What do we mean by Classical Tours?
An enjoyable and unique opportunity to witness the history and civilization of a certain country, moving from city to city, visiting its ancient sites.
Egypt is unique for its Pharaonic civilization. Where else in the whole world, except in Egypt, one can explore the immortal monuments of the Pharaonic civilization. One can see the monuments of the ancient Greek civilization in Greece, or view the historical sites dating back to the Roman Empire in Rome; however, these civilizations are not limited to these countries. You can find monuments dating back to the same civilizations in many other countries like Turkey, France, Algeria, Jordon, as well as Egypt.
Each country is matchless in a certain civilization; yet no other country but Egypt has this rare blend of civilizations. A tour in Egypt brings together the wonders of the Egyptian Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman monuments, along with the earliest achievements of Christianity and the glories of Islam.
What are the Classical Tours in Egypt?
No country on earth boasts a longer recorded history than does Egypt, the cradle of ancient civilization with the most magnificent monuments to be seen in the world.
When the seven wonders of the ancient world were suggested by Herodotus, Egypt was a double winner with the still-standing Pyramids of Giza and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
A classical tour in Egypt usually starts, in Cairo, with a visit to Pyramids of Giza, the greatest wonder of the Pharaonic civilization. This visit may extend to Sakkara, to see the Step Pyramid of Zoser, and Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom and worship center of God Btah.
The Egyptian Museum, a visit you shouldn't miss, where you can see the collection of Tutankhamun among many other fascinating pharaonic artifacts and mummies,
One can also travel to Luxor and Aswan to witness the masterpieces of Egyptian architecture in Upper Egypt, where you can pay a visit to the Karnak Temple, built by large numbers of kings of Pharaonic Egypt and Luxor temple which belongs to king Tutmosis II & Amonhotep III. Furthermore, you can enjoy a visit to Abydos Temple of king Seti I.
Through your way to Aswan, you can relish a visit to Temple of Edfu, dedicated to god Horus, as well as Kom Obmo Temple which conjoined the two gods Horus & Sobek. In Aswan, you will see Philea Temple which belongs to the Ptolmic period.
Classical tours may also include religious visits; such as tracing the route taken by the Holy Family in its flight from Jerusalim into Egypt, visiting The Church of The Holy Virgin located on the banks of the Nile at Maadi where the Holy Family boarded a sailing boat to Upper Egypt, The Hanging Church dedicated to Virgin Mary, the Monastery of the Holy Virgin at Al Qusiya, a popular site for pilgrims from ancient times where the Holy Family is believed to have stayed for over three years, in addition to Wadi Natroun and many other Christian sites.
Moreover, religious visits in Egypt include marvelous Islamic architecture. Cairo is the city of one thousand minarets; among them are The Mosque of Amr Ibn El-Aas the first Islamic Mosque in Africa, The Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, and The Alabster Mosque of Mohamed Ali built inside Salah Al Din Citadel, as well as many other Islamic sites.
Classical Egyptian Tours
From Cairo they go south, usually to Luxor or Aswan, but one way or the other visiting both cities. Sometimes they include a Nile Cruise in this arrangement. They will frequently visit a few of the other temples above Luxor, between Luxor and Aswan, and just below Aswan. Add-ons might also extend the tour further south to Abu Simbel, or east for a short beach vacation at Hurghada, or across the Gulf of Suez to Sharm el-Sheikh, and perhaps some sightseeing at St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai. Recently, many classical tours are also purchased with an Alexandria add-ons. More exotic add-ons may carry tourists into the Western Desert, or the Eastern Desert, but all in all, the basic classical tour is not all that complicated. Yet, when looking from tour operator to tour operator, there often seems to be a whole maze of confusing options for many people.
Lets take a look at what some of this really involves.
Full classical tours usually last from between four and fifteen days. One can, of course, find shorter tours, and longer tours. Shorter tours are common, but are generally very limited in scope. They may only visit the environs of Cairo, for example, and so they are not really full classical tours. They are, however, useful, mostly to people passing through Egypt on their way to someplace else, there on business or at a conference, or for people with limited time visiting from ocean cruise ships. Tours longer than fifteen days are less common, as people simply do not have that much time. They must also either wish to have a very comprehensive tour of Egypt, or a special interest in some aspects of ancient Egypt to justify a longer tour.
A Classical Egyptian Tour Primer
Almost all classical tours originate in Cairo, which is always an overnighter. In other words, even if one plans only to take a Nile Cruise and nothing else, the tour company will, with certainty, arrange for a night's stay in Cairo, assuming that is the first stop in Egypt. There are some other options. A few flights come into Luxor to begin cruises, but that is very unusual. Other tourists who come to Egypt primarily for beach vacations at Hurghada, El-Gouna or Sharm el-Sheikh often arrive by charter plane, and may add a classical tour of some nature to their beach vacation. But otherwise, for almost all classical tourists (tourists who come to Egypt primarily to visit the antiquity sites), Cairo continues to be by far the most common landing point in Egypt.
I think one could spend years in and just around Cairo and never see all the sights, and never experience all it's adventures. Unfortunately, most visitors will not have years to explore Cairo. In the shortest of tours, they may have only a day, and even in longer tours, they may have only two or three, or usually at most four days days in Cairo. Yet Cairo is full of sites and very prominent tourist attractions. First, lets take a look at those that are most common to all Classical Tours.
The Pyramid Fields: Giza, where the Great Pyramid is located, is obviously visited by just about every tour that comes to Egypt. I cannot imagine one coming to Egypt, at least for the first time, and not wishing to see Giza, where there is also the Great Sphinx. Also, obviously, one may spend only a few hours here, frankly, as most tours do, or months. There is a lot that one can see at Giza, including many private and interesting tombs. But in reality, for most people, Giza will take no more than half a day to visit and usually less. In fact, the second most often visited pyramid field near Cairo is Saqqara, where the earliest Egyptian pyramid is located, and which is frequently combined with a visit to Giza over a complete morning (or afternoon), which may also include a short visit to "Memphis", the remaining ruins of Egypt's ancient capital. At the very best, some tours could make a day tour of these locations, and some even may take a day and a half, but if they do, it may also include Dahshur, home to some of Egypt's evolutionary pyramids. More typically, however, only a half day will be spent in the pyramid fields, if even that, and for many tourists, that will be enough.
The Egyptian Antiquities Museum: The second most frequent, and certainly one of the most important stops in Cairo for classical tours is the Egyptian Antiquity Museum, currently still in the downtown area, but to be moved in the future. Again, rarely do tours visit the museum for over a half day at most, and usually only a few hours. People do complain about this, as many would like to spend a whole day or more here. There is much to see in this museum, but there is much to see in Egypt, and usually only a limited time to do so.
Islamic Cairo: Next, almost every tour visits the Khan el-Khalili, Egypt's famous bazaar. It must almost certainly be the third most popular spot to visit in Cairo for standard tours, Notably, this will be the Citadel, though some tours may even visit a few of the ancient and beautiful mosques, or even some grand old Islamic homes or one of the Islamic museums..
In the shortest of tours, The Khan el-Khalili will be the only visit in this area of Cairo, and the shopping spree may only last an hour or two. Otherwise, Islamic Cairo, including at least the Citadel, will probably end up being a half day tour.
Old, or Coptic Cairo: In fact, Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo may be combined into a half day tour. Old, or Coptic Cairo is actually the most ancient part of the city. The part of Coptic (Christian) Cairo that is most frequently visited by tourists is located in a fairly defined area, specifically Fort Babylon, and consists of some of Egypt's most famous and ancient churches. Also here is the Coptic Museum. For many western visitors who are Christians, the several hours that most tours will spend in this location may not be enough, but for others it will be.
While Coptic Cairo is probably the third most frequently visited area in Cairo.
There are various reasons that a tour might bypass more northern Luxor heading straight to Aswan. One reason would be to join a Nile Cruise, but other possibilities might exist. For example, some tours might come back up to Luxor, and then from there, take the desert road to Quseir and then the Red Sea road to Hurghada for a short beach stay, before usually flying or driving back from there to Cairo.
But Cruise ships go up and down the Nile from Aswan to just above Luxor, and they must have, or at least would like to have passengers for both the up river and down river legs. Hence, passengers may board these cruises either in the south at Aswan for the down river leg, or in the north at Luxor for the up river leg.
Cruises usually come in four day/three night, five day/four night, seven day/six night and eight day/seven night packages. The shorter tours, to four nights, will only range between Luxor and Aswan, while the longer cruises will head north from Luxor, usually to Qena, where they will dock. Bus tours from there will visit various monuments. Afterwards, the boat will return to Luxor.
If a cruise is not part of the tour, then, except in the case of the very shortest tours, a bus will probably be used to transport tourists between Aswan and Luxor or Luxor and Aswan because between these two cities are several important tourist sites. If, for example, a beach vacation is planned in Hurghada or El-Gouna as an add-on, then the bus may very well stop at some of the sites north of Luxor before taking the desert road to the coast.
Nevertheless, most standard tours will end up in Luxor, which was ancient Thebes, whether they go directly there from Cairo, or indirectly through Aswan. In Luxor, besides visiting the local Bazaar, which up until now I must say is one of the less pleasant ones due to the aggressiveness of the merchants, there are basically two standard tours, plus the Luxor Museum. People go to the West Bank to visit mostly a few of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings or Queens, and some of the mortuary temples, and on the East Bank, there are the most famous temples of all in Egypt, that of Karnak and Luxor.
Like the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, Luxor is another of those places in Egypt were people frequently tell us they wished to have more time. However, this is really not the case for most people. It is very easy on the West Bank to get "tombed out". After about three tombs maximum, most people tire of them. The same can be said for temples. Hence, most tours will spend no more than a half day on the West bank, and in fact, even the longest tours will spend no more than two half days on the West Bank. Particularly in the summer, it is a hot, exhausting effort, and the better tours with a little extra time will very frequently provide the second half of the day free, where those with more energy may explore other parts of Luxor while others cool down. Doubtless, such tours will visit the Colossi of Memnon on the way in, though this takes about fifteen minutes tops. Almost all tours will also visit the Temple of Hatshepsut, spending no more than a half hour to an hour at that site. They will also visit two or three royal tombs as well, but which ones they visit can vary. If it is open, they will often visit the Tomb of Nefertari, but the others are a toss up. These tombs will usually only take a short time to visit, though there is some amount of walking between them, and may sometimes require a short wait before being able to enter, if many tours are on the West Bank at the same time. Otherwise, the standard tours may virtually do only a drive by of other monuments, such as the Ramesseum. By the way, most tours to the West Bank will attempt to get an early start, in order to beat the heat, but also, if the tour is very short, so that the East Bank Temples can be visited in the afternoon. Of course, every variation is possible, and some tours may spend considerable time on the West Bank, visiting even a few private tombs.
Likewise, visiting the East Bank Temples is also rarely more than a half day tour, or at most a full day, which may and should also include the Luxor Museum if the tour has enough time. If a half day tour, it will usually be a long half day, as these are very large monuments that usually require at least a few hours each even to make a cursory visit. This is actually somewhat sad to me. The Karnak Temple Complex is one of the largest religious centers ever built (if not the largest), and consists of any number of individual temples and temple complexes. I would personally rank it as the most important historical monument in Egypt.
Again, assuming we are beginning the southern leg of the tour in Luxor rather than Aswan, after visiting Luxor, a typical tour will head further south. However, if the tour includes some of the archaeological sites north of Luxor, then before heading south, the tour will head north, usually for no more than a day tour if by bus, or an overnight if by Nile Cruiser. Frequently, however, unless the tour is fairly long, these sites north of Luxor will be a tour add-on, and might include Abydos and/or Dendera, as well as other sites.
Whether by boat or bus, a standard classical tour of any length will probably make stops at several sites between Luxor and Aswan. Very short tours may take a flight between the two, completely missing these, but most will stop at the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo, and may also stop at Esna. Of these, Kom Ombo will probably take the shortest time to tour, but neither should take over about an hour and a half, if even that. Both are interesting temples with some particular features that make them very worthwhile.
Bus Tours between Luxor and Aswan will almost certainly make this leg of the tour in one day. Short Nile Cruises will overnight between Luxor and Aswan, and longer Nile Cruises may overnight twice between the two cities.
Many of the standard archaeological sites in Aswan could be visited in a single day, though that would be difficult and since one must usually overnight at Aswan anyway, they are split into two days. The most prominent site, Philae Temple, is actually south of Aswan, and since one must pass the High Dam, it too will be a part of the itinerary. Philae and the High Ham usually take up a half day tour. A few of the other possible stops (ancient) in Aswan include the Nubian Museum, the Unfinished Obelisk and quarries and Elephantine Island. One or more of these may make up the other half of the day that includes Philae, while the others, in tours of a reasonable length, will be included the next day. Of these, the longest visit will usually be to Elephantine Island, while others will be fairly brief tours. Hence, there will frequently be a little time to rest and relax before the trip back to Cairo.
It should be pointed out that any particular tour may include some site visits that others may, or may not, have as add-ons, but many tours have add-ons. They basically come in two flavors, consisting of long and short add-ons. Long add-ons are frequently referred to as extensions, but we might further delaminate them between components tours and real extensions. For example, some tour companies may, for example, have a Cairo tour, to which, a southern tour may be added as a component or perhaps a tour of the Sinai as a further component. In other words, these are very large add-ons that basically change the whole nature of a tour. We might more think of extensions as day tours, though they may in fact require an overnight stay. Examples would include an Alexandria extension, which might include an overnight stay in Alexandria, or might not. Another very common extension would be to Abu Simbel, almost always from Luxor or Aswan. This is usually a day tour. By the way, one of our favorite add-on is to Ain Sukhna on the Red Sea just below Suez. This is a quick trip from Cairo, where hotels such as those at Stella di Mare (its really become one of my favorite places on the Red Sea), including the PlanHotel and Swiss Inn, are very reasonable and at the same time, luxurious, and from there, further extensions can be made to visit the Suez Canal and the newly renovated St. Antony's Monastery, one of the oldest in the world (and also St. Paul's).
However, both Alexandria and Abu Simbel can both become more than a day tour, actually becoming more of an extension or component. At one time, there was very little to see in Alexandria, and it was relatively rare for tourists to visit the city. However, with more and more sites available in the delta, with the monasteries, particularly at Wadi El-Natron, and with more and more sightseeing available in Alexandria itself, it is possible to make a much longer tour north of Cairo than simply a day trip, and this is becoming more common. Likewise, there are Nubian temples between Aswan and Abu Simbel, and some add-ons include a full blown tour of these along the way to Abu Simbel, making it more of an extension as well. Many other extensions are available, but common ones include tours into the Western Desert to the Oasis, to the Fayoum and two various sites in the Eastern Desert.
Short add-ons are somewhat different. Frequently, they are half day tours available to those who don't want to rest when given the chance. For example, very short tours may have, as a standard part of their itinerary, a half day tour of the West Bank at Luxor followed by a free afternoon for rest or other activities. If so, they may offer the tourists, for an additional fee, a tour of the East Bank. At Aswan, a short add-on might be a visit to Saint Simeon monastery by camel. In Cairo, there can be any number of short tours lasting no more than a half day if even that, to various museums and other areas.
Actually, add-ons need not necessarily be arranged with the tour company providing the primary classical tour, and they need not, of course, be to typical classical tour sites. For example, most hotels will provide various short tours, as well as companies such as Misr Travel. An afternoon's Felucca ride might be arranged with the owner of a boat, for example, though these more typically last for less than an hour.
A final note about Classical Tours. Egyptian tours are more than sightseeing, hotels, guides and how to get from location to location. There is also the evening, and one must carefully examine that part of the tour as well. Some tours offer extensive entertainment, while others call it quits after the last tour session of the day. While Nile Cruisers almost always have nightly entertainment, this is not necessarily a standard practice outside of cruises, and there is a lot that can be done. In fact, it is even a fine idea to inquire about lunches times while on tour. Some companies will, as even part of a regular tour, provide a Dinner Cruise in Cairo, or a lunch at the Saqqara Country Club. Others will offer lunch at well known restaurants, or evening visits to nightclubs, and don't forget about the wonderful Sound and Light Shows at various major monuments in the evening. This too, plays a part in the fun of a tour, and it is good to get the details.
Classical Short Tours of Egypt
Sometimes it would seem that we present so much information that new travelers to Egypt, seeking a classical tour, may be overwhelmed. There are so many sites to see and things to do in Egypt that a relatively short trip may seem impossible. Our coverage of Egypt is extensive, but in this Special Edition, we will outline the hot spots of a classical tour, and why the areas are so important.
Most classical Egyptian tours are based on the most important pharaonic monuments, or rather, clusters of important monuments. For example, there are well over 100 pyramids in Egypt and taking the time to see all of these would involve an extensive trip. However, the most important of these, and the ones most visitors wish to see are all within a short trip from Cairo, and located near Giza just outside Cairo, and Saqqara to the south.
However, most classical tours should touch upon the non-pharaonic monuments in the area that one is visiting. For example, it would be disheartening to be in Cairo for a trip of a lifetime without viewing a few of the Christian and Islamic (medieval) sites.
Most brief, classical tours should cover basically three principle areas, with possible extensions. These include the area in and around Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Certainly there are many other sites to see in Egypt, but for a brief visit of a week to ten days, these three areas will fill the agenda.
Cairo (And Surrounding Area)
Of these areas, most of the time should be spent in Cairo. Not only are their large clusters of monuments around Cairo, but they are some of the most important in Egypt. There are basically five areas in and around Cairo that should be and probably can be explored in a short trip. As mentioned above, these include the pharaonic sites of Giza, Saqqara and Memphis, as well as Old Cairo (Coptic, or Christian Cairo) and Islamic (Medieval) Cairo. In addition, most people will wish to visit the Egyptian Museum and if time permits, most Christians should include the Coptic Museum in their agenda.
Giza: When one thinks of Egypt, one thinks of Pyramids, and the Pyramids one thinks of are in Giza. Here are the three Great Pyramids consisting of the Pyramids of Menkaure, Chephren and Cheops. Of these, the Pyramid of Cheops is the oldest, and the largest in Egypt, and is often referred to as the Great Pyramid. However, at the time of writing of this article, while all of these Pyramids may be viewed externally, the inside of the Pyramid of Cheops is limited to 300 visitors per day on a first come first served basis Also, the Pyramid of Mycerinus is completely closed for internal visits due to its restoration. Of course there are other sites to see at Giza, including the famous Sphinx, as well as the three queen's Pyramids.
Memphis: Memphis, founded around 3,100 BC, really has the least to see, of the pharaonic sites around Cairo, but its importance in history is unchallenged, as the worlds first seat of civilized power. Memphis was the first capital of Egypt, and dates to the origin of recorded history. It was the city that Menes built, and which prospered for thousands of years.
Saqqara: Saqqara was the early necropolis (cemetery) of Memphis, and contains Pyramids which are older then in Giza. In fact, Pyramids located at Saqqara are not only older, but display an evolution of Pyramid building, such as the Bent Pyramid.
Old Cairo: Coptic Cairo, or more correctly, Old Cairo, predates Cairo itself to the village that was once Fort Babylon. Here, one finds some of the earliest Christian churches in the World and indeed the path of the Holy Family while in Egypt. The walls of Fort Babylon, a Roman fortress can still be seen, and built upon them the Hanging Church of the Virgin Mary.
Islamic Cairo: Though many western visitors may believe they have little interest in Islamic Cairo, one must remember that this is also medieval Cairo, where
Luxor (And Surrounding Area)
Luxor is well known though out the world as the largest open air museum. Actually, Luxor is made up of three areas. They consist of Luxor itself and its temple, Karnak and the Temple of Karnak, and Thebes, which was the name of the ancient city and now refers to the west bank where there is located several large necropolises, including the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.
Aswan (And Surrounding Area)
Aswan is a traditional tourist area in Egypt, located in Egypt's extreme south, and is interesting for many different reasons. Like Cairo, but unlike Luxor, there is more to see and do here then just visit pharaonic monuments. Lake Nasser and one of the world's largest dams is nearby, along with the garden island of Kitchener. However, most short tours do not provide the time to visit many of the sites around Aswan. Primarily, they focus on Edfu and the Temple of Horus, the Temple of Kom-Ombo, Philae and Abu Simbel in further south in what was once Nubia. All of these great temples and shrines are significant. For example, Philae was the last pagan temple in Egypt, lasting well into the Christian era.