Family Travel to Egypt: An Insider’s Guide

The palace of Hatshepsut in Luxor. Photo by Gelia/Adobe Stock

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Egypt was a travel hot spot for years, but its popularity waned following political upheaval in 2011. Now, Egypt is back on the scene, ready for its comeback as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination. For those considering future family travel to Egypt, this overview can help you imagine how you might go about visiting one of the world’s most incredible places with your kids.

Family Travel to Egypt
The bustling streets and markets of Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Konstantin/Adobe Stock

Planning a Family Trip to Egypt

Many people become fascinated with at least one aspect of Egyptian culture at some point in their lives, including children. Maybe it’s the legendary stories of the pharaohs, or the origins of hieroglyphics, or the engineering feats of building the pyramids, or even the way the Nile irrigated fields in the desert. Regardless of what captures your interest about Egypt, it’s still necessary to balance all the incredible history and sites with more relaxed, modern fun to ensure a truly memorable vacation to Egypt with kids.

Cairo

No trip to Egypt is complete without experiencing the landmark attractions of Cairo, including the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids of Giza. We suggest a minimum of three days in Cairo to at least do justice to the city and see the main sites.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, officially named The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is a massive structure in the center of the city. One of the largest museums in this region, it contains more than 100,000 Egyptian artifacts — more than any other museum in the world, including the famous mummy rooms. Because of its vast size, this is a great place to book a private Egyptologist to show your family around and ensure your understanding of the significance of the items on display in a kid-friendly way. 

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Families should note that a new museum, called the Grand Egyptian Museum, is set to open in Giza, about 2 kilometers from the Pyramids, sometime in late 2021. Many of the most popular exhibits from the Egyptian Museum (including the complete King Tut collection) will move to this new 3,800-acre location, but it is expected that both museum facilities will remain open over the long term.

Seeing the iconic Pyramids of Giza is likely a driving factor for coming to Egypt, so it’s important to make the experience as easy and as meaningful as possible. Built as tombs for pharaohs, they are the only Ancient Wonder of the World that is still mostly intact. Again, we suggest hiring a driver and guide, who can take you inside the pyramids as well as drive you to the various viewing platforms around the complex for the best views of the three pyramids and the Sphinx. It’s also possible to take a camel ride or boat cruise for additional views of these magnificent structures. 

Family Travel to Egypt
For many families, the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx are the highlight of an Egypt vacation. Photo by AlexAnton/Adobe Stock

Other highlights in Cairo might include a ride on a felucca, which is an Egyptian wooden sailboat that has been used to transport people and goods up and down the Nile for centuries. It’s popular to make this a lunch or dinner cruise experience. Families also enjoy wandering Khan el-Khalili, the famous souk in the center of the historic old part of Cairo. Older teens or college students who have studied Rumi and Sufism might appreciate attending a tannoura one evening, where you can watch the whirling dervishes perform.

After exploring Cairo, visitors to Egypt usually opt for one of two choices. Those looking for more experiences related to history and culture travel farther south along the Nile, often via cruise. And families more interested in combining the historical sites of Cairo with leisure time on the beach head southeast to a resort along the Red Sea. With more time (at least 10 days and up to two full weeks), it is possible to do a mix of both.

Family Travel to Egypt
Felucca boats at sunset on the Nile in Aswan. Photo by Kokhanchikov/Adobe Stock

Nile Cruise

The idea of cruising the Nile may feel a bit touristy, and it is suggested in most Egypt tour offerings. But remember, Egypt is the most populated country in Africa, and 95 percent of the Egyptian population lives along the Nile Delta. So traveling by ship up or down the river is actually a great glimpse into local life and the easiest way to see the significant cultural landmarks found near the river.

Ship sizes range from intimate private vessels to boats that can accommodate up to about 150 people. The giant cruise ships common in the Caribbean and elsewhere are not found on the Nile, so cruisers should not expect that level of robust amenities either. Be advised that the size of the cruise ship usually determines the size of the group you’ll be with for your tours (the larger the ship, the bigger the group). If you’d like a more private, intimate experience for your family, be sure to make those arrangements in advance or opt for a smaller vessel.

Family Travel to Egypt
The palace of Hatshepsut in Luxor. Photo by Gelia/Adobe Stock

The most popular route for a Nile cruise is to fly from Cairo to Luxor, then cruise down to Aswan from Luxor, with stops along the way. (Or do the reverse by flying to Aswan and cruising north to Luxor.) This is typically a three- or four-night experience, and families will want to research dates as a starting point when planning their trip. 

Luxor is a must-see location in Egypt and usually the starting or ending stop on a Nile cruise. One of the world’s most ancient cities, it has the feel of an outdoor museum. Highlights here include the Luxor and Karnak temples and the Valley of the Kings (the tomb of King Tutankhamun) and Valley of the Queens. Between Luxor and Aswan, a common cruise stop is the Temple of Kom Ombo. In Aswan, many cruisers visit Elphantine Island and the Temple of Isis at Phelae and enjoy the Nubian market. 

Following the Nile cruise, those with extra time might consider flying farther south to see the temples of Abu Simbel before returning to Cairo or moving on to one of the resorts along the Red Sea.

Planning a Family Trip to Egypt
Beach resorts line the shores of the Red Sea at Sharm El Sheikh. Photo by sola_sola/Adobe Stock

Sharm El Sheikh

This city at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula is the hub of Egyptian beach resorts. Known for its year-round warm temperatures, long stretches of beach and calm waters perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving and other water sports, it is not surprising that most 4- and 5-star hotel chains have a presence in Sharm El Sheikh. Visitors can expect all the typical luxury resort activity options found elsewhere in the world, like golf courses, onsite dining and spas. 

For those looking to get off the resort a bit, a day spent at Ras Muhammed National Park to snorkel or scuba dive is a highlight, as the protected mangroves and coral reefs are exceptional and the currents allow for amazing marine life. Or take an excursion into the desert one evening to ride camels and learn about the Bedouin tribes that live here. Adventurous families can consider climbing Mount Sinai, either on foot or by camel.

With all these activities, many families are happy staying in Sharm El Sheikh for several days up to a full week. It is easily accessible by air from Cairo.

Planning a Family Trip to Egypt
Women shopping at a local souk, or market. Photo by celia/Adobe Stock

What to Know About Traveling to Egypt

Most of Egypt has a hot desert climate. In summer, temperatures can be sweltering and families with flexibility to travel at other times of the year may want to avoid this heat. Fall and spring are quite pleasant.

Families will also want to consult the Muslim calendar and be aware of holidays that may affect the travel experience in Egypt. While visiting during Ramadan is really special for those who are interested in seeing the decorations and observing the celebrations, it can also be limiting in terms of reduced museum hours, closed restaurants, etc. Alcohol sales may be restricted as well.

Expect and follow a more conservative approach to clothing. At many sites, shoulders and knees need to be covered (men included), and this will be strictly enforced at religious landmarks. Women will want to keep a scarf in their bag in case a head covering is required, though it is usually not expected for foreign visitors.

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Gratuities are expected by any vendor who provides any kind of service, including just answering questions at museums. In fact, some of our on-the-ground partners provide our clients with a purse or wallet specifically for this, full of small bills to make tipping easy and convenient. 

To make visiting major landmarks as hassle-free as possible, we always advise hiring a guide. Otherwise, plan to be pursued by local vendors who will want to show you around once you arrive, and quality will vary. You’ll be very happy you arranged this in advance instead of haggling on site.

Egypt is often described as the cradle of civilization, where everything from yoga to modern medicine has its beginnings. It’s also a destination where families are exposed to so much rich history and culture, and the connections you make between the sites you saw in Egypt and future trips to other global destinations will feel profound.

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Coronavirus Update

This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.

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