5 Things to Know Before Visiting Egypt

Nomad Cassandra shares her expert tips for Egypt travel: the best things to see and do, when to go, how to get around, local etiquette, and why it's so worth visiting.


Walking between massive stone columns in the temple of Karnak in Egypt. Photo © Getty Images/Nick Brundle Photography

Egypt is so much more than Cairo’s bustling bazaars and the great Pyramids of Giza. Luxor welcomes travelers to the tombs of the pharaohs, and Aswan explores Nubian culture – both ancient and present-day – while Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada are offer scuba diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing for adventurous travelers.

My first trip to Egypt was seven years ago. I loved it so much that I went on to visit multiple times and, through my travel company, help other travelers organize trips there. My most recent visit was in 2022, when I was in Cairo, Alexandria, Sharm el Sheikh, and Hurghada, researching several chapters for an Egypt guidebook. Here’s what to know before you go and how to plan your trip to Egypt.

The best time to visit Egypt

The best time to go to Egypt depends largely on your tolerance for heat and crowds. October-April tend to offer the best weather, though December-February can get very crowded due to the lower temperatures (think 50s–60s Fahrenheit during the day and 40s-50s at night). May-August can be oppressively hot (think endless days above 100 degrees), so to avoid extreme temperatures and larger crowds, plan your visit during the two shoulder seasons, October-November and March-April.

Culture and etiquette rules in Egypt

Dress code

Women have no specific dress code in Egypt and they’re not required to cover their heads, but you should dress conservatively and cover your shoulders and knees. Areas that receive a lot of tourists, particularly beach destinations like Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, tend to be a bit more relaxed, but women should still avoid wearing tight leggings, see-through shirts, crop tops, and skirts cut above the knee. Shorts and swimsuits are allowed at beaches, hotel pools, and resorts, but avoid skimpy bikinis that expose your breasts and butt.

Respect for religion

Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, and many people are very religious. Should you visit places of religious significance, such as the country’s many mosques, respect whatever rules and customs are in place (such as removing shoes and women covering their heads). Dress modestly, behave courteously, and follow the lead of locals. Visiting during Ramadan can be a unique cultural experience that locals are very happy to share with you, and though you won’t be expected to fast, you may be asked not to eat in front of those fasting.

Mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo.
Mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo. Image credit: Getty Images / ugurhan

Cultural no-nos

Taking pictures of people without consent is considered rude in any country, including Egypt (see these responsible photography tips to learn more). It is especially offensive to photograph Bedouin women (who you may encounter in the Sinai Peninsula), and children, who you’ll surely encounter everywhere.

As Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, some of their religious rules could impact your travel. For instance, it will be very hard to find alcohol in smaller cities (and even in larger cities during Ramadan). Couples may also be prohibited from renting a hotel room together unless they are married. Large resorts in big cities might look the other way, but independent establishments in smaller towns won’t.

Tipping in Egypt

Restaurant tipping is expected in Egypt and should be at least 10-15%. Even if you do not tip in your home country, understand that tipping is expected here, and many service staff rely on it as part of their living wage. Some restaurants automatically add a service charge onto the bill, but as this typically goes to the restaurant management (and not the server), be sure to also tip your server directly.

Tour guides, scuba instructors, drivers and all other service providers should also be tipped. The amount you leave will depend on how much time you spend with them and whether you’re part of a group or private tour. If it’s a group tour, you might leave 50-100 LE (about $1.50-3 USD), but if you’re on a private tour, you may leave 150-200 LE (about $3-7 USD). Local currency is preferred, but if all you have are USD or Euros, leaving that is better than nothing.

Public displays of affection

Excessive public displays of affection are frowned upon in much of the Middle East, including Egypt. This is particularly the case among same-sex couples. Homosexuality isn’t officially illegal here, but it is frowned upon. Regardless of who your partner is (and whether you’re legally married or not), excessive caressing, intense kissing, or any other “extreme” PDA should be avoided.

What to see and do in Egypt

If you only have a week in Egypt, you’ll probably want to split your time between big city Cairo (where you’ll find the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar, a million majestic mosques, gorgeous churches in Coptic Cairo, and the nearby Pyramids of Giza) and “everywhere else.” With only seven days, you could fit in a few days in Luxor, where you can visit the Valley of the Kings and maybe even take a hot air balloon ride over them. You might also be able to fit in Aswan, where you can hop around islands, visit cliff-side carvings left by Nubian royalty, and catch the sound and light show at Philae Temple.

Markets in Cairo.
Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo. Photo credit: Getty Images/Annapurna Mellor

Most travelers won’t make it to Aswan within a single seven-day trip, but if you have more time (or if it’s your second time visiting Egypt), definitely consider lesser-visited sites along the upper Nile, including the impressive Abu Simbel temples near the Sudanese border. Fans of swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving would do well adding in either Sharm el-Sheikh (which is smaller but much more walkable) or Hurghada (which is larger and more spread out but which is better for windsurfing).

Transportation in Egypt

There are many ways to get around Egypt, including taxi, private car, bus, train, plane, and ferry. However, the viability of each of these options changes from time to time. For instance, trains used to be a quick and stress-free way to get from Cairo to Alexandria, but constant construction and delays mean the bus is now much better. In general, buses are a safe way to get between cities, though the terminals are sometimes in an inconvenient part of town that requires a taxi to get to.

Though friends and I have driven or taken buses to/from the Sinai Peninsula, this part of Egypt does sometimes experience violence, so check the security warnings before your trip. Also, keep in mind that buses can be significantly slowed down when crossing into the Sinai Peninsula due to so many security checkpoints.

Daily flights are available from Cairo to Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and prices are quite affordable. Within cities, you can rely on certified taxis (have your hotel help you call one if needed) or on Uber, which is safe but not as reliable as it is in other countries. Careem is a more reliable local alternative to Uber. Technically, there’s a ferry that runs from Sinai to Jordan, but it’s been out of service for a few years, and nobody knows when it will start up again.

Guided vs independent travel in Egypt

Joining a group tour means you’ll lose some freedom and flexibility, but you’ll also be paired with a knowledgeable guide who can share the local history, culture, and customs. They can also whisk you around mosques, museums, bazaars, pyramids, and other sites far more easily and efficiently than you could do alone. Cairo is sprawling, and it’s impossible to immediately assume the required knowledge and transportation network to see it all within a short time frame, so the city is a good opportunity to sign up for day trips or even multi-day tours.

Nile cruises are a tempting way to get to know Egypt and there are loads of options, from high-end 12-day trips that include flights to/from Cairo (where there also included activities), to more affordable 3-day jaunts. Most cruises are between Luxor and Aswan, though you can find a handful of departures from Cairo, which are much longer trips. Unlike ocean ships that have thousands of people, Nile cruises usually only have a few dozen (or hundred) cabins.

Independent travel is possible in Egypt, but it requires a lot of time and effort to review maps, navigate transportation options, look for guides, barter with drivers, and understand shifting timetables at various attractions. As such, joining an organized tour (be it by car or cruise) can dramatically simplify the process. If you’re on the fence about the matter, consider booking an organized tour for the first part of the trip to help you get settled, and then spend the rest of the trip traveling on your own.

Kom Ombo temple at sunset on the Nile.
Kom Ombo Temple, on the Nile between Aswan and Luxor, at sunset. Photo credit: Getty Images/ewastudio

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