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The scale and complexity of Karnak Temple are simply overwhelming. So, to make it enjoyable and not frustrating, here is a guide to Karnak Temple that is going to explain step-by-step how to visit Karnak Temple and make sure that you do not miss 9 must-see attractions!

I am wondering how long are you planning to stay in Luxor? If it is for just a couple of days then make sure to read Perfect 2-Day Itinerary in Luxor (7 Things You Can’t-Miss).

If you have more time in Luxor or looking for places to stay, eat, or things to do in the evening or at night, then check out 18 Best Things to Do in Luxor (Luxor Bucket List).

There so are many incredible places around Luxor and you can easily leave the city and explore them even just for a day. Find out what are the most interesting places you can visit on day trips from Luxor: 5 Best Day Trips from Luxor (Maps, Photos+Practical Tips).

Now, with no further delay, let’s dive in and talk about how to visit Karnak Temple and 9 things you simply cannot miss!

What You Need to Know About Karnak Temple Before You Visit

Karnak is a massive Ancient Egyptian temple complex.

At the heart of it lies the Temple of Amun, dedicated to the king of the gods. In addition, there are a number of smaller temples, chapels, and sanctuaries dedicated to other deities. Moreover, there are endless halls, a sacred lake, pylons, colossi, and obelisks.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Karnak is a massive Ancient Egyptian temple complex. At the heart of it lies the Temple of Amun.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

When Was Karnak Temple Built

Construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom (around 2000-1700 BC) and continued into the Ptolemaic period (305 – 30 BC). However, most of the structures date from the New Kingdom.

The New Kingdom also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties of Egypt. It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

Who Built Karnak Temple

From the beginnings of the 11th Dynasty, pharaoh after pharaoh rebuilt, expanded, restored, or changed the existing structures at the Temple of Karnak. Their goal was to make a mark on Egypt’s most important temple. It was a way to ensure immortality.

Today, you can still see many structures contributed by pharaohs such as Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III, Seti I, Ramses II, and many others.

What Does Karnak Mean

Karnak is the modern name of this temple complex.

The Ancient Egyptians called the site Nesut-Towi, “Throne of the Two Lands”, Ipet-Iset, “The Finest of Seats” as well as Ipt-Swt, “Selected Spot” (also given as Ipetsut, “The Most Select of Places”). Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

During the Muslim conquest of Egypt, which took place between 639 and 646 AD, the temple complex started to be called ‘Ka-ranak’, which means a ‘fortified village’.

When European explorers first began traveling in Egypt in the 17th century AD, they adopted, as well as modified the name and started referring to the temple complex as ‘Karnak’ and the name has been in use ever since.

Why Is the Temple of Karnak Famous

The Temple of Karnak is famous for two main reasons:

  • First of all, the Temple of Karnak was built over the centuries. Each ruler added to the temple complex, changed, or restored the existing structures.

The process started at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, went through the New Kingdom, and continued throughout the Ptolemaic Dynasty. However, it has been suggested that the rulers of the Old Kingdom first started to build at the site of the temple complex due to the style of some of the ruins.

  • Second, it is the sheer size of the Temple of Karnak, that makes it so famous. The complex continued to expand with each succeeding ruler and the ruins today cover almost 250 acres of land.
Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple at sunrise. 

How to Visit Karnak Temple

How to Get to Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple is located on the east bank of the Nile River in Luxor.

The best way to get to Karnak Temple is by having a driver and a guide. This option gives you total flexibility. You can decide how much time you need to see everything at Karnak Temple. Plus, having a knowledgeable guide by your side is absolutely priceless! My guide gave me a tour of Karnak Temple that took about two hours, then he gave me another two hours to leisurely wander through all the areas by myself and take a ton of pictures.

You can ask your hotel for a bus tour that stops at all major attractions in Luxor. It is probably one of the least expensive options. But, it does not give you much flexibility.

Another option is to just book a taxi and head to the Temple of Karnak. You will always be able to hire a guide right at the entrance to Karnak Temple.

How Long Does It Take to Visit Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple Complex is vast. It takes time to walk from one section to the next. You are going to need to reserve at least 3 to 4 hours to just see the highlights of Karnak Temple.

If you are visiting during the summer months, make sure to carry plenty of water with you. Also, wear a hat and apply a ton of sunblock!

Map of Karnak Temple with 9 Things You Can't Miss

Karnak Temple Map

Map of Karnak Temple with 9 Things You Can’t-Miss. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

How to Visit Karnak Temple

1. Avenue of Sphinxes

2. First Pylon

3. Great Court

4. Second Pylon

5. Great Hypostyle Court

6. Obelisks

7. Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

8. Seventh Pylon of Thutmose III

9. Sacred Lake

9 Things You Can't Miss at Karnak Temple

Before we dive into the 9 things you can’t miss at Karnak Temple, what you need to know is that Karnak Temple was Egypt’s most important place of worship during the New Kingdom.

In addition, the temple complex consists of three main sacred areas that honor three gods:

  • The largest precinct located in the center is the temple complex and it was principally dedicated to the god Amun.
  • The second-largest precinct is located in the southern area of the complex. It was dedicated to the goddess Mut, wife of Amun.
  • The smallest precinct is located in the northern section of the temple complex and it was dedicated to the god Montu, the god of war.

Amun, Mut, and their son, Khonsu, were members of the sacred family known as the Theban Triad.

Now, lets focus on the best things to see at Karnak Temple! Here we go:

NUMBER 1

The Avenue of Sphinxes

Once you step inside the temple complex, you will be amazed by the Avenue of Sphinxes that lines the processional way leading to the Temple of Karnak. Between their paws stands a small statue of Ramses II.

Actually, they are not sphinxes, but rather criosphinxes, which are sphinxes with the head of a ram.

Karnak Temple

The Avenue of Sphinxes lines the processional way leading to the Temple of Karnak.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The Avenue of Sphinxes leads to the Temple of Karnak.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

In between their paws are the statues of Ramses II. 

NUMBER 2

The First Pylon

The Avenue of Sphinxes leads to the First Pylon. It was built by Nectanebo I.

Karnak Temple

The First Pylon was built by Nectanebo I.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

NUMBER 3

The Great Court

Next, once you cross the First Pylon, you will step into the Great Court. Moreover, make sure to turn around and look at the back of the First Pylon. You will be able to see the mud-brick ramp that was left by the builders. Interestingly, the First Pylon was left unfinished.

Karnak Temple

At the back of the First Pylon, you will be able to see the mud-brick ramp that was left by the builders. 

How to Visit Karnak Temple

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The back of the First Pylon with a mud-brick ramp was left by the builders. 

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The row of ram-headed sphinxes lines the right-hand side of the Great Court.

Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak Temple

The row of ram-headed sphinxes lines the right-hand side of the Great Court.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The left-hand side of the Great Court is flanked by a colonnade.

Colonnade on the left-hand side of the Great Court at Karnak Temple.

Beautiful colonnade on the left-hand side of the Great Court.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Right in the middle of the Great Court are the remains of a huge kiosk built by Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty Pharaoh.

It originally consisted of 10 columns with open papyrus capitals linked by a low screening wall. Today, only one column remains standing.

Karnak Temple

Right in the middle of the Great Court are the remains of a huge kiosk built by Taharqa, the 25th Dynasty Pharaoh. Today, only one column remains standing.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The Great Court was built by Ramses II and his imposing statue flanks the entrance to the Second Pylon.

At his feet is a small figure of one of his daughters.

Karnak Temple

The Great Court was built by Ramses II and his imposing statue flanks the entrance to the Second Pylon.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

An imposing statue of Ramses II is flanking the entrance to the Second Pylon.

Karnak Temple

At the feet of Ramses II is a small figure of one of his daughters.

NUMBER 4

The Second Pylon

The Second Pylon was built by Horemheb. However, Horemheb left it unfinished.

Later on, Ramses I continued the work on the Second Pylon and replaced Horemheb’s cartouches with his own. Finally, Ramses II added to the Second Pylon and added his cartouches as well.

Karnak Temple

The Second Pylon was built by Horemheb. However, Horemheb left it unfinished.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

NUMBER 5

The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple

For me, the highlight of the entire tour of the Temple of Karnak was the Great Hypostyle Hall. It was built by Seti I and completed by Ramses II. The hall covers an area of about 50,000 sq ft. It contains 134 gigantic stone columns with beautiful capitals.

Karnak Temple

The Great Hypostyle Hall, built by Seti I and completed by Ramses II, covers an area of about 50,000 sq ft. It contains 134 gigantic stone columns with beautiful capitals.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Specifically, the center aisle consists of six columns with open papyrus capitals on each side. These columns are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.

Also, the center aisle columns support huge roofing slabs.  These slabs called architraves are estimated to weigh 70 tons. There is still a lot of speculation about how these architraves were positioned on top of the columns.

Karnak Temple

The center aisle columns support huge roofing slabs.  These slabs called architraves are estimated to weigh 70 tons.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

The center aisle consists of six columns with open papyrus capitals on each side.

Karnak Temple

Columns are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters.

NUMBER 6

The Obelisks

After the Hypostyle Hall, the Third Pylon leads to the court where the Obelisk of Thutmose I stands. It is 22 meters tall.

As my tour guide told me, it is the only obelisk remaining out of the four that used to be in this court.

Obelisks at Karnak Temple

Obelisks at Karnak Temple.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The Fourth Pylon leads to the remaining area of the temple. It is a court that contains Egypt’s tallest obelisk. It is almost 29 meters tall and it was commissioned by Hatshepsut.

Karnak Temple

After the Hypostyle Hall, the Third Pylon leads to the court where the Obelisk of Thutmose I stands. It is 22 meters tall.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

A Quick Read:

Who Was Hatshepsut?

  • Hatshepsut (born c. 1507 BC – died 1458 BC) was the daughter of Thutmose I. She became the queen of Egypt when she married her half-brother Thutmose II. Upon the death of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut began acting as regent for her stepson Thutmose III.
  • Hatshepsut was supposed to control the affairs of the state until Thutmose III was to come of age. However, around 1473 BC, Hatshepsut broke with the tradition and had herself crowned as the pharaoh of Egypt becoming a co-ruler of Egypt with Thutmose III.
  • Hatshepsut ruled for almost 20 years. She died about 1458 BC. How and why she died is still a mystery. What we know, is that Thutmose III had her name and image almost completely erased. She remained forgotten for centuries.
  • Now, find out how Hatshepsut was re-discovered. Read about Hatshepsut’s accomplishments as a Pharaoh. Do not miss my post: The Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor – Top Tips for Visiting. Plus, it has a ton of useful information to help you plan your visit to the Temple of Hatshepsut.

What is interesting is that Tuthmosis III built a high wall around her obelisk. It is a mystery why he built the wall. He could have destroyed the obelisk. Yet, it remained and is still standing today.

Karnak Temple

The Fourth Pylon leads to the remaining area of the temple. It is a court that contains Egypt’s tallest obelisk. It is almost 29 meters tall and it was commissioned by Hatshepsut.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

NUMBER 7

The Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III

Once you pass through the fourth and fifth pylons, you will get to the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III.

The parameter of the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III is supported by 32 square pillars. However, what is really interesting is that the inside of the structure is supported by tent pole-style columns.

Karnak Temple

The parameter of the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III is supported by 32 square pillars.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

The parameter of the Great Festival Hall of Thutmose III is supported by 32 square pillars.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

NUMBER 8

The Seventh Pylon

The Seventh Pylon must have been quite a structure judging from what remains of it today.

Today, we can still see the relief depicting Thutmose III defeating his enemies. Moreover, the two damaged statues flank the entrance of the Seventh Pylon.

Beyond the Seventh Pylon, you will find a courtyard called the Cachette. During the excavations, a large number of statues and stelae were found in this area. It is believed that these could have been the offerings of the worshipers.

Karnak Temple

Today, we can still see the relief depicting Thutmose III defeating his enemies. Moreover, the two damaged statues flank the entrance of the Seventh Pylon.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

NUMBER 9

The Scared Lake

The Sacred Lake is located in the south-eastern part of the temple complex. The lake was constructed during the reign of Tuthmosis III. It was used by the priests for purification ceremonies.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

The Sacred Lake was constructed during the reign of Tuthmosis III. It was used by the priests for purification ceremonies.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Right next to the Sacred Lake, you will be able to see the popular statue of the scarab.

A Quick Read:

Through modern cinema and film, Western society has come to perceive the Egyptian scarab as a destructive and evil entity, but the ancient Egyptian understanding of the beetle was very different.

The Egyptians saw the Egyptian scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) as a symbol of renewal and rebirth.

The beetle was associated closely with the sun god because scarabs roll large balls of dung in which to lay their eggs, a behavior that the Egyptians thought resembled the progression of the sun through the sky from east to west. Its young were hatched from this ball, and this event was seen as an act of spontaneous self-creation, giving the beetle an even stronger association with the sun god’s creative force.

Source: John Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Karnak Temple

The Egyptians saw the Egyptian scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) as a symbol of renewal and rebirth.

How to Visit Karnak Temple

Don't Miss the Sound and Light Show at Karnak Temple

I have to be honest and say that the Sound and Light Show at Karnak Temple is rather unexciting. It goes on for about an hour and a half and recounts the history of Thebes (Luxor) and covers the lives of several pharaohs who contributed to the construction of the temple complex.

However, the entrance ticket allows you to see the temple complex beautifully illuminated. And, that is why you should go! You will be amazed at how incredible the temple complex looks at night with the structures and statues lit up.

Intrepid Scout’s Tip:

You can purchase the entrance tickets online. The price for the adult ticket is $19.61 and the child ticket (up to the age of 6) is $9.80.

Also, make sure to double-check the schedule, since shows are done in different languages at different times.

Intrepid Scout's Tips for How to Visit Karnak Temple

  • Karnak Temple is open daily from 6:30 am until 5:30 pm in winter and from 6 am to 6 pm during summer. If you are visiting during the summer months, then schedule your tour of Karnak Temple either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • The all-inclusive entrance ticket to Karnak Temple costs 200 EGP and it covers the open-air museum and the temple complex. By the way, the open-air museum is located to the left of the Second Pylon and contains a collection of statues excavated within the temple area. You can purchase the ticket at the entrance to the Temple of Karnak.

Now, It Is Your Turn, I Would Like to Hear Back from You!

Are you planning your trip to Luxor?

Please let me know! Drop me a quick comment right below!

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