Beautiful, laid-back Aswan…for many, this is the starting or the ending point of a Nile Cruise. For others, it is the home base for a day trip to Abu Simbel. With its palm-tree studded shorelines, feluccas that sail the Nile River, and beautiful temples, Aswan looks and feels a lot different than many other places in Egypt. To help you plan your visit, here are the best things to do in Aswan.
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Interesting Facts About Aswan
Aswan is located in southern Egypt. It has a large population of Nubian people, who resettled here after their homeland was flooded by Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
Many of the statues, obelisks, and building materials for temples and shrines in Egypt were cut from the quarries in Aswan. In fact, one of the best things to do in Aswan is to visit one of these quarries to see the Unfinished Obelisk.
Aswan is one of the sunniest places on Earth. Rainfall is extremely rare (Aswan gets less than 1 mm of precipitation per year!) and this city receives nearly 4,000 hours of annual sunshine. So, make sure you pack your sunscreen and leave your umbrella at home.
It also gets very hot here. Average temperatures in the summer months easily top 40°C (over 100°F). During the winter months, it is much more pleasant, with average highs ranging from 24 to 29°C (75 to 85°F).
Best Things to Do in Aswan
With just a few key places to visit, Aswan is more about relaxing than running to site to site and checking places off of your to-do list. Aside from the time you need for day trips, one day is all you need in Aswan. At the end of this article, I will give you ideas on how to plan your time.
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If you do one thing in Aswan, it should be to visit the beautiful Philae Temple.
The Philae Temple is one of the best-preserved Ptolemaic temples in Egypt, joining the list with the temples of Dendera and Edfu. More than two-thirds of the surviving buildings of the temple complex were built during the Ptolemaic period (332 to 30 BC). Isis was the primary deity who was worshipped here, although Osiris and Hathor were also honored.
Philae Temple was also used by Christians as a church, and you can see carvings of Coptic Crosses inside the temple.
With the completion of the Aswan Old Dam in 1902, Philae Island became submerged underwater. The only time that the island, and the temples, were not underwater was during the summer months, when the gates of the dam were opened. In the 1960’s, under the direction of UNESCO, the temple was dismantled and reassembled on the nearby island of Agilkia.
Visiting Philae Temple
Your visit starts at the Philae Temple Marina on the mainland. There is a ticket booth where you will purchase your entrance tickets. Walk out to the boat ramp. There are numerous motorboats waiting to take you to Philae Island. Expect to pay about 500 EGP for up to eight people in one boat. Our guide with Egypt Tailor Made handled this for us.
It takes about 10 minutes to sail to Philae Temple. You get one of the best views of the temple from the water.
Once you arrive at the temple, it is a massive, chaotic collection of motorboats. Disembark your boat and visit the temple.
You can climb to the top of one of the pylons at Philae Temple at an additional cost (140 EGP per adult, 70 EGP per student). We bought our tickets at Philae Temple from the attendant at the bottom of the stairs.
This was the highlight of our visit to Philae Temple. You get an amazing view over the temple complex and the Nile River. Surprisingly, we were the only ones up here, so people must not know about it (but now you do!).
PRO TRAVEL TIP: It’s worth asking about the Pylon Panorama ticket when you purchase your entrance ticket on the mainland. We had no issues buying it while at the temple, but it is worth asking, just in case policies change.
To get back to the mainland, you will have to find your taxi boat. For this, I am so glad that we had a guide. I don’t know how we would have found our boat, since they all look the same. Again, our guide took care of this for us. Pay the driver once you get back to the mainland.
Ticket Prices for Philae Temple:
450 EGP per adult
230 EGP per student with a valid ID
500 EGP for the round trip boat ride
200 EGP for the Pylon Panorama Ticket
Hours of operation: 7 am to 5 pm June to September
Sound and Light Show: You also have the option to visit Philae Temple in the evening to watch the Sound and Light Show. Tickets start at $20 USD.
The Unfinished Obelisk
If it had been completed, this would have been the world’s largest obelisk. It was planned to be 42 meters high.
Hatshepsut ordered the construction of this obelisk to complement the Lateran Obelisk, which can be seen at Karnak Temple in Luxor. When the obelisk cracked during excavation, the project was abandoned. However, this Unfinished Obelisk gives a lot of insight on how the ancient Egyptians cut stone.
Before the trip we questioned seeing the Unfinished Obelisk, because it sounded boring. However, when you see this massive obelisk lying in the bedrock, you get a much better appreciation for what a monumental task it must have been for ancient Egyptians to cut these objects from the stone and transport them to their final destination.
Cost: 200 EGP per adult, 100 EGP per student
Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel
The Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel is a historic, 5-star resort in Aswan. It was built in 1899 and the impressive guest list includes Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Tsar Nicholas II, Jimmy Carter, Princess Diana, just to name a few. Agatha Christie wrote portions of her novel Death on the Nile while staying here. Part of the movie was filmed at this hotel.
This is the best place to stay in Aswan, if you can afford it.
If you are not staying here, you can enter for $75 USD per person, but will be limited to where you can eat (one of our readers wrote in that non-guests are no longer permitted to dine at the Terrace Restaurant). This is a new change since our visit (we were permitted to dine at the Terrace Restaurant in 2019) so visiting the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel may no longer be worth it.
The Terrace Restaurant
This relatively new, well laid out museum is dedicated to Nubian culture and history.
Cost: 300 EGP per adult, 150 EGP per student
Felucca Ride on the Nile River
This is one of the best things to do in Aswan. To drift on the Nile River, especially at sunset, is a wonderful way to spend an hour or two in Aswan.
The price for a felucca ride is negotiable and prices can be all over the place. What you pay really depends on your negotiating skills. Expect to spend roughly $70 USD for a one hour ride.
Since we were traveling with a guide, our felucca ride was arranged ahead of time. Our guide arranged for us to have a one-hour felucca ride. At the end of this hour, we transferred to a motorboat and then continued on our way to the Nubian Village.
While on the felucca, we sailed around Elephantine Island, enjoying views of the various monuments and ruins that dot the shore of the Nile River.
Some people love this, some people think that this is a tourist trap. We enjoyed this, but part of the reason why we liked it was the boat ride to get here. From Aswan, we sailed between the small islands on the Nile River, a beautiful journey.
The Nubian Village is small and it doesn’t take long to walk through it. One of the most popular things to do in the Nubian Village is to go inside one of the homes, drink tea, and learn about life here. Some homes have pet crocodiles on display. Honestly, I felt bad for the crocodiles, as they seem to be living their lives in the confines of a concrete cell.
On the west bank of the Nile River sits the tombs of the nobles. It’s a steep walk to get to the highest point, but from here, the view of Aswan is amazing. I recommend adding this on to your day if you want a unique view of Aswan.
To get here, take the public ferry from the east bank of the Nile River.
Day Trips from Aswan
Aswan is a handy home base for several day trips. In fact, some people visit Aswan for the sole purpose of day tripping to Abu Simbel.
Abu Simbel is one of Egypt’s most striking monuments. These twin temples were built by Ramesses II over 3,000 years ago, to demonstrate the might of the Egyptian empire.
Like Philae Temple, the entire temple complex of Abu Simbel was moved to higher ground when rising waters from the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to flood the temple.
To get from Aswan to Abu Simbel, you can go by land or by plane. For full details on how to arrange your day trip, read our Guide to Abu Simbel.
Kom Ombo and Edfu
The Temple of Kom Ombo is a double temple that was constructed for two sets of gods. One half of the complex is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god who is associated with fertility of the land along the Nile River. The other half is dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed god.
The Temple of Edfu is the largest temple dedicated to the god Horus. It was built in the Ptolemaic Kingdom between 237 and 57 BC.
Kom Ombo is located 60 km north of Aswan. By car, it takes one hour to get here.
Edfu sits 64 km north of Kom Ombo (124 km north of Aswan). You can just visit Kom Ombo or you can combine Edfu and Kom Ombo into a day trip from Aswan. This typically takes 9 to 10 hours.
If you have plans to cruise the Nile River, a visit to Kom Ombo and Edfu should be included in the cruise. We traveled by land between Aswan and Luxor, visiting Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Esna during the drive. But if you have no plans to cruise the Nile River or drive between Aswan and Luxor, and if you want to see more temples, then it is worth adding this day trip to your itinerary.
You can also visit Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Esna on the drive between Aswan and Luxor. Get all of the details in our article Driving Between Aswan and Luxor: How to Visit Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna.
With More Time
There are several more sights worth mentioning, and if you have the time, these might be worth adding to your list of things to do in Aswan.
The Aswan High Dam
The Aswan High Dam sits 16 km south of Aswan. It is a wide, flat dam and not much to look at.
In my opinion, it’s more important to learn about the history of the dam rather than going to see it.
The Aswan High Dam was constructed in the 1960’s. Egyptian leader Nasser wanted to build the dam in order to end the flooding of the Nile River and to bring more electric power to Egypt.
However, once the dam was completed, a giant reservoir of water was created, and it was named Lake Nasser. This flooding led to the resettlement of 90,000 Egyptians and Nubians, as well as the expensive relocation of numerous temples and historical monuments (including Philae Temple and the twin temples of Abu Simbel).
If you are curious and want to see it, it is a 30-minute drive to get here from Aswan.
This is a small island where you can see the old temples that have been relocated from the site of Old Kalabsha (this is yet another temple complex that had to be saved from the rising waters resulting from the construction of the Aswan High Dam).
New Kalabsha sits right next to the Aswan High Dam, so it’s worth a visit here if you will be out this way. It does not get a lot of visitors so it can be a more peaceful visit than Philae Temple.
Aga Khan Mausoleum & Monastery of St. Simeon
Sitting on the cliffs of the west bank of the Nile River are the Aga Khan Mausoleum and the Monastery of St. Simeon.
The mausoleum holds the tomb of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, a charitable leader who had strong ties to Aswan. You can’t go inside but you can see it from the Nile River.
Aga Khan Mausoleum
Nearby is the Monastery of St. Simeon, one of the best-preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt.
Planning Your Time
Here is a one-day itinerary for Aswan.
Start at the Philae Temple. If you arrive early, around 8 am, you can miss the big crowds that visit the temple.
Next, head to the Unfinished Obelisk and then visit the Nubian Museum.
Have lunch at the The Terrace restaurant at the Old Cataract Hotel.
In the afternoon, cruise on the Nile River by felucca. If you like the idea of climbing to the viewpoint at Qubbet al-Hawa, do this now. End the day with a motorboat ride to the Nubian Village.
Hiring a Guide and Driver
We hired Egypt Tailor Made, not only for our tour of Aswan, but also for the remainder of our time in Egypt.
Where to Eat in Aswan
For good Nubian food and beautiful views of Elephantine Island, go to Al Dokka restaurant. To get here, take their motorboat from the east bank of the Nile River.
View from Al Dokka restaurant
For panoramic views of Aswan, have dinner at Panorama Restaurant at the Movenpick Resort. The food is mediocre and the service was slow during our visit, but the view is very nice.
1902 Restaurant, another restaurant at the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel, gets rave reviews. Dinner is pricey and there is a dress code (men must wear a jacket but a tie is optional).
El-Masry, an Egyptian restaurant, also gets good reviews.
Where to Stay in Aswan
Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. This historic hotel is our top pick for Aswan, if you can afford the high price. The views of the Nile River are spectacular, the service is impeccable, and you can take your pick from a handful of great onsite restaurants and bars.
View of the Nile River from the Sofitel
Movenpick Resort. This is where we stayed and we had a great experience, but this hotel does get mixed reviews. We are unsure why, but we got upgraded to a Royal Villa, which was amazing (they knew nothing of our travel blog and we pay full price when we travel). We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, and a terrace with a private view of the Nile River. It was spectacular. However, some of the rooms in the older section of the hotel are mediocre, so make sure you know what you are getting when you choose your hotel room. It is located on Elephantine Island, so you will have to ride the hotel’s shuttle boat to get back and forth across the river (which only takes a few minutes and really it is not a big deal).
View from our room
Nuba Dool Guest House. This highly-rated guest house offers rooms with views of the Nile River at a budget price. It is located on Elephantine Island, so you will have to ride a shuttle boat to get here. From the upper terrace, you have wonderful views of the Nile River.
If you are planning a trip to Aswan and have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Egypt
ASWAN: Don’t miss our guide on how to visit Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Esna while driving between Aswan and Luxor.
ABU SIMBEL: In our guide to Abu Simbel, we cover what you need to know to plan your day trip.
TRAVEL ADVICE: Here is list of important things to know before visit Egypt. The Luxor Pass and Cairo Pass can save you a lot of money…learn more in our guide. And we also have information on how much it costs to visit Egypt.
EGYPT ITINERARY: With 10 days in Egypt, visit Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel.
Read all of our articles about Egypt in our Egypt Travel Guide.
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