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Luxor See And Do

Colossi of Memnon
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

These two badly eroded statues of the Pharaoh Amenophis II, in a field on the main road leading from the ferry landing towards the Theban hills, are all that remain of his mortuary temple, which was once larger than the Karnak complex. Memnon was actually the name of a Homeric hero; the name stuck because of the phonetic similarity to Amenophis and because ancient Greek and Roman travelers noted the creaking of quartzite sandstone expanding and contracting with the day's temperature flux, a sound they associated with Memnon's lament to his mother, Dawn.

Deir Al Medina
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

The artists and artisans who built the Theban tombs lived in this village on the path between Hatshepsut's Temple and the Valley of the Queens. You can visit the tombs of two workmen, Sennedjem and Inherkhau, who prepared their own resting places with the same care and delicacy as their royal 19th-dynasty patrons. A short walk north of the tombs lie several small temples.

Dendera Temple
Luxor
Egypt

If you have a free day and are not already booked on a Nile cruise, consider a day trip by boat to Dendera Temple, a Greco-Roman complex dedicated to the goddess Hathor. This day trip sails north of Luxor just past the Qina River bend. The vessel, the Royal Lotus, is a former cruise boat converted into a floating restaurant and carries about 90 passengers. The fare, around $80, includes breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a guided tour of the temple complex. There are sunchairs on deck; the river scenery alone is worth the trip.

Hot Air Balloon
Luxor
Egypt

It's worth the $125 charge and pre-dawn wake-up call to float above the west bank and experience a bird's eye view of the famous temples and sugarcane fields stretching toward the River Nile. About a dozen balloons take off each morning, their pilots in radio contact with each other and the Luxor International Airport control tower. Safety briefings are conducted before you depart. The liftoff is exhilarating, as is the landing in the desert south of Hatshepsut's Temple. The flight lasts about an hour, depending on wind conditions. Book through your hotel.

Luxor Museum
Corniche el Nile
East Bank
Luxor
Egypt

While it's much smaller than the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Luxor's version contains ancient masterpieces including a beautiful gold Hathor cow's head sculpture, hunting chariot and other items from King Tut's tomb, the newly returned mummy of the Pharaoh Ramses I, and a collection of statues discovered buried under Luxor Temple in 1989. An annex, opened in 2003, is dedicated to the military history of ancient Thebes.

Open daily October through April 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm, and May through September 9 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm.

Hotel Photo
Luxor Temple
East Bank
Luxor
Egypt

This 3,300-year-old temple is downtown Luxor's greatest reminder that this sleepy town was once a mighty metropolis called Thebes. What's more, the fact that a 12th-century mosque is plopped right down in the middle of the temple grounds illustrates how Thebes's eventual successor, the Arab village called Al-Uqsur, grew among the ruins of the ancient city. The temple is at its most atmospheric at night, when the crowds have gone home and shadows gather between the papyrus-bundle columns in the Hypostyle Hall. Look for the bas-relief carvings of the Feast of Opet; the most important religious festival of ancient Thebes, this annual ceremony coincided with the Nile flood and symbolized royal regeneration.

Open daily May through September 6 am to 8 pm, and October through April 6 am to 9 pm.

Madinat Habu
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

The sheer size of Karnak Temple and the exhausting descent into the royal tombs leave tour groups with no time or energy to explore Madinat Habu, even though it is the best-preserved mortuary temple on the west bank. This enlarged version of the Ramesseum is a palace of courts and passages. The first court contains a huge bas-relief of the pharaoh hunting buffalo; the papyrus-shaped pillars in the second court retain their characteristic red, green and blue paint; more pictorials etched on the northern side depict Ramses III's famous sea battle against a coalition of Aegean and Asiatic invaders.

Museum of Mummification
Corniche el Nile
East Bank
Luxor
Egypt

This haunting museum opened in 1997, north of the Luxor Temple, and replicates the sepulchral atmosphere of an underground tomb while providing a detailed overview of the complex embalming process. Surgeons' tools, coffins, and canopic jars are on display along with ushabti statuettes and other objects associated with magic rituals. You can see the mummies of people, as well as cats, ibises, crocodiles and other sacred creatures.

Open daily October through April 9 am to 1 pm and 4 to 9pm, May through September 9 am to 1 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

Hotel Photo
Ramesseum
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

Most tourists tend to leave the Ramesseum—built by Ramses II as his mortuary temple near the shores of the west bank—until last, and often they have to drop it from their itineraries altogether. As a result, it's a lot less crowded and all the better for it. The fallen Ozymandias colossus of Ramses II was immortalized in Shelley's poem Ozymandias.

Hotel Photo
Temple of Hatshepsut
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

Featured on every guided tour, this huge temple—three terraces of colonnades climbing steplike up the base of a towering cliff—was heavily restored in the 1950s. The 18th Dynasty (15th century B.C.) Hatshepsut was one of those rare female pharaohs, and her temple is remarkable not only for its sheer size, dramatic location and astonishingly modern proportions but also for its fine relief carvings on the walls, many of which retain their original colors. The southern middle portico celebrates Hatshepsut's naval mission to Punt, a mysterious land somewhere between the Red Sea and Somalia, to obtain myrrh and other sacred woods. The upper terrace boasts smiling statues of the lady pharaoh. She's astonishingly plump.

Hotel Photo
Temple of Karnak
East Bank
Luxor
Egypt

Far larger than Luxor Temple, this vast complex of stone sanctuaries, obelisks, sphinxes, and hefty pharaonic statues took more than 1,300 years to build, reaching its greatest heights during the 19th Dynasty (13th century B.C.) when the Pharaohs Seti I and Ramses II built the immense Hypostyle Hall and its forest of 76-foot tall Papyriform columns. The complex sits one and a half miles north of downtown Luxor, and with 62 acres open to the public it will require a full afternoon of your time just to cover the highlights. These include the Colossus of Ramses II, and the great Festival Hall of Thutmosis III, whose painted and decorated ceiling contains bas-reliefs depicting plants and animals captured during his Asiatic campaigns. The sound-and-light show each evening is widely hailed as being the finest of its kind in the world.

Open daily May through September from 6 am to 6 pm, and October through April from 6 am to 5 pm.

Valley of the Kings
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

These tombs tucked into the canyons of the west bank open at 6 am, which is a fine time to arrive, as the crowds and the oppressive heat (even in winter) only grow as the morning wears on. If crowds make you feel claustrophobic, and if you can take the heat, go at the midday lull when the tour groups are sitting down to lunch. Be prepared to stand in long lines to visit the most popular tombs, such as King Tut, Horemheb and Amenophis II. If you can't stand the wait or the crowds, it's best to head to the far end of the valley, where the tombs—such as the unusually deep tomb of Thutmosis III—attract fewer people, even though they are no less interesting. King Tut's tomb, uncompleted at his premature death, still contains the boy king's mummy lying in its gold casket (be aware that only 200 morning and 200 afternoon tickets are sold each day, and the government plans to close the tomb indefinitely for restoration in May 2008). Ramses VI (also an extra ticket) is worth it for the painted ceiling of the Goddess Nut swallowing the sun in the burial chamber. Of the valley's 31 major tombs, 18 are open to tourists on a rotational basis to shield fragile paintings and carvings from the impact of 7,000 daily visitors.

Valley of Nobles
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

Off the package-tour trail, this small necropolis deserves a visit if only to interact with the local watchmen who use broken mirrors to direct the sun's rays into the cool dark tombs of the pharaohs' scribes, granary overseers, and other courtiers. In contrast to rulers' tombs, decorated with religious rituals, scenes in the tombs of Ramose, Userhat, Kha'ahmet, Menna and Nahkt depict images of their families and daily life on their estates. Look for rivulets of a mourning daughter's plated hair, the supervision of farm hands, grape arbors, farm girls removing splinters from their feet, and tabby cats stealing the pharaoh's duck eggs.

Valley of the Queens
West Bank
Luxor
Egypt

The tombs of the pharoahs' queens, daughters and princes were dug into the rock of a small but beautiful valley west of Deir Al Medina. The most famous, that of Queen Nefertari, wife of the powerful Ramses II, was restored in the 1980s and is the most brilliant colored tomb in all of Luxor, but it can only be visited by private arrangement with the Supreme Council of Antiquities (which charges a four-figure fee per person) because it's extremely fragile. The tombs of the young Princes Khaemwese and Amonherkhepshef, both sons of Ramses III, contain moving scenes of their father leading them by the hand to the afterlife, introducing them to deities and making sure they respond correctly to ensure their passage.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.