The city of Shillong, India is somewhat of a hidden gem among the hills, mountains, and valleys of the state of Meghalaya. There are plenty of things to see and do in Shillong, between its gorgeous natural geography, its bustling markets, and the unique culture and traditions of its people. It’s a relatively small town but exudes so much charm and warmth that it’s nearly impossible to not be taken by its wonders.
Shillong is a hill station, or a town located at a higher elevation than the nearby plain or valley. The city lies in the center of the Shillong Plateau and is surrounded by hills, three of which are revered by the indigenous Khasi tribe. It is the hilly, mountainous, and valley-ridden landscapes of the surrounding area that gave Meghalaya its name, which translates to “Abode of the Clouds.” It also inspired the state’s British nickname, “the Scotland of the East.”
In addition to its natural beauty, Shillong is a wondrous spot for some of the most delicious and most unique food I’ve ever eaten in my travels. It’s a true traveler’s paradise, except many travelers don’t even know about it. It’s very much an unspoiled gem that more people should learn about and visit. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Shillong, India.
Visit Iewduh Market
Hands down, one of the best places in Shillong to grab a bite to eat while shopping in Iewduh Market. The market is also known as Bara Bazar, which translates to “big market,” and consists of several smaller markets including a fruit market, beef market, dry fish market, a poultry market, and more.
Vendors selling street food, household items like loofahs and baskets, and even bamboo fish traps and handmade arrows can be found inside Iewduh Market.
The market is made up of a labyrinth of narrow lanes and tight staircases that are bustling with activity at every turn. It’s sensory overload in the best way. Keep your eyes peeled and try not to miss anything!
One of the most unique spectacles you’ll witness at Iewduh Market is seeing men carrying whole, bloody cow and pig carcasses on their shoulders down the tight lanes.
Once the carcasses are delivered to the proper stall in the meat market section, you can watch butchers hack and disassemble them into smaller pieces, which are then sold to customers.
It’s a very raw, real, and sometimes gory spectacle, so if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, I suggest steering clear of the beef and pork markets. But if you can stomach it, visiting Iewduh Market is one of the best things to see and do in Shillong.
Note that cows are not considered sacred in this part of India, as the vast majority of Meghalaya’s residents don’t identify as Hindu. This means they are free to be eaten along with pork, another meat that is extremely popular in Meghalaya but rare in other parts of the country.
To keep up your energy as you explore Iewduh Market, grab some rice cakes from a street food vendor. Or, if you prefer a full meal, try some authentic Khasi food at the eatery in our next entry, Nat Khasi Restaurant!
Eat at Nat Khasi Restaurant
Take a quick break from the flurry of activity of Iewduh Market and locate Nat Khasi Restaurant, right next door to the fruit market. As soon as you enter the open-air restaurant, you’ll notice that there are no tables. Just place your order, grab an empty seat, and eat.
Meghalaya is known for its spectacular pork dishes, so I suggest going all out with a pork feast there. Start with the jadoh, a flavorful rice and pork dish that reminded me of a non-veg biryani.
Another traditional Khasi dish I recommend is the dohkhleh, which is similar to Russian salad with pork. This is one of my favorite dishes from my time in Shillong. It was so good!
Nat Khasi Restaurant’s pork liver is both tasty and chewy, and you have to try their wonderful pork intestine sausage as well. Just a quick warning: some of the pork dishes contain small bones, so be careful while eating them.
If you’re brave enough, your meal will likely come with a hot chili and a unique, fermented soybean chutney that is packed with flavor!
The menu at Nat Khasi Restaurant will have you in pork heaven! There’s no doubt in my mind that eating there is one of the top things to see and do in Shillong.
Before you leave, pay a quick visit to the kitchen to see where your delightful feast was cooked. You’ll see lots of large pots simmering over potent fires. The aromas wafting from the pots are tantalizing enough to make you hungry all over again!
Shop at Police Bazar
Hands down, one of the top things to see and do in Shillong is visit Police Bazar, the most commercial hub in the city. There, you will find vendors selling clothing, street food, accessories, shoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, household essentials, and much more. This bazaar is essential to life in Shillong; nearly everyone who lives in the city shops there.
Because Police Bazar is so popular among locals, it’s also a fantastic place to people watch and get a good look at what local life is like. In addition to stalls tended by local vendors, Police Bazar is also home to numerous hotels and restaurants.
It’s also one of the best places in Shillong to find locally-made handicrafts, which are some of my favorite things to buy as souvenirs.
My friend and guide in Shillong, Paul, took me to a shop selling beautiful and intricately made traditional Khasi shawls. After a fair bit of bargaining (I highly recommend brushing up on your haggling skills before you visit the bazaar so you can get the best and fairest prices), I got a deal on four incredible shawls for all of the women in my family.
There are tons of other souvenir options at Police Bazar, so browse carefully and don’t hesitate to ask for a better deal, especially if you plan on buying several items from one shop!
Eat a Traditional Khasi Thali at Trattoria Restaurant
No trip to a new Indian city is complete without trying the local thali. One of the best places to have a traditional Khasi thali is Trattoria, a popular restaurant in Police Bazar.
The restaurant is pretty small and all the booths face the same direction, but don’t let its size fool you. Trattoria’s non-veg thali is superb and one of the most unique I’ve ever had in India!
Start with your jadoh, which is a Khasi rice with pork that is somewhat similar to a risotto or paella. The pieces of pork in the jadoh are rich and fatty, as are all of the pork dishes.
Shillong is definitely not the place for you to visit if you’re on a diet! Try the jadoh with the fermented soybean sauce, which adds a new layer of richness and an earthiness that takes the jadoh to the next level.
The dohkhleh, or pork salad, is reminiscent of a Russian salad with potato, onion, and pork. It’s fatty and rich in a flavor that reminded me of ceviche. There’s also a light and mild dal mash, a very potent and spicy fish chutney, and a mint chutney with a powerful punch to it!
I also recommend the banana flower chutney, which was like a mashed plantain. There are also two different mashed potato dishes: a light one with onion and a creamy one with cauliflower. They’re both very tasty!
Don’t miss out on the dense pork ball and Trattoria’s magnificent chicken curry, which was like an explosion of flavors in my mouth. This curry alone makes eating at Trattoria one of the best things to see and do in Shillong!
It was the star of the meal for me. I also couldn’t get enough of the gelatinous pieces of pork fat on my plate. They were like flavor bombs and were extremely juicy!
If you’re more into the thali’s more refreshing elements, it comes with a wonderfully fresh tomato salad with green beans. I also loved the radish salad, which was crunchy and had a flavor and texture that reminded me of bamboo.
Admire the View Atop Shillong Peak
When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is visit the local spot with the best vantage point so I can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city. Usually that means going to an observation deck, but in Shillong, the best views are at nearby Shillong Peak.
If you’re on a tight schedule, give yourself some extra time because the 10-kilometer route from the city to the mountaintop can get congested with traffic. The views you’ll enjoy from the top are worth any traffic jams you might encounter!
I rode to Shillong Peak on the back of my friend and guide Paul’s scooter. The drive took about 15 minutes. Though India is mostly known as a steamy, tropical country, remember that Meghalaya is quite mountainous and is at a higher elevation, so make preparations in case it gets chilly up there. Pack a sweater or hoodie just in case!
On the way up to the peak, you might come across a colorful Catholic graveyard, which reminded me of a cemetery I’d visited in Guatemala because of the vibrant colors. But the main attraction is the peak itself.
From the lookout point atop Shillong Peak, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the city below and beyond. The never-ending mountainous landscape and lush greenery reminded me of places I’d visited in Europe.
Even if you visit on a gloomy day like I did, it’s still well worth the time it takes to get up there. Visiting Shillong Peak is undoubtedly one of the top things to see and do in Shillong!
Eat Breakfast and Nighttime Street Food at Police Bazar
Police Bazar is well-known for its fantastic restaurants and great shopping. But what some tourists may not know is that it’s also one of the best spots in the city to find street food. The only thing is, you have to get there at certain times of the day to enjoy them.
Early risers looking for breakfast should browse the stalls for some puri sabzi. This dish consists of a deflated puri (a crispy, puffed-up flatbread) and an amazing-looking squash sabzi with onion.
While the puri is crispy on the outside, it’s soft and tender on the inside. It goes extremely well with the oily sabzi and the crunch of the onion and is a must-have!
Another tasty breakfast food item is the popular Khasi pork salad known as dohkhleh. Eat it alongside some gelatinous and flavorful pork fat, which tastes like bacon, and some tender and juicy meatballs with a flatbread called chapati. The meatballs are out of this world!
I also highly recommend trying the chicken thigh, which comes bathed in a mind-blowing curry, the jadoh, and the pickled bamboo shoots with chilies. There’s also a dried, smoked beef curry that tastes a lot like a mild beef jerky!
You can’t miss the pitha, which is a mouthwatering pounded rice patty with coconut and sugar. It’s sweet and filling and makes breakfast at Police Bazar one of the top things to see and do in Shillong. Don’t pass up the spicy egg toast with onions and chilies, either. It’s a near-perfect breakfast item and contains the right amount of spice!
Finish off your breakfast at Police Bazaar with a cup of hot, frothy chai! This creamy, spice-filled, tea-based drink is one of my favorites to have in India, but I didn’t see much of it during my time in Assam and Meghalaya. Definitely get some there while you’re in Shillong!
Street food isn’t as big in Meghalaya as it is in other parts of India, and can really only be found at night. So after having breakfast at Police Bazar, be sure to double back after nightfall to try the sensational dinner offerings there!
I recommend starting with the crispy and juicy barbecued chicken drumsticks. They won’t be hard to miss; you’ll find them sizzling on grills with impressive, orange flames dancing around them!
They come with onions and chutney on the side. Every bite of the tender meat is infused with smoky, barbecue flavor. The fattiness of the chicken makes it even better and the chutney takes it to a new level. You must try this chicken!
The grilled and skewered pork stomach is another fantastic street food you can find at Police Bazar. It’s extremely fatty and is served charred. Despite the char, it’s quite juicy! Try it with some chutney and lemon for an added flavor boost. It’s the best barbecued pork I’ve ever had!
I also recommend trying the chicken momos, which are basically chicken dumplings. The pulled chicken inside is moist and tender. The momos come with a nice, fairly mild red sauce, which amplifies the flavor and adds to the wonderful mix of contrasting textures.
Some of the food in this part of India is influenced by Chinese cuisine, including the next dish you have to try, chow. This dish consists of thin, dry noodles with chicken and onion. It’s quite tasty on its own, but if you need a spicy kick like I did, mix in some green chili sauce. This dish was pretty similar to Thai glass noodles!
The last dish you have to try on your nighttime food tour of Police Bazar is an Indian version of an Indonesian fried rice dish called nasi goreng. This variation of nasi goreng contains chicken instead of the more traditional seafood, though shrimp paste is still used.
It is served with crunchy prawn chips, mixed vegetables, and a fried egg, all of which create an unbelievable combination of flavors and textures that had my mouth watering from the very first bite. It’s one of my top fried rice dishes of all time and eating some is easily one of the top things to see and do in Shillong!
Visit Elephant Falls
There is a very good reason why British imperial authorities nicknamed Meghalaya “the Scotland of the East” when they arrived in the area during the British Raj. The lush, green landscapes, erupting with jagged mountain peaks with deep valleys nestled between them, reminded them of Scotland.
Another hallmark of Scotland is its spectacular waterfalls. And like Scotland, Meghalaya boasts some gorgeous falls of its own, including Elephant Falls, located in Upper Shillong about 12 kilometers away from the main city.
Formerly known by their Khasi name, Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew (“Three Steps Waterfalls”), Elephant Falls were so renamed by the British because of a rock on the left side of the main falls that resembled an elephant. That rock was destroyed in an earthquake in 1897, but the name has stuck even without it.
Elephant Falls consists of three tiers that can be easily accessed via a steep staircase, followed by a gentle walking path. From the path, you can easily view each tier up close and watch the steam-like spray rise into the air as the water crashes onto the rocks below. The falls are stunning! Seeing them is definitely one of the top things to see and do in Shillong.
Eat a Home-Cooked Meal at a Local’s House
I’m a big proponent of solo travel. It forces you to adapt and immerse yourself into the culture of the places you visit and helps you grow in ways you never thought possible.
When I travel solo, I like to make contacts with locals who can serve as my guide before I arrive in the country so I get the most “local” experience possible. And there is nothing more local or immersive than being invited into a new friend’s home and being served a traditional, home-cooked meal.
I had that experience in Meghalaya when Jordan, a good friend of my guide Paul, invited us and my driver, Dickie, into his home for a meal. It was a friendly and welcoming gesture I will never forget for as long as I live. Jordan’s mother whipped up an exceptional Khasi feast for us that included several dishes I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
From the perfectly fried mincemeat beef patty to the tender and fatty pork with sesame curry to the chewy, Angus-like dried beef, I was in Khasi food heaven that day. I enjoyed an amazing meal and even better conversation with my new friends from Meghalaya. That, to me, is what traveling is all about.
If you ever get invited into a local’s home for a meal while traveling, take them up on their offer. It’s a truly beautiful experience and is near the top of my list of things to see and do in Shillong.
Stay at The Homestead B&B
Another thing I do when I travel is stay at places that give me a real feel for the local flavor. That usually means eschewing hotels in favor of Airbnbs, homestays, and other homey accommodations where I’d have total independence.
The best accommodation with a local, home-like feel in Shillong is The Homestead B&B, a three-story building just 10 minutes away from Police Bazaar.
The homestead has five rooms and a cottage, as well as a rooftop hut where you can eat meals. Because of its location right across from St. Anthony’s College and just minutes away from Police Bazaar, it’s in a fine location for guests looking to explore various sites around the city.
The building features lots of potted plants and a beautiful terrace on level two. From the seating on the terrace, you can enjoy some fresh air while you work or look out at the street below.
The units are basically studio apartments. My unit on level two featured a bedroom with two comfortable twin beds and a flat screen TV. Elsewhere in the unit are closets with towels and ample hanging space for your clothes, clothing racks, a super clean marble bathroom, and photos of locations around Meghalaya on the walls. Each unit also has WiFi, which is extremely important to me because I need it for work!
The Assam-style cottage on the property features a large living room with 12-foot-high walls, a sleek bathroom, a large master bedroom with a king-sized bed, a massive kitchen, and a second, smaller bedroom and bathroom.
Best of all, the owner is super nice and friendly and made my stay there as comfortable and as memorable as possible. Stay at The Homestead B&B when you come to Shillong. Laying your head there is definitely one of the top things to see and do in Shillong!
Eat Spicy Naga Food at Naga Mandarin Restaurant
As a foodie, there are few things I love more than getting a taste of authentic, regional cuisine when I travel. On my final night in Meghalaya, my friend Paul took me to Naga Mandarin Restaurant to get Naga food from the nearby state of Nagaland. It was quite the experience and is one of the top things to see and do in Shillong!
When you try Naga food, you’ll soon learn that it contains lots of bamboo shoots and ghost peppers, which are some of the hottest peppers in the world. When you arrive at Naga Mandarin Restaurant, check out the photos of tribespeople from Nagaland on the walls as well as the gift shop.
Then I suggest sitting down and ordering the Mini Naga meal, which consists of pork, red rice, dried bamboo shoots, mashed potatoes, pulled veg, soup, two chutneys, and smoked fish curry. A word of caution before you order: this meal is downright fiery, so if you’re not into intense heat, you might want to skip this one!
The heat from the pork and bamboo shoot curry is very potent. The pork is quite smoky and tender and contains a lot of fat. Try it with the red rice for a fantastic flavor combination. The king pepper chutney and fish chutney are both very hot, as are the potatoes, which also contain chilies, onions, and lots of herbs.
The soup is made with fermented soybeans that had a very Chinese flavor profile and reminded me of miso soup. It’s quite good! The smoked fish curry is good but contains lots of little bones, so it wasn’t my favorite.
A dish I can recommend—at least for spice diehards like me—is the smoked beef chutney, which is as flavorful as it is hot! It might have been a little too intense for me, as it had my lips and tongue burning for a long time afterward! Be sure to mix it with the rice and eat the provided cucumbers between bites to calm down the heat. If you need more relief after that, try the mouth fresheners!
If you can handle the heat, go have a meal at Naga Mandarin Restaurant. It’s one of the top things to see and do in Shillong for a reason!
BONUS: Get a Haircut and Massage at King City Gents Saloon
I had my first Indian haircut and face massage in the city of Kolkata in November of 2018. It blew my mind. When I returned to India five months later to visit Assam and Meghalaya, I knew I had to repeat the experience.
This time, I visited King City Gents Saloon in the Muda Shopping Complex in Police Bazaar. The pampering I experienced there was next level and is one of the best things to see and do in Shillong.
My barber was a total pro. I asked for a skin haircut and it’s exactly what I got. The best part about the entire haircut experience is that it’s extremely inexpensive for how thorough and all-encompassing it is. It only cost me $6 or $7 U.S., a far cry from the $25 I’d pay for the same haircut at home in Miami.
But the real pampering began with the facial massage, which cost me an extra 500 rupees, or a little over $7. I had a lot of tension in my face from all the recent traveling I’d done, so I needed it. The barber lathers your entire face with a generous amount of cream and then massages it into your skin vigorously. It’s so relaxing, I practically fell asleep.
After ten minutes of letting the cream sit, the barber then steams your face and removes the cream, along with any tension you had there. He finishes up by spraying your face with water and wiping it away with alcohol. It really opens your pores and makes you feel incredibly refreshed afterward.
You can leave it at that if you wish or you can continue with a body massage. With the body massage, the barber will start with an intense massage of your back, which I needed after carrying around heavy gear on my back for days on end.
The barber follows that up by massaging and twisting your arms, massaging your hands and fingers, and finally, finishing up by getting your shoulders. It’s very intense but you feel so good and refreshed after he’s finished!
The best thing about the haircut experience is that it only costs $6 or $7 U.S. total for the haircut, facial massage, and body massage. In my hometown of Miami, a haircut alone would cost me $25. For all of my male travelers out there, when you go to Shillong, stop by King City Gents Saloon for the best haircut experience on the planet. It’s one of the best things to see and do in Shillong and you will never forget it!
Whether you go to Shillong looking for beautiful natural wonders, excellent shopping, unique cultural experiences, delicious traditional food, or a little of everything, you’ll find it there. The people are kind and friendly and the gorgeous landscapes will blow you away. It’s among my favorite places I’ve ever visited and there is no doubt in my mind that it’ll be one of yours as well. Book a trip to Shillong today!
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