Three Days in Luxor

The World’s Largest Open-Air Museum

 

If you are thinking of visiting Egypt for the first time and not see Luxor, think twice. Luxor is located approximately 500 km south of Cairo and was the capital of Ancient Egypt for centuries during the New Kingdom period (1550-1050 BCE) when it was known by the name of Thebes and was one of the most beautiful and important cities in Egypt. It might feel very far away from the must-see Pyramid sites, but it is here that you will find most of the famous sites built during the New Kingdom, including Karnac Temple, Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings and Queens along with Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir al-Bahari. Not to mention that the nicest cruises sailing the Nile to Aswan all start their journey here or nearby.

Scroll down for a suggested 3-day itinerary around the most famous sites. I did this exact itinerary in April with my two children and it worked out perfectly, so enjoy.

Day 1 – West Bank

 We enjoyed a slow morning and started the day with the Colossi of Memnon.

Today’s itinerary is easy and will leave you plenty of time to get back to enjoy a late lunch, a dip in the pool during the hot afternoon hours and to dine in one of the lovely restaurants of the East Bank that evening.

Colossi of Memnon

These two massive stone statues, standing 18 meters tall, are very impressive, solitary guards of a temple long gone. Battered by 3400 years of desert sun and Nile floods, these colossi guarded the entrance to Amenhotep’s temple and have been capturing the imaginations of travellers since history can recall, particularly because of the legend of the singing statue.

 

The Singing Statue in Luxor, Egypt
For a more detailed guide on the archaeological sites, download my Three Days In Luxor Mini Guide.

 

For insider tips that will save you time, money and hassle; as well as, tips on how to organise and book your trip, how to pack, where to eat, stay and shop; here’s your last chance to download my free guide, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”!

 

 

After an earthquake had shattered the upper part of its body in 27 BCE, one of the two statues was known to make a strange noise every day at dawn. It was compared to a desperate cry or the sound of a weeping woman. The Greek hero the Colossi are named after, was the mortal son of Eos, the goddess of Dawn, and some believed that the sound was him crying to his mother each morning while others believed that it was the sound of Eos mourning her son’s death. And so, the legend of the otherworldly song by the colossal statue standing alone in the desert was born and by 20 BCE, many important figures of the Greco-Roman world such as Pausanias, Publius, and Strabo were coming to this spot to witness the mysterious acoustic phenomenon. It is now commonly believed the sound was probably caused by the evaporation of the dew deposited inside the porous rock at night, which evaporated when the temperature started rising in the morning. Unfortunately, we can’t witness this anomaly today because Emperor Septimius Severus had the fractured statue repaired in the third century AD, causing the song to become a legendary wonder of the ancient world.

Medinet Habu

This temple is often skipped by tourists who tend to concentrate on the main and more famous ones, but it is the one I enjoyed most.

It is the most well-preserved temple at Thebes, with 7,000 m2 of wall reliefs, together with massive statues of Ramesses III for whom it was built as a Mortuary Temple.

It also presents an unusual structure, resembling a Syrian fortress that Rameses III had probably seen during his military campaigns in Syria and Libya.

Take your time here, away from the crowds, and make sure you have a knowledgeable guide with you, preferably one who can read hieroglyphics. It is very entertaining to learn the alphabet and understand the stories recounted on these walls while you are exploring this site.

Tombs of the Nobles

Another, less popular, attraction are the 400+ tombs, belonging to nobles from the 6th dynasty to the Greco-Roman period, nestled in the foothills opposite the Ramasseum. They depict detailed scenes of daily life differently from the royal tombs, usually decorated with passages from the Book of the Dead to guide the deceased through the afterlife.

You should be able to get back to your hotel by 2.30 pm. We headed out again at about 6 pm for a sunset cruise on the Nile and a traditional dinner on the East Bank. I have a few recommendations for hotels and restaurants you can download by clicking the link to my guide here: All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor.

Day 2 – East Bank

This day calls for an early start. Make sure you visit Luxor Temple first. It is very popular with school groups and gets very crowded and loud. You can leave Karnac Temple for last, as it is so big it never feels crowded. A private boat ride on the Nile at sunset will be the best way to end the day. They can be easily chartered at the harbour. It’s best to carry a bottle of your favourite bubbles with you. You can ask the hotel to arrange a nice sunset basket.

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Luxor Temple

Dating back to 1400 BCE, this is one of the two primary cult temples of Egypt (together with Karnac) and is one of the largest, most beautiful and well preserved. It definitely makes an impression, standing between the modern city on one side and the Nile on the other. It’s like witnessing the unfolding of history all in one sight. It is also very impressive to view after dark.

History continues to unfold inside. Unlike most temples, Luxor wasn’t the accomplishment of one pharaoh only, but a thousand year endeavour! During the Roman era, the temple and its surroundings were turned into a fortress and the Roman government headquarters. During the Christian era, part of the temple was converted into a Christian church. To the west, we find the remains of a Coptic church. Lastly, the mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was built and is in use today.

The temple was built using Nubian sandstone. The 25 m obelisk, that is now in Place the la Concorde in Paris, gifted by Mohamed Ali to King Philip Louis in 1819, came from this location where its twin still stands at the entrance.

For a more detailed guide on the archaeological sites, download my Three Days In Luxor Mini Guide.

 

For insider tips that will save you time, money and hassle; as well as, tips on how to organise and book your trip, how to pack, where to eat, stay and shop; here’s your last chance to download my free guide, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”!

 

 

Luxor Museum

The Luxor Museum is tiny and stands out very little when compared to the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, but it is a must see because of the quality of the collections on display.

The art pieces are displayed without protecting glass or other major obstacles, allowing the visitors to look closely and appreciate them even more. You can also photograph all you’d like! Finally, the place is never crowded and has a lovely air conditioning system. In my opinion, it’s the perfect place to be come lunch time, when the sun is simply too harsh and the other sites would be a serious challenge do to the heat. However, be sure not to plan a late lunch, it closes at 2 pm!

Karnac Temple

Karnac temple is the largest religious site in the world, covering more than 200 acres. It was developed in a period that stretches between 2055 BC to 100 AD. Each Egyptian ruler who worked at Karnak left his or her own architectural mark. There is far too much to cover it all here. I will leave it to the knowledgeable Egyptologists and Art Historians to guide you through this derelict but monumental place.

By the way, you won’t regret hiring your own private guide to take you around. It can really make a difference and will avoid a lot of inconveniences as well! If you haven’t already, you can see my recommendations on how to find the best guid by downloading my free guide here: All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”.

The temple was dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun-Ra, his wife Mut and their child Khonsu. The Egyptians believed that at the end of the agricultural cycle the gods and the earth were exhausted and required regeneration. The Opet festival had exactly this purpose and lasted 27 days. During the festival, the statue of the god Amun was transported to Luxor temple. The people were given bread and beer, and some were allowed into the temple to talk to the god and ask him questions that the priests would answer speaking through a concealed window high up in the wall, or from inside hollow statues.

For a more detailed guide on the archaeological sites, download my Three Days In Luxor Mini Guide.

 

For insider tips that will save you time, money and hassle; as well as, tips on how to organise and book your trip, how to pack, where to eat, stay and shop; here’s your last chance to download my free guide, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”!

 

 

You can close the day with some shopping as we did. Just stay away from Alabaster factories and papyrus shops (they are real tourist traps) and ask your guide to take you somewhere nice where you can shop for what you love. We opted for the bookshop, a real gem for all books about Egypt (in English of course) and a perfume shop, where they still reproduce the same fragrance used by the Ancient Egyptians. All addresses are available on my free download, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor” guide.

Day 3 – West Bank

Another day with an early start that really pays off. The experience of walking into the tombs is very special but can be completely different if you are the only one there, rather than sharing the small space with 20/30 people. Another bonus for the early bird is the unofficial, brief private tours the guards may be wiling to offer you and the invaluable details they can point out. This is a great way to learn more and perhaps even get to see things that aren’t always open to the public. However, to put it nicely, these little adventures aren’t always authorized so a thoughtful tip is an appropriate gesture of thanks.

You will be pretty tired at the end of the day, so I suggest you book a nice massage and dinner at your hotel for the evening.

Valley of the Kings

Be the first at the gate when they open at 6 am. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

During the New Kingdom, pharaohs decided to be buried here instead of in the Old Kingdom’s pyramids. This is where kings such as Thutmose I, Ramses II, Ramses X, Seti I and Tutankhamun decided to start their journey to the afterlife.

The Valley is hidden from sight, making it easy to guard.

62 tombs were known, before Carter and his team discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb here in 1922, and contrary to the others, this one had not been looted. The young king’s remains are still there while the treasures found inside are now in the Cairo museum.

Walking down the corridors, while the light dims progressively as you leave the tomb entrance behind, you can’t help but imagine how the people who first discovered the tombs must have felt as they surveyed the darkness, discovered the painted walls and ceiling (whose colours are still amazingly bright and vibrant) and finally arrived at the burial chamber, filled with all of its treasures. The adventure is fully complete when, amazed and slightly dazed, you emerge from the tomb, blinded by the bright light of the desert sun. The experience of searching for the hidden ancient Egyptian treasure is alive and well today!

I recommend you visit the Tombs of Ramses II, Ramses VI, Thutmose III, Seti I and Tutankhamun.

Valley of the Queens

The Valley of the Queens was the burial site of the queens and some royal children. There are more than 90 known tombs.

Nerfertari’s Tomb

One of Ramesses II’s wives, Nefertari (1290-1224 BCE) was his favourite queen, and one of the best known Egyptian queens alongside Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut. Nefertari’s tomb is the largest in the Valley and one of the most beautiful in Egypt. It was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli, director of the Egyptian Museum in Turin, in 1904. It is called the Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt.

The tomb consists of seven chambers completely decorated with colourfully painted scenes perfectly intact, portraying Nefertari as a very beautiful woman in the company of the gods. The real value of the paintings found within the tomb is that they are the best preserved and most detailed source of the ancient Egyptian’s journey towards the afterlife.

For a more detailed guide on the archaeological sites, download my Three Days In Luxor Mini Guide.

 

For insider tips that will save you time, money and hassle; as well as, tips on how to organise and book your trip, how to pack, where to eat, stay and shop; here’s your last chance to download my free guide, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”!

 

 

Temple of Hatshepsut

One of the most beautiful of the royal mortuary temples, this temple marks the entrance to the Valley of the Kings; carved out of the limestone cliffs that rise above the desert plain, blending with it perfectly.

The temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, stepmother and regent of pharaoh Thutmose III. As the first known female monarch, she had a difficult time legitimizing her position and was often portrayed as a male pharaoh. She had to claim a divine birth in order to acquire a special statue that would compensate for her being a woman.

Thutmose III is responsible for much of the damage to Hatshepsut images, ordering them to be chiseled out and replaced by his. Even more damage was caused by Akhenaten, an 18th dynasty heretic who only allowed images of the Aten, the sun god, in his attempt to move Egypt into monotheism.

More on Egypt

It was great to combine Luxor with a visit to Gyza along with a Nile cruise to Aswan. I had a wonderful 6 days’ cruise on the Nile after Luxor but that will be the subject of an upcoming blog, so, I hope to see you there soon!

Tips and Address Book

For a more detailed guide on the archaeological sites, download my Three Days In Luxor Mini Guide.
For insider tips that will save you time, money and hassle; as well as, tips on how to organise and book your trip, how to pack, where to eat, stay and shop; here’s your last chance to download my free guide, “All You Need to Know About Visiting Luxor”!