Where else can you sail past ancient temples, shrines and monuments, built to honour the God-king Pharaohs of Egyptian antiquity? The Nile cuts through lands steeped in history, affording an open-air museum of heritage sites that are among the most celebrated wonders of the ancient world. And in between these fabled relics? Stunning, fertile panoramas whose colour and exoticism will sweep you away, interspersed with bustling hubs of commerce and trade that have thrived on the banks of the river for generations.
Evocative, alluring, magnificent – no superlative can truly capture the wonder of the Nile, and never has so much been owed to one natural spectacle. In Egypt, where the Nile puts on its grandest show before flowing into the Mediterranean, the river is held sacred, such is its contribution to local life and its important role in shaping the history of this proud and ancient land.
Travelling the timeless current of the Nile is one of the world’s great journeys, reminiscent of beloved explorers who were drawn to the dense heritage and exoticism which pervades the banks of the river. A luxury escorted tour with Scenic, including a spectacular Nile river cruise will invite you to indulge your inner adventurer, and experience the storied heritage, magnificent historic sites and spectacular natural wonders of this glorious river.
Here, we explore the highlights of the Nile in pictures, from its ancient treasures to its most evocative landscapes, stirring your desire to travel the banks of this momentous passageway.
Temples of Abu Simbel
Comprising the World Heritage-listed Great Temple of Ramses II and an adjacent smaller monument to his wife Nefertari, the temples of Abu Simbel are among the most famous and spectacular in Egypt. In 1968, under threat from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, which was created in the wake of the construction of the Aswan Dam, the temples were moved, stone by stone, to a new home higher up the riverbank, and away from the now colossal Nasser. The move was one of history’s greatest feats of archaeological engineering, and was carried out by an expert team of engineers, geologists and archaeologists, with the backing of UNESCO, over a four-year period between 1964 and 1968. Although immensely complex and expensive to complete, the relocation of Abu Simbel undoubtedly saved one of the great treasures of the ancient world from destruction.
Khan Al-Khalili Souk
The Khan Al-Khalili Souk is an Egyptian bazaar dating back to the 14th century. It’s found in the ancient Islamic district of Cairo, on the burial site of the Fatimid caliphs, 9th-century prophets thought to have descended from Fatimah, daughter of the prophet Muhammad. The souk is one of the largest of its kind in Egypt, offering a wide variety of wares, from handmade leather goods to fine Persian rugs, but it’s the colour, vibrancy and pace of life here that attracts so many visitors. With exquisite 10th-century archways, gates and mosaics, as well as its wealth of trade vendors and coffeehouses, Khan Al-Khalili is one of the most popular markets of the Egyptian capital, and a must-visit on your Nile journey.
Valley of the Kings
Visible from the waters of the Nile, the Valley of the Kings is one of Egypt’s most enigmatic ancient wonders – a sacred region housing hundreds of rock-cut tombs containing the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptian nobles. The Valley was established as a royal burial ground in the New Kingdom, with Amenhotep I one of the first Pharaohs laid to rest beneath the Theban Hills. In the centuries that followed, countless other Pharaohs, their families and other important dignitaries were buried in the Valley, making this one of the most important historic sites after the Great Pyramids of Giza. Today, guided tours are available, giving you first-hand experience of this extraordinary site.
First built in the New Kingdom around 1500 BC, the great Temple of Luxor was subsequently redeveloped and added to by a string of notable Pharaohs and kings, including Tutankhamun, Horemheb and Alexander the Great. The complex is vast, stretching down the east bank of the Nile and comprising of four mortuaries, including the Temple of Seti I, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Temple of Ramesses II, and the Temple of Ramesses III, as well as a raft of smaller monuments and tombs. Unlike the other major ancient temple complexes of ancient Egypt, Luxor Temple isn’t dedicated to a singular cult god, but the rejuvenation of kingship – making it unique among Egypt’s rich antiquities.
Once part of the monumental ancient city of Thebes, in present-day Luxor, Karnak is a wonderfully preserved ancient Egyptian temple complex of the New Kingdom period. Work began on the temple structure during the reign of Senusret I, who ruled during the 12th Dynasty of Egypt from 1971 BC to 1926 BC. Karnak is the second-largest ancient religious site in the world, second only to Angkor Wat of Cambodia. The complex is split into four distinct parts, including the Precinct of Amun-Ra, the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu, and the Temple of Amenhotep IV, which, following continued corrosion and decay, is now closed to the public, allowing restoration work to take place.
Dendera and the Temple of Hathor
Often cited as the best preserved ancient temple in Egypt, the Dendera complex houses one of history’s most impressive sandstone monuments, the imposing Temple of Hathor. Standing tall in the centre of this 40,000-square metre complex, the Temple of Hathor is an imposing tomb whose construction began as far back as the Middle Kingdom, in the late Ptolemaic period. It’s dedicated to Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess of joy, love and motherhood, who is believed to have been one of the most popular and respected deities of the ancient world. One of the highlights of Dendera is the Egyptian art depicting Cleopatra and her son, which remains one of the world’s finest examples of ancient hieroglyphics.
Set against the bright blue sky, the Edfu and the Temple of Horus is a stunning landmark on the western shores of the Nile. This is a Ptolemaic temple complex, which hails from the Greco-Roman period, and is adorned with sandstone reliefs which paint a vivid picture of the politics and religious practices of late antiquity. One of the most fascinating of these ancient depictions is a stonework interpretation of Horus avenging the death of his father, Osiris, at the hands of Seth, god of storms, disorder, violence and the desert. The complex also boasts an incredibly detailed bust of Horus depicted as a falcon, an evocative image that’s come to embody the religious aspect of ancient Egyptian life.
While not rooted in the ancient world, Aswan Dam is a spectacle of the Nile not to be missed. Conceived in the 1960s, Aswan was built to offer greater control over the flood waters of the Nile, and has since had a profound effect on the economy of Egypt, as well as the wellbeing of its people – bringing fresh water to areas that were previously unreachable. The construction of Aswan Dam has directly contributed to a more balanced way of life in Egypt, with the country no longer vulnerable to high or low rainfall. It’s also an incredible sight, standing 110m in height and contrasting beautifully against the ancient, desert landscape.
Abydos is one of the oldest cities in ancient Egypt, built in the Predynastic period, before the rise of the Pharaonic god-kings of the Middle Kingdom. The city lies around seven miles west of the Nile, in the desert plains of Upper Egypt. It’s home to a stunning collection of temples, shrines and monuments, not least Umm el-Qa’ab, a royal necropolis which is thought to have entombed some of the earliest pharaohs. The age and fragility of Abydos’ tombs and shrines make it one of the most significant archaeological sites of the ancient world. In later periods, a string of new temples were built, including the Great Temple of Osiris, whose colossal sandstone halls can still be explored today.
Kom Ombo Temple of Sobek
The Temple of Kom Ombo is a unique treasure of ancient Egypt, in that it is a double temple, with the majority of its main halls, corridors and sanctuaries duplicated to pay homage to two different gods. The southern portion of the temple complex, which houses a vast array of Egyptian artworks and stonemasonry, including an early calendar, is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, ruler of the natural world. Meanwhile, the northern section of Kom Ombo is devoted to Haroeris, or Horus the Elder, the falcon god who was closely associated with the kings of Egypt. During a visit, don’t miss the papyrus-shaped columns in the temple courtyard, as well as the Roman-age shadoof, or water well.
The Island of Agilika
A vision of palm groves and temples, the small riverine isle of Agilika is a beautiful hideaway in the centre of the surging Lower Nile. Access to the island’s cluster of temples and monuments is limited, so the island enjoys low visitor numbers despite its significant historic treasures. Those lucky enough to step foot on the island will enjoy highlights including the vast Temple of Isis which, like the temples of Abu Simbel, were moved to Agilika following the construction of Aswan Dam. Agilika Island is also home to the temple complex of Philae, a Nubian heritage site dismantled and rebuilt on the island to protect it from the Aswan’s flood waters.
The Aga Khan Mausoleum
Aga Khan III was a legendary figure in Egyptian life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming the 48th Imam of the fabled Nizari Ismaili community, a secretive branch of Shia Islam. Khan is best-known for his work in protecting the rights of Muslims in India, for which he received a knighthood from Queen Victoria in 1897. After his death in 1957, a mausoleum was built in his honour on the banks of the Nile, sharing similarities with the Fatimid tombs of Cairo. The mausoleum itself is made from the finest pink limestone and Carrara marble, and, due to its position on a high peak, offers dizzying views of the river below – an attribute which alone makes the site well worth visiting.
Lake Nasser and Buhen
With the construction of the Aswan Dam, so came one of the world’s largest man-made lakes: Nasser. This vast reservoir, which straddles the border between Egypt and Sudan, covers a total surface area of over 2,000 square miles, with a storage capacity of 32 billion cubic metres of water – enough to fertilise crops along the Egyptian Nile River Delta and beyond. While many of the Nubian antiquities of the region were moved to make way for the lake, including Abu Simbel, several heritage sites were destroyed and now lay at the bottom of Nasser, including the vast fortress complex of Buhen. Regardless, the lake, with its emerald waters and desert shores, is a beautiful and extraordinary place to visit.
The Old Cataract Hotel
Frequented by the likes of Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, The Old Cataract is a historic, British colonial 5-star luxury hotel on the banks of the River Nile in Aswan. Built in 1899 by Thomas Cook, the hotel came to embody the exoticism of Egyptian travel, and has played host to many famous names, including Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, and Princess Diana. The aforementioned Christie was inspired to write her classic novel, Death on the Nile, while staying here, and the hotel holds timeless charm and appeal for those exploring the upper reaches of the Nile. Journey through Egypt with Scenic, and you too will discover the appeal of this wonderful old hotel during an exclusive Scenic Special Stay.
From Cairo to Aswan, the Nile astounds with its rich procession of ancient wonders. If you’ve long dreamt of exploring the banks of this fabled waterway, view our collection of luxury escorted tours in Egypt today, or call our team now on 0808 159 9468 to make a booking.