Writing a post on the best places to visit in India is not an easy task. If I include some, but don’t mention others, some may be disappointed – and rightly so. India is a huge country, it would take you a lifetime to visit all of it, and my experience there was limited- albeit very intense.
The country of the Taj Mahal and the Ganga River is a top travel destination, and it has a lot to offer – and visiting can be a very rewarding experience. This is a country of massive cities, chaos, crowds, noise and pollution but – just as well – you are bound to find some incredibly peaceful places; some pristine natural sites, and lots and lots of peace.
You are bound to fall in love with India the minute you land at Mumbai (or Delhi) airport. See the typical Indian headshake you may have heard about, listen to locals say “accha” – ok, alright – when they answer to your questions, and you’ll be set.
If you imagine India to be beautiful, I can tell you that is an understatement. It’s a grand country, with breathtaking vistas. It’s a country that will infuriate you and frustrate you – probably more than any other you have visited. But scratch the surface of what you see, and you’ll be booking a ticket to visit again in no time.
Are you curious to find out more about the country and discover the best places to visit in India? Then read along!
A Selection Of The Best Places To Visit In India
Some of the best places to visit in India listed in this post are world famous. Others are lesser known and not on the most typical tourist route. All of them are worth visiting for sure!
A post about the best places to visit in India is bound to mention Kerala, a state many visit to escape the chaos of big Indian cities. Famous for its backwaters which are best explored in a traditional thatched-top houseboat, Kerala is also known for the lovely, welcoming people, the thriving wildlife and the delicious food.
The best starting point for a backwaters tour is usually Alleppey (sometimes referred to as Alappuzha), but if you are in Kochi (Cochi) you can also find some good options. For more information click here.
Make sure to also explore Cochin – best on a guided tour such as this one.
Easily one of the best places to visit in India, Mumbai is a city of great contrasts – on the one side rich entrepreneurs and Bollywood superstars, on the other the poorer masses living in terrible hygienic conditions.
The main attractions in town are the Gateway of India; the Taj Mahal Palace; the Marine Drive – which is a perfect sunset spot – and the many Art Deco Buildings. The Thieves Market is a fun place to explore, much like Churchgate railway station. Other places to visit are Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Kanheri Cave carvings, which date back to more than 2000 years ago.
Another place worth visiting is Babulnath Temple, one of the city’s oldest temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and which was originally built in the 12th century, subsequently destroyed and rebuilt in the late 1800s.
Finally, Mumbai is packed with great luxury hotels and excellent dining options.
GOOD TO KNOW: Maharashtra is also home to the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, and featuring carvings that date back to more than 1500 years ago. Ajanta has around 30 Buddhist cave monuments; whereas Ellora has a moltitude of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu carvings, of which Kailasa Temple, devoted to Shiva, is the most famous.
Also known as Mysuru, Mysore – the third largest city in Karnakata – is home to the gorgeous Mysore Palace, a World Heritage site and one of the best examples of Indo-Saracenic design. It’s a series of stained-glass windows, carved doors, colorful mosaics and mirror after mirror. The sight of it at night, when it is beautifully illuminated, is impressive. Other than that, Mysore is home to beautiful Hindu temples and a great place to shop for silk.
You can visit Mysore on day trips from Bangalore. For more information, click here.
GOOD TO KNOW: Karnakata is where Hampi, one of the most beautiful temples in the country, is located.
Kolkata (West Bengal)
Packed with examples of British colonial architecture, Kolkata remains one of the best places to visit in India. The third largest city in India is home to the Victoria Memorial, where you will find an interesting museum; and of Park Street, where you won’t have trouble finding a good restaurant and a shop catering to your needs. Kolkata is one of the most difficult cities in India, much like Mumbai it’s a place of contrasts.
Catholics around the world know Kolkata for being the city of Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Price in 1979 and now a saint, known for her relentless work to help the most marginalized people in the city.
Darjeerling (West Bengal)
Famous for its tea plantations and the vistas of snow capped mountains, and home to a bunch of Buddhist monasteries, Darjeerling is one of the most acclaimed hill stations in India and the kind of place you should visit for adventure sports – you will find a multitude of good hiking and mountain biking trails there.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a popular attraction – powered by a steam locomotive, it goes all the way to Ghum on a two-hour journey that is incredibly scenic.
Located on the banks of the Ganges River, on foothills of the Himalaya, Rishikesh is slightly more off the beaten path compared to other places in the country, though it was quite a popular destination for international tourists after the Beatles went on a yoga retreat in now abandoned Maharishi Mahesh. To date, the city is a favorite of yogis. The main attractions are its temples and the two suspension bridges.
Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh)
Hardly considered one of the best places to visit in India, Bhopal – one of the main cities of Madhya Pradesh – will prove to be a good place to explore and, more than anything else, to get to know India without any of the strong cultural shock other places in the country may provide, as it is significantly less crowded.
Bhopal is sadly famous for the Bhopal Disaster, an incident which occurred in 1984 and caused the death of thousands of people as a consequence of the gas leakage from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant. Observation tours of the Gas Tragedy are a good way to learn a bit more about the history of the city – though hardly a classic.
A good 40% of the population of Bhopal is Muslim. This means that the city is packed with mosques (mostly concentrated in the northern side of the city), the most important being the Taj-ul-Masjid, started in 1877 with the intention of building the largest mosque in the world.
Other attractions are the Tribal Museum, dedicated to the seven tribes of Madhya Pradesh; the State Museum, which is an archeological museum; and the two lakes which provide a pleasant place for a walk.
Known as the “Jewel of Punjab,” Amritsar is famous for its beautiful, Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib), one of the holiest temples (Gurdwara) for the Sikhs and a popular pilgrimage site for Sikhism. As you can make out from the name, the temple is plated in gold – this was done in the 19th century, though the temple was actually built in the 16th century.
The Golden Temple has the largest kitchen in the world, where day in day out volunteers cook tirelessly for 100000 people, trying to prove that despite caste and religion people can sit together and eat.
Another attraction in Amritsar is the Beating Retreat Ceremony, which you can see on the border with Pakistan and consists of a ceremonial closing of the gates and lowering of flags. Should you want to experience that, you may want to consider a guided tour such as this one.
Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi (Madhya Pradesh)
With their incredible wildlife, Satpura National Park and the Satpura Tiger Reserve are amongh the best places to visit in India and a good reason to visit Madhya Pradesh. They are home to spotted dears, sloth bears, various species of monkeys, buffalos, birds and snakes, and more importantly they are among the top places to visit in India to spot leopards and tigers.
It is said that over 40 tigers live in the reserve, but they are not easy to see and sure enough seeing one requires several tries, at various times of day. The best season to see them is apparently during the monsoon, when they hang out in the water.
Pachmarhi is one of the most popular hill stations in India, and an incredibly pleasant place thanks to the mild weather and peaceful atmosphere.
Aside from the Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve, other places of interest in the area are the Rajat Prapat Waterfall and the viewpoint of Chauragarh, where the Mahadeo Cave is the starting point to a great hiking trail.
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)
You simply can’t go to India and skip Varanasi. Yes, it is intense, it is somewhat shocking, but this really should be on the top of your list of places to visit. It’s the cradle of the Hindu religion, the holy city. Chaotic yet peaceful, noisy yet quiet, it has everything one may possibly love and at the same time hate about India.
Varanasi is packed with interesting things to see and do – making it one of the most beautiful places to visit in India. The Old City is a maze of beautifully intricate narrow alleys, where you will also find the Ghats – literally steps that lead into the river. You should also make it a point to experience the Ganga Aarti, the ceremony during which fire is donated to the Mother Ganges. It takes place every day, right after sunset, at Dashashwamedh Ghat, and it attracts a multitude of people – international tourists, Indian tourists and locals.
Another thing you should do is a sunrise tour of the city. A sunrise boat tour such as this one is a great way to observe all the rituals as well as the daily life that takes place along the river: people cleansing their sins in the Ganges; the cremations (which, by the way, can’t be photographed); people doing laundry; the buffaloes being washed; barbers shaving their customers; children playing; dogs enjoying a bit of shade; and cows chewing everything in sight.
When in Varanasi, make it a point to try Lassi – a yogurt drink which is a specialty in India. The best place for that is Bana Lassi, in the old town. Blue Lassi is a small “hole in the wall” (which however has a few seatings at the rear) where you can try the Bhang Lassi. Bhang is an extract which is made of the flower heads and leaves of cannabis and which is added to the lassi, with the obvious effect of making those who taste it high (and it is completely legal!).
If you want a guided food experience, try this evening street food tour.
The Taj Mahal (Uttar Pradesh)
The Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, must rightly be listed among the best places to visit in India. Accessed from Agra, it is even more impressive than you can imagine – yet it is crowded.
To make the most of the site, plan to be there at around 3:30 pm, in time to walk around, take a lot of amazing pictures – the iconic one of the Taj Mahal reflection in the fountains is one of them; explore the inside; enjoy the view from the top and take in a gorgeous sunset.
As the Taj Mahal is one of most crowded places to visit in India, you may want to pre-book a tour or to buy the entrance tickets in advance. This will definitely save some time and help you make your time there more enjoyable.
Agra (Uttar Pradesh)
Other than the Taj Mahal, Agra is also home to the Agra Fort, another of the most beautiful places in India. This is a massive red sandstone fort built on the bank of the Yamuna River that is fantastic to explore and that has stunning views around the city.
You can visit Agra Fort and theTaj Mahal on a day trip from Delhi.
Not far from Agra, there’s the Fatehpur Sikri, a fortified ancient city founded in 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and that is one of the most interesting attractions in India. The imperial complex was abandoned around 1585, allegedly because the water reserve in the area was terminated.
Forget about what people say about New Delhi not being one of the best places to visit in India. Yes, it is a huge city, it is crowded, and it is polluted beyond belief: you’ll end up coughing your way around because of the dust in the air. Yet, it is incredibly interesting and packed with great places to visit, making it one of the most vibrant cities in the country.
Among the most places to visit in Delhi there are the beautiful Red Fort, which the British converted into barracks; the Jama Masjid, which is India’s largest mosque; Humauyun’s Tomb, also known as the little Taj Mahal, which is surrounded by a gorgeous park where locals enjoy hanging out at weekends.
Delhi is also packed with excellent restaurants – the most popular ones are located in the Connaught Place area – a favorite of the locals. There are choices for pretty much any kind of cuisine around, but restaurants tend to be packed at weekends.
Shimla (Himachal Pradesh)
Together with Pachmarhi, Shimla is one of the most popular hill stations in India – the kind of place locals and tourists alike visit to escape the heat (and the pollution) in New Delhi and other cities in Northern India. The center of town is closed to traffic – so that is another pleasant change. The most popular attraction is the Kalka-Shimla Railway, a 96 km long railroad that has been running for more than 100 years and offers splendid views over the magnificent landscape. It now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At about two hours from Shimla you will find Hatu Temple, a wonderful vantage point to take in the views of the mountains.
Also known as the Pink City, Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and one of its most interesting cities, as well as one of the best places to visit in India. The main attraction is Amber Fort: this is an amazingly intricate fort of pale yellow and pink sandstone that can be seen from a distance, packed with beautiful courtyards and that offers spectacular views of the surroundings.
As Amber Fort is located on top of a hill, getting there is a bit of a hike. You can go up by jeep, but you will see that elephant rides are offered, this despite the fact that this is a cruel and unnecessary practice. If you visit Amber Fort, make it a point to avoid this activity, and if traveling with a tour operator that offers that, protest against it and opt out.
Make sure to read my post A Quick Guide To Ethical Animal Tourism.
Other places to visit in Jaipur are the City Palace, which is located right in the centre of the city, and the Ancient Astronomy Observatory. Make sure to also go for a walk around the local market – it is a burst of life, noise, smells with people going around their business and it is incredibly interesting to see.
You may also want to go on a sunrise hot air balloon ride, though keep in mind it is subjected to the weather.
Finally, one of the greatest ways to enjoy Jaipur and to eat a fabulous meal is by taking a food tour to have dinner with a local family.
Not even mentioned on the most thorough travel guides, Alsisar is definitely not considered one of the best places to visit in India – yet it should be. In fact, it is more off the beaten path than one may think. But trust me, you will be glad to have visited it.
A desert outpost along the Silk Route, this small city counts no more than 7000 souls but it provides a great break from the noise, the chaos and the crowds of Indian metropolis.
There, you can explore several havelis – a generic word that indicates traditional Indian homes, usually featuring a courtyard, several rooms set around it, and screened windows from where women could observe what went on outside. They were mostly used as business places, where merchants would go to trade but also to rest. The town is also home to some beautiful temples, and a small yet busy local market.
What makes Bikaner one of the best places to visit in India is the amazing fort. It is also significantly less crowded with tourists than other places in India, thus being a pleasant place to spend a few days.
Junagarh Fort is the main attraction. The impressive fort was built between 1589 and 1593 and is characterized by lovely courtyards, intricately decorated rooms, and doors that are a real work of art. And the view of the city from there is breathtaking.
Of all the tourist places in India, Jaisalmer is one of my favorite. The city is much smaller than other ones in Rajasthan, yet incredibly lively and packed with attractions. It is a pleasant place to walk around, to explore the narrow alleys, to shop for souvenirs and textiles, and to begin exploration of the gorgeous surroundings.
The highlight of Jaisalmer, and one of the best places to visit in India, is Jaisalmer Fort. What makes this fort different from all others in India is that people still live there. In fact, there even are boutique hotels and fabulous restaurants in the fort. However, the local authorities are now encouraging tourists to stay outside, because the massive use of water by the increasing number of visitors is having an impact on the fort, which is slowly collapsing onto itself.
The Thar Desert (Rajasthan)
One of the nicest places to visit in India is the Thar Desert. Lots of people who visit the country will say that the one of the highlights of India tourism is a safari in the desert. I didn’t go on a proper safari, as I didn’t have enough time to invest on that – but I spent a good half day in the desert, walking on the sand dunes, looking at the camels, admiring a gorgeous sunset and, after dark, staring at the incredibly starry sky. You should make it a point to do the same!
Known as the Blue City for the multitude of blue houses where traditionally the Brahmins live, Jodphur is a lovely place to visit. The main attraction is the stunning Mehrangarh Fort, located on top of a hill that dominates the city, thus offering a breathtaking view at sunset, and which is a stunning view itself from a distance. The best shots of the fort can be taken nearby the lake where its image gets reflected.
Ranakpur is home to a stunning Jain Temple, one of the biggest and most important of India. The temple is an intricate work of halls, domes and pillars, all beautifully decorated.
You will be checked before entering the temple: cigarettes, food, shoes, any leather item can’t be carried inside so go prepared.
Check out this tour of Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur from Udaipur.
There is no doubt that Udaipur is one of the best places to visit in India. Udaipur Palace is certainly one of the most beautiful in India, though beware it can get crowded beyond belief. Another place to visit is Lake Pichola. Go on a boat tour of the lake, which will provide some stunning views of the palace, and also visit Jagmandir Island. Finally, you will want to explore the local market for a glimpse of local life.
Massive (it’s the largest city in Gujarat) yet pleasant to visit, Ahmedabad historical center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017. There you’ll find a series of beautiful Hindu and Jain temples, as well as other must-see buildings. Other must sees include Sabarmati Ashram, located on the western bank of Sabarmati River. This was Gandhi’s headquarters from 1917 to 1930 and a good place to learn a bit more about his life.
If you feel the need to escape the crowds of the big cities and are all templed out, head straight to Goa where you’ll find beautiful beaches on the Arabian Sea that are perfect to relax. This is a unique state thanks to the Portuguese influence which is reflected in the local culture (many here are Catholics) and architecture.
A popular destination among the backpacker and the yogi community, Goa has no shortage of luxury resorts too.
BONUS 1! The Andaman Islands
I haven’t actually been there, but rumor has it that the Andaman Islands are one of the last lost paradise in India – a place of golden sandy beaches and incredibly clear waters which are actually similar to the Maldives. You need a flight to get there.
BONUS 2! Leh
Hiking junkies all seem to agree that Leh is one of the best places to visit in India for impressive mountain views, glacier lakes and wildlife – if you are lucky, you will be able to spot the snow leopard.
BONUS 3! Kashmir
Another incredible place for mountain views. The best thing to do is sleeping on a houseboat while exploring Dal Lake.
Guided Tours Of India
If organizing a trip isn’t your idea of fun, or you have no time for that, you may want to consider taking a guided tour and leave all the planning bits to the experts – all you’ll have to do then is packing your bags, and in fact you will be receiving guidance for that too!
Guided tours of India are sold by many international companies. If you’d rather join a tour that is completely run by a local company and sold for a very competitive price, consider a classic tour of the Golden Triangle of India. You can check it out here.
Make sure to read my post All The Benefits Of Group Travel.
Otherwise, G-Adventures runs many tours that will suit your budget and travel wishes:
- Mysteries of India – 15-Day Tour
- Essential India – 15-Day Tour
- Golden Triangle Tour – 8-Day Tour
- Uncover India: Delhi – Goa – 15-Day Tour
- North to South India on a Shoestring – 21-Day Tour
- Ultimate India by Rail – 46-Day Tour
- Indian Odyssey by Rail – 54-Day Tour
Are you planning a trip to India? Make sure to check out my other posts:
- 28 Incredibly Beautiful Temples In India
- 14 Things To Know Before Visiting India
- A Step By Step Guide To Getting The Indian Visa On Arrival
- The 7 Best Cities In India
- 15 Beautiful Places To Visit In Jaisalmer
- Human By Nature Kerala: Why People Are Kerala’s Highlight
- Five Reasons To Visit Madhya Pradesh