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Explore ancient Thebes and the world’s greatest open-air museum
Luxor is a modern city built on the banks of the River Nile. It stands on the ruins of ancient Thebes, the former capital of Ancient Egypt, and is synonymous with all the mystery and romance of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. Today, Luxor is the gateway to the country’s most important archaeological sites.
Luxor is a veritable open-air museum, as even the briefest stroll through its streets reveals. The New Kingdom pharaohs that raised Thebes to greatness built two of Ancient Egypt’s most influential temples here, and one of them – Luxor Temple – can be found right in the city center. Pass between the colossal twin statues of Ramses II into the great sandstone hall, and discover a marvel that dates back to circa 1400 BCE.
Thirty minutes north of the city center lies Karnak Temple, a vast complex of temples, pylons, statues and hypostyle halls dedicated to the king of the gods Amun-Ra, his wife Mut and son Khonsu. From the time of its foundation until the end of antiquity, this was the most important temple in all of Ancient Egypt. Stay until dusk to see its story revealed using a series of projections and illuminations in the famous Karnak Sound and Light Show.
During the heat of the day, escape into the air-conditioned halls of Luxor Museum, where some of the finest Theban artifacts from the Predynastic Period up until the Islamic era are displayed. The nearby Mummification Museum also holds a fascinating collection of mummification tools and canopic jars, as well as a 21st-dynasty mummy.
Across the river from Luxor itself, the Theban necropolis awaits. Highlights include the Valley of the Kings (home to more than 60 New Kingdom tombs, including those of legendary pharaohs Ramses VI, Tutankhamun and Thutmose III), the Valley of the Queens, and the immaculately preserved mortuary temple of Ramses III known as Medinet Habu.
Although these sites are undoubtedly the focus of any visit to ancient Thebes, there are many other musts when in Luxor. Some of our favorites include sunrise hot air balloon excursions over the Valley of the Kings, and breezy voyages down the Nile in a traditional felucca. For quality shopping, we recommend avoiding chaotic El Souk and focusing on locally owned boutiques instead. Our top pick is Caravanserai, a shop selling authentic Egyptian crafts on the west bank.