Aswan, sitting by the Nile, has long been a hidden gem in Egypt. So why choose it over bigger cities like Cairo or Luxor? Well, it’s less crowded and cheaper, but still offers all the cool Egyptian stuff you came to see. From historical sites to relaxing Nile cruises and awesome sunset views, Aswan has a lot to offer. Next time you’re in Egypt, skip the busy cities and check out Aswan’s unique charm. We’ve summed up the best things to do in Aswan, so you can have a great time.
Table of Contents
1. Visit Nubian Museum
The Nubian Museum in Aswan, Egypt, is dedicated to showcasing the history and culture of the Nubian people. It was established in 1997 to display the rich heritage of the Nubians, who lived along the Nile River in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The museum features exhibits on various aspects of Nubian life, including history, religion, language, customs, traditions, art, music, and daily life. It also houses a collection of artifacts and manuscripts from Nubian cemeteries and archaeological sites, such as pottery, jewelry, and textiles. The museum’s architecture reflects traditional Nubian style, with sandstone walls, domed roofs, and intricate carvings. Visitors can watch a film providing an overview of Nubian culture, explore a gift shop, and take guided tours to learn more about the exhibits. The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and outdoor spaces, providing a relaxing environment for visitors.
2. Visit Seheil Island
Seheil Island, near Aswan in southern Egypt, is a treasure trove of ancient carvings and inscriptions. These include over 250 inscriptions on its southern hills, dating from the Middle Kingdom to the Venetian periods, dedicated to deities like Anqet and Khnum. At the island’s eastern hilltop, you’ll find the famous ‘Stella Famine’ rock engraving from the Third Dynasty. While the Anqet Chapel’s remains are sparse, a small temple dedicated to Khnum can be explored near the Nubian village. The island also features a road adorned with well-preserved sculptures and hieroglyphic inscriptions honoring various deities. Ascending the hill offers a breathtaking view of the Cataract area to the south, known for its historic rock formations.
To visit Seheil Island, you can take a boat trip, usually in the morning or afternoon, and experience the warm hospitality of the islanders, who often invite guests into their Nubian homes to enjoy tea.
Location: Aswan 1, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
3. Explore Animalia Museum
Animalia is a comprehensive center of information about life in Nubia and Elephantine, consisting of three main parts: the Nubian House, Museum, and rooftop.
The Nubian House displays everyday objects like water jars, ovens, hand mills, grain storage, and pottery kitchenware. It features wall paintings with their meanings and showcases date palm tree products, including fibers, trunks, leaves, fronds, and seeds.
The Museum section presents creatures native to the region, including mummified birds, animals, reptiles, insects, and fish. It also explores the desert terrain of Nubia, emphasizing sedimentary and volcanic rocks and stones.
Visitors can view both living and mummified crocodiles, learn about the importance of women in Nubian culture through photographs, and discover the modern history of Nubia, including the effects of Lake Nasser’s inundation and resettlement in Kom Ombo through photos.
On the rooftop, guests can enjoy a panoramic view, access a cafeteria, and, if desired, pre-order a Nubian lunch .
4. Visit Monastery of St. Simeon
The Monastery of St. Simeon, originally dedicated to a local saint named Anba Hedra, who left his wedding to devote himself to a spiritual life, was later rebuilt in the 10th century and named after St. Simeon. Monks from this monastery went to Nubia to spread Christianity. To reach it, you can take a private boat across the Nile and then walk on a mostly paved desert path or ride a camel.
The monastery, surrounded by desert, has two parts: a lower one made of stone and an upper one made of mud bricks, all enclosed by tall walls. At its peak, it may have housed up to 1000 monks, but it was partly damaged by Saladin’s troops in 1173. Inside the church, there are some remaining paintings, and the monk’s rooms still have their bench beds. The last room on the right has graffiti from Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca.
Another way to reach the monastery is to take a ferry to the Tombs of the Nobles and then ride a camel or donkey from there.
5. Visit Elephantine Island
Elephantine Island, across from Aswan, was once a key spot for the ivory trade. Long ago, it had a fortress that marked Egypt’s southern edge and was important for trade. People there worshipped gods like Khnum. Over time, the island changed. People moved and Christianity took over.
Today, you’ll find Siou and Koti villages there. A path links these villages. You can visit a nice Nubian house called Baaba Dool, where you can have tea, shop for crafts, and see local music and dancing. The rooftop is a good place to watch the sunset.
6. Admire Beautiful Nature at Aswan Botanical Gardens
The gardens cover a large area with many bird species and hundreds of types of plants. While it may not be as grand as it used to be, the tall trees are still impressive, especially in the soft light of a sunset with the scent of sandalwood in the air. Fridays can be crowded with large picnicking families and loud music, so it’s better to visit in the late afternoon when it’s quieter.
The easiest way to see the island is on a felucca tour. Another option is to take the northernmost ferry to Elephantine Island and walk through the village to the other side of the island, where small feluccas are waiting to take visitors to the gardens.
7. Have a shopping experience at Sharia El Souk (Aswan Old Souks)
Sharia el Souk is a lively market in Aswan that stretches for seven blocks along the Nile. While it’s mainly meant for tourists, you’ll also find plenty of locals here, making it a vibrant place to explore. This market is known for offering some of the best prices for souvenirs in Aswan. Vendors sell a wide range of items, including perfumes, unique teas, nuts, henna powder, dried hibiscus flowers, spices, T-shirts, and custom-made souvenirs in the style of ancient Egypt. It’s a great place to shop for mementos of your visit.
8. Explore Nubian Village Aswan
Nubian Village Aswan is a village located across from Seheyl Island, and it has gained popularity as a tourist destination. It attracts visitors from Aswan and those seeking a more relaxed atmosphere. The village is known for its colorful Nubian houses, and you can enjoy activities like swimming at a nearby beach, camel rides, and shopping at a small Nubian crafts market. There are also several comfortable guesthouses, making it a great place to spend a few leisurely days.
To reach Gharb Seheyl, you can take a motorboat or felucca from the Corniche in Aswan or drive there from the Aswan Dam.
9. Take a Day Trip To Abu Simbel Temples
If you have a free day in Aswan and are looking for something to do, consider visiting Abu Simbel. This incredible site, built by Ramses II, is a remarkable blend of ancient architecture and modern engineering. You can take a private minibus tour to Abu Simbel, which includes transportation to and from the site, entry to the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor, and the guidance of an Egyptologist. It’s an awe-inspiring experience that’s well worth your time.
10. Admire Unfinished Obelisk
The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan is a unique historical site located in the Northern Quarry. It’s just a short walk from Aswan’s downtown area and the Nubian Museum. This obelisk would have been the largest standing stone in Egypt, weighing a massive 1,168 tons if it hadn’t cracked during its construction. Visiting this site is one of the most fascinating things to do in Aswan because it provides insight into the immense time and effort invested in ancient Egyptian stonemasonry, showcasing the skills of the craftsmen who built these structures long before modern tools were invented. You can witness these remarkable skills and efforts in the rock faces surrounding the unfinished obelisk.
11. Visit Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan
Important people from ancient Egypt’s Old and Middle Kingdoms are buried in rock tombs on the West Bank’s cliffs. These tombs have cool designs, wall paintings that show daily life, and other important works. Here are some top tombs you should check out:
- Tombs 25 & 26: These belong to 6th-dynasty governors Mekhu and Sabni and have simple but cool art.
- Tomb 31: This is Prince Sarenput II’s tomb. It’s one of the largest and best-kept ones.
- A special tomb chamber has a very well-preserved statue of a dead man and his son.
- Tomb 34: This one is for Harhuf. It has writings about his successful trade trips to Nubia.
- Tomb of Setka: The wall paintings are damaged but still colorful. They’re rare examples of ancient Egyptian art.
- Qubbet el-Hawa: Also known as ‘the wind dome,’ this spot offers great views of the Nile valley, Aswan, and nearby villages.
12. Cruise on the Nile
Taking a boat ride on the Nile is a must-do in Aswan, Egypt. You have two main choices for your trip:
Felucca Boats: Feluccas are traditional, colorful boats. They’re great for short trips to islands, ancient temples, and Nubian villages made of mud-brick. At sunset, the river comes alive with these boats, making for great photos.
Nile Cruise: If you want a longer trip, like a day tour to Abu Simbel or other cities, a Nile cruise is your best bet. A typical four-day cruise includes tickets and guided tours to several key temples, as well as meals and a place to stay.
Each option offers a unique way to experience the Nile and the surrounding sights.
13. Have a Camel Ride
Camel riding is a fun activity in Aswan, perfect for couples and families with kids. If you’ve seen all the historical spots and need a break, this is a great option. The best time for a camel ride is at sunset, when it’s cooler and the sky puts on a colorful show. You can ride a camel from the west bank of the Nile, near the Tombs of the Nobles, to the Monastery of Saint Simeon, or the other way around. It’s a different and relaxing way to see the area.
14. Dine at the historical hotel
If you’re into historic hotels, don’t miss the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan. This five-star hotel in Egypt is known for its classic charm, fancy chandeliers, unique domes, and Persian carpets. It also has beautiful gardens, a big pool, and amazing views of the Nile.
Even if you don’t stay there, you can still enjoy the view. Just go to the terrace cafe. They offer a good selection of English high-tea items like scones and sandwiches, all while you get to enjoy a great view of the Nile and Elephantine Island.
Address: Abtal El Tahrir Street, Sheyakhah Oula, Aswan 1, Aswan Governorate 81511, Egypt
15. Enjoy good food and great views of the city at Panorama Restaurant & Bar
If you’re looking for great food and views in Aswan, check out Panorama Restaurant & Bar. They serve tasty Egyptian dishes like mezze, tagines, kebabs, and fish from the Red Sea. You can also get cocktails and wine. But the big reason to go is the amazing 360-degree view of the city. It’s especially beautiful at sunset. So if you’re wondering what to do in Aswan at night, this place offers good food and great views of the city, the Nile, and the desert.
16. Relax on the Nubian Beach
Nubian Beach, owned by Nubian Beach Hostel, is a great spot for swimming on the Nile’s west bank. It’s part of a quiet garden cafe where you can also grab food and cocktails. The best times for a swim are early morning or just before sunset. The cafe sometimes offers beer too. If you’re looking for more to do, you can also try sand boarding nearby. It’s a nice place to relax and enjoy the river.
Location: Nubian Beach Hostel
17. Explore history in Aga Khan Mausoleum
The Aga Khan Mausoleum is an important spot in Aswan, located high on the Nile’s bank. It’s dedicated to Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, a leader in the Shi’a Islam Nizari Ismaili community. He was also a key figure in the partition of India. The mausoleum houses his tomb and provides information about his work and the charity he supported in Asia and Africa. It’s a place where you can learn about a significant historical figure while enjoying a great view.
18. Take leisure stroll on the Corniche
Tired from touring the city? For a change of pace, take a peaceful walk along the Corniche. It’s a great way to relax, especially during sunrise or sunset. You’ll get awesome views of the Nile and the sky, as well as the islands and the desert. Just make sure the boats aren’t blocking your view. It’s a favorite activity in Aswan for a reason.