While it might seem rushed, a day trip to Luxor from Cairo by air is entirely possible. We chose to do this because our Egypt travel dates fell on peak season when most Luxor hotels and Nile cruises were already full.
We turned to Abercrombie & Kent to organize our custom day trip and I can’t recommend their services enough. With them in the lead, you are never left to question where to go or what to do (nor would I trust anyone else with these complicated logistics).
What makes this packed itinerary doable is visiting West Luxor in the morning and East Luxor in the afternoon, while crossing over the Nile during lunch on a felucca boat (definitely a highlight).
The sights on both sides are within short drives of each other. Having spent years traveling with a child, we’re experts at power sightseeing so this is the itinerary we chose. Know that they can work with you to create a day trip to Luxor that is perfect for your needs.
4 a.m. Hotel Departure
There’s no getting around how brutal a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call is. Nonetheless, we scrambled ourselves together and met our Abercrombie & Kent representative in the lobby of Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at the First Residence.
During our check-in call the day prior, I asked him about finding a coffee and pastry at the airport which he confirmed would be possible but he took the liberty of ordering a to-go breakfast box from the hotel for us which was much appreciated.
One upshot to such an early departure is that there was absolutely no traffic to Cairo Airport. We arrived just after 4:30 a.m. and another Abercrombie & Kent representative escorted us into the airport to confirm our tickets and give us directions for heading through security and to the business class lounge.
4:45 a.m. EgyptAir Lounge
The domestic EgyptAir business class lounge is basically one small room with chairs and a small buffet of pastries, finger sandwiches, yogurt, water, juice, tea, and coffee (though the coffee machine was out of order). It was a comfortable place to open up our hotel breakfast boxes but that’s about it.
6 a.m. EgyptAir Cairo to Luxor Flight
The Cairo to Luxor flight time is about an hour (about 313 flight miles) but my husband’s height is such that we asked to have business class tickets included. Our outbound flight was on an A220-300, which is a small plane with a 2-3 configuration that felt much like economy class with a snack service and priority boarding. We were delayed by about 30 minutes. (You can also read about our EgyptAir flight from Athens to Cairo in business class.)
7:30 a.m. Arrival in Luxor
The Luxor airport is small so it will take just a few minutes to get off the plane, in our case on the tarmac, and be shuttled to baggage claim. An Abercrombie & Kent representative met us there, took us to the private van where our driver and guide were waiting. Off we went to the West Bank of the Nile.
8:30 a.m. Valley of the Kings
The driver dropped us off near the ticketing entrance where our guide purchased tickets for us.
Valley of the Kings felt smaller than I had anticipated so it is not hard to tour it in a few hours especially if you have someone to point out the highlights.
Most of the tombs are closed but for extra admission, you can enter the tombs of King Tutankhamen (KV 62), Seti I (KV 17), and Ramses IV (KV 2). We agreed on the former two, in the interest of time.
Seti I is the most expensive ticket (USD 85 per person) for a good reason as it’s large and absolutely beautiful. The cost is meant to discourage visitors from entering, we later learned, and as a result, there were only a handful of other visitors inside.
Seti I was my favorite of all the tombs we visited on our day trip to Luxor from Cairo.
King Tut’s tomb is actually quite small but it’s where his mummy is on display, which is a highlight. I thought there would be a line to go inside his tomb, but we walked right in.
Our guide explained that part of the reason why his tomb went unraided is that workers covered its entrance with rubble during the construction of another nearby tomb.
As you probably know, King Tut died young and was supposed to be buried in a completely different tomb at the edge of Valley of the Kings. That tomb was looted and should he have been buried there, his treasures wouldn’t be known to the world as they are today.
9:45 a.m. Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
My husband is an ancient Egypt enthusiast so we had to see Hatshepsut Temple even just for a quick photo opportunity as we were running on a tight itinerary.
Part of the reason we didn’t go in is that it’s tram distance from the parking lot and ticketing office. What you’d do while there is simply walk up its steps and view the statues of her wearing a pharaonic beard (similar can be seen in the Egyptian Museum).
Queen Hatshepsut was one of a handful of women Egyptian pharaohs and is probably the second most famous after Cleopatra (though arguably the most prosperous). Her temple is an architectural marvel and is not only a tribute to her but also includes sanctuaries that honor the gods in her afterlife.
In hindsight, we did actually have time to tram over to the temple as we finished our day surprisingly early as you’ll see.
10 a.m. Valley of the Queens
The wives of pharaohs and children are buried in the Valley of the Queens. You can buy a ticket to go inside the tomb of Queen Nefertari which is regarded as the most beautiful tomb in Egypt.
She was the favorite wife and queen of Ramses II, who commemorated his love for her through poetry, temples, and this gorgeous tomb.
The colors are so fresh that the paintings look new, not thousands of years old. Many of them depict scenes from Book of the Dead, the Egyptian funerary text used to guide the souls of the dead in the afterlife.
10:40 a.m. Deir el-Medina
Deir el-Medina, also known as Valley of the Artisans or Workmen Tombs, is a favorite of our guide and often overlooked. We suggest that you see it.
After all, it took a lot of people a great deal of time and effort to build tombs. These skilled artisans were beloved and fiercely protected by pharaohs in an effort to keep tomb locations a secret.
During their days off, these workmen focused on building their own tombs here (some under small pyramids), two of which you can visit. Artisan jobs like these were prized and could be inherited so generations of families lived in this village.
You can see the remnants of the approximately seventy well-protected houses. These villagers kept detailed records that provide historians with unusual insight into daily living conditions from how they did laundry to social order.
11:15 a.m. Ramesseum
This wasn’t on our original itinerary but because we were making such good time and it was a few minutes from the Workmen Tombs we stopped here for about a 15-minute walk around.
The Ramesseum is the memorial temple of Ramses II. He intended for people to come here to basically worship him long after his death. You can see remnants of the original 57-foot-high statue of him.
11:40 a.m. Colossi of Memnon
We stopped for quick photos in front of these two massive statues of Amenhotep III that guarded the entrance to his temple.
The Greeks named the Colossi of Memnon after their god Memnon, son of the goddess of the dawn. Why? Early in the morning, the statue on the right used to make a whistling noise now thought to have been caused by moisture in cracks. (Restoration to the statue likely sealed the cracks.)
Graffiti on the statues’ legs from thousands of years ago describes in Greek what the sounds were like. Other visitors during ancient times also inscribed various poems and sayings in Latin and in Greek.
12 p.m. Lunch on a Private Felucca
Cruising the Nile on a private felucca while being served a delicious lunch was a highlight of our day trip from Cairo to Luxor and an excellent way to cross from the West Bank to the East Bank.
It was a three-course meal between the mezze plate; the main course with trio of grilled meat, tagine, and rice; and multiple desserts that we could pair with coffee, soda, wine or beer (the latter two at an additional charge).
December weather in Luxor is quite temperate and the gentle winds blew us peacefully along the river.
Our boat was operated by the Sonesta St. George Hotel and it docked back at the hotel so we could use a nice restroom and ATM.
1:15 p.m. Luxor Temple
The West Bank of the Nile was for mortuary temples and tombs while the East Bank was for the living, a geographical arrangement that more or less continues today.
As such, the city with its hotels, homes, restaurants, and markets is centered around both Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple.
Luxor Temple is downtown so it was the most crowded attraction we visited. We spent significant time here because there’s a lot to see.
The carvings around the outside of the temple were designed to promote certain ideas or propaganda to legitimize the actions of pharaohs, tying them to prosperity and the gods. Citizens could enter the temple once per year. I was especially grateful to have a guide here who pointed took us directly to the important scenes as otherwise, you could spend a lot of time searching through various nooks and crannies.
The row of sphinxes used to reach Karnak Temple from Luxor Temple. After a restoration is complete, you’ll be able to walk in between the two temples once again.
2:15 p.m. Karnak Temple
The 62-acre Karnak Temple, dedicated mostly to the God Amun, was built over 1300 years by multiple pharaohs. We explored the Hypostyle Hall, walked seven times around the scrub for good luck and even sat down for a drink and snack in the cafe near the Sacred Lake. You’ll find various temples inside including the Great Temple of Amun, the most popular.
What is mind-blowing is that after this busy day, we still had an extra hour or so to spare between the leftover time at Karnak Temple and arriving at the airport a bit too early.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and could have spent ours sharing fascinating details about every single stop, but we were in part catering to a tween’s attention span.
4 p.m. Return to Airport (No Lounge at Luxor Airport)
It’s always wise to get to an airport on the earlier side but there isn’t anything to do at Luxor Airport to pass the time.
Near our gate was a small grab-and-go cafe (they sell single-serve bottles of red wine and white wine in addition to juice, soft drinks, slices of pizza, pastries, and sandwiches) and a souvenir shop. That’s it other than Wi-Fi.
6 p.m. EgyptAir Luxor to Cairo Flight
This time our plane was an Embraer 170 and while a smaller and older plane, the business class seats offered more legroom. Business class seats are in a 2-2 configuration with window and aisle seats on each side of the aisle.
Due to the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, I slept through the entire Luxor to Cairo flight (approximately one hour) though they offered a juice box pre-departure drink and a midflight sandwich snack.
8:30 p.m. Arrival to Four Seasons Cairo at the First Residence
An Abercrombie & Kent representative was waiting for us shortly after disembarking the plane. He guided us to our private van for transfer to Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at the First Residence.
Even though it was a Friday, a weekend day in Egypt, traffic was still in full swing so it took about an hour to return to our hotel where room service hit the spot.
Looking back on it, given our short time in Egypt, we remain very happy that we saw Luxor in this manner as it prevented us from moving hotels, something we were already doing several times on our trip. We flew with just a backpack. It was easy and seamlessly arranged.
What If You Have More than One Day?
If you have the luxury of spending the night in Luxor, what most people do is see the West Bank of the Nile on one day and the East Bank on the following day (or vice versa).
One of the attractions missing from our day trip to Luxor from Cairo by air, that you would also want to add is the Luxor Museum. We omitted it because we were touring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Many visitors also opt for a hot-air balloon ride, which allows one to see famous Luxor archaeological sites from a different perspective.
If you would like help arranging a similar Cairo to Luxor tour, my Abercrombie & Kent Egypt contacts would be delighted to prepare a tailor-made itinerary. Our price per person was about USD 900 including business class flights. Send me a message through my contact page.