In many ways, the south Asian country of India is like a microcosm of the world. It is a world within a world. With twenty-nine states, seven union territories, numerous religions, over 780 official languages, and hundreds of regional dialects, seeing all the top places to visit in India and gaining a mastery of everything the country has to offer is a very tall feat.
India boasts some of the most crowded cities in the world, where the constant din of traffic is practically the local soundtrack, as well smaller, quieter cities and towns where all the noise dies away, leaving anyone there in peaceful splendor. From magnificent houses of worship to mind-boggling historical sites to picturesque natural wonders, India has it all.
Add to that a diverse cuisine that ranges from mild to tangy to fiery and includes everything from chicken to vegetables to fish to pork to even beef, and you have an exciting country that’s just begging to be explored.
A complete list of places to visit in India is never-ending, but of the locations I’ve had the pleasure of exploring myself, these are the ones that blew my mind, captured my heart, and made me fall in love with this beautiful country. Whether you choose to drive to each city on a big road trip or hop a flight on a carrier like Air India, seeing these locations is an absolute must. These are the top 15 places to visit in India.
Officially known as the National Capital Territory of Delhi, the city of Delhi is the second-most populated in India after Mumbai. It has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BC and has served as the capital of numerous kingdoms and empires in its long history. Today, the capital’s streets are overrun with the sounds of honking horns and the bustle of over 11 million residents going about their day-to-day business.
If you’re looking to visit some of Delhi’s historical and cultural landmarks, a stop at Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, one of the city’s nine historical Gurdwaras, is in order. Delhi’s biggest mosque, Jama Masjid, is another great cultural and religious destination that makes the city one of the best places to visit in India.
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If you’re a history buff like me, you will love visiting fascinating sites like Red Fort, the Hauz Khas ruins, Lodhi Gardens, and the Humayun’s Tomb. Traveling foodies should set some time aside to visit Chawri Bazaar, Little Tibet, and Chandni Chowk (Old Delhi) for a diverse and extremely tasty assortment of the city’s best street food. And if you’re feeling really brave, head over to Connaught Place to try some flaming fire paan!
Located on the banks of the Yamuna River in the state of Uttar Pradesh is the city of Agra. Agra is a popular tourist destination that is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit with Delhi and Jaipur and the Uttar Pradesh Heritage Arc with Lucknow and Varanasi. The city is notable because of its high number of Mughal-era buildings, including its most popular tourist attraction.
No trip to Agra is complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal, a magnificent ivory-white marble mausoleum that is even more stunning in person. This UNESCO World Heritage site was built in 1632 as the tomb of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumatz Mahal.
Other Agra locations you can’t afford to miss are the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, also known as the Baby Taj; Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage walled city that contains many palaces; and the Mughal Empire capital of Fatehpur Sikri, which is located 45 minutes outside the city. With so many gorgeous sites, Agra is without a doubt one of the top places to visit in India!
Also known as the City of Nawabs, the city of Lucknow is another of the top places to visit in India. Not only is this multicultural city a cultural hub, it is also one of the country’s most important centers of finance, education, commerce, administration, culture, design, technology, tourism, aerospace, music, and poetry.
It also served as the seat of power for the Nawabs (an honorific title given by the reigning Mughal emperor) in the 18th and 19th centuries, earning it the nickname The City of Nawabs.
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The Muslim congregation hall Bara Imambara, which contains a large mosque and a stepwell with running water, is an example of Mughal architecture and is one of Lucknow’s most beautiful attractions. It was built between 1785 and 1791 and contains a massive labyrinth that boasts 489 identical doorways.
Other popular sites in Lucknow include the large and imposing Rumi Gate, the Choti Imambara prayer house, the 62 beautiful elephant statues at Ambedkar Memorial Park, and the British Residency. If you’re a meat-lover, you have to try some of India’s most delightful kababs at Tunday Kababi and tandoori chicken at Open Air Restaurant.
Travelers eager to learn more about religions that are practiced in India would be remiss if they skipped Varanasi, which is located on the River Ganges about 200 miles southeast of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi is considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism and was instrumental in the development of Ravidassia and Buddhism.
The city is also well-known for its production of ivory works, perfumes, muslin and silk fabrics, and sculptures.
Varanasi is also known as the City of Temples. Be sure to pay a visit to some of the city’s most gorgeous houses of worship, including New Vishawatha Temple, Durga Mandir Temple, and Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. A boat ride down the River Ganges to see the city’s 84 ghats is a must, but don’t forget to also visit the ghats at sunrise for a life-changing spiritual experience.
Take a day trip to nearby Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism, for a beautiful cultural experience, and wrap up your day with a fantastic dinner at Deena Chat!
Also known as the Pink City because of the rosy tint many of its buildings have, the Rajasthani city of Jaipur is a city every traveler should experience at least once. The city dates back to November of 1727 when it was founded by the then-ruler of the city of Amer, Jai Singh II.
This unique city is one of the three points on the Golden Triangle tourist circle and boasts a myriad of one-of-a-kind attractions that can’t afford to be missed.
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Lovers of history and architecture will rejoice as they explore Jaipur. The city is home to several fabulous palaces, including the City Palace complex, where you can marvel at the ornate gold doors and intricate carvings of the royal residence. Other fantastic palaces in the city include Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal.
To learn more about Jaipur’s fascinating history, I suggest a visit to both Jiagarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort. At Nahargarh, you can hear an interesting ghost story and enjoy a fantastic meal of daal and naan at the on-site restaurant. Don’t forget a stop at Amer Fort and its incredible Mirror Palace. For an amazing and unique lunch, visit Torba Restaurant for a mind-blowing Rajasthani thali.
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is a city that has to be on everyone’s list of places to visit in India. With 12.4 million people in the city and over 21 million in its metropolitan area, the streets of Mumbai are loud and congested, but its sites and food are spectacular.
Located in the state of Maharashtra on the Arabian Sea, Mumbai has been a major seaport since the completion of an 18th-century reclamation project and has since become India’s financial, commercial, and entertainment capital. It is home to many notable scientific, nuclear, and financial institutions, as well as the Bollywood and Marathi film industries.
One of the most stunning local attractions is the Global Vipassana Pagoda, which is the largest freestanding pagoda in the world. If you can, be sure to check out the Gateway to India, especially at night. One of Mumbai’s most spectacular sites can be found at Elephanta Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where stunning sculptures of Hindu deities have been carved into the walls of the island’s caves.
Mumbai is also one of the best street food cities in the world, and for some of the country’s most divine eats, take your appetite to Mohammad Ali Road for treats like kebabs and chicken lollipops. Madh Island is a great place to try amazing seafood like Bombay Duck and prawns.
One of my all-time favorite Indian dishes, paneer chilli, can be found at Juhu Beach, and you have to try the pav bhaji, dahi puri, and sev puri at the stalls near CST Train Station. I also recommend Mulund and the Bandra and Matunga localities for other incredible culinary treats. When you visit Mumbai, be sure to ride the trains for an authentic local experience. The ride is quite an adventure in itself!
While you’re in the state of Maharashtra, don’t miss out on a chance to visit its second-largest city, Pune. Known as Poona until 1978, Pune was the seat of the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire, the Peshwas, and was an important political center. Today it is considered Maharashtra’s cultural capital.
It is nicknamed the Oxford of the East because it is home to many well-known educational institutions that attract students and professionals from all over the world.
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Can’t-miss attractions in Pune include the beautiful Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple and Shaniwar Wada Fortress. If you’re up for a pretty strenuous uphill hike, check out the temples at the top of Parvati Hill. High-quality and inexpensive street food like pani puri, sponge dosas, and tawa pulao can be found at food stalls along JM Road.
If you prefer sit-down restaurants, you can’t miss the amazing egg bhurji at Vohuman Café, the keema pao at Good Luck Café, and the spicy missal pav at Bedekar Tea Stall. Grab a few friends to share the biggest Thali in Pune at House of Paratha, which alone makes Pune one of the top places to visit in India. I also recommend trying masala chai from a street vendor. It’s served boiling hot, so be careful not to burn yourself!
The city of Hyderabad is not only the capital of the state of Telangana and an immensely important historical city, it’s also one of the best places to visit in India for its incredible architecture, culture, and unique cuisine.
The city was under Qutb Shahi, Mughal, and Nizam rule for much of its existence, and those influences can still be seen and felt today. Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls because of its history as a pearl and diamond trading center and is home to many financial and manufacturing institutions.
Hyderabad’s Qutb Shahi and Nizam influences can be seen the imposing Golconda Fort and Charminar, a magnificent and intricate monument and mosque that has come to be the symbol of the city since its completion in 1591. Don’t forget to check out Necklace Road and the nearby giant Buddha statue that stands in the middle of Sagar Lake for an amazing photo opportunity.
Ram Ki Bandi is an excellent spot to have a breakfast of idli and their phenomenal Italian- and Chinese-inspired dosas. Grab breakfast at Minerva Coffee Shop and sink into gourmet southern Indian heaven at Ulavacharu.
The southern Indian thali at Taj Mahal Restaurant is also an exceptional option. The biggest dosa in the city can be found at Chutney’s Restaurant in Jubilee Hills, and the Hyderabadi biryani at Paradise Restaurant is the best I’ve ever eaten!
Also known as Bangalore, the city of Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city that began as a mud fort in 1537 under the Vijayanagara Empire. The temples, mosques, churches, Jain derasars, Sikh gurdwaras, Buddhist viharas, and Parsi fire temple reflect the city’s cultural and religious diversity.
The city became the capital of Karnataka in 1956 and is known as the Silicon Valley of India because of its prominence in the information technology, or IT, realm. Bengaluru is also home to many educational and research institutions, including the Indian Institute of Science, the National Law School of India University, and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
If you want to get a taste of Bengaluru’s long, storied history, you have to take the time to visit Bangalore Fort and Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace. One of the city’s best restaurants is Vidyarthi Bhavan, but be prepared to stand in long lines before you can eat. It’s worth it, though!
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Shivaji Military Hotel is another popular and crowded spot to grab a bite to eat. One of my favorite food experiences in the city was trying street food at VV Puram Food Street, where you can try amazing dishes like floating pani puri, potato twisters, thatte idli, and one of my favorites, fire paan!
Located on the Bay of Bengal, the city of Chennai is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. The city was once known by the name Madras and is the biggest educational, cultural, and economic hub in south India.
Chennai is the home base of the Tamil film industry and is also known for its zoos, beaches, and wildlife parks. The city, which is also noted for its fantastic seafood dishes, was named one of National Geographic’s Top 10 Food Cities in 2015!
If you want to view awe-inspiring Tamil architecture while also visiting one of Chennai’s top religious landmarks, you have to visit Kapaleeswarar Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built in the 7th century, making it roughly 1,300 years old! I also recommend a climb to the lookout point atop Chennai Lighthouse for stunning views of the city and ocean.
Marina Beach is a fantastic place to try Tamil seafood. For a fantastic breakfast spread, check out Eating Circles Restaurant, and if you’re looking to try Indian beef dishes, check out the menu at Sukkubhai Biryani. And if you love spicy food like me, don’t miss the fiery chicken dishes at Sangeetha Dhaba Hotel and Restaurant!
Located less than 50 miles from the Bangladesh border, the city of Kolkata in West Bengal was known as Calcutta until its official name change in 2001. The city served as the capital of British India for two centuries and contains India’s oldest operating port.
Kolkata is also the primary education, cultural, and commercial hub in East India. Kolkata is well known for its rich literary heritage and is also the base for most of West Bengal’s share of the Bengali film industry.
To get an in-depth look at Kolkata’s history, I recommend a visit to the Victoria Memorial, which was built to honor Queen Victoria and is a remnant of the British occupation of India, as well as Prinsep Ghat along the Hooghly River. Another interesting place to visit is College Street, where you can find the largest second-hand book market in Asia. It’s never-ending books for as far as the eye can see!
When you’re ready to try some authentic Bengali food, head to Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel for some incredible fish. Arsalan Restaurant offers incredible fish kebabs, and you can’t miss out on the stellar original Kathi Roll at Nizams.
Tour Little Rajasthan, Shobhabazar, Shyambazar, and Decker Lane for Kolkata’s most mouthwatering street food! While you’re exploring Decker Lane, get pampered with an out-of-this-world haircut, shave, and massage at N.S. Barber Shop!
The holy city of Amritsar in the Indian state of Punjab is a beautiful and peaceful city that is home to some of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my eleven years of traveling the world. The city, formerly known as Ramdaspur and sometimes called Ambarsar, is a notable because it is considered the holiest city in the Sikh religion.
It was founded by Guru Ram Das, the fourth of the ten Gurus of Sikhism. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the city every year. The city is also only a little over 17 miles from the Pakistani border.
One of the best places in the entire city to have a meal is the legendary restaurant Kesar de Dhaba. I highly recommend the kulcha, maa ki dal, and palak paneer, which are all outstanding. Another great place to try kulcha is Pehalwan Kulcha Shop, where you can have your buttery, crispy kulcha with chole masala and tamarind sauce. I also suggest heading to Tara Chand in Old Amritsar for paneer bhurji and to Giani Punjabi Lassi for a creamy, fatty lassi.
While in Amritsar, take the 17-mile day trip to the Pakistani border to see the world-famous Attari-Wagah Flag Ceremony, and afterward, dine on some fantastic Indian and Pakistani dishes at Sarhad Restaurant. The underrated Durgiana Temple is a beautiful Hindu temple where the deities Durga, Lakshmi, and Vishnu are worshipped.
But the city’s highlight is the Golden Temple, a beautiful Sikh temple where everyone, no matter their race, religion, caste, or creed, is welcome. Inside the temple is the largest free langar, or kitchen, in the world, where volunteers cook meals that include roti, maa ki dal, chickpea chole, and kheer.
Over 100,000 people are served here per day, and everyone dines together and are considered equal, regardless of their social or economic status. This remarkable place is a bastion of love and positive energy and is easily one of the top places to visit in India!
Located along the Sabarmati River, the city of Ahmedabad is the fifth most populous city in India and the largest in the state of Gujarat. The city was also the Gujarati capital from 1411 until the late 1970s, when the capital was moved 19 miles to Ahmedabad’s sister city, Gandhinagar.
Ahmedabad is one of the country’s most important economic and industrial hubs. Because of the city’s prominent Jain and Hindu communities, vegetarianism is very popular in Ahmedabad, and the city is well-known for alcohol being illegal to drink within its limits.
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One of the most sobering attractions I’ve visited in India is the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati, which is a house where Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India and a freedom fighter for peace, lived for a period of time with his wife, Kasturba. Take a tour of the house and learn about this amazing man’s life and work!
Other must-see attractions include the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, which is known for its intricate latticework windows, and the gorgeous Adalaj Stepwell, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a stroll through one of Ahmedabad’s famous pols, or neighborhoods that house families based on their caste, profession, or religion. You can find some old and intricately designed housed there and even some beautiful temples!
While you’re in Ahmedabad, be sure to check out the award-winning fine dining restaurant Agashiye, which offers a mind-blowing Gujarati Thali. Also visit Rajwadu Restaurant for some incredible baingan ka bharta, lasaniya batata, tomato sabzikhichdi, and small rotis called rotlas.
To get a taste of some of Ahmedabad’s finest veg street food, I suggest visiting Manek Chowk, where you can try creamy and cheesy dishes like a ghughra sandwich, a chocolate and cheese sandwich with Nutella, a jinni dosa, and pav bhaji.
For more meaty street food dishes, try the non-veg delights at Bhatiyar Gal such as mutton masala, chicken pesto, mutton chaap, chicken fry, chicken tandoori, prawns, Chicken Hyderabadi, and more! I also highly recommend exploring Food Junction, where roughly 20 food trucks serve a variety of different cuisines with an Indian twist!
An exploration of India is not complete without a visit to the largest city in the northeastern part of the country, Guwahati. Located along the Brahmaputra River in the state of Assam, Guwahati is one of the fastest-growing urban centers in the country. The city is also the best point of entry into Assam and also serves as a gateway to the other seven contiguous states that make up northeast India, the Seven Sisters.
Because Guwahati is referred to in many myths, legends, and epics, it is thought that Guwahati is one of the ancient cities of Asia. Guwahati is also known as the City of Temples, and because of this, it is a fantastic place to visit in India if you want to learn about the Hindu religion.
As is the case in most of northeast India, the cuisine in Guwahati is quite unique, especially when compared to the culinary stylings in other cities around the country. There is a delightful mix of veg and non-veg food and the street food selections are out of this world.
I recommend trying some club kachori with puri and jalebi for breakfast and washing it down with a glass of sugarcane water by the side of the road. Another great breakfast dish is aloo ki sabzi with a paratha, which you can try at Fancy Bazaar. The Assamese Mughlai Thali contains mutton, chicken, paneer, kofta, and rice, and is excellent. At Paradise Restaurant, there’s a different Assamese Thali that contains, fish, pigeon with black sesame seeds, eggplant, and more. At Nehru Park, try the Kolkata biryani and the decadent Oreo Crunch Waffle with ice cream for dessert!
Another fantastic destination you must visit during your time in India is Shillong, the capital of the state of Meghalaya. The city is a hill station (a city that is at a higher elevation than the nearby plain or valley) that is located in the middle of the Shillong Plateau.
Shillong is surrounded by several hills. Three of these hills, Lum Sohpetbneng, Lum Diengiei, and Lum Shillong, are revered in Khasi tradition. Because of its lush, green valleys, highlands, and frequent fog, Meghalaya was nicknamed The Scotland of the East by the British when they arrived in India.
Unlike other parts of India, the diet in Shillong is very heavy in beef and pork. During my time in Shillong, I visited both beef and pork markets, where it is not unusual to see men carrying entire cow or pig carcasses across their backs. The carcasses are then butchered at the stalls in plain sight. I visited a large market that sells beef parts, pork, fish, fruit, street food, and more. It was never-ending! It also seemed to me that the culture here was heavily influenced by countries in southeast Asia.
One dish I had that was influenced by several southeast Asian countries is nasi goreng, an Indonesian fried rice. This version contained chicken, an egg, and Thai shrimp paste and was outstanding. Other great I tried for breakfast was pork liver and intestines with a mixed rice, Indian French toast (which contains bread inside an omelet), as well as a squash sabzi with a flat puri.
Another dish I highly recommend is the Khasi thali, which contains pork, rice, pork fat, salad, and mashed potatoes with several chutneys. For some of the best food in Shillong, you can’t beat Police Bazaar, where you can find lots of street food vendors selling delicious and aromatic chicken and pork dishes!
I also recommend making the trek up to Shillong Peak to get some amazing views of the city. Be sure to check out Laitlum Canyon, where you can stand on the rim and see four different villages nestled inside it. Looking out at the entire canyon, you can see exactly why Meghalaya is called the Scotland of the East and why it’s one of the top places to visit in India. Just don’t get too close to the edge if the wind is howling like it was when I went there!
The country of India is an incredibly diverse country that has everything a curious traveler could ever want: a long history, rich traditions, beautiful sites, warm and friendly locals, stunning natural wonders, and some of the most exciting cuisines on the planet. There’s no other place on Earth quite like it, and so many new things to see and discover. Because of that, I’ve returned to the country time and time again to see, experience, and taste more of what it has to offer. And I guarantee that, after you visit India just once, you’ll want to go back, too. Book your trip to India now to experience its magic for yourself!
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