Egypt is way more than just the national museum and the Great Pyramids of Giza. Sure, Cairo is filled with hidden gems, but you can never truly know the culture of a country from experiencing just one city, regardless of how big or busy it is. Luxor is a gem on the Nile that was once the ancient capital of Egypt – Thebes – and it alone has one-third of the world’s ancient monuments! Full of ancient wonders and open museums, Luxor is proof of the ambition of ancient Egyptians, represented in their mammoth buildings and vast tombs. There are so many monuments in this city that you could easily spend a week exploring and soaking it all up and you still wouldn’t be able to truly see everything. Luxor is basically a huge open-air museum, and there’s no better place in Egypt to lose yourself in the wonders of the ancient world.
LUXOR TEMPLEvia ETL Travel
Known as the southern harem of Amun, the Luxor Temple was built by Amanhotep II and Ramses II to celebrate the Festival of Opet — the most important celebration by the pharaohs – but, like all temples, was later changed by other pharaohs during their respective reign. During his reign, Amenophis IV obliterated all references to Amun and added the sanctuary of his god Aten, and then came Tutankhamun who destroyed the temple of Aten. The temple withstood so many changes throughout its years, and has lived to tell the stories through embellishments on the walls. During the Christian era, the temple was transformed into a church and later, after the introduction of Islam, a mosque was built inside the complex. A whole mess of history, reigns, and religions make up this beautiful complex that begins with the Avenue of Sphinxes that runs all the way to the temples of Karnak — a distance of 3 km.
LOCATION: Luxor Temple on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- On foot: The temple is in the heart of Luxor, so if you’re staying nearby, take a walk to the Luxor Temple; the contrast between the fast-paced modern town and the ancient temple will be a quick cultural study all its own.
- Taxis: If the weather is not helping or you’re not up for a walk, taxis are your friends in Luxor generally.
KARNAK TEMPLE COMPLEXvia Egypt Tours Portal.
This temple says three things about ancient Egyptians and their buildings: big, bold, and hugely ambitious. Luxor’s mammoth building, the Temple of Karnak, is a whole complex and is considered ancient Egypt’s grandest project. Every pharaoh added and amended parts during their reign, adding their touch and stamping their seal on this religious sanctuary. Karnak was the house of gods, and its glorious build only shows how precious religion was for ancient Egyptians.
The Great Temple of Amun is Karnak’s main building, and it has seen improvements under the reign of many pharaohs. You’ll find yourself spending the most time in this awe-inspiring building, but there’s definitely more to Karnak than this. While exploring the site, you’ll stumble upon a gorgeous blue body that’ll definitely catch your eye between all the rocks and sand: The Sacred Lake, or Birket El Mallaha, surrounded by well-preserved walls. This complex could easily take up a whole day just to walk through; there’s the Avenue of Sphinx, Kiosk of Sesostris, Temple of Ptah, Temple of Montu, Temple of Ramses II, Temple of Osiris, Temple of Khonsu, and this is only naming a few.
PRO TIP: Do this place with an experienced guide, otherwise you’ll find yourself missing out on a lot of what this grand complex represents. There's only so much that a self-guided Google tour can do amid the wonders of Ancient Egypt.
LOCATION: Karnak Temple Complex on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- On foot: If the weather is forgiving, it’s an easy walk from downtown Luxor along the Nile Corniche to Karnak.
- Taxi: All taxis drivers will agree to drive you up to this site, and you’ll always find taxis hanging by the entrance to drive you back you when you exit.
- Carriages: Luxor has a huge number of horse carriage operators, you could use them as a way of transportation and they’ll agree to take you up to Karnak.
HATSHEPSUT TEMPLE/TEMPLE OF DEIR EL BAHARYvia Britannica
A funerary temple located below the cliffs of Deir El Bahary, the Hatshepsut Temple has light-colored exterior that stands out a bit among the other temples and gives it more of a modern picture. It was built for Hatshepsut, the second female pharaoh of Egypt who had one of the most successful reigns in history. She started out as queen regent after her husband – the king – died, and remained so temporarily until her stepson came of age. She continued to rule and assumed the title of pharaoh, and, for the first few years, she ruled as a man to establish authority since people were not used to have female pharaohs (ugh, patriarchy).
The temple was built during her reign, and she specifically requested that location, close to the Valley of the Kings, to emphasize her power. Made up of three colonnaded levels, the temple displays scenes from Hatshepsut’s time as a monarch, along with shrines to gods Amun, Hathor, Anubis, and Ra. At the highest level, there were statues of Hatshepsut, but many monuments were destroyed by Thutmose III, her stepson, after her death, erasing all traces of her rule.
PRO TIP: The Hatshepsut Temple is best done hand in hand with the Valley of the Kings; it's a half-hour walk between one site to the next, and the views are well worth the stroll.
LOCATION: Hatshepsut Temple on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- On foot: One of the best ways to arrive at the Temple of Hatshepsut is by walking from the Valley of the Kings and over the mountain pass. It’s a half-hour walk, but well worth the effort for the views as you approach the temple. Bring water. Bring plenty of water.
- Ferry: The fastest way is walking to the ferry dock in Luxor city centre, taking a ferry to the West Bank, and you could easily get a taxi from from the West Bank dock over to the temple
- Taxi: You could arrange with a taxi from Luxor city center, but keep in mind that driving down to the bridge and back up takes a bit of time.
- Arranged tours: Ask around in your hotel for arranged tours; it’s easier to do this with a guide.
VALLEY OF THE KINGSvia Lonely Planet
This is where anyone who was of any importance in Ancient Egypt was buried – a great burial ground for the kings and queens who set the blocks for Egypt’s grand history. The vividly painted tombs will give you a glimpse of the rituals and how they perceived life after death. This is Luxor’s greatest and most popular attraction, and has gained the attention of the world after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s burial place. So many great rulers were buried in this region, and their tombs are even greater, but the tomb of Tutankhamun discovered in 1922 remains the most famous. Even though it was broken into, it remained intact and well-preserved. Findings in his grave were the largest and most valuable findings of grave goods ever made in Egypt, giving only a glimpse of royal burials back in Pharaonic times.
PRO TIP: Tombs open and close to the public in rotation, in an attempt to preserve the wall paintings as much as possible, so it all depends on your luck. There are a lot of tombs in this area, so it’s best to do this visit with a guide or else you’ll get very lost.
LOCATION: Valley of the Kings on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Taxi: You could hire a private taxi from the East Bank or in front of the ferry stops on the West Bank. They don’t use taxi meters so you have to haggle your way and settle on a price. If you’re short on time, taxis are your best options to get around.
- Tour bus: Almost all hotels and agencies in the city arrange daily tours to the Valley of the Kings and Temple of Hatshepsut. These spots are best done with a guide who knows their stories well.
- Bicycles: If you’ve got some extra time on your hands and you want to explore more of Luxor, you can rent a bike to get around the West Bank. Be warned though, it gets really hot and the road to the Valley is an uphill.
VALLEY OF THE QUEENSvia Travel Notes
There are about 80 tombs in this area that are excavated, belonging to the 19th and 20th dynasties. Many of these tombs are unfinished and undecorated and some have few inscriptions and reliefs, but what makes this site special is the famed tomb of Queen Nefertiti, wife of Ramses II. Her tomb had been recently reopened to the public in 2016, and it’s among the finest tombs ever found on the West Bank, with the walls and ceilings covered with beautiful details and rich-coloured inscriptions celebrating Nefertiti’s legendary beauty. If you find this spot interesting, you could also check out the tomb of Khaemwaset, Ramses III’s son, and the tomb of Queen Titi — both contain some well-preserved interesting inscriptions and reliefs.
PRO TIP: Do Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of the Kings, and Valley of the Queens in one shot and call it a day.
LOCATION: Valley of the Queens on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Taxi: It’s a bit of a long drive from the city centre and it takes a bit of time to drive over the bridge and back up.
- Felucca: The shortest way to get there is by crossing the Nile in a sailboat and then getting in a taxi.
MEDINET HABUvia We Travel.
This is a spot usually overlooked on the West Bank, but it’s one of the most beautifully decorated temples in Egypt, and it definitely should be on your list. This is a complex, made up of a smaller older temple built in the 28th dynasty. Back in the day, Madinet Habu had it all — temples, workshops, administrative buildings, storage rooms, a royal palace, and accomodations. For a while, it was considered the centre of the economic life of Thebes. It was dedicated to Amun, and the reliefs on the walls here are some of the best you’ll see on the West Bank. If you have enough time to wander around the site, you’ll find the remains of a Christian basilica, a small sacred lake, the outline of a palace, and a whole courtyard. This is a wonderful underrated spot in Luxor, make sure to stop there, especially around late afternoon.
LOCATION: Medinet Habu on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Felucca: In Luxor, ferries or feluccas are your best friends. It saves you some time, and it's a way you could enjoy the Nile and the views. You could rent a bike after you reach the West Bank for a scenic ride till Medinet Habu.
- Taxis: If you're up for a little-over-30-minute ride from the city centre to this site, grab a taxi. Otherwise, you could cross the Nile by ferry then hop into a taxi.
LUXOR MUSEUMvia Luxor Travels
This is one of Egypt’s best museums — as expected from the city that holds one-third of the world’s monuments. A huge collection from the local area, each tells a story of ancient Thebes, starting from the ancient old kingdom up till the Islamic period and everything in between. The museum's pièces de résistance are two mummies: Ahmos I and another that is believed to be Ramses I; these two pieces are both exhibited in separate rooms on the ground floor of the museum. The top floor holds a huge display of pieces from different eras – silver bows, tombs furnishings, amulets, and so much more — a well-chosen collection displayed brilliantly. Most of the items on display were unearthed from beneath the Luxor Temple and from the tomb of King Tut.
LOCATION: Luxor Museum on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Taxi: The museum is only a couple of minutes away from the city centre.
- On foot: If you’ve got the time, you could take a walk along the Nile Corniche, pass by Luxor Temple, and then it's a 15-minute walk till the museum.
MORTUARY TEMPLE OF SETI Ivia Reistours
Seti I, who started building this beautifully decorated temple, died before it was finished. It was later completed by his son Ramses II. The temple was originally 158 meters long, but now all that remains is a sanctuary dedicated to Amun. This temple shows the beauty of the handiwork of ancient Egyptians, represented in excellent reliefs, with rows of hieroglyphics and beautiful inscriptions.
LOCATION: Mortuary Temple of Seti I on Google Maps
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Taxi: Across the Nile River from the city centre, you could get a taxi that’ll drive you across the river and up to the temple
- Felucca: Again, a sailboat is your best friend in Luxor to get to the West Bank. Definitely not a bad mode of transportation.
These are just a few of the places that you shouldn't miss on your trip to Luxor, but the list is far from over. There's definitely more to Luxor than just these eight spots; after all, we can't put one-third of the world monuments into one list. A few other historical spots in Luxor to keep on your radar: Tombs of the Nobles, Colossi of Memnon, Ramesseum, Deir El Medina, Tomb of Tutankhamun replica, Mummification Museum, the Temple of Mut, the Palace of Amenhotep III, and a hell of a lot of tombs – and they're all worth your time.