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. Plan your trip with our list of the top tourist attractions in and around Luxor.
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. If you're short on time, plenty of tours are offered that whip you around the highlights of Karnak. A private tour of Luxor East Bank, Karnak, and the Luxor temples is a good option. This half-day tour visits these ancient sites with an Egyptologist.
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, which 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.
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.
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.
One of Egypt's best museums, Luxor Museum holds a beautifully exhibited collection from the local area, which 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