15 Best Things to Do in India
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When it comes to destinations with endless things to do, India goes practically unrivaled. From world-famous sites, like the Taj Mahal and Jaipur's glittering palaces, to the frenetic cities of New Delhi and Mumbai, India might be one of the world's best places to visit for sightseeing. But that's just the beginning of what this vibrant destination has to offer.
While in India, you'll also have the opportunity to see endangered tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park, explore 2,200-year-old monuments in the Ajanta Caves, and eat in the world's largest community kitchen at the Golden Temple.
After you've had your fill of the action, you can chill out on the beaches of Goa, cool off in the gorgeous hill station of Shimla, or even sleep on a houseboat in Kerala. Give yourself as much time as you can in this fascinating and mysterious country–there's no way to do it all in one trip.
Discover the magic of this destination with our list of the top things to do in India.
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1. Tour the Taj Mahal in Agra
The Taj Mahal is not just one of the top attractions in India–it's one of the most famous monuments in the world. The pristine white mausoleum was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died in childbirth in 1631.
Construction of the mausoleum, along with its adjunct buildings and surrounding complex, required the labor of more than 20,000 workers over the span of 22 years.
Knowing the backstory of the Taj Mahal can give you a deeper appreciation for the famous Agra attraction when you visit in person. Try to arrive around sunrise, when the building takes on a lavender-gold hue, and you can photograph it in all its glory without the crowds. It's definitely worth the early wake-up call.
Official site: https://www.tajmahal.gov.in/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Agra
2. Step inside Royal Forts and Palaces in Jaipur
After visiting the Taj Mahal, you can continue reveling in the grandeur of India in Jaipur, located roughly four hours away from Agra by train.
The "Pink City" is best known for its City Palace, an enchanting complex that has stood for close to 300 years and continues to be the residence for Jaipur's royal family today. The sand- and rose-hued palace blends Rajput, European, and Mughal architectural styles.
While at the complex, you can also wander around the Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), visit the Armory (which houses a vast collection of inlaid weapons), and see some of the world's largest silver objects at the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience).
The City Palace might be the crown jewel of Jaipur, but it's far from the only regal attraction around the city. Other top places to visit in Jaipur include the honeycombed Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze) and the stately Amer Fort.
After seeing so many spectacular sites, you'll easily understand how Jaipur has earned the reputation of being "the Paris of India."
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Jaipur
3. Make a Pilgrimage to Varanasi
India is a deeply spiritual place, and there's no better place to experience this quality than in Varanasi. Here, you can see pilgrims wash away their sins in the Ganges River, then return after dark for the fire-fueled prayer ceremony of Ganga Aarti at the Dasaswamedh Ghat (listen for the distinctive blow of a conch shell, which signals the start of the ritual). It's one of the highlights of a visit to Varanasi.
Toward the end of their lives, many Hindus make their way back to Varanasi, believing they can break free of the cycle of rebirth by being cremated along the banks of the holy Ganges. As a result, open-air cremations take place at Manikarnika Ghat perpetually throughout the day and night.
You can see these cremations up close, but it's often emotionally easier for tourists to witness the smoke plumes from afar on a boat tour. Either way, it's likely to be one of the most profound experiences you'll have in India.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Varanasi
Read More: Best Places to Visit in India
4. Cruise Marine Drive in Mumbai
If your trip to India includes a stop in Mumbai, plan to spend the late afternoon cruising Marine Drive. The C-shaped boulevard has been nicknamed the "Queen's Necklace" for its street lights that look like a string of pearls. Drives here are made even more majestic by a collection of Art Deco buildings that flank the street. They've earned status as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
After experiencing Marine Drive on four wheels, stretch your legs on the promenade. At sunset, locals head to Girgaum Chowpatty to chow down on snacks from street vendors and watch the sky turn to dusk over Back Bay; it's one of the top things to do in Mumbai.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mumbai
5. Admire Ancient Art at the Ajanta Caves
The ancient world comes to life at the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra. It earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1983 for its intricate Buddhist monuments cut into the cave rock roughly 2,200 years ago.
Ajanta's 30 caves feature temple architecture and masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, including deities and the rebirths of the Buddha, that will leave you awestruck.
You can see a few dozen other ancient carvings around 100 kilometers southwest at the Ellora Caves. Don't miss Cave 16–it contains the famous Kailasa Temple with massive elephant sculptures.
6. Visit Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi
If you think Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi looks a little like the Taj Mahal, it's not your imagination. The memorial is believed to have been the inspiration behind India's most famous attraction. Still, the lofty mausoleum is worth a visit in its own right; in fact, it's one of the top things to do in New Delhi.
The red sandstone and white marble structure has been standing since the mid-16th century and is remarkable for its symmetry and Islamic geometry.
The surrounding gardens not only serve as a refreshing green oasis in otherwise dusty Delhi, they're also the final resting place of some of Emperor Humayan's most trusted confidants. Here, you can see the tomb of his Persian-born wife Haji Begum, as well as his favorite barber.
Consider taking a guided tour to learn more about the history and secrets of this incredible attraction.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Delhi: Best Areas & Hotels
7. Lounge on Goa's Beaches
One of the top things to do in India is lounging on one of Goa's celebrated beaches, so don't forget to pack your swimsuit and sunscreen. This small state boasts a bounty of beaches for every kind of traveler.
Colva Beach, for instance, has just about any water sport you could imagine: banana boat rides, parasailing, and jet skiing, to name a few.
On the other hand, honeymooners feel right at home on Dona Paula Beach, a stretch of dreamy bronze sand complete with its own love legend.
If you're traveling with children, you can't go wrong with Benaulim Beach. It boasts super-soft white sand and a selection of beach shack restaurants with kid-friendly menus. And up north, you can see a variety of birds and olive ridley sea turtles on Morjim Beach.
Accommodation: Best Resorts in Goa
8. Take a Tiger Safari in Bandhavgarh National Park
Deforestation has led to a decline in the population of India's national animal: the tiger. However, if you want the best opportunity to see the legendary creature in its natural habitat, head to Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Its tiger reserve is home to roughly 70 of the big cats (although exact counts vary based on who you ask).
With wildlife, there's never any guarantees, but the trained guides at Bandhavgarh know the best places to look for tigers. Three-hour jeep safaris kick off at dawn, as well as in the late afternoon. You can also go tiger tracking on the back of an elephant.
Consider spending a night or two at the park to give you a few opportunities to seek out the elusive tigers.
Official site: https://forest.mponline.gov.in/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bandhavgarh National Park
9. Marvel at the Golden Temple in Amritsar
Amritsar's Golden Temple is a sight to behold. This sacred spiritual center for Sikhs features an exquisite temple decked out in gold leaf at the center of a serene, still lake. The healing water is lined by a series of lovely buildings that contain other significant Amritsar attractions, including the Central Sikh Museum and the Baba Deep Singh Shrine.
One of the most memorable parts of visiting the Golden Temple is watching volunteers chop veggies and stir giant steaming pots in the largest community kitchen in the world, then sitting down on the floor of the dining hall for a free vegetarian meal with other visitors. It serves a whopping 100,000 people per day! Don't forget to bring your tray to the dishwasher once you're done eating.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Amritsar
10. Sleep on a Houseboat in Kerala
If you're into unique accommodations, you've got a special treat ahead of you in Kerala. From the city of Alleppey, you can hop on a traditional thatched houseboat, explore Kerala's gentle backwaters, and even spend the night aboard the vessel.
The boats offer levels of accommodation that can fit anyone's budget, ranging from no-frills to ultra luxe. If you have the choice, opt for a houseboat with no more than two bedrooms–otherwise it may not fit in some of the narrow waterways. The slow, yet fascinating cruises offer lots of opportunities to take beautiful photos of the scenery, including the paddy fields, mangroves, and migratory birds.
11. Ride Darjeeling's Famous Toy Train
The West Bengal hill station of Darjeeling draws rail enthusiasts from around the world with its famous "toy train": the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
The two-hour journey between Darjeeling and Ghum on the antique steam locomotive, which has been running for more than 140 years, is considered to be one of the world's most scenic train rides. Expect incredible views of towering mountains and lush forests blanketed in fog as the train zigzags on the narrow tracks.
Official site: http://dhr.in.net/
12. Pay Homage to Gandhi in Ahmedabad
During the struggle for India's independence, political activist Mahatma Gandhi made Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad, his home base for around 15 years.
Remnants of his legacy can be seen primarily at his former headquarters and residence, Sabarmati Ashram, on the western bank of the Sabarmati River. This is the spot where he began the Salt March that paved the movement for Indian independence from the British.
The on-site museum contains a number of Gandhi's personal relics, including his signature spectacles, spinning wheel, writing desk, and letters. You can explore the museum on your own, or make an appointment for a 90-minute guided tour.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ahmedabad
13. Wander around the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh
Just outside of the yoga-focused city of Rishikesh is the original Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, where the Beatles spent time studying transcendental meditation and writing the "White Album."
The complex is now abandoned, but tourists can explore the sprawling 14-acre ashram inside Rajaji National Park and see graffiti and murals inspired by the Fab Four painted inside the meditation hall's spooky pathways. You can also step inside a number of meditation domes slowly being engulfed by the jungle.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rishikesh
14. Cool Off in Shimla
When the heat becomes overwhelming, locals and tourists alike flock to one of India's many hill stations, especially Shimla. The popular destination in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains was once the summer capital for the British in India. It's beloved for its lush green hills and snowcapped mountain views.
While there, tourists can take part in a number of things to do, including visiting the historic Jakhu Temple, strolling the car-free pedestrian artery known as The Mall, or riding the antique Kalka-Shimla Railway.
But perhaps the best part of visiting Shimla is simply relaxing in the cool weather and basking in the scenery.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Shimla
15. Spin Tibetan Prayer Wheels in McLeod Ganj
McLeod Ganj is more than a suburb of Dharamsala–it's actually home to the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community (hence why you'll see many monks and nuns in maroon robes strolling the area).
The heart of Tibetan culture in India can be found at the monastic village known as the Tsuglagkhang complex. Tourists are welcome to explore the spiritual attraction and watch pilgrims spin prayer wheels as they circle around the complex.
It's worth timing your visit for the early afternoon on Monday through Saturday, when the monks engage in passionate debates at the Namgyal Gompa. You're likely to see giggles, eye rolls, hand clapping, and stomping, but it's all in good fun.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in McLeod Ganj