Dive into this comprehensive travel guide featuring all of the best things to do in Aswan, Egypt. It includes the top historic sites, ancient monuments, tourist attractions, and unmissable activities.
Arriving in Aswan from other major cities in Egypt like Cairo or Luxor almost feels like you’ve stepped into a new country. Here, the pace is a little slower, the Nile River banks are a little greener, and the people are a little more easy-going.
But, don’t let the calm ambiance fool you! While many people visit Aswan as a base for day tripping to Abu Simbel, or just to embark on a Nile Cruise, there are many worthwhile attractions to see and amazing things to do in Aswan itself.
In this guide, I’ll reveal to you all the top 20 highlights and places to visit so you can plan your own travels in the southernmost city of Aswan, Egypt.
Quick Things to Know About the Egyptian City of Aswan
Before I get into this travel guide, here are a few things to know about visiting the city of Aswan.
- While Luxor was once the ancient capital of Thebes, Aswan, or Swenett, was the Ancient Egyptian’s southernmost frontier and gateway to Africa.
- Many of the most significant historic landmarks in Egypt are built from granite and other building materials mined from the quarries of Aswan. In fact, one of the best things to do in Aswan is to visit the quarry of the Unfinished Obelisk.
- The city is located on the first cataract of the Nile River and is well-known for the famous High Dam project. This contributes greatly to the Egyptian economy but its construction displaced thousands of people due to the flooding of Lake Nasser.
- As a result of this project, a large population of Nubians have settled here. These friendly people are descendants of one of the oldest civilizations on earth.
- Aswan is one of the hottest and driest cities in Egypt, receiving less than 1mm of rainfall per year.
- Modern Aswan is a major city in Egypt and facilitates a fundamental trade route to Africa.
- Aswan is the southernmost city of Egypt. This area is known as Upper Egypt, stemming from the flow of the Nile River, not the cardinal directions.
Don’t forget travel insurance for Aswan. Make sure to check out WorldNomads and get covered for all the activities on this list before you go.
How to Get to Aswan
Before we get into this Aswan sightseeing list, here’s how to get here.
By overnight sleeper train
Aswan is the last and southernmost station on the long rail network spanning as far north as Alexandria in the Mediterranean. Therefore, Egypt’s overnight sleeping trains are an affordable way to travel long distances between major cities like Cairo or Luxor.
Additionally, taking overnight trains is a good way to maximize your time since no days are wasted in transit.
Book: Overnight Sleeper Train Tickets (Cairo to Aswan/Luxor)
The Aswan International Airport is located approximately 30 minutes south of the city. There are plenty of flights from Cairo and other locations making flying the quickest way to get to Aswan.
Bus travel in Egypt is one of the cheapest ways to get to cities like Aswan. However, this is by no means the fastest, safest, or most convenient way to get around.
Generally speaking, I’ve had good experiences with GoBus
20 Best Things to do in Aswan, Egypt
With the basic logistics out of the way, let’s dive into this comprehensive travel guide featuring the 20 best tourist attractions and things to do in Aswan, Egypt!
1. Visit a Nubian Village
Scattered around the west bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt are many beautiful and colorful Nubian villages.
The Nubians are an ethnic group indigenous to the area and are considered to be one of the oldest civilizations on earth! Unfortunately, the friendly Nubians have been forced to relocate several times, primarily due to the construction of the High Dam and the flooding of Lake Nasser.
Visiting a Nubian Village in Aswan is one of the most interesting and heartwarming things you can do. Nubians are very hospitable people and they are always eager to show you their beautifully colored traditional houses and unique way of life.
Did you know? The Nubian people migrated to Upper Egypt from Northern Sudan approximately 8,000 years ago. Historians credit them for being one of the innovators of ancient farming and the cradles of civilization.
2. Felucca Sailing on the Nile River
One of the best Aswan activities that I’d recommend to anyone is a boat ride on a traditional felucca sailing vessel!
These are the iconic, triangular-sailed boats you see floating down the Nile from Alexandria to the first cataract!
The Nile River is where humans first discovered and implemented the revolutionary technology of sailing. Since then, the boats have changed little, retaining millennia-old styles that are truly tried and tested.
On my recent trip with TravelTalk, we spent two days doing some unique Aswan sightseeing by felucca ride. This was an awesome experience and easily one of the best ways to see all the landmarks along the Nile.
3. Explore Philae Temple
The Philae Temple is a temple complex located on Agilika Island, just a short boat ride south of Aswan city.
The ancients constructed this amazing temple during the Ptolemaic Dynasty in the year 280 BCE. While this seems like a very long time ago, it is very recent in Ancient Egyptian terms.
In fact, the very last-known written hieroglyphs, called Graffito of Esmet-Akhom were carved here. After that, the language was lost for over 1,500 years!
The Temple of Philae is one of the most popular things to see in Aswan, with plenty of ancient marvels to explore at this unique complex. Here, you can see beautifully-carved depictions of Isis, Osiris, and Horus and their mythological origins. Additionally, if you visit at night, you’ll get a chance to see the famous light show.
Book a private tour: Philae Temple, Unfinished Obelisk, & High Dam (from Aswan, Egypt)
Fun fact: Philae Temple gets its name from its original location on Philae Island, However, a team of archeologists and engineers took apart this amazing temple, piece by piece, and relocated it to its current location on Agilika Island. This was to protect it from the rising waters caused by the Aswan High Dam project.
4. Day Trip to Abu Simbel Temples
If there’s one thing you do in Aswan, make it a day trip to the amazing Abu Simbel Temples (the Twin Temples of Egypt)! This was one of my favorite days on the TravelTalk tour!
Abu Simbel is a set of two temples carved entirely out of one single piece of rock, deep into the cliffside of a mountain south of Aswan. The ancient Egyptians dedicated this temple to Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great), arguably Egypt’s most celebrated Pharaoh.
While both very impressive, the Great Temple is a truly magnificent piece of art, which should not be missed! Some people say that if you didn’t see Abu Simbel, you didn’t see ancient Egypt!
Independent travelers can also visit Abu Simbel on a day trip from Aswan. However, know that the journey takes 3 hours each way, so plan ahead.
Book: Abu Simbel Day Trip with transport (from Aswan)
An astrological masterpiece: Twice a year the sun’s rays shine through Abu Simbel perfectly on the statues of gods Amun, Ra-Heractates, and the Pharaoh Ramesses II (not on Ptah, since he is the god of darkness). Originally this occurred 61 days before and after the winter solstice, on the 21st October and 21st February– purposed dates celebrating the coronation and birth of Ramesses II.
However, Abu Simbel was also cut up and relocated 200 meters uphill due to the rising waters of the dam (Aswan High Dam). During the relocation, a team of modern engineers, archaeologists, and astrologists, armed with our most advanced technologies, attempted to replicate this astrological precision. However, they failed by a margin of 24 hours, even though they had the freedom to move the temple to an ideal location, and did not have to plan and cut it into an existing, free-standing mountain.
5. Check Out Elephantine Island
Looking out from the banks of the Nile in Aswan, it’s hard to miss Elephantine Island. This is a small island but a beautiful place covered in palm trees and offers a wide range of guest houses and one popular resort; the Mövenpick.
There are also two Nubian Villages on the island, Koti and Siou, which tourists are welcome to visit.
Travelers also have the option to explore the ruins of the Temple of Khnum, which occupies most of the southern tip. There used to be two more significant temples on Elephantine, that of Thutmose III and Amenhotep III. However, Ruler Muhammad Ali purposely destroyed these temples after taking rule of Egypt, around 1822.
Getting to Elephantine Island is easy via the water taxi shuttle running from the pier in Aswan.
6. Agatha Christie’s Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel
If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie and wondering what to see in Aswan, then make sure to stop by the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel. This is one of the most historic hotels in Egypt and it’s where Christie spent a year writing her popular novel Death on the Nile.
While this is certainly not a cheap place to stay, you are free to visit on a day trip. The hotel even organizes tours of the hotel, which will let you peek into Agatha Christie’s suite.
Furthermore, the hotel is a popular place to visit in Aswan for its famous 1902 restaurant, commissioned by Winston Churchill.
Alternatively, head up to the terrace for high tea and scenic views of the felucca sailing boats cruising on the Nile.
7. Marvel at the Unfinished Obelisk
The ancient monuments of Dynastic Egypt are some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring landmarks on earth. The ancients built many of these from the raw material gathered at the quarries in and around Aswan– including the Great Pyramids.
The Unfinished Obelisk is an abandoned project. If completed, it would have been the largest and heaviest obelisk built by any civilization to date.
However, the fact that the project was abandoned in its unfinished state was a blessing for Egyptologists and archaeologists. This is because it gives us a glimpse of how ancient Egyptians cut these massive slabs of granite out of a single piece of rock.
8. Purchase the Purest Essential Oils
If you’re looking for places to visit in Aswan where you can purchase a unique souvenir, look no further. This region of southern Egypt is famous for its high-quality essential oils and perfumes.
The perfume stores in Aswan use natural oils to replicate the scents of famous perfume and cologne brands. It’s quite staggering that they can get them to smell exactly the same, without all the added alcohol!
9. Visit the Nubian Museum of Aswan
When in Aswan, do yourself a favor and visit the famous Nubian Museum. You’ll find this located quite centrally, close to the Old Cataract Hotel.
The Nubian Museum is dedicated to the ancient Nubian culture and civilization. Additionally, it houses thousands of artifacts and archeological findings which will give you an insight into one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
Additionally, this museum houses treasures from the Pharaonic, Coptic, and Islamic eras as well.
Book tickets: Nubian Museum (with Egyptologist guide)
Tip: There’s also the smaller Aswan Museum located on Elephantine Island near the Ruins of Abu. Here, you can see the famous Nilometer, which the Ancient Egyptians used to measure the height of the Nile River.
10. Check Out the Monastery of St. Simeon
Located on the west bank of the River Nile are the ruins of a 7th-century Christian religious complex. Originally this complex was dedicated to the local saint Anba Hedra but was rebuilt in the 10th century for Saint Simeon.
This served as a place for monks to make voyages into Nubia in hopes of converting the local people to Christianity.
Visiting this temple is one of the less popular things to do in Aswan, but a worthwhile side trip from the Tombs of the Nobles and/or the Mausoleum of Aga Khan. You can either hike, do it as part of a tour, or take a camel ride.
11. And the Aga Khan Mausoleum
While exploring the west bank opposite Elephantine Island, you’ll also be sure to spot the Aga Khan Mausoleum. This mausoleum is one of the most recently built Egyptian landmarks in Aswan, constructed to house the tomb of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah.
Aga Khan III died in 1957 and was globally regarded as a great and charitable man.
Tourists are not able to visit the mausoleum, but its prominent location on the top of the hill is unmissable.
12. Climb to the Royal Tombs (Qubbet El-Hawa)
Everybody knows about the famous Valley of the Kings in Luxor. However, did you know that Aswan has its own rock-carved tombs?
The Qubbet El-Hawa and the Nobles are located at the highest point of the hill on the Nile’s west banks, just opposite Kitchener’s Island. Here, visitors can climb up a series of steep staircases to explore ancient royal tombs of famous royals like Harkhuf (Harhuf).
Many of the tombs on this mountainside are from the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Therefore it’s often one of the most significant Aswan attractions for those interested in ancient burial practices of Upper Egypt.
13. Learn About the Aswan High Dam
One of the most famous modern attractions in Aswan, the Aswan High Dam is an engineering marvel that after 5,000 years, gave humans the ability to control the yearly flood cycle of the Nile River. It’s also one of the largest hydroelectric systems in the world.
The Egyptian Government constructed the Aswan High Dam as a replacement for the Old Aswan Dam, which in the second half of the 20th century had some major flooding issues.
However, as I’ve mentioned in this article, the construction of the Aswan High Dam came with some controversy. Firstly, it put many of Aswan’s greatest archaeological sites, including the Philae Temple and the Abu Simbel Temples, in danger.
More importantly, the project flooded Lake Nasser, forcing thousands of Nubian villagers to relocate from their ancestral homelands.
Today, you’ll find the Aswan High Dam on most lists of things to see in Aswan, and getting here is just a quick 20-minute drive from the city.
14. Explore Lake Nasser & the Temples of Kalabsha
Lake Nasser is a gigantic reservoir located upstream of the Aswan High Dam. It holds the title of being one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.
If you’re considering a quick visit to the dam, you’ll want to check out the Kalabsha Temple, along with the other two temples; Beit el-Wali Temple (built by Ramesses II), and the Temple of Kertassi.
Luckily, these treasures were all saved by the same UNESCO rescue project as Abu Simbel and Philae.
15. Wander the Aswan Spice Market (Aswan Souq)
During the late afternoon and well into the evening (when the weather cools down), a popular thing to do in Aswan is to go and wander through the Aswan Spice Market.
Known also as the Aswan Souq, you’ll find much more than just spices at this open-air bazaar. It’s actually a great place to purchase small souvenirs as well.
16. Day Trip to the Temple of Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo Temple is a unique temple complex located approximately an hour north of Aswan (on the way to Luxor).
This Ptolemaic complex is divided up in the middle in order to honor two separate Egyptian gods. This includes the crocodile god Sobek, and the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder).
The most fascinating attraction at this temple is the ancient Egyptian calendar depicted in hieroglyphs. This has given us an accurate and written understanding of how the Ancient Egyptians planned harvest seasons and significant events.
Check price: Full Day Trip To Kom Ombo & Edfu Temples (from Aswan)
Visitors to the Kom Ombo Temple Complex can also check out the newly opened Crocodile Mummy Museum. You won’t need to pay an additional fee for this, as it comes included in the general admission ticket.
17. Day Trip to the Temple of Edfu
Another temple you definitely should not miss in Egypt is the Temple of Edfu. This is another Ptolemaic temple this time dedicated to one of the most important gods in the Ancient Egyptian religion, Horus– the falcon god.
The Temple of Edfu is a very large complex featuring a massive courtyard and a series of chambers and side rooms each containing extremely well-preserved hieroglyphs.
Egyptologists suggest that it took the ancients over 180 years to build this amazing monument, building it on top of an existing ruin.
If you’re planning to visit Edfu, it’s a good idea to combine this temple on a day trip with Kom Ombo and Esna.
18. Go on a Nile Cruise to Luxor
Many travelers use Aswan as either the start or end trip of a Nile Cruise departing for Abu Simbel and Luxor.
This is a popular choice for tourists who would like to see many of the attractions near Aswan, as well as popular places further downstream, such as the Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple.
There are loads of Nile Cruise options available. However, since I haven’t personally done this, I can’t recommend one for you. I know that TravelTalk (a tour company I’ve traveled to Egypt with) runs excellent tours, and they also have a Nile Cruise option.
Hot Air Balloon: If you’re visiting Luxor, you won’t want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience over the Valley of the Kings! Read my guide revealing 10 things you need to know about Hot Air Ballooning in Luxor to find out more.
19. Walk the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener Island (El Nabatat Island)
Kitchener’s Island (named after its former owner Lord Kitchener) is a small, oval-shaped island on the River Nile opposite Aswan. It’s now officially known as the Aswan Botanical Gardens but most people refer to it as Kitchener’s Island or its former name El Nabatat Island.
Tourists can take a quick rowboat to the island from Elephantine, or pay for a boat taxi from the harbor in Aswan.
The gardens here contain tropical plants from all over Asia and Africa and were brought by Lord Kitchener at the end of the 19th century.
If gardens aren’t your thing, you can instead take a felucca sailing boat around the islands, which is easily one of the best things to do in Aswan for sunset!
20. Camp on the River Nile
By far, one of the most memorable experiences in Aswan that you can have is an overnight felucca camping trip on the banks of the Nile.
This was part of the TravelTalk tour, and easily one of the best highlights of my trip to Egypt.
We gathered firewood from the Nile, shared a meal with the local Nubians, and had a blast singing and dancing around the fire. We made some great friends and this was one of the best ways to be introduced to the local Nubian culture.
If you’re looking for things to do in Aswan and you want an off-the-beaten-path experience, don’t look past this one!
Where to Stay in Aswan
Stay on the East Bank
While Aswan is a much smaller and more relaxed Egyptian city, there are still many accommodation options for various budgets. Travelers will find the majority of hotels, guest houses, and resorts on the east bank of the Nile.
Below are some of the best picks for every budget and travel style.
- Sofitel Legend Old Cataract – Located in the Nubian Desert 1.3km from Aswan center the hotel offers excellent views and 5-star service. The rooms are beautifully designed and decorated and feature an indoor and outdoor pool, spa, and fitness facilities.
- Tolip Aswan Hotel – A perfect choice for those not wanting to break the bank but still want to experience 5-star luxury overlooking the Nile River. Here, you’ll get a buffet breakfast, pool-bar service, and beautifully decorated air-conditioned rooms.
- The Mango Guest House – Located on a small island on the Nile River, this guest house is a short water taxi from Aswan’s famous landmarks. It has everything you need at an affordable price and is only 5 minutes walk from the Nile.
Stay in a Nubian village in Aswan
If you’re chasing a more unique travel experience, then you can also choose to stay in one of the many amazing Nubian-style accommodations. The majority of these are on the west bank. But, you can also find some great guesthouses on Elephantine Island too.
- Kato Dool Resort – a beautiful and colorful hotel right on the Nile that you’ll likely have seen photos of on Instagram already!
- Anakato – another colorful and amazingly decorated B&B with an awesome courtyard and rooftop.
- Nubian Farm – a traditional homestay where you can live in true local style at a family farm.
More Egypt Travel Guides & Itineraries
I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive travel guide covering the top 20 things to do in Aswan, Egypt!
While you’re here, below are some more blog posts and articles that I’m sure you’ll find useful for your trip to Egypt!