Aswan, Egypt’s sunniest southern city and ancient frontier town located about 130 kilometres south of Luxor, has a distinctively African atmosphere. Its ancient Egyptian name was Syene. Small enough to walk around and graced with a beautiful setting on the Nile, the pace of life is slow and relaxing. Stroll up and down the broad Corniche watching the feluccas with their tall masts or sit in floating restaurants listening to Nubian music and eating freshly caught fish. Take a caleche ride and see the sites at a leisurely pace; there are many things to do in Aswan.

In Aswan the Nile is at its most beautiful, flowing through golden desert and over granite rocks, round islands covered in palm groves and tropical plants. Explore the souq, full of the scent and colour of spices, perfumes, scarves and baskets. View the spectacular sunsets while having tea on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel (named due to the location of the Nile’s first cataract located here). Aswan has been a favourite winter resort since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it’s still a perfect place to get away from it all.

Felucca on the Nile at Aswan

A felucca beats across the Nile in front of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan

Aswan is either the beginning or end of most Nile cruises and it is also from here that you can investigate the Aswan High Dam, Philae Temple, Kalabsha, the Nubian ruins on Elephantine Island, or take trip to the fabulous temples at Abu Simbel. You can also enjoy a Lake Nasser cruise for something quite different again and a felucca ride is a must.


Solstice at Abu Simbel

When: February 22 and October 22 (annual)
Where: Abu Simbel Temple
Abu Simbel is located in the heart of Nubia and is accessible by road or air from Aswan. In the Great temple, through a hypostyle hall containing eight columns depicting Ramses II is an inner sanctuary with statues of Ra, Ramses II, Amun and Ptah seated against the far wall. At the solstices, twice a year, the dawn sunlight is aligned to light the entire length of the temple, lighting up three of the four statues, but never touching that of Ptah, the god of darkness.

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Sham al-Naseem

When: 21 March each year
Where: All over Egypt
Both Muslims and Christians in Egypt welcome the first day of spring with a festive picnic called Sham al-Naseem, which means “the smell of spring”, gathering for outdoor picnics. Fuul (kidney beans) and “fasiyah” (dried fish) are the traditional food of the day. Some people boat on the River Nile, and enjoy their picnics there.

Leylet en Nuktah

When: 17 June (annual)
Where: Egypt
Leylet en Nuktah is a special day in the traditional Egyptian calendar and according to the Coptic calendar, it is observed on the 17th of June every year. The day marks the first day of the rising of water level in the Nile River prior to the flooding of the Nile valley and delta. The flooding of the Nile valley caused the deposit of fertile silt, which was the reason behind the successful harvest. The Leylet en Nuktah was therefore a very important day in terms of ancient traditions of Egypt.

Usually, though a day is fixed for the rising of Nile’s water, the significant changes are observed some few days later. The actual day of rising of the water level is somewhat close to the summer solstice. In the ancient times, the norm was that, if the phenomenon was delayed, attractive Egyptian women had to be sacrificed in the river. The belief was that the river God had to be satiated or else the flood would fail and this would result in failure of harvest. According to the Coptic calendar, the Leylet en Nuktah is observed every year on Payni 11th. Of course, since the construction of the High Dam at Aswan most of Egypt no longer sees the rising of the Nile flood.

Ramadan and Eid

When: August 2012 (annual)
Where: All over Egypt
Cairo’s Muslims regard Ramadan with deep respect, fasting throughout daylight hours. But as the sun sets, the volume rises and crowds gather to eat, drink tea and hear music. The end of the month is Eid-al-Fitr, a joyous three-day festival of family and friends’ get-togethers and well-earned feasting.

Crowds gather at mosques, and on the streets outside, for Eid’s sunrise Salat al-Eid prayers. Afterwards, a feeling of excitement rules as everyone greets each other joyfully and families head home to exchange gifts and put on new clothes. Over the next few days, you can join in the festivities with outings to funfairs and amusement parks, and picnics in the parks.

Please note that the exact dates are an estimate based on the visibility of the lunar crescent, so Eid may actually start 1-2 days earlier or later than predicted. Ramadan moves forward by around 11 days each year as it is based on the lunar calendar.


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