What are the best Ancient Egyptian monuments and sites to visit?
Of all the Ancient Egypt sites, Giza’s pyramids are definitely the most renowned and include the world’s largest pyramid, that of Khufu. Khufu’s pyramid is Giza’s oldest and, at its great size of 145 metres, became known as 'The Great Pyramid'.
The second largest pyramid in Giza belongs to Khufu’s son, Khafra. In fact, the elevation on which Khafra’s pyramid is built is deceptive, making it appear larger that his father’s. The smallest of the three kings’ pyramids belongs to the sixth king of the Fourth Dynasty, Menkaure and is one tenth the size of Khafre’s.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Giza is also where one finds the Great Sphinx. Several other tombs and Queens’ pyramids pepper Giza’s landscape, some of which are open to the public.
2. Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is an archaeological site in Egypt housing a series of incredible Ancient Egyptian monuments, especially a number of temples, the most famous of which are the two Temples of Ramesses II. Incredibly, the temples at Abu Simbel were once located elsewhere, but were moved – with the help of UNESCO – to their current location in order to protect them from flooding. The place they once stood is now under water. Today, the Abu Simbel temples form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “Nubian Monuments”.
Saqqara was the burial place of the city of Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt founded in 3000 BC by Menes. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Saqqara is home to eleven major pyramids sprawled over six miles, including the first ever pyramid, known as the Step Pyramid and funerary complex of pharaoh Djoser.
Saqqara is a massive historic site and, for those short on time the best places to see are in the north, including the Serapeum, Djoser’s funerary complex and, in between these two, the Mastaba of Akhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep, the son and grandson of official Ptah-Hotep. There are numerous ways to tour Saqqara, including camel, horse and donkey tours available around the Step Pyramid.
4. Luxor Temple
The Luxor Temple was once a sacred temple built in honour of the deity Amun. Constructed in the 14th century BC by Amenhotep III, the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Luxor Temple was part of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Today, Luxor is incredibly well-preserved and, with its looming archways and giant statues, the enormous temple is a breathtaking site.
Abydos is an important Ancient Egyptian site located about 50 miles north-west of Luxor which contains a wealth of tombs, temples and other archaeological remains. Covering a vast area, Abydos has offered up many historical sites and much of the area still remains uncovered. It is perhaps best known for the well preserved remains of the Temple of Seti I. This is the principle tourist attraction of the Abydos site, and in fact much of Abydos is not open to the travelling public. Other notable historic sites at Abydos include the Osireion, the symbolic tomb of Osiris, the necropolis of Umm el-Qa'ab and the Temple of Ramesses II. Many visitors will visit Abydos - along with Dendera - either by train or organised tour from Luxor.
The Valley of the Kings was once part of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the Twentieth, the pharaohs of Egypt were buried in the Valley of the Kings. Today, visitors flock to see the myriad of ancient tombs cut into the limestone of the Valley of the Kings, mostly contained in its eastern valley. The valley has almost thirty tombs in all and, together with the other remains of Thebes, forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A sprawling complex with a wealth of Ancient Egyptian ruins, ancient temples and sanctuaries, the UNESCO-listed Karnak Temple is amongst the most remarkable of Ancient Egypt sites and once formed part of the city of Thebes.
Sprawling over two square kilometres, the site known as the Karnak Temple was built and expanded by a succession of pharaohs. The result is an incredible maze of temples, sanctuaries, sphinxes, columns and pylons amidst other ancient buildings. One of the most important and impressive sites at the complex is the Temple of Amun-Ra, with its world famous Great Hypostyle Hall.
Vast and full of fascinating sites, Karnak Temple is one of Egypt’s most visited sites. Most people take a couple of hours at the Karnak Temple, but this is only really enough to scratch the surface of this ancient complex.
A small hidden gem amongst Ancient Egyptian sites, Dahshur is much quieter than Giza but still offers some great things to see. Unlike the more popular Giza and Saqqara, Dahshur has not become a tourist hotspot, despite its ancient attractions, including the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid.
Built by the pharaoh Sneferu, the Red Pyramid is one of Dahshur's most famous residents and the second oldest pyramid ever built. Dahshur is also the place to find the ‘Bent Pyramid’, so called due to its unusual change of angle. Also built by Sneferu, the Bent Pyramid is atypical as it has two entrances. Visitors to Dahshur can tour the Red Pyramid and the more recently opened Bent Pyramid as well.
Unsurprisingly, the Black Pyramid, also at Dahshur cannot be toured. In fact, this pyramid, built for the pharaoh Amenemhat III and originally 266 feet high, has deteriorated badly due to the unstable ground on which it sits and the mud brick used in its construction.
The Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities contains the most comprehensive and important collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world. Indeed, it is said to have over 100,000 pieces in all.
From smaller objects such as coins and piece of papyrus to statues of pharaohs and the magnificence of the Royal Mummies room with its eleven mummies, the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is the place to see some of the most significant finds from this period. Perhaps the most famous part of the Cairo Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is its Tutankhamen collection, which includes the iconic funereal mask of the boy king as well as several other objects related to this pharaoh.
Dendera contains the stunning Temple of Hathor and is a real gem amongst Ancient Egyptian ruins. It contains some of the best preserved and most accessible ancient Egyptian ruins to be found in Egypt, including temples, tombs and even a Christian chapel.
The most prominent site in the Dendera complex is the Ptolemaic-era Temple of Hathor. As well as the Temple of Hathor, other notable areas include both Egyptian- and Roman-era birth houses, a chapel dedicated to the Egyptian deity Isis, the gateways of Domitian and Trajan and a late-Roman Empire period Christian basilica.
Many tourists will visit Dendera on a day trip from Luxor and, given that a number of tour companies offer this option from many Luxor hotels, this can be the most practical way to explore the Dendera complex and Temple of Hathor.