The Valley of the Kings, in use for around 500 years, is where most rulers of Egypt’s New Kingdom era chose to be buried. The tombs were carved into the limestone hill of Al-Qurn in Luxor’s west bank, which curiously resembles a pyramid. Today, these tombs provide us with valuable insight into how the Egyptians perceived the journey of the soul after death. In this Valley of the Kings guide, we’ll cover the dozen or so tombs that are open to the public as of 2020. And we’ll be going over the symbolism and historical significance of each.
Further below, we’ll also cover the open tombs of the Valley of the Queens, including the spectacular Tomb of Nefertari.
The Valley of the Kings (and Queens): The Basics
TICKETS: Tickets for the Valley of the Kings cost 240 EGP. But a single ticket only grants access to three tombs. To see another three tombs, you’ll need to buy an extra ticket.
There are also four tombs which require their own special ticket. The most expensive by far is the Tomb of Seti I, which costs a whopping 1,200 EGP. But you can also gain access to this tomb with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass (learn more below).
The Tomb of Tutankhamun costs 300 EGP and the Tomb of Ramesses VI costs 100 EGP. There’s also one additional tomb, the Tomb of Ay, in the West Valley area which costs 60 EGP. Again, these tombs are all freely accessible with the Luxor Pass.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Like many other tourist attractions in Egypt, the Valley of the Kings has a confusing photography policy. With your cellphone, you’re allowed to take photos at EVERY tomb – even the special ones. But if you want to take photos with a regular camera, you’ll need to buy a photography pass for 300 EGP.
Sadly, the pass is only valid for three tombs. So if you want to photograph more, you’ll need to buy an additional pass. But pass or no pass, DSLR’s are strictly forbidden in the tombs of Tutankhamun and Seti I. They are, however, allowed in the Tomb of Ramesses VI.
RECOMMENDED TOMBS: In addition to the four tombs which require special tickets, there are around 8 tombs you can choose from with the basic ticket. As mentioned above, a single ticket only allows you to choose three, which should be enough for most people.
You can’t go wrong with a trip to the tombs of Ramesses III and Ramesses IV. And for a bit of variety, you could choose a 19th Dynasty tomb, such as that of Merenptah or Seti II.
Even if you’re on a budget, everyone should at least pay an extra 100 EGP to see the Tomb of Ramesses VI.
The tombs that are open to the public are supposed to rotate every so often. But the tombs I visited in 2020 have been the same ones open for many years now. Ancient Egypt enthusiasts are eagerly waiting for new tombs to open up, but it’s unclear when this will happen.
Supposedly, there are some 18th Dynasty tombs (such as Thutmosis III and Horemheb) that open up on random days without any special announcement. But neither were open during either of my visits, and this may just be a rumor.
THE VALLEY OF THE QUEENS: This is an entirely separate site, and its tombs will also be covered down below. A ticket costs 100 EGP, which allows access to the three basic tombs that are open there. But the area is also home to the Tomb of Nefertari, which costs 1,400 to enter! Luckily, it’s also accessible with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass, which is definitely worth getting (more below).
Visiting the Tombs
As you explore the royal tombs of Luxor, there’s one crucial thing you need to keep in mind: the artwork in the tombs was never intended for the eyes of the public, nor even for the living. The reliefs were meant to be observed by the spirit, or ka, of the deceased.
During the New Kingdom period, numerous funerary texts were developed, all of which were derived from the much more ancient Pyramid Texts. They’re all rather difficult to understand. And even with prior study, it’s not easy to guess what’s going on in the scenes presented throughout the tombs.
In the future, we’ll dedicate an entire article to the meaning and symbolism behind these funerary texts. But for now, it’s worth mentioning what they all have in common: The journey which the soul of the deceased must take in the duat, or underworld.
In death, the pharaoh identifies with Osiris, lord of the underworld. And with the help of various deities, he must overcome obstacles, such as the serpent Apopis, put in place by the great adversary, Set. The ultimate goal is to overcome these challenges, identifying with Horus and rising up to the heavens. There, the pharaoh becomes one with Re for eternity.
One of the main texts depicted throughout the royal tombs is the Am Duat, which details the journey of the king’s soul throughout the twelve hours of night. The Book of Gates, meanwhile, is a similar text but emphasizes gates or portals over the individual hours.
The Book of Caverns has more of a psychological focus, emphasizing the punishments waiting for the enemies of Osiris. And the Book of the Day and the Book of the Night show the sun passing through Nut, the sky goddess. These are often depicted on ceilings.
At nearly every tomb entrance, you’ll find the Litany of Re. The text lists the 75 different names of Re, helping the king’s spirit understand and identify with the deity. And here and there are selected scenes from the Book of the Dead, a text that was typically written down on papyrus scrolls.
The Valley of the Kings Guide
The following Valley of the Kings guide will be presented in chronological order. And as the overall area isn’t that big, visiting the tombs in order is totally feasible. There are numerous area maps situated throughout the valley, so it’s not too hard to figure out where to go next.
One exception, though, is the Tomb of Ay. As it’s situated at the very end of the Western Valley (more below), it’s worth saving for last.
The Tomb of Tutankhamun
Pharaoh Tutankhamun (r. 1334-1325) may be one of Egypt’s most well-known pharaohs today. But that’s more due to his tomb than for his actual reign. Discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in the 1920’s, it was the only tomb in the Valley of the Kings that hadn’t been plundered in over 3,000 years.
Carter and his team discovered a wide array of incredibly ornate and valuable treasures that Tutankhamun was buried with. This gives us a taste of what the other royal tombs may have contained.
Tutankhamun was the son (though some say son-in-law) of Akhenaten, the ‘heretic king’ who changed Egyptian art and defaced the name of Amun at Luxor’s temples.
Once in power, the teenage king chose to end Akhenaten’s revolution and bring back the traditions of old. But in spite of his efforts, his name was erased from the history books, probably for being too closely associated with Akhenaten.
Despite the fame of his tomb, it’s surprisingly small, and it’s hard to imagine all of his possessions fitting inside of it. Tutankhamun’s mummy is now inside the tomb, seemingly to compensate for the absence of the treasures. It’s the only tomb in the Valley of the Kings to have one.
The small burial chamber was decorated with scenes from the Book of the Dead and the Am Duat. The characters appear huge, and the style is wholly unlike the art of most other tombs in the valley.
Notice the man in panther skin standing in front of the king’s mummy. His name is Ay, and he’s carrying out the ceremony known as the ‘Opening of the Mouth.’ While typically performed by the deceased’s son, Ay stepped in here, as Tutankhamun only lived to age 19. We’ll be talking more about Ay below.
The Carter House
As mentioned above, the unplundered tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in the 1920’s. And today, visitors can visit the house where Carter stayed during his time in Luxor.
Carter and his team were digging for six straight seasons in an attempt to find King Tut’s tomb, but came up with nothing. They first tried near the tomb of Ramesses VI, but only found workmen’s huts. But later, before giving up for good, they decided to return to the area.
Cutting into the ground, they finally found a set of stairs, revealing the long lost tomb of Tutankhamun. But the story doesn’t end there. Not long after, many involved in the search died, giving rise to the rumor of the ‘Pharaoh’s Curse.’
In addition to the house, the compound contains a full replica of the tomb of Tutankhamun! For a long time, photography was strictly forbidden at King Tut’s tomb. The replica, therefore, came in handy for those who wanted to take some memories home with them.
But now that cellphone photography is allowed at the original (but still no DSLR), the replica is largely pointless. But if you have an extra day in Luxor, it can be fun to visit for those who want to experience a bit of deja vu.
Actually, the original and the replica are two of three tombs in Luxor with this same layout and design! But more on that shortly.
King Tut's Treasures
While in Cairo, one of the main highlights of the Egyptian Museum (commonly known as the Caro Museum) is the vast collection of treasures discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. There are hundreds of objects, including golden and alabaster statues, thrones and beds, and King Tut’s famous coffin.
And this is also where you can see Tutankhamun’s golden funerary mask, though in a separate room where no photography is allowed. It’s an amazing object to see up close in person. Together with the pyramids, it’s become the image most people think of when they hear the word ‘Egypt.’
The Tomb of Ay
Following Tutankhamun’s premature death, an official named Ay, who was not of the royal bloodline, took the throne for around four years. Aside from Tutankhamun’s, it’s the only tomb from the 18th Dynasty currently open to the public. But it’s also the hardest to reach.
It’s in an entirely separate area called the Western Valley. Technically, this is still part of the overall Valley of the Kings area, but Ay’s tomb is around a fifteen-minute bike ride from the main entrance.
There are other tombs in the Western Valley area, such as that of Amenhotep III. But only Ay’s is accessible, and few tourists bother to venture out there.
Ay had previously been the vizier to Akhenaten during the Amarna period. And he actually has two tombs. Having visited his famous tomb in Amarna, I was intrigued to see what his final resting place looked like in comparison.
After the long, sweaty and dusty ride over, I stepped inside with the guard, only to find …
… the exact same design as Tutankhamun’s! Well, almost. Ay’s tomb is noticeably larger, while some of the artwork is also different.
Supposedly, this tomb was originally intended for Tutankhamun. But following the ‘boy king’s’ death, Ay chose to designate it for himself. And a smaller tomb was then hastily built for King Tut elsewhere.
The beautiful sarcophagus was made of red granite and features protective winged goddesses at each corner. Be that as it may, it was found smashed and had to be reassembled by archaeologists.
On the walls, meanwhile, the king’s name and image of his ka were also effaced. The desecration was likely carried out by Ay’s immediate successor, Horemheb (who has his own second tomb at Saqqara).
The Tomb of Seti I
Before his death, Horemheb assigned his general, Ramesses I, to be his heir. Though Ramesses I died after just a year on the throne, his dynasty would go on to be one of Egypt’s last great ones. And the first significant king of the 19th Dynasty was his son, Seti I.
Seti I attempted to revive traditional Egyptian art following the tumultuous Amarna period. And his tomb, along with his temple at Abydos, are testaments to that. The Tomb of Seti I is arguably the most splendid tomb in all of Egypt.
And this is reflected in the entrance fee. As mentioned above, an individual ticket costs 1,200 EGP (roughly $75 USD). But you can also gain access with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass, which also allows for multiple visits (on separate days).
The tomb is over 130 meters long and entirely covered in well-preserved bas reliefs and paintings. Various funerary texts can be seen depicted throughout the tomb, which we’ll briefly cover below.
Upon entry, the first two chambers are carved with the ‘Litany of Re.’ As you’ll see at almost every other tomb in the Valley of the Kings, this was always placed near the tomb entrance (or exit, from the perspective of the deceased king’s ka). While not the first example of the text, Seti I’s tomb set the standard for its location within royal tombs.
The list of the 75 names of Re is meant to help the king identify with the deity, so he can become one with him upon his resurrection.
As you head down the steps, near the end of the second corridor, you’ll see a colorful image of Isis with her wings spread out. Below, meanwhile, is a depiction of Isis and her sister Nephtys kneeling before the hieroglyph for gold. Gold in this instance could be a metaphor for spiritual accomplishment.
The walls on either side have some interesting unfinished reliefs. But as we’ll cover below, there’s also an entire unfinished room in the tomb that you can see shortly.
In the third corridor, the wall on the left depicts the fifth hour of the Am Duat and the wall on the right shows the fourth.
You’ll then get to a small bridge built over a very long and deep pit, likely added to dissuade ancient tomb robbers. Nevertheless, when explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni rediscovered the tomb in 1817, it had already been plundered. The stunning artwork, at least, still appeared fresh.
Once over the bridge, you’ll get to an impressive room with four pillars. The room is entirely decorated with scenes from the Book of Gates. The left wall shows the fourth portal and the right wall shows the fifth.
Another wall shows Osiris with Hathor, while the columns depict the king embracing various deities.
From here you can access an unfinished room. Fascinatingly, it reveals much about the process used to create such artwork. The original sketches are the ones traced in red, while the black outlines are the corrected and finished drawings.
The walls in this unfinished room present the 9th, 10th and 11th hours of the Am Duat. As you can see, the presentation of the texts in the various rooms is quite jumbled. Not only are the individual texts out of order, but they’re interspersed with numerous other texts. This was likely seen as no major impediments for the king’s ka, however.
Next, backtrack through the four-columned hall and keep moving deeper into the tomb.
The next chamber depicts the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. It was performed to allow the king’s mummy to breathe and speak once again. Descriptions of this ritual date back all the way to the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom.
Next, an antechamber shows the king before various deities. While much of the color is missing, the subtle details of the reliefs are stunning. They closely resemble the artwork found throughout Seti I’s temple at Abydos.
Visitors then enter a pillared room entirely adorned with even more intricate artwork. It opens up directly to the burial chamber which once held the king’s sarcophagus.
The walls throughout this room depict the first three hours of the Am Duat. Interestingly, the sarcophagus itself, which was carved out of alabaster, was covered in scenes from the Book of Gates. It’s now located in the Soane Museum in London.
Be sure to look up at the ceiling to see some beautiful artwork representing the night sky. The decan stars are listed, while various constellations have been personified in animal form.
You’ll also notice a small locked gate which leads deeper into the ground. Archaeologists never found anything inside this tunnel, and it’s unclear what its original purpose was. Seti I likely died before it was ever finished.
On either side of the main chamber are two small additional rooms. One depicts a part of the Book of the Divine Cow, while the other presents more hours of the Am Duat.
NOTE: During my first visit, the tomb guards on duty were running a scam. As mentioned above, DSLR’s are strictly forbidden here. But the guards claimed that even cellphone photos were not allowed. I snapped photos anyway and they never said anything. It’s clear that they expecting tips from unsuspecting visitors.
During my return visit, there were different people on duty who didn’t mention anything about photos. Before entering the tomb, it’s worth confirming the photo policy at the ticket gate so you don’t end up confused.
The Tomb of Merenptah
Merenptah was the grandson of Seti I and the son of Ramesses II (whose tomb is unfortunately closed). While the tomb is not especially remarkable, one of its main highlights is the gorgeous carving of the king in front of Re which you can see right by the entrance.
In addition to the Litany of Re by the entrance, the tomb also features scenes from the Book of Gates and the Am Duat.
The burial hall, meanwhile, is especially large. And it contains not just one sarcophagus but two. Originally, one would’ve been set in the other. In fact, four sarcophagi were found here of varying sizes.
The Tomb of Merenptah may not be the most exciting tomb at the Valley of the Kings. But it’s worth visiting for those who can’t make it to the Tomb of Seti I but who still want to see a tomb from the 19th Dynasty.
The Tomb of Seti II
Seti II was the son of Merenptah and ruled for just about six years. His most well-known monument is the Amun-Mut-Khonsu shrine at Karnak, now situated within the Great Court.
Near the entrance of the tomb, notice the elegant carvings of Isis and Nephtys. The decoration begins with the Litany of Re, as usual.
Deeper in are some depictions of both the Am Duat and the Book of Gates, in addition to scenes of Seti II presenting offerings to various divinities. The tomb is relatively small and rather unremarkable. But you can see a well-preserved sarcophagus which seems to mirror the painting of Isis on the ceiling above it.
During Seti II’s reign, another pharaoh named Amenmesse also made a claim to the throne. And he ruled for a few years, likely at the same time as Seti II. This explains why Seti II’s name was vandalized in his own tomb.
Supposedly, this vandalism occurred while Seti II was still alive. And Seti ultimately gained the upper hand, taking back control over the entire kingdom.
The Tomb of Siptah
Siptah was Seti II’s immediate successor, and was possibly his brother. He ruled for about six years and likely died young around the age of sixteen. As such, his tomb is considered one of the least remarkable in the Valley of the Kings.
Large parts of the tomb are obscured by protective glass, while other portions were left rough and unfinished. The ceiling near the entrance, at least, is quite impressive.
There are a few well-preserved reliefs, however, which include scenes from the Book of the Dead and the Am Duat. Visitors can also see an intact sarcophagus. All in all, though, this tomb is skippable – even for those with the Luxor Pass.
The Tomb of Twosret/Setnakht
Following Siptah’s reign, Twosret (also spelled Tausert), the queen of Seti II, took the throne. This made her one Egypt’s rare female pharaohs, though the precedent had already been set by Hatshepsut generations earlier.
But unlike Hatshepsut’s illustrious reign, Twosret’s only lasted a little over a year. She was also the final monarch of the 19th Dynasty.
The nature of her fall from power remains unclear. But in any case, a pharaoh named Setnakht took the throne, founding a brand new dynasty. (Though he may have had some relation to Ramesses II.) And he also usurped Twosret’s tomb.
Setnakht erased all images and mentions of Twosret. He also enlarged the tomb, adding several additional passageways and a columned hall.
But to make matters more confusing, some speculate that the ‘usurpation’ was carried out by Ramesses III after his father’s death. And then Ramesses III may have taken over Sethnakht’s original tomb! (more below)
Visiting the tomb today, you’ll find that the colors of the reliefs in many areas are well-preserved. They depict scenes from the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns and the Book of the Dead. The tomb also contains a sarcophagus.
This tomb isn’t the most impressive in the Valley of the Kings, but it’s worth a visit for those intrigued by its unusual and convoluted history.
The Tomb of Ramesses III
Ramesses III, Setnakht’s son, is widely considered to be the last great pharaoh of Egypt. His mortuary temple, Medinet Habu, is one of the more impressive structures of Luxor’s west bank. And his tomb could also be considered one of the best of the Valley of the Kings.
As usual, the tomb starts with the Litany of Re. Shortly afterward is a highly unusual feature. There are ten small side chambers built into either side of the first two corridors.
These rooms feature scenes of everyday life such as plowing, sowing and baking. Such scenes are typically common in non-royal tombs and are generally absent from tombs of pharaohs.
The last small chamber on right, meanwhile, depicts twelve different forms of Osiris
The tomb suddenly veers to the right. The workers at the time realized they were about to dig into the tomb of Amenmesse. It’s also at this point that the original portion built for Setnakht ends and the original part for Ramesses III begins.
The funerary texts on display include the Am Duat and the Book of Gates. The color remains vivid throughout much of the tomb, though the protective glass covering almost everything is a big distraction.
The Tomb of Ramesses Iv
The tomb of Ramesses IV is arguably the best that you can visit with the basic ticket. While relatively small and without any side chambers, the striking, well-preserved reliefs make up for it.
Ramesses IV was the son of Ramesses III, and he took the throne after his father’s assassination. He attempted to be a great builder king like Ramesses II, but he died after less than a decade on the throne.
Typically in the past, pharaonic names would skip a generation, with pharaohs taking on the names of their grandfathers. But in the 20th Dynasty, each pharaoh, except for founder Setnakht, was named Ramesses. (The last of the Ramessides was Ramesses XI.)
The tomb has been opened since antiquity, and you can find Greek and Coptic graffiti by the entrance. Uniquely, the slope doesn’t decline here nearly as much as in other tombs
After the traditional Litany of Re, the hallway is decorated with scenes from the Book of Caverns and the Book of the Dead. The burial chamber, meanwhile, is decorated with the third and fourth portals of the Book of Gates.
The highlight of the burial chamber is the ceiling, entirely covered in a painting of Nut, the sky goddess. Additionally, there are also scenes from the Book of Night. Notably, the Am Duat is completely absent from this tomb.
Ramesses IV’s sarcophagus is huge in relation to the small burial chamber, which contains no pillars. The sarcophagus is so large that you can barely fit it in the frame while photographing the interior.
As the tomb requires no special ticket to enter, it’s often flooded with tourists. Nevertheless, a visit is well worth it.
The Tomb of Ramesses V / VI
The Tomb of Ramesses VI is widely regarded as the top tomb in the Valley of the Kings – at least after Seti I’s. This tomb also requires a special ticket, but it only costs 100 EGP. (Of course, it’s also accessible with the Luxor Pass).
The tomb was originally started for Ramesses V, who only reigned for four years before dying of smallpox. Ramesses VI, a son of Ramesses III, then ascended the throne and ruled for eight years.
It was a highly unstable period when Egypt was dealing with repeated raids from Libya. Furthermore, most of the country’s political power was in the hands of the priesthood. And on top of that, the Egyptian Empire was quickly losing much of its territory.
But when walking through this eye-catching tomb, one would never suspect that it was built during such an unstable period. (Even Greek and Coptic graffiti rave about this tomb.)
Notably, it was this tomb’s construction that ended up obscuring the entrance to Tutankhamun’s, keeping it hidden for 3,000 years. Only a couple of decades after this tomb was finished, most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were broken into and plundered.
As usual, the entrance area is adorned with the Litany of Re. Next, the corridors feature complete renditions of both the book of Caverns (right wall) and the Am Duat (left wall).
Looking up at the ceiling, you can see the Book of Day and Book of Night along with information about the decan stars. These scenes are repeated on the ceiling of the main burial hall.
You’ll eventually arrive at a pillared room depicting the king in the presence of various deities. Above the doorway is a double image of Osiris, with the king on either side of him.
Scenes of the Am Duat continue while later halls contain various scenes from the Book of the Dead. One of these is the ‘Negative Confession,’ for which the deceased names a list of 42 sins, declaring that he has never committed them.
Notice the solar barques depicted in yellow on the ceilings. The imagery here represents the resurrection of Osiris.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the main burial chamber, which is a real feast for the eyes. Not only do parts of the sarcophagus remain, but every inch of the room is entirely adorned with detailed artwork.
Various funerary texts were drawn in this single room, including a rare text known as the Book of Aker, named after the double-headed lion.
Scenes from the Book of Caverns and the Book of Gates are also depicted here. In fact, the Tomb of Ramesses VI is remarkable in the Valley of the Kings for containing the complete rendition of the Book of the Gates. Other tombs only have fragments.
On the ceiling are additional representations of both the Book of Day and Book of Night. The little room holding the human-shaped sarcophagus, meanwhile, shows figures representing decan stars worshipping solar barques.
The Tomb of Ramesses VII
Ramesses VII was the son of Ramesses VI and he reigned for about seven years. And this tomb is his only surviving monument. It’s small and unfinished, and rather uninteresting overall. It’s only worth a peek for those with the Luxor Pass and who want to see it all.
The Tomb of Ramesses IX
This is the most ‘recent’ tomb now on display at the Valley of the Kings. Ramesses IX, likely a grandson of Ramesses III, brought a bit of stability back to the 20th Dynasty with an 18-year reign. However, it was during his reign that the plundering of some of the older tombs in the Valley of the Kings began.
His tomb borrows a lot of details from that of Ramesses VI, though it’s much smaller.
On the left-hand side of the first long hall, you can see the king before Osiris and Horus. This is followed by scenes from the Book of the Dead along with the ‘Negative Confessions.’
On the right wall, there are a series of bull and dog-headed deities which are followed by the beginning of the Book of Caverns. Interestingly, scenes from the Litany of Re appear after this in some of the small recesses.
Next are scenes from the Am Duat. And then in the burial chamber are two figures of Nut on the ceiling, along with depictions of the Book of Day and Book of Night. This is probably one of the smallest burial chambers in the valley.
The Valley of the Queens Guide
The Valley of the Queens is a completely separate site from the Valley of the Kings. It’s located further to the south, right by the workers’ tombs of Deir el-Medina.
There are only three basic tombs to see, one of which belongs to a queen and the other two to princes. The real highlight here is the Tomb of Nefertari, which costs 1,400 EGP on its own. But it can also be accessed with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass.
Frankly, if you’re not visiting the Tomb of Nefertari, the entire Valley of the Queens is skippable. There are various nobles’ tombs around the west bank that are more interesting.
The Tomb of Nefertari
Nefertari was the favored queen of Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty. Famously, she has her own huge rock-carved temple at Abu Simbel, next to that of her husband. And her tomb here in Luxor is one of the most impressive ever created in Egypt.
Access has been restricted for most of the last several decades, as archaeologists were working on restoration and preservation. The tomb is once again open to the public, but, as mentioned above, comes with a hefty price tag.
The artwork here appears surprisingly fresh, and it’s hard to believe it was painted over 3,000 years ago. Much of the imagery throughout the tomb is derived from Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, which emphasizes the things the deceased must know to ensure resurrection.
On the lefthand wall of the upper room, we see the queen playing a board game. This surely must have some sort of symbolic implication. We later see the queen’s ba (individual spirit depicted as a human-headed bird) and her in the presence of various deities.
Over to the right, we can see the queen in the presence of gods like Ptah, Thoth, Osiris, Atum and Heqet.
Elsewhere around the upper level, we can see depictions of Nekhbet (the vulture god of Upper Egypt) and Wadjet (the serpent god of Lower Egypt).
The eye-catching artwork continues on either side of the staircase. You’ll see the queen in the presence of various goddesses. You’ll then find yourself in a columned hall, entirely decorated with more stunning artwork.
The queen’s red granite sarcophagus was once placed here, though it was sadly looted in antiquity.
Around the room, one can see the queen the presence of Isis and Osiris. The columns are decorated with djed pillars, representing the backbone of Osiris and the stability of the world.
The walls are mostly decorated with more scenes from other chapters of the Book of the Dead. And there are also additional side rooms where a wide array of other deities make appearances. As is common at New Kingdom tombs, there are multiple renditions of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming.
NOTE: DSLR photography is strictly forbidden in this tomb (though if you find yourself alone, you might be able to strike a deal with the guard).
This tomb also has a strange 10-minute time limit rule. The guards will often neglect to tell you when the time is up and then expect something in return.
If you have the PREMIUM Luxor Pass, it’s well worth taking the time to visit this tomb more than once. But this is only possible on separate days.
The Tomb of Titi
Aside from the Tomb of Nefertari, the other three open tombs of the Valley of the Queens are unremarkable. Nevertheless, they’re worth a look if you’re already in the area. Each of them is associated with Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty, starting with his queen Titi.
Scenes include the queen in the presence of a winged Maat. Gods like Thoth, Ptah, Atum, Isis and Nephtys also make appearances. We can also see Hathor as both a cow and in human form.
Tomb of Amon-Her-Khopsef
Numerous princes were buried in the so-called ‘Valley of the Queens’ as well. And Amon-Her-Khopsef was a son of Ramesses III who died very young.
Scenes include him being guided into the duat by his father. We can also see depictions of Ptah, the four sons of Horus, and Isis. On the right wall, the prince is shown being led to Shu and Nephtys.
The color here is well-preserved. But much of the art is obscured by protective glass, making photography a pain. While a photography pass is available for the three regular tombs, it’s not really worth it due to the glass.
The Tomb of Khaemwaset
Khaemwaset was yet another son of Ramesses III. His tomb is small but well-preserved. Around the room you’ll find depictions of a djed pillar in addition to deities like Ptah and Osiris.
To fully explore Luxor’s west bank, including its tombs and mortuary temples, set aside three full days. But you can still see the main highlights if you only have two. While I planned for three, I ended up having an extra day in the area, which I used to revisit some of my favorite tombs and to check out the Roman Isis Temple.
I stayed on the west bank and got around each day by bicycle. Also, I had the Luxor Pass which gave me unlimited access to every site in town. This also made exploration much easier and hassle-free.
With so much to see in Luxor, there are lots of different itineraries you could arrange, but I’ll go over what I did. The routes should also be applicable for those hiring a driver for the day.
DAY 1: Bike (or drive) down the main road from the ferry port area toward the desert. Stop at the Colossi of Memnon.
Head west to visit Medinet Habu. If you get there early enough, you should be the only visitor there. Conveniently, there are some cafes out front if you missed breakfast.
Next, head further north to the Valley of the Queens. There are only four tombs to see here, including the extra special (and expensive) tomb of Nefertari.
Then head a bit east down the road to the workers’ tombs of Deir el-Medina. See the few tombs that are open in addition to the Ptolemaic temple.
Next, ride back to the main road connecting most of the main temples. Head toward the Ramesseum (though you can stop at Merenptah’s temple along the way if you wish).
After the Ramesseum, just across the road are the ‘Tombs of the Nobles.’ Only around five tombs are open here at any given time. (There are many other tombs scattered throughout the west bank that belonged to nobles, though each little cluster aside from this one has its own special name.)
This would be a good place to call it a day. But if you only have 2 full days in Luxor, then see whatever you can nearby before things close around 4PM.
Departing at around 7:00, expect to finish at roughly 14:30.
DAY 2: If you’re getting around by bicycle, this is going to be a tiring day. But it’s definitely possible if you’re reasonably fit. If you’re not feeling too energetic, you may want to hire a driver.
Wake up early and get to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut as early as possible. The site opens from 6:00. (I only managed to get there as early as 7:45, and there were already groups of people there. It starts to get real crowded from around 8:30. If you don’t care about photographing the temple without other tourists in the way, the afternoon is a better time to see the reliefs.)
If you’re really into tombs, you can stop at the nobles’ tombs of Asasif on the way back to the main road. There are three tombs here with some nice artwork, but they’re not essential.
Next, head to the Valley of the Kings. You’ll first have to return to the main road and then head further north before making a left. Thankfully, the signage is pretty adequate around here.
It’s a long uphill bike ride to the valley, though the ride back down is a lot of fun. If you have the Luxor Pass, you can see every tomb (around 12), but normal tickets only allow visitors to see three. If you don’t have the Luxor Pass, visit three regular tombs and also buy the extra ticket for Ramesses VI’s tomb, which is the best after Seti I’s.
On the way back, you can stop by the nobles’ tombs of Roy and Shuroy. These are some of the best nobles’ tombs in Luxor.
DAY 3: Start with Seti I’s temple if you haven’t seen it yet. This is the northeasternmost temple on the west bank. You can then head back along the main road, stopping at various places on the way.
At the intersection nearby the Seti I temple is the Carter House which includes a full replica of King Tut’s tomb.
If you like, you can revisit the Valley of the Kings. Or keep heading down the main road, checking out various minor mortuary temples (like that of Thutmosis III) or nobles’ tombs (such as Kokha and Drabu el-Naga – see our guide for a complete list).
DAY 4: If you find yourself with yet another day to explore the west bank, this might be a good time to have a leisurely bike ride over to Malkata Palace and the Roman Isis Temple. And if you have the Premium Luxor Pass, you might also want to revisit the tombs of Nefertari or Seti I.
With the Luxor Pass, it’s also worth revisiting Luxor Temple or Karnak over on the east side as well. And while in Luxor, also be sure to set aside a day trip for Abydos and Dendera temples.
***If you don’t have the Luxor Pass, you’ll have to buy the individual tickets at the official ticket offices. This can sometimes be quite far away from the sites themselves. (The Valley of the Kings has its own ticket kiosk.)***
During your visit to Luxor, it’s well worth getting the Luxor Pass if you plan on spending more than a few days there. There are two versions of the pass and both are valid for five consecutive days.
The PREMIUM version costs $200 and allows access to every site in Luxor, including the tombs of Nefertari (1400 EGP) and Seti I (1000 EGP).
The STANDARD pass costs $100 and includes everything in Luxor minus the tombs of Nefertari and Seti I. Together, those tombs cost around $150, so the PREMIUM pass is worth it if you’re interested in seeing them. (Learn more about prices HERE)
Adding up the individual ticket costs of all the attractions I visited in Luxor, I saved a significant amount of money with the pass. The best part, though, was the convenience. The ticket system for sites around the west bank is confusing, with the ticket booths often far apart from the sites themselves.
Without the pass, if you ride past something that looks interesting, you can’t just go in. You’ll have to find the ticket booth and then ride back again. The pass is perfect, then, for those who like to explore.
Furthermore, the pass allows for multiple visits to each attraction. You can visit the expensive tombs multiple times, while photographers can freely return to temples to get optimal lighting conditions.
Note that if you’re coming from Cairo and already have the Cairo Pass ($100 USD), you can get 50% off the Luxor Pass! The deal even works with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass, allowing you to get it for $100!
Considering all that I visited, with both passes I saved over $250 in Cairo and Luxor.
To get the Luxor Pass, you’ll need to bring your original passport, a copy of your passport, a passport photo (exact size isn’t so important) and USD in cash. And be sure to bring your Cairo Pass for the discount.
At the time of writing, the Luxor Pass can only be purchased at Karnak Temple and possibly near the Luxor Museum. (For whatever reason, many locals in the tourism industry don’t seem to know about this pass. Check the Egypt Tripadvisor forums for the most up-to-date information.)
I bought mine at Karnak and annoyingly, the guys at the desk are running a little scam. They claimed that I needed a photocopy of the Cairo Pass even though I had the original. They wanted an extra 200 EGP for them to make a simple photocopy. Just eager to get on with my day, I haggled it down to a 50 EGP ‘fine.’ At least I still got the 50% discount.
I don’t think a photocopy of the Cairo Pass is an actual requirement, and they were probably just making it up. From what I read online, they told other people completely different reasons for why they needed to pay more.
When planning out your Egypt trip, it doesn’t take long to realize how infuriatingly difficult the country can be for independent travelers. The tourism industry has primarily relied on package group tours for decades. For some reason, it seems as if the government doesn’t really want tourists to take public transport. But it’s thankfully still possible.
The easiest way to get from Cairo (or Aswan) to Luxor is by public train. The train from Cairo to Luxor takes about 9 or 10 hours and there are both day trains and night trains. Strangely, the night train (which the government prefers tourists to take) can cost over $100!
Yet the day train only costs a couple hundred Egyptian pounds, or roughly $13 USD. But if you go to the train station and try to buy a ticket in person, they will NOT sell it to you. They will only offer you the expensive night train tickets.
Luckily, even though they don’t sell tickets to foreigners in person, it’s still perfectly legal for foreigners to ride the day trains. The trick is to just buy them online from the official Egyptian National Railways site and print them out before departure.
It seems like you can’t reserve more than a couple of weeks in advance. Furthermore, you will need to create an account on the web site and agree to the terms before searching. If you’re not signed in, the search will turn up blank.
Here is an excellent resource for all train timetables in Egypt. It’s worth going for the nicest AC1 trains, which are still quite cheap. Snacks and coffee are sold onboard. But expect the entire cabin to reek of smoke, as people constantly use the space in between the train carriages as a smoking lounge.
If you’re not able to book online for some reason, here’s another solution: simply show up at the station, hop on the train and sit down. When the ticket inspector comes by, pay him. Strangely, while you can’t buy tickets from the ticket booth, this method is completely acceptable.
In Luxor, the east and west banks of the Nile River couldn’t be more different. The east is the bustling city center where most of the hotels and restaurants are located. This is where you’ll find the train station and the Luxor Museum. And of course, Karnak and Luxor Temples.
The west bank is much quieter and less developed. But overall, the west bank has more tourist attractions. Not only are all the tombs here, but there are plenty of mortuary temples to visit as well. While you can see everything on the east bank in a single day, you’ll need two or three full days to explore everything on the west bank.
That’s why I recommend staying on the west bank. And as the area gradually develops, there are a lot more hotels to choose from nowadays.
Overall, the west bank is pretty spread out. But if you stay close to the ferry port, you’ll get the best of both worlds. Not only will you get a head start on visiting the west bank attractions each morning, but getting to the east side and back will be easy as well.
To really make the most of your time in Luxor, I recommend staying on the west bank, getting the Luxor Pass (see above) and renting a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle for the day from numerous west bank shops at somewhere between 30 – 50 EGP.
I stayed at a place called Sunflower Guest House which was right by the ferry port. The rooms were spacious and clean and I had no issues with my stay. But after my arrival, I discovered that there are plenty of other accommodation options right nearby.