Egypt has long been among the most popular holiday destinations in the Middle East. Both the temples of southern Luxor and the famous Pyramids of Giza appeal to the imagination. Beach resorts such as Alexandria and the beaches along the Red Sea are also very popular. Read more about this popular holiday country on this page.
The vast majority of Egyptʼs more than 100 million inhabitants live in a narrow strip of land along the Nile. Because this is only a small percentage of the total territory, most Egyptian cities are crowded.
Despite Egyptʼs economyʼs strong growth in recent years, a third of Egyptʼs population still lives below the poverty line. The economy is very dependent on tourism, and COVID-19 has therefore deprived the country of much vital revenue. Since 2021, tourism to Egypt has been picking up. To attract even more holidaymakers, in April 2022, the Egyptian government decided to add another 78 countries to the e-visa system.
Fact and numbers
|Capital||Cairo (10 million inhabitants)|
|Religion||Islam (90%) and Christianity (10%)|
|Currency||Egyptian pounds (EGP)|
|Time difference||One hour (summer) or two hours (winter)|
|Flight time||4 to 5 hours|
|Travel Adapter||C/F Adapter|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||A visa is required|
|Safety||Read the Egypt travel advice|
The majority of Egypt is in the most northern part of Africa, bordering Israel in the northeast, Sudan in the south and Libya in the west. The small part of Egypt that borders Israel, the peninsula of Sinai, is located in Asia. The Nile is the lifeblood of Egyptian society. The vast majority of the population lives in cities on both sides of the river. The rest of Egyptʼs landscape consists mainly of desert. The Suez Canal, which forms the border between the African and Asian parts of Egypt, connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea.
History of Egypt
Ancient Egypt: Pyramids and Pharaohs
The civilization of Ancient Egypt is counted among the oldest civilizations in the world. For thousands of years before our era, people were already farming in the area around the Nile. About 3,000 years before our era, the area was united under the first ancient dynasty. From then on, people spoke of Ancient Egypt, which was ruled by the well-known pharaohs. It is therefore not for nothing that people also speak of Pharaonic Egypt when talking about Ancient Egypt. The pharaohs remained in power for about 3,000 years. From this period date the world-famous pyramids, the Sphinx of Giza and the Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamunʼs tomb was discovered. Finally, the conquest of Egypt in 332 BC by Alexander the Great put an end to Egyptian independence. From then on, Egypt was under Greek rule.
Egypt under new rule: Greeks, Romans and Arabs
After its conquest by Alexander the Great, Egypt was ruled by Greek rulers for about 300 years before the Romans took over in 30 BC and the country was incorporated into the Roman Empire. So, besides the many remains from the time of the Pharaonic dynasties, numerous Greek and Roman ruins can also be found in the country. In the seventh century, Egypt was conquered by the Islamic Empire, and the Arabic population is the dominant group in the country to this day.
Over the following centuries, more and more Egyptians converted to Islam, but Christianity also played a significant role. Most Christians in Egypt are followers of the Coptic Church, one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Depending on the ruler, this minority has been more or less suppressed throughout history, but they have left their mark on Egyptian culture nonetheless.
The modernisation of Egypt: Ottomans, French, British and independence
In the early 16th century, Egypt came under new rule. The Ottomans had been steadily advancing from what is now Turkey since the late Middle Ages, and by the 16th century, they had become lords and masters of the eastern Mediterranean. This ushered in a period of at least 400 years with a Turkish elite at the head of Egyptian society.
This period ended at the end of the 18th century with the invasion of the French led by Napoleon. The French were soon driven out again, but the country was left in chaos. Mohammed Ali, initially the army chief under the Ottomans, took advantage of this situation by assuming authority and effectively founding the modern Egyptian state. Even though he was officially a subject of the Ottoman Empire, Mohammed Ali put Egyptʼs interests first. He even waged several wars against his former masters. In the late 19th century, Egypt came under English control, and only in 1922 did it formally gain independence.
Egypt gained partial independence from the British as a monarchy in 1922. In 1952, there was a coup, resulting in the kingdom of Egypt becoming a republic. A new generation of leaders, led by army chief Gamal Abdel Nasser, came to power. Inspired by socialist ideas, Naser tried to turn Egypt into a superpower, These policies led to conflicts with Western powers and with Israel, but they also made Arab leaders see Egypt as a great example of a successful Arab nation for several decades.
Naserʼs successors tried to maintain Egyptian dominance, but due to military defeats and economic malaise, Egypt gradually lost the upper hand. Egyptʼs presidents ruled as authoritarian leaders, which culminated in a popular uprising against the rulers in 2010. For a few years, Egypt seemed to turn into a democracy, until the 2013 coup led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi now effectively rules the country as an autocrat.
The Sphinx of Giza, one of the oldest and well-known Egyptian structures
What are the tourist highlights in Egypt?
Egypt has lots to offer in terms of tourism. The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx of Giza are undoubtedly the countryʼs most famous highlights. They are a stoneʼs throw from Cairo, so they are very easy to visit from the capital. In Cairo itself you can find the Egyptian Museum, which is one of the most famous museums in the world. Here is shown the famous death mask of Tutankhamun, together with thousands of other ancient artefacts. Furthermore, the Egyptian capital also has numerous other museums, such as the Coptic Museum, but also the Cairo Citadel, a castle from the time of the famous Arab general Saladin is definitely worth a visit.
In addition, it is definetely recommended to make a cruise on the Nile, from Cairo to the south. Eventually you will arrive in Luxor. This city, known in ancient times as Thebes, long was the capital of the ancient Egyptian realm. Hundreds of temples and ancient statues have been preserved from that time. A visit to this city cannot be skipped. Furthermore, in the far south of the country the temples of Abu Simbel can be found. They can be more difficult to reach, but a visit to these temples are for many tourists the absolute highlight of their trip. The temples were carved from the rocks over more than 3,000 years ago and can still be admired.
The best-known coastal city in Egypt is Alexandria. With about half the population of Cairo, Alexandria has a much lower population density than the capital. The proximity to the Mediterranean Sea adds to the spaciousness. There are several beautiful beaches and diving spots close to Alexandria. Of course, there are also a lot of historical buildings to see here.
Population and Culture
The majority of the Egyptian population follows the Sunni stream of Islam and this is clearly reflected in everyday life. Five times a day, the prayer calls from mosques reverberate through the city, signalling the daily rhythm of life. Many Egyptians pray various times a day, including in public places. A second important cornerstone of Egyptian society is the family. It is customary every Friday (the most significant day of the week in Islam) to gather with a large part of the family and have a sumptuous meal.
Egyptian cuisine is varied and differs significantly from the gastronomy of other Arabic countries in a number of ways. Many dishes are vegetarian and contain a lot of legumes. Yet chicken and lamb are eaten a lot as well. Pork, on the other hand, is hardly available because, according to Islamic teachings, it is unclean.
The official language of Egypt is Standard Arabic, but Egyptians use one of many Egyptian-Arabic dialects in everyday life. In many ways, these dialects differ from the standard language to such an extent that, in fact, two different languages can be spoken. Besides Arabic, other languages are also spoken in Egypt. For instance, there are communities in the south of the country that speak Berber languages and part of the Christian population uses the Coptic language, albeit mainly in religious contexts.
The Hollywood of the Middle East
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt has had a thriving film industry. During this century, thousands of productions were made, which were well-received in other Arabic-speaking countries. In the 1950s, the Egyptian film industry was even the second-largest in the world. Through exposure to Egyptian films and series, most Arabic speakers have become very familiar with the Egyptian dialect. As a result, Egyptian Arabic has a certain status to this day.
Almost all of Egypt has a hot desert climate. Around the Nile and on the coast, it is somewhat cooler, but generally, it is not cooler than 30 degrees in the daytime almost everywhere in Egypt in summer. In many places, it also regularly reaches 40 degrees during this period, especially in the desert areas. Despite the heat during the day, the desert can cool down considerably at night.
Egypt has very little precipitation; even in autumn and winter, it only rains a few millimetres a year. Precipitation is mostly higher in coastal areas than inland. In Alexandria, for instance, because of the higher humidity, there is significantly more rainfall than in the far south, where sometimes no rain falls for a year.
In spring, bone-dry and extremely hot winds blow across the country from the southwest. This so-called khamsin can create impressive sandstorms.
Typically, the period from early autumn to early spring is considered the most ideal time to go on holiday to Egypt. This is because summer is often too hot to do much during the day. If you do go to Egypt in the summer, make sure you have adequate protection from the sun and scorching heat. No matter how hot it is during the day, donʼt forget to bring warmer clothes for the cold desert nights in summer.
The desert landscapes of Egypt
Economy and currency of Egypt
Because Egypt consists almost exclusively of desert, there is very little arable land available. The only fertile land in Egypt is to be found in the Nile Valley and Nile Delta, which make up only a small percentage of the countryʼs territory. Even so, agriculture is the most important economic sector in the country. For a long time, Egyptian farmers were at the mercy of the Nile, but since the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1970s, the water in the river can be better controlled. Furthermore, the dam also generates a lot of electricity and is therefore one of the largest providers of energy.
Moreover, tourism is one of the most important pillars of the Egyptian economy. However, because of the political unrest between 2010 and 2014, the number of tourists to the country has diminished. In addition, the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on tourism has also significantly dented the income of many Egyptians.
Officially, Egypt is governed according to socialist principles, but in reality, the state has outsourced more and more sectors to the free market. Where possible, the state tries to exert influence, for instance, by prescribing fixed rents.
Paying in Egypt
The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (EGP). An Egyptian pound consists of 100 piastres. One British pound equals 37,10 EGP (January 2023), so UK travellers can eat and do other shopping relatively cheaply in Egypt.
In most cases, it is not necessary to bring lots of cash with you when travelling, as it is currently possible to pay with a debit card or credit card almost everywhere. Keep in mind that there are often transaction fees for this, that can differ per bank. It is recommended to look up how high these transaction costs are before departure. If they are high, it is probably more beneficial to bring more cash on your trip.
Either way, it is wise to carry a small amount of cash, as tipping is important in Egypt. Egyptians expect a tip, baksheesh, for the smallest services, even if it is just helping carry the luggage. This does not have to be a large amount, but it is therefore useful to have some piastres on hand.
The Sultan Hassan mosque in Cairo, the capital of Egypt
Safety in Egypt
Despite the unrest in many neighbouring countries, Egypt itself is a relatively safe country. However, like in many countries, tourists are an easy target for pickpockets or pushy sellers. It is therefore recommended to be careful, especially in crowded places and at popular tourist attractions. Furthermore, it is recommended to travel in groups as much as possible. This is especially true for women, who are at a much higher risk of becoming victims of cross-border behaviour. However, crime in Egypt is generally relatively low.
Because of the current unrest in Libya and Sudan, it is recommended to avoid the border with these two neighbouring countries. Furthermore, do not travel to Northern Sinai. Areas in the Egyptian government have long been under the control of groups associated with ISIS and there is therefore still a terrorist threat, especially for tourists. In addition, the most northern part of South Sinai needs to be avoided.
It is recommended to thoroughly read the complete travel advice for Egypt before departure. Here you can find several tips for your trip, including how to reduce the chances of getting sick.
In Egypt, it is two hours later than in the UK and Ireland, except in the summer. Egypt does not observe summer time, so the time difference is only one hour.
Apply for the Egypt visa
e-Visa.co.uk is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the Egypt visa. e-Visa.co.uk acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for a visa directly with the immigration service (25 USD per visa, via visa2egypt.gov.eg). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.co.uk, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 25 USD in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as £35.25 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous Egypt visa was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.