The Non-European Attraction Rick Steves Says Must Be On Every Traveler's Bucket List

Even Rick Steves, the American travel expert on all things European, is willing to leave his usual continents to visit the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Maybe that's just Steves channeling his inner Greek. The Great Pyramid, Khufu, is the only one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World that's survived from Greek antiquity. It's the oldest of the wonders and was the world's tallest structure for thousands of years. Not until 1311, when a spire topped off Lincoln Cathedral in England, did another building surpass the 481-foot-tall pyramid.

The cathedral eventually lost its spire, and erosion has reduced the Great Pyramid by about 25 feet. Yet it, the nearby Great Sphinx, and the other two Pyramids of Giza, Khafra and Menkaure, remain ever-visible in media worldwide. You can soar over them vicariously in drone videos online, and the simple postcard or wall calendar image of them might also be alluring. When it comes to the practical reality of planning a trip to Egypt, however, some travelers may lack the financial means or be hampered by safety concerns.

The latter is something Steves addressed on his blog in 2013 when he took a break from Europe to spotlight "blockbuster" Egypt. "Historically, tourism has been a leading sector in Egypt's economy," Steves wrote. "The cultural tourist circuit of its great ancient sites (Giza pyramids, monuments and temples of Luxor, Abu Simbel, and so on) is a must on anyone's lifetime bucket list. But all of those travelers are staying away."

Visit the Pyramids of Giza and Rick Steves' Egypt

On his blog, Rick Steves clarified, "In my first week in Egypt, touring nearly all its top ancient sites, I saw tourists, but I never saw an American." Yet it wasn't for any lack of flight options. JFK International Airport in New York and Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. both have direct flights to Cairo, only about 10 miles from the city center to the Pyramids of Giza. With connecting flights, there are any number of other paths you could take.

If you've had enough of Europe and are ready to unlock "Rick Steves' Egypt," you can start by reading our guide to visiting the Pyramids of Giza. For those wondering, yes, you can travelerblog inside the pyramids, where pharaohs were once entombed. Luxor Temple and Abu Simbel, the other two sites Steves mentioned, are located further south along the Nile River's west bank, near the border with Sudan. Construction of both involved the legendary Ramses II, who inspired the famous poem, "Ozymandias," and whom many historians associate with the biblical pharaoh faced by Moses in the Book of Exodus.

Abu Simbel's main temple is renowned for its four Ramses II statues, one of which is broken. For its part, Luxor is an essential destination for viewing temples and tombs. Despite the draw of these places, Steves noted that other American travelers were likely "susceptible to scary TV coverage" of Egypt, and unfortunately, that's something that hasn't changed.

Regional instability has impacted tourism in Egypt

Egypt's troubles were only beginning when Rick Steves wrote about the country's tourist sites being "wide open with police guards standing by" in 2013. In a fact sheet, the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, D.C., subsequently noted that terrorist attacks in the country intensified from July 2013 onward. They would continue in the years to come, with one bombing making headlines in 2019 after it caught a tourist bus near the Pyramids of Giza.

Since Egypt borders Gaza to the east, the outbreak there of the Israel-Hamas war in 2023 further impacted tourism and the perception of the region's safety and stability. As of this writing, Egypt has a Level 3 travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State, which advises, "Reconsider travel to Egypt due to terrorism." You can check the latest advisory status on the state department's website. When it's safe to visit, consider linking up with an operator like Deluxe Tours Egypt so you're not traveling alone to the pyramids and other sites.

The nexus between tourism and terrorism might come as a rude awakening if you're just picturing Egypt as a dream vacation. It's a sobering reminder that cultural sites like the Pyramids of Giza aren't just a playground for holiday travelers. Yet despite the troubles in this region, Egypt still draws millions of tourists every year. Even if you're not ready to hop on a plane to Cairo yet, it's worth possibly saving up for a once-in-a-lifetime pyramid trip.