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10 Best Cities to Visit in India


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India is a vast country that is as culturally diverse as it is geographically. It is extremely difficult to have a truly Indian perspective unless you spend months of constantly travelling there, or going multiple times to different parts. From the length and breadth of the country here is a list of 10 Indian cities that can provide varied experiences to travellers of all sorts. Visiting a few of these cities will lead you on an incredible journey of history and culture.

Here are 10 of the best cities to visit in India.

Agra

Agra is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh and a part of the popular Golden Triangle tour. The tour showcases some of the archetypal monuments of the country in a total of three cities. Agra is the highlight of the trip because it offers access to one of the most beautiful sites in the country well, actually, in the world! The Taj Mahal. This ivory white mausoleum is one of the seven wonders of the world and is a symbol of love and the epitome of beauty and detail.

Not many people are aware that the Taj Mahal isn’t the only historical and architectural wonder to visit while in the city. The Agra Fort, the Fatehpur Sikri and Mehtab Bagh are also some of the other attractions that are a must-visit while in the city. The Keoladeo bird sanctuary park can also be visited along with Agra city. Barely an hour’s drive from the city of Agra the park is known for its 350 exotic species of migratory birds that can be seen in diverse habitats such as grasslands, woodland swamps and wetlands making it a paradise for nature photographers and birdwatchers.

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View of Taj Mahal in India

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Udaipur

situated on the foothills of the mountains, encompassed by shimmering lakes and housing palaces straight out of fairy tales, the city of Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan is coined as the “Venice of the east”.

The 400-year-old City Palace is the most prominent attraction of Udaipur city. The palace has multiple viewpoints of the city below in the form of cupolas, balconies and towers. Every evening a light and sound show is hosted inside the palace that narrates the story of brave warriors of the land.

There are various large lakes around the city of Udaipur. Taking a boat ride for sunset at the Fateh Sagar Lake and having dinner at the Jagmadir place which is built on an island in the Pichola Lake is a good way to spend an evening in the city. Riding a ropeway to Karni Mata Temple and strolling around the piers at Ambrai are other popular tourist activities to do in the city.

Kumbhalgarh, Mount Abu, Ranakpur and Chittorgarh are places that are close to the city of Udaipur. A day trip to one or more of these places can be clubbed with a visit to Udaipur city for a more enriching experience.

Udaipur at night
Image by @mikecleggphoto
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Kolkata

Kolkata is the city that the British had sought to build as the capital city while they established their empire in India. It does not come as a surprise that Kolkata is brimming with the legacy of colonial-era architecture. Not only architecture but the capital city of the state of West Bengal is India’s most enriched state in Art and culture. Theatre, drama, literature and sports are ingrained deeply into the ethos of the city. It looks and feels more eccentric than the rest of the cities of the country.

Kolkata has many quirky things to keep you occupied such as Iconic bridges, busy ghats, heritage structures, and modes of transports to ride on from boats to trams. The Howrah Bridge is one of the longest cantilever bridges that was constructed without the use of nuts and bolts. The British era marble museum the Victoria memorial is an architectural wonder. The oldest and largest cricket stadium of India the Eden gardens and the La Rambla of the city Park Street are worthwhile places to visit in Kolkata.

The city is also close to Sundarbans which is the world’s largest mangrove belt and is famous for sighting the royal Bengal tigers. This delta must be visited if you have more time to spend in Kolkata.

Victoria Memorial in Kolkata with reflections
Photo 7582946 © Jeremy Richards | Dreamstime.com

Madurai

The city of Madurai lies in the state of Tamil Nadu and is known as the cultural capital of the state. It is also one of the oldest cities in the country.

Madurai was the epicentre for the social, cultural and political development of southern India and it bears the legacy of many powerful dynasties. Located in the heart of the city the Meenakshi Temple (seen below) is the focal point of a trip to Madurai. It is one of the oldest temples in the country and is known for Its sculpted pillars, intricate carving and exquisite murals. There are many other temples including Koodal Azhagar Temple and Azhagar Kovil Temple to explore in the city.

Madurai isn’t merely a temple town. The city is sitting on the banks of the River Vaigai and the dam built on the river is a good place to observe the panoramic view of Madurai.

The 17th century, Thirumalai Nayak Palace is another tourist spot in the city. The palace was intended to be the grandest in South India when it was built and it surpasses many of its Indian contemporaries in scale to date.

If you happen to be a foodie Madurai is a good place to try rich South Indian cuisine.  Madurai is located within reach of the beach of Kanya Kumari, the hill station of Kodai Kanal and the backwaters of Poovar. These are very scenic destinations and can be visited on an extended stay in Madurai.

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai
Photo 26930957 © Saiko3p | Dreamstime.com

Mumbai

Mumbai is one of the most populous and most visited cities in India. The bustling metropolis is laden with museums, monuments, zoos, parks, and beaches. From a ferry ride to Elephanta caves, hiking to the top of the Vasai fort and strolling on the Marine Drive at the time of sunset, Mumbai has no end of activities. The city is also home to Bollywood the film industry of India that has a global fan following.

Being a harbour Mumbai had always been a prominent city and served as the port of arrival from Europe. The cross-culture interaction gave way to have architectural wonders in the city such as the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Hotel, Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus and many more.

The street food scene of Mumbai is a next-level experience to indulge in. In a city that never sleeps, you have the whole night to eat Vada Pav, Daabeli, Pattice and will find hundreds of options lined up in every nook and corner of the city. If Mumbai feels too overwhelmingly busy then escape to the hill towns of Mahabaleshwar and Lonawala that are are getaways from the city.

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Mumbai streets
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Varanasi

Varanasi gives an insight into the culture and religion of the country like no other city. Foreigners are often seen roaming around the city amidst the painted sadhus and the chanting pundits seeking thyself.

Situated on the Ghats of the Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh the city of temples, scholars, and legends are crazy, cluttered yet utterly thought-provoking. Being one of the holiest cities of the Hindu religion and one of the most ancient cities of the world it is the city for living and also for the dead. Dying in Varanasi is considered to provide instant moksha from the cycle of life and death according to Hinduism.

While in Varanasi elbow your way between the collisions of cycle rickshaws and cows in the labyrinth of the famous “Banaras ki galiyan” to the Kashi Vishwanath temple which is the most revered temple of the Hindu religion.

Out from the maze of alleys stroll at-The Dashashwamedh Ghat which is a good place to linger on and gaze at the architecture of temples. A boat ride across all the 80+ ghats is the best way to have a panoramic view and take in the essence of the city. Apart from the temple and river banks, The Banaras Hindu University which is the biggest residential university in Asia and the ancient Buddhist remains from the time of Gautama Buddha at Sarnath are also worth visiting near the city.

Varanasi along the Ganges
Photo 18141438 © Arseniy Chervonenkis | Dreamstime.com

Jaipur

The “pink city” is the capital of the desert state of Rajasthan and also part of the Golden Triangle tour. It has been declared as the UNESCO world heritage site for its rich heritage and culture. Contrasting yet synchronizing with the modern world, Jaipur is one of the few cities left in India that is still able to preserve its tradition, legacy and old-world charm.  Age-old forts, flamboyant palaces, exotic food and exclusive shopping experiences make Jaipur an excellent case for any tourist to visit.

The old Amber fort is perched on a high hilltop overlooking a lake, a perfect amalgamation of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The Sheesh Mahal inside the fort is known for its intricate mirror work.

The Nahargarh Fort was built as a vacation home for the royals and has the best view of the town at sunset or sunrise.

The Hawa Mahal (seen below), Jal Mahal and the City palace are other quintessential of the city. While Jaipur itself might keep you busy, it is also worth the time to visit the Abhaneri stepwell which is a short drive away from the city. The ancient engineering and architectural marvel is a structure with 3500 geometric steps. These symmetrical stairs provide great photo opportunities when sunlight juxtaposition with the stepwell and create interesting patterns.

Jaipur attractions - Hawa Mahal
Image by @mikecleggphoto
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Delhi

Delhi is one of the oldest surviving cities in the world today and the capital city of India. The city has its unique architectural identity that formed and evolved with every era and new ideas of each dynasty that swept by the city’s timeline. From Indo-Islamic and Lutyens Delhi to modern now, from tombs and temples to mosques and gurudwaras, Delhi is a microcosmic form of religious and cultural diversity that the entire country beholds.

Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort are the legacy of the Muslim rulers, Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate are colonial wonders and the Lotus Temple and Akshardham are recent additions to Delhi’s icons. These monuments are just a small part of the burgeoning list of things to do in Delhi.

Being the capital city of the country, Delhi has a thronged marketplace. You can shop everything from ultra-luxury brands, uber chic apparel to traditional Indian handicrafts in various locations in Delhi. In addition to shopping if you want to try the best of north Indian cuisine then Delhi is your city.

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Humayun's Tomb in Delhi
Image by @mikecleggphoto

Rishikesh

Renowned as the “yoga capital of the world” the city of Rishikesh is spread over both the banks of the river Ganges. The more crowded and touristy western bank has restaurants, marketplaces, and auspicious bathing ghats. The eastern bank is a traffic-free spiritual centre with Ashrams, bookstores, and cosy cafes. Both these sides are connected by suspension bridges, Ram Jhula, and Lakshman Jhula. Taking a walk across these bridges provide a captivating view of the town and river.

Rishikesh catapulted to Western fame when the Beatles visited one of the ashram’s to practice transcendental meditation after which they composed their legendary “The White Album”. Since then the place is known as the Beatles Ashram. It was abandoned and overrun with trees and shrubbery but has reopened to visitors recently.

Watching the Ganga Aarti at the steps of the ghat of Parmarth Niketan at sundown is one of the most powerful and uplifting spiritual rituals one must witness while in Rishikesh. Situated on the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh easily fulfils the joys of a spiritual and adventure getaway. It is the base point for many hill stations and also the origin point of some of the most beautiful treks.

The city also has some of the best camping and white water rafting opportunities. For any adventure enthusiast, this city is a good place to linger as well as explore the hills further north.

Rishikesh, India
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Srinagar

Srinagar is the capital of the northernmost state of India, Jammu and Kashmir. The city was once considered unsafe because of frequent terror attacks but from the past few years, Srinagar is mostly peaceful and safe especially for tourists.

Referred to as “paradise on earth” Kashmir is inarguably the most beautiful state of India and Srinagar the most beautiful city. Lush green valley’s clad with Pine and Fir trees, snow-capped mountains dotted with rivers melting from glaciers it is as picturesque as it can get.

The city is in a valley engulfed by the high mountains. The point of convergence of the entire city is at the pristine Dal lake. Riding a special kind of boat called the “Shikara”, staying in a houseboat on the lake and shopping for knick-knacks such as Kashmiri handicrafts, fresh fruits and even flowers from the floating market while boating are a one of a kind experience

Srinagar is also a city of gardens. The Shalimar Bagh is the most prominent garden and a classic example of Mughal horticulture practises. The recent addition to the list of gardens of Srinagar is the Indira Gandhi Tulip garden which is an Instagram worthy spot for its rows upon rows of tulip blooms in the season. The scene is nothing short of the tulip gardens of Holland.

A trip to Srinagar can be easily combined with the nearby towns of Gulmarg which is known for winter sports, and Pahalgam that are a very serene places if you have a week to spend in the city.

Dal Lake, Srinagar
Photo 70763044 © Phuongphoto | Dreamstime.com

Summary

India is a country for broad-minded travellers. It is a country of contrasts and contradictions. A country of 1.3 billion people is bound to invoke chaos and commotions. If you are seeking a cliché “been there done that” kind of experience then no, India should not be on your list. However, if you want to veer off for out of the box experiences of understanding traditions, immersing in the joy of festivals, photographing its colours, landscapes, people, temples, monuments then a more complete and robust image of the country will start to form.

India is unlike any other country. From the squirming streets of Delhi and Mumbai to the revered shores of the Ganges in Varanasi and Rishikesh, this remarkable country offers a diverse feast for the senses and is anything but mundane.

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Shalbha Sarda headshot

Shalbha Sarda

Travel Writer
For Shalbha travelling and writing about travel experiences is something that feeds her heart and soul. A mother of two, working for an IT company, writing is her passion and now turned into a profession. In the four years of her travel writing journey, she documented her experiences on websites, newspapers, inflight magazines and conducted live sessions.

Follow her on tripoto.com/profile/shalbhasarda and Instagram at @shalbhasarda to see more. [Read full bio]
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