I can say with comfort that Egyptian Railways can be the most comfortable way to travel between cities in Egypt.
The views from the train can be wonderful, especially along the Nile amongst the fields and palm trees on the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan and Cairo-Alexandria routes. As so often, the train journeys give you an insight into the country.
How to Buy Tickets
Buying tickets at the station…
It’s fairly easy to buy tickets at the station when you get to Egypt, although as this is Egypt a degree of patience is called for!
Cairo main station has several booking windows, one for each class and group of destinations, so check that you are joining the right queue.
You can pay for train tickets in Egyptian pounds, except for the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan deluxe sleeper which must be paid in foreign currency (US dollars, euros or pounds sterling) at the separate El Watania sleeper office.
Except during busy periods, it’s normally easy to get 1st class tickets on the day of travel or the day before.
The deluxe overnight sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan usually has places available if you book a day or two in advance, but at peak tourist times such as Easter it can get fully-booked by tour groups, so pre-booking is recommended.
On the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan route, Cairo ticket office will not sell foreigners tickets for the regular daytime trains due to the misguided & easily-circumvented upper Egypt tourist train restrictions.
The solution is to either buy a ticket online as shown above or use the self-service machines as below, or if all else fails simply get on the train without a ticket and pay on board, see the section on tourist train travel restrictions which explains all this.
Self-service ticket machines…
These are (or were) the easiest way to buy tickets when you’re at the station, quicker and easier than using the staffed ticket counters.
The main stations in Egypt have self-service ticket machines with a touch screen and English language facility.
They can sell train tickets complete with a reservation for all main routes & trains and they accept overseas credit cards.
They will happily sell tickets for the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan daytime trains too, even though the staffed counter won’t.
In late 2017, reports suggest many machines have fallen into disrepair, or reject overseas cards, but look for one that works, some still do and if so, will accept overseas cards. If you use these machines, feedback would be appreciated!
You can now book tickets online for the air-conditioned express trains between Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor & Aswan. Give it a try and see how it goes…
What tickets can it book?
The system will book 1st & 2nd class seats on the main air-conditioned express trains between Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor & Aswan.
If you want to buy tickets for the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan sleeper trains, see the next section.
When does booking open?
Booking opens 2 weeks before departure. If you try to book more than 2 weeks before you want to go, it simply says there’s no availability, so just wait until booking opens.
What won’t it book?
It won’t book sleeper trains, only daytime express trains. It won’t book 2nd & 3rd class non-air-con tickets for ordinary slow trains, or tickets to other destinations such as Mersa Matruh or Port Said or smaller stations such as Edfu or Kom Ombo. Or book tickets further ahead than about 2 weeks.
It also seems to book trains from Aswan to Luxor, but not from Luxor to Aswan.
Can foreign tourists use this system?
Yes. It allows you to select USA and other overseas countries from a drop-down list when registering and when booking a ticket.
After selecting USA it will happily book a daytime seat-train from Cairo to Luxor, with no sign of any problem with the tourist restrictions. Result!
The small print says it only accepts Egyptian credit cards, but I can confirm it accepts my own UK Visa credit card, and it uses the Verified by Visa additional security system. So give it a go.
You can only book a maximum of 4 seats at a time on Cairo-Luxor-Aswan trains and 5 seats on Cairo-Alexandria trains.
If you want to buy more tickets than this, you’ll have to book via a travel agency or at the station as below or perhaps create two separate accounts using a different name and credit card. There are a few other limitations, see their terms & conditions.
How to use it buy tickets online:
Go to https://enr.gov.eg, click English then sign up, a simple process. Enter your passport number in the National ID box. You are emailed an activation code to start your account.
When activated, log in again and click on Make reservation. Select stations, class, and a date within the next 2 weeks. It will not book further ahead than this. You can leave offset and time blank.
You print out your own reservation details with date, time, train number, car & seat number.
You can board the train with just this printout and the credit card used to make the booking, as long as the main named traveller is the owner of the credit card.
If you’ve used someone else’s card, then you’ll need a photocopy of the front of the credit card, passport, and reservation details.
Tickets aren’t emailed to you, so you should print the ticket details immediately after booking or write down the long booking reference so you can quote it if necessary.
Can you buy tickets online for the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan sleeper train?
No. The sleeping train company “Abella” used to offer this service at wataniasleepingtrains.com/ticket but it is not working any more.
Buy Tickets Via an Agency:
If you want to book Egyptian train tickets in advance before you leave home and the Egyptian Railways online booking system doesn’t work for you, or you want to book the deluxe sleeper from Cairo to Upper Egypt, you can arrange tickets by e-mail through an Egyptian travel agency of your choice.
Cairo to Alexandria
The train service between Alexandria and Cairo is excellent. There are broadly two sorts of train: Modern air-conditioned express trains with comfortable 1st & 2nd class seats, not dissimilar to European trains, using either ‘Spanish’ or ‘French’ carriages, and ordinary trains with very basic non-air-con 2nd & 3rd class (plus air-con 2nd class on some trains).
A 1st class one-way ticket for an air-conditioned express from Cairo to Alexandria costs about LE 50, less than £6 or $9!
Special = Extra-fast air-conditioned express train using Spanish carriages, 1st & 2nd class with refreshments, either non-stop or only stopping at Tanta. These are the best trains. Originally operated by a French gas-turbine ‘turbotrain’, but since December 2007 by regular air-conditioned carriages as the fuel-thirsty turbotrains were too expensive to maintain.
Exp = Fast air-conditioned express train using French-built carriages with 1st & 2nd class and refreshments, usually making several intermediate stops. Also recommended.
Ord = Ordinary train, not normally used by tourists. Basic 2nd & 3rd class, not air-conditioned.
Cairo-Alexandria is 208 km (129 miles). All these trains also call at Sidi Gaber, a local station 3km from Alexandria’s main station.
Cairo – Luxor – Aswan train restrictions for tourists…
Since the terrorist attacks in Egypt in 2009, the Egyptian government has put restrictions on which trains foreigners can buy tickets for between Cairo and Luxor/Aswan, allegedly so that the government can assure tourists’ safety – although I’m tempted to think it’s just to make more money from putting visitors on the deluxe sleeper or on planes, as personally I’d feel safer as the sole tourist on a train full of Egyptians than be part of a large herd of foreigners. Details are difficult to confirm, in fact the UK Egyptian Tourist Office denies any knowledge of any restrictions, but this is definitely the situation in practice:
What do the restrictions mean?
The only trains from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan for which Cairo ticket office will sell tickets to foreigners are the overnight deluxe sleeper trains, in either the sleeping-cars or seats cars. They won’t sell you tickets for the comfortable & inexpensive daytime trains from Cairo to Luxor & Aswan. There is absolutely no problem riding these trains once you have a ticket or even if you haven’t – see option 4 below! The restriction is purely about being sold a ticket at the ticket office.
There are no restrictions on other routes…
…such as Cairo to Alexandria, Cairo to Suez or Cairo to Port Said, where you can buy tickets for any train you like, it’s just the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan route where ticket selling is restricted. Indeed it seems that the ticket offices at Luxor and Aswan will happily sell you a ticket for trains to Cairo, or between Luxor & Aswan, it’s just Cairo ticket office which won’t sell tickets to foreigners for the regular daytime trains to Luxor or Aswan. If you have more information please email me. Now, there’s no need to put up with this.
ll mainline trains use Cairo’s impressive main station, sometimes called Ramses station, unless shown otherwise in the timetables below. See map showing the location of Cairo station.