Egypt’s origins date back to centuries before BC and one of the compelling reasons to visit this African country is to see the reminders of the civilisation dating back all those years. Its pharaoh’s built massive tombs that have fascinated archaeologists and historians for many years. The Nile, which flows out into the Mediterranean, ensured that land that would otherwise be desert was fertile and able to sustain agriculture.
Settlements developed on either side of this mighty river with its delta in the north, the most populous part of a country of around 100 million people. Egypt is the third largest African country by population, behind Nigeria and Ethiopia. The capital, Cairo, is Egypt’s largest city, with Alexandria just north on the Mediterranean Coast, the next most important city.
Egypt won independence from the British Empire in the years that followed WWI. The century that followed has not been without problems, including war and social and political instability. At least there is now peace with Israel that has allowed its government to concentrate on other issues. Egypt receives significant tourism numbers annually, with the main attractions being the reminders of ancient times, Cairo and the pyramids and the warmth of the Red Sea to a lesser extent. Learn more about the most important cities in Egypt.
Cities in Egypt
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If you only have time to visit one place, head to Luxor and take this 3-Night Nile Cruise to Aswan to see some of the most impressive temples in the world. A hot air balloon flight is also included in the price.
20 Egyptian Cities To Visit
Egypt’s capital is a hectic and sprawling city of 10 million.
Its greater metropolitan area has become a magnet for people with around 20% of the national population living within it.
The Nile runs through its heart with a settlement initially established in the 7th Century when Islam first appeared.
It was three centuries later before it grew and three more before it became the dominant centre of politics and culture.
UNESCO recognised the importance of its original heart by awarding it World Heritage status.
Islamic architecture is impressive and worth visitors planning time to see.
However, the highlight of Cairo is indeed the Egyptian Museum where you can see wonderful exhibitions demonstrating the importance of the pharaohs to world history.
- Cairo: Dinner Cruise on the Nile River with Entertainment
- From Cairo: 6-Day Desert Tour to Luxor
- From Cairo: 12 Days to Pyramids, Luxor, Aswan & Oasis
Giza is another large city reasonably close to Cairo and it is where you can see the most famous pyramids in the world, three of them, and the Sphinx.
The pyramids have been dated back to the 26th century BC.
They are mausoleums, the Great Pyramid belonging to King Khufu, while the Giant Sphinx is a human head on a lion’s body.
Almost five million live in Giza on the opposite bank (west) of Central Cairo.
Not surprisingly, Giza attracts vast numbers of tourists annually and thus is a focal point of Egyptian history.
Incidentally, the ancient city of Memphis, a former capital of the Old Kingdom, is nearby, hence the other monuments and temples that stood here.
Recommended tour: From Cairo: Pyramids of Giza, Sphinx, Saqqara & Memphis Tour.
Alexandria is a Mediterranean port city on the site of what was once one of the Seven Wonders of the World, its lighthouse, which has sadly been destroyed.
However, there are many reminders of its previous importance during the time of ancient empires, the Greek and the Roman.
Alexander the Great founded the city in 330 BC and it eventually took over Memphis as the capital. You’ll want to visit the library, amphitheatre and citadel.
Today, it remains an important port and industrial centre where tourists searching for good beaches congregate.
The city has an extensive coastline that makes Alexandria the largest city in the Mediterranean.
Recommended tour: From Cairo: Full-Day Historical Alexandria Tour.
The Greeks discovered the early settlement of Faiyum, which is 100 kilometres (62.5 miles) southwest of Cairo.
It was then known as Shedet, regarded as one of the country’s oldest cities.
Its oasis has guaranteed that life is sustainable in an otherwise dry region.
Indeed, it sustains a population that is approaching 4 million.
It is known for its markets, mosques, a product of the time when the Ottomans ruled this region, and baths.
There is even an impressive waterfall for those willing to travel just under an hour from the centre.
5- Port Said
Port Said dates back to the middle of the 19th century when the Suez Canal was being constructed.
It lies on the Mediterranean north of the Canal and has a population of over 600,000.
Its architecture is very distinctive; old houses with balconies.
Port Faud lies on the other side of the Canal, with ferries connecting the two with a resultant population exceeding a million.
It has quite a cosmopolitan community which is perhaps best described by Rudyard Kipling’s words: “If you truly wish to find someone you have known and who travels, there are two points on the globe you have but to sit and wait, sooner or later your man will come there: the docks of London and Port Said”.
Recommended tour: From Port Said: Giza Pyramids Tour & Nile River Lunch Cruise.
This seaport city in the northeast is on the Gulf of Suez, which forms part of the Red Sea.
Road and rail transport facilities link the port areas to Cairo and Port Said and Ismailia.
It is an important city for industry, especially oil and petrochemicals.
There was a settlement here in ancient times, Clysma, “waves that break.”
This city of 750,000 suffered severe damage during the war with Israel when the latter occupied the Sinai Peninsula though it has been restored significantly during the last half-century.
Zagazig in the east of the Nile Delta has an economy based on corn and cotton trade.
It has a population of over half a million and is home to one of the nation’s largest universities.
The city’s museums are certainly worth a visitor’s time and date back to the 19th century on the site of an existing village.
The ruins of Bubastis, an ancient Egyptian city, are found on its outskirts.
There are the remains of ancient temples and catacombs where the ancients buried sacred cats found just behind the Old Kingdom chapel.
Mansoura in the Nile Delta is on the site of a famous battle when the Egyptians defeated the Crusaders in the form of Louis IX and his French troops during the Seventh Crusade in the 13th Century.
Today’s city, the capital of Dakahlia Governate, has a population of over 950,000.
Its name in Arabic means “victorious”.
Louis was captured and the house in which he was confined is now a museum with several exhibits once belonging to the king.
During the Yom Kippur War against the Israelis, this was the site of a rare victory by the Egyptians, and October 14th commemorates the Mansoura Air Battle, defining it as “Air Force Day”.
Ismailia is located on the Suez Canal’s west bank and has a population of 430,000, although many more live in its hinterland.
It is the midpoint between Port Said in the north and Suez in the south.
At this point, the Canal widens to create Lake Timsah.
The city was built in the 1860s, and two decades later, the British made Ismailia a base.
The Suez Canal Authority has its headquarters in the city, while many buildings built in its early days by the British and the French still feature here.
It is the site of battles both in World War I and the struggle against Israel in 1973.
The British were to leave when King Farouk was deposed in 1954.
Banha is in the northeast between the cities of Cairo and Tanta.
This city of almost 2.5 million people is a transport hub with several rail connections with Cairo and the Nile Valley.
Banha’s history dates back to the middle of the 19th Century, and its main asset has been the fertile land in the region.
Attar of roses, an important ingredient in perfume manufacture, wheat and cotton are produced locally.
The city is also the centre of Egypt’s electronics industry.
Tourists will love its ancient sites, including Athribis, the capital of Lower Egypt, around 1500 BC.
Tall al Yahudiya, nearby, is where Leontopolis is famous for its glazed tiles.
Between Cairo and Alexandria, Tanta is a city of just over 650,000.
It is the home of the cotton-ginning industry and has good rail connections north and south.
Its cotton began to be exported by rail during the 19th Century.
Harvest time in October sees an eight-day celebration of a good harvest.
It is also famous for its sweet shops selling candy manufactured from gelatine, sesame, peanuts and coconut, as well as roasted chickpeas.
The main landmark is the Ahmad Al-Badawi Mosque, where one of the most important Sufi Muslim figures was buried in the 13th century.
This oasis is in the Western Desert, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the Nile Valley.
The city has a population of approaching 70,000, with the oasis waters important since ancient times.
The Ancient Egyptians called it “Southern Oasis, the Romans, Oasis Magna.
Little of the ancient settlement remains today, with the modern city having a good infrastructure.
There is significant wildlife here with the vegetation including buffalo thorn, acacia and thorn palm.
This city on the Nile is 245 kilometres (152 miles) south of Cairo.
Despite being majority Muslim, Egypt has religious tolerance and Minya is home to the country’s largest concentration of Coptic Christians; they make up about half the governate’s population of around 6 million.
Minya in Middle Egypt provides an important link between Cairo and Lower Egypt.
The city’s attractions include its Art Centre, the Museum and University.
Its prosperity rose in the second half of the 19th Century, with its cotton finding new markets while the Civil War raged in the USA.
Other industries emerged, with modern buildings expanding the city far beyond its old town roots.
The ancient city of Thebes is one of the reasons why visitors flock to the modern city of Luxor.
Thebes was the pharaohs’ capital from 16th century BC until the 11th Century.
The description of it as the “world’s greatest open-air museum” is justified.
The Luxor and the Karnack Temples both survive from those ancient times.
The Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are just two more of the many attractions that Luxor has to offer.
The modern city has a population of around 420,000, with tourism a major contributor to its economy.
Its name means “palace” or “castle” in Arabic.
- From Hurghada: Luxor Valley of the Kings Full-Day Trip
- From Luxor: 3-Night Nile Cruise to Aswan and Hot Air Balloon
Aswan in southern Egypt is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hence you will not be surprised that it welcomes significant numbers of tourists annually.
The city is just north of the dam of the same name.
Those sites are the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae, including the Old and Middle Kingdom tombs of Qubbet el-Hawa, Elephantine town, quarries and the Unfinished Obelisk, St. Simeon Monastery and the Fatimid Cemetery.
Aswan Dam resulted in huge areas being flooded, and the Nubian Museum in Aswan contains things excavated before the flooding.
Recommended tour: From Aswan: Abu Simbel Temple Day Trip with Hotel Pickup.
16- Kom Ombo
The city’s temple is the most important landmark in this agricultural city.
It is found just north of Aswan and, in ancient times, was Nubt (City of Gold).
During Greek times, its importance resulted from the trading between Nubia and the Nile Valley.
When the Kom Ombo Temple was built in the 2nd Century BC, its importance increased even further.
There was a garrison here in former times.
Today, it has a population of 60,000; many were displaced when Lake Nasser was created.
The economy is based on cereals and sugar cane.
Head south from Luxor, some 55 kilometres (34 miles), and you will come to Esna on the Nile, the site of the ancient city of Latopolis, a name that recognises the Nile Perch which lived in the river in considerable numbers in years gone by.
It is a fish regularly featured in ancient sculptures by Egyptians and Greeks.
Esna Temple in red sandstone has been excavated and reveals hieroglyphic inscriptions dating to the 3rd Century.
An earlier temple just north of the city was destroyed during the 19th century to make way for a canal.
If you visit the cemetery west of Esna, you will find human burials that date back as far as the Middle Period of life there.
Edfu lies between Esna and Aswan.
Today, it has a population of 60,000, where you will find the Temple of Horus, the ancient settlement of Tell Edfu and the remnants of ancient pyramids.
Erosion over the centuries has reduced the quality of the ruins yet they provide evidence of ancient life up to the Byzantine period.
It appears that it was prosperous when northern Egypt was in decline.
Edfu’s ancient mound is up to 20 metres (65 feet) high in places.
Excavations are ongoing in Edfu, relatively recently revealing a large granary and a columned hall.
Seven silos that have been found are amongst the largest found from the time of the 17th dynasty.
The Red Sea coastline of Egypt has become popular with tourists, with Hurghada a settlement little over a century old.
Its development for tourism saw the resort develop in the 1980s, with national and foreign investment allowing the building of hotels and tourist facilities.
Suitable temperatures exist all year around, with winter sunshine a significant attraction for those living through a cold European winter.
Hurghada hugs the coastline for 36 kilometres (22 miles) with little development inland.
Its population has almost reached a quarter of a million.
There is an international airport with flights from many European cities and domestic links to Cairo.
- Hurghada: Cairo and Giza Highlights Tour with BBQ Lunch
- Hurghada: Quad, Jeep, Camel and Buggy Safari with BBQ Dinner
20- Sharm el Shiekh
Sharm el Sheikh is on the Sinai Peninsula’s southern tip, and its Red Sea location has seen it grow as a popular holiday destination, particularly for those wishing to dive in its warm, clear waters.
Indeed, it is a perfect place for those wishing to learn how to scuba dive.
Its appeal is evident to overseas travellers; winter sunshine when many places are enduring a cold winter.
Sharm’s population is 73,000, with tourism as the primary economic contributor.
Once just a fishing village, it became a naval base and a significant port before tourism developed.
The city has regularly hosted peace conferences and those associated with Arabic affairs in general.
Recommended tour: Sharm El Sheikh: Colored Canyon, Blue Hole, & Dahab Day Trip.
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