ruins of the Abu Temple, a Nubian museum and the ‘nilometers’ that we heard a lot about. This does not represent much. The ruins are no more than ruins and not well preserved. The two ‘nilometers’ to monitor the water level of the Nile are no more than stripes on the wall. The higher the water level, the better the harvest would be. The Nubian museum is quite small, but has good signs in English. Especially nice are the extensive marriage certificate and the many cosmetic articles. You can buy a ticket for the entire complex for 100 EGP.
# 8 The botanical garden
On Kitschener Island is the botanical garden of Aswan. For the price of 35 EGP you can wander around between the palm trees and the greenery. My botanical knowledge is limited, so this garden was not a big highlight for me. It can also be very busy, so unfortunately it is not a green oasis either. During our trip with the felouka we made a stop at the gardens and found that a good combination.
# 9 Elephantine Island
This island is my favorite place in Aswan. In a land of dirty, busy and chaotic cities, Elephantine Island is an oasis of tranquility. This ancient island in the Nile has no traffic, the view of the river is beautiful and the residents are the nicest people in Egypt. Make the island your base in Aswan, or take the public ferry for a snack on the water at Nubian Dreams.
Reading tip: read my extensive blog about Elephantine Island for more information, including the coolest place to sleep in Aswan.
# 10 The Nubian villages
Very colorful and completely #instagrammable are the colorful Nubian villages. Unfortunately, this is primarily a tourist spot and the houses are normally not as colorful and painted with geometric patterns. We are told that real Nubian villages have houses in the colors yellow and blue, without exuberant paintings. The colorful village of which you may have seen the photos? It is located on the west bank opposite Sehel Island (here on Google Maps).