Istanbul. Luxor. Baghdad. What do all three cities have in common? They used to have different names. Istanbul was once Constantinople. Luxor encompasses the ruins of Thebes. And just outside Baghdad lies the ancient city of Babylon.
For the historically inclined traveler, there are few things more interesting than visiting the modern-day interpretation of an ancient city. And that’s just one of the reasons Luxor is such a compelling Egyptian destination. Of course, travelers often visit Cairo first—it’s Egypt’s capital city, international airport hub, and home to the Pyramids of Giza and the forthcoming Grand Egyptian Museum. But venturing down to Luxor is one of the most exciting parts of an Egyptian itinerary, because Luxor is the true gateway to ancient Egypt. It’s also one of the world’s most picturesque cities, featuring European-reminiscent architectural accents along the river Nile, contrasted with temples erected before common era.
Here’s how you can spend one perfect day in Luxor, Egypt.
8:00 a.m. You’ll start your day at the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor. Originally built in 1886, the “19th-century palace (was) once a winter retreat for the Egyptian royal family.” It’s also where Agatha Christie supposedly penned much of her Egypt-centric novel “Death on the Nile.” If you’re staying at Sofitel Winter Palace, start your morning with a stroll around the property’s lush gardens and maybe even a morning swim. The gardens of the Sofitel Winter Palace are truly magical—they’re regal in the way London’s gardens are, while still maintaining a tropical feel. These gardens are a Luxor attraction in themselves, so strolling through them—all the way to the Sofitel Winter Palace’s pools—is the perfect way to start your day. Before you head out, stop by La Corniche Restaurant to grab a freshly baked croissant for breakfast.
9:00 a.m. Luxor is on the east bank of the Nile, and the Valleys of Kings and Queens, the burial place of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs, including King Tut and Ramses II, are directly opposite Luxor on the west bank. You can either hire a boat to sail you across the Nile or a car to drive you to the other side of the river (which takes about 45 minutes). Your hotel can help arrange transportation, and even a guide for the Valleys of Kings and Queens. In order to see both valleys in just a few hours, you’ll need to be selective about which tombs you visit. Start with the Valley of Queens at the famed tomb of Queen Nefertari. The tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramses the Great, is one of the biggest Egyptian points of pride, not to mention the most stunning tomb you’ll see all day. The recent refurbishment of Queen Nefertari’s tomb was a major tourism initiative in Egypt. The colors and details in this tomb are awe-inspiring, and Nefertari is one of the most famous Egyptian queens, much like Queens Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, and Nefertiti.
10:30 a.m. Migrate from the Valley of Queens and Nefertari’s tomb to the Valley of the Kings. The first thing to see here is, of course, the tomb of Tutankhamun. It isn’t the most lavish of the Valley of Kings tombs, but it does house the great King Tut’s mummy. You’ll also want to visit the tomb of Ramses VI, one of the most impressive tombs in the Valley of Kings.
1:00 p.m. Drive or sail back to Luxor proper where it’s time for lunch and some sight-seeing within the main city. For lunch, head to Al-Sahaby Lane Restaurant. While Al-Sahaby’s proximity to Luxor Temple makes it a touristy dining spot, the food is authentically Egyptian and Middle Eastern and the restaurant sits right on the Nile. Al-Sahaby’s rooftop view of the river is best enjoyed with a cup of Egyptian mint tea. And if you’re lunching with a group, share a few plates so you can sample their falafel, Mediterranean-style wraps, vegetarian moussaka, and tagines.
2:30 p.m. Right next to Al-Sahaby is Luxor Temple, which dates back to the late 1300s BCE. The construction of the temple began under Amenhotep III, though the project took long enough that King Tut supervised its completion. Luxor Temple was then added to under Ramses II. There were once two towering obelisks standing at the entrance to Luxor Temple—one remains, while the other now stands in Paris at Place de la Concorde. While exploring the inside of the temple, make sure to see the Court of Ramses II and the shrine to Alexander the Great.
4:15 p.m. After exploring Luxor Temple, you’ll head to the Temple of Karnak, but first, make sure to schedule a quick photo op at the Avenue of the Sphinxes. The avenue—literally an ancient street lined with human-headed sphinxes—once connected Luxor Temple to the Temple of Karnak.
4:30 p.m. You’ll wrap up your whirlwind tour of Luxor at the Temple of Karnak, arguably one of the most impressive temples found in Egypt. The Temple of Karnak is actually comprised of multiple structures. The main temple is meant to honor Amun-Ra, the Ancient Egyptian god associated with the creation of the universe and specifically with the city of Thebes. You’ll also visit the Kiosk of Sesostris I, one of the oldest limestone structures within Karnak Temple carved with ancient hieroglyphics, and the Temple of Ptah, built by Tuthmoses III. One of the most remarkable things about the Temple of Karnak is that several pharaohs added to and changed the temple structures—it was a constant work in progress before common era.
7:00 p.m. For dinner, tuck in to a beautiful spread at Sofra Restaurant & Cafe, where they take great care to source fresh ingredients for their classic Edyptian fare. This meal is all about mezze platters filled with babaganoush, hummus, and tahini-based dipping sauces and classic Egyptian soups with fava beans or lentils to start. You’ll then venture into their hearty main courses, which might include slow-cooked lamb shanks, oven-roasted rabbit, or even stuffed pigeon for the adventurous foodies.
Where to Stay
Stay in one of the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor’s 86 rooms or six suites. Their Imperial Suite has a separate living room, a balcony, and a gorgeous view of the Nile. From tea served on the Nile-facing terrace to live piano music played at the Royal Bar, this property exudes an atmosphere of old-world elegance.