How to get to Karnak Temple, the fun way!

Of all of the temples we visited in Egypt, Karnak Temple was by far the most impressive. There are lots of ways to get there, but we want to talk about how to get to Karnak Temple the fun way, in a felucca!

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The South of Egypt with its two major cities, Luxor and Aswan, present a totally different side of Egypt from Cairo and the North. Both cities, as well as the nearby and infamous Abu Simbel are full of numerous temples, each impressive in their own right. We actually found it really difficult to narrow down which temples we wanted to see! It’s also important to avoid ‘temple-burnout’ and avoid visiting so many they no longer seem interesting. To be honest, it would be hard to do this in Egypt, as each temple is so unique.

In total, throughout our three weeks in Egypt, we probably visited 7 or 8 temples. Our favourite, and the favourite of everyone else we spoke to was an easy answer: Karnak. Karnak Temple is a massive complex, in fact it is the largest religious building ever constructed. The construction of the temple actually spanned 2000 years and it shows in the detail. It’s now nearly 4000 years old but, thanks to various reconstruction efforts, it’s as beautiful and imposing as ever.

If this is your first trip to Egypt, we recommend having a read of our guide on what to expect in Egypt as a first time visitor.

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A landscape shot of the columns in Karnak Temple
The columns of Karnak Temple

About Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple is actually a temple complex. It houses multiple different temples and is split into four main parts. To give an idea of the scale: the area of the sacred enclosure of Amun alone could hold around 10 average European cathedrals. That’s pretty mind-blowing!

During Egypt’s New Kingdom, Karnak Temple held enormous religious significance and was actually used as a Pharaonic palace. Karnak was also the site of many religious festivals in ancient Egypt, and there were ceremonies to bring the god, Amun, back to life.

As a tourist, the immense and diverse columns are staggeringly beautiful. The scale of the temple is really hard to imagine until you actually see it for yourself. There are hieroglyphic inscriptions everywhere, adorning most of the columns and walls. You could quite literally spend hours wandering around this complex just taking it all in.

A close up of a huge column in Karnak Temple. It has hieroglyphics inscribed on it
Hieroglyphics on the columns in Karnak

When is the best time to visit Karnak Temple?

Like many of the temples in Egypt, when the Nile cruises dock, Karnak Temple floods with people. If you want photos that aren’t completely full of people, it’s best to avoid this time. Most of the cruise ships get to Karnak early in the afternoon. Additionally, Karnak is an open complex and therefore it gets extremely hot around midday. The best time to beat the crowds is around 7am, and it starts to get really busy around 10am.

However, an added complication: Luxor looks absolutely phenomenal at sunset. Good news: the cruise ships only stay a couple of hours maximum so you should still get a relatively empty temple if you go around sunset. Bear in mind, it will not be as empty as it will be early morning, but you shouldn’t be wading through crowds at this time, and you get the bonus of the sunset, so this would be our recommendation. So, check the sunset time and arrive a couple of hours before for the best experience (in our opinion).

How to get to Karnak Temple

Getting to Luxor

Karnak Temple lies right on the East bank of Luxor, so the first thing to do is to get to Luxor!

From Cairo, you have a few options:

Train – the train is probably the most comfortable way to get from Cairo to Luxor. You can try to book tickets online, though it’s usually easier to book them in person. In Cairo station, tourists need to book at the other end of the station from locals. This is because tourist train tickets are actually more than 5 times the price of local tickets. The government have said that this is to ensure tourists take certain trains for their own safety, but it has caused some controversy.

Bus – because of the expense of the trains, most backpackers take the option of the bus. We were no different. You can book buses in Egypt on GoBus. Unfortunately, the website is a bit hit and miss, but luckily, you can also book buses in person at GoBus offices in Cairo or other cities.

Car – if you are travelling as part of a tour, have a car or have booked a driver, you can drive from Cairo to Luxor. The journey takes about 7-10 hours depending on traffic in Cairo and Luxor

You can fly between Luxor and Cairo but with such a short distance, we prefer not to recommend this unless you are really short on time, as there are plenty of other possible modes of transport.

A portrait shot of a cat sitting in Karnak Temple. It is side on and facing to the left.
Cats in Karnak

How to get to Karnak Temple from Luxor

Once in Luxor, you have a few options:

  • If you’re already on the East Bank, you can take a local bus or taxi to Karnak, which is only about 10 minutes. We took a local bus for part of our trip and it’s super easy – just flag one down going. Just grab a bus going North and ask them to drop you at Karnak Temple
  • You can actually walk along the Nile. From Luxor it takes around 1 and a half hours, but is a nice walk because of the river views
  • There is a ferry, which we’ve pointed out on this handy map below. It’s very short and easy to use and costs only a few EGP per person. You may find motorboats will also offer you a ride – it doesn’t usually cost much more but the ferry comes often and is efficient. Note: there is only one main public ferry (marked on the map), the other ferry lines are for hotels.
  • But here’s the fun part – you can take a felucca!

What’s a felucca?

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat, which can hold up to around 10 passengers and a small crew. They have a single sail and are an iconic means of transport on the Nile. Most tourists will want to try one at some point, so why not combine it with a trip to Karnak Temple as a means of transportation and get the most out of both?!

How to book a felucca to Karnak Temple

You can book a felucca ride to Karnak as part of a tour. We booked this one with Viator and were initially a bit worried about it, because it was so cheap. However, it turned out to be really good!

What was included:

  • A guide. We had a guide called Samy and she was great! She spoke brilliant English and was extremely knowledgeable, though she wasn’t an Egyptologist as the tour information suggests. This didn’t matter to us at all because she had a lot of passion and clearly knew a lot.
  • Pick up and drop off on the East Bank (or for $5 each way extra, the West Bank)
  • The felucca ride and crew – this is around a 15-30 minute ride each way (depending on the wind) and it’s super relaxing. Our way out ride actually was cut short, only because it wasn’t windy enough and we needed to get to Karnak Temple before closing, but we were able to enjoy a longer ride on the way back

The boat ride isn’t choppy, and the crew are very experienced.

Note: entrance to Karnak is not included and needs to be paid on the door. Tips are also not included and are customary. We tipped Samy a decent amount, as she was so informative and the tour is very cheap. We wanted to make sure she received enough for her time.

A sail boat with a red sail on the river Nile. How to get to Karnak Temple.
A felucca!

Inside Karnak Temple

Entrance fee at the time of writing: 220 EGP. We found that the fees for most monuments in Egypt were higher than we had seen online so be aware that this is subject to change.

Like most temples in Egypt, there is a line of vendors waiting to sell you souvenirs just before you enter Karnak Temple. These vendors are usually willing to say absolutely anything to get you to buy their merchandise. Personally, we did just walk straight past, as we had our souvenirs from elsewhere, but we found them a little pushy. Having a guide with you will help. We found the best way was just to ignore them!

The tour we suggested lasts around 3.5 hours, so you should have around 2/2.5 hours inside the temple complex itself. We found that to be plenty of time, but if you think you’ll need longer, an independent visit might suit you better. For our trip, our guide explained various architectural and historical elements of the temple to us, and then left us to explore for the remainder of the time. She was really flexible with this and I think we probably could have stayed longer than we did.

Make sure you take your time as it is larger than you think.

Top tips for visiting Karnak Temple

So to sum up the top tips we have mentioned above:

  • Go to Karnak Temple for sunset to have the best lighting, go at 7am for fewer people
  • Take a guided tour to get the most out of it.
  • The best tour in our opinion is this felucca ride plus guide for a more interesting way of getting there!
  • Book for 2pm to get sunset views on the boat back
  • Be sure to have cash to tip your guide
  • Take your time and make the most of it!

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    Written by Emma


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