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Visiting Abu Simbel Temple in Egypt With Kids

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Last Updated on June 13, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Abu Simbel Temple. Egypt. The massive scale is difficult to understand until you are in person.

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Imagine trying to portray yourself on the level of the Gods, really as a God yourself, in ancient Egypt.  How would you show this kind of power and strength?  Ramesses (or Ramses) II built many temples and monuments to himself, but the most impressive might be Abu Simbel.

Named after the young man who discovered the temple in 1813 (thousands of years after its construction) while helping guide Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt to the site, this impressive temple holds an even more impressive history.  Once hidden from view by sand and later threatened by water submersion, this temple was actually moved from its original location in the 1960s through a worldwide UNESCO effort and over $40 million.

Abu Simbel consists of two impressive temples, one for Ramesses II, in which he puts himself literally on the level of the Gods, and one for his favorite wife, Nefertari.  Considering how rare it is to have a temple for a queen (Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor is the only other notable temple for a queen), a visit is needed to see this marvel.  Ramesses II has Nefertari’s massive statues on the same level as himself, portraying her as his equal.  Even the inscription on the outside reads; 

“A temple of great and mighty monuments, for the great royal wife Nefertari Meryetmut, for whose sake the very sun does shine, given life and beloved!”

We learned Ramses II had over 200 wives and hundreds of children.  What made her special enough for her own temple, I wonder?

More Fun Facts About Abu Simbel 

Abu Simbel Temple, also known as the Great Temple of Ramsses II, is a fascinating historical and architectural marvel. 

  • Pharaoh Ramesses II: The temple was commissioned by Pharaoh Ramesses II (also known as Ramesses the Great)  in about 1265 BC. It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to Ramesses himself.  We were able to see Ramesses II’s mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo before our visit to Abu Simbel, which added another cool element to this visit.
  • Monumental Statues: Some of the most striking features of Abu Simbel are the four colossal statues of Ramesses II seated at the entrance. Each statue stands at around 20 meters (65 feet) tall and is carved directly into the rock face.  How the ancient Egyptians managed this staggers the mind.
Ramsses II, like many other pharaohs of Egypt, loved to immortalize himself.  However, he was one of the only to put himself on the level of deity during his lifetime.
  • Moved and Preserved: In the 1960s, Abu Simbel faced the threat of being submerged under Lake Nasser due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. In one of the most ambitious archaeological rescue operations in history, the entire temple complex was carefully dismantled and relocated to higher ground, preserving it for future generations.  The archeological teams cut massive blocks of stone, moved them 65m up and 180m back from their original location. The temple was moved and restored exactly as it was discovered in 1813, with chunks fallen onto the ground in the same spot in the foreground.
  • Sun Alignment: Twice a year, on February 22nd and October 22nd, the sun’s rays penetrate the temple’s inner sanctuary and illuminate the statues of Ramesses II and two of the three gods seated within. Ptah, the god of the underworld and darkness, remains in the dark. This phenomenon symbolizes the king’s deification.  This is exactly one day later than it originally occurred due to the movement of the temple.  However, the temple still aligns exactly with the sun.  If your visit coincides with these dates, expect special celebrations and larger crowds.
Sunset at the Great Pyramids. Source Unsplash
  • Small Temple of Hathor: In addition to the Great Temple, there is a smaller temple at Abu Simbel dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramesses II’s favorite wife. The facade of this temple is adorned with statues of Ramesses II and Nefertari.  Smaller statues of their children, about the size of their knees, are depicted.  Visitors are left to wonder what qualified these children to be depicted in the temples here.
  • Ramesses II as a God: At the very back of the temple is a worship sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, with four statues–the gods Ptah, Amun-Re, Re-Harakhti, and Ramesses himself. While Pharaohs were considered god-like, none except Ramesses claimed god status while alive. Most pharaohs believed they would be gods upon death. Ramesses II’s portrayal of himself as a god with three other gods is highly unusual.
Kids had a lot of fun!
  • Hieroglyphic Inscriptions: The walls of both temples are covered with intricate hieroglyphic inscriptions depicting scenes from Ramesses II’s military campaigns, religious rituals, and offerings to the gods. These inscriptions provide valuable insights into ancient Egyptian life and culture.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Abu Simbel was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 in recognition of its outstanding universal value and cultural significance. It is Egypt’s second most-visited site after the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Why You Should Visit Abu Simbel as a Family

Abu Simbel topped my husband’s wish list of places to visit in Egypt, but I had never heard of it.  Why drive an eight-hour round trip and spend an entire day seeing this temple when Egypt is crowded with amazing temples?  I even tried to talk him out of it!  However, he was sure it would be worth it.

Post-visit, I tend to agree.  It did consume a lot of our trip time, but it amazed all of us.  The sheer magnitude of the temple alone is worth a visit.  The splendor and grandeur of Ramesses II thousands of years ago cannot be described adequately in words.  

Walking up to this temple and being only around the level of the foot of Ramesses II fascinates even the smallest of tourists.  Inside the temple, you can find interior decorations, ritual rooms, and the Holy of Holies (the room illuminated by the sun twice a year).

The temple is surrounded by Lake Nassar, with gorgeous views on three sides. Most Nile River cruises reach the temple, although the majority will arrange a ride from the city of Abu Simbel.

This temple, very close to the current Nubia border, originally was a show of power to this neighboring nation. Its uniqueness also comes from the fact that it is not constructed but carved out of the mountainside itself.

Planning Your Trip to Abu Simbel With Kids

Due to its distance from other popular tourism destinations, Visiting Abu Simbel requires some serious planning. A tour guide can take care of these details for you, or you can tackle this on your own. 

If you are doing a Nile River Cruise, they may also offer this as a destination and help you coordinate. Hotels in Aswan or Abu Simbel will also be happy to find you a guide and driver.

Abu Simbel with the kids.

How To Get to Abu Simbel

By Air:

  1. From Cairo or Aswan: The easiest and quickest way to get to Abu Simbel from Cairo is by taking a domestic flight. Several airlines operate flights from Cairo International Airport to Aswan International Airport.  We recommend Egyptian Airlines.  Unfortunately, these flights can also be expensive (around $250-400 pp).  

By Road:

  1. From Aswan: If you prefer overland travel, you can hire a private car or join a tour group for a road trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel. The distance is approximately 280 kilometers (174 miles) and usually takes around 3-4 hours by car or bus.  In our private van with some fast-driving divers, we were able to get there in three hours.  Private tours run around $70 from Aswan.  Bus rides run from $8-30 pp.
  2. From Luxor: Another option is to travel from Luxor to Abu Simbel by road. The distance is longer, about 290 kilometers (180 miles), and the journey takes around 4-5 hours.
  3. In past years, convoys were required to travel together to Abu Simbel for safety.  Now, the government of Egypt has set up security checkpoints along the route.
  4. Note the road is closed until 4 am.  While you may want to go earlier to beat the crowds, it is not possible.

By Boat:

  1. Most Nile River Cruises will allow and add on visits to Abu Simbel (depending on itinerary).  However, only one boat docks at the temple itself, which is the Odysseys Unlimited. 

Opening Hours of Abu Simbel

 Abu Simbel is open daily from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. You cannot visit for sunrise unless you stay in the Abu Simbel area.

In addition, there is a night and sound show at Abu Simbel.  It does require a minimum number of guests to run the show (between 7-10), and you need to be staying in the area for the evening due to the road closure returning to Aswan or Luxor.

Tickets to Abu Simbel

Tickets cost around $10 per person. You’ll need to add that to the price if you want to bring a tripod.  However, your guide may find a work around for this (we saw that several times).

There is a small snack and gift shop within the Abu Simbel temple area.  Everything is grossly marked up, but when you are burning from the Egyptian sun, a cold ice cream goes a long way.

What To Expect When Visiting Abu Simbel With Kids

  • Take note that the temperature in Abu Simbel can be significantly higher than that in Aswan, which is warmer than Luxor or Cairo. There is no shade, and taking kids to this monument might mean you’re in high temperatures.
  • Our kids enjoyed the history with some YouTube videos that we watched the night before.  Our guide brought pictures of the original temple as well as some pictures of the project to move it.  We talked with our guide under a pavilion before entering the temple. Guides are not allowed to go inside with you out of respect for the dead. 
  • Kids tend to move quickly through the temples themselves, so we did not spend more than 20-30 minutes in each temple.  However, it was fun to imagine what the rooms have seen in the thousands of years since their construction.
  • The walls of these temples hold important history and are quite fascinating.  
  • There are stray dogs outside this temple (and many others), so you can bring small snacks to feed the dogs if you like. 
  • There is also a nice-looking cafe overlooking Lake Nassar.  Enjoy some lunch with your tour if you want.
Grace admires Abu Simbel’s statues

Where to Stay When Visiting Abu Simbel

Are you planning a visit to the iconic Abu Simbel temples in Egypt? Your choice of accommodation can significantly enhance your experience. Here’s a guide to the best places to stay, including the renowned Aswan – Cataract Hotel and accommodations near Abu Simbel itself.

Aswan – Cataract Hotel

Nestled on the banks of the Nile, the Aswan-Cataract Hotel is steeped in history and luxury. With its stunning views of the river and impeccable service, it’s a favorite among travelers seeking a touch of elegance during their stay in Aswan. Enjoy spacious rooms, delectable cuisine, and a serene ambiance that perfectly complements your exploration of the region’s ancient wonders.

Cataract Hotel. Source Booking

Accommodations near Abu Simbel

While there are limited options for lodging near Abu Simbel, you can find comfortable accommodations in nearby villages. Consider staying in one of the guesthouses or hotels in the town of Abu Simbel, which offers convenience and proximity to the temple complex. Despite being a small community, you’ll find welcoming hospitality and a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Whether you choose the luxurious charm of the Aswan-Cataract Hotel or opt for accommodations near Abu Simbel, your stay in this historic region is sure to be memorable. Explore ancient wonders by day and unwind in comfort by night, creating unforgettable moments amidst Egypt’s timeless landscapes.

  • Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort: Situated on the shores of Lake Nasser, Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort offers breathtaking views of the tranquil waters and the surrounding desert landscape. With its comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and attentive service, it provides a peaceful retreat for travelers exploring the nearby Abu Simbel temples. Immerse yourself in the serenity of this remote location while enjoying the hotel’s swimming pool, restaurant, and other facilities.
  • Kabara Nubian House: Experience the charm of Nubian hospitality at Kabara Nubian House, a traditional guesthouse nestled in the heart of a Nubian village near Abu Simbel. Decorated in vibrant colors and adorned with local crafts, Kabara offers guests a unique cultural experience. Stay in cozy rooms adorned with Nubian textiles, savor authentic homemade meals, and discover the warmth and hospitality of the Nubian people during your stay at Kabara Nubian House.
Kabara Nubian House. Source Booking.

Tour options

Day Trip From Aswan

Abu Simbel Temple Day Trip with Hotel Pickup: Embark on a journey through time with our top-rated day trip from Aswan to the iconic Abu Simbel Temple. Sit back, relax, and soak in the mesmerizing landscapes as we transport you to this ancient wonder. With expert guides leading the way, delve into the rich history and significance of Abu Simbel Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore the colossal statues, intricate carvings, and awe-inspiring architecture that define this archaeological masterpiece. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience Egypt’s cultural treasures firsthand!

Abu Simbel Temple Entry Tickets

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Other Tips for Visiting Abu Simbel With Kids

  • The walk from the car park to the temple takes a few minutes. You can also ride in a golf cart, which might be preferable under the hot sun.
  • Many tourists arrive first thing in the morning.  You might find fewer crowds by mid-day, but you can’t stay very late into the afternoon if you need to get to Aswan or Luxor due to road closures.
  • If you want to attend the night light and sound show, stay in the Abu Simbel area for at least a night.
  • Be sure to put on sunscreen, wear hats and carry water.  The heat can be intense for the children.
  • As with most Egyptian tourist destinations, use the bathrooms near the ticket booth

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Additional Reading

Visiting the Great Pyramids in Egypt With Kids

18 Beginner Tips for International Family Travel

Hot Tips for Buying International Flights for Your Family: 250+ Flights Later

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