Luxor holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Egypt’s official language is Standard Arabic, which is spoken all over the country, including in Luxor. Egyptian Arabic is actually the most widely spoken dialect but tourists will find that English and French are prolifically spoken in the tourist and business industries.
The national currency is the Egyptian pound, which is split into 100 piastres. Large hotels, shops and restaurants accept all major credit cards, including American Express and Diners Club. ATMs are available in all areas, including the more remote towns. Currency can be exchanged in hotels, bureaux de change and large banks, which often provide the most flexible and negotiable rates.
All travellers to Egypt are required to obtain a visa to enter the country. Travellers from the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and Canada can obtain an Egyptian visa on arrival at any of the country’s airports. All other nationals are required to obtain a visa prior to leaving their home country. Tourist visas are valid for three months.
Southern Egypt, and Luxor in particular, experience drastic temperature changes, with scorching summers and cold winters. For most of the year, sunny and dry conditions prevail. The hottest months are from May to September when temperatures reach highs of 41°C. Winter is from December to February and the mercury generally doesn’t drop below 7°C. Tourists should be aware of the Khamsin winds in March, April and May, which bring hot, dusty and unclear conditions.
The main gateway in Luxor is Luxor International Airport. Most carriers have services to the gateway from cities in Europe and the Middle East, including London. From Luxor, further connections can be made to other cities in the country like Cairo and Alexandria.
The main carrier to the region is national airline Egypt Air but other major airlines like Qatar Airways have flights as well. Travellers can get direct flights to Luxor from Europe, including London, especially during the high season in winter. There are budget options with EasyJet, which has flights from London-Gatwick, and with Thomson, which flies between Luxor and Manchester. The average time of a direct flight between London and Luxor is 5 hours, 20 minutes.
Egypt can become overcrowded in the winter high season between the months of May and September. Luxor in particular is a tourist hub and attracts many tourists each year. It is advisable that travellers book both flights and accommodation in advance to avoid high prices and full hotels.
Travellers can take a train to Luxor, which proves to be an inexpensive and scenic option. Flights from London can be taken to the country’s main port, Cairo, from where a train can be caught from Ramses Train Station to Luxor. There are four different options, including a daytime air-conditioned express, an overnight air-conditioned express and an overnight deluxe sleeper.
Bicycle rentals are available around the city and provide a refreshing way of seeing the sites. There is an efficient local minibus system which operates within the city and beyond. Taking a ferry is the only way to get from the East to the West Bank and the train network is a comfortable way of reaching other regions of the country.
A popular form of local transport is the minibus, which travels within and between cities. Buses travel between Luxor and Cairo, Hurghada, Dahab, Sharm el-Sheikh and Al-Kharga. Within the city, minibuses operate on fixed routes but there are no maps or schedules. Different routes are marked by colour stickers on the side of minibuses, which can be flagged down at the side of the road. There are fixed prices for every route and passengers can get off at any time.
The only way of travelling between the East and West banks is by boat. There are local blue ferries waiting on the side of the river which are significantly cheaper than the touristy feluccas and water taxis. The only disadvantage with taking a blue boat is that drivers only leave when the vehicle is full. There are taxis at each port waiting to take passengers to their next destination. Not only is this an efficient mode of getting from one side to another, but it is scenic as well.
Luxor is relatively small and can be navigated by bicycle. Many of the large hotels hire out bicycles but there are several bicycle rental shops dotted on both the West and East Banks of the river. The East Bank is far more cosmopolitan than the West Bank so cyclists should keep in mind the increased traffic when travelling from one side to another.
The city’s train station is located in the centre of the town. Trains are mainly used to travel between cities, especially far away regions like Aswan. There are many options available for daily trips, including overnight air-conditioned sleepers which serve refreshments along the way. Prices are quite reasonable, with many classes on offer, and tourist police are observant to make sure that travellers are kept safe. There are no rail services within Luxor.
It is possible to rent a car in Luxor and most of the major companies, including Hertz, Avis, Budget and Europcar, are represented. There also several local companies which provide reliable services. Cars can be rented from the airport and at many agencies around main cities. Petrol prices in Egypt are relatively inexpensive when compared with international rates.
The western shore of the Nile River is known as the West Bank and is home to some of the most architecturally significant buildings in the region. Most tourists never venture onto the West Bank, which means the lucky few who cross the river have this quiet strip of Luxor to themselves. Travellers, especially those who come during high season, will find great respite from the hordes of crowds in this underappreciated area.
One of the most notable architectural sites on this side is the Valley of Kings, one of the country’s biggest attractions. In ancient Egypt, the West Bank was always reserved as the resting place for the royals so tourists who venture here will find many interesting tombs and shrines.
The eastern shore, known as the East Bank, is a complete contrast to the western side. The East Bank is the metropolis of Luxor, home to the city centre and most of the accommodation and nightlife. Although it is not as peaceful as the West Bank, it still has a great deal to offer in terms of historical sites. Both the temples of Luxor and Karnak are located here, as are many of the country’s most informative museums. Travellers looking for a bustling city and a vibrant tourism industry should spend a few days on the East Bank.
The Downtown area on the East Bank is also worth exploring as authorities have just recently opened new sites to the public including the Avenue of the Sphinxes and the Temple of Seti.
If there is one place that should not be missed in Luxor, it is the Valley of the Kings. Located to the south of the Nile, the Valley of the Kings is home to 63 tombs of ancient Egyptian royalty. All of the tombs are different from one another and make for an interesting excursion. The area marks an important shift in the Empire’s history when Pharaohs decided to be buried in these hillsides instead of the pyramids. This was an attempt to subvert the popular act of grave robbing.
The temple complex of Karnak is an extraordinary arrangement of structures built in honour of the ancient Theban Gods. Covering two square kilometres, the complex houses several kiosks, pylons, sanctuaries and obelisks. The most popular of all the temples in the complex is the Temple of Amun. Karnak was the most important place for ancient Egyptian worshippers and provides great insight into the belief and rituals of the Egypt of old.
The topic of many a Hollywood blockbuster is the Tomb of Tutankhamen. Only discovered in 1922, this tomb is one of the few Egyptian tombs that remain intact. The tomb, along with Tutankhamen’s treasures which are kept at the Cairo Museum, is an important part of the country’s history and a magical excursion for many Egyptian enthusiasts. The tomb is not the only attraction as the chambers leading to it are covered in amazing wall paintings which tell a great deal about the development of the Arabic language and Arabic art.
Standing majestically on the West Bank of the Nile River, the Colossi of Memnon are well-recognised sites in Luxor. The final remnant of one of the largest temples built in Egypt, the colossi once guarded the Pharaoh Amanhotep III’s memorial structure. Standing tall at almost 18 metres, the colossi are cut from a single 1,000 tonne block of stone and can literally not be missed.
There are several entertainment options in Luxor, ranging from traditional folklore shows to good old Irish pubs. Travellers looking for crowded nightclubs pumping out Western beats will have to move to larger cities like Cairo as Luxor offers a simpler, more cultural nightlife experience.
Many establishments host traditional Egyptian music evenings, boasting belly dancers, folkloric shows with authentic rababa musicians and, if travellers are lucky, snake charmers. Most of these places offer oriental buffets, making for a delicious and fun cultural experience for everyone involved.
Travellers looking for home comforts will not be disappointed by the large number of Irish pubs. Serving everything from pints of real British larger and the heartiest of pub grub meals, these pubs are the perfect place to get some respite from the harsh Egyptian sun. Some pubs even stream live matches of the latest football clashes.
There also a few festivals in the city which can be enjoyed by travellers who are lucky enough to be in the region at the right time. The most famous festival in Luxor is Moulid of Abu el-Haggag, which is held two weeks before Ramadan and is characterised by two days of street celebrations. From processions and horse races to stick fights and drumming concerts, there are activities to satisfy every taste.
Most restaurants start operating quite late in the day, opening at midday and catering for the lunch time rush. The most exciting time to dine out is at dinner when Egyptian locals come out in full force. Dinner is served at most establishments until 22:00. The atmosphere at this time of night is rather vibrant and dinner time turns into more of an event than just a meal.
There is a large variety of dining options in the city catering for those who are interested in sampling the local fare as well as those who prefer international cuisines. Luxor is one of the best places in Egypt for vegetarian travellers as many restaurants use the region’s fresh seasonal vegetables prolifically in their dishes.
While the international options are aplenty, with everything from spicy Indian curries to English fish and chips, there are a few local Luxor dishes which should be sampled at least once. Dishes that are popular with both locals and tourists include kurshari (a macaroni bake made with seasoned lentils) and kebabs (grilled spicy meats skewered on a stick and sold on most streets). There also lovely desserts to appease the sweet-toothed traveller, including ruz bi laan (a sweet, creamy rice pudding) and muhalabiyya (creamy yoghurt topped with strawberry and blueberry syrup).
To quench the thirsts of parched tourists after a long day in the heat, many refreshing Egyptian drinks are on offer at mostly authentic Egyptian restaurants. Sugarcane juice is popular with tourists and locals alike, while tamarind juice takes some getting used to.
Luxor itself does not have any beaches but the city is close enough to stunning bodies of water. The popular beach resort of Hurghada is only a few hours away by bus. Hurghada has a spectacular stretch of beach which is great for sun tanning but also for water sports like windsurfing and snorkelling.
While Luxor is known mostly as an ’open-air museum’, it also serves as a wonderful background to a romantic getaway. One of the most romantic activities on offer is a sunrise hot air balloon ride over many of the city’s famous landmarks. Float over the ancient land while watching an African sunrise with a loved one at your side.
While excursions in Luxor are no doubt informative, they can be tiresome for little ones who are interested in more active pursuits. One way to get them excited about the ancient ruins is to experience the Karnak Temple’s sound and light show. Each night, the magnificent complex is lit up in a fantastic display of laser and light manipulations. If this doesn’t convert the disinterested traveller then nothing will.
Travellers in search of adventure should take full advantage the region’s vast desert areas. Many tour companies can arrange desert safaris of up to several days at a moment’s notice. From racing across the golden dunes in a four-wheel drive jeep to sleeping under the African skies with Bedouin tribes, desert safaris are not to be missed.