24 Best Sights in Luxor and the Nile Valley, Egypt

Karnak Temples

New Karnak Fodor's choice

One of the world's largest religious sites, Karnak is not just one temple but a giant complex of massive story-telling pylons; a huge hypostyle hall that's a forest of columns; and a scattering of seemingly countless temples, chapels, and obelisks. Some 30 pharaohs—as well as the Greek Ptolemies and early Christians—stamped their style and erased past names from Karnak over thousands of years, resulting in a hodgepodge of structures and designs. As a rule, the farther you walk into the complex, the more ancient the constructions.

Karnak is divided into three precincts dedicated to important gods of ancient Thebes—Amun-Ra, Mut, and Montu—but the Precinct of Amun-Ra is the only area that's fully open for visitors. Fortunately, it's also the most fascinating. 

Although you can access Karnak from the Avenue of Sphinxes, its main entry is via the Avenue of Ram-Headed Sphinxes, which leads to the Precinct of Amun-Ra, the major part of the Karnak. The First Pylon was actually the last one built and was left unfinished by the pharaohs of the 30th Dynasty. Walk through the pylon and spot the remains of the ancient mud-brick ramp used to build it.

In the Great Forecourt, a solitary 69-foot-tall column with an open papyrus capital is all that remains of the Kiosk of Taharqa (690–664 BC), an Ethiopian pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty. The small temple to the left of the forecourt entrance is the Shrine of Seti II (19th Dynasty), which has three small chapels that stored the sacred barques (boats) for the gods during the Opet processions and are depicted on the walls. In the southeast portion of the Great Forecourt, two colossi representing the king front the Temple of Ramses III (20th Dynasty), which follows the standard New Kingdom design of pylon: the open-air courtyard has arms-crossed statues in the form of Osiris (god of the afterlife), and a hypostyle hall. Like the wider Karnak temple complex, this temple has three chapels for each god of the Theban Triad.

Constructed during the reign of Horemheb (18th Dynasty), the Second Pylon was built with blocks recycled from dismantled monuments from Akhenaten, who changed the state religion and was seen as a heretic. The blocks were usurped and reused again by Ramses I and Ramses II.

The second pylon opens onto the Great Hypostyle Hall, a towering forest of 134 columns in 16 rows. The tallest reach nearly 80 feet into the sky, but originally this hall had a roof. The colors and hieroglyphs are remarkable. The 12 columns alongside the processional way have open-papyrus capitals, while the other columns have papyrus-bud capitals and are smaller. The New Kingdom pharaoh Seti I built much of the elaborate hall, and it was completed by his son, Ramses II.

Amenhotep III (18th Dynasty) constructed the Third Pylon, which leads to a handful of obelisks, including the 70-foot-tall Obelisk of Thutmose I (18th Dynasty) and, past the Fourth Pylon, the Obelisk of Hatshepsut. The lower part of her obelisk is well preserved because Thutmose III, Hatshepsut's stepson and successor, encased it within a brick wall, probably not to preserve it but to hide its presence.

Beyond the Fifth Pylon and Sixth Pylon, look for the two Pillars of Thutmose III carved with papyrus and lotus plants representing the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. Nearby are elegant statues of the gods Amun-Ra and Amunet, carved during the reign of Tutankhamun. Philip III Arrhidaeus, the half-brother and successor of Alexander the Great, built a red granite Sanctuary on the site of an earlier temple destroyed by the Persians. 

At the end of Karnak's east–west axis is the Festival Hall of Thutmose III, erected to commemorate the pharaoh's military campaigns in Asia. The unusual columns are representations of tent poles used when traveling to battle. Behind the hall is the "botanical garden," a vestibule with reliefs showing plants and animals that the pharaoh brought back from his expeditions. Spot the graffiti that indicates that this hall was later used as a church.

Several monuments and courtyards also run along Karnak's north–south axis, which begins between the third and fourth pylons. The Cachette Court, at the northernmost part of the axis, was so named because of the thousands of statues and bronzes found in it in 1903. To the south lie the seventh through tenth pylons, separated by courtyards. Archaeological work continues in this area, and not all locations are accessible. A path continues southbound outside the Precinct of Amun to the Avenue of Sphinxes, which links to Luxor Temple. 

The Sacred Lake is near the Cachette Court, and it's where priests purified themselves before rituals and where you can take a break in the waterside café. At the northwest corner of the lake, a large scarab statue dates from the reign of Amenhotep III. Farther to the northwest lie the fallen remains of the other Obelisk of Hatshepsut (its partner is back between the fourth and fifth pylons).

Karnak is home to plenty more temples, chapels, and pylons that are less visited but still impressive. The Open-Air Museum north of the First Pylon contains the small Chapel of Senusret I, which dates from 1971 BC but was dismantled by Amenhotep III and used to fill the Third Pylon about 600 years later. The chapel contains high-quality reliefs that show the pharaoh being crowned and the deities of provinces around Egypt. The nearby Red Chapel of Hatshepsut was used to keep sacred boats for festivals.

Karnak has a Sound and Light Show (LE300) that includes a walk through the gradually lit complex, ending at the sacred lake, where you take a seat and the second part begins. For the steep ticket price, the display gets mixed reviews and feels outdated.

Luxor Museum

Corniche Fodor's choice

One of Egypt's best museums outside of Cairo houses a bounty of statuary, with a particularly great selection from the New Kingdom, over several floors. The displays have thorough descriptions, a rare find in Egypt. Many of the pieces were unearthed around Deir el-Bahri, the area just across the Nile from the museum that includes the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

The ground floor has several masterpieces from the New Kingdom, including carvings of Thutmose III and crocodile-headed Sobek giving life to Amenhotep III. A newer wing, called Glory of Thebes' Military and Technology Gallery, showcases the royal mummies of Ramses I and Ahmose I in darkened rooms along with New Kingdom chariots and weapons of war on two levels.

On the upper floor, look for carved stones from Amenhotep IV's temple at Karnak before the pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten, created a new monotheistic religion—the world's first—and moved the capital from Thebes to his new city of Tell el-Amarna. The stone blocks were discovered inside Karnak's Ninth Pylon in the 1960s, reused there by later rulers attempting to erase the "heretic" pharaoh's legacy. Other artifacts include ushabti (small servant statues), a wooden model boat from King Tut's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, tombstones from the Christian era, and Islamic-period pottery.

Near the museum entrance is the Cachette Gallery, which shows New Kingdom statues unearthed from Luxor Temple in 1989, hidden to protect them from destruction by later rulers.

Luxor Temple

Corniche Fodor's choice

An astounding contrast with the modern city right outside its gate, Luxor Temple is a mostly New Kingdom construction started around 1390 BC. The temple was the southern counterpart to the temples of Karnak. During the annual Opet festival, statues of the gods were paraded down the Avenue of Sphinxes from Karnak to Luxor. For nearly 35 centuries, this religious complex has been a place of worship—from the ancient Egyptian pantheon to the mosque built into the temple's foundations that is open to the local community.

Like Karnak, Luxor Temple was adapted and expanded over millennia. Likely built over a Middle Kingdom predecessor, the largely 18th-Dynasty temple was developed by Amenhotep III and expanded by Ramses II, Nectanebo I, Alexander the Great, and the Romans. The Romans transformed the area around the temple into a military camp, and after the 4th-century AD Christian ban on pagan cults, several churches were built inside the temple.

A towering obelisk and a series of seated and standing statues of Ramses II guard the 79-foot-tall First Pylon and entrance to the temple. Originally, it was a pair of obelisks, but Muhammad Ali Pasha, the ruler of Ottoman Egypt, gifted the other to the French in 1830, and it's still in Paris. The pylon shows war scenes from the Battle of Kadesh, a campaign that Ramses II waged against the Hittites in modern-day Syria.

Heading off in the other direction is the 3-km (2-mile) Avenue of Sphinxes that leads to the Karnak temple complex. Its full length was opened in 2021 to pedestrians for the first time in thousands of years, and you can walk to a "back door" entrance to Karnak after exploring Luxor Temple.

Beyond the First Pylon lies the Court of Ramses II, encircled with a double row of papyrus-bud columns. Wall carvings show the pharaoh making offerings to the gods, as well as a list of some of his sons' names and titles. To the right of the entrance is a triple shrine built by Hatshepsut but taken over by her stepson successor, Thutmose III, who took credit for the monument by removing her cartouches and writing in his own. The shrine is dedicated to the Theban Triad: Amun-Ra in the middle, Mut on the left, and Khonsu on the right. To the left of the court entrance, well above the temple's floor level, is the still-open Mosque of Abu al-Haggag, built atop a Christian church. Al-Haggag was a holy man from Baghdad who died in Luxor in AD 1245.

The Colonnade of Amenhotep III consists of two rows of seven columns with papyrus-bud capitals. The wall decoration, completed by Amenhotep's successors, illustrates the voyage of the statue of the god Amun-Ra from Karnak to Luxor Temple during the Opet festival. On each side of the central walk are statues of Amun-Ra and Mut, carved during the reign of Tutankhamun, which Ramses II later usurped.

The colonnade leads to the Court of Amenhotep III, where a cachette of statues hidden by the Romans was found in 1989; it's now on display in the Luxor Museum. Double rows of remarkably elegant columns with papyrus-bud capitals flank this peristyle court on three sides. A Hypostyle Hall with even more columns lies to the south. Between the last two columns on the left as you walk to the back of the temple is a Roman altar dedicated to the Emperor Constantine.

South of the hypostyle hall are chapels dedicated to Mut and Khonsu. The first antechamber originally had eight columns, but they were removed during the 4th century AD to convert the space into a Christian church. The Romans plastered over the ancient Egyptian carvings, but one still intact scene shows an entourage of Roman officials awaiting the emperor.

Behind the chapels is the Offering Hall, with access to the inner sanctuary. On the east side, a doorway leads to the mammisi (chapel showing divine birth), used to prove that Amenhotep III was the son of the god Amun-Ra and to strengthen the pharaoh's position as absolute ruler. The symbolic birth scenes are spread over three registers on the left wall, showing goddesses suckling children, the pharaoh's birth in front of several gods, and Hathor (the goddess of motherhood) presenting the infant to Amun-Ra.

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Temple of Seti I

Fodor's choice

Seti I initiated construction of this temple complex but died before its completion, which left his son, Ramses II, to finish it. Today it remains one of the most fascinating temples in Egypt because of its exquisite reliefs, unique chapel design, and preserved paint.

To reach the temple, walk up a ramp through two mostly destroyed courtyards built by Ramses II. The temple's facade features a carved and partially painted Portico, half a modern reconstruction, with scenes of Ramses II making offerings to the gods. Inside the central door is the First Hypostyle Hall, which has 12 pairs of sandstone columns with papyrus-bud capitals. Unlike many temples, the roof is in situ, giving the space a dark, mysterious atmosphere. The column placement creates seven aisles that lead to seven sanctuaries set in the back wall of the second hypostyle hall. The walls are carved with images of Seti I making offerings to Amun-Ra, the creator god, and preparing and dedicating the temple building.

Seti I almost completed the decoration of the Second Hypostyle Hall, and the exquisite quality of these reliefs stands in stark contrast to the cruder work commissioned later by Ramses II. The Seven Sanctuaries at the back of the hall are rare features in Egyptian temples. They are dedicated to Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, and the deified Seti I, and each is decorated with scenes of the king making offerings to the gods and the gods giving symbols of life and kingship in return. Osiris's sanctuary is the most impressive and leads to two further halls and chapels for Isis (his wife) and Horus (his son).

The relationship between Osiris and Isis is seen in more graphic detail east of the sanctuaries, where a chamber has a scene of the conception of Horus. The story goes that Isis flew around Egypt to gather all the pieces of Osiris but was missing one—we'll let you guess which. She fashioned one for Osiris, added a bit of magic, and conceived Horus.

Along the corridor away from the sanctuaries, the Gallery of Ancestors contains the Abydos Kings List, an important table that records the previous 76 kings of ancient Egypt being read out by the future Ramses II as he is watched over by his father Seti I. These rows of cartouches are the only source of the order and names of some Old Kingdom pharaohs, though it does rewrite history by not including rulers considered illegitimate, including Hatshepsut and Akhenaten.

An upward sloping interior corridor has a scene of a young Ramses II and his pharaoh father lassoing a bull and then offering it as a sacrifice to the gods. This corridor leads outside to the sunken Osireion, which is off-limits to visitors and can only be viewed from above, which precludes getting a good look at the reliefs. This sandstone and granite monument was thought to be the tomb of Osiris. Its architectural style is reminiscent of Old Kingdom construction, but it was actually built by Seti I.

Just northwest of Seti I's temple lies the Temple of Ramses II (1279–1213 BC). Its roof and most of the upper portions of its walls are missing, but enough of it remains to give a feeling of its layout and decoration. What's left of the decoration shows that this temple—unlike the inferior work that Ramses commissioned to complete his father's temple—is close in style and quality to the work done during the reign of Seti I, and the walls retain some vibrant reds, yellows, and greens.

al-Ashmunayn (Hermopolis)

The site features a late-Roman basilica, the only surviving large building of its kind in Egypt, as well as a giant statue (one of a pair) of the god Thoth in the guise of a baboon. A large New Kingdom temple to Thoth, god of Ashmunayn, used to stand at the site but is pretty much invisible today.

Egypt
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Beni Hasan

This magnificent cemetery site is on the East Bank of the Nile. Beni Hasan is generally approached from the West Bank by ferry, which shows the site to its best advantage: a narrow, vibrant strip of green bordering the river that suddenly ends in dramatically sloping limestone cliffs that stand out starkly against an intense blue sky. Tombs (39) of local rulers that date to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1640 BC) pierce the cliffs. Generally only four or five are open to visitors at any time.

On the climb up the stairs, you pass shaft tombs (closed) for the less important people. The tombs of the wealthy and more important folk are in the upper portions of the cliff. There are three basic tomb types on the cliff, aside from the shaft tombs. The first has a plain facade and is single-chambered (11th Dynasty); the second (11th and 12th Dynasties) is plain on the outside, but its chamber is columned; and the third type (12th Dynasty) has a portico in front and a columned chamber.

You can never be sure of which tombs will be open, but the ones listed here usually are accessible. The lighting in the tombs varies greatly, so bring a flashlight. A café at the base of the cliff offers cold drinks, but you should bring your own packed lunch.

Tomb of Amenemhat (No. 2), 12th Dynasty. Not only was the tomb owner a nomarch, or governor, but he also was the military commander in chief of the area. This tomb has some entertaining scenes of musicians, knife makers, and leather workers, in addition to the usual daily-life scenes.

Tomb of Bakht III (No. 15), 11th Dynasty. Built for a governor of the Oryx Nome, this tomb contains seven shafts, which suggests that members of his family were buried with him. The wall paintings show hunting in the marshes and desert, weavers, counting livestock, potters, metalworkers, wrestlers, and offerings bearers. The desert hunt scenes are particularly interesting because they show some very bizarre mythological animals.

Tomb of Kheti (No. 17), 11th Dynasty. Kheti was the governor of the Oryx Nome. Scenes on the walls show hunting, offerings, daily activities, and the wrestlers that are typical of Beni Hasan. An attack on a fortress is also depicted.

Tomb of Khnumhotep (No. 3), 12th Dynasty. This large tomb, entered between two proto-Doric columns, belonged to Khnumhotep, a governor of the Oryx Nome as well as a prince. It is famous for its hunt scenes and depictions of foreign visitors to Egypt. Carved in the back wall is a statue of the deceased, and the color of the paintings is much better preserved in this tomb than in any of the others.

Beni Hasan, Egypt
086-922–8362
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Colossi of Memnon

Standing (sitting, actually) nearly 18 meters (60 feet) tall, these statues of Amenhotep III once guarded his mortuary temple, which is slowly being excavated to the northwest. Alongside the legs of the colossi are standing figures of the king's mother and his queen, Tiye. Relief carvings on the bases of the colossi depict the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt.

These colossi were well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and after an earthquake fractured one of the monuments in 27 BC, it was said to sing softly at dawn. For the Greeks, that sound recalled the myth of Memnon, who was meeting his mother Eos (the goddess of dawn) outside the walls of Troy when Achilles killed him. In the 3rd century AD, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus had the statue repaired and accidentally silenced the song.

The Colossi of Memnon are usually a perfunctory early-morning stop for tour groups to the West Bank.

Thebes, Egypt
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Deir el-Medina (Workers' Village)

In its own small valley, Deir el-Medina is where the artisans in charge of building and decorating the royal tombs lived. The site includes the stone walls of their otherwise ruined houses, small but vibrantly decorated tombs, and a small temple. The workers showed off their skills in their own burial chambers, applying the technical and artistic mastery they used on their employers' projects to their own.

Claustrophobes beware: these tombs are much more compact than the royal tombs and have low ceilings that some people will not be able to stand upright in. They're also accessed by incredibly steep staircases and narrow corridors.

One of the most astonishing burial spaces in this area is the Tomb of Sennutem (TT 1), who was an artist during the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II. The paintings on the walls of the burial chamber look as if they were just completed. A striking scene is the god Anubis tending to a mummy on a lion-headed bed surrounded by texts from the Book of the Dead. On the ceilings are several depictions of the deceased, kneeling in adoration before the gods.

The Tomb of Inherkha (TT 359) has beautifully painted ceilings of a repeating cow head and sun disk motif, as well as scenes from the Book of the Dead and the Book of the Gates. Inherkha was chief workman for Ramses III and Ramses IV, and he's shown making offerings to rows of seated pharaohs.

The Family Tomb is the most complex of the group and consists of three connected chambers for Amennakht (TT 218) and his two sons Nebenmaat (TT 219) and Khaemteri (TT 220). Popping out from the lemon yellow background are mummified figures, larger-than-life birds, palm trees, and column after column of text. The chamber for Nebenmaat is incredible to behold: the unusual monochromatic hieroglyphic script is just as eye-catching as the colorfully painted gods.

A five-minute walk to the northeast is the Temple of Deir el-Medina, dedicated to a plethora of gods, including Hathor and Maat. The temple was founded during the reign of Amenhotep III (18th Dynasty), but the current structure dates from more than 1,100 years later, from the reign of Ptolemy IV. Coptic Christians later turned the temple into a monastery, which gave this place its name (Deir el-Medina means "Monastery of the City"). Look out for the judgement scene of a heart being weighed against Maat's feather of truth and justice. If the heart is heavier, it has committed bad deeds during its time on earth and will not go on to enjoy the afterlife.

Thebes, Egypt
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El-Kab Tombs

Just northwest of the town of El-Kab are several rock-cut tombs from different dynastic periods. The walls of the Tomb of Ahmose, Son of Ibana, tell a biographical story emphasizing the military campaigns of the owner, when he was an admiral in the ancient Egyptian navy. Look out for the hieroglyph of a chariot, the earliest surviving depiction in this script. The space was likely used as a chapel to remember the deceased and not an actual tomb where the body was kept. It was left unfinished, and you can see the red grid lines that the painters used to plan and design the scenes.

In the Tomb of Renni, who was a provincial governor and high priest during the reign of Amenhotep I (1541–1520 BC), you can admire paintings of the harvest, family banquets, and checkerboard-patterned ceilings. At the back of the tomb is a niche that once held a statue but is now nearly destroyed.

The grandson of Ahmose, the naval commander buried nearby, Paheri had his tomb decorated with scenes of his work as a scribe and regional governor, counting livestock, receiving tributes of gold, and supervising the wine harvest.

The Tomb of Setau, a high priest during the reign of Ramses III (1186–1155 BC), is heavily damaged, but its walls are decorated with a few interesting scenes of celebrations for the pharaoh's 30th year on the throne and the goddess Nekhbet (considered the protector of El-Kab) in her sacred boat guarded by a vulture while sailing down the Nile.

Athar al-Kab, Egypt
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Medinet Habu

Medinet Habu is an impressive complex that was successively enlarged from the New Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period. Hatshepsut constructed the oldest chapel (which has been undergoing restoration and might be closed), but Ramses III (1186–1155 BC) built the main part of the structure, which functioned as his mortuary temple and an administrative center for the West Bank.

The second king of the 20th Dynasty, Ramses III hugely admired his grandfather, the great builder and military man Ramses II, so he copied his predecessor's architectural style and decorative scheme. Following Ramses II's example a century before him, Ramses III consolidated the frontiers of Egypt and led successful campaigns against the Libyans and the so-called "Sea People," whose origin still isn't known.

Enter the complex through the huge fortress-like gate, called a migdol or Syrian Gate, a two-story structure with expansive views out over the courtyard. On the First Pylon, Ramses III displays his full military might and his victories over Egypt's enemies. The back of the pylon shows the enemies' severed hands and genitals piled up in front of the pharaoh. At the Window of Appearances, on the western side of the First Court, ancient visitors would have been able to see the living pharaoh when he presented himself from his palace.

Through the Second Pylon, the Second Court is decorated with scenes of religious ceremonies. The colors and reliefs in the court are well preserved. The remains of the hypostyle hall and the smaller chapels that surround the second court are less complete, but ongoing restoration work could see them brought to life.

Thebes, Egypt
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Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Appearing like a modern mirage, the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is a sublime piece of architecture, consisting of three colonnades rising on terraces that melt into the foot of soaring limestone cliffs.

Hatshepsut was the most important woman to rule Egypt as pharaoh (1479–1458 BC). Instead of waging war to expand Egyptian territory like her predecessors, she chose to consolidate the country, build monuments, and organize expeditions to the land of Punt—modern scholars still debate its actual location—to bring myrrh, incense, and offerings for the gods. Before acting as pharaoh, she served as regent for her (then young) successor, Thutmose III. As soon as Thutmose III came of age to rule over Egypt, he began a program of erasing her name and images from monuments across the country, but some of them were preserved, perhaps by priests or temple workers loyal to Hatshepsut.

The reliefs inside the First Colonnade are damaged, but they include a detailed scene of transporting the queen's granite obelisks on boats from Aswan to Karnak. Take the large ramp that leads to the second courtyard. The Hathor Chapel on the left is dedicated to the goddess of motherhood and love, whose head tops the columns. To the right of the chapel starts the Second Colonnade, which shows expeditions to Punt, and the variety of goods brought back from there. The colonnade to the right of the ramp is devoted to the divine birth of Hatshepsut, and Hatshepsut's mother is seated with the god Amun-Ra between the first and second columns. By showing that she was of divine origin, Hatshepsut validated her right to rule over Egypt as pharaoh. The Anubis Chapel at the end of the colonnade is better preserved and still has a good amount of colored paint. Wall scenes show offerings given to the god of mummification.

The ramp continues to the Upper Terrace, where a line of crossed-arm statues of Hatshepsut as Osiris, god of the afterlife, hold court. The carvings in this terrace's hypostyle hall depict celebrations and coronation rituals, including the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, when the sacred boat (barque) of the sun god Amun-Ra visited the tombs and temples of deceased pharaohs on the West Bank. Priests carry barques with statues of the gods and pharaohs followed by musicians and dancers. Cut into the rock at the back of the terrace is the Sanctuary of Amun, with a star-painted ceiling and offering scenes. 

A golf-cart-style tram can whisk you the quarter of a mile from the end of the tourist market to the start of the temple complex for LE5. The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is a common stop on tours before or after visiting the Valley of the Kings. This whole area is called Deir el-Bahri (Monastery of the North), but the tombs and other mortuary temples are closed or not worth visiting because they are in ruins.

Thebes, Egypt
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Mortuary Temple of Seti I

Of all of Seti I's grand building projects—the captivating temple at Abydos and his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the longest, best decorated, and most expensive to visit—his mortuary temple is a little lackluster. Constructed toward the end of the pharaoh's reign, this structure was unfinished when he died, and Ramses II saw it to completion. The temple has been damaged by floods, both in antiquity and modern times, as well as colonies of bats. The pillar-fronted temple facade and the hypostyle hall are the only massive parts of the temple still standing. But because it's left off from big-group tour itineraries, it's a quiet spot to enjoy at a slower pace.

Tickets cannot be purchased on-site and must be bought at the Antiquities Inspectorate ticket office 3 km (1.8 miles) away on the main road into the valley. Tour operators and taxi drivers know this and will stop there beforehand, but this requirement makes an independent visit more challenging.

Wadi el-Melok Rd., Thebes, Egypt
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Mummification Museum

Corniche

The Egyptians began mummifying their dead more than 4,500 years ago, and while they weren't the first ancient civilization to start this practice, they are the best known. This museum walks you through the process of preparing the body both physically and spiritually for the afterlife, using modern drawings before showcasing the actual results. The museum has just one human mummy but several mummified animals, including a cat, an ibis, and a baboon. Displays also show the tools of the trade, canopic jars, heart scarabs, and a vial of "liquid residue" from a stone sarcophagus.

The ticket price is high for this disappointingly small museum (just one room!). Skip it if you've already visited the museums in Cairo.

Corniche el-Nile St., Luxor, Egypt
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Ramesseum

The mortuary temple of Ramses II is one of the many monuments built by the king who so prolifically used architecture to show his greatness and celebrate his divinity. The temple is a typical New Kingdom construction, with two pylons, two courtyards, and a hypostyle hall, followed by chapels and a sanctuary. Between the first and second courtyards, track down the broken colossus of the pharaoh that would have been 18 meters (62 feet) tall when it stood. This figure is said to have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias," though he never saw the statue himself.

Big tour groups often skip this spot, leaving you to wander through the columns of the hypostyle hall in peace.  Tickets cannot be purchased on site, so get yours at the Antiquities Inspectorate ticket office before you visit.

Thebes, Egypt
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Tell al-Amarna

Little remains of the magnificent town of Akhetaten, which was founded by the apparently monotheist pharaoh Akhenaton in the late 18th Dynasty. Akhetaten was quite an impressive city, with a population of 10,000 in its short heyday, but it has almost completely vanished. Indeed, it is hard to imagine this large expanse of barren desert as a bustling town busy with government workers, commerce, and artisans. The few visible remains include the foundations of the North Palace and the Small Aten Temple with its single restored pillar.

The northern tombs are more easily visited than their southern counterparts and are quite interesting, although somewhat ruined. Not all the tombs are open, but they are all relatively similar in design and decoration. Most of the tombs consist of an outer court, a long hall and a broad hall, sometimes columned, and a statue niche. The tombs are decorated in the typical "Amarna" style, with depictions of the town and architecture and scenes of the pharaoh and his family rather than the tomb's owner. (The tomb owner generally is shown only in the doorway, hands raised in praise of Aten.) People tend to be shown with sharp chins, slightly distended bellies, and large hips and thighs. Some tombs show evidence of being reused in the Coptic period, so watch for crosses, niches, and fonts (Tomb 6, for example).

Tel el Amarna, Egypt
086-922–8362
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Temple of Hathor

Set back 2 km (1.8 miles) from the Nile on the edge of the desert, the Temple of Hathor at Dendera is mostly a Greco-Roman Period (332–30 BC) construction, but this location has been a holy place since the Old Kingdom (2687– 2181 BC). Dendera was the cult center for Hathor, the goddess of motherhood and love, and she was often depicted as a cow or as a woman with cow horns.

Enter the temple grounds through the mud-brick wall. The gated doorway leads to the Outer Hypostyle Hall, overwhelmingly decorated with beautiful art on every surface. The hall consists of 24 huge columns with Hathor-head capitals, some of which were defaced during the Christian era. Look up at the immaculately carved and painted ceiling, recently cleaned and restored, which shows diagrams of the night sky and signs of the zodiac. The sky goddess Nut is seen swallowing the sun disk, and it passes through her body so she can give birth to it the next morning.

The next room is the six-column Inner Hypostyle Hall. Six small rooms open off this hall, and the carvings show what was stored in them, such as ritual perfumes, jewelry, and the bounty of the harvest. Walk on to the Sanctuary, where the statue of the goddess would have been kept. Below the sanctuary are several Crypts that held additional statues of Hathor brought out on festival days. Some of the crypt rooms can be visited; to gain access, though, you might have to give the temple guardian a baksheesh (tip). Claustrophobes beware: the steps down are steep, and the rooms are small, but the reliefs have incredible detail that would have only been seen by a select few.

Stairways on either side of the sanctuary lead to the Roof, the walkways' walls carved with priestly processions wending their way up the sides. Head to the chapel in the northeastern corner to see the Dendera Zodiac, a circular bas-relief that shows zodiac signs and constellations that's the only known complete map of the ancient sky. Sadly, the one here is a plaster recreation—the original is at the Louvre in Paris. A metal staircase leads to the highest part of the roof, reopened in 2020, which offers a panoramic view of the temple grounds. Again, though, you might have to give the temple guardian a baksheesh to be able to climb up.

Back on ground level, walk around the temple building to see lion-headed gargoyles. On the back of the temple, find the scene of Queen Cleopatra VII—yes, the famous one who was involved with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and was Egypt's last pharaoh—presenting her son, Caesarion, to the gods as the next ruler of Egypt.

Nearby, behind the main temple, is the small Temple of Isis, which is strangely oriented both east–west and north–south. Walls show scenes of the divine birth of Isis. As in the main temple, the early Christians defaced a number of the images of the ancient Egyptian gods. To the west is the Sacred Lake, once used in rituals but now a sandpit with a few palm trees. 

Back toward the complex entrance are the mud-brick remains of the Sanatorium, where religious pilgrims came to bathe and be healed. Two of the buildings to the north are Mammisi, chapels that depict the birth of a god and were used to "prove" the divinity of the king. Nectanebo I (379–361 BC) built the southern chapel, but the Ptolemies decorated it. The mammisi closest to the complex entrance is from the Roman era, built mainly by Trajan (AD 98–117). It celebrates the birth of the god Ihy, son of Horus and Hathor, as well as the divinity of the pharaoh. The sanctuary is surrounded by an ambulatory, the outer portion of which is partially decorated.

Between the mammisi lies a 5th-century Coptic Basilica. It no longer has a roof, but the trefoil apse and several shell niches are still visible from its hall.

Mabed Dendera, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE120

Temple of Horus

Edfu's magnificent Temple of Horus is one of ancient Egypt's most intact temples, thanks to dry desert sand burying it for centuries, and it's a breathtaking sight. Built during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305–30 BC) of the Greco-Roman Period, the temple rests on much earlier foundations.

The enormous, 37-meter-tall (120-foot-tall) Pylon, fronted by a pair of granite statues of Horus as a falcon that look miniscule in comparison, leads into the open Courtyard with a single row of columns on three sides. At the far end, in front of the Hypostyle Hall, are two more statues of Horus. The column capitals come in a wide variety of floral motifs, including palm leaves, lotus, and papyrus. A library was once located on the eastern side of the Hypostyle Hall, and hieroglyphs on the walls list the names of the books.

Beyond the Hypostyle Hall is a series of side chapels and chambers encircling the sanctuary. Carvings on the walls detail the construction of the temple, down to the specific day that work on it began: August 23, 237 BC. The inner rooms of the temple are dark and atmospheric and were originally illuminated only by shafts of light from narrow slits in the ceiling, which are still in place, today helped by modern lights along the floor. The once richly colored walls, decorated with scenes of pharaohs making offerings, would have shone and glimmered like jewels in the half-light, and it's easy to imagine priestly processions passing through the temple, chanting and praying amid clouds of incense. One of the side rooms, dubbed the Laboratory, lists the ingredients and recipes for perfumes and essences used in temple rituals.

In the Sanctuary is a reproduction of a barque, the sacred boat used to transport the statue of Horus for festivals and downriver to Dendera to be reunited with his wife, Hathor. A large granite shrine made during the reign of Nectanebo II (358–340 BC), a relic from the previous building and the oldest part of the temple, looms eerily at the back of the Sanctuary.

A stone enclosure wall wraps around the back half of the temple, and it has carvings of Horus defeating the god Set, who killed Horus's father Osiris. This area is one of the few places where this myth is illustrated. Set is shown as a small hippo, easily conquered by the huge figure of falcon-headed Horus.

On the eastern side of the temple is the Nilometer, a gauge used to measure the height of the Nile and to calculate taxes. If the river level was high, the harvest would be bountiful and so would the tax revenues.

Edfu, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE180

Temple of Khnum

Surrounded by Esna on all sides and set 9 meters (30 feet) below the modern street level, the Temple of Khnum might not have the grand approach or huge footprint of other sites, but its interior makes it worth a visit. In 2018, an Egyptian–German conservation team began cleaning and restoring the temple, revealing the vibrant colors of its artwork, which was done in ink rather than in relief, and had previously been hidden by layers of grime.

Started under the Ptolemies and finished by the Romans, it was one of the last temples of ancient Egypt, even though it's dedicated to one of the country's earliest-worshipped gods. Ram-headed Khnum was the god of the source of the Nile and created other deities and humans on a potter's wheel.

Today, the hypostyle hall is the only part of the temple that's visible and visitable (the rest is likely buried under the town). Holding up the roof are four rows of 12-meter (40-foot) columns with remarkable capitals: covered in a unique array of beautifully painted, colorful palm leaves and flowers, they resemble lush gardens. While your neck is still craned, note the incredible illustration of the phases of the moon on the ceiling of the temple's northern side. Roman signs of the zodiac are shown on the southern side. The walls display festive celebrations, offerings to gods, and highly interesting everyday scenes, such as fishing in the Nile and hunting migratory birds from Europe. The work of the conservation team was only half complete as of 2022, so there's still more scenic color to uncover.

Esna, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE80

Tombs of the Nobles: Nakht, Menna, and Amenemope

West Bank

Nakht was a scribe and astronomer under Thutmose IV, and his T-shaped tomb (TT 52) is somewhat small. Only the vestibule is decorated with vivid colors, but they show incredibly detailed scenes of Nakht hunting, fishing, and farming. To the right is a false door with a beautiful painting of eight men and two women presenting offerings.

The Tomb of Menna (TT 69) has colorful paintings of his family, including his wife and five children. Menna was a scribe and overseer of fields, and he's supervising a farm for eternity on one of the walls. Overhead, a patch of painted patterned ceiling is particularly vibrant. Most of the corridor is now inaccessible to visitors, but from a distant angle, you can admire the well-preserved colorful roof and see funerary scenes, such as the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and Weighing of the Heart.

Much has been damaged in the Tomb of Amenemope (TT 148), partly because of the poor quality of the stone in this area. But the quality of the decor for Amenemope, a priest under successive generations of Ramses, is high, and the walls of painted reliefs—not just flat paint on the wall—are rare and indicative of his stature.

Luxor, Luxor, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE60

Tombs of the Nobles: Ramose, Userhet, and Khaemhet

West Bank

The Tomb of Ramose (TT 55) is one of the finest in the area. Ramose was a governor of Thebes and vizier during the reign of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. It's so large that it has a hypostyle hall, a pillared hall, and a chapel, though some of the columns are modern reconstructions. Near the entrance are unpainted reliefs, but look out for Ramose and his wife, whose eyes and eyebrows are outlined in black, the only pigment on the entire wall. The left wall has two registers painted, one in good condition, and the scene shows a dozen crying women. Near the entrance to the pillared hall is a carving of the Aten sun disk, the sole god worshipped in new monotheistic religion started by Akhenaten that lasted only 20 years. The tomb was left unfinished.

In life, Userhet worked as a royal scribe and "Counter of Bread," and his tomb (TT 56) is in an inverted T-style, with a wide antechamber leading to a long, slender burial chamber. Scenes in the antechamber depict Userhet's earthly responsibilities: counting boxes of grain and overseeing the distribution of bread rations to the Egyptian army. The ceilings are painted in a bright rug-weave pattern, and the inner chamber has vivid scenes of Userhet hunting and fishing.

A scribe and Overseer of Granaries under Amenhotep III, Khaemhet had a well-decorated space to send him into the afterlife. His tomb (TT 57) has both raised and sunken reliefs, and scenes depict his life's work of supervising the harvest and measuring grain supplies. Much of the art is damaged, including a pair of statues at the back of the tomb representing Khaemhet and his wife, but it's still an evocative space.

Luxor, Luxor, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE60

Tombs of the Nobles: Rekhmire and Sennofer

West Bank

The Tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100), who was a vizier during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, is well preserved, with nearly complete scenes of daily life that reveal much about day-to-day activities of the ancient Egyptians. The walls explain Rekhmire's work duties, including inspecting the construction of temples and tax collection. He also records tributes from foreign countries, and Nubians arrive with leopards, giraffes, and cattle, and the Syrians bring vases, a chariot, horses, a bear, an elephant, and human captives. The paintings inside the chapel reveal how jewelry and sculptures were made and helped archaeologists understand the techniques used at the time.

The Tomb of Sennofer (TT 96) is nicknamed "Tomb of the Vineyards" because the ceiling is painted with swirling grapevines thanks to Sennofer's job as Overseer of Granaries and Gardens. A short but steep walk is required to enter the tomb. Inside you'll see scenes of Sennofer heading to the afterlife with servants carrying his belongings. The burial chamber has colorful paintings of Sennofer and his wife worshipping Anubis and Osiris and Sennofer and his family making a pilgrimage to Abydos where the deceased has his heart weighed to ensure he is worthy of entrance to the afterlife.

Luxor, Luxor, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE40

Tuna al-Gebel

Tuna al-Gebel was the necropolis of Hermopolis—a large and scattered site, its focal point being a cluster of Greco-Roman tombs. These tombs, built literally as houses for the dead, show an entertaining blending of Classical and Egyptian styles of art. The Tomb of Petosiris is one of the best preserved and is open to the public.

The mummy of Isadora, a woman drowned in the Nile in the second century AD, is on display in a nearby building; be sure to tip the guard. The other major attraction of the site is the elaborate catacombs containing burials of ibis and baboons, animals sacred to the god Thoth. These date to the late Persian and Greco-Roman periods, and you can see some animal burials in situ. An embalming workshop is also visible at the entrance. Approaching the site, you can see on the right side, cut into the cliffs, the best surviving stela (now protected by glass) erected by Akhenaton; this one was to mark the western boundary of his capital, Akhetaten.

Egypt
086-248–0556
Sight Details
Rate Includes: £E20, Daily 8–5

Valley of the Kings

Once a burial location for New Kingdom pharaohs known only to a select few, the secret of the Valley of the Kings has long been out. Every year, 1.5 million visitors come to see a rotating selection of the 65 tombs that have been discovered, ranging from the unknown and unexcavated to an underground gallery displaying the pinnacle of art and architecture of ancient Egypt.

The well-publicized, 1922 discovery of Tutanhkamun, Egypt's short-lived "boy king," still draws many visitors, but it's actually one of the least splendid tombs in the valley, completed in a rush because of his untimely death and emptied of its gilded grave goods, which were relocated to Cairo museums. You might not have seen the names of Ramses V and VI (KV 9) or Seti I (KV 17) in your school textbooks, but you'll certainly want to know more after seeing the beauty and detail of the scenes that accompanied them into the afterlife.

The tombs in the Valley of the Kings are some of Egypt's greatest treasures, but their existence is threatened just by visitors coming to see them. The hot temperatures in the valley actually bring in moisture—in the form of sweat and humid breath from tourists—that damages the 3,000-year-old art painted on fragile rock walls and ceilings. Dehumidifiers and glass screens have been installed in some of the busiest underground areas, and guides are not allowed inside any tombs to cut down on crowds.

Thebes, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE240 for three tombs. Additional tickets: LE1,000 for Seti I, LE300 for Tutankhamun, LE100 for Ramses V & VI

Valley of the Queens

The Valley of the Queens was the final resting place for pharaohs' wives, royal children, and members of the nobility for nearly 500 years, from the 18th to 20th Dynasties. Archaeologists have discovered more than 90 tombs, but only four are open to the public, clustered together a short walk from the entrance. The undisputed highlight of the Valley of the Queens is standing in awe of the artwork in the incredible Tomb of Nefertari. Don't let the eye-wateringly high price of entry—this is the single most expensive ticket for any tourist attraction in Egypt—prevent you from entering. It's worth noting, though, that most of the other tombs in the Valley of the Queens are less elaborately decorated but also less frequently visited, meaning that you might even have them to yourself.

The Tomb of Nefertari (QV 66), the most beloved of Ramses II's many wives, has the largest tomb in the Valley of the Queens. It also has some of the most vivid surviving decorations of any ancient Egyptian tomb, with paintings covering every wall and the entire ceiling. The tomb is accessed by a staircase that leads into an antechamber, painted with chapters from the Book of the Dead and offering scenes to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification, and Osiris, god of the afterlife. White stars that resemble starfish dot the dark-blue ceiling. Another set of stairs drops down to the column-supported burial room where the sarcophagus and mummy were once located (alas, the tomb was robbed of its many treasures in antiquity). You're allowed just 10 minutes inside the tomb.

The Tomb of Amun-her-Khepshef (QV 55) was built for a son of Ramses III, and the prince died when he was about 15 years old. The tomb has a simple linear design, and the wall paintings maintain their bright and lively colors. Scenes show the pharaoh introducing the prince, as a child with a side-lock of hair, to various gods, and an uninscribed sarcophagus rests in an undecorated burial chamber at the back. The tomb also contains an unusual item inside a glass case: the mummified remains of a fetus (not the prince).

The cruciform Tomb of Titi (QV 52), a queen of the 20th Dynasty, is well preserved. Her family history isn't well known, but it's thought that she might have been a wife of Ramses III and the mother of Amun-her-Khepshef, whose tomb is nearby. The corridor is decorated on both sides with a kneeling winged figure of Maat, the goddess of truth and justice, and the queen standing in front of different deities. In the chamber on the right is a double representation of Hathor, the goddess of motherhood and love, depicted as a sacred cow coming out of the mountain to receive the queen and then as a woman accepting offerings from Titi.

The Tomb of Khaemwaset (QV 44), a prince who was a young son of Ramses III, has fine workmanship and decoration on the walls. The scenes represent the prince, either with his pharaoh father or alone, making offerings to the gods. Hieroglyphic text from the Book of the Dead accompanies the paintings. Look out for the prince wearing a long translucent garment, showing the masterful skill of the ancient painters.

Thebes, Egypt
Sight Details
Rate Includes: LE100. Additional LE1,400 for Tomb of Nefertari