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How to See Magical Luxor in One Day

Ahh, magnificent Luxor.

It’s likely that you’re heading to Luxor from bustling, frenetic Cairo. Cairo is one of those buzzing cities that is teeming with hectic and vibrant energy in tandem. Consequently, Luxor will likely be a welcomed change of scenery. Similar to Alexandria, fresh air and a calmer pace welcomes you. Luxor, the former capitol of Egypt, is home to just over a million people.

Luxor is quieter and greener. It’s calming. There are animals grazing in many areas. It has a certain air to it. Almost as if it transports you back to a different time upon arrival.

Nile river view of animals roaming and grazing on grass
View from a Felucca boat on the Nile River in Luxor – animals roaming and grazing freely

A portal into ancient Egypt and all its mystery unfolds. While I recommend spending far more than a day in Luxor, I’m going to cover all the essential things to see in case you’re pressed for time.

Will you be in Luxor, but only briefly and want to see as much as you can? Don’t worry. It is possible to visit many significant places and sites in one day.

Visit Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple

Hatshepsut, the longest reigning female Pharaoh in Egypt. She is celebrated as one of the greatest Pharaoh’s in Egypt’s history. Her reign over Egypt lasted for over 20 years and her mortuary temple is considered a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian architecture.

Hatshepsut's temple in Luxor, pillars with hieroglyphs and statues. A must do thing when seeing Luxor in one day
Beautiful pillars and hieroglyphs at Hatshepsut’s Temple

Hatshepsut was a woman far ahead of her time and I admire her resolution. Her story is one your guide will tell you as much or as little of as you’d like. In addition, her temple is beautiful- adorned in hieroglyphs. Whether you’re seeing Luxor in one day or over the course of weeks, I recommend checking this out.

Tip: There are some areas with no shade and it can be sunny and HOT! Therefore, wear a hat, head wrap, scarf or bandana. Slather on lots of sunscreen. Wear lightweight clothing. There are merchants selling things at the entrance. Make sure you bargain with them to get the best deals if you need anything! If you are approached about buying something and you’re disinterested, simply say “La Shukran” which means “No Thank you.”

Brunette woman in red dress standing in front of Hatshepsut's Temple in Luxor
Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple – built in 1479 BC, discovered in 1891, excavated in 1911, and opened to the public in 1997

Tour Valley of the Kings

For many, this might be the main event.

Let me tell you… Valley of the Kings is… mesmerizing.

What your mind likely conjures when you think of ‘ancient Egypt’ is what your eyes will see at Valley of the Kings.

Entrance to a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, hieroglyphs cover the walls and ceiling as women wait to view the tomb
A long cavernous tunnel covered in Heiroglyphs brings you to the entrance of the actual tomb for this Pharaoh

Here, in this mountainous desert landscape, you will find about 63 Pharaohs tombs. Not all of them will be viewable. In truth, you likely won’t have the need or urge to see all of them even if it was an option.

Typically, seeing the tomb of the famed ‘boy king,’ King Tutankhamun, is the star of the show. This was the only tomb that was discovered completely intact. During our visit, King Tutankhamun’s mummy was also visible for viewing.

Colorful hieroglyphics cover golden colored walls in a tomb at Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt
Wall to wall, floor to ceiling hieroglyphs – photos truly don’t do them justice

Entering the tombs is a surreal and transfixing experience. For instance, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, left to right… you will see hieroglyphs. All shapes, sizes, colors. Some graphics recognizable, others, unfamiliar. Upon closer look, you’ll see the intricacy of the carvings. The exaction. The sheer volume of heiroglyphs cloaking the entire tunnel to the tombs is beyond impressive.

Tip: If you take the complete tour I did, entrance fees to the Valley of the Kings is included. If you go on your own, it’s 240 EGP per adult, or about $15 USD per person. In either case, entrance to King Tutankhamun’s tomb is not included. If you would like to add this to your tour, you can purchase a separate ticket for about 300 EGP or roughly $19 per adult. Note: pricing and photography rules change regularly, I will update this as often as possible.

Colossi of Memnon

The Colossi of Memnon are two massive, towering stone statues depicting the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The statues are essentially there to ‘guard’ the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. Unfortunately, the temple itself is in ruins. Or perhaps, more accurately, there is very little left of it other than…debris… and the two statues. Due to this, we opted to spend more time at Valley of the Kings in lieu of visiting Colossi of Memnon. We drove by, but didn’t stop. You can decide this for yourself when you’re there.

Explore Karnak Temple

My goodness, Karnak Temple is captivating.

It’s the largest temple in Egypt. Karnak is also one of the largest religious spaces in the world. When you walk up to the entrance, you’re overwhelmed by its grand, imposing presence. The entrance is lined with Ram headed Sphinx.

Brunette woman in a wine red dress standing amongst the towering heiroglyph covered pillars at Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt
The Karnak Temple pillars are so grand and towering with intricate hieroglyph carvings everywhere

The ancient temple is now basically an open air museum. There are many maze like areas you could get lost in to admire the hieroglyphs. Everywhere you turn there are massive statues.

A line of Ram headed Sphinx statues at the Karnak Temple
The Ram headed Sphyinx that can be found lining the entrance to the Karnak Temple and around the inside

Don’t Miss the Scarab at Karnak Temple

There is also a giant scarab statue in the middle of the Karnak Temple. You may see travelers pacing around in a circle, almost as if they’re playing musical chairs (without music… or …chairs). Ancient Egyptians used to worship the scarab statue.

A giant pillar covered in heiroglyphic carvings at Karnak Temple
Just one of the many enthralling pillars at Karnak Temple, covered in Hieroglyphic carvings

I’ve heard and read countless variations of the amount of times you need to circle the scarab and what it will bring you. For example, some proclaim that pacing around the scarab three times will bring luck and fortune. Similarly, others say five times will nullify envy and bring wealth. A writer penned that nine times around the scarab will make a woman with child. There are more… but you get the picture.

Our guide dictated that seven times around the scarab is the magic number for good luck. The scarab is the ancient Egyptian amulet for wealth and good fortune, by the way.

So Did We Tread Around the Scarab Seven Times?

Giant statue covered in hieroglyphs with a carved sculpture of a Scarab
The scarab statue that was worshipped in ancient Egypt at Karnak Temple

Of course we did.

Did it bring us luck? Only time will tell. But I certainly didn’t fly almost 8,000 miles across the world to miss an opportunity to get rich by just burning some calories around a sacred statue. Onward march!

Tip: Karnak Temple is beautiful to explore by day. They also put on a Sound and Light Show in the evening. This sounded cool to me. However, more than one local strongly advised, not to waste our time or money. In essence, that the show was… erhm, not great. Since I didn’t see it, I can’t weigh in. But at $35 – $55 USD per person, make sure you read reviews if you decide to see it (and don’t say I didn’t warn you by passing along the info!).

Luxor Temple at Night

Visiting the Luxor Temple in the evening is… enchanting.

Towering statues of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs guard the entrance to Luxor Temple
The dazzling entrance to Luxor Temple at Night

If you’re aiming to visit the best of Luxor in one day, it makes sense to visit Luxor Temple at night. At the entrance, it was a mad house. A sweeping crowd… frenzied and rushing through the metal detectors. Once inside, it’s almost as if you’ve walked onto a movie set. Scads and scads of people are all milling around what feels like a giant party at a temple that’s almost 3500 years old. Statues lit up, hieroglyphs illuminated. It’s really something else.

A woman wearing a wine red dress standing below the billowing statues of Pharaohs at Luxor Temple at night
It’s almost as if I was channeling Queen Nefertiti. Check out the delicate hieroglyph carvings on every inch of the structure

There is quite a bit to explore at Luxor Temple. The energy is incredible and something you can describe as articulately as possible, yet, it still won’t compare to feeling it.

An enormous statue depicting powerful Queen Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten covered in hieroglyphs
An enormous statue depicting powerful Queen Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten
Brunette woman in a wine red dress standing in front of Luxor Temple illuminated at night
Gazing at Luxor Temple – this is the area after security but before entering the actual temple itself

Tip: Entrance tickets to Luxor Temple is about 323 EGP or about $20.50 USD. If you take the complete tour I took, it’s included in the price of the tour.

What Does the Tour Include?

There are many experienced travelers that opt to visit Luxor and it’s main attractions independently. While Luxor has a very safe feeling atmosphere, I’d still highly recommend taking the tour we took. Why?

• You really won’t want to have to fuss with finding a cab. That will mean having the ability to speak Arabic or trying to find a cab that also speaks at least some English. A private car and driver is included with the tour to maximize time, comfort and efficiency.

• Many of the sites visited in Luxor would not be easily self guided. In essence, you get there and there’s little to no information about any of the attractions. Unless you simply want to see the places and take pictures, your guide will provide context and a wealth of knowledge you won’t find without them. Your guide will also speak fluent (flawless) English and Arabic which will make your entire experience more uncomplicated.

• The tour is private, so you can customize it to your exact interests and needs

• It includes entrance to all attractions, snacks, water bottles in the car and lunch

The Food Situation

The tour I took includes snacks and water in the car and a full meal, excluding beverages. In theory, I think you’re supposed to stop at a certain time for lunch. We ended up going to eat for dinner. I think this was better, because we got more time at the sites while they were open.

Traditional Egyptian meal, plates of food all over a table
Full Egyptian meal. Soup, salad, pita, sauces, and your main dish -you select your protein

Our guide took us to a very unassuming restaurant, yet it was four levels tall. The food was absolutely delicious.

Ancient Egyptian Pottery

Similar to our site seeing in Cairo, the tour does include a pitstop that some might consider a tourist trap. We visited a Pottery exhibit where they do an engaging reenactment of what it was like to make pottery in ancient Egypt.

Then, you, of course, browse the showroom, which, in fairness has a lot of beautiful pottery, statues and trinkets in likeness of antiquities. Nothing has prices on it.

This is where it gets a bit shifty. You select everything in the showroom you’re interested in, then your assigned sales employee kind of plays, “let’s make a deal” with you.

Sigh.

An entire wall of Onyx vases, trinkets and antiquities in a store
Huge selection of Onyx items, around the showroom there was also a huge selection of Alabaster and Stone items

We bought the most beautiful alabaster vase and onyx dish. Even though there was a significant amount of negotiating that transpired, I still left there thinking we had maybe been ripped off. I didn’t know for sure, because in all honesty I had never researched how much a handmade alabaster vase goes for, nor was it even on my radar for my visit to Luxor.

Months later, I did some research and these Egyptian alabaster vases and onyx dishes can go for some serious cash online. Okay, didn’t get ripped off and they look mighty good in my parlor. Phew.

Know Before You Go

If you don’t have a guide, most attendants at the attractions will speak a little English

Bring cash with you in case you want to buy snacks, beverages, trinkets and for any gratuities you give out (specifically for your guide and driver, who will be expecting it)

While there is no strict dress code in Egypt, men and women tend to dress what would be considered conservative by western standards. It’s recommended to wear loose or flowy clothing, long or at least partial sleeve, skirts or dresses below the knee or pants. Egyptian Men tend to dress “smartly” and women usually are completely covered. It seems like shorts are not recommended for either, but especially for women while in Egypt (unless you’re at a resort). I always recommend trying to blend in wherever you travel, while simultaneously also respecting the local customs.

Enjoy Luxor!

Luxor is truly a beautiful part of Egypt. I hope you find it as magical as I did!