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January 2023


Whilst it’s a little far from Cairo or Sharm el Sheikh, or the usual holiday destinations in Egypt, Luxor is definitely worth the journey. Luxor is important in ancient Egyptian history since it was the capital for a long period of time during the Middle Kingdom (2055-2004 BCE). During this time temples and tombs were centred around here, close to the East and West banks of the country’s life line - the Nile.


Luxor is also famous for being ‘the world’s greatest open-air museum’ thanks to the incredible surviving ancient monuments.


It’s worth spending a couple (or more) days here to fully explore, but if you’re short on time (as Egypt has so many wonders to see!) here’s a quick breakdown of the highlights to see, and how to see them based on my experience!



Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple

An Afternoon on the East Bank



When’s the best time to visit Karnak Temple?

The hostel owner, where I stayed, recommended visiting Karnak Temple at around 1pm. At this time most tour buses leave to take their hoards of tourists for lunch. And he was right. There were still tourists at the temple, but it wasn’t overly busy, which made for a nice afternoon in the complex.


How do I get to Karnak Temple?

To get to Karnak Temple, there were two options: taxi or collective bus. The collective bus was only 2LE (£0.05p / 0,05€ / $0.07c) and departed right across the street from the hostel. There were no signs of an official bus stop, but as this transport is mostly used by locals, no bus stop is necessary - they just know how their city works!


As a tourist, I just had to stand there and yell ‘Karnak?’ every time a collective bus slowed down near the 'bus stop'. Each one has their route and final destination. I just didn’t know which one would take me to Karnak Temple. After several failed attempts, I finally got the nod from one of the collective bus drivers and jumped into the open vehicle scrambling to the back for a seat.


I stayed at Bob Marley Sheriff Hotel, but ask your accommodation reception for information on where to grab a collective bus and copy my technique without fear! No one knows you in the streets, so just shout and you’ll be rewarded!


Around 15 minutes later, we were dropped off outside the entrance to Karnak Temple. Before the gate to the complex, are souvenir shops and a restaurant for hungry tummies. They also offered fresh juices - the mango juice in Egypt is delicious!



How much is a ticket to Karnak Temple?

This is a photo of the ticket window!


To enter Karnak Temple, it costs 220LE (~£5/ €6 / $7). If you want to hire a guide, be aware that there are many amateurs who may not offer the best service. Walking around the site we heard tourists ask their guide for a description on some statues, and his answer was jokey and not very informative ("oh these statues are dressed for a party!"), leading me to believe that he didn’t know or wanted to dismiss their question to talk about something he felt was more important.


Inside there were no panels of descriptions to explain parts of the temple enclosure but Lonely Planet has a section in their Egypt guide if you’re looking for an economic way of being guided.


Security Guard Tips

Inside the site there are small rooms which are hidden in the sides or corners of the complex. They are usually manned by security guards who appear eager to show you what’s inside. Once inside they’ll helpfully point out highlights of the room, although their English is limited and you won’t get any useful information out of them. When it’s time to leave, they’ll ask for a tip. Lonely Planet suggests you tip them to compensate for their poor wages, but when I was there, the tourists felt a little cheated as no payment was initially agreed. It’s up to you. You can politely decline if they have allowed you to enter, and ask for a tip upon leaving. If they ask for a tip before entering, then you can decide whether to go in, or not.



Avenue of Sphinxes

At the rear of the Karnak Temple, is an impressive, beautiful gate that leads to Avenue of Sphinxes, a wide, 3km, stone road that leads to Luxor Temple. It's an excavation site that was recently opened to the public in November 2021, and is also known as Ram’s Road and The King’s Festivities Road. Along the 3km avenue you’ll come across some panels which show artwork on how the Opet Festival parade would march along carrying statues of Amun-Ra (God of the Sun), Mut (mother goddess) and Khonsu (her lunar child god).


The Avenue is lined with pedestals on each side, many of them empty. However, as you get closer to Luxor Temple, more sphinx and ram-headed statues appear on both sides on the pedestals.


Half way along the Avenue is a gate that separates the two sites. It is manned during the day, and closes at 5pm. At the side of the gate, is a ticket booth where you can buy tickets to enter either Luxor Temple or Karnak Temple depending on which way you are going.



How to get to Luxor Temple?

If you are staying in accommodation on the East side of the river, Luxor Temple may be accessible on foot. Otherwise, you can grab a collective bus by asking your accommodation reception where the nearest pick up point is. I’d recommend visiting Karnak Temple and then walking down the Avenue of the Sphinxes for a scenic journey, whilst imagining how the Opet Festival used to parade down towards Luxor Temple.


How much is it to enter the Luxor Temple?

In January 2023 tickets cost 180LE (£5 / €5 / $6) and it’ll be cheaper for students if you can show a valid student card. You can buy a ticket at the main entrance or at the Avenue of Sphinxes.


When is the best time of day to visit Luxor Temple?

Luxor Temple opens early at 6am so if you want to beat the crowds, and see the beauty in the morning light, the earlier the better.

Otherwise, sunset is also a dazzling time to visit. The stones glow in the sunset light creating an even more amazing experience. Be prepared for crowds at this time though! We were there as the sky darkened and large tour groups were arriving for their last stop. The site closes at 9pm.



Do I need a guide for Luxor Temple?

As with Karnak Temple, you can either, get a guide or you can use a guide book like Lonely Planet to give you snippets of information. It all depends on how in depth you’d like to go.



West Bank Tour

A Day on the West Bank of Luxor


All ticket prices are prices I paid in January 2023. Some up to date prices can be found online at the official Egypt Monuments Government website and may change. I have seen differences from the prices in my Lonely Planet guide (2019) to the prices I paid this year.


Start early to explore the West Bank. I visited with a small tour group but, if you can, I’d recommend getting a private car for the day as you’ll have more freedom and more time to explore each place.


The below is a typical itinerary as it makes for a clean route. However, most groups, and tours start by visiting the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut and Valley of the Kings, so you can perhaps visit these places at lunch or the afternoon to avoid the crowds.


Colossi of Memnon


A usual start to a West Bank itinerary, this site is home to two huge colossi of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Each cut from one single piece of stone, they tower at the entrance to the funerary temple, which is the largest temple on this side of the river. Behind them excavations were still ongoing. It is free to enter.


Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut


Hatshepsut is the one of the most famous and powerful female Pharaohs who ruled for many years. She declared herself pharaoh when her step son, Tuthmosis III, was too young to take the throne following the death of his father Tuthmosis II. This was her funerary temple and, unfortunately, her stepson tried to remove all references to her when he came to power.

For 160LE (~£4 / €4.70 / $5) the ticket allows you entry into the temple as well as an electric car ride from the entrance to the temple!



Valley of the Kings


Since the sun sets on the west, the west side of the Nile is associated with death, whereas the east side is associated with life. Therefore, you’ll find all tombs on the West Bank in Luxor, including the Valley of the Kings, where excavators have found tombs belonging to important leaders during ancient Egyptian history.


Tickets are 260LE (130LE for students) and allow you entry into three tombs only. You’re free to choose which tombs you visit but there are certain tombs that aren’t included in the options and require extra tickets.


Tombs are labelled by references beginning with the letters KV and a number.

The tombs we were recommended to visit were:

KV2 - Tomb of Ramses IV
KV6 - Tomb of Ramses IX
KV11 - Tomb of Ramses III

I decided to buy an extra ticket for K9 - Tomb of Ramses V & VI for 100LE.

Photos don’t do these places justice, it’s something that should be experienced with the naked eye. But, to give you a glimpse and inspiration, here are some photos of what you’d see.


KV2 - Tomb of Ramses IV

KV11 - Tomb of Ramses III

KV9 - Tomb of Ramses V & VI

Medinat Habu (Temple of Ramses III)


“The last of the great imperial temples built during the New Kingdom”. This was the last stop on our tour and I'm unsure of why I hadn't heard of it before. The place is a work of art featuring the mortuary temple of Ramses III and additions made later by female ruler Hatshepsut and her stepson, Tuthmosis III. The images speak for itself, of its grandeur.


Lunch

On the tour, everyone went for lunch which wasn’t included on the itinerary. Whether you wanted it or not, the bus would stop at a restaurant for a buffet lunch where you were required to pay extra.

After lunch, everyone would then take the ferry (also not included in the price) to cross the Nile and get to the East Bank where the bus would pick us up to take us back to our accommodation.


I could already imagine a large restaurant filled with tourists all digging into bad, mass catered food. Luckily my friend, who was staying at the same hostel, had requested to be dropped off at the Valley of the Queens to see the famous tomb of Nefertari. I decided to join him and it was the best decision!



Valley of the Queens


There are 91 tombs in the Valley of the Queens but only a handful are open to view. Tickets are 100LE, but if you want to see the amazing tomb of Nefertari, this will be the most expensive ticket you buy in Egypt. For 1,400LE you can enter but you’re only allowed in there for 10 minutes!



When we arrived it was fairly quiet, I assume because everyone was at lunch. Despite there being few people in the valley, the guards maintained their 10 minute rule.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. There’s a reason why it’s expensive.

I mean, wow!


There are other tombs which you can enter for free, and are also impressive. So wonder around and explore these amazing tombs!



Ferry to the East Bank


Upon exiting the Valley of the Queens, there was no transport to take us back to the city. All taxis and buses that were in the carpark were waiting for people who were visiting in the complex. Luckily a souvenir shop owner offered us a cheap lift. On his motorbike!



He took us to the river where we were able to board the ferry for a few Egyptian pounds to get to the East Bank. From there, it was a 30 minute walk to our accommodation but taxi options are available too.

And that concludes the 2 day itinerary in Luxor!

 

Tour or Explore?


Verdict : Explore!


You can hire a guide but definitely explore Luxor on your own and not on a tour. I’d recommend hiring a taxi/car and driver for the day. This will give you the freedom to spend longer at the sites (we only had an hour in the Valley of the Kings), and you can start earlier and get to sites whilst they’re still quiet. Exploring Luxor this way will give you the option to get a good guide too who will give you a personalised and unique experience.


 


Places to Eat in Luxor


Whilst in Egypt you should try the local, popular dishes, for example koshari, hawawshi, shawarma and, of course, falafel! In Luxor, you can try all of these and these were the places I found most delicious:


Koshari, shawarma and hawawshi

كشري الاسكندراني



It’s so Egyptian that there’s no sign on the front of the restaurant in the Latin alphabet!

The restaurant offers koshari, hawawshi, shawarma and pizza, if you’re feeling something a little more western! At dinner time it was busy with locals crowding the entrance for takeaways. Make your way through the crowd and head to the back, there are stairs leading up to the restaurant. Menus are available in English and they also offer fresh juices that aren’t on the menu.


Hawawshi


Falafel

مطعم الزعيم 2 للفلافل


This is Egyptian street food at its best! This small stall on the corner of a busy roundabout is very popular with the locals. The owner was friendly and offered me free tastings! The falafel sandwiches are filled with their freshly made falafel, salad and a few fries for only 20LE each. Grab one as a snack or a couple for lunch!


A Treat

Oasis Palace


This is the perfect place if you fancy having a sit-down meal to rest your feet after all the sightseeing. The beautiful, old, early-20th century building hosts a relaxed, elegant, yet modest, restaurant with non-smoking rooms and an extensive menu. Wifi is also available!

They don't have a website but they're facebook page is here.



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