21 Best Cities to Visit in India | All With Photos
India is such a vast and varied city that you could travel from coast to coast and continue to discover new cuisines, cultures, sights, smells and sounds, to keep you entertained for months if not years on end! While visiting Indian cities can certainly be a shock for the senses, the magical people, and interesting culture you come across will more than make up for any fears you had before you arrived.
Read on to discover the best cities to visit in India and to find out which ones most appeal to you…
The city of New Delhi is the capital of India and is a hub of history and culture alongside the hustle and bustle of modern-day life. This city lies in the broader region of Delhi, but the two terms are often used interchangeably.
While the chaotic nature of New Delhi sometimes puts travellers off, the famous sights of the Red Fort, the Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb and the India Gate will make it all worthwhile. You’ll want to stay for just a couple of days in New Delhi, hiring a driver to take you to all the top spots and to recommend some great places to eat or stay.
The main reason to visit Agra is, of course, to explore the Taj Mahal, arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Agra lies around four hours from Delhi, and it is best to stay for a couple of days, so you can get up to enjoy the Taj at sunrise (before the tour buses arrive!).
As well as the majestic Taj Mahal, Agra is home to the red-brick Agra Fort and the Itimad-ud-Daula aka the ‘Baby Taj,’ a stunning building that was actually created before the Taj Mahal.
As the iconic buildings are the highlight of your time in Agra, you’ll want to make sure your cameras are charged and at the ready with plenty of memory so you can be snap happy and capture your memories of your time in this amazing Indian city.
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is known for its incredible array of architecture that draws in travellers from around the globe. The Old City is also referred to as the Pink City thanks to the hue of many of the buildings that offer it a warm, rosy hue.
This city provides travellers with a quintessential slice of Indian life, with chaotic traffic, bustling markets, jostling city dwellers and opulent buildings that give you an insight into rituals and traditions of years gone by.
Visits to the Amber Fort the City Palace, the Jantar Mantar Observatory, the Hawa Mahal Palace of the Winds and the Jaigarh Fort are all must-sees. Their intricate exterior detailing, fascinating histories and contrasting styles allow for hours of intrigue, understanding, and entertainment.
The northern city of Varanasi is said to be the spiritual capital of India thanks to its location on the Ganges River, a flow of sacred water used for bathing, rituals and funeral rites.
The cycle of life and death is very much at the forefront of life in Varanasi with cremation and funeral processions occurring regularly. As such, the smells, sights, and sounds are pretty intense, and a visit here is not for the faint-hearted!
Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit Varanasi every year in order to wash away their sins, receive blessings in one of the 2000+ temples or to die in this sacred space, hoping for freedom from the cycle of rebirth.
Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) is the largest city in India and seamlessly blends old and new cultures with ease. Now the financial centre of the country, Mumbai features towering skyscraper offices next to British colonial buildings like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and ancient Hindu temples.
Another contrast in Mumbai is the enormous gap between rich and poor, with sprawling slums laid out next to the extravagance of the likes of Mukesh Ambani’s 27 floor Antilia that resembles a hotel more than a home!
The city is also the home of Bollywood movies, so the style and glamour of these films are reflected in the clothing, colour, music, and lifestyle of the city’s inhabitants.
Jodhpur is another of Rajasthan’s coloured cities, but this time the hue is blue. This vibrant paint was originally used to signify that a residence was occupied by a Brahmin (the highest caste in India). Today, the whole city is a photogenic mass of azure architecture that is best witnessed from above. Within the winding blue city streets lie picturesque doorways, small market stalls, and quiet side streets with locals going about their daily life in peace.
Elsewhere in Jodhpur, the Old City is awash with buzzing bazaars, ancient forts, magnificent palaces and a clock tower that has been in use for decades.
The city of Udaipur lies on a collection of man-made lakes and is surrounded with elegant royal residences that make this laid-back luxury town unlike anywhere else in India.
Lake Pichola is perhaps the most famous lake in Udaipur and features the City Palace complex on its banks. This complex of exquisite architecture comprises 11 palaces, numerous manicured gardens and stunning courtyards and mosaics that show the art and finesse that was required when creating this royal abode.
Further north lies the Jagdish Temple, an intricate Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu.
Serene boat rides on the lake allow you to take in the impressive views of the city’s architecture which are absolutely breath-taking when seen during the golden hour with the warm light making the buildings shine in all their glory.
The capital city of Goa offers a much more relaxing slice of Indian life with the added layer of Portuguese influence, making this town truly unique. The tranquil streets are dotted with an eclectic mix of colourful colonial buildings, quaint bakeries, Hindu and Buddhist temples, Catholic churches and a whole host of casinos (as this is one of few states in India where gambling is legal).
The city has a thoroughly laid-back vibe, and as it is not far from a handful of picture-perfect beaches, it makes for a great cultural addition to any coastal vacation.
The town of Velha Goa is not far away either which makes for a fascinating day trip. This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises a collection of Catholic churches, convents, and ruins which are all astounding.
The city of Rishikesh is picturesquely perched in between the foothills of the Himalayas and the flowing waters of the Ganges River. This makes it a peaceful and spiritual place, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the most popular destinations for yoga and meditation in the whole of India. The city is awash with temples and ashrams where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life (especially if you’ve visited some of India’s bigger cities).
Even if you’re not into yoga or meditation, you can appreciate the beauty of the location and make the most of nature with river rafting adventures, hiking, and surrounding national parks.
Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) is a city with a wealth of history thanks to its connection to Mother Teresa and its significance as the Indian capital under the reign of the British Raj. As such, the city features a whole host of colonial architecture such as the Victoria Memorial and St. Andrew’s Church as well as typically Indian-style buildings like the Belur Math and the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.
It may come as a surprise to know that Kolkata is the third largest city in India, but when you discover the depths of the city’s colours, contrasts, and character, you will come to understand the many sides to this vast and interesting metropolis.
Bengaluru (Bangalore) is a relatively modern city that is famed for its tech industries, but it still features architecture and markets that give you glimpses of days gone by. The Bangalore Palace was created in the mid-19th century as a nod to England’s Windsor Castle while the Dodda Basavana Gudi (aka the Bull Temple) is older still, created in a 16th-century Dravidian style.
The city has a fun, vibrant atmosphere with parks, gardens and museums such as the Sri Chamarajendra Park and the National Gallery of Modern Art welcoming you by day, and a buzzing nightlife keeping you entertained well into the evening.
The Bannerghatta Biological Park located on the outskirts of Bengaluru is also a great day out for families, with a safari park, animal rescue centre and even temples within the park.
The port city of Kochi in Kerala in the south of India is steeped in colonial and religious history thanks to its varied influences over the past 500+ years. Its natural harbour was created in 1341 after a heavy flood which paved the way for Kochi becoming one of the epicentres of the world spice trade.
Everything in and around Fort Kochi is accessible on foot, which makes it a wonderful place to wander and explore. Perhaps one of the most famous sights in Kochi to witness is the Chinese Fishing Nets, a traditional fishing method brought to India by the Chinese in the 14th century which are amazingly still used to this day! Other top experiences include watching traditional dance shows, buying spices, eating fresh seafood, and generally taking in the local way of life.
Chennai is a beachside city on the eastern coast of India, looking out over the Bay of Bengal. The stretch of shoreline is blessed with a long, sandy beach (Marina Beach) which is backed by shops, stalls, and restaurants the whole way along.
The city features a whole host of temples, museums, cathedrals and significant works of architecture to discover. Visit the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, the San Thome Cathedral and Vivekananda House, among others, for an interesting day of culture and history.
As it was formerly known as Madras, you know the food here is going to pack a punch, so eating out or taking a cookery lesson is a great way to explore South Indian cuisine.
Another eastern city to explore in India is Pondicherry (or Puducherry), a former French colonial settlement. Again, the city comprises of stunning beaches and inspiring architecture which makes for a wonderful vacation destination. Travellers can wander along the promenade and then into the city to explore sights like the colourful Manakula Vinayagar Temple, the Puducherry Museum and the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
Once you’ve explored ‘Little France’ you may want to hit the beach or perhaps discover the underwater world with a scuba diving trip into the Bay of Bengal. The clear waters here are a great place to learn to dive with spots like the Temple Reef and Coral Shark Reef, making for fun exploration.
The city of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas is a picturesque destination known for its black tea that has been produced here for centuries. The plantation tea terraces make for a stunning backdrop, as does the looming mountain peak of Mt. Kanchenjunga, one of the world’s highest!
Darjeeling is also famous for its ‘Toy Train’ (officially named the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway), a small narrow railway journey that runs between Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most popular attraction in Darjeeling and allows travellers to take in the magnificent surrounding views in style.
If you’re not ready to undertake a full hike in the Himalayas, visiting Darjeeling can give you an amazing taster of the region and allow you to enjoy shorter hikes in the surrounding hills.
Dharamshala in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is another stunning destination located on the edge of the Himalayas. The cool, hilly city is an incredible place to escape the chaos of India’s state capitals.
As Dharamshala is the home of the Dalai Lama and has close connections with Tibet, it is a spiritual centre of Tibetan Buddhism in India. This makes Dharamshala a great place to come to enjoy meditation, silent retreats, yoga, and other Buddhist practises. The surrounding landscapes are simply breath-taking, which adds to your experience connecting with nature, the universe, and the self.
The Kingdom of Mysore was ruled by the Wodeyar family from 1399 to 1947 and was part of the greater Vijayanagara Empire. This allowed it to rise to prominence, the significance of which can be clearly seen when visiting the splendid UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mysuru Palace.
Today, Mysore (or Mysuru) is perhaps better known as being the home of Ashtanga Yoga, a practice that forms the basis of many other forms of yoga.
Mysore is a clean, friendly, welcoming city that is sure to capture your heart.
Other sights worth visiting include the Brindavan Gardens, the Jagmohan Palace and Art Gallery, St. Philomenas Church and the Mysore Zoo.
Port Blair is the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a collection of pristine islets famed for their picture-perfect beaches and stunning reefs.
The city itself was once a former British penal colony, the history of which can be discovered at the Cellular Jail which serves as a memorial to Indian independence activists. Other cultural institutions within the city include the Anthropological Museum and the Samudrika Marine Museum.
Port Blair is the only destination in the Andaman Islands that features an airport, so it is the main jumping off point for exploring the archipelago.
The city of Hyderabad is an up-and-coming city that is known for its booming tech industry and high-end hotels, restaurants, and shops that serve business travellers and tourists alike.
With Hyderabad’s history (being home to the Nizams, some of the wealthiest rulers in the world), it’s not surprising that it’s making its name as the land of luxury. This is the place to come if you want opulent handmade bangles, five-star hotels, and sleek cocktail bars. The city prides itself on its style and service levels so you won’t be disappointed.
Plus, Hyderabad is the home of the biryani, probably one of the most quintessential India meals, so visiting here if you’re a foodie is a must!
The city of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh is a winter wonderland that feels more like the Alps than it does India! With the quaint Kalka-Shimla Railway, the Lakkar Bazaar handicraft market and picturesque churches set to a backdrop of forested hills, Shimla attracts both national and international travellers.
The heart of Shimla is pedestrian-only, which makes it a peaceful place to walk and relax while taking in the sights.
Thanks to its location at altitude and thus its cooler temperatures, Shimla was once the summer capital of British India when the colonial rulers couldn’t stand the heat of Calcutta.
The city of Madurai is a unique Indian destination in that it is flanked by 14 towering gopurams that are covered in colourful carvings. The Meenakshi Amman Temple that lies at the heart of Madurai is a major site of Hindu pilgrimage which is particularly popular during the Chithirai Festival celebrated annually in April. Each year the city is awash with pilgrims, flowers, offerings, music and light shows as part of the festivities!
While it would be fascinating to see these celebrations, unless you are a practising Hindu yourself, it would be best to visit Madurai at a different time to take in the city sights at a slower, more relaxed pace.
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