If you’ve just arrived from Luxor or Cairo, Aswan is a laid-back, welcoming city that offers a peaceful break. Aswan stretches along the banks of the Nile and is the perfect starting point to see the temples, monuments and other tourist attractions of the southern regions of Upper Egypt, as well as the region’s completely different Nubian culture.
The enormous temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, the temple on the island of Philae and the temple of Kom Ombo are all easily accessible on a day trip from Aswan, which is also the closest town of all.
The best way to see the charms of Aswan is to board a felucca, a traditional sailing ship, and explore the city from the water, where Aswan was once an important trading center. The river here is filled with islands that are home to charming mud-brick Nubian settlements and is surrounded by massive West Bank sand dunes.
It’s all really photogenic, especially at dusk when the river glistens in the setting sun and hundreds of lateen-sailed feluccas take to the water. Aswan is one of the top destinations in Egypt for serious photographers looking to capture iconic views of the Nile.
1. Elephantine Island
There are many ancient ruins on Elephantine Island that are worth exploring. The temple of Khnum is completely destroyed, and only a few scattered stones and broken columns remain. However, you can still see the square granite gate of the temple, which was discovered by the Swiss German excavation team while searching for the remains of the new kingdom on the island. A restored temple called Satis temple can be seen in the north of the island. Atop the Middle Kingdom ruins, the temple was erected during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut and King Thutmose III.
A very interesting highlight is the island-based Aswan Museum. Mummies and statues, as well as relics dating from the predynastic to the Roman and Byzantine periods, were discovered on the island when it was established in 1912. The nilometer, said to be one of the first nilometers, is located in opposite the museum and was used by the ancient Egyptians to measure the floods of the Nile. The massive rocks on the shores of the island, bearing the inscriptions of kings and governors who have ruled the island throughout history, are another outstanding feature that sets the island apart.
2. Felucca ride
The felucca ride on the river to see the sights of Aswan is the classic way to do it (traditional lateen boat). Finding a skipper willing to take you on a river trip will not be difficult. All day, felucca captains stand around the Nile Corniche of Aswan and solicit passengers.
A typical short two-hour cruise loops around the islands of central Aswan, offering spectacular views of the city on the eastern shore, the lush palm-studded islands, and the rolling desert sands of the western shore. .
Take a half-day or full-day felucca route for longer tours, add a swim stop along the way, and plan stops at some of Aswan’s top sights, like the Archaeological Site Elephantine Island, Kitchener Island, St. Petersburg Monastery. Simeon, and the Tombs of the Nobles on the west bank.
3. Nubian Museum
Anyone interested in the history and culture of ancient and contemporary Nubia should visit the remarkable Nubian Museum in Aswan, one of the largest in Egypt. With the construction of the Aswan Dam and the emergence of Lake Nasser, the treasures of an almost annihilated civilization are documented.
There are many wonderful black and white photographs of the incredible UNESCO project to save the Temple of Philae and Abu Simbel from the rising waters of the dam, as well as an important collection of artifacts from the kingdom of Kush (ancient Nubia), as well as many photographs of the wide range of other monuments which are now lost forever beneath the waters of the lake.
4. Abu Simbel
Choose a trip to Abu Simbel from Aswan if you can only do a day trip there. Built by Ramesses II and miraculously saved from destruction by a UNESCO rescue mission in the 1970s, Abu Simbel is a marvel of both ancient and contemporary engineering.
Everything else in Egypt pales in comparison to the enormous scale of the Great Temple of Ramesses II and the Temple of Hathor, which are located on the shores of Lake Nasser. Most visitors arrive at Abu Simbel on tour. Abu Simbel is 280 kilometers south of Aswan, allow three hours for a minibus or private vehicle to take you there.
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5. Philae Temple
One of the most alluring structures in Upper Egypt is the Sacred Temple of Isis (also known as the Temple of Philae), which was a favorite subject of Victorian painters due to the fine workmanship of its reliefs and of the magnificent symmetry of its architecture.
Like Abu Simbel, the temple was moved from its original location on the island of Philae to the neighboring (higher) island of Agilika, where it now stands, thanks to the UNESCO rescue mission . The island is also home to the Temple of Hathor, the Kiosk of Trajan, and several other structures from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Temple of Isis, the hub of the ancient cult of Isis, is the main element of the Philae complex.
6. Monastery of St. Simeon
On the west bank of the Nile, the incredibly picturesque monastery of Saint Simeon is located between the sand dunes. One of the largest and best preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt, it was first established in the 7th century and finally abandoned in the 13th due to water difficulties.
A nave basilica occupies most of the south side of the monastery inside the courtyard. The huge apse, which has three rectangular niches under semi-domes, is located at the eastern end of the wide nave, which was previously covered by two domes. The remains of a fresco depicting Christ seated between angels are visible in the middle niche.
Numerous auxiliary structures and small caves can be seen to the north and west of the church, while residential areas make up its eastern side.
Aswan is famous for its peaceful setting, rich archaeological monuments and breathtaking view of the Nile Valley. It’s the perfect winter getaway due to its year-round mild climate. The city offers beautiful sights and attractions for those who want to take a felucca trip on the Nile. If you are planning a trip to Aswan, these mentioned attractions are must-sees.
Sherif Khalil owns dunes and beyond. Dunes & Beyond offers luxury tours, Nile cruises and desert safaris in Egypt.
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