Welcome to Luxor, the world’s greatest open air museum. As one of the most important places in ancient Egypt with thousands of years of history, the city and its surroundings are full of remarkable monuments, temples and tombs to explore. Let us guide you through it and discover what to do for 3 days in Luxor.
Visiting Luxor is like going to a history class about the Egyptian civilization – the good kind, not the boring one – and if we had to pick a word to describe Luxor, it would be wow! The magnitude of what you can see there is way past incredible, both in size and number. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Luxor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The modern city of Luxor is located east of the Nile River, at the location of the ancient city of Thebes, capital of the Upper Egypt during the New Kingdom. On the west bank of the Nile opposite to the city is the Necropolis.
All the trips to Luxor will take you to both banks of the Nile. On the east side is where you’ll find most of the accommodation, plus some impressive sites such as Karnak. The west bank is a huge collection of monuments with plenty to see for days, including, for example, the world famous Valley of the Kings.
Visiting this massive complex of monuments is a very overwhelming experience and is best done with a guide which will be able to provide some context. Believe us, it’s very useful in order to understand the meaning and reasoning behind some of the things you’ll see.
3 days in Luxor
To see the highlights of Luxor you need at least a couple of days, but we recommend 3. From our own experience, it was a good balance between sightseeing and free time, thus making the trip more enjoyable. One important thing to bear in mind is the weather since it gets really warm, which limits the outdoor time.
The simple 3-day itinerary in Luxor looks like this:
- West bank – 1 day
- East bank – 1 day
- Extra sites on the west bank, day trips, or traveling – 1 day
If you have the time and are really keen to learn more about ancient Egypt, you can stay up to a week and still find plenty to see and do.
The west bank of the Nile is where you’ll find a massive collection of monuments, temples, and tombs to explore. These are some of the most important archeological sites in the world. We should all consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to witness such amazing places and also work on preserving them for the generations to come.
Due to the size of the area and the number of things to see, we’re going to highlight the main ones and leave some others as suggestions for the extra day(s) and free time. To get a better idea of the dimension of the sites, take a look at the Thebes mapping project.
Colossi of Memnon
These two large stone statues (18 m high!) have been standing guard at the necropolis for over 3000 years and are part of the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. It’s a quick and free visit, just on the side of the road towards the main sights of the area.
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is the burial place of many Egyptian Pharaohs and one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever seen. The color and details of the royal tombs are otherworldly. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos to show you since photography is not allowed outside or inside the tombs.
There are 63 tombs in total, including Tutankhamun‘s tomb, one of the most famous findings in the valley because it was discovered almost intact. Only a few tombs are open at the same time as they operate on a rotation basis due to preservation, conservation, and restoration. Each tomb is assigned a KV (Kings’ Valley) number.
The entrance ticket gives you access to 3 of the “regular” tombs and extra tickets are necessary for the tombs of Ramesses VI and Tutankhamun. If one of the extra tombs is open, go for it as it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do it.
Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens is where the wives of the Pharaohs were buried, yet it’s not as popular as its counterpart, the Valley of the Kings. There are around 90 tombs here, of which one of the most famous is the one of Nefertari, the wife of Ramesses II and one of the most famous Egyptian queens alongside Hatshepsut.
Temple of Hatshepsut
The temple of Hatshepsut is the highlight of a complex of 3 mortuary temples known as Deir el-Bahari which is located at the bottom of a steep cliff that creates a spectacular background scenario for it. This temple is dedicated to the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, one of the first confirmed female Pharaohs.
There has been extensive conservation work being done and the temple looks in an amazing state. A visit to this temple is highly recommended and should take around 1 hour.
Thankfully, photography is allowed and we managed to capture some of the incredible interiors.
Other sites on the west bank
Like we mentioned before, there are many things to see on the west bank. Without getting into much detail, here are other options worth considering for free time or extra days:
- Tombs of the Nobles
- Workers’ village
- Ramesseum (Ramesses II)
- Medinet Abu (Ramesses III)
- Howard Carter’s house
On the east bank of the Nile, where the modern-day city is and the ancient one once was, there are two places not to be missed, Karnak and Luxor temple.
Karnak is a religious complex of temples known to be one of the biggest in the world and also the second most popular place in Egypt after the Giza Pyramids. It really is huge and, again, overwhelming. Out of the 4 parts of the complex, only the main one – the precinct of Amun, is open to the public.
The most interesting features of Karnak are sphinxes, the two obelisks and the great hypostyle hall whose 134 columns spread over 5000 m2! Wait, there’s a lot more. The complex was built over many centuries and the current maze-like and mixed layout is just proof of that. Over 30 Pharaohs added something to the complex.
We’ll leave you with some pictures that attest the uniqueness of the place.
Luxor temple is right at the city center and although it’s not as big or as popular as Karnak, a visit to the city is not complete without stopping here. One fascinating fact is that it was once connected to Karnak by an avenue of approximately 3km of which parts still remain.
Despite its “smaller” size, it has a few noteworthy elements such as the colossi, a 25m obelisk, and the inner open courts.
A great thing about this temple is that it’s open until late, which is ideal for an evening visit and for a chance to see the temple painted by the sunset.
The museums are located on the east bank of the Nile and are a great idea to complement a day of touring the outdoor sights or for the hot summer days, when they stay open until quite late in the evening.
Luxor Museum certainly deserves a visit. It’s not as extensive as the Egyptian museum in Cairo but the attractive, modern and well-organized displays make it a very enjoyable place to tour. The museum is located a bit further from the center, on a calmer area along the Corniche.
The two floors of the museum contain some impressive things to see, including many artifacts, sculptures, and two royal mummies.
This small museum has everything about mummification, including why and how it works, the tools required to do it and actual mummies, both of humans and animals (crocodile!). It’s located on the Corniche, not far from Luxor temple.
The Corniche is the waterfront promenade of the city and is split into two levels, one at the road level and the other at the water level. It’s a beautiful place for a walk, especially the newer and calmer part, but also the place where most of the touts are running their irritating hassle game.
Our suggestion is to completely ignore what they say and most will go away. We know business is down but ‘NO’ should be quite easy to understand and there’s no excuse to annoy the visitors who are clearly not interested in what they are trying to sell.
A boat trip on the Nile is a must do while in Egypt and the upper part of the river is definitely the best place to do it. The two most common alternatives are the Nile river cruises (often multi-day and overnight) or the more traditional felucca boats which can be booked for shorter tours. We spent a couple of days traveling on a felucca from Aswan!
One alternative that we’ve read a lot about, but didn’t do, is the sunrise hot air balloon ride on the west bank of the Nile. It should be an amazing experience.
Extra days in Luxor
For extra days in Luxor, you can refer to our list of extra sites to see on the west bank or pick a day trip.
If you fancy a day trip to see more spectacular temples, there are a few options to choose from:
- Dendera and Abydos (north)
- Edfu (south)
- Kom Ombo and Philae (south, close to Aswan)
A bit further way is Abu Simbel, which is a must-visit place in Egypt. Because of the distance, it’s best done in two days with a night break in Aswan.
You can see more photos from our time in Egypt over on our dedicated photography section. Take a look!
We mentioned above that this part of Egypt is very warm, actually, it’s blazing hot, especially in the summer. This means you’ll need to stay protected from the sun and also hydrated. Any sightseeing that you do should avoid the midday hours when the temperature is more extreme. Summer tours start very early in the morning (6 am) for that reason.
The cooler months make any visit more enjoyable and allow for more outdoor time.
Safety wise, we found Luxor to be fairly safe and never had an issue, despite the countless times we had to say no to yet another caleche or felucca ride.
Right now it’s a very good time to visit Luxor. The crowds are gone and you can visit these wonderful sites with almost no one around whilst still helping the local economy which is struggling badly.