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Top 17 Places to Visit in India — A Complete Travel Guide with Pictures

Top 17 Places to Visit in India — A Complete Travel Guide with Pictures

By CarolUpdated Oct. 13, 2022

India is a treasure trove of incredible places to visit which can make it a little difficult to choose where you want to go during your holiday. It now reopens to travelers. From February 14, 2022, all travelers can enter India without quarantine or nucleic acid test as long as you're fully vaccinated.

Although there are many incredible cities in India, some are better for tourism than others.

People who are visiting India for the first time and only have a week to experience it should visit the Golden Triangle cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur to see the country's most famous sites. Travelers that have a few more days can easily visit cities in the surrounding area such as Varanasi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, or Jaisalmer.

Travelers who want to have a slow-paced and relaxed stay can spend time in Kerala, Goa, or Mysore. To get a glimpse of India's bustling cities and street food, Mumbai and Calcutta are best. For travelers who enjoy trekking or want unbeatable mountain views, then there is no better place than Leh.

Quick Facts

  • One of the best combinations of cities to visit in India is the Golden Triangle which includes Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
  • Varanasi and Amritsar are great places to visit for those who are interested in spirituality and India's relationship with religion.
  • For incredible views, it is hard to beat Leh, Udaipur, and Kerala.
  • For palaces and old city bazaars, head to Jodhpur or Mysore.
  • For a glimpse of modern India, there are no better cities than Mumbai and Calcutta.

1. Delhi: Ancient Monuments in a Modern Capital

Delhi is busy, exciting, and full of history. People have lived in Delhi for more than 3000 years and during this time the city has been controlled by multiple empires. Many of these different empires left behind of their ancient monuments and structures.

These monuments include the mosques of the Mughal empire, the colonial palaces of the British Raj, and the modern government buildings of independent India.

Old Delhi is what remains of the Mughal-era walled city. It is full of teeming bazaars and narrow alleyways. Here visitors can explore the Red Fort which is one of the city's most famous monuments and was home to the Mughal emperors for almost 200 years.

After the Red Fort, travelers can head to the nearby Jama Masjid mosque, take a rickshaw ride through the busy Chandni Chowk market, visit the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, or check out the magnificent Humayun's Tomb.

jama masjid Jama Masjid mosque

In New Delhi, visitors can explore the Lutyens' Delhi which is the area of the city that was one the seat of British rule. Walking along Rajpath boulevard is a great way to get the best views from the iconic India Gate to the beautiful Rashtrapati Bhavan.

A great way to experience the Delhi lifestyle is to stay in a beautiful colonial heritage hotel which acts as a peaceful base for exploring other parts of the city. Our favorite heritage hotels in Delhi include the Claridges and Maidens.

2. Agra: The Glimmering Taj Mahal

Agra is located near Delhi and was once the capital of the Mughal empire. This small city is one of the most visited places in India as people come from far and wide to see the incredible Taj Mahal with their own eyes.

The Taj Mahal is a jewel-encrusted white marble mausoleum that was built in the 17th-century by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, who also built the Red Fort in Delhi. The construction of this World Heritage site took over 20 years and 20,000 people and was built to be an eternal symbol of the emperor's love for his wife.

Because the Taj Mahal is one of the most famous attractions in India, it can get quite busy. We recommend visiting the Taj in the early morning or seeing it from another location such as the Mehtab Bagh gardens or from the dining room of the Oberoi Amarvilas hotel.

taj mahal Taj Mahal

Although the Taj Mahal is the most famous attraction in Agra, it is by no means the only one to see. Agra is also home to the beautiful 16th-century Agra Fort, the Itmad-Ud-Daula or Baby Taj, and the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri.

Agra is beloved by travelers because it not only offers the opportunity to see a world wonder, but it is also a great place to stay in a retreat hotel. Our favorite hotels for a relaxing retreat include the Oberoi Amarvilas and Jaypee Palace.

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3. Jaipur: The Maharaja's Pink City

Jaipur is the largest city in the desert state of Rajasthan and is also one of the most popular places for travelers to visit in India. People from all over the world are drawn to Jaipur for its incredible forts, decadent palaces, and unique culture.

Jaipur was founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II who was a great warrior and astronomer. In the city, travelers can visit Jantar Mantar which is a collection of astronomy instruments built by Jai Singh in 1724.

Jaipur is often called the 'pink city' because all of the buildings in the old city are painted a photogenic dusty pink. This was done in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales.

Besides its beautiful color, another thing that makes Jaipur special is that the entire old city was built within the walls of the magnificent Amber Fort. Today, travelers can enter the ancient fort walls and explore the old city with its pink sandstone buildings and hectic markets.

amber fort Ganesh Pol in Amber Fort

Other must-sees in Jaipur include the famous City Palace, the Nahargarh Fort with its mixture of Indian and European architecture, and the stunning Madhavendra Bhawan which was built to house the Maharaja's queens.

Our favorite way to experience Jaipuri culture is to take a cooking class in the home of a local chef. Cooking classes are a great way to get an up-close experience with regional food and spend the day connecting with a local.

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4. Varanasi: The Sacred Hindu Site

Varanasi is a city located on the banks of the Ganges River. The city is believed to be more than 5000-years-old making it one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on the planet. This city is very religiously important for Hindus and is considered a very holy place.

While exploring Varanasi, it is common to see people performing different religious rituals and prayers making it a great place to go to learn more about religion in India. A beautiful ritual to witness is the Ganga Aarti which happens every night and involves placing floating lanterns on the Ganges River.

varanasi Varanasi

The Ganges is an important part of life in Varanasi and is used for everything from washing clothes to purifying the soul. A sunrise cruise is a great way to learn more about the connection between the local people and the river.

While in Varanasi, you can also check out Sarnath which is the temple complex where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma (the ideas and principles of Buddhism).

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5. Jaisalmer: People of the Thar Desert

Jaisalmer is also known as the 'Land of Golden Sand' due to its location in Rajasthan's Thar Desert. The town is made from yellow sandstone and sits on a golden ridge with the Jaisalmer Fort as its crown.

Jaisalmer is a popular tourist destination in India due to its rich cultural heritage. The city is full of decadent Haveli merchant houses and beautiful palaces that were built by the royal Rajputs (people from the Indian warrior caste).

One of the best things about staying in Jaisalmer is that it feels like you have gone back in time to when the city was an oasis for desert caravans. The sandy yellow streets are full of camels that are ready to take travelers on expeditions out into the desert.

desert Explore the desert by a camel ride

A popular time to visit this city is during the Jaisalmer Desert Festival where the local people come together to celebrate their culture with folk dances, musical performances, campfires, camel shows, and bazaars full of jewelry and handicrafts.

6. Jodhpur: The Blue City with Aromatic Spices

Jodhpur is the second-largest city in Rajasthan and is most famous for the old town with its bright blue houses. These houses were originally painted blue to show that they were the homes of Brahmins, or the people belonging to the highest caste in the ancient caste system.

In Jodhpur, make sure to explore Mehrangarh which is a fort that stands around 120 meters above the city and was carved directly out of the rock it sits on. After Mehrangarh, many travelers like to visit Jaswant Thada which is often compared to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Mehrangarh Fort Mehrangarh Fort

While all of the cities in Rajasthan are incredible, one thing that Jodhpur has above the rest is that it was once home to a famous spice market. While exploring the blue houses of the old town, go ahead and stop at MV Spices which is the oldest spice merchant in the city to learn more about Indian flavors.

7. Udaipur: Pristine Lakes and Decadent Palaces

Udaipur is often said to be the most romantic city in India for its unmatched views of fairytale palaces and lakes that are surrounded by green rolling hills. After a few hectic days of traveling, Udaipur is the perfect place to relax while taking a slow boat ride across Lake Pichola.

Lake Palace (Jag Niwas). Lake Pichola

While there are plenty of palaces to see in Udaipur, the most spectacular one is the City Palace which is actually a complex that contains eleven different palaces overlooking the lake. Here, travelers can take in the incredible architecture and also learn about the Mewar empire at the City Palace Museum.

Other must-sees in Udaipur include the Crystal Gallery which is the largest private collection of crystals in the world, the towering Jagdish temple, and Sahelion ki Bari which is a beautiful garden known for its marble fountains and variety of flowers and trees.

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8. Leh: Sanctuary in the Himalayas

Leh is a predominantly Buddhist city located in northern India near the border with Pakistan. Leh is the perfect place to visit if you love the outdoors or if you are looking for a serene and scenic place to get away from the bustling cities.

Staying in Leh feels like you are living in the Himalayas. The mesmerizing mountain views can be enjoyed from anywhere in the city and are the main attraction. Leh also has glass-like glacial lakes and scenic hiking trails.

lake Glass-like glacial lake in Leh

One of the most charming parts of Leh is the old town which is a winding maze of alleys full of traditional mud-brick homes. After exploring the old town, make sure to go see Leh Palace which is located high above the city and resembles the Potala Palace in Tibet.

Leh is one of India's best summer destinations because it enjoys cool and comfortable weather with clear skies while much of the rest of the country experiences monsoons.

9. Shimla: A Hill Station with Colonial buildings and a Golf Course

Shimla is a popular hill station in North India, as well as the capital city and commercial and cultural center of Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared the summer headquarters of the British colonial government of India due to its ideal location on thickly forested cool slopes.

Much of the colonial charm of Shimla remains today attracting a great number of visitors for summer retreats. The Viceregal Lodge is the most imposing building and was constructed during the British colonial era. Designed in the English Renaissance style, it was once a grand mansion surrounded by gardens that served as the summer residence for the viceroys.

colonial charm Much of the colonial charm of Shimla remains

Christ Church is a Gothic-style landmark located at the eastern end of the Ridge, the busy center of Shimla. Built in 1846, this prominent building is known for its stained-glass windows. The area surrounding Christ Church is the city's core shopping center and is clustered with fashionable boutiques, restaurants, bars, and upmarket shops.

Other attractions include the State Museum, Jakhu Temple, and Kalka-Shimla Railway. The best way to explore Shimla is to stroll along the Ridge and make visits to each attraction while meandering through the mountain roads. You can also stop by the post office to send postcards to your friends or visit the Gaiety Theater to see amateur performances.

Another great spot in Shimla is the glade of Annandale. During the British Raj, Annandale was a place of entertainment and enjoyment where both social and sporting events such as fairs, dress shows, garden parties, annual celebrations, races, cricket matches, and Polo Championships were held.

Today, the land belongs to the army and contains a fine museum on army heritage and a nine-hole golf course.

Further north, the Naldehra, is another beautiful spot with a nine-hole golf course. The golf course here dates back to the 19th century, when the viceroy, Lord Curzon, designed the scenic course himself with grass fields set amidst sloping meadows.

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10. Dharamsala: Little Tibet

Dharamsala is a hill station, established in the mid-19th century by the British. It is was also once the second capital city of Himachal Pradesh and is known as the “winter capital” today.

Dharamsala is often called Little Tibet because it has served as the home of Dalai Lama and the rest of the exiled Tibetan Government. The town is known for its well-preserved Tibetan religious and cultural heritage, attracting Buddhists from all over the world.

Dharamsala town consists of two sections: the lower town and the upper town, known as McLeod Ganj. Serving as the primary focal point of Tibetan settlement, McLeod Ganj is the main area where most travelers stay and contains most of the city's attractions.

Tibetan Monastery A Tibetan Monastery

The Tsuglagkhang Complex, located at the southern edge of the town, is the location of the residence of the Dalai Lama. The complex also contains the Tsuglagkhang Temple, a simple hall where that enshrines the three beautiful images from the Buddhist pantheon, and the Namgyal Gompa where monks debate in the afternoon.

Pilgrims often walk in clockwise circles around the complex, spin the prayer wheels, ring prayer bells, and worship at the altar in the temple. Apart from images of the deities, travelers can also observe intricate butter sculptures, butter lamps, and seven ritual bowls of water. The Thangkas, or the scroll paintings which depict Buddhist divinities, can be seen among the scrolls stored in the counter.

Other attractions include the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and the beautiful Norbulingka Institute where traditional arts and crafts are promoted. Here, travelers will have the opportunity to see Tibetan opera performances of traditional folk tales, legends, and myths.

11. Darjeeling: A Picturesque Hillside with Tea Plantations

Located in the West Bengal on the ledge of the Himalayan foothills, Darjeeling was built to a sanatorium and military base by the British Raj's colonial administration in the mid 19th century. Today, much of Darjeeling's Raj splendor is still evident from its British style buildings which beautifully contrast the local Tibetan and Napali influenced culture.

This picturesque town has some well-preserved colonial churches such as St Andrew's Church, which was built in 1843 on the west side of Observatory Hill. St Columba's Krik near the train station is another one beautiful church that was built in 1894 and is worth a visit for its splendid stained-glass windows.

Also, make sure to stop by the busy Chowrasta road where there is a book shop called Oxford Books and Stationery selling a variety of international and local classics.

Darjeeling is famous for its tea industry, especially the premium black tea which is the most famous type of tea produced in India. Darjeeling teas are famous for their delicate muscatel flavor and the best ones have been sold at auction for up to 220 USD per kilo.

tea plantation Sprawling tea plantations

If you are looking to buy local tea products, you can head to The Mall which is at the town center and is an area lined with shops selling teas and all kinds of souvenirs. On one corner of The Mall, the Tea Museum is a great spot to check out for people wanting to know more about the history of tea plantations in North Bengal.

India's tallest peak Kanchenjunga rises up above the town and can be seen in the distance. The Observatory Hill offers some of the best views of the snow-clad Kanchenjunga and other members of the eastern Himalayas.

At North Point, you'll find India's first passenger cableway connecting Darjeeling to Singla Bazaar. When in the cable car, travelers can enjoy a scenic view of the mountains and the tea garden terraces throughout the valley. 

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12. Cochin: a Portuguese colony and trading port

Kerala is commonly called 'God's Own Country' due to its natural beauty. This tropical southern state is bordered by the Arabian Sea in the west and Western Ghat Mountains in the east. Kerala has stunning beaches, beautiful tropical forests, and lush green hill stations.

Kerala's capital city of Cochin was once a Portuguese colony and trading port that attracted wealthy merchants from all over the world. These merchants built mansions, churches, temples, and synagogues that still stand in Fort Cochin today.

Taking a walking tour of Fort Cochin is a great way to appreciate the city's colonial architecture and also explore the modern art galleries, cafes, boutique stores, and spice shops.

church Colonial church in Cochin today

After enjoying the colonial charm of Cochin, travelers can head to the backwaters. The backwaters are a large area of Kerala with over 1,500 kilometers of rivers and canals. Here, the pace of life is slower and boats are the main method of transportation between villages.

Renting a wooden houseboat for a night is a great way to explore the area and try the local cuisine.

13. Calcutta: Street Food and Mangrove Forests

Calcutta is located in West Bengal which is in the east bordering Bangladesh. Calcutta was the original capital of British India before it was moved to New Delhi in 1911. British colonial architecture can be found throughout the city including the impressive Victoria Memorial.

Calcutta is especially well-known for being the cultural hub that created many of India's famous writers and philosophers. The city is also famous for its unique street food. Make sure to try the famous Kathi rolls which are kebabs wrapped in bread and covered in toppings and sauces.

roll Kathi rolls

Another great stop in Calcutta is the flower market where the ground is covered in piles of yellow and orange marigolds that are bought and sold for religious ceremonies or decorations.

From Calcutta, visitors can easily travel to see the mangrove forests and Bengal tigers in the Sunderbans or go north to Darjeeling and its rolling hills and tea plantations.

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14. Mumbai: City of Dreams

Mumbai is India's financial center and one of the most populated cities in the world. Every year millions of people from other cities and villages flock to Mumbai for better opportunities and a better future.

Taking a tour of the city at dawn is a great way to experience the rush of people making their way to work through the busy streets or on packed trains that carry more people per kilometer than any other train system in the world.

terminus Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai

While Mumbai can be chaotic, it is much more than just working people and crowds. In Mumbai, visitors can check out the rural Worli Fishing Village, explore the 7th-century cave carvings of Elephanta Island, or watch a Bollywood movie being filmed.

From Mumbai, it is a quick journey to the neighboring state of Goa which has some of India's best beaches and finest seafood.

15. Amritsar: The Dazzling Golden Temple

Located in Punjab, Amritsar is a holy city for Sikhism which is the world's newest major religion. Amritsar was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das and is the spiritual capital for Sikhs. The main focus of Amritsar is the beautiful Golden Temple which gets its name from its pure gold dome.

The Golden Temple looks especially gorgeous at night when the dome is illuminated and its reflection can be seen on the surrounding water.

Sikh gurdwara Golden Temple Sikh gurdwara Golden Temple in Amritsar

One of the most interesting aspects of the Golden Temple is that all faiths are welcome to go and worship there. The temple was built to be a shelter for any person no matter their religion.

The Golden Temple also holds the largest free community kitchen in the world that feeds up to 100,000 people per day.

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16. Mysore: South India's Royal Gem

Mysore is a historic settlement in South India that is famous for its royal heritage and for housing the opulent Mysore Palace.

Mysore Palace is a World Heritage site and is full of intricate architecture, beautiful paintings, and stained-glass windows. This palace is one of the most famous in India and has thousands of visitors every day.

Mysore Palace Mysore Palace

Mysore is also famous for its bazaar district that is full of spice stores, stalls selling incense, sandalwood carvings, and silk sarees. For travelers who are interested in yoga, Mysore has many acclaimed schools that teach Ashtanga yoga.

If traveling to India in October, you can experience the Mysore Dasara Festival with its procession of painted elephants.

17. Ahmedabad: Heritage Temples, Mosques, and Stepwells

Located along the Sabarmati River, Ahmedabad used to be the state capital of Gujarat until 1970 and is still the state's largest city. Ahmedabad was declared India's first UNESCO World Heritage City because of its fascinating old quarter that is full to the brim with traditional Gujarati culture and history.

Ahmedabad's old city is a maze of crowded bazaars, exquisitely carved forts, temples, mosques, and step wells. The Bhadra Fort offers panoramic views of the surrounding streets, while the Ahmed Shah's Mosque provides a simple place of worship. Perhaps the most popular monument to photograph is Siddi Saiyad's Mosque which is renowned for its superb yellow stone latticework. 

Jama Mosque Siddi Saiyad's Mosque in Ahmedabad

This old quarter area is best explored on a walking tour, where travelers will be guided through the city's heritage buildings and historical sites. The tour usually covers the main attractions including Teen Darwaza (the Triple Gateway) which is lined with souvenir shops selling block prints and silverware, the Jama Masjid, and the Tomb of Ahmed Shah along with its surroundings.

Travelers can also visit the Calico Museum to see a rich collection of rare textiles including royal tents, carpets, clothing, embroidery, brocades, and silk. Most of the exhibited items date back to the 17th and 18th centuries when Ahmedabad was a major center of India's textile trade.  

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