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17 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Sharm el-Sheikh

Written by Jess Lee

Sharm el-Sheikh is the Sinai Peninsula's major tourism center and one of the world's top diving destinations. It was the underwater wonders of the Red Sea — particularly the waters of the Ras Mohammed Marine Park just south of town — that put "Sharm" center-stage in the first place, and the diving and snorkeling on offer here continue to attract flocks of diving enthusiasts each year.

This is also one of Egypt's best destinations if you just want to chill out on the beach, and it's a particular favorite for family-friendly holidays due to the excellent facilities on offer. Whether you're here for the sand or the sea-life, Sharm el-Sheikh is a great choice for a beach break after exploring the temples and tombs in the rest of the country. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Sharm el-Sheikh.

1. Ras Mohammed National Park

Ras Mohammed National Park

Ras Mohammed National Park

Ras Mohammed National Park is what put Sharm el-Sheikh on the tourist map. Surrounded by some of the world's most incredible dive sites, this peninsula is home to glorious beaches with excellent snorkeling just offshore, the world's second most northerly mangrove forest, and a saltwater lake. A trip here is a must-do for anyone staying in Sharm el-Sheikh. The best beaches are Old Quay Beach (with its top-notch coral reef easily reached from the shore) and Aqaba Beach.

Travelers seeking a good view should head to the Shark Observatory cliff top right on the southern edge of Ras Mohammed, where views stretch across both sides of the Red Sea.

Location: 38 kilometers south of Sharm el-Sheikh

2. Thistlegorm Dive Site

Diving the wreck of the Thistlegorm

For many advanced divers, a trip to Sharm el-Sheikh means only one thing: diving the Thistlegorm. One of the top wreck dives in the world, this ship packed full of cargo to resupply British troops was sunk during World War II by German bombers. Fish now flit through its rooms and cargo holds filled with jeeps, motorbikes, and armaments that never made it to the front. The wreck is situated in the Straits of Gubal, off the western coast of the Sinai Peninsula, so it is offered as either a long one-day boat trip from Sharm el-Sheikh or an overnight trip. All boat tours here offer at least two dives of the wreck plus a stop at one of Ras Mohammed's dive sites. The overnight trips have the added bonus of a night dive of the wreck.

3. Naama Bay

Naama Bay

Naama Bay

Fringed by a white-sand beach and swaying palm trees, Naama Bay is the epicenter of Sharm el-Sheikh's resort life. There are plentiful restaurants, cafés, and souvenir stores if you get bored of the sand, but Naama Bay is really all about the beach. A pedestrian-only promenade rims the entire beach area, backed by a cluster of luxury resorts. For those looking for a holiday full of sloth-like sunbathing, Naama Bay is one of Egypt's top choices. The entire beach area has excellent facilities, including ample sun-shades and loungers, and the beachside cafés mean you don't even have to move from your patch of sandy bliss all day.

4. Jolanda Reef Dive Site

Jolanda Reef

Jolanda Reef

Jolanda Reef (also called Yolanda Reef) is one of the most popular dive sites in the northern section of the Red Sea and lies within the Ras Mohammed Marine Park. Divers flock here to explore the remains of the Jolanda, an old Cypriot freighter ship that ran aground in 1980. It's more than just a wreck dive though, as Jolanda Reef also encompasses the coral walls of Shark Reef with its huge numbers of fish life and enchanting coral gardens.

5. Ras Um Sid Beach and Reef

Ras Um Sid Beach and Reef

Ras Um Sid Beach and Reef

One of Sharm el-Sheikh's best beaches is Ras Um Sid, right at the southern tail of the town, near the lighthouse. Here, people slouch on the beach between snorkeling trips into the water where an excellent coral reef is just offshore. Farther away from the sand, Ras Um Sid Reef is perfect for first-time forays into diving and is used as a try-dive site by many local dive operators. Even if you're just snorkeling, there is plenty of fish life to see.

Address: Al-Fanar Street

6. Day Trip to Saint Catherine's Monastery

Saint Catherine's Monastery

Saint Catherine's Monastery

The Sinai Peninsula's top historical destination, St. Catherine's Monastery sits at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. One of the oldest working monasteries in the world, this Greek Orthodox hermitage is home to the famous "burning bush" of the Old Testament, as well as a museum showcasing some of the monastery's glittering collection of religious icons and ancient manuscripts that is revered as one of the finest in the world. A day trip here is one of the top things to do for any history-lover staying in Sharm el-Sheikh and can also include a hike up to the summit of Mt. Sinai.

Location: 209 kilometers northwest from Sharm el-Sheikh

7. Day Trip to Mt. Sinai

Mt. Sinai at sunrise

Inland from the sun-drenched beaches of the coast, the Sinai's rugged, mountainous heart is rawly beautiful. For a taster of this craggy landscape, hike up to the summit of Mt. Sinai to see an expanse of orange-hued peaks rippling out before you. Revered by all three of the monotheistic faiths as the place where Moses received the 10 Commandments, the summit hike is a pilgrimage for many people (and usually combined with a visit to St. Catherine's Monastery which sits at the trailhead for the hike).

There are two main trails up to the top. The Camel Trail is a well-worn switchback path, while the Steps of Repentance is a more difficult, but much more scenic, set of stone-cut staircases that was carved out by one of the monastery's monks.

From Sharm el-Sheikh, most tours travel overnight to reach the trailhead in the wee hours of the morning so that the hike up the Camel Trail is completed in the cool, dark hours, and the summit is reached in time to watch sunrise over the surrounding peaks.

Location: 209 kilometers northwest from Sharm el-Sheikh

8. Shark's Bay

Shark's Bay

Shark's Bay

Farther north from Naama Bay is slightly more exclusive Shark's Bay, which has some of Sharm el-Sheikh's most luxurious five-star resorts and hotels clustered across its sweep of sand. This is where you head if you want total tranquility on your holiday. The dining hub of Soho Square Center, which includes some of Sharm el-Sheikh's top restaurant and cafe choices, as well as shops, means you don't have to miss out on the buzz if you choose to stay here either.

Address: 7 kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh

9. Jackson Reef Dive Site

Jackson Reef

Jackson Reef

In the Straits of Tiran between the Sinai Peninsula and the southern tip of Saudi Arabia, Jackson Reef is one of Sharm el-Sheikh's prime dive sites. There are masses of large pelagic fish to be seen here, and it's one of the Red Sea's top spots for shark sightings. The reef is also home to the wreck of the Lara, and for advanced divers, exploring this freighter ship wreckage adds an extra element to this dive.

10. Day Trip to the Blue Hole

The Blue Hole

The Blue Hole

Sinai's most notorious dive site is the Blue Hole, and people come from far and wide just to dive here. This sinkhole claims the lives of a few divers every year, mostly through people diving way beyond their limits and experience. Despite the site's reputation for danger, divers who stick within sensible limits are perfectly safe here, and the fish life and incredible vistas of ethereal blue below make this an incredibly beautiful dive. It's also a popular snorkeling spot, with plenty of fish life to see near the surface if you don't fancy heading into the depths.

Location: 100 kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh

11. Day Trip to Dahab

Dahab

Dahab

Dahab is the Sinai's backpacker beach resort and a chilled-out alternative to the holiday package feel of Sharm el-Sheikh. Along the shore is a huge number of casual restaurants and cafés, while a cute shopping district winds its way up to the main highway in a jumble of souvenir shops. There is some excellent diving and snorkeling here, which is the reason most people come, but Dahab's laid-back atmosphere is also great for a day out from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Location: 90 kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh

12. Dunraven Dive Site

Diving the wreck of the SS Dunraven

The SS Dunraven had been traveling to Mumbai (then Bombay) when it hit the reef and sunk just off the tip of the Sinai Peninsula in 1876. Today, this 80-meter steam ship, torn in two pieces on the sea floor, is home to a rich variety of fish, which have made their home within the barnacle-encrusted hull. Divers here spot big schools of cardinal fish and goat fish, as well as moray eels and scorpion fish. It's roughly a two-hour boat trip from Sharm el-Sheikh, and a dive here is often combined with Ras Mohammed National Park dives or with a Thistlegorm dive trip.

13. Sharm Old Market

Sharm Old Market

Sharm Old Market

Sharm Old Market (also known as Sharm al-Maya) is the town's souq (bazaar) area, where twinkling Arabic lamps, traditional shisha pipes, and finely engraved woodwork can be found in abundance. It's best to come at sunset or later, when the worst heat of the day has dissipated, and you can shop and browse in comfort. The area is full of cheap and cheerful restaurants and cafés as well, so it's a good place to spend the entire evening. There's a distinctly different feel here than the rest of Sharm el-Sheikh — the market is imbued with a much more higgledy-piggledy local atmosphere than the rest of the city.

On the edge of the market area is the new Al-Sahaba Mosque with an imposing facade that cherry-picks influences from Fatimid, Mamluk, and Ottoman mosque styles.

Address: Sharm al-Maya Road

14. Gardens Dive Site

Gardens

Gardens Reef

At the northern end of Naama Bay, the Gardens Reefs stretch out just offshore from the coast. This reef system is actually three different snorkeling and diving sites called Near Garden, Middle Garden, and Far Garden that can be accessed by both the shore and by boat. If you just want to snorkel, Near Garden is the best (and easiest) site to access and is home to some amazing coral pinnacles with plenty of flitting clownfish and butterfly fish in residence.

15. Thomas Reef Dive Site

Thomas Reef

Thomas Reef

Part of the Tiran Straits set of dive sites, Thomas Reef offers incredible underwater vistas of soft coral and vast schools of fish. It's a deep wall reef dive that is popular with experienced divers for the fantastic array of colored coral on display. This is one of Sharm el-Sheikh's top dives for those who really want to experience the abundance of sea life that calls the Red Sea its home.

16. Day Trip to the Colored Canyon

Coloured Canyon

Colored Canyon

The swirling mineral-rich layered rock formations of this canyon are one of the Sinai's top out-of-the-water natural attractions. It's a showcase of the natural beauty of the desert, with plenty of opportunities for scrambling around the rock faces and hiking fun. For nature lovers, this is one of Sharm el-Sheikh's top days out, and exploring the bizarrely shaped pinnacles and boulders, which have been brushed with shimmering red and orange hues makes for some fantastic photography.

Location: 177 kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh

17. Nabq Protectorate

Nabq Protectorate

Nabq Protectorate

North of Sharm el-Sheikh, Nabq Protectorate is a coastal desert landscape of arid beauty and home to the world's most northerly mangrove forest. The landscape here is a vista of sand dunes, lonely beaches, and arak bushes, and it's one of Egypt's most important protected wilderness sites, with a huge amount of birdlife as well as endemic gazelles and ibexes. There are also excellent snorkeling opportunities just offshore from the beaches here.

Location: 20 kilometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh

Where to Stay in Sharm el-Sheikh for Sightseeing

Sharm el-Sheikh is very spread out. Naama Bay is the center, Sharm Al-Maya is to the south, and Shark's Bay is to the north. In general, Shark's Bay is home to the most exclusive resorts, Sharm Al-Maya and Hadaba (between Naama Bay and Sharm Al-Maya) do mid-range and budget resorts, and Naama Bay has a mix of all three.

  • Luxury Hotels: In Garden Bay (between Naama Bay and Shark's Bay) the Hyatt Regency has rooms overlooking the lush gardens that lead down to the beach. Farther along the coast, in Shark's Bay, the Four Seasons Resort Sharm el-Sheikh has plenty of Arabic styling in the rooms and a perfect strip of palm-tree-lined white sand.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Family-friendly Stella Di Mare Beach Hotel & Spa has palm-lined pools, multiple restaurants, and a fun animation team. Movenpick Resort Sharm el Sheikh is perched on the cliff-top overlooking the bay, with plenty of private beachfront and one of the best restaurants in town. Xperience Seabreeze Resort in Shark's Bay has good-value rates, sea views, large pools, and themed dinners.
  • Budget Hotels: The best budget hotels are in the Naama Bay area and are very diver-centric, operating as dive centers as well as accommodation. Camel Dive Club & Hotel is smack-dab in the center of Naama's town area, while Oona's Dive Club Hotel is snug within the northern curve of the bay.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Sharm el-Sheikh

  • Camel Safari: The Sharm el-Sheikh Camel Safari takes you on a one-hour camel riding desert trip into the surrounding desert plains. Hotel pickup and a friendly guide are included.
  • Scuba Diving: The Introduction to Scuba Diving tour is set up for complete diving beginners, with a boat trip out to the Tiran Island reefs for a try-dive then lunch and an afternoon of snorkeling around the reefs.
  • Full-Day Mount Sinai Tour: The private tour to St. Catherine's and Mt Sinai includes climbing the mountain in the pre-dawn hours for sunrise and a visit to the monastery.

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