UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt

egypt unesco sites

Egypt is well-known as a country with a long and fascinating history and was home to one of the earliest human civilizations.

Its famous pyramids and tombs from the ancient kingdom stand as monuments to this past. Some of these are among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, designates various locations around the world as World Heritage Sites for their cultural, historical, scientific, or natural importance. These sites are protected by international treaties.

Here is a quick guide to all of Egypt’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

How Many World Heritage Sites Are There in Egypt?

Egypt is home to a total of 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The majority of these are of cultural significance, while one has made the list thanks to its importance in natural history.

Three of the sites date back to the Old Kingdom of Egypt.

The UNESCO World Heritage List for Egypt is as follows:

  • Abu Mena (cultural heritage)
  • Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis (cultural heritage)
  • Historic Cairo (cultural heritage)
  • Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur (cultural heritage)
  • Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae (cultural heritage)
  • Saint Catherine Area (cultural heritage)
  • Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) (natural heritage)

What Are Egypt’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites?

Ancient Thebes (located in the modern city of Luxor) was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Egypt for parts of its history. Its necropolis includes the breathtaking Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.

Memphis was capital of the ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom period. Located 20 km south of Giza, its necropolis extends to the iconic pyramid complex, which contains the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx. For more information, see the guide to Saqqara and Memphis.

The Nubian Monuments include the great rock temples of Abu Simbel near the Sudanese border and the island temple of Isis at Philae, located close to Aswan.

Historic Cairo is one of the oldest Islamic cities on Earth, dating from the 10th century AD. Its architecture includes mosques, hammams (Turkish baths), and ornate fountains.

The Saint Catherine Area and Abu Mena are both monasteries dating back to early Christianity and the former is still in use today.

Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) is unique among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Egypt in that it is of natural significance, rather than cultural. This valley in the desert, located about 150 miles from Cairo, has hundreds of fossils of prehistoric whales, many of which lie on the surface of the sand thanks to natural erosion.

How Many Pyramids Are There in Egypt?

The total number of pyramids across the whole of Egypt is debated. Sources variously claim that there are between 80 and 138 identified Egyptian pyramids.

Some, like the iconic pyramids of Giza still stand tall and attract thousands of visitors each year, while others are in ruins and are barely recognizable as pyramids. It is possible that there are more lost pyramids hidden beneath the shifting sands.

The most famous Egyptian pyramids are the 3 found at the Giza complex:

  • The Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the “Great Pyramid” and the “Pyramid of Cheops”)
  • The Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren)
  • The Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinus)

The Giza pyramids are remarkably well-preserved and the entire site, including the Great Sphinx of Giza, is one of the UNESCO sites in Egypt. The largest of them, the Great Pyramid of Khufu, is also one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Other important Egyptian pyramids include:

  • The Pyramid of Djoser (or Step Pyramid, located in the Saqqara necropolis)
  • The Pyramid of Unas (Saqqara)
  • The Bent Pyramid (Dahshur necropolis)
  • The Red Pyramid of Dahshur (Dahshur)
  • The Black Pyramid (Dahshur)
  • Meidum Pyramid (62 miles south of Cairo)
  • The Pyramid at Hawara

Why Was Abu Mena Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger?

The site of Abu Mena, located around 50 km southwest of Alexandria in the north of Egypt, is a ruined Christian monastery complex dating back to the 4th century AD.

Said to be the burial site of the early Christian martyr Menas of Alexandria, it was an important pilgrimage destination for Christians seeking healing and other miracles. It became a great complex, which included several churches, a basilica, and Roman baths.

Today, few buildings remain standing, but the foundations are well-preserved, including crypts, baths, and underground rooms.

However, local agricultural developments and land reclamation efforts have led to a rising water table, causing the soil around the site to become wet and unstable. Some structures in the ancient city have collapsed and there is ongoing concern about the stability of the site.

In 2001, Abu Mena was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list and action was taken to reinforce the bases of important structures with sand. Drainage trenches were dug and pumps added to remove water from the soil. The site was removed from the World Heritage in Danger list in 2009.

However, it has since been readded to the list as water has continued to rise.

How to Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Egypt

Visiting all of Egypt’s World Heritage Sites involves traveling to various parts of the country. Abu Mena is located near the Mediterranean coast in the north, while Abu Simbel is close to the border with Sudan in the far south of the country.

Cairo is a good place to start, as its historic center is one of the sites itself. Well-connected with an international airport, the city is also close to the Giza Pyramid Complex and Memphis.

Whale Valley is also within 2 hours’ drive of the city and visitors can take tours out to see the fossils.

From Cairo, travelers can book themselves on a Nile river cruise to Luxor and/or Aswan, where they can visit Ancient Thebes and the Nubian monuments, respectively.

To visit Abu Mena, it is advisable to head to the coastal city of Alexandria, which is about 50 km northeast of the site and visit the ruins from there.

The Saint Catherine Area in South Sinai can be reached by road from Sharm-El-Sheik. There are minibuses from the nearby city of El Tur. There is also a bus service from Cairo, which takes around 8 hours.

Visas Needed to Visit Egypt’s UNESCO Sites

In order to visit Egypt in the first place, most international travelers will need a valid visa.

Foreign nationals from a number of countries may travel with an Egypt eVisa. This electronic visa can be obtained online from the comfort of the applicant’s home or office, avoiding the need to go to an Egyptian embassy.

The online application form for the Egypt eVisa is quick and simple to complete and the approved document is emailed to the applicant.

To see if you are eligible, check the requirements for the eVisa for Egypt.

Apply for eVisa