By Audley specialist Sharidan
Almost everyone I’ve ever met has had a phase when they were captivated by ancient Egypt’s enigmatic culture. (I admit I might be biased. My ‘phase’ hasn’t ended — I majored in Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies at university and now I plan trips to the region for a living.)
The allure of pharaohs, pyramids, and hieroglyphs can be a touch point that reaches across the decades, making Egypt an exceptional destination for family trips. Seeing the country’s highlights with two or three (or more) generations gives you a chance to bond over some of humanity’s oldest and greatest achievements.
Why Egypt is great for families
A popular destination since the time of the ancient Greeks, Egypt has a well-developed infrastructure for visitors, which makes it easy for me to find rooms in the right configuration. For example, you might want connecting rooms for you and your young children, with separate rooms to accommodate grandparents and a pair of teenagers. That’s hard to find in most countries, or prohibitively expensive, but it’s simple and affordable in Egypt — if you book in advance.
Additionally, you can choose to have someone there to help you at every step of the way. We can arrange for a representative to meet you at the airport and ease your way through security, and you’ll always have private drivers wherever you go. (For larger families, that might mean two minivans or even a mini bus.) This extra set of hands can make international travel with small children or big groups a lot easier. Especially if you have a lot of luggage.
Cairo for families: where to stay and what to do
All visits to Egypt start in Cairo, and I think the city’s best hotel for families is the Marriot Mena House. The hotel sits at the foot of the Great Pyramid and the views here are unparalleled — many offer balconies where you can sip your morning tea and admire unimpeded panoramas of the renowned silhouette. Additionally, there are plenty of adjoining rooms and a lovely pool, also with views.
For most families, the views are entirely worth the slight trek to downtown Cairo, especially if you don’t plan to do a lot in the city proper. But if you prefer a more central location, or would rather spend your budget elsewhere, you could opt for the Kempinski Nile Hotel. This boutique hotel has modern rooms and the views might be slightly less spectacular, but the sight of the Nile lit up at night is still captivating in its own right.
You’ll have the same guide the whole time you’re in Cairo, so they’ll have time to get to know you and your family. That can be particularly helpful when you’re juggling the often-disparate interests and physical needs of, say, an eight-year old, a teen, and an older adult.
While you’re here with multiple generations, you can visit multiple generations of pyramids at Giza, Saqqara, and Dahshur. There are more than 1,000 years between the earliest and latest examples of these massive monuments and your private guide can explain their evolution. I also recommend visiting the Egyptian Museum to see myriad relics, including the items unearthed at Tutankhamun’s tomb. To see the country’s collection of mummies, you’ll also have to visit the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.
If your family would like a look at the more modern side of Cairo, I’ll arrange a food tour. I think that Egyptian food is an underrated national cuisine. I’m particularly fond of koshari, which is a jumbled dish of pasta, rice, and lentils that’s covered with a slightly spicy tomato sauce, spiked with garlicky vinegar to add zing, and then sprinkled with chickpeas and crispy fried onions for some crunch. It’s carbs on carbs with more carbs, but it’s my ultimate comfort food.
You should also try the ta'ameya — Egypt’s answer to falafel. Made with fava beans instead of chickpeas, it’s a deceptively simple snack, with a crunchy-crispy, deeply browned exterior that shatters to reveal a creamy, steaming interior. Eaten off a napkin as you walk, it’s the essential taste of Cairo to me.
If anyone in the family is interested in less-ancient history, I can also arrange a tour that will take in the churches, synagogues, and mosques as well as the Coptic part of the city. Those who aren’t interested can stay at the hotel and enjoy the pool, or take a guided visit to the Khan el-Khalili market, a frenetic souq in the heart of historic Cairo.
Aswan for families: where to stay and what to do
From Cairo, you’ll board a short flight to Abu Simbel for a tour of the temples overlooking Lake Nasser. Cut straight into the rock, the mind-boggling size of these temples starts to give you a glimpse into the globe-spanning ambitions of Ramses II, who commissioned them. Family members who remember the 1960s might recall when these temples were saved from being drowned in the lake, which was formed by the Aswan High Dam.
From there, you’ll head to Aswan to unwind in this sleepy riverside town. I suggest staying at the Mövenpick Aswan: the building exterior is frankly ugly, but it’s lovely on the inside and has a relaxed atmosphere that’s great for children (and adults) who might need to have some quiet time before the cruise. It’s also right in the middle of the Nile, on Elephantine Island, which affords it great views. Plus, children tend to get a thrill out of taking a small boat (called a felucca) to their hotel.
You can relax here by the pool or you can wander down to the Nubian Museum — Aswan is an easy town to navigate on your own and the museum is well signed in English. If you’d like a guided tour, and you’re not there on a Friday, I suggest a visit to the Nubian village to learn more about this well-preserved culture.
Family cruises on the Nile
A Nile cruise is an excellent way to explore the major sights that are peppered along the river, especially if you’re moving a whole family and don’t want the fuss of unpacking every night. A three-night cruise is the most efficient, but you can opt for a more leisurely pace as you enjoy the temples, tombs, and timeless landscapes.
Choosing the right ship is vital, especially for families. I suggest either the MS Sonesta St George or the MS Sonesta Sun Goddess. The former has a bit more vintage style and the latter is newer and slightly more indulgent, but both offer a plethora of amenities, including evening entertainment like belly dancing. You’ll also find a laid-back atmosphere and family suite options. The cabins are much larger than you’ll find on other ships, which means fewer visitors on any given tour of the sights, too.
And what sights! You’ll visit the Aswan Dam, Philae Temple, and the temples at Kom Ombo as well as Edfu, where you can see mummified crocodiles. You’ll end in Luxor with time to explore both the East Bank, where you’ll see Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, and the West Bank, home to the hidden tombs of ancient kings, queens, and commoners alike.
Along with the pyramids, these are the show-stopping sights that have drawn people for more than 4,000 years. There’s really nothing like standing in the midst of such ancient grandeur. To help unlock the history behind the blank-faced statues and sarcophaguses, you can head out with one of the ship’s guides — they’re all engaging and knowledgeable Egyptologists. However, if you’re a bigger family, or even if you just prefer the flexibility, it might make sense to hire a private guide, which I can arrange.
The Red Sea for families: where to stay and what to do
After a week or more of busy touring, bustling cities, and monumental sights — not to mention wrangling family members — you might be ready to unwind a bit. In that case, I suggest a few nights at the Red Sea, relaxing at the Mövenpick Resort El Quseir.
Rooms here are modern and bright, with splashes of teal against the white and natural wood. The seven dining options can accommodate everything from picky young eaters to a romantic dinner for two.
The resort is perched right on a crescent of white-sand beach and overlooks the glittering blue waters of the Red Sea. Few people know it, but the Red Sea has coral reefs that are absolutely thriving and the house reef here extends right up into the swimming area. You can go snorkelling among it, or the hotel will arrange for a boat trip to more distant reefs. And if there are any divers in your family, the Red Sea is one of the best-kept secrets in the diving world.
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Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.View All Tours in Egypt