Everything you need to know to plan your visit to Luxor
Are you planning to spend one day in Luxor (or more)? But now you are unsure about the best things to do in Luxor? Then, you are in for a surprise: Ancient Theben (how the city was once called) has plenty of tourist attractions to keep you occupied for a week!
No, I’m not joking. The city is as old as it gets (Thebes was inhabited ever since around 3200 BC!), and many monuments from the time of the Pharaohs remain – some of them virtually unscathed. As there are so many stunning landmarks and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it’s easy to get sidetracked, I compiled a list of the top 15 places you have to visit!
The ancient city on the banks of the River Nile truly is a must-stop in any Egypt itinerary (make sure to check out mine). As many travelers also worry about safety in Egypt, you should read my Egypt safety report before you go (but yes, it’s safe!).
But let’s dive in the best places to visit in Luxor together, eh?
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1. Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut / Deir el-Bahir
Word’s cannot describe the beauty of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut on the Westbank of the Nile. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful sights in Egypt, and certainly in Luxor.
Hatshepsut gained fame as one of the few female Pharaohs in the long history of the ancient Egyptian kingdom(s). Definitely make sure to have a closer look at the many murals throughout the temple, where her famous expedition to the African kingdom of Punt is displayed.
Once a tunnel is said to have connected the temple with the Valley of the Kings (which lies on the other side of the mountain).
2. Valley of the Kings
Who hasn’t heard of Tutankhamun – the famous boy king who left us an unimaginable hoard of gold in its grave. Howard Carter discovered the lost tomb (KV62) in November 1922 and unsealed it only a couple of months later in February 1923. The unbelievable findings within forever changed our view of the Ancient Egyptians. This is the reason I ranked the Valley of the Kings as #2 in my list of the best places to visit in Egypt.
Do know then, that there is way more to see in the valley of the Kings than just King Tut’s 18th dynasty tombs. In fact, his is by far the most inconspicuous of the lot. Definitely make sure to visit the tombs of Ramesses the 4th, the 5h & 6th and Seti I. Some of the tombs are quite expensive to enter (like 49$ for the tomb of Seti), but it’s so worth it. And remember: If you like to take pictures, you will need to buy a special photography license.
3. Karnak Temple
The Karnak Temple complex is certainly one of the top tourist attractions in Luxor you really cannot miss. It’s so huge, it truly beggars comprehension. It also happens to be one of the most important temples in ancient Egypt.
If that isn’t enough reason to visit, then the gigantic Hypostyle Hall with its forest of ancient columns should convince you. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures on social media already – and yes, it does live up to the hype!
You really shouldn’t think of Karnak as one temple, there are actually a couple of them. Most famous of them are the Precinct of Mut, the Precinct of Montu and the Precinct of Amun-Re (that’s the main site most tours start).
Note: There is a sound & light show at Karnak Temple almost every night.
4. Tombs of the Nobles
The Theban Necropolis is a place unlike no other. You probably know that burial rites were very important for the Pharaohs. But also the lesser nobles and even the commoners invested heavily into elaborate tombs to ensure their spot in the afterlife.
There is an endless mass of tombs on the Westbank most of them fell victim to grave robbers (most of it already happened in antiquity). You should definitely visit the Tomb of Ramose. I loved the beautiful mixture between the traditional and the Amarna style.
5. Luxor Temple
The grand temple in Luxor sometimes called the “southern sanctuary”, is a must visit while you are in town. It’s not consecrated to a single goddess or cult but is rather dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship and the royal Ka.
In ancient times, two majestic obelisks were standing in front of it. Only one remains. You’ll find the other on the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Once a year, a big festival was held, that saw a huge procession from Karnak to Luxor. An avenue lined with hundreds upon hundreds of sphinxes connected the two sites (only the first couple of hundred meters are excavated today). The Avenu of Sphinxes is over one and a half miles long, can you believe it?
Note: Make sure to drop by in the evening, when lights illuminate the temple. Seriously one of the best things to do in Luxor at night!
6. Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens doesn’t appear on a lot of lists of things to do in Luxor. Like in antiquity, the names of most wives got lost in obscurity. Still, you should absolutely consider visiting. The Tomb of Queen Nefertari is nothing short of breathtaking (the colors are so extraordinarily vibrant).
Note: Deir-el-Medina is quite close, so you can combine visiting the two sites)
7. Colossi of Memnon
Ever wondered what Pharaoh Amenhotep III looked like? Probably not! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drop by at the Colossi of Memnon. These two statues depicting the Pharaoh from the 18th dynasty are an unrivaled feat of engineering. The gigantic monoliths had to be transported 420 miles overland (too heavy for a boat) from what is now Cairo to Luxor.
Even today, they still count as the fourth largest (moved) monoliths ever quarried by mankind. To be quite fair, visiting the Colossi of Memnon is just a 15 minutes stop on a tour, there really is nothing else to do but take a picture of the statues, and leave again. Of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep, nothing remains. Still very interesting!
8. Medinet Habu
One very impressive mortuary temple that should definitely be on your list of things to do in Luxor, is Medinet Habu. The important New Kingdome period temple of Rameses III has some impressive murals of the battle prowess of the pharaoh.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see battle scenes, prisoners and ritual sacrifices. When you see a gigantic portrait of Ramesses III in his chariot, you really should be aware that this is pure propaganda. The so-called Sea People war probably did happen in the eight year of his reign.
9. Deir el-Medina
If you got a little spare time in Luxor, then definitely consider visiting Deir el-Medina. This place is just so unique. You see, the pharaohs were quite scared of grave robbers, which was the very reason they decided to tuck away all their tombs in the valley of the kings – back then a heavily guarded area 24/7.
Still, there was the problem of the workers, who obviously did have to know the location of each and every tomb they built and what was within. This is why the founded a self-contained village for the workers nearby. This is Deir el-Medina. None of them were ever allowed to leave, so the precious secrets of the Pharaohs were forever safe.
Appart from being an interesting archeological site in and by itself, the workers created marvelous tombs for themselves as well. Smaller in size, obviously, but decorated with everyday scenes, rather than the heavily stylized (and more or less always the same) iconographies in the tombs of the royalty.
10. Luxor Museum
One of the best places to visit in Luxor is definitely the Luxor Museum. In fact, the wonderful museum is only rivaled by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The collection is just so stunning! Especially take note of the 26 outstanding New Kingdome statues in the basement.
They even have a partial reconstruction of the mural from the Gem-pa-Aton – the first temple Pharaoh Akhenaten dedicated to the sun god Aten. It’s ironic that the murals only survived because his successors used it as a filling material for their temple.
My personal favorite was the statue of King Thutmosis III. It apears almost surreal, and to me, it was impossible to believe it is almost 3.500 years old
The memorial temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II (more commonly known as Ramesses the Great) is a temple complex of epic proportions. The greatest Pharaoh of all times probably wanted to have the greatest mortuary temple of them all.
Once, 4 granite colossi of the king (some 19 meters high and 1000 tons heavy) flanked the entrance to the sanctuary. Of these, only the base and a torso remain, which sadly describes the condition of the rest of the site quite adequately. Unlike his temple in Abu Simbel. Still, a very important historic place.
Note: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem Ozymandias got inspired by those very colossi, which arrived in London at the British Museum in 1821.
12. Half day trip to Dendera
Dendera is one of the least visited major temples in Egypt, which is kind of ironic, as it happens to be one of the best-preserved temple complexes at the same time. The colorful hypostyle hall really has no rival and is worth a trip in itself
Dendera also happens to be one of the very few temples with an intact roof. You can follow a winding passage with an outstanding mural of a religious procession to the chambers on the top. Here you’ll also find the famous Dendera zodiac – one of the earliest renditions of Taurus and Libra and “the only complete map that we have of an ancient sky”.
13. Go on a Nile Cruise from Luxor
If you plan to go on a Nile cruise, then Luxor is by far the best place to start it. Most of them sail onwards to Aswan and stop at the many sights on the way.
You can visit independently as well, but most of the better cruise ships have university trained egyptologist along, so the experience will not be the same. I’m really not a group or cruise guy, but I totally recommend you do it!
Note: Make sure to book one of the 5-star ships. If your budget is tight, you are probably better off staying in a hotel and doing bus tours from Luxor/Aswan
14. Mortuary Temple of Seti I
To the west of Theben, hides a little gem: The Mortuary Temple of the Pharaoh Seti I (19th dynasty). It’s not as large and as spectacular as Karnak or the temple of Hatshepsut, but still charming. There are also considerably fewer tourists here.
Note: It’s easy to do a quick stop on your way to the valley of the kings.
15. Half day trip to Edfu
The temple of the goddess Horus in Edfu is another of those well-preserved temples built in the Ptolemaic Kingdome. I found it to be quite romantic. According to Ancient Egyptian believe, once a year, the goddess Hathor traveled south to visit Horus in Edfu, for they were indeed married.
Inside the sanctuary, you can find a replica of the sacred barge the believers might have used to shrine the golden effigies of the gods on their trip.
Edfu is a bit farther away, so it makes sense to visit as you continue onwards to Aswan.
Other things to do in Luxor, Egypt
Phew, this list of the best things to see in Luxor already is quite long. Please know, that is far from complete. Theben, how the ancient capital of the New Kingdome was called, has been continuously inhabited for almost 4,000 years and there are many smaller temples and tombs to be visited.
I didn’t mention the Mummification Museum either nor places like the Abu Haggag Mosque, which was built inside the Luxor temple in the 14the century. You will soon notice, that probably a lifetime will not be enough to uncover all of Luxor’s secrets. But, a lot of it also looks the same.
There is a remarkable iconographic continuity in the temples of ancient Egypt. Construction for the temple of Edfu started 2,000 years of Karnak, yet you will find the same hieroglyphs telling almost the same stories on the walls. While this fact is quite amazing, it also means that visiting temples does get a bit repetitive. Which is why I do recommend you pick your personal highlights and skip the rest.
You could easily spend a week in Luxor if you are real history buff that is, but I feel it’s better to limit it to three days in Luxor, then move on to Cairo, Aswan or the Red Sea. Try to get some diversity in your Egypt itinerary!
Where to stay in Luxor
Luxor has many popular tourist attractions, yet not all that many good hotels. Again, I’d like to stress how important it is to get a 5-star hotel in Egypt. I found these are the only places where you can expect western hygiene standards. As you can book most of these luxury properties for less than 100 US-Dollar a day, even budget sensitive travelers should be able to afford it.
The best hotel in Luxor is the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor. Stay here, to enjoy a historic property where famous celebrities stayed and enjoy the magnificent garden in the backyard! Book it here
The only other hotel in Luxor I can truly recommend is the Steigenberger Nile Palace (book it here). It is a contemporary building with quite a modern design, so probably better for younger travelers. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the pool with a view of the Nile.
There is also a Hilton in Luxor. While not entirely in the same league of the two hotels mentioned above, it’s still a lovely property but a bit farther outside of the city.
Again, I’d like to point out that you could also book a Nile cruise and not get a hotel in Luxor at all. It will appear to be a bit more expensive (but most cruises are full-board), but depending on the excursions and other services, it might be a good deal for you.