14 Top Tourist Attractions in Luxor & Easy Day Trips
Luxor stands head-and-shoulders above Egypt's other towns for its sheer wealth of temples and tombs. This was the site of ancient Thebes, the great city of the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom pharaohs who covered the banks of the Nile with their mammoth building works and began the vast tomb structures snugly hidden amid the rocky valley of the West Bank. The scope of their ambition is best appreciated today in the magnificent Karnak Temple complex, but there are so many monuments here that you could easily spend a week simply soaking up the elegance and grandeur. Luxor is basically an open-air museum and there's no better place in Egypt to stop for a few days and simply lose yourself in the wonders of the ancient world.
1 Temple of Karnak
Of all Luxor's many monuments, the Temple Complex of Karnak has to be its most astonishing and beautiful feat. Within its precincts are the Great Temple of Amun, the Temple of Khons, and the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III, as well as many other buildings. It is not built to a single unified plan, but represents the building activity of many successive rulers of Egypt, who vied with one another in adding to and adorning this great national sanctuary, which became the most important of Egypt's temples during the New Kingdom. All the monuments here are on a gigantic scale, reducing visitors to ant-like proportions as they gaze up at mighty columns and colossal statuary. Even if you're short on time, don't scrimp on your visit here. You need at least three hours to try and make sense of the entire complex.
You can easily walk to Karnak from downtown along the Nile-side Corniche road, although due to the heat, most people take a taxi.
Address: Maabad al-Karnak Street, East Bank
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Luxor
2 Valley of the Kings
The famed Valley of the Kings, hidden between rocky escarpments, was the final resting place for the kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. Their main attraction is their wonderfully vivid wall paintings. Since it was believed that the dead man, accompanied by the sun god (or perhaps having become one with the sun god) sailed through the underworld at night in a boat, the walls of the tombs were adorned with texts and scenes depicting this voyage and giving the dead man instruction on its course. Within the valley are 63 tombs that are a roll-call of famous names of Egyptian history including the famous boy-king Tutankhamun. The tombs are open on a rotation system to preserve the paintings as much as possible from the damage caused by humidity.
Location: West Bank
3 Luxor Temple
Presiding over the modern downtown district, Luxor Temple is an ode to the changing face of Egypt through the centuries. Built first by Amenophis III (on the site of an earlier sandstone temple), it was known as "the southern harem of Amun" and was dedicated to Amun, his consort Mut, and their son the moon god Khons. Like all Egyptian temples, it comprises the chapels of the deities with their vestibules and subsidiary chambers, a large Hypostyle Hall, and an open Peristyle Court, which was approached from the north by a great colonnade.
The temple was added to and changed by a parade of pharaohs including Amenophis IV (who obliterated all references to the god Amun within the temple and added the Sanctuary of the god Aten), Tutankhamun (who had the walls of the colonnade embellished with reliefs and in turn destroyed the Temple of the Aten), Seti I (who restored the reliefs of Amun), and Ramses II (who extended the temple significantly, adding a new colonnaded court at the north end). During the Christian era, the temple underwent a transformation into a church, while in the Islamic period, the Mosque of Abu el-Haggag, dedicated to a revered holy man, was built inside the complex grounds.
Location: Corniche, Downtown, East Bank
4 Temple of Deir al-Bahri (Queen Hatshepsut's Temple)
The Temple of Deir el-Bahri is magnificently situated at the foot of the sheer cliffs fringing the desert hills, the light-colored, almost white, sandstone of the temple standing out prominently against the golden yellow to light brown rocks behind. The temple complex is laid out on three terraces rising from the plain, linked by ramps, which divide it into a northern and a southern half. Along the west side of each terrace is a raised colonnade.
The terraces were hewn out of the eastern slopes of the hills, with retaining walls of the finest sandstone along the sides and to the rear. The temple itself was also partly hewn from the rock. Inside, the complex is richly adorned with statues, reliefs, and inscriptions. Note how Queen Hatshepsut had herself represented with the attributes of a male pharaoh (beard and short apron) to demonstrate that she possessed all the authority of a king.
Location: West Bank
5 Luxor Museum
One of Egypt's best museums, Luxor Museum holds a beautifully exhibited collection from the local area that tells the story of ancient Thebes from the Old Kingdom right up to the Islamic Period. The museum's prize possessions are the two Royal Mummies of Ahmose I and what is believed to be Ramses I in two rooms on the ground floor, which are worth a visit here alone.
The upper floor has a dazzling display of amulets, silver bowls, grave and tomb furnishings, and votive tablets running across the middle of the floor space. While here, check out the reliefs on the re-erected Wall of Akhenaten. The 283 sandstone blocks are covered with painted reliefs and originally belonged to Akhenaten's Temple of the Sun at Karnak.
Location: Corniche, East Bank
6 Medinet Habu
With the famous Valley of the Kings and Temple of Deir al-Bahri the main attractions, Medinet Habu often gets overlooked on a West Bank trip, but this is one of Egypt's most beautifully decorated temples and should be on everyone's West Bank hit list. The complex consists of a small older temple built during the 18th dynasty and enlarged in the Late Period, and the great Temple of Ramses III, associated with a royal palace, which was surrounded by a battlemented enclosure wall four-meters high.
The main temple area was built exactly on the model of the Ramesseum and, like the Ramesseum, was dedicated to Amun. The reliefs here are some of the best you'll see on the West Bank.
Location: West Bank
7 Tombs of the Nobles
If you haven't had your fill of tombs in the Valley of the Kings then make a beeline for the Tombs of the Nobles, which may be less famed, but actually include much better preserved examples of tomb paintings. The site contains around 400 tombs of various dignitaries that date roughly from the 6th dynasty right up to the Ptolemaic era. The tomb paintings here aren't so concerned with guiding the dead into the afterlife; instead they showcase scenes from Egyptian daily life. In particular the Tomb of Khonsu, Tomb of Benia, Tomb of Menna, and Tomb of Nakht are home to some of Egypt's most vivid and lively tomb paintings.
Of all the tombs here, the Tomb of Nakht (an official and priest of Amun in the 18th dynasty) is the one to choose if you're short of time. Only the first chamber has paintings but all are excellently preserved.
Location: West Bank
8 Colossi of Memnon
Beside the road that runs from the Valley of the Queens and Medinet Habu towards the Nile are the famous gigantic statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. Carved out of hard yellowish-brown sandstone quarried in the hills above Edfu, they represent Amenophis III seated on a cube shaped throne, and once stood guard at the entrance to the king's temple, of which only scanty traces are left. In Roman Imperial times they were taken for statues of Memnon, son of Eos and Tithonus, who was killed by Achilles during the Trojan War.
The South Colossus is better preserved than the one to the north. It stands 19.59-meters high and the base is partly buried under the sand. With the crown, which it originally wore but has long since vanished, the total height must have been some 21 meters. The North Colossus is the famous "musical statue," which brought flocks of visitors here during the Roman Imperial period. Visitors observed that the statue emitted a musical note at sunrise and this gave rise to the myth that Memnon was greeting his mother, Eos, with this soft, plaintive note. The sound ceased to be heard after Emperor Septimus Severus had the upper part of the statue restored.
Location: West Bank
The great mortuary temple built by Ramses II and dedicated to Amun, lies on the edge of the cultivated land, some one-and-a-half kilometers south of Deir el-Bahri. Although only about half of the original structure survives, it is still a highly impressive monument. During the Roman Imperial period, it was known as the Tomb of Ozymandias mentioned by the historian Diodorus (1st century BC) and was later immortalised by the English poet Shelley in his poem Ozymandias.
The north tower and south tower are inscribed with reliefs of Ramses II's battle with the Hittites, similar to the reliefs of Abu Simbel. On the South Tower, the whole of the left hand half of the wall is taken up by the Battle of Qadesh. Scenes here portray Ramses in his chariot dashing against the Hittites, who are killed by his arrows or flee in wild confusion and fall into the River Orontes, while to the right, you can make out the Hittite Prince and the enemy fleeing into their fortress.
Inside the First Court are the remains of a colossal figure of the king, which is estimated to have originally had a total height of 17.5 meters and to have weighed more than 1,000 tons.
10 Valley of the Queens
The tombs in the Valley of the Queens mostly belong to the 19th and 20th dynasties. A total of almost 80 tombs are now known, most of them excavated by an Italian expedition led by E. Schiaparelli between 1903 and 1905. Many of the tombs are unfinished and without decoration, resembling mere caves in the rocks. There are few incised inscriptions or reliefs, with much of the decoration consisting of paintings on stucco. Unfortunately, most of the tombs are closed to the public at the moment.
The Valley of the Queens is most famous for the Tomb of Queen Nefertari, which has been closed for several years because of preservation issues. The best open tombs in the area are the Tomb of Prince Amen-her-khopshef, a son of Ramses III, which contains well-preserved colors on its wall paintings, and the Tomb of Titi.
11 Mortuary Temple of Seti I
The Mortuary Temple of Seti I is dedicated to Amun and to the cult of the king's father Ramses I. Left unfinished by Seti I, it was adorned by Ramses II with reliefs and inscriptions, which vie in quality with the contemporary work at Abydos. The temple was originally 158-meters long, but all that now remains is the sanctuary with its various halls and chambers and some scanty fragments of the courts and pylons.
For those travelers interested in ancient Egyptian decorative work, the temple's Hypostyle Hall contains some excellent examples of reliefs. On the roof slabs over the central aisle are the winged solar disc, flying vultures, and the names of Seti I, enclosed by snakes and flanked by two rows of hieroglyphics. The low reliefs on the walls depict Seti I and Ramses II making offerings to various gods, including, on the right, Hathor of Dendera who is suckling Seti.
12 Deir el-Medina
Deir el-Medina is home to a small temple, the remnants of a workers' village (where the artisans of the royal tombs lived), and the tombs of the workers themselves. It's well worth a visit for the wall paintings adorning the tombs, which are a vibrant depiction of daily Egyptian life.
Don't miss the Tomb of Sennedjem who was a 19th-dynasty artist. It has a vaulted tomb chamber and reliefs and paintings on religious themes, including a fine representation of a funeral banquet. The contents of the tomb - discovered in 1886 - are now on display in Cairo's Egyptian Museum.
Location: West Bank
13 Banana Island
If you've had your fill of temples and tombs for the day, there is no better way to relax in Luxor than to take a felucca ride to Banana Island. Five kilometers upriver from Luxor, this teeny palm-shaded island is the perfect chilled-out contrast to the history-filled treasures of the West and East Bank. Hop on a felucca in the late afternoon after a long day of temple and tomb viewing, and sit back to watch the Nile-side views as the boat captain raises the sail and you slide up the river. If you sail back just on sunset, you'll get to see the river at its most majestic.
14 Mummification Museum
This small, but fascinating museum explains the processes behind the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification in a series of well set-out and informative displays. The exhibits include actual mummies (both human and animal) and the tools (including the spatulas used to scrape the dead person's brains out) used in the mummification process. It's probably not the best museum for anyone particularly squeamish, but the clear information panels and well-thought-out exhibits are a must for anyone looking to find out more about the burial practises of the pharaohs. In particular check out the mummy of Maserharti, a high priest of Amun in the 21st dynasty that is extremely well-preserved.
Location: Corniche, East Bank
Day Trips from Luxor
Temples of Abydos
The grand necropolis complex of Abydos is one of the oldest necropolises in Egypt and is associated with the first Egyptian capital of Thinis. It was here that kings and high court dignitaries were buried during the 1st and 2nd dynasties, and the rituals of kingly burials were first celebrated to symbolise the transitory and recurrent character of all earthly things. The site is centered round the beautiful Temple of Seti I and is a fine day out from Luxor.
Location: 162 kms north of Luxor
Temple of Hathor at Dendera
Although Dendera Temple lacks the magnificence of earlier temples like those of Abydos and Karnak, it impresses with its fine proportions and dignified adaptation to its purpose. The profusion of reliefs and inscriptions on the walls are excellent examples of the Egyptian decorative art of the Late Period. Dendera itself was once capital of Upper Egypt and the scant remnants of this once great town lies on the west bank of the Nile across from the modern town of Qena.
Location: 76 kms north of Luxor
Kom Ombo Temple
The Kom Ombo Temple, twin-dedicated to the deities Sobek and Haroeris, was built to a unified plan, which in effect accommodated two temples in a single building. The temple was also embellished with reliefs by Philometor, Euergetes II, and Neos Dionysos. One of the finest Ptolemaic temples in Egypt, its lavish decoration harks back to a time when Kom Ombo's position beside the Nile made it one of Upper Egypt's most important centers of trade and commerce.
Location: 168 kms south of Luxor
- Read More:
- Exploring Kom Ombo Temple: A Visitor's Guide
Temple of Horus at Edfu
The 2,000-year-old Temple of Horus is almost perfectly preserved, and the history of its construction and a description of the entire structure are set forth in long inscriptions on the outside of the enclosure wall, particularly at the north end of the east and west sides. Construction was begun in 237 BC, in the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I, and completed in 212 under his successor, Philopator. Its relative youth, compared to the temples in Luxor, means that it is in much better shape than other temples and remains one of the best places in Egypt to really imagine the grandeur of ancient Egypt.
Location: 110 kms south of Luxor
- Read More:
- Exploring Edfu's Magnificent Temple of Horus
Temple of Khnum, Esna
In the center of Esna, freed from the rubble of later centuries and now nine meters below the present street level, is the Temple of Khnum, the ram-headed local god, and his associate goddesses Neith and Satet. The outer walls bear reliefs and inscriptions by Roman Emperors. On the south side, Domitian is depicted smiting his enemies in the presence of Khnum and Menheyet, and on the north side, Khnum, with the goddess Nebtu standing behind him, presents Trajan, also shown smiting his enemies, with the sickle sword. The seven-aisled Vestibule was the only part of the temple that was completed and dates almost entirely from the Roman Imperial period.
Location: 56 kms south of Luxor