Updated: Nov 27, 2022
If you’re at all interested in Ancient Egypt (and why wouldn’t you be!), there’s absolutely no better place in the world to really immerse yourself in the remnants of that unfathomable ancient civilization than in Luxor, Egypt.
Luxor is still home to the remains of some truly mind-boggling temples, and no visit to Luxor is complete without visiting the below five.
1. Karnak Temple
The temple complex of Karnak is the largest religious building ever built, and was constructed over a span of 2,000 years (it’s around 4,000 years old in total!). Construction started in the Old Kingdom and was continuously added to until the Ptolemaic era, with approximately 30 different pharaohs contributing. It’s the second most visited site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza.
Keep in mind that Karnak is massive. Some people enjoy having a guide there to explain backstories, but others prefer to explore at their own pace - there’s no way a guide could explain everything in Karnak in a few hours. The temple complex is also home to the Open Air Karnak Museum (for more important museums in Egypt, head here.) If you’re heading to the Luxor Temple (below) after Karnak, make sure to walk down the Avenue of the Sphinxes which has connected the two temples for thousands of years. This 3 km pedestrian path is newly opened to the public, and some of the 1350 original human-headed sphinxes still line the avenue until today.
Local tip: Karnak closes at sunset, but they’re open super early - 6 am! Worth considering if you’re visiting during one of the hotter months. At night they have a Sound & Light Show there, and it looks beautiful lit up, but if you want our honest opinion, we’re not huge fans of our local Sound & Light Shows. They’re kind of stuck in the ‘80s and just a tad bit cringe :D
2. Luxor Temple
Constructed around 1400 BC (more than 3,400 years ago), Luxor Temple differs from most other ancient Egyptian temples due to the fact that it wasn’t built for worship of a particular god or pharaoh. It was mainly used as a place where pharaohs were coronated and crowned, sometimes even conceptually (for example, Alexander the Great claimed he was crowned there but no evidence suggests he was ever there).
During medieval times, the Muslim community built on the Luxor Temple site, and until now a functional mosque remains part of the temple complex (you can read more about Egypt’s most beautiful mosques here).
Local tip: Luxor Temple is open until 10 pm, so a great time to go is before sunset so you can see everything clearly, and then experience the temple all lit up at night when it gets dark. Keep in mind however that this shrewd tip is not a secret one, and sunset and nighttime is sometimes when the temple is at its most crowded. Hey, you win some, you lose some.
3. Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir El Bahri
Known primarily for the mortuary temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut of the New Kingdom, Deir el Bahri was originally chosen as the location for the mortuary temple of the pharaoh who founded the Middle Kingdom, Mentuhotep II. Hatshepsut’s temple though is the star of the show, even after a lot of it was defaced by her salty stepson in an attempt to erase her from history. He obviously, you know, failed.
The massive terraced monument is surrounded by a steep cliff, and it was in this cliff that archaeologists found a cache of royal mummies, moved in antiquity from the Valley of the Kings. Many of these recovered mummies are now at rest in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, where you can go see them in the Royal Mummy Gallery.
Local tip: there’s a little electric tram at the entrance that will take you up to the temple if you don’t feel like walking in the sun - once at the temple itself, there’s not much shade.
4. Medinet Habu
While the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu doesn’t get as much airtime as Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, it’s most definitely worth seeing. While smaller, this temple has some of the most vividly colored art and deeply-engraved hieroglyphics of all the temples - and another upside, it’s usually much less crowded than the more famous temples!
Ramses III is widely considered the last truly powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, and his mortuary temple dominates the archaeological site of Medinet Habu. The temple is especially known for the depictions of Ramses III defeating the ‘Sea Peoples’, invaders of Ancient Egypt whose origins are unknown.
Local tip: because of the doable size of the temple and all the interesting painting and hieroglyphics, this is a good temple to have a guide with you to explain the backstories. Like most sites in Luxor, you’ll find several guides there offering their services for an agreed-upon fee.
The Ramessum is the mortuary temple of Ramses II, believed to be the most powerful pharaoh of all time. He ruled for 67 years and was known for not only being a conqueror, but an ambitious builder as well. He’s the visionary of Abu Simbel in Aswan, and before its ruin, the Ramesseum in Luxor (then-Thebes) was thought to be the most awe-inspiring temple complex on the west side of the Nile. The Ramesseum was built with the intention of being a place of worship after Ramses II died so his memory would be kept alive; it was referred to as his ‘house of one million years’.
Today the remaining ruins of the Ramessum are not as impressive as the other better-preserved temples in Luxor (centuries of Nile flooding, plundering and using the site as a church for early Christians has all taken its toll), but it’s a great place to learn more about the greatest pharaoh of all time.
You may also like: