Experience the riches of Giza – easily accessible from Cairo, the Pyramids and the Sphinx are the ultimate tick on any self-respecting sightseer’s wish list. Though impressive enough to capture the imagination of most primary-school kids, the Pyramids can be spiced up by staying on to watch the early-evening light show. Tours inside the Pyramids themselves may be scary for very young children – add in some family focus by taking a break from history to indulge in a camel, donkey or horse ride. Note that most of the better known pyramids are near Cairo. For those based in a Red Sea resort, there are bus and air tours but some entail 24hr round trips.
As well as providing easy access to nearby historical sights, Cairo itself has more than enough for a short break or to form half of a two-centre itinerary. The Egyptian Museum, home to Tutankhamun’s burial mask and all manner of mummies, is a guaranteed hit even with kids who are not normally hot on museums. About 10km from the centre of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile, the Pharaonic Village is a ‘living museum’ of ancient Egypt that includes a replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb, discovered by Carter and Lord Carnarvon.
When you can mummy no more, the American-style Dream Park southwest of Cairo offers a dose of unadulterated themepark fun. Designed by the Universal Studios team, it has three themed zones offering everything from teacups to high-speed rollercoasters.
Don’t miss Luxor, dubbed the world's greatest open-air museum by virtue of its being home to an incredible 1/3rd of the greatest antiquities in the world. The highlight is the Valley of the Kings, where you’ll find the tombs of most of the pharaohs of Egypt of the New Kingdom, including Tutankhamun. The latter is now of limited interest (its contents are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo); the best is the quite remote tomb of Thutmose III, accessed via a long ladder. Donkey rides above the Valley can be fun but be warned that the steep trails might induce wobbly-knee syndrome… Make sure to also make the short hike to Deir el Medina, a ruined village that housed the artisans who built the royal tombs, together with their families – the workers’ own tombs with their lovely paintings of scenes from daily life in Ancient Egypt contrast strongly with the ceremonial paintings you’ll see in the royal tombs.
Luxor is also home to the sprawling Karnak temple complex with its ram sphinxes, which was part of the Ancient Egyptian capital Thebes – it’s best reached by calèche (horse-drawn carriage) from Luxor, or by felucca (traditional sailing boats) down the Nile, à la pharaoh! You can also hire a motor launch – it’s less atmospheric but faster, and kids might get the chance to steer it themselves. Also popular are hot-air balloon rides over the city and forays into the Mummification Museum, where displays include a crocodile and other mummified animals.
Head down to Aswan to see the famous High Dam that dams the world’s longest river and find out how it was constructed, and make a boat-trip to the island temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis. Note that you can return to Luxor from Aswan by 2–3-day felucca trip, stopping en route to see the temples of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the evil crocodile-god Sobok and good falcon-god Haroeris, where sacred crocodiles were once kept as pets, and Horus, dedicated to the eponymous falcon-headed god.
As one of the top three diving locations in the world, Sharm el Sheikh and the other Red Sea coast resorts of Marsa Alam and Hurghada are well equipped for family holidays involving diving with children.
Those worried about safety and terrorism in Egypt should check the latest Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidelines (fco.gov.uk).