The Suez Canal is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering, built in 1869 and stretching 4,300 miles of the sea route between Asia and Europe. The 120-mile artificial waterway connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, bordering Asia and Africa, and is a popular route for cruise ships to take. The canal was built in Egypt’s Belle Epoque, an era of extravagance and innovation which also saw the birth of the canal-side cities of Port Said and Ismailia. Make sure to book a cruise itinerary that transits the Suez Canal – from the sailing experience itself to the quirky stops along the way.
Why cruise Suez Canal
Cruising the Suez Canal is up there with bucket-list cruise experiences, transiting from Asia to Africa and sailing through piercing blue waters. There’s plenty to see on the banks of the canal, from gritty Suez itself to leafy Ismailia and faded Port Said, and you’ll see feats of engineering like the famous bride. The Suez Canal is a popular route on cruises between Europe and Asia, taking you from the Med to Middle East. A huge array of cruise lines offer sailings through the canal, from Royal Caribbean, Marella and Celebrity Cruises to Cunard, Silversea, P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen.
What to see and do in Suez Canal
On the northern banks Suez Canal is Port Said, a once grand city with an enigmatic and fascinating history. Port Said was built for the canal, emerging from the ground during the Egyptian Belle Époque at a time when dreams were big and money was no object. Due to its position and passing trade, the city turned into a den of iniquity, and the exhilarating spirit of smugglers, sleuths and spies is still felt in its faded streets of once-grand buildings like the Art Deco Simon Arzt department store – now disused and showing insight into the city’s heyday. Make sure to wander the pedestrian-only boardwalk running alongside the canal – offering fantastic views.
Port Said Military Museum
Those stopping off at Port Said while transiting the Suez Canal should visit the Port Said Military Museum, which exhibits information on the canal and its military history. Starting at the birth of the canal, you can see bizarre exhibits – think toy soldiers – spanning the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. Outside in the museum’s gardens you can see captured US tanks emblazoned with the Star of David and a collection of UXOs – unexploded ordnances.
Port Fuad is a city on the northwest tip of the Sinai Peninsula, at the north end of the Suez Canal and across from Port Said. The city sits on the Asian side of the canal and was established in 1926 as an overspill for Port Said, which was enjoying its heyday and influx of residents. Today it’s a major Air Defence Position for Egypt and genteel suburb of Port Said, it’s main attraction being a newly built mosque with elegant twin minarets and multiple domes. Sailing past, or strolling along the quayside, you’ll see grand residences, manicured gardens and European-like tiled roofs.
Suez Canal Bridge
The most iconic and spectacular site while transiting the Suez Canal is the Suez Canal Bridge – otherwise called the Mubarak Peace Bridge or simply El-Qantara (‘The Bridge’). Most photos of the Suez Canal are of this bridge, the world’s highest bridge on flat ground with two massive pylons – one in Asia and one in Africa. The huge cable-stayed and steel bridge took six years to build, with work commencing in 1995 and finally finishing in 2001. Cruising past the iconic bridge is a true bucket-list experience.
People call Ismailia ‘The City of Beauty and Enchantment’, a historic waterfront city on the west bank of the Suez Canal. It was constructed in the image of its French inhabitants who occupied the land during the colonial era and built beautiful and historical buildings like De Lessep's House – the grand former residence of the French consul to Egypt. On the banks of the Suez Canal, passengers can look upon a Coptic Church with its cross-topped domes, historic centre and elegant streets of 19th-century villas with sprawling manicured gardens. Head to the old European quarter to see the Sharia Thawra and Midan Al Gomhuriyya squares.
The seaport of Suez guards the southern entrance to the Suez Canal, located on the north coast of the Gulf of Suez and the home of the towering Suez Canal Bridge. While the seaport has fallen into disrepair, it has a little nostalgic charm and boasts some amazing seafood restaurants – thanks to its prime location and three bustling harbours. Gaze into history before the war with Israel as you see the former residences of the British and French inhabitants, and wander palm tree-lined streets to see ornate mosques and the gardens of the Ganayen district. There’s also an amusement park on the waterfront.
Need to know when travelling to the Suez Canal
Getting around the Suez Canal
Transiting the Suez Canal is usually about staying on board and imbibing its banks from the ship, but there’s also the chance to disembark in ports like Port Said. Cruises sail between Port Said and Suez, where they either continue onto the Mediterranean Sea (Port Said) or Red Sea (Suez). In Port Said the new cruise terminal has been well kitted out with an information desk and bazaar, and is a short walk into town.
When to go to the Suez Canal
The best time to visit the Suez Canal and its main port of Port Said is in spring (March-June) and autumn (September-November), when the weather isn’t scorching hot. The canal is busy all year round with around 60 ships transiting through the canal each day.
Cairo uses the Egyptian pound.
British passport holders will usually need a visa to travel to Egypt, which can be obtained by the nearest Egyptian consulate or the official Visa2Egypt portal. Tourist visas granted using the e-visa system are valid for a maximum of three months. You can also get a visa at the airport on arrival at kiosks within the airport arrival hall, before immigration, for a cost of $25. You won’t need a visa if you’re just transiting the canal and not leaving the ship.
The ship will transit the Suez Canal
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