Here's everything you need to know about two popular Egyptian holiday hotspots, Hurghada, and its glossy rival, Sharm El Sheikh.
Miles of perfect beaches, year-round sun, historical wonders and an abundance of adventures, Egypt’s fabled Red Sea coast ticks every box. But, with two leading resorts vying for your attention, which is the one for you?
The jewel in the glistening crown of the Red Sea Riviera, is the resort city of Hurghada. With its desert climes, ranging from warm and pleasant winters to sizzling summers, Hurghada buzzes with atmosphere all year round.
Located some 280 miles south of Cairo, and enjoying a coastal location overlooking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Suez to its left, it's defined by picture-perfect beaches, lively nightlife and elegant eateries. It's not surprising then that the well-heeled are turning their attention to Hurghada and you only have to look as far as the shiny Hurghada Marina, dotted with mega yachts and located in the central area of Sigala, to see evidence of that.
Hurghada’s rise in popularity started in the 1980s and parts of the resort still pay tribute to its humble beginnings. The fragrant souks and stalls of El-Dahar Square offer a throwback to ancient Egyptian charm and present a different side to the city. Be sure to haggle hard for the spice and trinkets. The real draw of the Red Sea is its crystal waters, rich in marine life. Expect teeming coral reefs that double up as living art installations alongside a wealth of watersports and other aqua-based activities catering for all ages and abilities.
Things to do
Get wet! Whether you’re a pro or a complete novice, head to Hurghada’s many snorkelling and scuba diving schools to view curious creatures, ornate coral and sunken wrecks in famously clear and calm waters. One of the top sites is the nearby shallow flats of Abu-Rimata; while another, 27 miles to the south, is the protected shore of Sharm El Naga.
Just offshore, the courageous can enjoy parasailing, kitesurfing and motor boating, while the less brave can opt for a relaxing glass bottom-boat ride. Alternatively, learn about the rich marine life off Hurghada’s coast at the Marine Biology Museum, which comes complete with a small aquarium. Elsewhere you’ll find the fascinating Hurghada Grand Aquarium, with its fossil museum and underwater tunnel giving you the chance to get up close and personal with the creatures of the Red Sea.
Away from the water, shop 'til you drop. From glossy designer boutiques to the bustling, perfumed markets, Hurghada Marina is the place to indulge in some retail therapy. Or, for something totally different, head to the Boulevard for a ride on Egypt’s only Rocket Bungee, which catapults you 55 metres into the air at a speed of 62 miles an hour. Not for the fainthearted!
Where to eat
For classic Egyptian cuisine, head to the cheap and cheerful El Halaka for delicate seafood sourced from the nearby fish market, or the moody Bordiehn’s Villa Kunterbunt for ample mezze, succulent kofta and even local specialities, such as camel steak.
For international dishes with a sea view, try the grilled meat dishes at the South Beach Bar and Restaurant before sampling the delicate balance of sweet and spice with Roz bil laban rice pudding and honey-drizzled baklava at El Zahraa Bakery.
Sharm El Sheikh
Known as ‘The Pearl of the Red Sea’ - or simply ‘Sharm’ - the virtually rainless and family-friendly town of Sharm El Sheikh has, well, charm. And lots of it! Located close to the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula, it’s lined with spectacular beaches hugging the Red Sea, including the bazaar-dotted Naama Bay, from where the world’s best diving beckons. It is backed dramatically by a chain of rugged, rusty red mountains that harbour sacred biblical sites.
It hasn’t been the easiest of times for Sharm, but this resilient paradise is bouncing back with a level of flair and hospitality that’s both admirable and unrivalled. So, what awaits? Expect a bounty of unforgettable attractions that will delight children, both large and small; beaches lapped by warm, glassy waters full of hidden treasures, resorts fit for royalty and unique desert adventures under purple starlit skies that stretch out forever. What more could you want?
Things to do
Sharm’s biggest selling point is its position as the gateway to the Red Sea’s most radiant marine life. As such, snorkelling and scuba diving here is well-developed and accessible for all. For a truly iconic diving site, take a short drive down the peninsula to Ras Mohammad National Park, home to natural wonders, such as a mangrove forest, a saltwater lake and an aquatic ecosystem that supports 300 species of coral and 1,200 species of fish. There’s even the ghostly underwater wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, a merchant navy ship dating from 1941.
If you fancy escaping the crowds, embark on the glorious one-hour boat ride from Sharm to the delightful little island of Tiran. Largely overlooked by tourists (it has no permanent inhabitants and no running water), its peaceful bay boasts yet more fine sand beaches and shallows for splashing about in.
Back on the mainland, visit Sharm’s largest Coptic church. The Heavenly Cathedral was built in 2010 and exudes age-old grandeur, with glittering ceilings, alive with intricate murals depicting biblical scenes.
Be sure to also explore the parched golden landscapes that surround Sharm. An array of day trips cater to all tastes, from befriending a stately camel while crossing the majestic dunes of the Sinai Desert, before a refreshing glass of black tea beneath a Bedouin tent, to thundering across the plains on a thrilling quad bike tour.
Where to eat
Sharm’s varied culinary scene is the place to see and be seen in. Defined by an endless choice of Instagram-worthy eateries, you can feast on charcoal oven-cooked lamb at rooftop restaurant Tam Tam and don’t miss the hearty but healthy Moroccan and Lebanese dishes to be devoured under the stars at sophisticated Arabesque, within the Four Seasons Hotel.
Traditional cuisine can be sampled and enjoyed at El Masrien, a spot in the old market with tables that pour out onto the pavements and is hugely popular with Egyptians. Try the molokhia, an ancient plant-based stew often served with rice and chicken. Alternatively, book a table at On Deck, Naama Bay’s only floating restaurant, serving Mediterranean dishes overflowing with impossibly fresh seafood. The whole sea bass comes especially recommended.
Travel in Egypt
Travel to the tourist destinations of Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh are now considered to be safe. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has lifted its travel advisories against travelling to these destinations and, in addition, flight restrictions have been lifted on air routes between the UK and holiday destinations in Egypt.
Most visitors would fly into Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada directly, but there are regular daily buses from Cairo to these destinations. When in Cairo, you can use taxis, all of which have meters, but confirmation of your fare and a little bargaining with your driver is expected. UBER and Careem taxi services, accessed via their online apps, are also available in Cairo and will give you an instant idea of what is a fair fare price.
The majority of resorts and hotels in Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada operate their own guest pick-up services, and at a reasonable cost for the most part, so ask your resort if these can be booked directly with them as part of your holiday planning journey before you embark on travel. Taxis are, however, considered to be a reliable and good method of transportation between resorts and airports, and they can be found at airport arrivals, as well as at hotel reception pick-up points. Taxis can also be hailed on the streets, but it is advisable to check with your resort reception what fare you can be expected to pay to get to your chosen location, as a bench mark, and then always agree and confirm your fare with your driver before accepting the ride.
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