Nestled in the Nile River Valley, peppered with palm trees, speckled with islands and vibrant mud-brick houses, Aswan is a gorgeous sight to behold. With its distinctive Nubian culture, this frontier city is the modern incarnation of Egypt and an erstwhile trading post of its ancient civilization. Small enough to be explored on foot and more laid-back than the overshadowing twins, Cairo and Luxor, its enchanting monuments, museums, temples, and incredibly photogenic sunsets are nothing to sneeze at.
It is located near Aswan dams on the east bank of the Nile River in Aswan Governorate in southern Egypt. It is about 560 miles south of Cairo – the capital of Egypt.
Facts about Aswan
- Its name is derived from the ancient Egyptian word ‘Swan,’ which means trade or market.
- It is an ancient city of Swenett, which was the frontier town in southern Egypt.
- With an average rainfall of only 0.861mm per year, it is one of the driest cities in the world.
- Nubian Rescue Campaign was a successful UNESCO project to preserve the ancient monuments from flooding of the Aswan Dam.
Places to Visit in Aswan
Philae Temple (Temple d’Isis) – The Philae Temple is to Aswan, what the Sistine Chapel is to the Vatican. Moved from its original location to Agilika Island, it is renowned for the exquisite artistry of its reliefs and gorgeous architectural symmetry. This sacred monument was revered from ancient Egyptian times to the Byzantine period. The First Pylon leads to 18-m (59 feet) high central doorway that provides a regal entry to the main courtyard of the temple. The walls and columns in the inner temple are covered with inscriptions. Admire the Vestibule and the Gateway of Hadrian and learn about legends of the ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis.
Nubian Museum – Opened in 1997, the museum displays 3,000 artifacts that reflect history and art of the Nubian culture and civilization. Perched on a hill, it depicts the scenes of Nubian life with a range of life-size displays. While its open-door exhibition includes 90 rare artifacts, the halls showcase almost 50 prehistoric artifacts from the Pharaonic period, the Coptic era, the Nubian era, and the history of the city. The museum also features landscaped gardens, artificial lakes, library, workshops, and a research and documentation center on Nubian archeology.
Unfinished Obelisk – The northern granite quarries of the city are home to the largest known ancient obelisk – Unfinished Obelisk. It is named so because work on the obelisk was abandoned when a crack was discovered. Had it been completed, this 41-m (134 feet) long and 4-meter (13 feet) wide stone would have weighed around 1,200 tons.
Elephantine Island – The ruins of the ancient town of Abu and the Aswan Museum are situated at the southern end of the island. Aswan Museum, where excavations still continue, exhibits Nubian artifacts, utensils, weapons, and pottery. It is 1,200 meters (3937 feet) long (north to south) and 400 meters (1312 feet) wide. Temple of Khnum, Temple of Satet, and two Nilometers are other attractions here.
Mausoleum of Aga Khan – Built in elegant pink granite, it’s the mausoleum of Aga Khan III (Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah) who died in 1957. The interiors are done in light colors and are floored with immaculately maintained red carpets. The sarcophagus of Aga Khan is constructed in white marble with Koranic text carved on it.
New Kalabsha – This important landmark in the city houses a number of important structures, temples, and other remains. Kalabsha Temple, Gerf Hussein, Beit el-Wali, Dedwen and Kiosk of Qertassi are popular tourist points here.
Monastery of St. Simeon – This monastery is of great interest to archaeologists and architects. It has a church which serves as an important instance of the first domed Egyptian Churches. The ceramic furnaces present here invite interest for scientific research as well.
Sehel Island – This large island was once a stone quarry for granite during ancient Egyptian eras. On island’s granite boulders, there are many inscriptions, some of them serve as a record for the ancient historical events.
The Tombs of the Nobles, Aswan Dam, Lake Nasser, and Aswan Stadium are other attractions in Aswan.
Things to Do in Aswan
Felucca Rides – Set sail and just relax in your traditional wooden boat and watch Aswan pass at a snail’s pace along the Nile. Take a felucca or a motorboat to the Kitchener’s Island to see the Aswan Botanical Garden. You can stroll through this peaceful paradise, observe its exotic plants or simply find a refuge under a tree and while away the time. Single and multiple-day Felucca cruises between Luxor and Aswan are the best way to explore Nubian villages along the banks of the Nile.
Shopping – The Sharia as-Souk is a colorful market and a treat for your senses. From Nubian handicrafts to African goods, traders sell perfumes, peanuts, spices, and souvenirs at steal-away prices. In adjacent alleys, look for Nubian artifacts such as skullcaps, talismans, baskets, Sudanese swords, and more.
Day Trips – Get out early from the city to the Abu Simbel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visit the rock temples that have featured in Hollywood movies like The Spy Who Loved Me and The Mummy Returns.
Lake Nasser – In this arid landscape, this reservoir of Aswan Dam allows a unique fishing experience and a chance to spot about 100 bird species.
While Keylany Hotel, Philae Hotel, and Nuba Nile Hotel are good options for budget travelers. For mid-range accommodations, go for Basma hotel and Marhaba Aswan Hotel. For a luxurious stay, choose from Pyramisa Isis Island Resort Aswan, Pyramisa Isis Island Resort, Hotel Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, and Mövenpick Resort Aswan.
The city is somewhat limited to Nubian cuisine and Mediterranean style of cooking with a few Italian and Middle Eastern restaurants. For traditional dishes like Kushari, Shish Taouk, Kebab, and Kofta try Aswan Moon, Panorama Restaurant, Ad-Dukka, and restaurant. For a fine dining experience, head to 1902 Restaurant and Chef Khalil.
Best Time to Visit
The weather of Aswan remains clear, bright, and sunny throughout the year. The winter months between November and March are ideal for visiting the old city.
How to Reach?
By Air – Aswan International Airport (ASW), 10 miles southwest of city center, is served by EgyptAir airlines to Cairo and charter flights to some cities of China.
By Train – Daily passenger trains operated by Egyptian National Railways connect Aswan with Luxor, Cairo, Alexandria, and other densely populated cities along the Nile.
By Road – Bus journey from Cairo usually takes around 14 hours. Cabs, horse-drawn carriages, rickshaws, and rental bikes are also available to get around the city.