With its sumptuous temples and tombs, the ancient religious capital of the pharaohs is the queen stopover of a stay in Egypt. Our advice to make the most of the most beautiful sites to discover.
500 kilometers south of Cairo, nestled between the desert and the green banks of the Nile, the city of Luxor unveils some of the most fascinating gems of ancient Egypt. 3,400 years ago, what was then called Thebes was the capital of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, the golden age of Egyptian civilization. Its current name, “al-Qosour” in Arabic, refers to the many vestiges of this period. Classified by Unesco, they have made Luxor one of the most visited and renowned sites in the country.
How to organize your trip
To go to Luxor, several options are available to you. The easiest: take a flight to Cairo (4:20 from Paris) then a second to Luxor (1 hour from Cairo) with EgyptAir, Nile Air or Fly Egypt. In October 2019, EgyptAir relaunched a weekly direct flight from Paris to Luxor, from October to March. You can also land at Hurghada and reach Luxor by road in 4 hours.
If you prefer the train, a line connects Cairo to Luxor in 10:30. Ticket to buy at Ramses station in Cairo or on the company’s website.
In Luxor, the transport offer is varied and it is not necessary to hire a car. There again, several options: the taxi (negotiate well!), The minibus (is taken on the side of the road) or the tuktuk. Possibility of privatizing a taxi for the day or a minibus if you are in a group.
Depending on how many sites you want to see, it may be worth purchasing a pass. Take the Luxor Premium Pass (180 €, unlimited access to all Luxor sites and museums for 5 days) if you plan to visit the tombs of Sethi I and Nefertari. The Luxor Standard Pass (90 €, valid at all sites and museums for 5 days except Tombs of Seti I and Nefertari) is worth it if you visit a large number of sites. Both can be purchased at the Valley of the Kings ticket office and Karnak Temple.
To learn more about the history, you can hire a guide. If many local agencies organize tours, we recommend Tarek Salem, French speaking guide and expert in the region. It offers day tours or full stays (Tel: 00 201 012 164 371, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The temple of Karnak, «lin Mecca of the pharaohs»
Dedicated to the god Amon, Karnak alone embodies all the genius and excessiveness of the pharaohs. 3,400 years ago, this temple was the most sacred in the Egyptian religion. Spread over more than 2 km², it is also the largest religious complex built in Antiquity. Many pharaohs participated in its construction over nearly 2,000 years, including the famous Seti I, Ramses II and Ramses III.
With its forest of 134 columns, the great hypostyle hall is an architectural masterpiece. Look up to admire the grandeur of the columns and the delicacy of the hieroglyphics. Don’t miss the obelisk erected by Queen Hatshepsut. With its 29.5 meters high, it is the tallest still standing in Egypt.
Our advice: the Karnak site is the second most visited in Egypt after the pyramids in Cairo. Prefer the morning very early or the end of the day to avoid the crowds and not to be crushed by the heat. The site is vast: plan to visit several hours, good shoes and enough water.
Open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price: 200 EGP (around 11 €).
The temple of Luxor, to the glory of the god Amun
With its entrance guarded by the imposing Colossi of Ramses II and a beautiful 26-meter obelisk, the Luxor Temple will impress you upon your arrival. In 1830, the second obelisk originally present was offered to France by Mehemet Ali. He now sits on the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Also dedicated to the god Amun, the temple is located 2.5 kilometers from Karnak. At the time, the two shrines were linked by an alley of 1,300 sphinxes. Today, there are only a few dozen left that you will see at the entrance. They aimed to protect the pharaoh during his annual procession between Karnak and Luxor: the feast of Opet. Inside, you will see bas-reliefs that describe this ceremony, including the offerings to Amon and the musicians playing the drums.
Our advice: the hours are late, take the opportunity to stay in the temple at night. With the lighting and the calm that takes hold of the place, the atmosphere becomes magical.
After the visit, take a break at the Aboudi Coffee Break bookstore-café to enjoy a beautiful view of the temple and leaf through interesting books about the country.
Open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Price: 160 EGP (around 9 €).
The Valley of the Kings, last home of the pharaohs
In this narrow valley which winds between the arid reliefs of the Libyan desert hide real treasures. You are here on the west bank of the Nile, on the side of the setting sun, symbol of the abode of the dead, as opposed to the east bank where the temples of Karnak and Luxor dedicated to the god Amon are located. It is the place chosen by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom to house their tombs. If the kings of the Old and Middle Kingdom were buried in huge pyramids, those of the New Kingdom preferred discretion to avoid (in vain) looting. Large amounts of gold and jewelry accompanied them to the afterlife. Among the most beautiful tombs, admire those of Seti I, Ramses III, Ramses IV, Ramses VI.
Our advice: After your visit, stop at the Ramesseum Rest House Café (Tel: + 201 061 848 160). The owner, Mohammed Abdelrassoul, comes from an emblematic family of tomb discoverers and will be happy to tell you his story!
Open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price: 240 EGP (around 13 €) for general admission. It gives you access to three tombs. For Tutankhamun, Ramses VI and Seti I, you will have to pay an additional ticket.
The Valley of the Queens, a jewel nestled in the mountain
South of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens is the necropolis of royal wives, princes and princesses of the 19th and 20th dynasties. Less visited than the Valley of the Kings, it houses nearly a hundred tombs. You will discover wonders in a quieter atmosphere. Do not miss that of Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramses II. With its almost intact decorations and bright colors, it is one of the most beautiful tombs in Egypt.
One kilometer away, the Deir El Medina site is worth a visit. There you will see the tombs of the artists who worked on the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. On the way back, stop also at the Colossi of Memnon, two monumental sculptures, the last vestiges of the temple of Amenhotep III.
Our advice: the tomb of Nefertari being fragile, the number of visitors per day is limited. It is recommended to come early. If you want to visit it, the purchase of the Luxor Premium Pass is interesting.
Open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price: 100 EGP for general admission (around 5 €) + 1,400 EGP for the tomb of Nefertari (around 76 €).
The mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, the daring female pharaoh
It’s hard not to be amazed in front of this majestic mortuary temple built to the glory of Hatshepsut, one of the first female pharaohs of Egypt. Built at the foot of the ocher mountains on the west bank of the Nile, it seems to be embedded in the cliff. You will be struck by the symmetry and perspective of its architecture. The building is made up of three terraces with, at each level, a portico supported by a row of pillars. On the third portico, observe the pillars bearing the image of the queen. She is represented as a man with a false beard, a sign of the struggle she had to lead to be accepted as a pharaoh woman. Monumental access ramps reinforce the feeling of grandeur. It did not take less to register the reign of Hatshepsut in eternity.
Our advice: the temple being oriented due east, go there early to enjoy the first lights that illuminate the cliff. Do not miss the third terrace and its panoramic view over the Nile valley.
Open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price: 140 EGP (around 8 €).
WHEN TO GO
The months from November to February are the most favorable. During the day, you will avoid the heat, while enjoying a beautiful sunshine. In January, the temperature is 23 ° C on average during the day and 9 ° C at night. From March, we exceed 30 ° C and in summer, it can be over 40 ° C. Avoid to fully enjoy the visit.
At the New Memnom. For an immersion in both rural and ancient Egypt, we advise you to stay on the west bank of the Nile, far from the hustle and bustle of the city center. This small, family-run hotel is located 2 km from the Vallée des Reines and 7 km from the Vallée des Rois. You will be very close to the archaeological sites and will enjoy a magnificent view of the sugar cane fields. From € 35 per night.
New Memnom, Memnon Street, West Bank (just in front of the Colossi of Memnon). Phone. : + 209 520 609 84.
At the Iberotel. On the east bank of the Nile, closer to Luxor city center, this property offers stunning river views, a beautiful outdoor swimming pool and modern rooms. 10 minute walk to Luxor Temple. From 44 € per night.
Iberotel, Khaled Ibn El Walid Street. Winter. : + 209 523 809 25.
At the Panorama Restaurant. Located between the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings, this canteen is a pleasant stopover between your visits. You will enjoy a large terrace with a panoramic view of the cultivated fields of the Nile valley on one side and the Theban mountain on the other. Simple Egyptian cuisine at a reasonable price.
Panorama Restaurant, Zamzam, New Qurna. Tel. : + 201 026 056 407.
Au Aladdin’s Kingdom. To enjoy a pleasant setting on the banks of the Nile, Aladdin’s is a great option. In a large garden planted with banana trees, you will taste Egyptian dishes while watching the feluccas pass by on the river.
Aladdin’s Kingdom, Banana Island, Al Bairat Al Gorf.
WHAT TO BRING
For traditional gemstone jewelry, statuettes and crafts, the Old Shop (Tel: + 201 001 212 168) is a good address.
For works by contemporary artists, take a tour of the Luxor Art Gallery. Memnon Street, Al Qarna (Tel: +201 064 924 426).