With the spectacular and spiritual Nile River running through the center of what was once known as Thebes, and ancient well-preserved temples sprinkled throughout, it’s no wonder that Luxor is referred to as the “world’s greatest open-air museum”. Thebes was called the City of 100 Gates and during it’s heyday it was renowned for its high social status and was a center for art, religion, and political supremacy.
Ancient pharaohs erected temples on the east banks of the Nile to celebrate their triumphs and they built elaborate tombs on the west banks of the Nile to prepare for their deaths. In fact the entire valley is still full of tombs that archaeologists are working hard to uncover to this day.
Communities of people are being relocated so that their houses can be demolished and digging underneath can begin. Even important buildings and mosques are being destroyed so that archaeologists can unearth the vast treasures that lie beneath them. Literally thousands of Sphinxes are in the process of being excavated on the “Avenue of Sphinxes” between the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple so this area should look quite different if you return once the 11 million dollar project is complete.
Visit Luxor now to witness history in the making!
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Guide to Luxor, Egypt
Preparing for your Trip to Luxor
Best Time to Visit
Luxor, as in all of Egypt, has a hot desert climate although the summer days in Luxor can be hotter than other Egyptian cities. Average high temperatures from June through August are above 104°F and average lows remain above 72°F. So if you visit in the summer months, be prepared for sweltering heat. The winter is much more temperate, with average temperatures in the 40-70°F range. Winter is also the peak tourist season in Luxor so expect more crowds.
Packing for Your Trip
In the summer months the midday sun in Luxor will be unrelenting. Light, breathable attire is a must.
Check out a few of our Egyptian summer staples:
- A floor-length, short-sleeved comfy maxi dress
- A lightweight scarf
- Comfortable but cute close-toed walking shoes
- A foldable brimmed hat
- Wide leg wrinkle-free pants
The sun sets early in the winter and once the sun goes down temperatures drop significantly. You’ll want a sweater for evening outdoor excursions. Luxor gets less than .04 inches of average annual precipitation so you can leave your rain jacket at home. Check out my list of everything I packed for Egypt here!
Getting There and Around
Luxor International Airport (LXR) is conveniently located and many major cities around the world offer direct flights.
Many people arrive to Luxor or depart from Luxor via luxury cruise ship sailing on the Nile River to and from Aswan. If you haven’t booked a cruise already, read more about our recommended Nile excursion!
Know Before You Go
- The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (LE). At the time of writing (November of 2017) the conversion rate was about 17.65 LE to $1 USD. We’ll be referring to costs in Egyptian Pounds so just keep in mind that if we say something costs 100 LE, that’s just about $5.50 USD.
- Egyptians speak Arabic and you should learn a few key phrases to get around! “Al Salam Alaikum” (pronouned sall-em wall-a-come) is a nice way to say “hello”. “Shukran” (pronounced shoo kran) is “thank you”. “Ma’-Elsalama” (pronounced ma sell lem-a) is “goodbye”. And “tip” is “baksheesh” – you’ll hear that word a lot.
- Be sure to have small change on you for a “baksheesh”. You’ll need to tip your car, boat, and carriage drivers on your daily excursions as well as the bellhops that carry your bags to your room. And it can be really challenging to get (and keep) small change.
- You will encounter guards at every temple and tomb who are dressed in traditional clothing. They will ask you to take their photo, or try to give you information about the temple, or show you something that you may otherwise miss, and then ask for a baksheesh in return. It can get a little annoying but keep in mind that they only earn about 1,200 LE/month (~$65 USD) so they rely heavily on tips to support their families.
Is it Safe?
Yes! Luxor is incredibly safe for tourists and locals alike.
Where to Stay in Luxor
The Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa
The Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa is the premier luxury hotel along the east bank of the Nile River in Luxor. Located in the village of Karnak, just outside of the busy downtown area, the Hilton offers the ability to get away from the crowds and relax right on the bank of the Nile. From the moment you enter the Hilton until you depart, you’ll be treated like royalty by the amazing and welcoming staff.
A spacious, modern room with a private balcony overlooking the gorgeous infinity pool and the spectacular Nile River awaits your arrival. Plush bedding, a walk-in shower, and all of the amenities you could ever want will make it difficult to get out of bed and leave the resort everyday! Of course you should get out and explore all that Luxor has to offer but after a few hours you’ll find yourself dreaming of changing into your bathrobe and crawling back into your comfortable bed at the Hilton.
The real jewel of the Hilton Luxor is the spectacular outdoor area right on the bank of the Nile River. Featuring a heated infinity pool, comfortable poolside lounge areas and bars, and riverfront seating – it’s the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. Be sure to check out the Sunset Bar & Terrace around sunset and soak in the view of the lush banks across the river while you sip on fruity cocktails.
Dining and Imbibing at the Hilton Luxor
- Rosetta All-Day Dining – the exquisite breakfast buffet is served here and you’ll wake up every morning looking forward to the delicious spread awaiting you. You can also get lunch and dinner specials in this casual setting on the water.
- Citrus Bar – offering sweet and savory snacks as well as free squeezed juices, teas, and coffee, it’s the perfect spot for a light afternoon snack!
- Silk Road – this gorgeous restaurant offers inspired Asian dishes. The red vegetable curry is excellent! But watch out – it’s got some kick!
- Olives – serving lunch and dinner, Olives offers a casual ambiance and both local and Mediterranean dishes.
- Jannah Tea Bar – you’ll find healthy and delicious teas, juices, smoothies, and seasonal cuisine in the sunny spa courtyard.
- Sunset Bar & Terrace – the best place to watch the sun setting over the Nile while enjoying a refreshing beverage!
- Oasis Pool Bar – sip a refreshing cocktail while lounging in a submerged sunbed in the heated pool – you’ll be in heaven!
Spend an Afternoon at the Hilton Luxor Spa. Offering relaxing spa treatments in a tranquil atmosphere overlooking views of the Nile, the spa at the Hilton is the ultimate indulgence! Adults can also enjoy the thermal garden, spa courtyard, and peaceful infinity pool.
Enjoy Breakfast or Lunch on Felucca. The traditional wooden sailing boats are a popular way to travel on the Nile River and to make your experience even more enjoyable, just add delicious cuisine! Your friendly Hilton staff members can help to coordinate your trip.
What to do in Luxor
Visit the Ancient Temples and Tombs
- Karnak Temple – a gorgeous and well-preserved temple containing 134 intricately carved columns. Entrance fee: 120 LE/person. Photography is free.
- Luxor Temple – dating back to 1392 BC, this temple contains relics from 5 different cultures in one place – Roman, Greek, Christian, Islamic, and ancient Egyptian. Entrance fee: 100 LE/person. Photography is free.
- Valley of the Kings – contains 63 magnificent royal tombs, however there are currently only 8 tombs available for viewing and 2 of those require an additional fee. Of the 6 remaining, you’ll need to choose 3 to visit (unless you purchase 2 entrance tickets). Entrance fee: 160 LE/person to see 3 tombs; photography ticket fee for 3 tombs: 300 LE/camera; 2-way tram ticket: 4 LE/person; King Tut tomb entrance fee: 200 LE/person; Seti 1-Tut tomb entrance fee: 1,000 LE/person.
- The tombs that have the best preserved colors are the tombs of Rameses IV, Rameses III, and Rameses IX. The tomb of Rameses III is not to be missed!
- The Saptah and Sety II tombs are less popular with tour groups so you’ll likely have them to yourself (and the guard hoping to earn a baksheesh). Don’t miss the brightly colored eagles painted on the ceilings!
- Merenptah tomb has the steepest descent to the massive, intact sarcophagus. Don’t miss the well-preserved, colorful carvings near the entrance.
- Valley of the Queens – you can enter the tombs of 2 different queens which are quite a bit smaller and less elaborate than their male counterparts. If you’d like to see the tomb of Nefertari, the favorite of King Rameses’s 34 wives, you’ll need to pay for an additional ticket for 1,000 LE/person. Entrance fee: 80 LE/person.
- Valley of the Workers – the Egyptians who created the carvings in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived in a village nearby. In their spare time they created colorful tombs for themselves as well. Their tombs are much smaller and the walls are not carved but the colorful paintings are spectacular! Entrance fee: 80 LE/person.
- Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple (Temple of Hatshepsut) – originally constructed as a funeral temple for use by King Hatshepsut who is famous for being the only confirmed female pharaoh. Entrance fee: 80 LE/person; 2-way tram ticket: 2 LE/person.
- Colossi of Memnon – two large statues that were originally carved from a single piece of limestone. One is intact and original and one has had quite a bit of reconstruction. Entrance: free!
Sample the Local Fare
- Al-Sahaby Lane Restaurant – conveniently located right inside the souq and offering prime rooftop tables, this spot is a must try when visiting Luxor! Try the mezze plate, the moussaka, and the Egyptian-style pizza.
- El Hussein Restaurant – just a few blocks from the Hilton Luxor, this restaurant grills up perfectly seasoned meats with a variety of sides to accompany them.
- Oum Hashim Restaurant – for delicious grilled beef and chicken, Oum Hasim is the best BBQ is the city. Even if you’re not in the mood for grilled meat their moussaka and the bada salad are amazing. Be sure to find the right one – there are two copycats nearby!
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Hot air balloons take to the air every day just before sunrise allowing passengers to watch the sky turning the temples on the banks of the Nile beautiful pastel colors. Magic Horizon Balloons Luxor has an impeccable safety record and friendly, knowledgeable pilots. They will arrange all of the logistics to ensure that you have an unforgettable experience!
You’ll be picked up from your hotel around 4:45am, enjoy coffee and a snack onboard the small boat that will take you across the Nile, and then watch as your balloon is inflated. Your pilot will give some general history of Luxor while pointing out temples along the way. The ride will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
If heights aren’t your thing you can still enjoy the hot air balloons in Luxor – be sure to get up at sunrise to see them from your balcony or the pool area of the Hilton!
Shop in the Local Markets
The Old Market Street souq in Luxor is the perfect spot to get that Egyptian souvenir you’ve been eyeing during your Egyptian vacation. Colorful lamps, resin pharaoh statues, alabaster stone vases, and gold jewelry are just a few of the many types of souvenirs you’ll encounter.
Haggling is expected so expect to negotiate a price that is about 50% the initial offered price. But keep in mind that you’re only really haggling over a few dollars and they probably need it more than you do.
Be sure to check out our favorite shop, Aladdin’s Hule, for a huge selection of antique treasures. Even if you don’t buy, it’s worth a stop to meet the hilarious and eccentric owner.
A 2-Day Itinerary
Day One: Explore the West Bank of the Nile
Fill up on the delicious breakfast buffet as you have a long morning of exploring temples ahead of you! Your first stop of the day will be the Valley of the Kings which has been the site of royal burials since around 2100 BC. Intriguingly, ancient Egyptian kings would begin the construction of their tombs on the day they were crowned king.
Some kings like Rameses III reigned for quite a long time so their tombs are incredibly long and intricately carved and painted. And others, like Rameses IX did not enjoy a long life so their tombs had to be completed in haste (when the king died, the workers had 70 days to complete construction of the tomb as that was the length of time needed for mummification of the body).
Your next stop is the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple which was constructed by the only confirmed female pharaoh, King (technically queen) Hatshepsut. After the death of her husband who was also her half-brother, she claimed that the gods turned her into a man and was thus able to rule as king.
She is depicted as a man in all Egyptian statues and it was only at the discovery of her lover’s tomb in the 1900’s that archaeologists realized she was actually a woman. Unfortunately all of the statues and carvings depicting Hatshepsut in this temple were destroyed by her angry stepson, Thutmose III.
The Valley of the Workers and the Valley of the Queens are your final stops for the day. You’ll explore small but brightly painted tombs at the Valley of the Workers and the tombs that were the final resting place for the mummies of the many wives of the pharaohs at the Valley of the Queens.
End your day with a shisha at Diwan in the Hilton Luxor while enjoying the sun set over the Nile!
Day Two: Explore the East Bank of the Nile
Today you’ll be exploring the main temples of the East Bank of Luxor. Your first stop will be the Karnak Temple where you’ll wander through 134 well-preserved columns.
You’ll see many damaged images of King (Queen) Hatshepsut throughout the temple as she made more than a few offerings here so that the priests would accept her as a pharaoh.
A road of sphinxes connects the Luxor Temple to the Karnak Temple and it is expected that when excavations are complete, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 – 7,000 sphinxes will be discovered. Many buildings along this road, including a 200 year-old mosque, were destroyed to make way for the excavations.
Your day of excursions will end at the Luxor Temple where you will find evidence of 5 different cultures in one place – Roman, Greek, Christian, Islamic, and ancient Egyptian.
You’ll pass by the oldest mosque in Egypt on your way inside and the groundbreaking of that mosque was actually how the Luxor Temple was discovered – prior to that it had been lost under the city streets for more than 1,000 years! Look at the door that is about 30 feet high on the mosque – that used to be the entrance to the temple! That should give you an idea of how buried this temple really was.
A headless Greek statue and paintings on the walls of the temple where Romans attempted to cover the ancient Egyptian carvings with their own religious figures during their reign reflect the influence of other cultures on Egypt throughout history.
Finally, head back to your hotel to treat yourself to a refreshing cocktail while lounging by the pool. It’s been a long 2 days of learning about the ancient history and ruins of this amazing city!
More time in Egypt? Read more about our other epic Egyptian adventures:
Planning a visit to Egypt? Check out our favorite books!
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