In this guide we will visit Aswan, Egypt’s most stunningly located city with its backdrop of large sand dunes on the banks of the River Nile.
A look around Aswan
Of all cities in Egypt, Aswan is without doubt the one with the most picturesque location.
Being Egypt’s southernmost city, Aswan is located on the east bank of the Nile and features some gorgeous views over the river and the large sand dunes on the western shore.
It is precisely this stunning contrast between the blue waters of the Nile and the yellow, beige and brown colours of the rocks and sand dunes which makes a visit to Aswan so unforgettable.
Although you can watch these views from the riverside boulevard (corniche), it is not the best place in the city due to the near-constant hassle of boatmen and touts trying to sign you up for a boat ride or other sightseeing activity.
What is certainly a nice place to absorb the view is the Feryal Garden, which is located right next to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral and Aswan’s famous Old Cataract Hotel.
This hotel, which is nowadays run by Sofitel, is the place to stay in Aswan if you are looking for a combination of both history and luxury.
As I was embarking on a Nile cruise, I was however staying on board of my ship although otherwise I would have certainly opted for this historic hotel.
There is a 10 EGP (0.56 EUR) entrance fee to enter the Feryal Garden which certainly is a price worth paying for the quiet environment of this riverside park.
From the Feryal Garden, which is built on a rock right above the Nile, you certainly have some amazing views over the river and the city of Aswan.
Nothing beats watching the traditional felucca sailing boats sailing down the Nile from here, especially at the moment when the sun sets above the sand dunes in the distance.
Watching the sunset from Aswan’s Feryal Garden over the Nile Cataract is certainly the quintessential Egyptian view and a travel memory you won’t easily forget.
With so much focus being on ancient Egyptian sights and its picturesque setting on the Nile, it’s easy to forget that Aswan is a modern city which is full of local life.
The best place to sample this is at Aswan’s old Souk (bazaar), which is basically a grid of streets full with shops and market stalls.
Even if you don’t need to buy anything it is a great place for people watching and to soak up the local atmosphere.
The souk is at its most lively in the evening hours when darkness has fallen as the high temperatures during the day make a shopping trip rather uncomfortable.
A trip to Aswan isn’t complete without a visit to Elephantine Island and its lovely Nubian Village.
Located in the middle of the River Nile just a short boat trip away from the corniche with the public ferry, Elephantine Island makes for a fascinating visit.
Whether you come to admire the gorgeous views over Aswan and the First Cataract of the Nile or want to soak up the unique culture of the Nubian people, this is the place to do so.
Compared to all the chaos and traffic of the city centre of Aswan, the atmosphere on Elephantine Island is peaceful and pleasant – it really is an enticing place where you will want to linger around for a while longer.
In my guide about Elephantine Island I explain all you need to know about its Nubian Village and how you can reach the island from downtown Aswan.
A must-visit sight in Aswan is the Temple of Isis on Philae Island, which is located just a few kilometres to the south of the city.
To reach Philae, you first have to take a ride to the jetty from where you have to hop on a boat across the Nile to the island on which the temple is located.
In my guide about Philae I have detailed the entire experience and explain exactly how you can best visit this magnificent temple from Aswan.
Another important ancient Egyptian archaeological site in Aswan is the the old quarry and the unfinished obelisk.
If you want to learn more about how the Egyptians actually managed to build all the ancient temples and monuments, the Unfinished Obelisk is a great place to start, especially when you have a guide at your side to explain the entire process.
Aswan High Dam
Aswan also has a claim to fame because of the important dam in the River Nile just a few kilometres upstream from the city centre.
If you want to learn more about the history and importance of the Aswan High Dam and how you can best reach this place, check out the chapter I’ve written about it.
Perhaps the most famous of all Ancient Egyptian sights in the Aswan area isn’t located in the city itself but some three hours driving distance away in the desert to the south.
We are of course talking here about the famous temple of Abu Simbel, arguably one of Egypt’s best-known sights after the pyramids.
Most people visit Abu Simbel as a half-day trip from Aswan and in the next chapter I will detail how the experience is like.
Many tourists visit Aswan because it is the usual starting place or finish of a river boat cruise along the Nile.
Most River Nile cruise itineraries will take you from Aswan to Luxor or vice versa, visiting sights such as Kom Umbu and Edfu along the way.
If you want to learn more about the Nile river cruises in general and find out about my 3-night cruise experience on the M/S Princess Sarah, stay tuned as I will have a lot to say about it in the next few chapters of this trip report.
It’s well-worth to have an expert guide with you when you explore some of the sights in and around Aswan.
Especially the ancient Egyptian sights really come alive when you have a knowledgeable guide at your side who can tell you more how everything was built and about the cultural significance.
As ancient Egyptian temples have so much symbolism and a deeper meaning behind the way how it is constructed, you need a professional guide if you truly want to understand what you are seeing.
Even though I normally prefer to visit sights independently, I can only say that my whole experience visiting the sights around Aswan was clearly enhanced by the fact I had an awesome guide at my side.
If you need a professional guide in Aswan, I can highly recommend the services of Mohammed Badawy, an Aswan local who is a professional archaeologist and knows everything about ancient Egypt.
Besides the fact that I learned a lot from Mohammed’s lectures and guided visits, he is also an extremely hospitable, reliable and courteous person.
If you want to use the services of Mohammed, you can contact him by e-mail (mohammed_badawy95 *at* yahoo.com) or by phone or Whatsapp on the number +201005448691.
Aswan is not only Egypt’s most stunningly located city but it also packs in a lot of amazing sights.
Whether you come to Aswan to visit Philae or use it as a jumping-off point for Abu Simbel, you won’t regret heading all the way to Egypt’s southernmost city.
However, Aswan itself is a captivating destination in itself which has much more to offer than ancient Egyptian sights alone.
It’s equally great fun to wander through the old souk to get a taste of the modern-day hustle and bustle of Aswan or to hop on a ferry to Elephantine Island to come back to senses in the peaceful surroundings of the Nubian Village.
Besides, Aswan is the natural place to start or end your river boat cruise on the River Nile, so chances are that you will pass through it at some point in your tour of Egypt.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo
4. Exploring the Medieval Old Town and Islamic History of Cairo
5. Visiting the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo
6. Mar Girgis: The Churches of Christian Old Cairo
7. Review: Ernst Watania Sleeping Train Cairo to Aswan
8. The Ancient Quarry of Aswan and the Unfinished Obelisk
9. A Boat Ride From Aswan to the Temple of Isis at Philae
10. A Visit to the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser
11. A Visit to the Nubian Village on Aswan’s Elephantine Island
12. Aswan Guide: A Visit to Egypt’s Most Stunningly Located City (current chapter)
13. A Half Day Trip From Aswan to Amazing Abu Simbel
14. Nile River Cruise Guide: All Info for Your Egypt Boat Trip
15. Review: M/S Princess Sarah Nile River Cruise Ship
16. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Aswan to Kom Ombo
17. A Visit to the Ancient Crocodile Temple of Kom Ombo
18. A Visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
19. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Edfu to Luxor
20. Luxor, Egypt: Visiting the Sights of Ancient Thebes
21. A Visit to Luxor’s Giant Temple Complex of Karnak
22. Visitor Guide to Wonderful Luxor Temple
23. Valley of the Kings: A Visit to Luxor’s Ancient Necropolis
24. The Temple of Hatshepsut: A Visit to a Unique Mortuary Temple
25. Review: Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor, Egypt
26. Review: Daytime Train Luxor to Cairo, Egypt
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **