Best things to do in Agra
Find out more about those top places in Agra
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.