There are many incredible cities in India. The country is so big that it’s impossible to get to know it all – unless spending months of constantly traveling there, or going multiple times (each to a different area). A selection of the best cities in India will inevitably reflect personal taste and experiences – so forgive me if I am not mentioning your favorite place and rest assured that I will make sure to visit again soon, to explore more.
Visiting The Best Cities In India – My Impressions
To be honest, most Indian cities can feel overwhelming. This may well have to do with my background: I grew up in Cagliari, the small capital of Sardinia (Italy). Traffic is hardly an issue here, and the island isn’t crowded at all. Imagine then how I felt when I woke up in one of the most crowded countries in the world!
The minute I got out of the airport in Varanasi (which, by the way, is one of my favorite places to visit in India, not to mention one of the best cities to visit in India) I was shocked with the traffic, the dust and the never ending honking of cars, to the point that I told myself that the minute I’d arrive at my hotel, I’d get myself another plane ticket to fly home as soon as possible.
The funny bit is that it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t really bothered by the traffic and the chaos. I just didn’t like the pollution, which made my throat sting. But other than that, I slept like a baby despite the chaos of Diwali – the Indian equivalent of New Year’s celebrations, which however goes on for a week or so, with fireworks and crackers being popped 24/7 even in the smallest alleys!
I ended up truly enjoying navigating the tiny alleys of Indian cities, getting lost in the many markets, browsing around the shops for textiles or looking at the colorful fruit stalls, admiring all the vibrant colors of the saris and appreciating the grace with which women wear them. I was thrilled any time I ended up in a corner that seemed more hidden, where I could observe a bit more of the local life, get in touch with the people and the traditions.
Of all the cities in India that I traveled to, I fell in love with 7. I got to really appreciate their unique atmosphere, the fantastic attractions, the colors, the light (there is a special light in Indian cities, one I can hardly explain with words!), the welcoming, chatty people. These cities had that special factor that attracted me to them.
One thing for sure, I look forward to visiting India again, and get to know even more cities. Meantime, here is a selection of what I think are the 7 best cities in India.
The 7 Best Cities In India
Talking about the best cities in India, Delhi does deserve a mention. For as chaotic and polluted as it is, this is a quintessentially Indian city that it would be a pity to miss – even if only for a couple of days.
Delhi is one of the most interesting cities of India, not to mention one of the quirkiest cities a traveler could hope for; a fantastic mix of history, traditions and modernity; of peace within chaos. It is the kind of city where next to a beautifully restored and kept historical landmark, there is a market with all its mayhem, vivacity and colors. It’s the kind of place where luxury cars drive past old tuc tucs and rickshaws; where women wearing designer clothes parade around with their glamorous dogs next to beggars and strays.
In Delhi, young people meet in the trendy bars, pubs, clubs and posh restaurants of Connaught Place. They drink coffee as easily as they go for a spiced chai. They enjoy Mexican food as well as the most traditional of dahl.
The modern metro of Delhi is a perfect representation of the multiple layers and souls of what really is one of the best Indian cities. Here, women wearing colorful saris stand next to those wearing the latest fashion – and all of them are happily holding a smartphone.
Delhi is a city of contrasts, one you are bound to enjoy.
TIP: Delhi is chaotic and it can be hard to navigate, as many cities in India. To make the most of Delhi, make sure not to miss the Red Fort, a massive fort in the heart of the city; Jama Masjid, a fantastic mosque that can host up to 25000 people; Hymaynun’s Tomb, a beautiful mausoleum. Delhi is also home to some of the top temples in India. These few attractions are enough to keep you entertained for a couple of days, especially if you add a trip to one of the many markets.
I expected Delhi to be the most chaotic of the cities in India, but when I arrived in Jaipur, one of the nicest cities in Rajasthan, I realized that there is no way one can escape chaos in India. Yet, I loved it. An evening stroll looking for some street food means having to cross the busiest streets, where cars, tuc tucs, bikes, rickshaws, buses, trucks, pedestrians and cows all try to get through. The best part of it is that there is a nicely functioning, very modern metro that locals haven’t seemed to notice, for it was so empty!
TIP: make sure to explore the local market, even at night. You may not find anything interesting to buy, but it’s so full of life and colors that it’s a lot of fun. Among the must sees in Jaipur there is the gorgeous Amber Fort. It’s actually a bit off the city, but it’s worth every effort to get there.
RESPONSIBLE TIP: elephant rides are still offered to get from the bottom of the hill to the fort. Opt to either walk or take a jeep ride instead, and avoid getting involved in the exploitation and torture of these beautiful animals.
One of the best cities in India is definitely Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, not so much for the city in and of itself (which is interesting, by the way) but because it offers access to one of the most beautiful sites in the country (well, actually, in the world!). The Taj Mahal is within very easy reach from the center of Agra.
TIP: there is hardly anything you can do to avoid the crowds of visitors at the Taj Mahal. It’s such a famous site that there will be people at any time, any day. Having said this, I’d say that it’s probably better to go either in the very early morning, or right before sunset. There will be lots of people, though less than in the middle of the day, and the light will be stunning. Also consider getting tickets in advance to avoid the line!
Known as the blue city, Jaipur, in Rajasthan, has to be mentioned among the best cities in India. What makes it worth visiting is the beautiful Mehrangarh Fort. This can be seen from a distance, rising on a lonely hill. The view of the city from the fort is magnificent. The blue houses of the Brahmins can be seen in the distance, and the city is so beautiful and colorful.
TIP: make sure to make your way out of the Fort right before sunset, to get the best view of the city. The light is simply stunning.
Udaipur, in Rajasthan, is one of the best cities in India thanks to its range of attractions. A boat ride around Lake Pichola affords incredible views of the City Palace. This is one of the best places to visit in the city. Yet, it’s the lovely atmosphere that makes Udaipur particularly pleasant.
While most tourists head to the Palace, a visit to the local market proves to be an incredibly private experience, and a show of what the real India looks like: goats, dogs and cows roaming the streets; a barber giving an impromptu hair cut to a child; fruit vendors showing their best merchandise; and virtually no tourists around.
TIP: Udaipur is a favorite tourist destination for people traveling from Gujarat, who crowd it during any Indian celebrations. In other words, try to avoid visiting during festivals such as Holi or Diwali, unless you don’t mind literally being squashed by the crowds. If you can’t avoid visiting at the same time, just don’t go to the Palace in the afternoon, but make it your first stop in the early morning.
Jaisalmer is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in India. Located in Rajasthan, I enjoyed my time there so much that I have to mention it among the 7 best cities in India. I spent only a few days there, but I would have liked to stay longer.
Much smaller than other cities in India, Jaisalmer is packed with beautiful sights and is full of life, and to top this off it is close to the Thar desert, thought to be one of the most beautiful Indian getaways and where it is possible to go on safaris on the dunes.
What makes it one of the best cities to visit in India is the gorgeous fort, which in this case isn’t just a palace but rather a citadel, where around 3000 people still live, and which is packed with temples, shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. It’s a wonderful place to explore and to go shopping.
RESPONSIBLE TIP: Please follow the advice of the local authorities and pick a hotel which is outside the fort, and this is actually collapsing onto itself due to water getting onto the fundaments.
It’s hard to describe Varanasi, one of the most important cities in Uttar Pradesh and in India altogether. It’s such a unique city, so interesting yet so infuriating; so rich yet so poor. Varanasi is peace and chaos at the same time; it is silence and quiet as well as noise. It’s where everything seems to begin and then to end. What is not hard to establish, is that this is one of the best cities in India, one that ought to be explored.
Varanasi is a holy city for the Hindus. The Old City is a series of tiny, very narrow alleys where no cars can circulate, making it oh so quiet compared to what lies outside. The Gange that flows right by is the site of sacred rituals: it’s where cremations take place; where people bathe to wash away their sins. It’s also where the Ganga Aarti, the ceremony during which fire is given to Mother Ganges, takes place every day.
Varanasi is the quintessential Indian city, one that fascinates travelers, and as such one of the best Indian cities.
TIP: enjoy a sunrise boat ride to admire all the funeral ceremonies, but do so from a respectful distance and remember that taking photos of funerals is not allowed. Make sure to walk along the river to see all the different Ghats: each one of them has a different feel, and offers a different scene.
Have you ever been to India? What do you think are the best cities in India?
Further readings about India
Are you traveling to India soon? Make sure to read my posts: