Valley of the Kings
Spread across the arid Theban Hills on the Nile's west bank near Luxor are Ancient Egypt's most famous royal tombs. Unlike the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom who were buried in the north around Giza and the Nile Delta, the ruling dynasties of the New Kingdom preferred to be buried close to the ancient capital of Thebes (present-day Luxor). The hidden underground mausoleums were built over the course of 500 years to preserve the mummified bodies of Egypt's royal figures, as well as favoured nobles and their families. After centuries of looting and tomb-robbing, most of the treasures have been lost, but with vast chambers and wall murals, the elaborate tombs are impressive enough.
Since archaeologists first discovered the site, an incredible 63 tombs have been uncovered, some of which were known to visitors as early as the Ptolemaic times (323 - 30 BC). Of these 63 tombs the most well-known is that of the boy-king Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. The tomb is surprisingly intact, and once contained the iconic golden death mask which is now housed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum.
In order to save the burial chambers from damage caused by roaming hands and humidity, only ten tombs are open to the public at any one time, with the rest closed for restoration. Not far from the Valley of the Kings lies the Valley of the Queens where the wives of pharaohs were buried, including Queen Nefertari, in 80 tombs that have fine murals to rival those found in the kings' tombs. Entering the Theban Necropolis via the main road through New Gurna will mean you pass by the gigantic Colossi of Memnon statues that once marked the entrance to the long-lost mortuary temple of Amenophis III.
Top Tip - Photography is not permitted in any of the royal tombs around Luxor but you can purchase postcard images from the vendors around the site as a memento of your visit. In fact, it's best to leave your camera somewhere safe as it's not possible to take them through the entrance gates to the sites.