Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Venture to the West Bank of Luxor to uncover the mysteries of the Valley of Kings, where the pharaohs of Egypt's New Kingdom era were laid to rest. This is the resting place of Tutankhamun, which was discovered virtually untouched in 1922, as well as the tomb of Ramses IV, Seti I, and many others. There are 63 tombs here to see in total, though only a maximum of 18 are visitable at any one time. Tutankhamun's tomb requires an additional ticket for entry.

Wander through the awe-inspiring tombs in the Valley of the Kings

After being embalmed and mummified, the New Kingdom pharaohs were transported in a solemn cortège to the Valley of the Kings.

Hidden In 2017 a new tomb was discovered in the necropolis of Draa el-Naga, off the approach road to the Valley of the Kings, belonging to a royal goldsmith named Amenemhat from the 18th Dynasty (1550–1292 BC), the time of Tutankhamun, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut.

The tomb consists of a small room at ground level and a burial room below where four mummies were found. Skeletons and funerary artefacts, including 150 ushabti statues, intended to be servants in the afterlife, as well as four wooden sarcophagi and jewellery were unearthed in a secluded wadi in the Theban hills.

They were buried in rock-cut tombs, bedecked with gold and jewels, and surrounded by treasures and replicas of all they would need in the afterlife. As soon as a pharaoh ascended to the throne, he would begin to build his tomb, which was intended to preserve the royal mummy for eternity.

However, many died before the lavish decoration of their tomb was finished, which now gives an interesting insight into the different stages of the whole process.

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Queen Hatshepsut's temple (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri) in Egypt, part of the Theban Necropolis © Shutterstock

Queen Hatshepsut's temple (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri) in Egypt, part of the Theban Necropolis © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Valley of the Kings

With 63 principal tombs, and undoubtedly more to be discovered, there is plenty to do at the Valley of the Kings. Here's the best.

#1 See the tomb of Seti I

The finest and largest tomb in the valley, now seemingly permanently closed to the public, is the tomb of Seti I. Like the carvings in his temple at Abydos (see page 218), the tomb’s walls are decorated with magnificent, subtly coloured reliefs, and the anteroom to the burial chamber has an important astronomical ceiling.

The sarcophagus is now in the Sir John Soane Museum in London, and the mummy in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Relief showing Seti first in front of Anubis in his tomb at the Valley of Kings, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Relief showing Seti I in front of Anubis in his tomb at the Valley of Kings, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

#2 Don’t miss the tomb of Tutankhamun

Only one of all these tombs miraculously escaped the attention of tomb robbers, who were already ransacking them within just a few years of their construction. The famous small tomb of Tutankhamun (1334–1325 BC), the boy-king, was not discovered until 1922, when Howard Carter, under the patronage of Lord Carnarvon, chanced upon it after a search of seven long years.

The tomb contained more than 5,000 precious objects buried with the young pharaoh, whose embalmed remains were still in situ in a complex system of gold and bejewelled mummy cases and coffins within coffins.

gilded chariot, beds, chairs, stools and headrests covered in gold leaf, alabaster lamps and vases, weapons, sandals, statues of servants, amulets and all kinds of other objects in perfect condition were crammed into the small space of the tomb. The majority of the treasure has been moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).

#3 Rummage around the tombs of the Ramesses

Ramesses I ruled for only one year so his tomb is a simple affair, but the decoration in the burial chamber is superb with scenes of the pharaoh hanging out with the gods and extracts from the Book of Gates.

The tomb of Ramesses II is the largest in the valley (his 67-year reign gave him plenty of time to work on it). Unfortunately, he chose the wrong location as the tomb has been flash-flooded several times, and the decoration is in bad condition.

The longest tomb was built by Ramesses III and has beautiful painted sunken reliefs representing the various ritual texts. Closest to the entrance is the tomb of Ramesses IV, who died before finishing it.

The tomb of Ramesses VI has some fine astronomical scenes. The most visited tomb is that of Ramesses IX, which has colourful paintings from the Book of the Dead.

Tomb of Ramesses VI in The Valley of Kings, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Tomb of Ramesses VI in The Valley of Kings, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

#4 Stop by the Tomb of Thutmosis III, one of the first to open

One of the earliest tombs open to the public belonged to Thutmosis III, but it takes quite a climb to reach it. It is unusual in that the decoration resembles the early papyri, and it looks almost like a cartoon

#5 See the historic tomb of Tuthmosis IV

The tomb of Tuthmosis IV was also discovered by Howard Carter and it was the first tomb to use the technique of applying paint onto a yellow background.

#6 Explore the tomb of Merneptah, the second-largest tomb in the valley

The second-largest tomb in the valley, which belonged to Ramesses II’s son Merneptah, has well-preserved reliefs in the upper part of the tomb.

#7 See starling images of Horemheb at his tomb

The tomb of Horemheb was filled with furniture (now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). A steep flight of steps leads to a shaft decorated with images of Horemheb facing the gods.

#8 Seek out the tomb of Ay

The tomb of Ay lies 2km (1.25 miles) up a dirt track, but it is worth seeing if it is open: the burial chamber has some spectacular scenes of hunting and fishing in the marshes.

#9 Explore the Valley of the Queens

The royal wives were buried in the Valley of the Queens (Biban al-Harim) in the hills behind Madinat Habu. Very few are open to the public, but in 1995 the restored tomb of Nefertari, one of the most impressive monuments on the west bank, was opened for the first time since its discovery in 1904, albeit to a maximum of 150 people a day.

Also buried in the valley are a number of princes thought to have been killed in a smallpox epidemic, including the nine-year-old son of Ramesses III. The young boy is shown being led by his father to meet the gods.

Mortuary temple of Queen Hapshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs, Valley of the Queens, near Luxor (Thebes), Egypt

Mortuary temple of Queen Hapshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs, Valley of the Queens, near Luxor (Thebes), Egypt © Shutterstock

#10 Head to the lesser-visited Tombs of the Nobles

Divided into five groups, the Tombs of the Nobles are less visited than the queens or kings, but are still well worth seeing.

Unlike royalty, who were buried with great solemnity, the priests, scribes and dignitaries of the court, whose tombs are scattered in the sandy foothills, departed this world surrounded with scenes of the joyous good living to which they had apparently been accustomed during their lifetime.

Thousands of private Tombs of the Nobles (Shaykh Abd al-Qurnah), dating from the 6th Dynasty to the Graeco-Roman period, with the majority from the New Kingdom period, were found, but only about 19 are open to the public at present.

Most have three rooms with a forecourt, a covered columned hall and a smaller room with niches where statues of the deceased were placed. Many of the nobles’ tombs are vividly painted with naturalistic scenes of agriculture, fishing, fowling, feasting and celebrating.

#11 Spot the colourful Tombs of Menna and Nakht

The tomb of Menna is tiny, but the decoration is extremely colourful and innovative, with the agricultural scenes particularly detailed and lively, as befits Menna’s role as a scribe and overseer of the lands during the 18th Dynasty.

The tomb of Nakht was possibly decorated by the same artist. Though cramped, it is beautifully painted with scenes of a funerary banquet and agricultural tasks such as ploughing and sowing. Nakht was a scribe and astronomer in the Temple of Amun in Karnak.

#12 See the paintings in the Tombs of Sennufer and Rekhmire

Rekhmire was a vizier of Upper Egypt and mayor of Thebes during the reign of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II, a period of incredible prosperity for Egypt. He oversaw many great projects.

Reflecting his status, his tomb is decorated with the finest paintings of arts and crafts, daily life and burial rituals. The tomb of Sennufer, mayor of Thebes and overseer of the Garden of Amon, has similar scenes and a ceiling painted with a vine laden with black grapes.

It is an intimate tomb, giving a clear impression of the love between the deceased and his wife.

#13 Visit the Tombs of Khonsu, Userhet and Benja T

The decorations in these small tombs is fairly conventional with standard scenes of agriculture, hunting and offerings.

Mural paintings of Khonsu in Ramses V and Ramses VI tomb (KV9) in kings valley in Luxor in Egypt © Shutterstock

Mural paintings of Khonsu in Ramses V and Ramses VI tomb (KV9) in Valley of the Kings in Luxor in Egypt © Shutterstock

#14 Admire the handiwork in the Tombs of Ramose, Userhet and Khaemwet

The decorations in the tomb of Ramose, although unfinished, reflect the fact that he was a governor of Thebes under both Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. While the walls show exquisite carvings in the style of the former, some low reliefs on the back wall reveal a clear influence from the Amarnah style.

Userhet was a scribe responsible for inventorying the wheat in the royal bakeries. The walls in this tomb are somewhat damaged but there are some unusual scenes of cattle branding and hunting.

The decorations in Khaemwet’s tomb are similar to those in the tomb of Ramose, but he added scenes particular to his function as overseer of granaries and the royal scribe.

#15 Check out the Tombs of Neferronpet and Nefersekheru

Also known as the Khoka tombs, these tombs, set apart from the others, belong to the New Kingdom scribes. They are brightly painted with strong yellow, blue and red tones.

Their wives feature more prominently here than in other tombs. The adjacent tomb of Dhutmosi is closed to the public.

#16 Explore Deir al-Medinah, the workers’ village

For some 500 years, the village of Pa Demi (the Village) or Ta Set Ma’at (the Place of Truth) housed a community of architects, masons, painters and decorators who were kept segregated from the rest of the population for generations, in an effort to keep the whereabouts of the treasure-filled royal tombs a secret.

In Christian times, the small Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor, still there today, was occupied by early Christian monks, which is why the village became known as Deir al-Medinah, “Monastery of the City”.

There are very detailed records of the relatively humble lives of the 50 families of the workmen in the village, their salary and their work schedule. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 70 houses here and many tombs. The most interesting is the tomb of Sennedjem, an artist who lived under the reign of Seti I; the paintings of everyday life are exquisite.

Temple-ruins at the village of The Workers at Deir El-Medina, a view from a hot air balloon, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Temple-ruins at the village of The Workers at Deir El-Medina, a view from a hot air balloon, Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

#17 Pop into the visitors' centre

The entrance to the valley is from the visitors' centre. In the air-conditioned hall, guides explain the history behind the Valley of the Kings, while visitors can see a model of the site, use the computers to find out more information or watch a short film about Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The adjoining tourist bazaar sells cold drinks and snacks. A noddy train (another ticket) then takes visitors about 500 metres to the entrance of the valley, but it is easy enough to walk.

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Best places to stay

Almost everyone visiting the Valley of the Kings will stay in Luxor where the accommodation ranges from small but welcoming budget hotels to the luxurious Al Moudira Hotel. Hotels on the west bank are cheaper than those on the east bank.

West bank

The west bank of the Nile near Luxor is home to a variety of budget-friendly guesthouses and smaller hotels, many of which are located in the villages of Al-Gezira and Al-Tarif. These areas offer a more authentic experience with the local community and are popular with backpackers and budget travelers.

East bank

On the east bank of the Nile, you will find an array of modern mid-range hotels, often with amenities such as swimming pools and restaurants, catering to those seeking a more comfortable stay.

Browse the best hotels in Luxor.

Tombs of Nobles in Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Tombs of Nobles in Luxor, Egypt © Shutterstock

Things to know before visiting the Valley of the Kings

Before embarking on the Valley of the Kings, there are several tips to keep in mind to make the most of your trip.

Opening hours

The Valley of the Kings is open daily from 6am to 4pm (in winter) and to 5pm (in summer). Arrive before 8am to miss the crowds.

Tickets

A standard ticket costs EGP240 per person and allows entry to three of the following tombs: Merenptah; Ramses IV; Ramses VII; Ramses IX; Ramses III; Seti II; Siptah; and Tausert-Setnakht. You will need to buy additional one-off tickets to visit these tombs: Ramses V and Ramses VI (EGP100); Seti I (EGP1,000); and Tutankhamun (EGP300).

You'll need a photo pass unless shooting with a smartphone

For photography with something other than a smartphone, you will need to buy an EGP300 photo pass. Note it does not cover Seti I or Tutankhamun tombs.

How long will I need?

It's worth allowing for 2-3 hours to visit the three tombs included in your Valley of the Kings tickets. Add on another hour per tomb for any additional tombs you wish to see.

What to pack

Pack water and sunblock. Most of the time you will outside in the sunshine, walk between tombs.

Guides

Although guides are not allowed inside the tombs, they can still be useful as they can explain what is in each tomb and the things to look out for before you enter. Ask about guides at your hotel in Luxor.

Valley of the Kings, Tutankhamun Tomb, Luxor © Shutterstock

Valley of the Kings, Tutankhamun Tomb, Luxor © Shutterstock

How to get here

Head for Luxor if you want to visit the Valley of the Kings. There are numerous ways to get to Luxor, though it's worth noting that foreigners aren't allowed to travel by microbuses in the town.

By plane

Located around 7 km east of the city, Luxor Airport welcomes flights from Cairo. From the airport, only taxis serve the town. Arrange a transfer with your accommodation.

By train

Easily the best way to arrive in Luxor, there are trains connecting both Cairo and Aswan.

By bus

There are two bus stations: one north and one south of Luxor train station. Buses generally depart from outside their ticket office. From here, you'll need to get a taxi to Luxor itself.

By sailboat

It's possible to sail to Luxor from Aswan on a felucca (sailboat).

Find out the best ways to get to Egypt.

Best time to visit Valley of the Kings

The best time to visit the Valley of the Kings in Egypt is during the winter months, from December to February, when the weather is cooler and more comfortable for sightseeing. During this time, temperatures can range from 20-25°C (68-77°F) during the day, and can drop to 10°C (50°F) at night.

The summer months, from June to August, can be extremely hot, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F) during the day, making it uncomfortable for outdoor activities. Additionally, crowds can be high during this time, as it is peak tourist season.

The shoulder seasons of spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) can also be good times to visit, as the weather is generally mild and the crowds are less than during peak season. However, temperatures can still be warm, so it's important to bring appropriate clothing and stay hydrated.

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