Karnak Temple, Egypt

The temple complex of Amun-Ra at Karnak and its neighbouring buildings, 3 km (1.75 miles) north of the centre of Luxor, constitute the most awe-inspiring of all the Egyptian monuments. Apart from the immense conglomeration of elements that makes up the temple itself, it also has a particularly complicated plan. Unlike most other temples in Egypt, it was developed over many centuries on both an east–west axis, with six pylons, and on a north–south axis with four pylons. These 10 pylons, together with intervening courts, halls and enclosures, surround the nucleus of the sanctuary.

Karnak Temple, The Most Esteemed of Places

Karnak, known as Ipet-Sut, “The Most Esteemed of Places”, was one of the most important religious and intellectual centres in antiquity, and for more than 13 centuries successive pharaohs were proud to enhance its magnificence.

Put aside two half days to see the most important monuments, one starting early in the morning to be seduced by the temple’s mystery, and one in the afternoon when the stones and carvings glow in the sun.

The local god Amun-Ra became more important during the early Middle Kingdom, and during the 12th Dynasty, several temples were erected in his honour. Their foundations were found underneath the later temples.

The origins of the Karnak Temple as we now see it are attributable to the royal family of the 18th Dynasty (1550–1292 BC), who made Amun-Ra the state god, and whose rise to power brought the city of Thebes to the heights of glory. Three Tuthmoses and Queen Hatshepsut were responsible for most of the inner parts of the temple.

Ram-headed sphinx in Great Court of Karnak Temple, Luxor © Shutterstock

Ram-headed sphinx in Great Court of Karnak Temple, Luxor © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Karnak

From the Great Hypostyle Hall to the hidden obelisks of Hatshepsut, here are the best things to see at Karnak.

#1 See the shrines of The First Court

An avenue of ram-headed sphinxes leads to the unfinished First Pylon, built by Nectanebo I during the 30th Dynasty. The First Court, enclosed by colonnades on both sides, includes several shrines: the Temple of Seti II, the Colonnade of Taharga and the Temple of Ramesses III.

#2 Marvel at the Great Hypostyle Hall

The Second Pylon, built using blocks from earlier structures, leads into one of the architectural marvels of the world, the Great Hypostyle Hall. Seti I (1291–1278 BC) completed the mighty work started by Amenhotep III, and built the largest hall of any temple in the world, with 134 huge columns, covering an area of 6,000 sq metres (19,700 sq ft).

It was completed under Seti’s son, Ramesses II (1279–1212 BC), who placed the colossi of himself at the entrance. The northern walls are decorated with remarkable bas-reliefs of Seti I’s battles in Syria and Lebanon, while the southern walls show similar themes, in a much cruder style, of Ramesses II’s Battle of Kadesh.

#3 Seek out the hidden obelisks of Hatshepsut

Behind the Fourth Pylon lies the inner core and oldest part of the temple, starting with the Hypostyle Hall of Tuthmosis III. In this court stands one of the obelisks erected by his stepmother Hatshepsut (the second toppled over centuries ago and has been placed near the Sacred Lake).

Hatshepsut dominated the family after her husband and brother Tuthmosis II’s death in 1518 BC. Tuthmosis III despised his coregent/stepmother, and as soon as she was out of the way, proceeded to hack her name away from cartouches, substituting his own. He walled up most of the 320-tonne obelisks that she had erected, thus unwittingly preserving her work in pristine condition.

#4 Wander through the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III

Tuthmosis III (1504–1450 BC) proceeded to reign long and brilliantly, waging 17 successful campaigns and extending the Egyptian Empire from Syria to Sudan. He brought back thousands of prisoners and immense quantities of booty, as well as new varieties of trees and plants, new ideas and new fashions.

The annals of his career are inscribed on the walls surrounding the sanctuary and extend to his great Festival Hall and to the southern courts.

#5 Peek at the Temple of Mut

Succeeding generations added new pylons, courts and subsidiary temples, all lavishly and colourfully illustrating their conquests, like a great stone history book. Amenhotep III contributed a pylon and the Temple of Mut.

Though the capital moved away to the Delta and the importance of Thebes declined thereafter, Karnak continued to be expanded and embellished, such was the awe in which Amun-Ra was held.


Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall © Shutterstock

Best places to stay in Karnak

As Karnak is a small village located on the East Bank of the Nile River in Luxor, accommodation is limited. However, most travellers stay close by and travel to the temple complex. Here's where to stay near Karnak.


Luxor city centre is the main tourist hub in the area on the East Bank of the Nile River, just a few miles south of Karnak. Here you will find a wide range of hotels to suit all budgets and preferences.

North of Karnak

There are a handful of basic hotels located just north of the Karnak Temple Complex as well as a Hilton.

West Bank

For a more tranquil and peaceful setting, stay on the West Bank of the Nile. Here you will find several charming guesthouses and boutique hotels, as well as stunning views of the river and the surrounding desert landscape.

Browse the best hotels in Karnak.

Things to know before visiting Karnak

Karnak is a must-see for any traveler visiting the country. However, before you set foot in Karnak, there are a few things you should know to make the most of your visit.

Opening hours

The Temple of Karnak is open daily. In the summer the opening hours are 6am to 6:30pm (to 5:30pm in winter). Tour guides, however, typically start at 9am. During the hottest months, visit in the early morning or late afternoon as the sun can be overbearing here.


Ticket prices for the temple are 65 EGP for regular admission and 35 EGP for students (ID required). There is also an all-inclusive entrance ticket for 200 EGP, which gives you entry to both the temple complex and the open-air museum. These can be bought at the Karnak entrance.


Guide Karnak tours typically last around two-and-a-half hours. These can be booked at the main tourist office opposite the train station.

Dress code

Dress modestly for your visit in clothes that cover both your knees and shoulders.

Sound and light show

One of the highlights of visiting the Temple of Karnak is the sound and light show, which is held three times a night in English, French, and Arabic. During the performance, you will walk through the complex while learning about the history of Thebes and the pharaohs.

The last act is played while the audience is seated at the Great Sacred Lake. To get to Karnak in the evening, you can hire a taxi or calèche, and your driver will wait while you watch the show.

Queen Hatshepsut Obelisk in the Amun Temple enclosure in Karnak, Egypt © Shutterstock

Queen Hatshepsut Obelisk in the Amun Temple enclosure in Karnak, Egypt © Shutterstock

How to get here

Located in Luxor, there are a few ways to get to Karnak without much fuss.

By plane

The nearest airport to Karnak is Luxor International Airport, which receives domestic and international flights. It is located around 7 km away from the temple complex.

By train

Luxor is well-connected by train to other cities in Egypt, including Cairo. There are several daily trains from the capital to Luxor, and the journey takes around 9 hours. Once you arrive at Luxor Railway Station, you can take a taxi or a local bus to Karnak.

By bus

There are also daily buses from Cairo to Luxor, as well as from other major cities in Egypt. The journey takes around 10 hours from Cairo. Once you arrive at the bus station in Luxor, you can take a taxi or a local bus to Karnak.

Find out the best ways to get to Egypt.

Best time to visit Karnak Temple

Since Karnak is located in Luxor, Egypt, the best time to visit Karnak is during the winter months from November to February when temperatures are cooler and more comfortable for outdoor activities. During this time, the daytime temperature averages around 25°C (77°F), and the nights are cooler.

The summer months from May to September can be extremely hot and humid, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F). It can be challenging to explore the outdoor attractions during the day due to the intense heat, and it's not recommended to visit Karnak during this time.

However, if you decide to visit during the summer months, it's advisable to plan your visit for the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are slightly cooler.

The spring months of March and April and the autumn months of October and November can also be a good time to visit Karnak, as the weather is still pleasant, and the crowds are fewer than during the peak season.

Find out more about the best time to visit Egypt.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 03.05.2023

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