Best things to do in India
Find out more about those top places in India
Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore, is India’s most ‘western’ city thanks to the recent technology boom that has seen the city’s population skyrocket to near the 10 million mark. While Bengaluru has few world class attractions, it more than makes up for this with its buzzy dining scene, hipster craft beer bars and stately Victorian colonial architecture. Unlike most Indian cities, the tech boom in Bengaluru has produced a class of wealthy young urban workers with money to burn, which has resulted in an explosion of fine dining and chic bars in the central business district. In many ways, Bengaluru is India’s hidden gem providing a perfect dose of western comfort for those who have been touring the vast country.
The former residence of the Wodeyars, the maharajas of Karnataka, is known simply as the Begaluru Palace. While it is no longer as well maintained as it once was, its sheer size and lavish decoration make clear the immense wealth once held by Indian royalty. Guided tours of the turreted complex are available that take you through its labyrinth-like interiors and botanical gardens.
Right in the heart of Bengaluru’s technology district is Cubbon Park. The architectural highlight of the area is undoubtedly the blood-red State Central Library, which is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. To make the most of your visit, tour the park on a Sunday when it turns into a vast outdoor farmers market complete with hipster activities, such as yoga, theater and fun runs, that are being embraced by the city’s technology workers.
The most popular day trip from Bengaluru is to the regal city of Mysuru, which is better known by its colonial name Mysore. While the whole city is a treasure trove of historic monuments, day-trippers with limited time should head straight for the UNESCO listed Mysuru Palace, which is the second most visited attraction in the whole of the country. Designed by the Englishman Henry Irwin, the building was the apogee of Victorian architecture in India and is best seen in the evening when its illuminated in thousands of lights.
To experience Bengaluru at its frenetic best, head to the Krishnarajendra Market. At turns gritty, glitzy and ‘hipsterified’, the market really does have something to please any visitor. The highlight is undoubtedly the kaleidoscopic flower market and the vast spice halls where traders hawk everything from fresh turmeric to amchur powder and ground celery fruit.
Despite its reputation as a work-obsessed metropolis (it is often called India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ in the press), Bengaluru is a surprisingly green city filled with numerous verdant parks. One of the best is the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, which were laid out in the 18th century by the maharajah Hyder Ali and are home to a dazzling array of tropical plants from across Asia and some spectacular bird life.
While the colonial-era Opera House may still be called an opera house, it is unlikely you will be hearing any Italian being sung on its stage anymore. Today, thanks to the financial might of Samsung, it has been transformed into a showcase for Bengaluru’s most cutting-edge technology. Some of the most thrilling experiences involve virtual reality while others simply show off new models of iconic tablets and phones.
One of Bengaluru’s most holy sites is the Bull Temple. Famed for its gigantic stone statue of Nandi, better known as Shiva’s Bull, the temple is also one of the city’s most tranquil spots with immaculate flower gardens. In short, the complex is one of the best escapes from the urban jungle.
Rising out of the relentlessly arid Thar Desert like a mirage, the town of Jaisalmer is one of India’s most magical destinations. Tucked away in a remote corner of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer’s imposing citadel has scarcely changed since the medieval period when the city was a key stop on the Silk Road. Today, the narrow alleyways and twisting lanes of the citadel remain remarkably intact while the streets of the old city are lined with ornate havelis – traditional ornately decorated ‘tenement’ housing. What is more, the interior of the fort contains a spectacular profusion of Jain temples dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Beyond Jaisalmer itself, the vast Sam Sand Dunes are located nearby offering a dreamlike experience straight from the pages of Arabian Knights.
Founded in 1156 by Jaisal of Rajput, Jaisalmer Fortress is one of India’s most remarkable attractions. Today, it is less a defensive position and more a living and breathing extension of the city with over 3000 people living, working and praying in its maze of narrow haveli lined alleyways and temples. For the best experience, enter the area on a walking tour through the imposing Eastern Gate and make your way to the fort’s main square, Dashera Chowk.
The most impressive of Jaisalmer’s traditional havelis is the ornate Patwa-ki-Haveli, which is covered in intricate stonework that would have been the envy of Europe’s sculptors. Built in the first half of the 1800s as a private residence for a rich family of Jain brothers, the towering tenement-like structure today houses an excellent museum that vividly evokes life in the 19th century city.
The best day tour from Jaisalmer is undoubtedly to the towering Sam Sand Dunes, which rise like gigantic waves 40 kilometers west of the city. For the best experience, organize a camel safari of the dunes that will let you explore their full length. Some tours also include overnight camping, which is one of northern India’s most romantic activities.
Within the imposing walls of Jaisalmer Fortress are seven of India’s most breathtaking Jain temples. Built in gorgeous yellow sandstone during the 15th and 16th century, the temples are littered with intricate stone work and impressive sculptures. For the best experience, take a walking tour around the various temples as local guides will be able to explain their rich symbolism and historic significance.
If you want to learn more about Rajasthan’s unique culture then there is no better place to go than the Desert Cultural Center and Museum. Filled with exhibits detailing the history of the region’s former princely states and its position in the British Raj, the museum is one of Jaisalmer’s most rewarding. To get the most out of your visit, arrive in the evening so you can catch one of the nightly puppet shows, which is a rich Rajasthani folk tradition.
Just north of Jaisalmer is the tranquil oasis complex of Bada Bagh, which is the site of the ornate graves of more than 100 members of the Rajasthani royal family. The pavilion-like graves, known as chhatris, sit at the crest of a desert hill and look more akin to a small city than a cemetery from the distance. Visitors can explore the site freely or local guides can be hired for a small fee.
Jaipur, the regal capital of Rajasthan, is India’s most historic and colorful city. At the heart of the city and encircled by castellated city walls lies the phantasmagoria that is the Pink City, whose bazaars are amongst the most enticing in India and whose pink colored buildings are iconic the world over. The most notable attractions are the colonnaded Hawa Mahal, which was designed with a profusion of latticed windows to allow the ladies of the royal household to see the city’s streets but remain unseen themselves, and the City Palace, which still houses the former Rajasthani royal family. Beyond the Pink City, the awe-inspiring Nahargarh fortress offers impressive views of the sprawling cityscape, the monolithic Amber Palace is as decadent as anything in the city center and the dreamlike Jal Mahal provides respite from the city’s buzzing streets and bazaars.
Just beyond the city limits of Jaipur is the vast hilltop Amber Palace, which is one of India’s greatest wonders. The palace-cum-fortress was built from breathtaking sandstone colored pink, golden and orange at the tail end of the 10th century AD and has a dazzling array of attractions. Highlights include the Jaleb Chowk, the main courtyard that was used for displays of military might, the Zenana, which was the living quarters of the maharajah’s concubines, and the Jai Mandir, a vast victory hall with a kaleidoscopic mirrored ceiling. Daily tours leave the city of Jaipur for the palace.
The centerpiece of Jaipur’s dazzling old city is the pastel-hued pink City Palace. Blending Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, the palace is an ensemble of striking buildings constructed from the 18th to 20th centuries. While the palace has enough attractions to fascinate any visitor for at least a day, the highlights include the armory, which houses a vast collection of antique weaponry, and the Pitam Chowk, where four elaborate gates represent the seasons. The innermost area of the palace, known as Chandra Mahal, is still the private residence of the former royal family and is off-limits.
Probably the most photographed building in India after the Taj Mahal is the honeycomb-like Hawa Mahal. Rising to what would have been a dizzying five stories during its construction in 1799, the building was built to house Maharajah Sawai Pratap Singh’s harem. Indeed, the building’s most striking feature, it's intricately latticed bay windows, were designed to allow his concubines to see but not be seen.
Opposite the City Palace is likely India’s most unusual historic attraction – the Jantar Mantar, a collection of giant sculptures used to calculate the distances between stars. The complex was erected in the early 1700s and was rightly added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010 for its unique contribution to the advancement of science. For the best experience, make sure to take a tour as knowledgeable local guides will show you how the various oversized ‘instruments’ work.
Ideally combined with a day trip to the spectacular Amber Palace, Jaigarh is another one of the Jaipur area’s plethora of UNESCO listed attractions. Built in 1726, the hilltop fortress has never been captured and remains one of Rajasthan’s most iconic landmarks. Highlights of the fortress are its architecturally unique watchtowers, which look more decorative than defensive, and Jaya Vana, the world’s largest canon.
Looming over Jaipur is the city’s main fortress, Nahargarth. Built between 1734 and 1868, the fort is one of the iconic images of the city and offers some of Rajasthan’s most breathtaking views. While there is no easy way to get to the top bar a length uphill hike, the fortress will reward you with an atmospheric terrace where you can savor a cold beer and get a bird’s eye view of Jaipur.
Situated in the middle of the tranquil Man Sagar lake is the Jal Mahal, one of India’s most dreamlike palaces. The attraction’s origins remain something of a mystery with historians certain that it was renovated but not built in the early 1700s by Jai Singh II. For decades Jal Mahal was neglected in comparison to Jaipur’s other sites but the newly founded Jal Tarang Project are currently fundraising for much-needed restoration work.
For visitors to India, Agra is known for one thing: the Taj Mahal. While this vast 17th century mausoleum complex rightly attracts attention, many of the city’s other world-class attractions, most of which are relics of the mighty Mughal Empire, remain hidden gems. To the west of the Taj Mahal the imposing red-sandstone Agra Fort rises out of the city center and effortlessly blends Indian and Central Asian design in one of the best-preserved examples of Mughal architecture. What is more, Agra is peppered with countless other mausoleums besides the marble-clad Taj Mahal with two of the finest being the squat Itmad-ud-Daula and the highly decorate tomb of the greatest Mughal emperor, Muhammad Akbar.
Competing with Rome’s Coliseum, China’s Great Wall and Giza’s Great Pyramids for the title of world’s most iconic attraction is Agra’s Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century as the grand mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s third wife Mumtaz Mahal, it is likely the world’s most beautiful building. What is more, after its painstaking restoration in the 20th century, today it looks just as good as when it was first unveiled and the surrounding gardens are immaculately tended. To get the most out of your trip to the Taj Mahal, take a guided tour and make sure not to visit on a Friday when it is closed to anyone not attending prayer.
While most visitors come to Agra for the Taj Mahal, many are equally spellbound by the city’s monumental fort, which is one of the finest pieces of Mughal architecture in India. Forming a city within a city, the palatial palace-cum-fortress has countless ornate courtyards, a number of towering entry gates and imposing walls that reach 20 meters in height. While not in quite as good repair as the Taj Mahal, it remains remarkably intact for a structure that has been around since the early 16th century.
Built to commemorate the most celebrated Mughal Emperor, Akbar’s Mausoleum is like a miniature Taj Mahal in red sandstone. Bedecked in intricate Islamic calligraphy and art that is in some ways finer than that of its more famous neighbor, the structure is real hidden gem that is well-worth exploring. What is more, it offers the chance to get up close to Mughal architecture without the crowds of the Taj or the fortress.
Another miniature Taj Mahal is the Itimad-ud-Daulah, which was built in the early 17th century to commemorate Emperor Jehangir’s wazir (chief minister). This was the first piece of Mughal architecture to be completed entirely in marble and in many ways it served as a trial run for its far larger neighbor. Guided tours of the complex also encompass Chini-ka-Rauza, which is the tomb of a 17th century Persian nobleman, and Mehtab Bagh, a park that offers spectacular views of the Taj Mahal.
The finest mosque in Agra is the ornate Jama Masjid, which was built in breathtaking red sandstone in the 17th century. The mosque was connected to the vast Agra Fortress complex but is today entirely separate and its most notable feature is the zigzag pattern of its various domes.
If you are looking for a break from Agra’s rich Mughal history the best place to visit is the Elephant Conservation Center run by the organization Wildlife SOS. With the aim of rehabilitating elephants rescued from captivity, the facility can be toured as part of a group where you will get to get up close to these gentle giants. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can also volunteer for one day when you will get to help feed and bathe the elephants.
Another animal rescue center that is well worth visiting is the Agra Bear Rescue Facility, which is now home to over 200 sloth bears that were once held in captivity to perform dances. While you cannot get too close to these animals, you can observe them in their expansive enclosures living their new and far more contented lives.
New Delhi, the capital of India, is a popular tourist destination in Asia widely reputed for its strong sense of culture and heritage. Located on the floodplains of the Yamuna River, the city is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. If you are a first time visitor, you might be a little surprised by its chaotic nature, but rest assured with time you will be completely oblivious to it.
The city is clearly one of the most beautiful in its region, with the perfect blend of ancient and modern architecture, cultural centers, popular restaurants and fascinating nightlife.
No list of involving beautiful sites of India is complete without the Qutab Minar. The ancient building is a minaret that forms part of the Qutb complex, established in the year 1192 by Delhi’s first ruler Qurb-ud-din Aibak whom it is also named after. Standing at an incredible height of 73 meters, it is made of mostly marble and red sand stone - there is a spiral staircase of about 379 stairs for visitors who want to get to its summit.
For calmness and serenity visit the Lotus Temple – described by many as the best work of architecture in New Delhi and India. It is shaped as a lotus as the name implies, the temple serves as a Baha’i House of Worship. Designed by architect Fariborz Sahba the building is composed of 27 freestanding marble clad petals and has a capacity of 2500 – its one of the most visited paces in New Delhi with millions of tourists annually.
Formerly known as the All India War Memorial, the Indian Gate is a symbol of courage and dedication to the citizens of India. Located near the Rajpath, it was built to commemorate the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died during the first World War and also those that died during the Second Anglo-Afgan war. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial-gate has often been said to have similarities with “Arch de Triomphe”. Look at for the many name inscriptions of the fallen heroes on the Gate.
The Humayun’s Tomb is an architectural delight. The tomb which belongs to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his first wife Empress Bega Begum, who ensured that it was designed by the best architects money could find. The tomb is also surrounded by a garden, which makes it the first of its kind on the Indian subcontinent. Asides the tomb, there are other monuments littered around the complex including the tomb and mosque of Isa Khan which predates Humayun’s Tomb.
Not to be confused as another of New Delhi Temple’s the Rashtrapati Bhavan is undeniably a worthy site. Located at the western end of Rajpath, it is the official residence of the President of India – with over 340 rooms including offices, guest rooms and reception halls. Known as the largest residence of any national leader in the world, it is very welcoming to visitors and even has a museum.
Crammed onto what is in effect an island in the Arabian Sea, Mumbai has been for centuries a gateway to India. In the past five hundred years it has transformed itself from a small fishing village to a surprisingly compact megalopolis of over 16 million people, which makes it India’s largest city. Given the lack of space, Mumbai is unsurprisingly India’s most frenetic city and it can seem like a whirlwind of grand colonial architecture, intoxicating bazaars, towering sky scrapers, glitzy bars frequented by Bollywood stars and bustling seaports. Mumbai’s city center is dominated by a series of fairy tale gothic structures, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which are amongst the finest examples of Victorian architecture in the world. Beyond the city center are the Muslim inner city neighborhoods where the vast Crawford Market houses hawkers selling quite literally everything. While Mumbai may be a sensory overload, respite can always be sought along the Marina Drive, the city’s enchanting seaside esplanade.
Just off the coast of Mumbai lies the UNESCO listed Elephanta Island, which is a labyrinth of intricately carved cave temples. Created between the years 450 and 750, the temples on the island contain a plethora of rock carved statues, including a monumental representation of Shiva, and are one of India’s most memorable attractions. While guides are available on the island most are over priced so it is best to hop on one of the regulated tours that leave from the Gateway of India.
Beyond the great architectural set pieces of London there are few cities with as impressive Victorian architecture than Mumbai. Guided walking tours of the city’s dazzling array of iconic 19th century buildings are available that take you to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which is a beguiling mismatch of Islamic, Renaissance and Victorian Gothic styles, and the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, a UNESCO World Heritage listed profusion of spires, turrets, domes and colonnades. Other highlights include the spectacular Municipal Corporation Building.
Dating back to 1875, Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks are a wonderful sensory overload. As the main fish market in the city, the sights, sounds and smells of the area are unforgettable while various street side vendors will happily cook up the catch of the day for you. To see the best of Sassoon Docks make sure to arrive early in the day as the Koli fishermen arrive in from their night at sea.
Originally named the Victoria and Albert Museum after the iconic London institution, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum is the city’s finest cultural institution. Containing nearly 4000 artifacts relating to the history of Mumbai from prehistoric times to the present day, the museum is a must visit for all history enthusiasts. Even if the collection does not interest you, the entrance fee is worth it for the spectacular Victorian Gothic building alone.
Central to the foundation of the Hare Krishna movement, Iskcon Temple is one of Mumbai’s most fascinating attractions. While the gilded complex is spectacular at anytime, for the best experience make sure to arrive during prayer time when the orange-clad devoted sing rousing chants, dance the kirtan and enter a trance like state. Guided tours of the complex hosted by Hare Krishna members offer a unique insight into the often-misunderstood faith.
Just as a visit to Los Angeles would not be complete without paying homage to Hollywood, the same must be said for Mumbai and Bollywood. Day tours of the gigantic film making complex take you round the vast studios where some of the world’s most watched movies are filmed and you will get a behind the scenes look at how iconic Bollywood dance sequences are filmed. Tours conclude with a bus tour of the glitzy areas where Bollywood’s biggest stars live.
The most iconic spot in Mumbai is the basalt arch known as Gateway of India. Built to commemorate King George V’s visit to the city in 1911, the arch was also where the last British regiment departed from the Raj shortly before the declaration of independence. Today, the seafront arch is a popular spots for locals to gather and is the perfect place to people watch in a historic setting.
Built in the 1920s on land reclaimed from the Arabian Sea, Marine Drive is one of Mumbai’s most desirable locations. The 4 kilometers long boulevard is flanked by UNESCO listed art deco apartment buildings that at one time housed the city’s great and good. Today, the drive is the best place in the city to watch the spectacular tropical sunsets and meet residents of the city, known as Mumbaikars.