All week I have been sharing my Egypt Travel Guides. Top on the list was My Guide to Giza because DUH the Pyramids. And next was my Guide to Cairo because it borders Giza. But I have saved the best for last…a Luxor Travel Guide! Luxor was my FAVORITE city because it had so much MORE than just pyramids. It housed remnants of residential sites from Ancient Egypt, as well as extravagant royal tombs. I understand that a trip to Giza is necessary (because who visits Egypt without seeing the Pyramids) but your next destination has to be Luxor…trust me!
Where to Stay
There are two areas of Luxor, split by the Nile, the East and West Bank. The East Bank is the major city of Luxor and a very viable option, while the West Bank is made up of ancient sites and farming land. We decided to stay on the West Bank, closer to the ruins we would be visiting. It was beautiful and serene, perfect for an escape on vacation!
We used Airbnb and stayed in a GREAT place (with one hiccup I will discuss later this week). The hotel was beautiful (resort style at a great cost, around $30 per night) and provided us with all the information and services we needed. Our host provided us with pickup from the train, as well as car services for our trip . I highly recommend using Airbnb, BUT to avoid any issues (like we had), make sure there are good reviews of the place.
Getting around for each bank is different…so I will break it down. But first, how to get between the banks. There is only one bridge (that we could see on a map) that connects the east and west banks of Luxor, and you have to drive farther south than any attraction to reach that point. BUT there are ferries/motorboats that will take you from the Luxor Temple (East bank) straight across the Nile to the West Bank (and vice versa). The boat ride costs 10 EGP per person (each way)…which is VERY cheap. However, if you want to be dropped somewhere other than Luxor Temple (we were dropped at Karnak Temple) it will increase the price directly correlating to the increase in distance.
Now…Gettting around the East Bank. The attractions on the East Bank are the Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Luxor Museum, and Mummification Museum. These are all fairly close together, with the farthest two points being the Karnak Temple from the Luxor Temple. We walked from one to the next because we wanted to see the procession street (explained below). But you could get a taxi, or there are horse drawn carriages all around offering rides. These horse rides seemed to be easy enough to haggle a good price.
Getting around from the various destinations on the West Bank is more complicated. You will need a car! Our hotel provided us with a car service for the full day costing 400 EGP (only $25). With this car you can easily get from each site, never needing to wait for a taxi (which you would have to call). The sites are too far to walk; so don’t try! Our host did tell us people can rent bicycles for the day and the locations seemed close enough to bike, but you are in the desert and it is HOT. There were also A TON of tour buses on the West Bank, so you may be able to find an all inclusive tour trip (as each site has an entry fee).
I stuck to my conservative dress code (as outlined in my Egypt Travel Diary). But Luxor is a major tourist city and most people dress for the heat. Of course locals stick to the traditional/conservative wear, but all the tourists wear shorts and tanks. I stayed covered up, which was sometimes hot, but I was also shielded me from the sun. I would say it’s up to your discretion and had I known I probably would’ve worn shorts.
Places to See – East Bank
Your trip must be separated into 2 days…one exploring the East Bank and one exploring the West Bank. The East Bank has 2 MAJOR attractions that you MUST go see, along with 2 museums (if you have extra time). So while I would advise separating one FULL day for each bank, the East Bank can be explored on a day with less time available. We started our East Bank exploration at 11 am and ended around 5 pm, and that was plenty of time. However, the two temples are LARGE and you could spend all day exploring these places!
The Karnak Temple should be your first stop at the East Bank. The temple opens at 6:00 am and closes at 5:30 pm. The temple has an entrance fee of 80 EGP and no photo fee. This temple is AMAZING! It is everything you imagine ancient Egypt to be. Wandering the halls will make you feel like you’ve been sent back in time.
The temple does have “guides” wandering the halls. So be ready to pay some baksheesh or tell them you don’t have money. Don’t just tell them “no thanks,” or “we don’t want a guide”, because they will insist they are not a guides and just keep ushering you around! BUT don’t be too quick to dismiss everyone (if you have some extra cash), they might allow you to go beyond barriers and pass behind closed off areas! We were allowed in some pretty awesome places…it cost us but was well worth it!
After you are done with the Karnak Temple, I suggest heading over to the Luxor Temple. To get there you can take a taxi, a horse drawn carriage (explained above), or walk. We decided to walk after reading about the procession road in a guide book. We now know the road is no longer usable, but we were able to walk along it to get to the Luxor Temple. This walkway (which you can see at Luxor Temple) is an old road once lined by sphinx statues that was used for religious/royal processions during the period. I enjoy walking, and being able to follow this path was a fun experience! It also allowed us to see some other interesting views/sights of the city.
Luxor Temple is not as big as Karnak but definitely a MUST see. The temple is open from 6 am until 10 pm, which why I suggest doing it second. We went during the day, but we were told it is a vision at night! So I recommend doing both times (if you can afford it). During the day you are able to see the awesome carvings, but at night the temple lit-up seems AMAZING. Entrance costs 60 EGP, again with no photo fee.
There are also “guides” here but fewer. We pretty much just ignored anyone because there are no restricted areas of the temple and nothing you can’t see for yourself. Fun Fact: During the Greco-Roman era, the back of this temple was plastered over to create a Church…you can still see some of the plaster paintings today!
Our short visit did not give us time to go to any museums. We figured if you could be outside exploring the ancient ruins, why go inside a museum to see the same thing? But I am always an advocate for museums! So if you have time…DO IT! The pictures online look pretty awesome, with a cleaner layout than the Egyptian Museum.
The Luxor Museum is open from 9-4 and again from 5-10…so plenty of time to go. A ticket costs 70 EGP (no photos). The website says this ticket includes the ruins; so it may be a joint ticket for the museum and temple (always something to look into if you plan on going).
The Mummification Museum was never even on our radar because we had been to an exhibit in Chicago where we learned A LOT about the process. But if you don’t know about mummification, it’s very interesting, and I suggest a trip to this museum. Its open from 9-10 and costs 40 EGP (no photos).
Places to See – West Bank
As stated above, you will need one FULL day to explore all of the West Bank! The attractions open at 6 am, and I advise starting early to beat the heat! We began our day at opening and ended around 3-4 pm…so a VERY full day of fun. If you can last 8 hours of exploring I recommend it. It’s well worth the exhaustion at the end! And with finishing so early, there’s time for a nap.
Valley of Kings
The Valley of the Kings is an open mountainous area housing various tombs of Ancient Egypt’s Pharaohs. It is a very exciting site to go see and was first on our list for the day! The hours vary during the year, but summer hours (starting after the 30th of April) are 6am-7pm. Start early! There is quite a bit of walking involved out in the sun, and the tombs are HOT! I imagine it only gets worse as the day goes on. We started around 7 am, and along with some cool weather, were unencombered by other tourists. Thus, most of our tours of the tombs were private!
The general admission ticket costs 100 EGP and allows you access to 3 tombs. Do your research (link above) because you have to specify which tombs you will be visiting when you get your ticket! We saw: Ramesses IV, Tausret/Sethnakht, Thutmose III…as these were recommended by the ticket staff (You could purchase multiple tickets and see more, but they begin to get redundant). Each tomb is numbered, and you find them via their number along the trail.
Then there are “special” tombs that each have their own extra ticket fee (along with your entry ticket). This is where things get expensive, Ramesses V-VI (yes they shared a tomb) costs 50 EGP, Tutankhamun costs 100 EGP, and the tomb of Seti I (or II) costs 1000 EGP. These were originally the three we had picked to see, not knowing they each had an extra cost. Unfortunately we only had enough cash on us to see Ramesses V-VI and Tutankhamun. BUT I would recommend spending the extra to see the tomb of Seti (we didn’t see it but spent this much later to see the tomb of Nefertari, and it was worth it!). Also, while it’s cool to see the tomb of Tutankhamun, this tomb is a let down. It has the mummy of the pharaoh, but not much else (its all been excavated)…so if you don’t have extra cash, pass.
There is also a 2-4 EGP fee per person for the tram, which takes you from the ticketing gate to the entrance. This is honestly not necessary. The distance is very walkable, but I am not sure you can get out of it…and its only 2 EGP so…
There are NO cameras allowed; so don’t even bring it (or you will have to check it and pay). BUT do bring your cell phones as many of the tomb guards and guides will allow you to take photos for some extra cash! These “tips” for photos and access past the barricades can add up and create an expensive trip. But as you can see from our photos, WORTH IT!
#1 Rule of Egypt: EVERYONE WANTS BAKSHEESH! Money can buy you everything…
A 3-Dimensional map showing the tombs and how they are constructed into the mountainside! Almost every sight has a 3D mini model (reconstruction), they’re all pretty awesome to understand the layouts.
Valley of Queens
The Valley of the Queens is identical to that of the Kings, but the valley houses burials of Queens and Princes (who died as children). It has perhaps the BEST tomb of all, the tomb of Queen Nefertari (Nefertiti). And you MUST go see it! It is open the same hours as the valley of the kings, 6am-7pm during the summer. It is much smaller than the Valley of the Kings, with only 3 tombs + Nefertari so it can be seen much faster.
The general admission ticket costs 50 EGP and allows you access to the 3 tombs (one queen, 2 princes). Then there is an extra fee for Nefertari’s tomb, 1000 EGP. I know this price seems steep, but if you can afford it…DO IT! It is so worth the money and makes me regret not seeing the Tomb of Seti at the valley of the kings. This tomb is almost completely intact and pointed out as a great anomaly for queens’ tombs. It contains NO depictions of her husband (pharaoh) as a queen’s tomb normally would. Only pictures of Nefertari adorn the walls!
Again, no cameras allowed, but pay a little extra to your tomb guide/guard and you can get all the pictures you want (on your cell phone)! Just remember, the amount of time you spend and pictures you take should correlate to the tip you give…i.e. don’t take a gazillion pics and pay them 5 EGP!
Tombs of the Nobles
We didn’t actually go visit the Tombs of the Nobles, but you CAN! It is, however, a great view you will encounter as you drive around the West Bank. I assume these tombs are similar but less grand than the tombs of the Kings/Queens. The mountainside is GORGEOUS at night with all the lights and starry backdrop. If you aren’t staying in the West Bank, you should try to explore until night to see all the views illuminated.
According to the website (which is outdated) there are 4 tombs available to view, with each one having it’s own ticket and fee. The fees on the site are old, and I would probably double any cost just to be on the safe side (all of our tickets were about that in comparison). Any extra you set aside can be used for tip money to take photos (remember no cameras).
It would be interesting to compare the differences between the tombs of a noble vs. a King or Queen of Ancient Egypt!
Dier el-Bahari is another MUST see while touring the West Bank. Especially for any women out there! This temple is dedicated to a Queen of Egypt, Hatshepsut. And after reading about her at the Egyptian Museum, I couldn’t wait to view her mortuary temple. For any Game of Throne fans, she was a real life Cersei Lannister. She reigned after her husband’s death and oppressed the rightful heir (her stepson). She also created a divine backstory to legitimize her right to the throne by claiming to be daughter of Amun.
A ticket costs 50 EGP and PHOTOS ALLOWED (with no fee). Summertime hours are from 6am – 7pm. This temple also has a “tram” ticket of 2 EGP. This one is even more unnecessary than the first, but whatever…
There are many guides here; so if you don’t want to pay let them know. And if you don’t want to be bothered, well sucks! We tried everything here, “no thank you,” “no money,” “no English”…they continued to try and guide us. So just ignore them and try to do your own thing…don’t let it bother you.
One of my favorite sites in the West Bank was the Ramesseum! This was the ONLY site that has any explanations or descriptions throughout it. It made the site more enjoyable to be able to recognize some iconography and find the items/inscriptions being explained. Each “room” of the temple has a plaque in the entrance, and we would read then explore and be able to recognize the images!
This temple also houses 2 distinct statues of Ramesses II. The bust of one is housed in the British Museum. I remembered this from the British museum and found it exciting to make a connection to our trip to London. The other colossal image, which has fallen onto its back in ruins, was the inspiration/subject of Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias” (for pop culture fans the poem is quoted in the television shows Breaking Bad and Frisky Dingo).
This temple is open 6am-6pm (summer) and costs 40 EGP with photos allowed. BUT tickets have to be purchased at the main office down the street, before visiting!
Statues of Amenhotep
These excavated statues are newer and not yet on any tour itinerary or map! BUT they are next door to the Ramesseum, and you can’t miss them. This site is free to view and a fun side stop on your way to other locations. These two statues of Amenhotep (not sure which one) are COLOSSAL and amazing. I recommend getting out and exploring the monstrosities.
Sorry I don’t have more information about them, but there’s nothing online, and I can’t remember it all!
Colossi of Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon are two HUGE statues of Amnehotep III. This attraction is also free and is exciting! They are still currently conducting excavation on the site, and it is an interesting process to see. Even more interesting than these statues is the recreation of what the temple once looked like. Another fun stop along you journey through the West Bank…and another one illuminated at night. The West Bank glows once the sun sets…
A complex of temples, hypostyle halls, and memorials Medinet Habu was another one of my favorite sites. I enjoyed many aspects: the deeply carved hieroglyphics (I could fit my whole hand inside some), the painted ceilings and pillars, and the hypostyle halls. It was not as grand as Karnak, but something about it just interested me. At this site one of the temples was closed off for study, which was so exciting to see scholars trying to decode these writings on the walls…
This temple is open 6am-5pm and tickets cost 40 EGP. These tickets also need to be purchased at the main office before 4pm. Photos are allowed and free!
While we jam packed our days in Luxor and did A LOT, there is still much more available. Be sure to do research before your trip and pick out your top destinations. We made a list and were sure to hit everything on it, then filled our day with any extras. TIP: All fees are reduced with a student I.D. card. So if you are a student (or have your old card)…BRING IT to Egypt for discounts. Another tip is to buy a Luxor guide book before going. We picked one up in Cairo, and it helped A TON. We were able to look up any questions we had and helped inform any decisions that had to be made (like picking tombs to see or sites to visit).
Which site would you want to visit the most? Let me know in the comments!
(above I have linked each site to it’s Egyptian government website, but pricing on that site seems to be outdated. As most were below any ticket prices we payed, I kept all the stub)