Luxor, the ancient capital of Egypt, is one of the must see destinations in all of Egypt. Luxor was once the bustling capital city of Thebes, the religious center loaded with iconic temples and tombs. Today it is one of Egypt's biggest tourist destinations, flooded with historic sites.
Luxor is divided into two areas: the east bank of the west bank. The east bank is where the sun rose from and is signified by the living: temples dedicated to the gods. The west bank is where the sun set and is signified by the dead: the tombs and burial sites for the ancient pharaohs and queens.
With so many sites to visit, you will want at least two full days in Luxor. If you are really interested in Egyptian history and want to soak in the sites, I’d suggest staying for 3 nights. I was there for 2 days with a tour company and was able to see all of the main sites - although we had to take a little adventure of our own to see two extra sites that weren’t included in our itinerary.
With two days, I would suggest spending one day visiting east bank sites, and one day visiting west bank sites. All accommodations are located on the east bank so that will be your base, unless you are on a cruise ship and then that will be your base.
Day 1 - East Bank
Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple
Day 2 - West Bank
Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, Valley of the Kings, Colossi of Memnon, Medinet Habu, Valley of the Queens
Optional: Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride
Day 1: East Bank
Karnak Temple is an ancient temple complex that was dedicated to the god Amun and represents the epitome of ancient Egyptian architectural and engineering prowess. The biggest of all of Ancient Egypt’s temples, this complex can become a maze of sorts and I embarrassingly can admit that my friends and I got lost during our tour group and found our tour guide after about 30 minutes of walking through the massive area.
The imposing Hypostyle Hall consists of massive columns illustrated with beautiful hieroglyphs. It is considered one of the largest indoor spaces in the world, with 134 towering columns, some reaching up to 70 feet tall, that supported its massive roof.
There are four precincts, three obelisks, and even a lake all within the complex. Spend at least 2-3 hours exploring Karnak.
Another one of The Best Temples in Egypt, Luxor Temple is a must see while in Luxor. The massive temple walls are joined by an 82-foot obelisk in front. Luxor Temple is unique in that it was used both as a temple for religious worship and as a palace for the pharaohs, with part of the temple serving as a residence for King Ramses II during the New Kingdom period.
Luxor Temple was originally connected to Karnak Temple by a 3-kilometer-long avenue of sphinxes, with each sphinx having the body of a lion and the head of a king, symbolizing the pharaoh's power over both Upper and Lower Egypt. You can take a stroll down a portion of the Avenue of the Sphinx while at Luxor Temple.
Spend about 2 hours exploring the incredibly well preserved temple which also includes an open air museum of statues and hieroglyphs.
Visiting these two temples won’t take all day, but you may be coming in from Cairo or the Nile river on this day. If you have a few hours and want to see more sites, consider arranging a boat ride across the Nile to the west bank to visit one or two attractions.
Alternate Idea: Visit Luxor Temple or Karnak Temple at night for a different perspective. Some nights there will be a sound and light show at Karnak Temple - which honestly wasn’t all that great in itself but seeing the temple lit up at night was a cool experience. If you aren’t looking to get to sleep early and want another activity to do at night, I’d suggest seeing one of the temples at night.
Day 2: West Bank
This is a jam packed day, and you will need to have an early start to cram all of this in. The hot air balloon ride is optional, but it's an incredible experience if you can afford it and face your fears of heights.
Sunrise: Hot Air Balloon Ride
One of the Most Unforgettable Things to do in Egypt is to take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. This will require an early start, but you won’t want to pass up this opportunity to see Ancient Egypt and the Nile river from the sky during sunrise. For 45 thrilling minutes, see aerial views of Hatshepsut’s Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Ramusseum, and Medinet Habu Temple.
Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple
After your stunning morning hot air balloon ride, keep the momentum going by visiting Hatshepsut’s Temple. Set against the side of a mountain, this temple has masterful ancient architecture which is evident as soon as you approach the site. Spend about 1-1.5 hours exploring Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple.
Valley of the Kings
Skipping the early morning crowds, now venture to Valley of the Kings: one of Egypt’s most iconic sites. Carved into the desert mountains, you have the opportunity to go into ancient pharaoh tombs and see where they were buried with their treasures and offerings to the gods.
Your ticket will include 3 tomb visits, but I would highly recommend paying extra to see the tomb of Ramses V and Ramses VI, as well as King Tut’s tomb. Ramses V and VI is one of the best preserved and colorful tombs in all of Egypt, and King Tut’s famous tomb has his mummy. Spend about 2 hours here exploring the tombs.
Colossi of Memnon
A quick stop off the road, the massive Colossi of Memnon is a very unique thing to see. Two giant stone statues of Amenhotep III stand in front of his destroyed mortuary temple that is still being excavated. A visit here is quick, 15-20 minutes to admire the statues.
A hidden gem is the temple of Medinet Habu, built by Ramses III for the god Amon. Much of this temple has been destroyed, but there are impressive statues and hypostyle halls that have retained most of their color, providing a glimpse into what these temples looked like back in ancient times. Some of my favorite parts of any of the temples I saw in Egypt. A visit here will take about 1-1.5 hours.
Valley of the Queens
Your final stop of the day, the Valley of the Queens has a fraction of the visitors that the Valley of the Kings has and includes the most preserved tomb in Egypt: Queen Nefertari’s tomb. Words can’t express how beautiful this tomb is. The wife of Ramses II, her tomb is in pristine condition, full of color.
The entrance fee to the tomb is steep, 1400 Egyptian Pounds (~ $60 USD) which is to discourage overtourism. The tomb is air sealed and visitors are only allowed 10 minutes inside the tomb. When I visited, me and my two friends were the only people inside the tomb - it was a magical experience.
Some of the other tombs include Queen Titi’s tomb, Khaemwaset’s tomb and Amunherkhepshef’s tomb - which has the skeletal fetus of a 5 month old baby. A visit here will take about 45 minutes - 1 hour, depending on how many of the tombs you visit.
This is a lot to do in one day, but we did this all in one day and finished by 4pm. Our tour only had Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, Colossi of Memnon, and Valley of the Kings in their itinerary, and offered the hot air balloon ride for an extra fee ($110 USD per person). My two friends and I wanted to see more, since we had about 3 hours of free time, so through our tour company we arranged a taxi to take us to Medinet Habu Temple and Valley of the Queens. We visited these both in about 2 hours total. The distance between everything is very close so it’s not too hard to pack them in.
Alternate options: Visiting the worker’s village of Dier el-Medina. This would probably take a few hours and be worth doing if you had a guide to explain what you were seeing. The workers that lived in this ancient village built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
The Ramesseum is another site to see if you had a third day in Luxor.
For more tips on visiting Egypt, check out the Ultimate Egypt Itinerary.