A trip to the Indian city of Amritsar is a true feast for the senses. Of the many things to see and do in Amritsar, immersing yourself in every experience that comes your way is key. This city, located just 15 miles east of the Pakistani border in the state of Punjab, is the state’s largest. Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das, Amritsar is a center for culture, commerce, and transportation. But Amritsar is probably best known for being the holiest city in the world in the Sikh religion.
From the moment I landed in Amritsar, I was taken aback by how warm and friendly the locals were. While waiting on my Uber ride at the airport, I met a group of Sikh men who were kind enough to gift me my very own turban. Acts of kindness and generosity like this are not isolated incidents in Amritsar.
The city has a friendly and welcoming energy about it that you have to experience to truly understand. Combine that with dynamic food and mesmerizing cultural and religious sites, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a memorable visit. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Amritsar, India.
Buy Traditional Sikh Clothing for your Golden Temple Visit
You haven’t truly experienced Amritsar unless you’ve visited its sacred Golden Temple. But what many people may not know is that there is a dress code and you have to cover your head. Luckily, there are shops throughout the city where you can buy everything you’ll need.
For male travelers, I suggest buying a traditional shirt. I went with a black shirt and black pants. For the turban, I visited a second shop where I could either rent a turban for 80 rupees or buy it for 300. I chose to buy mine, as it would make a nice souvenir to take home. I went with an orange turban. There were a lot of other men wearing the color around the city and it would really pop against my all-black ensemble!
I suggest you allow someone working at the shop to help you with your turban. They start by tightly wrapping your head with a cloth similar to a ‘do-rag. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience that’s similar to getting a head massage! From there, they wrap the turban on top of that cloth and make it look really nice. I completed the look with a silver bangle on my wrist and my new friends dubbed me “David Singh!” Now that I was properly dressed, it was time to visit the temple!
Visit The Golden Temple
Also known as the Harmandir Sahib and Darbar Sahib, The Golden Temple is a place of assembly and house of worship known as a gurudwara. The Golden Temple is the holiest and most significant gurudwara in Sikhism and receives over 100,000 visitors daily.
The Golden Temple was originally built in 1589 but has been rebuilt many times in its history after attacks led by Afghan and Mughal armies in 1757 and 1762. The complex was rebuilt as recently as 1984 after the destruction caused during an Indian military action known as Operation Blue Star. The complex’s sanctum was overlaid with gold foil by 1830.
There is almost no way for words to do the Golden Temple justice. It’s already a breathtaking site, with its gilded turrets and domes and ornate architecture. Before you enter, you must take off your shoes and wash your hands and feet.
The view you get of the temple as you approach the man-made pool that surrounds it is mesmerizing. You can feel that this is a special place with a beautiful mystique about it.
That feeling only intensifies after you visit the temple’s langar, or kitchen. It’s the largest free kitchen in the world and is open 24 hours. Here, volunteers make roti, cook massive vats of maa ki dal, chickpea chole, a dessert called kheer, and more.
Thousands of visitors are then served in a communal-style dining hall, and volunteers clean everything from the floors to the dishes and utensils. Most importantly, everyone is considered equal, regardless of rank, race, cast, color, or religion. There is nothing but love and acceptance here and you can feel it in the air. I couldn’t help but get emotional after my beautiful experience there.
Visit the Golden Temple. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, it also exudes a beauty that can’t be quantified with words. It is, without a doubt, one of the top things to see and do in Amritsar. And it will change your life.
Try Punjabi Street Food
Although Amritsar is probably best known for its cultural attractions, the city also boasts a wide selection of delicious street foods that had my mouth watering the entire time I was there! The Punjabi street food here is rich and flavorful and much of it is dripping with butter and cheese, so it may not be the city to visit if you’re on a diet!
I highly recommend the flatbread known as kulcha, which is made from maida flour and lots of spices. It is crispy and incredibly buttery, and is best enjoyed with dishes like chole masala and tamarind sauce. For some of Amritsar’s best kulcha, visit Pehalwan Kulcha Shop and get the kind with green chilies in it. It isn’t super spicy, but is packed with flavor!
Other fantastic street food dishes you can find in Amritsar include paneer bhurji, a buttery cottage cheese dish that also includes vegetables and a secret masala. The dish is heavy and creamy and served with bread and mint chutney. It’s almost like cheesy scrambled eggs with butter, except there are no eggs in it at all! Head over to Tara Chand in Old Amritsar to get a taste of this divine (and fattening) dish.
One of my favorite ways to end a meal in India is by downing a glass of a milky, yogurt-like drink called lassi. It’s the national drink in India, and an especially rich version can be found at Gian Di Lassi. Here, the lassi is made by hand and is topped with a large dollop of cream and butter. It’s like a thick, decadent, and fatty milkshake. If you love milkshakes or lassis, you have to try this one. It’s incredible!
Visit Old Amritsar
Travelers looking to get a real feel for what Amritsar is all about should pay a visit to the walled city known as Old Amritsar. In addition to the buttery and cheesy delights at Tara Chand, you can also find several local bazaars. These bazaars sell a variety of goods, including cloth, utensils, jewelry, and more, and have been around for over a hundred years!
Take note that the market streets are very narrow, so be sure to move down them slowly as you browse the hundreds of shops on either side of you. One of the most mind-blowing sights in Old Amritsar is a sacred banyan tree that has a small temple built around it.
Because the tree is sacred, its limbs are never cut or trimmed. Its branches actually grow into and through several nearby buildings! It’s quite a sight to behold and makes visiting Old Amritsar one of the best things to see and do in Amritsar.
Eat 100-Year-Old Punjabi Street Food at Kesar de Dhaba
If you only eat at one place during your time in Amritsar, make it Kesar de Dhaba. The recipes at this legendary restaurant have been passed down from generation to generation for over a hundred years.
I had the pleasure of visiting the kitchens where all the magic happens and watched the cooks prepare its iconic food. I even threw my entire body into stirring a massive vat of maa ki dal!
But as fun as it was to visit the kitchen, joining my friends Sam and Deepak in the crowded seating area to try Kesar de Dhaba’s delicious Punjabi cuisine was the real highlight.
The dal was the best I’ve ever had and was both earthy and sweet, with a nice amount of fat. I also suggest ordering the palak paneer, kulcha, and spicy carrot curry. The palak paneer is loaded with tender spinach and the carrots were pretty fiery, so if you’re not into spice, you may want to skip it.
All in all, there is a very good reason why Kesar de Dhaba is considered a legendary Amritsar eatery: its food is flat-out fantastic. Make a stop there, get comfortable, and prepare to have taste buds blown away!
Visit a Jallianwala Bagh Memorial
As I made my way to the Golden Temple from the nearby turban shop, my travel companion Sam and I passed by a Jallianwala Bagh memorial. This one wasn’t the main memorial in the local public garden, but instead a monument that stood in the middle of a bustling street. Deepak, our friend from Amritsar Walking Tours, explained that it commemorates the roughly 1,000 Indian civilians who were murdered by members of the British Indian Army in Amritsar in 1919.
The incident, known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, took place on April 13 of that year. That particular day was a sacred day to Sikhs, who celebrated it as Vaisakhi Day. Names of the victims can be found around the memorial’s base.
Visiting the memorial was a sobering look at a horrific moment in this beautiful city’s history and also a reminder of how far it has come. The massacre and its aftermath are considered by historians to be a decisive step toward the end of British rule in India. Even if you only spend a few minutes at the memorial, it’s still one of the best things to see and do in Amritsar, and you won’t regret it.
See the Attari Wagah Flag Ceremony
The India-Pakistan border is located just 15 miles west of Amritsar. At the border, you’ll find the village of Attari, which lies directly across from the Pakistani village of Wagah. There, you can witness a unique ceremony that should not be missed under any circumstances, the Attari Wagah Flag Ceremony.
This world-famous ceremony takes place daily between 5 o’clock and 5:30 p.m. in a massive stadium. At the beginning of the ceremony, the crowd passes a gigantic Indian flag overhead.
From there, the lowering of the flags ceremony begins. It is noted for the drills that are performed by the security forces of both countries. The drills are known for their dancelike movement and showy high leg kicks. It is meant to symbolize both the brotherhood and rivalry between the two countries.
You can truly feel the national pride emanating from both sides of the stadium during the ceremony. The energy in the crowd is electric and there is a lot to take in.
The crowd often shouts and chants enthusiastically as the music blares and the drills take place in the center of the stadium. It was such a unique experience that I will never forget, and easily one of the most amazing things to see and do in Amritsar.
NOTE: Remember to take your passport with you when you see the ceremony. You may not be allowed inside without them. After forgetting mine, I was allowed in with my photo ID, but bring both just to be safe.
Eat at Sarhad Restaurant
After experiencing the Attari Wagah Flag Ceremony, don’t head back to Amritsar just yet. You’re just in time to have dinner at the nearby Sarhad Restaurant (or Border Restaurant), where you can enjoy some authentic Pakistani food.
It’s hard to go wrong here, but I recommend trying the chicken seekh kebab and dahi ka kebab. The chicken is similar to a poached chicken and the dahi ka kebab is a fried potato fritter with yogurt inside. Try them with the spicy mint chutney – it is to die for!
I also suggest trying the juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender mutton curry and flavorful chicken curry. Have them with Sarhad’s glorious garlic naan, Lahori naan, and Peshawari naan. I honestly can’t praise these curries enough. They are superb and you have to try them to understand just how incredible they are.
End your meal with an amazing, biscuit-based dessert called Lahori Kahlifa Khatai. It comes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and is drizzled with khalifa syrup. It’s sweet and nutty, with lots of contrasting flavors and textures.
Check out 10 Things You Must Do in Jaipur, India
The khalifa syrup tastes a lot like chocolate. I didn’t even realize it wasn’t chocolate until my friend and guide Japneet told me otherwise!
Visit Durgiana Temple
While Amritsar’s Golden Temple often gets a lot of the glory and attention, there are other beautiful houses of worship in Amritsar that are worth a visit.
One of them is Durgiana Temple, which also goes by the names Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Sitla Mandir, and Durga Tirath. Although the temple strongly resembles the Golden Temple at first glance, there are a number of important differences.
Unlike the Golden Temple, which is a Sikh house of worship, Durgiana Temple is a Hindu temple. It was built in 1921 in the same architectural style as the Sikh landmark.
As with the Golden Temple, you must remove your shoes before you pass through the doors, which are very intricate and made of silver. Inside, you will find idols of the deities Lakshmi and Vishnu, as well as marble stones that are etched with names and inscriptions.
While the Golden Temple sees a steady stream of thousands of visitors throughout the day, Durgiana Temple was free of crowds and very peaceful when I visited. It’s a great place to experience and learn about the Hindu religion.
I recommend taking some time to walk along the outdoor boardwalk to get great views and photos of the temple. Not only is it one of the top things to see and do in Amritsar, it’s also a wonderful place to relax and feel at peace.
Eat a Punjabi Thali
If you are a foodie at all, you cannot visit Amritsar without having at least one Punjabi thali. One of the best places to find one is a famous veg restaurant called Bharawan Da Dhaba, which has been open since 1912.
A thali is a large platter that consists of several different dishes that are paired with either breads, rice, or sometimes both depending on the region. This authentic Punjabi thali contained a paratha, some naan, and rice, and it was a nice change after only having rice or only bread in the previous Indian cities I’d visited.
The sweet and earthy daal is outstanding and the milky boondi raita was a creamy and refreshing contrast to the hot naan. One of the highlights of this thali was the paneer, which came in large chunks that were bursting with flavor and had a heat that snuck up on me afterward. I can’t forget the chickpea chole, which I mixed with the rice and returned to again and again.
This delightful thali is a perfect mix of northern and southern thalis and was a flavor experience I will remember for the rest of my life. If you love thalis, or just good food in general, you have to visit Bharawan Da Dhaba. It’s easily one of the best things to see and do in Amritsar. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.
Amritsar is a city where love for your fellow man and positive energy can be felt at every turn. The culture here is a beautiful thing to witness in action and it’s made all the better when you can enjoy stunning sites and fantastic food while immersing yourself in that wonderful feeling.
This is a special city that I think everyone should visit at least once in their life. So, do yourself a huge favor and book a trip to Amritsar now!
NOTE: Whenever you travel, I suggest you purchase travel insurance to protect yourself in case any emergency situations come up. In my opinion, AXA Travel Insurance is the very best because it covers a wide array of issues. Buy your AXA Travel Insurance protection plan here!