Aswan, located along the Nile river in southern Egypt, has a different feel and vibe than the hustle and bustle of Cairo. It’s a welcomed destination for travelers looking to relax a bit, and is a popular stop on every Egypt itinerary. Many Nile cruises depart or finish here. Aswan is also home to Ancient Nubia and the gateway to Abu Simbel. Here are some of the best things to do in Aswan.
The Temple of Isis at Philae Island
Just a short boat ride away from Aswan, the Temple of Isis at Philae Island was built during the Ptolemaic period between 380 and 362 BC and dedicated to the goddess Isis. The temple is located on an island in the Nile River and is accessed only by boat.
Despite being submerged by the waters of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s, the temple was eventually relocated to its current location. It doesn't receive the crowds of temples like Karnak and Edfu, so exploring here can feel a bit more remote. The stunning architecture is on par with the Top Temples of Egypt and a visit to Aswan must include a stop here.
Visit a Nubian Village on the Nile
One of the best things to do in Aswan is to visit an authentic Nubian village. You will cruise by motorboat down some of the most scenic areas of the Nile river, inhabited by birds such as king fishers, herons, and ibis. There is a beautiful Nubian beach where you can hop out and take a swim in the Nile river. Here colossal sand dunes meet the powerful Nile river.
Venture further into modern day Nubia and visit a Nubian village where you can explore a home before trying local food and drink. At sunset we cruised back to Aswan. Watching the tiny villages light up as the orange sky turned dark is one of my favorite memories from my trip to Egypt.
Felucca Boat Ride
Take a smooth ride on one of the traditional felucca boats in Aswan. You will see plenty of them cruising around with you, and they make for some very scenic photo ops out on the Nile river. From the boat you can also see the Tombs of the Nobles built into the side of the mountain. A relaxing sailboat ride turns into a party when your crew begins performing a traditional song and dance.
The Nile River
Whether you are riding on a cruise ship, a motor boat, or a traditional felucca sailboat, arguably the best thing to do in Aswan is to get out on the water! Aswan is a popular starting or ending point for many Nile River cruises between Aswan and Luxor. The area surrounding Aswan is also the most scenic stretch of the Nile River on the classic Egypt Nile Cruise. There is lush vegetation teeming with water birds all against the backdrop of giant sand dunes. Make sure when you are in Aswan that you make a point to get out on the Nile River.
One of the most impressive sights in Aswan is the massive unfinished obelisk. Here you can get a glimpse into what it must have looked like when workers cut obelisks out of the earth. This would have been the largest obelisk in Ancient Egypt had it not been abandoned. You can see some large cracks in the obelisk, which is why workers gave up on the project. Discoveries like this have helped archeologists understand how the Ancient Egyptians created their stunning temples.
Aswan High Dam
Compared to most of the iconic sites you will see on your Egypt trip, the viewpoint of the Aswan High Dam is not necessarily anything special. But the Dam itself is not only an impressive engineering feat, but it has been very important for Egypt’s culture and economy.
Day Trip to Abu Simbel
This is only at the bottom of the list here because technically it is not in Aswan, but a day trip out to Abu Simbel is one of the Most Unforgettable Things to do in Egypt. It will be a long day trip, about a 3 hour drive each way with a 2 hour visit, and be prepared to leave around 3am to arrive a bit after sunrise. An 8 hour commitment may not be for everyone, but the sheer magic of seeing the temple of Abu Simbel is well worth the extra effort to get there.
While Aswan doesn’t receive as much attention as Luxor or Cairo, it is full of things to do. Some of the most unique things I experienced in Egypt were in Aswan. Don’t overlook this Nubian town as it shows a different side of Egypt, and should be a part of any Egypt itinerary.
If you want more information on traveling to Egypt, check out The Ultimate One Week Egypt Itinerary and what it's like to Take a Nile Cruise in Egypt.