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Spotlight on Luxor
With its inexhaustable supply of historic sites and lively city centre, Luxor charms even the most seasoned travellers. Divided by the majestic Nile, it’s compact, easy to get around and – with a long-standing history of welcoming guests – well-prepared for your arrival. Year-round sun, ancient temples and unforgettable river views keep us coming back to the former Egyptian capital, known with good reason as ‘the world’s greatest open-air museum’.
Top of the list for many of Luxor’s visitors, you’ll spot the colossal columns of the Karnak Temple rising above the city. Built over the course of 1300 years, this magnificent site is huge and fascinating, and second only to the Pyramids at Giza as Egypt’s premier attraction. On the city’s East Bank, where the modern centre is located, you’ll also find the equally intriguing Luxor Temple: lying parallel with the River Nile, this grand construction dates back to 1392 BC and has been used as a place of worship almost continuously since. These two must-see temples were once connected by an avenue of sphinxes, lining the route of more than 1 mile.
Over on the West Bank, the Valley of the Kings – the ancient burial site of Tutankhamun among others – is another essential for history seekers. You can buy a ticket to visit three of more than 60 tombs, but you’ll need a special extra ticket to view King Tut’s. On a similar theme, the Theban Necropolis – another World Heritage Site – serves as a monument to Luxor’s past as the ancient city of Thebes, and the centrally located Luxor Museum and Mummification Museum provide informative context.
The city isn’t all about the past, though. 21st-century Luxor has more modern-day familiarity than you might expect, so you can shop in an air-conditioned mall as easily as you can strike a bargain in the tourist bazaar – and you’ll be guaranteed a warm welcome whichever you choose. You won’t find strips of ubiquitous international brands; the Luxor shopping experience is more personal and more interactive, so be prepared to haggle for a good deal. Your shopkeeper will likely expect it!
Market stalls are stacked with Egyptian crafts, exotic fruits and just about everything else you can imagine. Next to the riverside Winter Palace, a favourite of mine is the Aboudi Bookshop which stocks English and international magazines and newspapers…visitors rave about it too. Other recommendations include Habiba Gallery for beautiful, locally made treasures, and the hieroglyphic art of the Isis 2 Papyrus Museum.
I can guarantee you won’t go hungry in Luxor, which boasts all the culinary diversity you would expect in a major city. Sit down to Indian, Italian, Chinese or traditional British – or go local with the street food served along El-Karnak, Ramses and Hassan. It’s mostly pretty good and, whatever time of day or night you find yourself peckish, something, somewhere is being served up. High-quality Egyptian cuisine, which will surely be a highlight of your trip, is not hard to find either. Be adventurous!
First-time visitors need not worry about feeling overwhelmed: Luxor’s centre is small enough to explore on foot, with many guided tours to help you see the sights and get your bearings. And while there are plenty of taxis and minibuses shuffling around (look out for the blue and white vehicles), probably the most enjoyable way to see Luxor is from a horse-drawn calèche – touristy, perhaps, but hard to beat for a little old-school glamour on the Nile.
It’s full of surprises, but one thing’s for sure – Luxor would love to see you.