Top 13 Places to Visit in India
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. 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Kerala: God's Own Country
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.
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.
10. 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.
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.
11. 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.
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.
12. 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.
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.
13. 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 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.
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