Giza’s famous pyramids may be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Egypt. Or maybe sailing down the majestic Nile River in a luxurious yet understated cruise vessel. But what about Luxor?
Many visitors deem Luxor as a quick base before hopping aboard one of those aforementioned cruises, but it’s so much more. Whether you cruise or not, plan to spend some time in this magical city alive with the Nile’s electric energy. From admiring the tombs of ancient kings to exploring the mummification museum or viewing the sunrise over the Nile River from a hot air balloon, here are some of the best things to do in Luxor.
Getting There: Arrive in Luxor via a one-hour flight from Cairo on an airline like Egyptair. Those with time to spare can take the train for a more nostalgic, ten-hour journey through the Egyptian desert.
Where to Stay in Luxor: The Hilton Luxor sits on the banks of the Nile River’s East Bank. Make sure to ask for a riverside room in order to further enhance your Luxor experience.
Winetraveler Tip: The wine industry is small in Egypt (they even import in grapes from Lebanon in some cases). While most restaurants won’t serve booze, you can usually order wine in your hotel. Ask if they have any Egyptian wine, and if not, you’ll likely end up with something French. Buying wine in duty-free is another way to ensure you’ll get your nightly glass (or bottle — no judgment here at Winetraveler — in).
Take a Nile River Felucca Ride
Even if you do have a Nile River cruise on your Egypt itinerary, there’s nothing like gliding along this mystical body of water in an Egyptian sailboat: a felucca. These one-to-two-hour sailboat rides are usually done around sunset so you can relax and watch the sun dip below the banks of the Nile as you sip mint tea. The rides are very affordable, so you can arrange for a private felucca cruise if you prefer.
Visit Karnak Complex
This massive temple complex on the Nile’s East Bank (once known as Thebes) covers over 100 hectares. Larger than many ancient cities, the Karnak complex is home to ruins of chapels, pylons, temples, obelisks and more. If you want to make just a quick visit, make sure to start with the main temple Amun. There’s also an evening light and sound show if you’d prefer to avoid the daytime’s searing hot temperatures.
Hop in a Hot Air Balloon
Cruise high in the sky above sites like the Valley of the Kings, the Nile River and various ancient ruins in Luxor. Although this activity involves a 4:00 am wake up call, it’s worth it to go at sunrise. Seeing the landscape bathed in the yellow and orange hues of the rising sun from above is simply unforgettable.
Visit the Mummification Museum
While most of Egypt’s most famous mummies now live in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, you can learn about the mummification process at the Mummification Museum. Since ancient Egyptians mummified animals too, you’ll have the chance to view some interesting non-human mummies on display too.
Explore Valley of the Kings
One of Egypt’s most famed attractions, this rocky valley is home to a number of tombs of ancient pharaohs and nobles. Although most of the mummies are now in Cairo’s famous Egyptian museum, visitors can still explore the cave-like tombs, including Tutankhamun’s final resting place.
Eat Egyptian Food
Sampling Egyptian delights is a must when in Luxor. Order hot or cold mezze dishes like hummus and koshari (a mixture of lentils, chickpeas, spices and more) as well as main dishes full of ingredients like coriander, aubergine, lamb and super green Molokhia. Winetraveler recommends the restaurant Sofra. It’s affordable, with a relaxing, Egyptian-inspired terrace, delicious food and friendly service. Although Sofra doesn’t serve alcohol, you can always indulge in some wine back at the hotel.
Admire the Temple of Hatshepsut
The three-tiered Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut bakes under the sunlight, so arrive early to visit this monument dedicated to Egypt’s famous female pharaoh, Hatshepsut. Parts of the temple were created to be illuminated with sunlight on specific days of the year, so if you can visit during the winter solstice, you’ll gain an extra ‘glowing’ perspective.
Head to Dendera
One of the best-preserved temples in Egypt, Dendera is located about an hour outside of Luxor. It’s worth the trip, though, as you can visit almost every single part of the complex, including some of the crypts and temple roofs. The largest and most impressive is the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the Egyptian goddess of women, fertility and love.
Gaze at the Colossi of Memnon
The absolutely massive statues of Memnon date back to the Dynasty XVIII. Besides snapping selfies with the impressive figures, listen carefully. They’ve been reported to make strange sounds on occasion. Although this is allegedly due to wind flowing through cracks in the statue’s rock after various earthquakes, you can decide what you believe after seeing (and possibly hearing) these extraordinary structures up close.
Featured photo courtesy Kateryna Kolesnyk / iStock