A Travel Guide to Luxor, Egypt

What to see in Luxor, Karnak and Thebes

Luxor, Egypt
••• Luxor, Egypt. Dylan Presman

Luxor

Travel to Luxor and you will know why it is one of Egypt's great tourist attractions. It is also commonly known as the world's largest open air museum. Luxor is built on and around the ancient site of Thebes. Tourists have been visiting the area since the Greco-Roman times, so you won't be the first! There are so many splendid temples and monuments to visit you will have to be picky if you don't want to get "templed out".
Luxor is actually three separate areas each with their own highlights.

The City of Luxor

Luxor Temple situated in the center of town, was built by the New Kingdom Pharaoh Amenophis III. It is spectacular and so compact it can be visited in an hour. Hours are 9am - 6pm and admission is 20 Egyptian Pounds.

The Mummification Museum has everything you've ever wanted to know about mummies and the process of mummification. Who knew that reptiles, birds as well as humans were mummified?!

The Luxor Museum houses many of the relics found at the Theben temples and necropolis on the west bank. The museum comes highly recommended because it will enrich your experience when you visit the rest of the sites.

Karnak

North of Luxor city are the spectacular Temples of Karnak. In ancient times, Karnak was known as Ipet-isut, 'The most select of places'. The temple complex of Karnak was built over a time period of 1500 years and was the most important place of worship in ancient Egypt.
The site is huge, measuring 1500 x 800 meters, and is a spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban gods. It is thought to be the largest surviving religious complex in the world. If you don't have the energy to cover all that ground then don't miss the Hypostile Hall in the Great Temple of Amun.
There are several performances of the sound and light show a night with mixed reviews, but mostly good.

Ancient Thebes (West Bank)

Crossing the Nile to the West of the city of Luxor lies the necropolis of ancient Thebes. Because there is so much to see and so much ground to cover, guided tours usually enter 3 tombs at the major archaelogical sites.

The Valley of the Kings:
This is where the pharaoh's were buried and hoped to meet their Gods in the afterlife. Tutankhamun's tomb discovered in the 1920's almost untouched is perhaps the best known to most of us non-archaeologists. But he was a minor king in the scheme of things and had it not been for centuries of looting, the larger more impressive tombs would have yielded riches unsurpassed to the impressive haul found in King Tut's burial ground. For a complete list of tombs that are open to the public in the Valley of the Kings see this list from the Egyptian Monuments site.

The Valley of the Queens:
The Valley of the Queens lies at the southern end of the necropolis. This is where the queens and their children were interred. Only four tombs are open to the public in the Valley of the Queens and if you had to choose just one, it would have to be Queen Nefertari's tomb.

Tickets are limited to just 150 a day and you are only allowed in for 10 minutes, but it is worth the effort.

The Colossi of Memnon:
Two giant statues make up the Colossi of Memnon. Most visitors get a glimpse of them on their way to the Valley of the Kings but it is worth a stop to see them up close.

Note: Not all the tombs are open, some close for restoration purposes. You can check this Luxor Magazine site for updates.

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Information on Getting to Luxor, Getting Around Luxor and Where to Stay.

Getting to Luxor

You can take almost every mode of transport to Luxor since it is the destination for most visitors to Egypt. There are regular buses, taxis and trains from Cairo and other major towns across Egypt. You can take a Felucca from Aswan along the Nile and there are even international as well as domestic flight options. The most comfortable way to get to Luxor from Cairo is probably an air-conditioned train.

More information.

Note: A hot air balloon ride is probably not your usual mode of transportation but is a great way to see the sights and get some distance from the rest of the throng of tourists.

 

Getting Around

City of Luxor to Karnak:

Karnak Temple is on the northern edge of the town of Luxor. It is within walking distance from the center of Luxor city (just over a mile), but visitors may prefer to take a taxi or a caleche (horse-drawn carriage) each way from the center of town. Set a price before you get in to the caleche!

City of Luxor to the West Bank (Thebes):

Across the Nile:
You can take the passenger ferry from Luxor Corniche to el-Gezira. The ferry crosses the river constantly until late evening when it becomes less frequent. There are tourist ferries and regular ferries, either option will get you to the sites. You can also cross the river by private motor boat. There are always taxis waiting at the ferry terminal to take visitors around the monuments.

By Road:
You can take a taxi from Luxor which will take the long route across the new Nile bridge. There is also the 'arabaya' or local bus service which will drop you off anywhere on the circuit. Bicycles can be hired in Luxor or at el-Gezira. Tickets must be purchased at the ticket office (the 'taftish' is around 6 kilometers from the ferry, just past the Colossi of Memnon) before going to the monuments.

 

Where to Stay

City of Luxor

Most of the hotels are in the city of Luxor. There are plenty of options from luxurious to flophouse. For your real budget accommodation you will have to use a Lonely Planet guide and book on the spot. TourEgypt has a good list of luxury hotels and mid-range hotels. A very good hotel with pool and perhaps a Nile view won't set you back more than $75 a night.

West Bank, Thebes

There are fewer places to stay on the west bank but I did find a decent list of hotels. You have to excuse the very odd English on this site, phrases such as "Completely after the slogan small however finely tinker the village inhabitants at their touristic future" are a tad confusing.

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When to Go, What to Bring, Further Reading

When to Go to Luxor

The best time to visit Luxor is from October to March when the weather is a little cooler.

 

Tips on "Tombing"

Depending on the time of year, Luxor is hotter than hot. Even in the winter months the temperatures can get in to the high 80's Fahrenheit(30 C). If you are in Luxor during the summer months try and get an early morning start and take a break for a long lunch at midday. Sneakers have been known to melt on the soft feet of unsuspecting tourists.

 

  • Water - bring lots of it and make sure the bottle has a new seal.
  • Sunglasses - the glare is significant when you come out of a tomb.
  • Sunscreen - sunblock is best.
  • Sunhat - floppy is good or a pith helmet ...
  • Flashlight - serious tombers take note, not all tombs are very well lit and you may need some extra light to see details.
  • Tickets - you need tickets to get in to the tombs and tickets for all camera equipment. You can buy these at various points in the necropolis and sometimes at the entrance of the bigger tombs.
  • Your Health - Climbing up the sides of hills in the heat can be tiring. Limit yourself to three tombs or so for a day and you should be fine. Also beware if you are claustrophobic, it is hot and narrow in many of the tombs.

Further Reading:

  • Rick Steves has a good article about his visit to Luxor and a handy 5 day itinerary.
  • Tour Egypt is the most detailed online guide for many destinations in Egypt, their Luxor section is very detailed and includes maps of the city.
  • Visit the Temple of Luxor and several tombs online with NOVA's excellent virtual tours.
  • Confused about which pharaoh ruled when? Who built what pyramid? The BBC has an very informative Ancient Egypt site that gives timelines, tips on mummification and more.