15 Things to Do in Aswan, Egypt (On Your First Visit)

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Aswan is a tourist hotspot in the south of Egypt, being found along the banks of the Nile River, not far from the border with Sudan.

Aswan is an ancient place, and it was often seen as the last frontier of the Ancient Egyptian Kingdoms that had their capitals along the river to the north in Luxor.

Ruins and history abound in Aswan, and you can visit some of Egypt’s best-preserved temples and burial sites on your journey to this intriguing city.

But Aswan is also a melting pot, and as well as Ancient Egyptian history you can explore Christian monasteries, visit Muslim mosques and explore the bustling markets and souks of the Old Town.

It’s a great place to visit, and to inspire your next Egyptian adventure, here are our favorite things to do in Aswan. 

Don’t leave home without:  Lonely Planet Egypt (Travel Guide) 

15 Top Things to Do in Aswan, Egypt

1. Visit the Aswan Museum

statue in Egyptian Museum- things to do in Aswan, Egypt

Start your trip to Aswan Egypt with a trip to the excellent Aswan Museum. Here you can learn all about the long history of Aswan before you set off to explore the ancient sights themselves in person.

The Aswan Museum is located on Elephantine Island, one of the major districts of the city. 

There’s a vast collection of artifacts, with a focus on the Nubian culture that was prevalent here in ancient times.

At the same time as visiting the Aswan Museum, you can also take in the Ruins of Abu which are found next to the museum itself. 

2. Sail to Elephantine Island

Nile River at sunset in Aswan, Egypt

Found in the middle of the Nile River, Elephantine Island is one of the oldest inhabited districts of Aswan Egypt.

The location is stunning, and you’ll be amazed at how green and verdant the island is, especially if you’ve been exploring the archaeological sites in the surrounding deserts. 

There are many more archaeological sites on Elephantine Island too because for centuries this formed the border of Egypt and Nubia.

It was an important fortress, a trading post and a melting pot of cultures from across the ancient world. 

3. See the Nilometer

One of the most fascinating archaeological sites you can visit on Elephantine Island is that of the Nilometer.

This is one of the best things to do in Aswan because you’ll see first hand just how ingenious the Ancient Egyptians were and also how reliant they were on the Nile River.

The river was a source of life for the Ancient Egyptians, so they devised the Nilometer as a way to measure and track the changing water levels throughout the year.

Stone steps lead underground, where you’ll see the ancient markings that were used well into the modern era by the locals.

4. Enjoy the Nubian Museum 

Africa masks at Nubian Museum - things to do in Aswan, Egypt

If you’re a history buff, then one of the best things to do in Aswan is to visit the Nubian Museum, which is found on the east bank of the Nile.

Dating to 1997, the museum is newer than the Aswan Museum on Elephantine Island, and it’s home to a wonderful collection of artifacts that dates back thousands of years.

Again, the focus of the museum is Nubian culture and history, which was in many ways inseparable from the more well known Ancient Egyptian culture and history that dominated the Nile River. 

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5. Explore Philae Temple

Lina Stock at Philae Temple in Aswan, Egypt

Found on a small island to the south of Aswan Egypt, the Philae Temple is a testament to the craftsmanship and beliefs of not just the Ancient Egyptians, but of modern cultures too.

Dating back to around 700 BC, the Philae Temple was originally constructed on an entirely different island to the one it stands on today.

It was an important place of worship well into the Roman and Byzantine eras and switched from being a Pagan temple to a place of Christian worship. 

Philae became a big tourist attraction in the Victorian-era when wealthy Europeans flocked here to marvel at the ancient structure.

Modern needs though saw the construction of the Aswan Dam along the river from the temple, which would ensure the original island was to be flooded.

Rather than losing such an important historical monument, the entire temple complex was moved brick by brick to an entirely new island.

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6. Marvel at the Aswan High Dam

Aswan High Dam in Egypt

To learn more about the power of the Nile River, then take a quick trip to the Aswan High Dam, south of the modern city.

It’s this dam that caused the flooding of the many archaeological sites in the 1950s, but more than this, it also flooded many Nubian villages all along the river.

The controversial project was designed to stop major flooding in other areas of Egypt along the Nile.

Locally, though, it caused much disruption and loss of culture in Aswan, Egypt.

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7. See Kitchener Island

Kitchener Island in Aswan Egypt

On the Nile River, one of the best things to do in Aswan is to take a trip to Kitchener Island.

Named for the infamous British colonial figure, Lord Kitchener, the island is home to Aswan’s beautiful Botanical Gardens.

Lord Kitchener owned the island in the early 20th century when he served as governor of Egypt.

He initiated an irrigation project which would revitalize the small island and turn it into a green oasis. 

8. Ride a Felucca

Felucca boat on the Nile River in Aswan

One of the best things to do in Aswan is to take a ride on a Felucca.

These local sailing boats have long plied the Nile River, and today they are a popular tourist attraction. 

You can take a Felucca along the river to Kitchener Island, to Elephantine Island, or even, all the way north to Luxor, if you really want an adventure!

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9. Shop the Old Town Souk 

souk in Egypt

To experience another side of the city, then one of the best things to do in Aswan is to explore the Old Town Souk. 

You won’t find any monuments or temples to Egyptian Gods here but you will see a side of Aswan, Egypt that has really remained unchanged in its most basic form for thousands of years. 

The Old Town Market has been a place of trade since the city was first founded. Today you can buy everything from tacky souvenirs of Pyramids to handwoven headscarves and carpets. 

10. See the Unfinished Obelisk 

Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, Egypt

Aswan was important to the Egyptian Pharaohs not just for its location on the Nubian border, but because the surrounding cliffs and valleys were a vital source of raw materials.

And the Pharaohs needed those rocks and stones to fashion their mighty statues and tombs. 

In an old quarry outside of Aswan Egypt, you can find a unique historical artifact, the Unfinished Obelisk.

Workmen began carving this enormous Obelisk right from the bedrock itself around 1500 BC, but it was destined to never be completed. 

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11. Visit the Aga Khan Mausoleum 

Aga Khan Mausoleum in Aswan

Aswan has seen the coming and going of countless Pharaohs, rulers, and religions through the ages, and each has tried to leave their mark in the city. 

One of those who left an indelible monument to themselves was Aga Khan III an intriguing man who died in 1957 and whose wish was to be laid to rest in Aswan. 

His mausoleum now dominates a hilltop overlooking the city, modern addition to the endless line of Kings and pharaohs buried in the rock and sand of Aswan before him. 

12. Climb to the Monastery of St Simeon

Monastery of St Simeon in Egypt

Before Islam arrived in Egypt, much of the country, including Aswan, had undergone the process of Christianization under the Roman Empire. 

While few Christians today remain in the region, one of their legacies in Aswan Egypt is the Monastery of St Simeon.

This rock-hewn monastery wasn’t just a place of worship, but a place of protection too for the Coptic Christians who lived here around the 7th century AD, when Islam began its conquests. 

It’s a fortress-like church that has stood the test of time, and it’s easily one of the best things to do in Aswan. 

13. See the Fatimid Cemetery 

Fatimid Cemetery in Aswan Egypt

But Christianity would be superseded by Islam, and one of the most intriguing things to do in Aswan is to take a tour of the Fatimid Cemetery. 

This place of burial is unique because here you can find many mud-brick tombs dating back to the 9th century AD, which has been well preserved over the years.

14. Explore Kalabsha Temple

David Stock walking in an Egyptian Temple

The Kalabsha Temple is another example of the wide range of religions and Empires that passed through Aswan Egypt. 

This magnificent temple was the largest of its day and was built by the Roman Emperor Augustus as a dedication to the Nubian gods.

Like many other Archeological sites in Aswan, this temple was also moved brick by brick to its current location to avoid flooding. 

15. Take a Day Trip to Abu Simbel 

Abu Simbel - things to do in Aswan Egypt

The Abu Simbel Temples are found just about as far south as it’s possible to travel in Egypt because beyond them lies Sudan. 

It makes for a fantastic day trip from Aswan Egypt because few other temples can match these for both drama or isolation. 

The huge temples were carved out of the cliff face on the orders of Ramesses II thousands of years ago and even today they continue to astound those who travel here to wonder at their creation. 

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Things to Do in Aswan, Egypt (On Your First Visit)


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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