Visiting Luxor - What to See and Do

(Luxor International Airport LXR, Egypt)

The name Luxor typically evokes feelings of Pharaonic power and mystery in the minds of travellers. It is undoubtedly one of Egypt's most evocative destinations, surrounded by some of the country's top ancient sites such as the Valley of the Kings and the Temples of Karnak.

With this star power has come an almost oppressive atmosphere of tourism. The touts and salesmen are simply part of the backdrop, but on the positive side, Egypt has done a marvellous job preserving these priceless attractions. Independent travellers can certainly make their own way from site to site, although Luxor is one destination where a group tour may actually be a better overall experience.

The west banks tombs require lots of walking, so hit them in the cooler morning. The temples provide places to sit and rest in the shade and can be explored in the afternoon. Luxor's city core is a bustling hive of tourism activity, but head outside of town and life returns to its agricultural roots. With Karnak and Thebes both right next door and the magical Nile running through the city, Luxor is an essential stop on any Egyptian travel itinerary.

Ten things you must do in Luxor

  • The permanent hoards of visitors attest to the star power of the Valley of the Kings. You can't avoid the crowds here, but the sheer majesty of this attraction is worth it. Start early, use the little train to make the inbound uphill journey and choose your tombs wisely. Your ticket is only good for three tombs, and Tutankhamun will cost extra. Most would agree that the tombs of Seti I, Ramses III and Horemheb are the most impressive.
  • The Karnak Temple is arguably the most amazing site in Luxor, if not Egypt itself. The towering columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall are impossibly huge, especially considering they were built millennia ago. From this hall you can wander for hours. Karnak is usually crowded, so try and get here early. Evenings are also enchanting, as the sun sets and the surprisingly cool Karnak Sound and Light Show displays its magic several times over. The atmosphere of Karnak late at night is indescribably inspiring.
  • Luxor Museum may be smaller than Cairo's Egyptian Museum, but it is better laid out and has an equally impressive collection of artefacts, sculptures and treasures from nearby tombs, including Tutankhamun.
  • As the last major temple to be built by the Pharaohs, the Temple of Horus at Edfu is one of the best preserved in Egypt. It is still over 2,000 years old, and relates the story of the god Horus through lovely wall bas-reliefs and paintings. It is a fair distance out of town and best done as a day trip.
  • If you aren't afraid of heights, then taking a hot air balloon ride over the valleys surrounding Luxor is something that you will never forget. The temples, ruins and Nile River snaking through the valley provide magical scenery when viewed from above. Several companies operate balloon flights that last around 45 minutes and are reasonably priced.
  • You don't even need to leave the city to enjoy a superb temple from the 14th century BC. Back when this was Thebes, the Luxor Temple sat right in the heart of this important city. The Avenue of Sphinxes greets visitors and once ran for 3 km / 2 miles, straight into the Karnak Temple. There's plenty to see at this site, so don't miss it.
  • Not to be outdone by the kings, the Valley of Queens is just as engaging and far less crowded. Here you can explore the elaborate tomb of Nefertari, the highlight of this site, and one other tomb. Only three tombs have been excavated and typically two are open to the public.
  • The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut has been weathered over the centuries, but it is still one of the most spectacular pieces of engineering in Luxor. Set against a cliff, there are three huge terraces at the temple, each with its own highlights, such as the Chapel of Anubis and also the Chapel of Hathor.
  • The kings certainly didn't build these amazing monuments themselves. Therefore, a trip to the Village of the Workmen (Deir el Medina) offers a fascinating insight into how the ordinary craftsmen lived at Luxor. Its streets and 70-odd houses are still in good enough shape to get a feel for the layout of the village, which once housed the workers who built all these legendary structures.
  • There are a handful of ancient sites free to the public and one of the more interesting is the Colossi of Memnon. Only two statues of Amenhotep III remain from what archaeologists believe was a temple site bigger than Karnak. The Nile floods have removed all of this large site, but the 18-metre / 60-foot statues give an idea of the possible scale of the attraction built in the 1st century BC.

Luxor Airport LXR

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