Luxor stands on the lush banks of the River Nile in a region known as Upper Egypt; the southern parts of Egypt's Nile Valley, between Cairo and Aswan. Upper Egypt has a long history of settlement, with people beginning to sedentarise here as early as 4400BC. By 4000BC small farming villages had started to thrive across the region and a bustling city known as Hierakonpolis had emerged by 3300BC. Although people lived a similar, settled way of life throughout these parts of the Nile Valley, Egypt remained politically divided between smaller, self-governing regions until 3100BC, when history records a ruler known as King Narmer uniting the entire country into a single state. King Narmer became the first in a long line of Pharaohs to rule Egypt; one of the grandest, longest-lasting, most influential and celebrated civilisations the world has ever known. Luxor became Egypt's capital for the first time around 2000BC. The Pharaohs shifted it north after this, but by 1500BC Luxor had been re-established as the capital again; the fabled seat of power from which a long line of legendary Pharaohs would rule over one of the greatest of golden ages in Egypt's history. Known as Thebes in ancient times, Luxor saw the construction of some of Egypt's best known monuments, from huge religious buildings to colossal statues and labyrinthine complexes of underground tombs. It remained a thriving hub of the ancient world for many centuries and stands today a bustling modern town home to nearly 130,000 people, most of whom work in agriculture and tourism. A UNESCO World Heritage Site often dubbed the world's greatest open air museum, Luxor represents the southernmost trailhead of the Bedouin Trail and it is where most hikers will finish the route after making the 1200km intercontinental journey from Petra in Jordan.
Luxor: a quick glance
Luxor can be split into two halves; the East Bank and West Bank, with the River Nile in between. This east-west bisection is an age old division from the times of the Pharaohs, when the East Bank's thriving temples made it the bustling hub of local life. The West Bank was a realm of tombs and funerary monuments, serving primarily as the quiet, eternal resting place for Egypt's Kings and Queens. On this account, Luxor's East Bank is often dubbed the 'Land of the Living' with the West Bank the 'Land of the Dead' and although both banks have their own vibrant local cultures the East Bank remains the liveliest, most bustling hub of the town. Luxor's downtown district centres around the ruins of Luxor Temple and is a hub of cafes, restaurants, souqs and banks, along with Luxor's train and bus stations. Two major streets run south from this downtown hub; Television Street and the riverside Kornish el Nil, on which more hotels, restaurants and bars are found, along with hospitals, government offices and other useful services. The huge, palatial grounds of Karnak Temple stand three kilometres north of Luxor Temple, with both connected by 'Tareeq el Kibaash'; an ancient street lined with more than a thousand ram statues, which opened as a modern walkway in 2021. The West Bank's main hub stands directly opposite Luxor Temple; a cluster of hotels, cafes, restaurants and banks on the banks of the River Nile. The grand funerary monuments of the West Bank are located a few kilometres inland from this hub.
West Bank: a closer look
The West Bank is the quieter side of Luxor; a realm of irrigated green fields dotted with villages and ancient monuments. The best-known historical site of all is the Valley of the Kings, where the burial chambers of some of Egypt's most legendary Pharaohs are tunnelled into the desert tablelands. The nearby Valley of the Queens is worth a visit too - with Queen Nefertari's resplendent tomb the highlight - along with the Temple of Hatshepsut. A little-visited gem, built by Ramesses III, whose pillars still bear red, blue and gold paint from ancient times, is Medinet Habu. Public boats run between Luxor Museum and the West Bank for EGP10. Private boats connect the West Bank with Luxor Temple for EGP40-50. For more, see Luxor: What to See.
Getting there & away
Luxor is the Bedouin Trail's southernmost trailhead, with Petra at its northern end in Jordan. Luxor will be the end-point for most hikers on the Bedouin Trail but it can be the start point too. A few airlines offer direct flights from international destinations to Luxor but most involve a changeover in Cairo. For internal travel, Egypt Air runs regular domestic flights between Cairo and Luxor. Hurghada airport is close by and is served by more international routes, giving another option for air connections to Luxor. Trains trundle between Luxor and Cairo daily, taking about eight hours; first class tickets with big, reclining chairs cost EGP245 and comfortable second class seats are EGP165. Third class tickets cost EGP85-115 but are best skipped for long journeys. An old sleeper train runs between Cairo and Luxor costing EGP1500 which might sound romantic, but first class seats are also easy to sleep in and represent much better value. Trains are a better option than buses for the long journey between Cairo and Luxor but multiple buses run daily for anybody who wants to use them, with the best company GO BUS. Buses are the only public transport option between Luxor and Hurghada and GO BUS have three services daily, including a first class, so-called 'VIP' bus with big, reclining chairs, personal TV screens and meals for EGP225. Check timetables on the ground before travel as they often change. Private cars can be hired to go between Hurghada and Luxor from around EGP2500, with the journey time around four hours.
The Bedouin Trail & Luxor
Almost every part of the Bedouin Trail except its final stretch traverses remote tracts of wilderness; the last part of the passage between Qena and Luxor runs through the settled heartlands of the Nile Valley. Villages, towns and roads are all parts of the landscape in the Nile Valley, giving this part of the route a different look and feel. Nevertheless, this is what modern, settled Egypt is today and this is an important part of the Bedouin Trail with its own story to tell, illuminating something of the age old divide between the settled, agricultural societies of the world - which arose mostly within the last 10,000 years - and the nomadic ones in its adjoining deserts, which represent an altogether older part of our common human heritage. There are three main sections to the Bedouin Trail between the Red Sea Mountain Trail's main circuit and Luxor. One is a 70km, three day wilderness section, connecting the western parts of the Red Sea Mountain Trail in Wadi Ghuza with the upper parts of Wadi Qena, on which an old Roman road is follows through Egypt's Eastern Desert. The middle section is a 50km stretch from the upper parts of Wadi Qena to the town of Qena, on the banks of the River Nile. A tarmac road must be followed on this section for 50km, with Egypt's officials marking other areas off limits. The final part involves an 80km voyage between Qena and Luxor in the Nile Valley, on which there is no fixed route and which hikers can travel independently and in several ways. For more information on the Nile Valley section, see Bedouin Trail: Nile Valley.
LUXOR: WHERE TO STAY
Luxor is one of the oldest tourism destinations in the world and accommodation options are available for every budget today. The East Bank feels livelier, has more eating & nightlife options, along with major transportation links. The West Bank gives a quieter getaway & many hikers will like its traditional country eco-lodge style accommodation.
WINTER PALACE - One of Luxor's grand old hotels; the abode of archaeologists, writers, presidents & kings. Antique decor, ballrooms & gardens. An excellent spot for those who can afford it, around EGP5000/ night. Tel +2095 2380422
SUSANNA HOTEL - Superb location opposite Luxor Temple. Rooms have a/c, fridge, TV & en-suite & some have Nile-view balconies. Comfortable, but aeging feel, with its best days in the past. Singles 480EGP, doubles 480EGP. Tel +201141349487.
ST JOSEPH HOTEL - A family-run hotel, 1km south of Luxor's downtown district. Rooms have a/c, fridge, TV & en-suites & some have balconies with an obstructed Nile view. Singles 400EGP, doubles 700EGP. Tel +201278411223.
HAPPY LAND - Luxor's best-hidden backpacking gem, located in side streets; better-looking inside than out. Small, simple but, clean rooms; some with a/c & bathrooms. WIFI, friendly staff. Singles 170EGP, doubles 260EGP. Tel +201006784403.
GEZIRA GARDENS - West Bank hotel in quiet side streets. Large suites with two bedrooms, sitting room & bathroom; colourful, oriental-style decor, good for groups. Suites from EGP1500/ night, with breakfast. Tel +20106 354 2007
NILE CASTLE HOTEL - At the quieter end of the riverside on the West Bank, opposite the Winter Palace. A welcoming homely feel. Comfortable rooms with a big Nile view & roof terrace. Singles 400EGP, doubles 500EGP. Tel +201020707375
NOUR AL BALAD - Eco-lodge near Medinet Habu, in the green fields of the West Bank. Rooms with rustic clay walls, traditional decor, en-suites. Home cooked meals, quiet area. Singles 380EGP, doubles 480EGP. Tel +201144281119.
NEFERTITI - Superb, family-run hotel, in the wings of Luxor's souq. Clean, comfortable rooms with a/c, en-suites & Arab decor. Roof terrace with superb view, WIFI & friendly staff. Singles from EGP500, doubles EGP650. Tel +20100 032 9991
NEW RADWAN - A simple, basic hotel with old rooms, but friendly staff & excellent location in Luxor's downtown heart. Directly opposite the train station, making it superb for early getaways. Singles 350EGP, doubles 450EGP. Tel +201066101074
SONESTA ST GEORGE - Close to the St Joseph, this is one of Luxor's nicest high end hotels. Comfortable, rooms with mod-cons & balconies with a Nile View. Prices vary between seasons, starting from EGP700. Tel +2095 2382575
EL MESALA HOTEL - Good hotel on the West Bank, opposite Luxor Temple. Comfortable rooms with a/c, en-suite & some with big, beautiful Nile view balconies. WIFI & friendly staff. Singles EGP500, doubles EGP600. Tel +201062532186.
AMON HOTEL - Small, friendly hotel, hidden in the West Bank's back alleys. Simple but clean rooms, idyllic seating area in the garden. A little overpriced with singles 500EGP & doubles EGP700, with breakfast. Tel +20100 639 4585
THEBES HOTEL - West Bank hotel, located a few kilometres inland. Comfortable, spacious rooms with a/c, en-suites & fridges. One of the best views anywhere in Luxor from the roof terrace. Singles 400EGP, doubles 600. Tel +201010949312.
NOUR AL QURNA - The sister eco-lodge of Nour al Balad, near the West Bank's Ramesseum. A slightly busier area, but still quiet compared to the East Bank. Traditional, rustic rooms with clay walls; homely & friendly. Tel +201144281119.