Filled with a rich, cultural history, secret tombs and ancient treasure rooms, it's no surprise that Egypt is known for its pyramids, tombs and temples. But outside of the usual fare a person would expect when visiting Egypt, visitors might find some interesting, out-of-the way spots in the Nile River, downtown Cairo and Sinai Desert overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba; exotic gardens, ancient marketplaces and a castle. With so many options available, you are sure to find spots to make your visit to Egypt memorable.
Overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, visit the Castle Zaman on Taba-Nuweiba road atop Al-Borqa Mountain. It sits in the middle of the Sinai desert just over 10 feet above sea level with a view of four countries: Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Built in an eco-friendly manner and quarried from stones in the region, the castle denotes a landmark along the ancient road that connected St. Catherine's Monastery with Jerusalem. The castle's restaurant produces traditional meals, in the "slow-food" style, which means food that normally takes one hour would takes three hours to prepare. A specially constructed gift store, the "Treasure Room" beneath the castle leads to an underground tunnel that visitors can explore. The castle provides a bar, restaurant, swimming and coral reef diving, and facilities for half- or full-day excursions to enjoy while you await your traditional meal.
You might not expect to find gardens in Egypt, but don't miss visiting the Botanic Gardens outside of Aswan on Kitchener Island, translated from Arabic to mean "Island of Plants," situated in the Nile River. Travelers can reach the island via an Egyptian sailboat, the "felucca." A guide is available to share details of the monuments that you pass on the way to the island. The island has a botanical museum, and its gardens contain exotic plants and trees imported from around the world.
Dating back to the 17th century, Shari Khayyamiya is one of the oldest "thoroughfares" in Cairo, translated as the "Street of the Tentmakers." The colorful bazaar is lined with large tent pavilions made in the traditional style of Egyptian tents using appliquéd cloth patterns on the inside "ceilings" of the tents. At first glance, the Street of the Tentmakers appears bland from the outside, as each of the many tent stalls are sculpted into the stone walls lining the street and are gray or white to match the walls. Tourists can purchase handcrafted wall hangings, scarves, bedspreads, shawls, cushion covers and more. The Street of the Tentmakers is the only covered market left in Cairo.
One story suggests that Elephantine Island is named for its resemblance to a herd of Elephants basking alongside the river's edge. Situated in the Nile River, Elephantine Island is one of the largest islands in Aswan. Standing at the ancient border between Nubia and Egypt, it provided a defensible position and a cargo transport site for river trade. In front of the Aswan Museum at river's edge, take note of the "Nilometer," used for measuring river clarity and height during the annual flooding season. View ancient artifacts unearthed in the area at the Aswan Museum. The island is also dotted with many temple ruins for touring. Visit the picturesque houses in the Nubian villages, which contain artistic carvings and paintings.
The tallest structure in the surrounding area for close to 50 years, Egypt's Cairo Tower is made of granite and its latticework design evokes that of a lotus plant in the style used for the pharaohs. It is the fourth largest tower in the world and tourists can use the lift to ascend to the top. Telescopes afford many stunning views of the city, especially at night with the city lit up. A revolving restaurant and cafe atop the tower is available for a special dining experience. The tower recently underwent a restoration project in time for its April 2011 anniversary.
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