With the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple and the small but sweet Luxor Museum all within a short distance of each-other, it’s no wonder Luxor is often described as an “open air museum”. There are so many things to do in Luxor Egypt, and an almost endless list of sites to visit, which could easily keep you occupied for days (or weeks!). Visiting Luxor Egypt with kids was truly wonderful as it required us to take our time and really SEE and appreciate the incredible history all around. However, Luxor can be VERY HOT!! So book a hotel with a pool and schedule in lots of down-time in the afternoon. I promise you’ll be happy you did!
Our visit to Luxor started a bit earlier than we’d initially anticipated. After our Felucca trip from Aswan to Luxor was a complete bust, we quit a night early and arrived at our Luxor apartment very late in the evening. Waleed (from Aswan Individual, who arranged our Felucca trip) coordinated a pick-up with our Luxor hotel and we before we knew we were settled into our apartments and ready for a good night sleep…in a bed…on solid ground… as opposed to the tiny deck of our Felucca.
Luxor’s East Bank
After a decent night’s sleep, we were ready to explore the wonders of Luxor. I decided to start on the East Bank, across the Nile from our hotel. The East Bank of Luxor houses most of the tourist hotels and restaurants, so it’s the most common place to stay when visiting Luxor. However, we don’t like to do what’s common!
After (over)paying the tourist price for the commuter ferry, we found seats and enjoyed the fact that we could all sit together (unlike the ferry in Aswan). A short 10min later we walked up the East Bank of the Nile ready to explore. Our first stop was Karnak Temple.
Construction of Karnak Temple began in the Middle Kingdom and continued right through to the New Kingdom, spanning a period of 2000 years! The complex was expanded and renovated by nearly every Pharaoh ruling in Thebes, with around 30 Pharaohs contributing to it’s construction. The main Temple of Amun is arguably the largest religious complex in the world (there’s some debate that Angkor Wat may also hold this title). Karnak was abandoned around 356AD when Constantius II ordered the closing of all pagan temples within the Roman Empire. A few of Karnak’s temples were converted to Christian churches, but much of the site was left for ruin.
The Karnak Temple Complex consists of the main temple area, as well as the Precinct of Mut and the Karnak Open Air Museum (the later both require extra tickets that can be purchased from the Karnak ticket office).
After buying our tickets, we walked past the initial “fray” of people trying to find clients and sat down in the shade for a quick drink of water. A man approached and gave us a convincing chat about why we should hire him, so we did. I like to hire guides when we can because it helps us to make the most of our experience. It’s something I think we often don’t do enough of when we travel, and I’m consciously trying to change this! Luckily, in Egypt, there’s never any shortage of qualified (and usually fantastic) guides ready to exchange a few hours of information for a few dollars. (Guide cost 200LE/$15.50 CAD). It was very easy to justify the expense.
There’s enough to keep you occupied in Karnak Temple for many hours (or days), but the two most impressive pieces are the Great Hypostle Hall and the Obelisks.
The Great Hypostle Hall contains 134 large columns intricately decorated with a variety of hieroglyphics. These represent the papyrus swamp from which Amun (the greatest God) arose and began creation. At one point there was a roof overhead which collapsed many years ago. It’s perhaps even more impressive without the roof as it allows the natural light to flood in giving life to the columns.
*kid tip – Our guide had us play hide-and-go-seek amongst the columns and it was one of the girl’s favourite things in all of Egypt. Set a few minutes aside and play a couple rounds of hide-and-go-seek to really feel like you’re becoming a part of the complex.
The Twin Obelisks, when built, were the largest of their kind in the world, and were built by Hatshepsut. One has fallen, but the other still stands giving an idea of just how impressive Hatshepsut must have been as a female Pharaoh.
Hours: May – Sept 6am-6pm, Oct – April 6am – 5pm.
Cost: 150LE ($11.50 CAD) for adults, 75LE ($6.75 CAD) for students under age 30, free for kids 5 and under.
Add-ons (must be purchased at the ticket office): Precinct of Mut (50 LE/25LE) and the Karnak Open Air Museum (60LE/30LE).
Light Show: 100LE ($7.80 CAD) (show times vary based on language and time of year)
A Horse And Carriage Ride
The tourist center of Luxor’s East Bank is full of men driving horses & carriages, ready to transport hot and tired tourists from one site to the next. This honestly isn’t something we’d normally do, but the proprietors were so kind but also seemed a bit desperate. Tourism has been depressed in Egypt for a number of years and people who are used to making a living off tourism are struggling.
It’s quite a distance from our ferry stop to Karnak Temple, so we decided to hire a horse & carriage. Our driver took us out to Karnak Temple, waited for us, then brought us back into town to the Luxor Museum, all for 150LE ($11.50CAD). He gave us a brief tour of town as he drove us around and was proud to teach us about the history that’s shaped Luxor into what it is today. I figured it was more than worth it to save us walking in the heat and we got to help out a friendly local just trying to make a living.
Our second stop in Luxor was the Luxor Museum. By this point it was well into the afternoon and the heat from the sun was almost unbearable. Rather than retreat back to the pool at our apartment, we decided to escape into the air-conditioned Museum.
The Luxor Museum is small but fascinating. If you already visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo you’ll probably find this a little lacking, but I enjoyed it for it’s relaxed atmosphere, uncluttered displays, and excellent bilingual information. The best part (and our kid’s favourite by far) was the two mummified Pharaoh’s on display; Ahmose I & Ramesses I. When we visited there was hardly another soul in the museum so we were able to take our time inspecting the mummies and didn’t feel rushed at all.
The kid’s other favourite part of the museum was the sarcophagus and burial boxes. Everything was so beautifully decorated, both inside and out, it was difficult to comprehend that we were looking at a dead body that was thousands of years old! We all learned a bit about the mummification process, and how it was deeply tied to the gods.
Hours: Oct – April 9am-3pm & 4pm-9pm, May – Sept 9am-1pm & 5-10pm.
Cost: 140LE ($10.80 CAD) adults, 70LE ($5.40 CAD) students under age 30, free for kids 5 and under, 50LE ($3.85 CAD) camera fee.
The one major East Bank site that we didn’t visit in Luxor was the Luxor Temple. We spent 5 days, so we should’ve had plenty of time, but it was SO hot that we got lazy and spent a lot of time by the pool!
The Luxor Temple was built in about 1400 BC for the God Amun Ra, the King of all Gods. It originally had 2 obelisks flanking the entrance, one of these remains but the other is in Paris! (It was a gift, not ransacked and stolen…or so they say!). There are some incredible things to see in the Luxor Temple, including the giant statue of Ramesses II (one of the builders) and the Avenue of the Sphinx.
Many people will visit Luxor Temple just before sunset so they can also see it lit up at night (which is reportedly quite beautiful!). If you want to avoid the crowds, go earlier in the day.
Hours: Oct – April 6am – 9 pm, May – Sept 6am – 10pm, Ramadan, 6am – 6:30pm & 8-11pm.
Cost: 35LE ($2.70 CAD) for adults, half price for students under 30.
The Avenue Of The Sphinx
The Avenue of the Sphinx connects Luxor Temple with Karnak Temple, and only part of it has been excavated. (more information about the avenue of the sphinx)
The excavation process is in full swing, and it’s interesting to walk along the edge to watch it happen. It’s so long though, that once you start walking down one side it’s almost impossible to cross it…or so you might think.
On our second day in Luxor, Randy & I left the girls with our friends to go on the hunt for some wine (more on that later). We got stuck on the wrong side of the Avenue of the Sphinx, and I really didn’t want to have to walk all the way around it. Suddenly, the man walking in front of us climbed over the wall and walked right through the excavation site. Nobody even acknowledged him, and they definitely didn’t get angry with him. Randy looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and climbed over the fence.
It looked pretty easy when Randy did it, so I decided to give it a try. Now for those of you who don’t know us, Randy is over 6’ tall, and I’m under 5’ tall! It was a bit more complicated for me to jump the fence, but a few helpful locals were there to give me a hand. We laughed our way across the site, attracting a fair amount of attention from the workers. They all laughed and waved at us as well…and a few men helped me up and over the fence on the other side. I have a hunch that foreigners don’t often wander across the site. But, it saved us a LOT of walking!
If you find yourself in the same situation, just watch the locals and when you see one of them jump the fence to cut across, follow suit!
Once we made it across the Avenue of the Sphinx, we wandered into El Souk on the hunt for wine. Being a predominantly Muslim country, wine wasn’t incredibly easy to find! We had a lead to somewhere just North of the market, but it appeared closed. So, we walked into El Souk and decided to ask around. One of the first men we asked nodded, put a chair in front of his shop (apparently that meant it was closed) and motioned for us to follow him up the street. So, we did (of course!).
He led us to the same shop we’d just walked by, but it was still closed. I was confused for a moment, until he disappeared down the tiny alley on the side of the shop. We followed him into a back room where three men were standing around visiting in the middle of shelves and shelves of bottles! I picked out a bottle of wine, Randy picked out a bottle of rum, and off we went. The liquor stores are only supposed to be open for a few specific hours during the day, which I had no idea about. Luckily our willingness to follow a total stranger down a narrow alley into a back room meant we were able to circumvent these hours!
With our drinks well out of sight in my shopping bag, we followed our new friend back to his store in the Souk and bought some snacks from him to say “thank you”. I’m sure it’s one of those random travel experiences we’ll shake our heads over for years to come!
Other East Bank Sites
There’s more to El Souk than the wine merchant’s helper, and it’s well worth at least a short wander during any visit to Luxor. It’s located on Abd El-Hameed Taha road. Look for the sign stating “El Souk” off the round-about (behind the McDonalds, I know, I’m sorry, it’s the most obvious landmark!) and throw yourself into the fray. As with any Middle Eastern Souk, you’ll need to haggle hard if you’re interested in buying anything.
The Mummification Museum is located along the the Corniche (Kornish Al Nile). We didn’t visit because we thought we learned enough at the Luxor Museum, but if you have kids that are really interested in the mummification process, this might be worth the stop.
Hours: Oct – Apr 9am-9pm, May – Sept 9am-10pm.
Cost: 60 LE ($4.70 CAD) adults, half price for students under 30.
Luxor’s West Bank
The West Bank is home to some truly impressive ancient sites, including the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and the Tombs of the Nobles. There’s a staggering number of sites, and I don’t recommend trying to visit them all (it would take you months I’m sure!). We decided to pick a few sites and ignore everything else…after a few hours of sight-seeing the pull of our pool always won!
The Valley Of The Kings
A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The Valley Of The Kings
Kacela turned 6 in Egypt, so we decided to ring in her birthday in style with a hot air balloon ride! We started the day early…REALLY early! We were picked up well before sunrise and driven to a large field full of hot air balloons getting ready for their morning flight. It was a bit chaotic and noisy, but we managed to find our balloon. The basket was huge, holding 16 people! We watched other balloons get blown up, loaded up and take off. And then it was our turn. As we got into the basket I had a small moment of anxiety. My fear of the kids and anything high was in full swing and I had to work hard to keep control of myself. As per usual, once we’d actually left the ground and I realized the basket was high enough the girls wouldn’t topple over the edge to their sudden death at any moment, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride.
Kacela, on the other hand, decided it was too loud! Every time the driver lit the flame she jumped in Randy’s arms! She says she enjoyed it (she LOVES beautiful views), but she also spent the whole ride with her hands covering her ears!
This was truly one of the most incredible experience. It was magical to drift over the Valley of the Kings and the Nile River as the sun popped up over the horizon. I really can’t explain it as it’s truly indescribable. The pictures help but really don’t do it justice. This is just something you have to see to appreciate!
*kid tip – the hot air balloons are VERY noisy, bring ear plugs or ear protectors to help your little one enjoy it more without being bothered by the noise.
The ride lasted about 45min, and covered a surprising amount of area. We came down in a small muddy field with a team of people waiting to help us. The landing was smooth (I also had fears of us tipping over!), followed by a flurry of activity to get everyone out of the basket and pack up the balloon. We were loaded up into a van and brought back to the ferry. We didn’t need the ferry (since we were staying on the West Bank), and instead went back to our apartment for breakfast.
*expert tip – You likely won’t have eaten before the hot air balloon ride, so be sure to grab breakfast after the balloon ride at one of the restaurants along the West Bank of the Nile, before you start touring for the day.
Temple of Hatshepsut
The Temple of Hatshepsut is one of the first temples built in the style of the “New Kingdom” of Egypt, and many subsequent temples were modeled after it. Hatshepsut was also the first female Pharaoh of Egypt, also giving it great importance and making it a must-visit for my strongly feminist self!
To be honest, this was the most underwhelming thing we did in Luxor, potentially because I had high expectations. The structure itself is in great shape although it was significantly altered during turn of the century restoration. This might be why I wasn’t as impressed by it, because it just felt a little off. In the end, it really isn’t about the temple itself, it’s about the power of the incredible female for whom the temple was built.
Cost: 140LE ($10.75 CAD) per adult, 40LE ($3 CAD) per child.
*expert tip – the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Noble Tombs are spread over a VERY large area. It’s definitely possible to visit on your own without a tour, but you’ll need a taxi. I suggest hiring a taxi driver for the day. Get his WhatsApp number so you can let him know when you’ll be ready for pick up at different sites. If you do this your price will be less because he’ll be able to earn other fares while you’re busy exploring.
By the time we were finished at Hatshepsut’s Temple, the heat of the day was descending upon us like a giant furnace! We were ready for a bit of reprieve. Our apartment host suggested we head to Marsam restaurant for lunch. This West Bank staple has been hosting Egyptologists, tourists and travelers for decades. The large, well treed courtyard was a lovely place to relax while enjoying a delicious lunch and cold drink. (It’s also a guesthouse and a great place to stay if you want to spend a few days exploring the many sites of the West Bank). Our waiter was incredibly friendly and just loved the kids! He brought the kids free dessert and gave everyone a small souvenir necklace at the end of our meal. When we were all done, he even called our taxi driver to come pick us up.
After lunch our group split up. Megan & Alexis decided their claustrophobia was enough to make the underground tombs less than enjoyable so they went to the Livingston Museum instead. After dropping them off, Randy, myself, the girls and Ethan made our way out to the Valley of the Kings.
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings includes an impressive 63 tombs, but your ticket only allows you to visit 3. Of course, this doesn’t include the most famous tombs of Tutankhamun, Ramses V/VI or Seti I. I suggest adding Tutankhamun’s tomb to your ticket, but foregoing the rest unless you’re really into Ancient Egyptology. By this point the kids were hot and a bit lazy, so we chose to visit Ramses IV and Tutankhamun only. I’d recommend also visiting the tomb of Tutmosis III and whichever other one strikes your fancy (our guide also suggested Horemheb or Seti II)! For us, visiting two tombs with the kids was enough.
*expert tip – The crowds at the Valley of the Kings tend to thin out in the afternoon, so after a late lunch was the perfect time to visit.
*expert tip – If you visit towards the end of the day there’s a good chance you’ll end up in Tutankhamun’s tomb alone. The guard will happily ask for a bit of baksheesh (bribe!) in return for allowing you to take a few pictures inside the tomb. In my opinion it’s definitely worth it!
Hours: summer 6am-5pm, winter 6am-4pm (Tutankhamun’s tomb is closed from 1-2pm)
Cost: 200LE per adult. Tutankhaum’s tomb 250LE. Ramses V/VI Tomb – 100LE. Seti I Tomb – 1000LE (no student discount). Students 30 years old and younger are 50% off, and kids 5 and under are free.
Know Before You Go To Luxor
Where To Stay In Luxor
There are a large number of hotels on the East bank of the Nile, but I highly recommend staying on the West Bank.
Best West Bank Guest House – Luxor Palace
This is a cute little guesthouse on the West Bank, and where we stayed during our time in Luxor. It was a couple minutes walk from the ferry with relatively easy access to the East Bank sights but in a much more relaxed environment. It felt a bit more local and away from the tourist crowd, which always makes me happy! We had a large 2-bedroom apartment with a cute little swimming pool that we used every afternoon to escape the heat. There are a number of quaint restaurants nearby and the owner was incredibly helpful. My favourite thing was enjoying a glass of wine on the roof-top terrace overlooking the Nile and Luxor Temple.
East Bank Mid-Range Hotel – Nefertiti Hotel Luxor
Nefertiti Hotel is a great budget to mid-range option overlooking the Luxor Temple. The rooms are air conditioned, breakfast is included, and they have family rooms! There’s also a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy your evening cocktail while overlooking the city at night.
West Bank Mid-Range Hotel – Thebes Hotel
Thebes Hotel is located on the West Bank, offering a quieter stay compared to the East Bank. It feels a bit more local and relaxed, and has a pool to cool off after a day of temple hopping. Breakfast is included, the rooms have air conditioning (a must), and the family room has single beds for the kids so you don’t have to worry about them kicking each other (or is that just me?!).
East Bank High-End Hotel – Steigenberger Nile Palace
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury during your visit to Luxor, the Steigenberger Nile Palace is the hotel for you. There are a couple other luxury hotels in Luxor (the Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa, and the Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel), but neither offer family rooms with single beds for the kids like the Steigenberger. It also has a beautiful pool, central location, breakfast included and all the amenities you’d expect from a world-class hotel.
Where To Eat In Luxor
Marsam Restaurant is located on the West bank, quite close to the Valley of the Kings. The restaurant is in a large, well-treed courtyard and has an incredibly relaxed vibe. The food is tasty and the servers were very friendly and helpful. They even gave each of the kids a necklace souvenir after the meal!
Cost: Expect to pay 100-150LE ($7.70 – $11.50 CAD) per person for lunch.
Check Trip Advisor for the latest restaurant reviews for both the East and West banks.
How To Get Around Luxor
The sites on the East Bank are generally easy to walk to, or you can grab a horse & carriage or taxi for a few dollars if you don’t feel like walking.
The sites on the West Bank are very far apart, and therefore require either a day tour, a taxi or rent a bike and explore yourself (which would’ve been my preference if we weren’t traveling with kids!). Taxis are inexpensive and easy to find everywhere.
Ferry: The East and West banks are connected by a passenger ferry that runs all day long. It was 2LE ($0.15 CAD) each direction and only takes a few minutes. It departs when full, but we never waited longer than about 5min for it to leave. We rarely saw any other tourists on the ferry, and it was one of my favourite parts of staying on the West Bank!
Airport: Getting to or from the Luxor airport will require either a taxi or a pre-arranged van. We spent 300LE ($23 CAD) from the West Bank for a large van that fit 2 families. A regular taxi from the East Bank should be significantly cheaper!