Best Things to do in Luxor, Egypt
If we’re going to be honest, Luxor as a city needs no introduction. Formerly the Ancient Egyptian capital Thebes, modern-day Luxor is now one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) inhabited cities in the world. Home to a lion’s share of still-standing Ancient Egyptian temples and tombs, you haven’t really gotten a taste of Ancient Egypt until you’ve visited Luxor.
A lot of people when visiting Luxor tend to do and see things the traditional way – via tour groups and cruise guides, with set agendas where you don’t really have to think or decide on what you want to see. And while that’s one way of doing it, some people like to explore and follow their own personal, flexible itineraries. So if you’re someone who’s visiting Luxor and want to discover this ancient city on your own, here are ten things you should most definitely see and do while there.
1. Karnak Temple
The temple complex of Karnak is the largest religious building ever built, and was constructed over a span of 2,000 years (it’s around 4,000 years old in total!). Construction started in the Old Kingdom and was continuously added to until the Ptolemaic era, with approximately 30 different pharaohs contributing. It’s the second most visited site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza.
Keep in mind that Karnak is massive. Some people enjoy having a guide there to explain backstories, but others prefer to explore at their own pace – there’s no way a guide could explain everything in Karnak in a few hours. The temple complex is also home to the Open Air Karnak Museum (for more important museums in Egypt.) If you’re heading to the Luxor Temple (below) after Karnak, make sure to walk down the Avenue of the Sphinxes which has connected the two temples for thousands of years. This 3 km pedestrian path is newly opened to the public, and some of the 1350 original human-headed sphinxes still line the avenue until today.
2. Valley of the Kings
Where did they bury pharaohs after they stopped burying them in pyramids? That would be in the famous Valley of the Kings. For a period of 500 years in the New Kingdom (1550 BC – 1069 BC), pharaohs were buried in rock-cut tombs in the Theban Hills, hidden from plain view. 62 tombs have been excavated to present day, with King Tut’s tomb being the most famous (but ironically, not the most impressive).
3. Luxor Temple
Constructed around 1400 BC (more than 3,400 years ago), Luxor Temple differs from most other ancient Egyptian temples due to the fact that it wasn’t built for worship of a particular god or pharaoh. It was mainly used as a place where pharaohs were coronated and crowned, sometimes even conceptually (for example, Alexander the Great claimed he was crowned there but no evidence suggests he was ever there).
During medieval times, the Muslim community built on the Luxor Temple site, and until now a functional mosque remains part of the temple complex (you can read more about Egypt’s most beautiful mosques).
4. Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri
Known primarily for the mortuary temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut of the New Kingdom, Deir el Bahri was originally chosen as the location for the mortuary temple of the pharaoh who founded the Middle Kingdom, Mentuhotep II. Hatshepsut’s temple though is the star of the show, even after a lot of it was defaced by her salty stepson in an attempt to erase her from history. He obviously, you know, failed.
The massive terraced monument is surrounded by a steep cliff, and it was in this cliff that archaeologists found a cache of royal mummies, moved in antiquity from the Valley of the Kings. Many of these recovered mummies are now at rest in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, where you can go see them in the Royal Mummy Gallery.
5. Valley of the Queens
Nearby to the Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens, where the wives of the pharaohs were buried during the same period. The main valley has 91 tombs discovered to date, and they’re generally smaller than the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Honestly, if you’ve already been to the Valley of the Kings (as you should), then the main reason to visit Valley of the Queens is to see the tomb of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Ramses II. Her tomb is debated to be the most spectacular not only in Valley of the Queens, but Valley of the Kings as well!
Unfortunately whoever sets the ticket prices agrees with us that Nefertari’s tomb is the most superior, hence the high ticket price (on top of the standard Valley of the Queens entrance ticket, which allows you access to three other tombs). Another small annoyance is that you only get to spend 10 minutes in this tomb, so try to make the most of it.
6. Medinet Habu
While the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu doesn’t get as much airtime as Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, it’s most definitely worth seeing. While smaller, this temple has some of the most vividly colored art and deeply-engraved hieroglyphics of all the temples – and another upside, it’s usually much less crowded than the more famous temples!
Ramses III is widely considered the last truly powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, and his mortuary temple dominates the archaeological site of Medinet Habu. The temple is especially known for the depictions of Ramses III defeating the ‘Sea Peoples’, invaders of Ancient Egypt whose origins are unknown.
8. Deir el Medina (Valley of the Artisans)
This lesser-known (and thus less crowded!) necropolis is often overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors, the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, but you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by not visiting Deir el Medina while in Luxor.
Also known as the Valley of the Artisans, it’s home to the tombs of the artists, builders and craftsmen who worked on the tombs in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. It’s a good look into the daily lives of regular Egyptians who lived thousands of years ago – they weren’t all pharaohs after all!
Some of the tombs in Deir el Medina (like Sennedjem and Pashedu) are some of the most best-preserved and colorful tombs in all of Luxor.