Egypt is a land rich in history, culture, and ancient monuments, and its temples are some of the most awe-inspiring structures in the world. From the towering columns of the Temple of Karnak to the grandeur of Abu Simbel, Egypt's temples offer a window into the country's rich heritage and provide a glimpse of the sophisticated engineering and design techniques used by the ancient Egyptians.
I visited over Thanksgiving in 2022 and was lucky enough to visit eight of the best ancient temples in the world. I will guide you through some of the best temples in Egypt, highlighting their unique features, rich history, and why they are a must-see for anyone traveling to this fascinating country.
1. Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is a stunning temple complex in southern Egypt, built during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BC. It consists of two temples, the larger dedicated to Ramses and the gods and the smaller dedicated to his wife Nefertari. The temples feature four-67 foot (20m)-tall statues of Ramses at the entrance and intricate carvings and reliefs inside. One of the statues' head fell over during an earthquake in 27 BC.
One of the most fascinating things about Abu Simbel is that in the 1960s, the temples were relocated by UNESCO to avoid flooding.
From Aswan, you will need to take a 3.5 hour bus ride through the desert to reach it, but it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. My bus left at 3am and we made it there just after sunrise, about 6:30am. Although its a commitment and you need to get up super early, the trip is absolutely worth taking. A visit here lasts about 2-3 hours.
My favorite of all of Egypt's temples, Abu Simbel is a must-see for any visitor.
2. Karnak Temple Complex
Karnak Temple is a large and impressive temple complex located in Luxor, Egypt. It was dedicated to the god Amun and was the center of religious and political power for thousands of years. The temple consists of numerous structures, including the Great Hypostyle Hall with 134 columns and the Temple of Amun.
One of the most mesmerizing things about Karnak is its size and grand architecture, including intricate carvings and reliefs. It's so big that my friends and I got separated from our tour guide and it took us about 30 minutes to find him. It can truly be a maze, especially with the crowds, so it is highly recommended to have a guide that can also explain more about the history of the temple. It is one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors each year.
Exploring Karnak Temple can range anywhere from 1.5 hours to 4 hours. Some nights they offer a Light and Sound Show where you walk through the temple at night and watch projected ancient stories on the temple walls. You end at Lake Karnak to listen to more history about the temple. The show itself was a bit underwhelming, and you are dealing with a very large crowd, but walking around the temple at night was a very memorable experience.
3. Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple is an ancient Egyptian temple located in the city of Luxor. It was dedicated to the god Amun and built over 1500 years with structures including pylons, a hypostyle hall, and a temple of Amun. I visited this temple at night which gave it an incredible backdrop to such an iconic temple.
The walls of the temple feature intricate reliefs and inscriptions. Luxor Temple is known for its location on the Nile River, considered the birthplace of the sun, and is a symbol of Egypt's religious and cultural heritage. A visit here lasts about 2 hours.
4. Edfu Temple
Edfu Temple is an ancient Egyptian temple located in the city of Edfu in Upper Egypt. It was built during the Ptolemaic period, around 2,000 years ago, and dedicated to the god Horus. It's a popular stop on any Nile Cruise between Aswan and Luxor.
The temple is considered one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt and is known for its well-preserved columns, walls, and doorways, which feature intricate carvings and reliefs.
Visitors to Edfu Temple can marvel at its grand entrance, the beautiful hypostyle hall, and the sanctuary of the god Horus. The temple is also famous for its annual festival, the Feast of Horus, which was celebrated by the ancient Egyptians to honor the god and ensure a successful harvest.
A visit here will last around 2 hours as there is a lot of great things to see the crowds can get large in the late morning, so being there right at sunrise is a great way to see everything with much less people.
5. Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple
Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple in Luxor was built by Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BCE. It is dedicated to the goddess Amun and the deified queen. It is located on the west bank of Luxor and can easily be seen in the same day as some of Luxor's other ancient sites such as The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, and the Colossi of Memnon.
The temple has well-preserved walls with intricate carvings and reliefs and impressive columns, halls, and courtyards. It's considered one of the most impressive monuments of the New Kingdom period, showcasing the power of Egypt's female rulers. A visit here lasts about 1.5-2 hours.
6. Philae Island - Temple of Isis
Philae Island in Aswan, Egypt is home to the Temple of Isis, a beautifully preserved temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. Built during the Ptolemaic period, it features intricate carvings and inscriptions on its columns, walls, and inner sanctuaries.
The temple was relocated to the island after the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Visitors can admire its beauty and learn about ancient Egyptian religion and culture through its unique story.
Visiting Philae Island and the Temple of Isis is a popular day trip from Aswan. You will visit by riding a 5-10 minute boat ride over to the island. Besides Medinet Habu, this temple had the least amount of visitors of all the temples I visited in Egypt. Expect to visit for at least around 1.5-2 hours.
7. Medinet Habu
Medinet Habu is an ancient temple in Luxor, Egypt that dates back to the New Kingdom period. It was built by Pharaoh Ramses III and dedicated to the god Amun. It is a less visited temple than some of Luxor's other big temples such as Luxor, Karnak, and Hatshepsut's Temple, but it has some of the best preserved colors of all the temples. Seeing the colors on the columns was one of my favorite things in Egypt.
Medinet Habu is known for its well-preserved relief sculptures and inscriptions, which provide insight into the daily life, religious practices, and military victories of ancient Egyptians. Visitors to Medinet Habu can marvel at its grand entrance pylons, courtyards, and sanctuaries, and gain a deeper understanding of Egypt's rich cultural heritage. A visit here can last from 45 minutes to 1.5-2 hours, depending on how in depth you want to see everything.
8. Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo Temple is a unique double temple located in southern Egypt. It's a popular stop on any cruise on the Nile River from Aswan to Luxor. It was built during the Ptolemaic dynasty and dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Haroeris.
At Kom Ombo you can admire its well-preserved reliefs and inscriptions, which depict religious ceremonies and daily life in ancient Egypt, as well as its stunning architecture and breathtaking views of the Nile River. We visited at night which gave it a very different vibe and feel. Visiting temples at night is a very unique way to experience them, so try to visit one or two at night on your trip if you can.
There is also a crocodile mummy museum located just outside of the temple, which is pretty wild to see tons of ancient crocodiles so well preserved.
Whether you are a history buff or simply appreciate stunning architecture, a visit to these temples is a must-do on any trip to Egypt. These iconic structures are not just monuments to the past, but they also offer a unique opportunity to connect with the legacy of one of the world's greatest civilizations. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to explore the best temples in Egypt, a truly unforgettable experience.