Luxor, one of the most important and most beloved ancient places in Egypt, is commonly referred to as the largest open-air museum in the world. The modern city of Luxor is built on and around the site of the ancient city of Thebes, which historians estimate was inhabited from 3,200 BC. It is also home to the Karnak temple complex, which served as the main place of worship for the Thebans. Together, the three sites have been attracting tourists since Greco-Roman times, all of them drawn by the area’s incredible collection of ancient temples and monuments.
Luxor golden age
The history of Luxor predates the modern city and is intimately woven with that of Thebes, the legendary metropolis known to the ancient Egyptians as Waset.
Thebes reached the height of its splendor and influence in the period between 1,550 and 1,050 BC. At this time, it served as the capital of a newly unified Egypt and became known as a center of economy, art, and architecture associated with the Egyptian god Amun. The pharaohs who ruled during this period spent large sums of money on temples designed to honor Amun (and themselves), and thus the incredible monuments for which the city is famous today were born. During this period, known as the New Kingdom, many pharaohs and their queens chose to be buried in the necropolis of Thebes, known today as the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.
Top Attractions in Luxor
Located on the east bank of the River Nile, present-day Luxor should be the first stop for visitors to the region. Start at the Luxor Museum, where displays filled with artifacts from the surrounding temples and tombs provide a comprehensive introduction to the area’s must-see attractions. Signs written in Arabic and English introduce priceless pharaonic art, colossal statues, and intricate jewelry. In an annex dedicated to the treasures of the New Kingdom, you will find two royal mummies, one believed to be the remains of Ramses I.
If you are fascinated by the mummification process, don’t miss the Mummification Museum with its exhibits of carefully preserved human and animal remains.
However, the main attraction in Luxor is the Luxor Temple. Construction was started by Amenhotep III around 1390 BC. C., with additions of a series of later pharaohs, including Tutankamón and Ramses II. Architectural highlights include a colonnade of raised columns decorated with hieroglyphic reliefs; and an entrance door guarded by two massive statues of Ramses II.
Top Attractions in Karnak
North of Luxor is the Karnak temple complex. In ancient times, Karnak was known as Ipet-isut , or the most selected place, and it served as the main place of worship for the Thebans of the 18th dynasty. The first pharaoh to build there was Senusret I during the Middle Kingdom, although most of the buildings that remain date from the golden age of the New Kingdom. Today, the site is a vast complex of shrines, kiosks, pylons, and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban Triad. It is believed to be the second largest religious complex in the world.
If there’s one sight to top your wish list, it should be the Great Hypostyle Hall, part of the Amun-Re Precinct.
Best attractions in Ancient Thebes
Cross the River Nile to the West Bank and discover the great necropolis of ancient Thebes. Of its many sections, the most visited is the Valley of the Kings, where the pharaohs of the New Kingdom decided to be entombed in preparation for the afterlife. Their mummified bodies were buried along with everything they wanted to take with them, including furniture, jewelry, clothing, and food and drink supplies contained in large urns. There are more than 60 known tombs in the Valley of the Kings, many of which have been stripped of their treasures.
Of these, the most famous (and most intact) is the tomb of Tutankhamun, a minor pharaoh who ruled for only nine years.
South of the Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens, where members of the pharaohs’ families (including men and women) were buried. Although there are more than 75 tombs in this section of the necropolis, only four are open to the public. Of these, the most famous is that of Queen Nefertari, whose walls are covered with magnificent paintings.
Where to stay and when to go
There are many accommodation options to choose from in Luxor, most of them located on the east bank. You should be able to find something for every budget, from affordable options like the top-rated three-star Nefertiti Hotel; to the lavish luxury of five-star hotels like the historic Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor. The best time to travel is during the shoulder seasons of March to April and October to November, when the crowds subside and the temperatures are still bearable. Winter (December to February) is the coolest time of the year, but also the busiest and most expensive.
In summer (May to September), the heat can make visits uncomfortable.
Luxor is one of the top tourist destinations in Egypt and as such you have many options to get there. There are regular buses and trains from Cairo and other major cities in Egypt. You can take a felucca from Aswan along the Nile, while Luxor International Airport (LXR) allows you to fly from a myriad of domestic and international departure points.