Luxor, Egypt

Some 675 km (420 miles) south of Cairo, Luxor is the most important and most spectacular site in all of Egypt. Al- Uqsur (the Palaces) is the Arabic name for ancient Thebes, the splendid capital city of the New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) rulers, whose glory still glowed in the memories of classical writers a thousand years after its decline. Here the booty of foreign wars and taxes poured into the coffers of the pharaohs of the 18th and 19th dynasties, each of whom surpassed his predecessor in the construction of temples and tombs, creating monuments to rival any imperial city.

Travel tips for visiting Luxor

The east bank, where the sun rises, was the side of the living, and the location of the two great temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak; the first in the modern city centre, the latter a 30-minute walk north. Most of the hotels and restaurants are here.

The west bank is the place of the dead, a vast necropolis containing the tombs and mortuary temples of the New Kingdom pharaohs. There are fewer hotels and restaurants here, but it is favoured by independent travellers.

Under the New Kingdom pharaohs, when Thebes became the seat of power, Amun, once just a local god, took on the qualities of Ra, the sun-god of Heliopolis, becoming Amun-Ra and rising to a position of ascendancy over all the multifarious gods of Egypt. With his consort Mut and his son Khonsu he formed the Theban Triad.

Two tremendous temple complexes were established in honour of these gods, the Temple of Karnak and the Luxor Temple. Both were built over extensive periods of time and were constructed from the inside outwards; the original founders built sanctuaries on spots that had probably been venerated for centuries, and successive pharaohs added grandiose courtyards, gateways and other elaborations.

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Karnak temple, Egypt © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Luxor

From the ancient temple complex of Amun-Ra at Karnak to the Mummification Museum, here are the best things to do in Luxor.

#1 Visit the ‘Most Esteemed of Places’

The temple complex of Amun-Ra at Karnak and its neighbouring buildings, 3km (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, 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.

#2 Explore Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple is relatively long (230 metres/780 ft) and narrow, and lies in the centre of Luxor. Like the Karnak Temple, which was connected by the 3 km-long (1.75-mile) processional Avenue of Sphinxes, it was dedicated to the Theban Triad, but Amun of Luxor had a slightly different form and function, as a divinely fertile figure.

Of the 1,350 human-headed, lion-bodied sphinxes that once lined the Avenue of Sphinxes, 650 have recently been excavated and restored. They are now open to the public, and today visitors can walk the entire avenue on a broad stone path between them to reach each of the two temples.

There are some sphinxes lost to the ravages of time, but almost every pedestal remains. Known as the “Harem of the South”, Luxor Temple was the residence of Amun-Ra’s consort Mut and her son Khonsu, while the statue of Amun was kept in Karnak.

Luxor Temple © Shutterstock

Luxor Temple © Shutterstock

#3 Swot up at the Luxor Museum

Luxor Museum houses a small but impressive collection. The objects have been carefully placed and lit, and are well labelled, so that every single item looks like a masterpiece.

Most of the museum’s ground floor is dedicated to the period of the New Kingdom, and works include a beautiful bust of the young pharaoh Tuthmosis III and a fine wall painting of Amenophis III. A further wing is devoted to the glory of Thebes during the New Kingdom and two royal mummies.

Another gallery on the ground floor displays an important cache of statues that were discovered in 1989 excavations in Luxor Temple, under one of the courtyards near the Birth Room of Amenophis III. On the upper floor, there are interesting reliefs from Akhenaten’s temple in Karnak and spectacular heads of the same pharaoh in the typical Amarnah style, plus some smaller objects found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

#4 Get wrapped up in the Mummification Museum

The Mummification Museum houses a 21st-Dynasty mummy and a well-documented array of tools and materials used in the ancient art of mummification, including the tools to extract the vital organs and the Canopic jars in which the removed lungs, stomach, intestines and liver were placed.

Only the heart – considered to be the essence of a human being – was left inside the body, ready to be weighed by Anubis against the feather of truth in the afterlife.

There were four jars in all, each presided over by a son of Horus: Amset, human-headed; Hapi, baboon-headed; Duamutef, dog-headed; and Qebehnsenuf, hawk-headed. Also on display are some of the more essential goods the deceased would want on the final journey to the other world.

#5 See the mortuary temples of Colossi of Memnon

The pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty broke with the pyramid tradition and began to hide their tombs deep in the mountainside, hoping to elude tomb robbers. On the edge of the valley, at some distance from their resting places, each pharaoh constructed his own mortuary temple.

The mortuary temples of Hatshepsut, Seti I, Ramesses II and Ramesses III still stand (those of other pharaohs have mostly collapsed). The two Colossi of Memnon, standing in the fields by the side of the road, are the most visible reminder of the Temple of Amenhotep III, the famous Memnon.

After the one on the right was hit by an earthquake in 27 BC, it made a gentle singing noise at dawn which the Greeks believed to be Memnon singing for his mother Eos. The Roman emperor Septimus Severus had it restored in AD 199, after which the singing stopped.

Things not to miss in Egypt: Colossi of Memnon, Egypt.

Colossi of Memnon, Egypt © Shutterstock

#6 Be wowed by the Temple of Hatshepsut

The Temple of Hatshepsut (1498– 1483 BC) is somewhat different from the other temples, being set back in a spectacular natural amphitheatre. Three gracefully proportioned and colonnaded terraces are connected by sloping ramps.

The sanctuary areas are backed up against the mountain and partially hollowed out of the rocks. On first approach, the temple looks strangely modern, but it is easy to imagine how grand the complex must have been when the courts were filled with perfumed plants, fountains and myrrh trees.

Hatshepsut’s divine birth and exploits are recorded on the walls behind the colonnades of her temple. They include an expedition to Punt in Somalia, from where frankincense trees, giraffes and other exotica were brought back to Egypt.

The cutting and transportation of the two great obelisks set up by Hatshepsut at Karnak are also recorded. The temple was designed by Senenmut, evidently a great favourite of the queen. His portrait is hidden behind a door; and his own tomb is nearby. The upper ramp has benefited from many years of restoration.

#7 Visit Ramesses II’s mortuary temple, The Ramesseum

Some of Ramesses II’s (1279–1212 BC) mortuary temple, the Ramesseum, is in ruins, but like other monuments of this pharaoh (who reigned for over 60 years and had 80 children) what remains is majestic.

In front of the Hypostyle Hall lie parts of the largest granite colossus on record, the statue of Ozymandias (Ramesses’ coronation name), which inspired the poet Shelley in his poem, Ozymandias. One foot alone measures 3.3 metres (11ft).

The famous Battle of Kadesh (1274 BC) is depicted on the pylons. More interestingly is a representation of Thoth, the ibis-headed secretary god writing Ramesses’ name on the leaves of the sacred tree. Vestiges of the adjoining palace where the king came to spend a few days supervising work on his “Mansion of Eternity” can be seen.

#8 See Madinat Habu, one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt

Ramesses III (1182–1151 BC), however, is not eclipsed by his famous forebear. Although he modelled his mortuary temple, Madinat Habu, 1km (0.6 miles) southwest of the Ramesseum, on that of his father, the scale is even more extravagant.

The surrounding mud-brick walls may have partly collapsed, but the temple is one of the best-preserved in Egypt, and the easiest to understand as it reflects all the principles of the classical temple.

In ancient times, it was known as the “Mansion of Millions of Years”. The temple is not on the tour-group circuit, and in fact, not much visited at all. In the late afternoon, in the last glow of the sun, one can still feel something of the awe and spirituality the place must have inspired in ancient times.

The enclosure is entered through the Syrian-style gatehouse, from which stairs lead to the pharaoh’s private apartments.

Medinat Habu, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Medinat Habu, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

#9 Wander the restored Temple of Seti I

The well-restored small mortuary Temple of Seti I is where 19th-century visitors began their west bank tour. Once a favourite subject for painters, these days it is well off the beaten track and rarely visited.

The setting is wonderful, overlooking a palm grove, and the visitor finds a tranquillity that may have reigned in these sacred places in ancient times. Built by Seti I (1294–1279 BC), who also built the great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak and the superbly decorated temple at Abydos, it was dedicated to the worship of Amun and of Ramesses I.

The first and second pylons and court are ruined, but the remaining walls have some exquisitely executed reliefs. Off the Hypostyle Hall are six shrines and a small chapel dedicated to Ramesses I, Seti’s father, who died before having built his own mortuary temple.

#10 Get bowled over by the Valley of the Kings

After being embalmed and mummified, the New Kingdom pharaohs were transported in solemn Cortège Valley of the Kings. They were buried in rock-cut tombs, bedecked with gold and jewels, and surrounded by treasures and replicas of all they would need in the afterlife.

As soon as a pharaoh ascended to the throne, he would begin to build his tomb, which was intended to preserve the royal mummy for eternity. However, many died before the lavish decoration of their tomb was finished, which now gives an interesting insight into the different stages of the whole process.

Although serious precautions were made to dissuade intruders, the treasures hidden inside were too much of an attraction to be left alone. As the power of the rulers of the 20th Dynasty decreased, breaking into tombs became commonplace, mainly by the craftsmen who had worked in them, or by the supervisors themselves.

Best areas to stay in Luxor

Accommodation in Luxor ranges from small but welcoming budget hotels to the luxurious Al Moudira Hotel. Hotels on the west bank are cheaper than those on the east bank.

Many independent travellers like to stay on Luxor’s west bank in and around El-Gezirah where the ferry docks. The pace is quieter and much slower away from the resort hotels, chaotic streets and general hustle of the east-bank side of town. Here’s where to stay.

West bank

The west bank of the Nile near Luxor is home to a variety of budget-friendly guesthouses and smaller hotels, many of which are located in the villages of Al-Gezira and Al-Tarif. These areas offer a more authentic experience with the local community and are popular with backpackers and budget travellers.

East bank

On the east bank of the Nile, you will find an array of modern mid-range hotels, often with amenities such as swimming pools and restaurants, catering to those seeking a more comfortable stay.

Browse the best hotels in Luxor.

The ancient temple of Hatshepsut in Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

The ancient temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Best restaurants and bars

Luxor is not renowned for its food, though the East Bank has some good traditional Egyptian restaurants. The bakeries here are decent and popular. Many visitors will eat at the local hotels.


A little out of the city centre, Sharia Khaled Ibn Al Walid has a number of international restaurants serving steaks, pasta and the such.

East Bank

The place to go for traditional Egyptian food. The quality has been improving, but can be hit-and-miss.

West Bank

There are fewer restaurants on the West Bank, but a good number of food and fruit shops along the main street in Al Gezira.

How to get around

There are plenty of ways to get around Luxor, some more touristy and traditional than others. Here are the best ways to navigate the town and get between sights.

By microbus

When it comes to travelling around Luxor, microbuses are a top choice for both locals and visitors. These vehicles offer a speedy and convenient mode of transportation, with fixed routes and the ability to stop at any point along the way.

By taxi

More expensive than microbuses but great for getting around, a taxi is a good way to see Luxor, especially as they can be hired for the day.

By bicycle

A lot of hotels now offer bicycle rental and using two wheels to get around Luxor is fairly simple as it's flat. Flat but hot.

By ferry

Connecting Luxor Temple and the West Bank, the Baladi ferry is the quickest way to get across the river, as the bridge is a while out of town.

By camel

Yep. You read that right. Camels with guides can be hired from the ferry pontoon and are a novel and more traditional way of seeing Luxor.

The temple of Ramesses II (Ramesseum) with brick service buildings in the foreground - Thebes, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

The temple of Ramesses II (Ramesseum) - Thebes, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Luxor?

To visit the highlights of Luxor, you will need at least three days. The city has a wealth of ancient Egyptian sites, including the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak Temple Complex, the Luxor Temple, and the Temple of Hatshepsut, among others. These sites are spread out and require a significant amount of time to explore properly.

On day one, visit the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsut in the morning. In the afternoon, explore the Luxor Museum and wander around the Luxor Temple. On day two spend the morning exploring the Karnak Temple Complex, one of the largest temple complexes in the world. In the afternoon, take a felucca ride on the Nile River to see Luxor from a different perspective.

On day three, spend the day visiting the West Bank of Luxor, including the Colossi of Memnon, the Ramesseum, and Medinet Habu. In the afternoon, take a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings for a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape.

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Best time to visit Luxor

The best time to visit Luxor is during the winter months from November to February when temperatures are cooler and more comfortable for outdoor activities. During this time, daytime temperatures range from 20-25°C (68-77°F), with cooler evenings and nights.

The summer months from June to August can be very hot, with temperatures reaching up to 40°C (104°F) or higher. This can make it uncomfortable to explore the outdoor sites during the day. However, if you don't mind the heat, this is also the low season, which means fewer crowds and cheaper prices.

It's worth noting that Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, is observed in Luxor and throughout Egypt. During this time, many restaurants and cafes may be closed during the day, and some activities may be limited or restricted. It's best to plan ahead during this time.

Find out more about the best time to visit Egypt.

How to get here

There are numerous ways to get to Luxor, though it's worth noting that foreigners aren't allowed to travel here by microbes. Here's how to arrive:

By plane

Located around 7 km east of the city, Luxor Airport welcomes flights from Cairo. From the airport, only taxis serve the town. Arrange a transfer with your accommodation.

By train

Easily the best way to arrive in Luxor, there are trains connecting both Cairo and Aswan.

By bus

There are two bus stations: one north and one south of Luxor train station. Buses generally depart from outside their ticket office. From here, you'll need to get a taxi to Luxor itself.

By sailboat

It's possible to sail to Luxor from Aswan on a felucca (sailboat).

Find out the best ways to get to Egypt.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 03.05.2023

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