Serenity, breathtaking scenery, and gardens everywhere – who wouldn’t want to ditch the big city and run off to the sweet serenity of Aswan, the little city that’s both a natural getaway and a trip through time all the way back to ancient Egypt. Hugging the Nile River on both sides, Aswan is probably one of the best places to experience the iconic body of water – clear, blue, and languorous, with countless spots along the Nile where you can rest for a quick cup of tea and enjoy the view against the backdrop of colourful Nubian villages. The Upper Egyptian tourist hub is known for being an optimal winter destination because, let’s be honest, nobody wants to head that far south under the scorching summer sun. Yet, despite being one of Egypt’s major tourist attractions, not every experience Aswan is break-the-bank expensive.
TOURIST SOUKvia Egypt Unlimited Tours
Between the mesmerizing spice markets, the blues of the Nile, and the colourful Nubian architecture that lines its landscape, Aswan is easily one of Egypt’s most aesthetically vibrant cities by day; by night, bright lights and a plethora of colours bring to life one of the longest souks in the world. A stroll through the souk takes you from Aswan train station all the way to Abbas Farid Street, with a mishmash of vendors that’ll sell you anything from shawls and scarves (get one, they’re amazing) to Aswan’s blend of herbs and spices. With its ancient Eastern design, what makes the souk experience interesting is that it’s a local souk – not just a tourist one – so you get to pick up your souvenirs and also immerse yourself in what life looks like as a local in Aswan. Plus, getting yourself some local prices doesn’t hurt.
Once you’ve picked up your spices and souvenirs, there are plenty of old cafes around the souk, each with their own impressive history. You could grab a coffee in El Nubyeen café, which is over 60 years old, or you could go to El Orooba café at the end of the souk, which is the oldest café in Aswan and is the one where Abd el Nasser delivered a speech celebrating the High Dam.
Location: From Aswan train station to Abbas Farid Street
FERYAL GARDENThis garden was named after Queen Feryal, daughter of King Farouk, the last king of Egypt. This garden used to be a part of the queen’s palace, which later became the renowned Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel. After 1952, part of the palace’s huge garden was turned into a public garden for the people, with a humble entry fee of 5-10 EGP. Pretty bang for buck given the view you get and the serenity of the greenery overlooking the Nile. Plus, if you head to the highest point of the garden there’s a cafe so you can sip your tea pinky-up with views worthy of royalty.
Location: Sheyakhah Oula, Qism Aswan
Get directions to Feryal Garden
Hours of Operation: 10 AM – 7 PM
Cost: 5-10 EGP
NILE CORNICHEWalking down the corniche in Cairo is best done at obscene hours of the morning where it isn’t overcrowded by the masses. In essence, it’s an incredibly peaceful experience, you just need to find the right spot at the right time. Now if you can do this in Cairo, imagine what a saunter down the corniche is like in the laid-back world of Upper Egypt, where everything’s green, breezy, and operating in slow motion. If you’re in Aswan in search of serenity, plug in some music and take a walk along the Nile. It makes for a good break between a hectic itinerary, too.
Location: From Gamea Mosque to Feryal Garden
NUBIAN MUSEUMWith over 3,000 relics from the prehistoric to the Islamic, the Nubian Museum is one of the biggest in Aswan. More importantly, it’s home to an entire floor dedicated to Nubian culture and heritage, complete with a public library for visitors to access. And in true Aswan fashion, it has a garden – a rather large garden with an array of rare plants. Museum tickets cost around 10-20 EGP, and you can get there by taking public transportation from the corniche to Ta’meen area and getting off at the Archangel Cathedral where you’ll find the museum on your left after the church.
Location: Archangel Street, Sheyakhah Oula
Get directions to Nubian Museum
Hours of Operation: 9 AM – 9 PM
Contact Number: 097 2319111
Cost: 10-20 EGP
ISLAND-HOPPING IN A FELUCCA
Have you really been to Aswan if you don’t go island-hopping through the Nile? (Hint: the answer is ‘no’). It’s one of the most iconic experiences of being in Upper Egypt, so head over to the very dock and find yourself a felucca headed down the Nile. Feluccas can be expensive, but you can easily split the cost if you’re a big group; alternatively, find a group already headed to your island of choice and hop on board with them – you’ll manage to make a few friends on the way. Also, befriend the marakby —or boatman— to get some seriously amazing stories about the land and the generosity of the people of Aswan. Locals are generally friendly, and marakbeya are no exception, so, take advantage of their company and get yourself to these islands:
HEISSA ISLANDThe only Nubian village that wasn’t evacuated after the High Dam was built, Heissa Island is a portal to experiencing Nubian culture and discovering the kind-hearted nature of its people. The island is known for its natural scenery and pharaonic relics. While you’re there: camp, safari, fish, and catch yourself a stunning sunset.
GHARB SOHEILVia Hotel.com
A mishmash of Nubian culture and Aswani nature, Gharb Soheil is over 100 years old and it’s where the Nubians were relocated after the Aswan High Dam. With 3,000 inhabitants, everything is tailored in homage to Nubian heritage – the colourful Nubian architecture, the gifts, the food, everything. Everybody and their mother works in tourism there, so you’ll get a unique experience of the Nubian culture, language, traditions, music, and art. Yes, this is the island you see pictures of everywhere, with vibrant Nubian houses against the backdrop of greenery and the pristine blueness of the Nile.
Take a stroll or bike your way around the village before enjoying a traditional meal from one of the most famous places there, Beit Hassoun. Before you leave, swing by the village souk to pick up souvenirs handmade by Nubian women – and spices. Always spices.