Alexandria or Hurghada? If you’re weighing up these two destinations, then we can only discern that you’re considering an adventure to the ancient land of the pharaohs and can’t quite decide which town is the one for you. Thankfully, there are plenty of things that set them apart, so it shouldn’t be too hard to choose…
On the one hand you have one of Egypt’s best-loved beach escapes. That’s Hurghada, which has been welcoming sun-seeking, salt-loving travelers for some decades to its strip of 12 miles of Red Sea coastline. On the other you have an ancient city founded by Alexander the Great no less, where remnants of a glorious past now lie beneath an electrifying modern veneer.
But which one is right for you and your travel crew this season? Cue this guide. It runs through seven key aspects of each town to help you pick the right option. We’ll look at where offers the best R&R and the finest beaches, which place is easier to get to, and – crucial for any trip to Egypt – the destination with the most enthralling history. Let’s begin.
Alexandria or Hurghada for ease of travel?
Alexandria’s Borg el Arab Airport was only opened in 2011 but it’s risen to become the principal entry point to the city for travelers coming from abroad. At the time of writing, it hosts arrivals from all across the Arab world – Dubai, Benghazi, Muscat – and a scattering of arrivals from Europe, notably from Paris–Orly (on Vueling) and Milan (on Wizz Air). You can also catch the train up from Cairo in just over two hours, making arrivals into the larger airport there a possibility. There are no longer any direct boat connections to Alexandria from Europe.
The two-terminal Hurghada International Airport has developed into a MUCH larger hub than its compadre in Alexandria over the years, mainly thanks to the boom in international tourism coming into the Red Sea coast. Direct flights on both low-cost airlines and charter fliers now connect down to the runways here on a real hodgepodge of brands, from Air Astana to FlyEgypt to Wizz. Many are seasonal, running only between May and September. Flying is the best option, since buses from Cairo can take in the region of seven hours each way!
Winner: Hurghada – it’s airport is much bigger than the one in Alexandria.
Alexandria or Hurghada for things to do?
Time in Alexandria is mainly going to be about sightseeing; about seeking out the long-lost pride of this ancient city on the Med. The obvious place to start is the great Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It’s a legendary place, intended as a homage to the ancient Library of Alexandria, which burned down almost 2,000 years ago. You’ll also want to strut down the breezy Corniche to see the ageing 1950s buildings along the seafront and delve into the Catacombs of Kom el-Shuqqafa, a window onto the Roman past of Alexandria.
For its part, Hurghada has really made its name as a place to laze on the sun-kissed sands of the Red Sea. It’s Egypt’s premier beach resort and has all the shoreline hotels and umbrella-dotted beaches to show for it. There’s another drawcard here: Diving. In fact, some of the very best diving in the world takes place on the reefs up and down the coastline around Hurghada, even if much of the coral close to the shore is degraded due to pollution. This also happens to be a top place to launch multi-day expeditions to amazing Nile sites like Luxor if you’re up for an adventure.
Winner: Hurghada. The beaches and the diving win this one.
Alexandria or Hurghada for history and culture?
Let’s get one thing straight – people don’t come to Hurghada for the history. They just don’t. Truth be told the town only dates back about 100 years. That’s nothing in a land where mighty pyramids hearken back some five millennia! The only true historical wonders are a trip out of Hurghada along the Nile Valley, but that’s at least four hours’ transfer to the west. You can visit the so-called Hurghada old town at el Dahar square, too, but it’s really just a lived-in, bustling Egyptian marketplace that’s not all that old at all.
Alexandria is very different. The town was founded by Alexander the Great no less, way back in 331 BC. It rose to become one of the great jewels of the Mediterranean in ancient times, specifically as a center for culture and learning. Sadly, the ravages of time had different ideas and there are but glimpses of that old story left to be told, at the rejuvenated library and at the Citadel of Qaitbay, where the mighty Pharos light (one of the wonders of the ancient world) once stood. You will also find traces of Roman theatres and handsome palaces from the 50s along the Corniche.
Winner: Alexandria, where enthralling history lies just beneath the surface.
Alexandria or Hurghada for outdoors adventure?
Alexandria isn’t for outdoorsy types. With a population of over five million people, it covers a whopping 1,000 square miles on the edge of the Nile Delta. That means you’ll need to do some legwork to get a taste of Egypt’s wilder side here. There’s also no obvious place to go. The delta itself is heavily developed. The desert holds the amazing Siwa Oasis, but that’s more than seven hours to the west. Your best bet is the coast, which has some sparkling Mediterranean beachfronts, some even within city limits (more on those below).
Hurghada is a much better gateway to the hinterlands of North Africa. You can hit the shifting sand dunes of the Egyptian desert with ease – many choose to get the adrenaline pumping by opting for a quad bike as the mode of transport. A little further are the historical wonders of the Valley of the Kings, which are also surrounded by huge ridges of blasted sandstone. But the obvious natural draw is the Red Sea, which has coral reefs that bloom with 10,000 colors and remote snorkeling hotspots like the Magawish and Giftun islands.
Alexandria or Hurghada for beaches?
Both Alexandria and Hurghada lie on the coast, so beaches will be on the menu no matter which you choose. That said, Alexandria is a hefty-sized metropolis, so you’re most likely to be hitting urban sands in those parts. They string along the shore either side of the Alexandria Corniche. The best of the bunch includes Abu Qir Beach on the peninsula to the east and Cleopatra Beach closer to the center. You can also find quieter sands by moving west towards Elbeytash Beach and Zomoroda.
Hurghada is positively brimming with beach options. They are what first put the town on the tourist map, in fact. Lots here are named after the resorts that rise just behind them. Sadly, that means you might have to pay entry to use them, since the sand is considered a product of the hotel that manages it. Entry fees usually range from $3 to $20. The crème-de-la-crème here includes protected Old Vic Beach, a lagoon-style inlet with calm swimming waters, and sunbed-speckled Merritt Beach, one of the cleanest on the shoreline.
Alexandria or Hurghada for hotels?
The range of hotels in Hurghada is nothing short of overwhelming. You can go days and days sifting through all the options, deciding where’s best. It’s an important decision, because the town strings up about 20km of coastline, and different resorts occupy different beaches. The main sort of hotel you’ll find here are the big, brash, many-roomed vacation hotels with pools and on-site restaurants. Some of the finest in the area include:
- Bellagio Beach Resort & Spa ($$-$$$) – Grand and sprawling, this resort is Hurghada through and through. There are pools for adults and kids, beach access, and big suites with balconies.
- Elite Suites Hurghada ($$) – Highly rated private suites with roomy living spaces and access to a patio pool.
- Grand Palace ($$$) – You get the full five stars at this adults-only hotel
Alexandria has the sort of accommodation selection you’d expect of a big city. There are serviced apartments next to affordable B&Bs, but also a range of rather grand urban stays, many of which string up and down the lively Corniche on the Med. Here’s a look at some of the finest:
- Sunrise Alex Avenue Hotel ($$) – Right on the Corniche, you’ll wake to views of the Mediterranean Sea at this much-loved hotel.
- Hilton Alexandria Corniche ($$$) – A taste of luxury with an infinity pool that looks over Alexandria’s busiest boulevard.
- Downtown Sea View Suites ($$) – Modern and stylish suites with good proximity to the beating heart of the city.
Winner: Hurghada because it’s got 1,200 hotels to Alexandria’s 400.
Alexandria or Hurghada for nightlife?
To be frank, Egypt isn’t really the place to go for bumping nightlife. If you’re after all-night partying, you’d be better off sticking to the Greek islands or moving around to Tel Aviv in the eastern Med. Here, strict traditionalism means that many people don’t drink alcohol, so you’re often limited to your hotel bar. In Alexandria, there’s a clutch of venues to enjoy around the main Corniche and the downtown. They include La Cueva, a sort of expat bar that plays international sport, and NEO, a stylo nightclub that’s known for its DJ sets and high prices.
Because Hurghada is more of an out-and-out tourist resort with eyes on the European dollar, you can expect more in the way of after-dark activity. The Marina area is the place to be based if you want to drink in the evening. That hosts the big-name brand of Hard Rock, but also smaller options like Papas Bar and Little Buddha, which both do cocktails and cold beers and pumping music shows. Parties here don’t last as long as they do elsewhere in the Med, so don’t expect sunrise finishes.
Alexandria or Hurghada – our verdict
These two spots are very different prospects for the would-be traveler. Hurghada is the place to go if you want beaches and sea on a vacation that’s more classically R&R, filled with sunshine, peppered with diving trips, and with lazing by the pool thrown in for good measure. Alexandria is for the city lovers and history buffs. In that sprawling metropolis, it’s possible to tread where Alexander the Great once trod, shop through Arab bazaars, and explore some totemic cultural sites like the great library.