The beautiful and fabled land of India is known for its extremes, history, and enormous diversity. The country is still one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and attracts backpackers, cultural and spiritual seekers, and just those in search of a good party. As it is also the birthplace of yoga, it comes as no surprise that many travellers travel across the globe experience a yoga retreat in India. Love it or hate it, your trip to India is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. I’ve been privileged to have spent many years in this incredible country and from my time here, these are my personal recommendations for the best and most beautiful places to visit in India…
1. Agra and Taj Mahal – most of the most famous attractions in India
Agra is an unmissable stop on your tour of India. There are many places of interest to a visitor in Agra, the most famous of course being the iconic and very beautiful Taj Mahal. A UNESCO World Heritage site and an eternal symbol of love (it was built by an emperor in memory of his third wife). The white-domed structure boasts delicately detailed interiors, tranquil gardens and a collection of other impressive buildings.
The Agra Fort is the sister monument of the Taj Mahal and also holds UNESCO heritage site status. The striking fort dates from the year 1000 but was later remodelled in the 1500s to be used as a palace. Thirteen kilometres from the Agra Fort you will find Akbar’s Tomb, a stunning red-ochre sandstone tomb and another architectural masterpiece.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Agra and Taj Mahal
2. Shimla – a stunning city in the Himalayan foothills which is one of the best places to explore in India
A popular tourist destination located in the north-west Himalayas, gorgeous Shimla is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of Hills.’ Its colourful colonial past is still evident today and the town is characterised by unusual neo-gothic buildings surrounded by thick forest and outstanding views, offering a very different feel to the rest of India.
‘The Mall’ is the main shopping street and the hub of the city where tourists and locals like to meet, shop and eat. This area also has a good number of clubs and bars great for those looking to step it up a gear.
The Christ Church is also worth a visit – it’s the second oldest church in northern India and its stained glass windows are designed in a distinctive style that you won’t find anywhere else. Also don’t leave Shimla without visiting Jakhu Hill – the highest peak which is also home to many playful monkeys who hang out waiting to be fed. From Shimla, you can also visit a comparatively offbeat destination called Chai. Read this Shimla to Chail Guide for more information.
Beautiful Shimla shot in 4k…
Hotels and Airbnbs in Shimla
3. Goa – the famously beautiful beach and party resort
The famous idyllic party place should not be missed and it’s still one of the most popular places to visit in India as well as the most beautiful. If you decide to take a trip, I recommend not leaving the island’s coastal areas. Goa is the smallest state in India and has the most beautiful beaches by far – when you’re here you’ll want to make the most of them.
Many refer to Goa as a tropical paradise and when you’re here enjoying the warm temperatures, clear turquoise water, and palm trees you’ll also probably agree. If you time your visit around the Goa Carnival held every February you’ll be treated to three days and nights of music, lights, dancers, and awesome food.
This is when the legendary King Momo takes over the state and the island becomes party central. Originally celebrated in the 1800s by locals only, now both tourists and locals come here to have a good time.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Goa, India
4. Mumbai – the bustling and vibrant city which is one of the most famous cities to visit in India
This place has a kind of beauty all of its own. Formally known as Bombay, Mumbai is the most populated city in India. Noisy, frantic, and polluted, Mumbai is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and wealth extremes. Even though the city is developing at a fast rate, unfortunately, you’ll still see many scenes of poverty.
The city is also the birthplace of Indian cinema and there are many theatres to watch movies from all over the world (including the world’s largest IMAX dome theatre).
A visually impressive city Mumbai has a large metropolitan area comparable to the size of New York’s skyline and a fine but eclectic mix of colonial buildings, stylish bars, colourful bazaars, and shiny new malls. Finding something to do here would not be a problem.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Mumbai
5. Varanasi – an intriguing and beautiful city which is regarded as sacred by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.
If you wanted to bottle the essence of Hindu spirituality, then Varanasi would be the place to do it. Walking along the ghats along the River Ganges in this Uttar Pradesh city is not an experience that any visitor ever forgets.
While this city is very much alive, it is also fundamentally about death and rebirth. Here you can watch public cremation ceremonies at the Ganges by day and witness the Hindu aarti ritual by night. Aarti is a part of puja (worship) where light is offered to the gods at the different ghats.
Holy men (known as sadhus) as well as babas and aghoris all spend their days down at the ghats. The sadhus are holy men, often swathed in orange, babas are so-called spiritual gurus and aghoris drink the blood of the dead and cover themselves in cremation ashes.
Not all of them have good intentions so be careful. It is common for holy men to be naked and covered in powder or ashes, some adorn their penises and even do tricks with them for tourists. Varanasi is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
6. The backwaters of Kerala – a network of brackish lagoons and a famous beauty spot to visit in India
The backwaters are a beautiful chain of lakes and lagoons along the Arabian sea coast and are a place in India that definitely shouldn’t be missed – they are considered to be the number one tourist destination in India. Ferries here will take you anywhere and you can even hire a houseboat to stay in.
In the Kuttanad region of Alappuzha you’ll also be treated to boat races, where you will also find snake boats that can hold up to a hundred oarsmen. Thousands of fans line the riverbanks and cheer on their favourite teams which makes for a great atmosphere.
There are dozens of villages and communities throughout this area which you can visit and get a real sense of everyday life and culture in this interesting place.
7. Hindu Kapaleeshwarar Temple – the temple’s towers were once the tallest structures in one of the oldest cities in India
Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu is one of India’s most spiritual regions, with many exquisite Hindu temples and ruins. In the region of Mylapore in Chennai (formerly known as Madras) you can find the wonderful Hindu Kapaleeshwarar Temple. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva with an incredible rainbow-coloured gopuram (tower), with a large pool within its walls.
Nearby is the busy Marina beach, the second longest urban beach in the world, a hectic stretch of land complete with a market and its own lighthouse. At the nearby San Thome Cathedral, you can attend mass and visit the tomb of St Thomas the apostle that resides there.
8. Gokarna, Karnataka – a much less touristy alternative to Goa
Further up the coast from the famous tourist state of Goa is the much more understated Karnataka region, with Gokarna as the jewel in its crown. It’s relaxed vibe and stunning beaches has made it a popular place for yoga schools and retreats as well as backpackers. Pilgrims and visitors alike also love the Shivaratri and Ganesh Chaturthi festivals that are held here.
While Gokarna town beach is nothing to write home about, the nearby Kudle Beach is a beautiful place where people (and cows) play volleyball and sing until the sun goes down. From there it’s a short walk to Om Beach, named as it’s shaped like the famous symbol. Further on is Small Hell Beach and Paradise Beach.
Every night travellers sleep under the stars on Paradise Beach, watching the moon when it’s bright, and the bioluminescence in the sea when there are clouds in the sky and its dark.
9. Jodhpur – the beautiful and incredible ‘Blue City’
Jodhpur in Rajasthan is known as the ‘Blue City’ as so many of this city’s buildings are painted in a Brahmin blue colour. Residents did this to distinguish themselves as Brahmins.
This isn’t the only history to be found here as it’s also home to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. Inside one of India’s largest forts is Maharaja Gaj Singh II’s personal collection of riches, and there are a lot of them, with over 15,000 treasures to see in total.
There are cultural performances that take place in various areas of the fort throughout the day. For those that want even more history, there is also the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Jaswant Thada marble building, and the beautiful Mandore Gardens.
10. Old Silk Road Route – a network of ancient trade routes which connected the East and West
India’s portion of the Silk Route that runs from Anatolia through China is the Great Royal Road. It runs from Taxila near the Himalayas to the mouth of the Ganges on the other side of the country.
The main cities it goes through are Delhi, Allahabad, and Patna so it’s a real journey through North Indian life. Just like the many trade routes through Asia, India’s old silk route has so much to offer, from amazing landscapes to the different cultures that you meet along the way.
11. Gadi Sagar – one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is known as the ‘golden city’ for the way its yellow sandstone architecture blends in with the Thar Desert, almost as if it is trying to hide itself. The lifeline of this dry city is the Gadi Sagar.
This manmade lake has its own golden gate and is surrounded by temples, shrines, and ghats. It’s also a beautiful place to watch the sunset against the haze of the desert reflected in the water. The eagle-eyed will spot many migratory birds feeding at the lake, from spoonbills to black-winged stilts and domestic geese.
12. Pushkar, India – one of the most ancient cities of India and a stunning and hypnotic place to explore
The town of Pushkar is on the edge of the Thar Desert and built around a lake which is divided into ghats that are of great importance to Hindu pilgrims.
It’s biggest draw is two festivals that run side-by-side, the Hindu ceremonies of Kartik Purnima and the accompanying camel festival. The camel market and festival were designed to encourage trade during the religious celebrations.
As well as the elaborately dressed camels, there are competitions like best mustache, sports matches and cultural shows too. It’s an action-packed 8 days of entertainment that you won’t ever forget. In the evenings the temples host puja ceremonies and dance shows as well as the aartis down by the lake. Throughout the days, pilgrims bathe in the lake to cleanse after their long journey to the desert.
13. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh – the magnificent and cultural epicenter of Arunachal Pradesh
Tawang is a town in Arunachal Pradesh that is right on the North-Eastern corner of the country, close to the border with Bhutan. While Bhutan is very expensive to visit, here you can get a taste of the same incredible scenery for a much cheaper price
It’s an important place for Buddhists as it was the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso. Many pilgrims come to pay their respects at the Tawang Monastery, the largest in India. Nature lovers can enjoy the Gudpi Mountains, the Tawang Valley and the Madhuri Lake, all famous areas of beauty embedded in this incredible landscape.
14. Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab – a beautiful and spiritual place and the main attraction in the city of Amritsar
Amritsar is a city close to India’s border with Pakistan that is the beating heart of Punjab as well as a principal place of worship for Sikhs. The Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) is considered the holiest shrine in Sikhism and draws people from all over the world to marvel and worship at it. Many tourists return to the temple after darkness falls to listen to the sounds of prayer emanating from it.
Everyone that visits the temple can sit down for a free meal, known as langar, which is served to 50,000 people by hundreds of volunteers every day. The food is made in vats due to the scale of it, and each plate is washed 5 times afterwards. In the early evening, don’t miss the Wagah-Attari border ceremony.
This is an elaborate ceremony performed by the Indian and Pakistani military to show comradeship between the nations.
15. Leh, Ladakh – a beautiful city located on the crossroads of the historic “Silk Route”
To be in with a chance of seeing India’s snow leopards, you need to travel up to Leh, in the Northwest corner of the country. Whether you are looking for the elusive leopard or not, Ladakh is a jaw-dropping place to hike through its mountains and valleys.
The town of Leh has its own palace, as well as several Buddhist stupas and monasteries, making it a serene place to spend time at a high altitude.
16. Rishikesh – a spiritual yoga city made famous by the Beatles
The Beatles put Rishikesh on the map when they stayed at the Chaurasi Kutia Ashram, where they studied transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Nowadays the abandoned ashram is covered with incredible graffiti, making it a beautiful place to take photos.
Ever since their visit Rishikesh has become a hub for tourists seeking spiritual enlightenment and attending yoga retreats. Down by the Ganges is an aarti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram every evening for pilgrims and tourists.
17. Akshardham Temple at night, Delhi – one of the most beautiful attractions to visti in India
Delhi may be one of the most chaotic cities in the world, but it also has some of the most incredible architecture in the world within its boundaries. One of these unforgettable buildings is the stunning Akshardham Temple, and unlike the rest of them, it is best seen when darkness falls.
Its name means ‘the divine abode of God’ and not only does the pool around it reflect the sunset, but the carved stone is lit up to show off its grandeur. It’s located just down the river from the Red Fort and across the bridge from Humayun’s Tomb, both of which are UNESCO-heritage sites to combine in your trip.
18. Konkan Coast, Maharashtra – a little-developed shoreline running south from Mumbai all the way to Goa
The Konkan Coast runs from the city of Mumbai all the way down to Goa, with many serene beaches and interesting attractions along the way. Some of the most beautiful beaches to visit are Alibaug, Kashid, Diveagar, Murud, Karde, and Ganpatipule.
Ganpatipule even has a Ganesh Temple located right on the beach. Winter is a great time to visit as there are dolphin sightings on a daily basis.
19. Nohkalikai Falls – the tallest and most beautiful plunge waterfall in India
At 335 metres, Nohkalikai Falls is India’s highest plunge waterfall, which maybe isn’t surprising as it’s located close to Cherrapunji, one of the world’s wettest places. At the bottom of the dramatic falls is a pretty turquoise pool and it’s surrounded by exposed rock and forest which is typical of Meghalaya state.
There are steps that run parallel to it in order to view it from different angles. The area is a haven for waterfall lovers as they line the roads around the Route 5 highway.
20. Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds – Jaipur’s most distinctive and most stunning landmark to visit
While many cities are named for a variety of obscure reasons, Jaipur absolutely lives up to its title of the ‘pink city’.
While the pink city contains many beautiful buildings, like the City Palace and Jantar Mantar, the Hawa Mahal is the star of the show. This magnificent five-storey frontage was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh so that Royal ladies could watch the comings and goings of the city streets.
For another view of the Palace of Winds, get a coffee at one of the rooftop cafes that are opposite to it in order to fully appreciate the details of the windows. Just out of town are the famous yellow-coloured Amber Fort as well as the Jal Mahal, set in the Man Sagar Lake.
21. Auroville – an experimental township and a unique place to visit in India
Auroville is an amazing place. It’s an experimental township of an international community. Here people from all over the world come to live in peace, and “progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.” The sole purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity. In the centre of this town is ‘The Matrimandir’ a huge gold sphere accompanied by ramps.
It was put there by the town’s founder as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s inspiration for perfection.” It even has its own solar power plant and inside is a spiral ramp that leads to a marble room where you can “find consciousness.” Surrounded by pristine beautiful gardens and peacefulness you won’t find in many other places, in my opinion, this is one of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in India.
22. Pondicherry – a gorgeous love child of the French and Indian cultures
Near Auroville, you’ll find its neighbour Pondicherry, one of the most famous and beautiful places in southern India for tourists. The city is full of colonial buildings, statues, churches, and temples. I personally think the best areas here are Paradise Beach, The Auroville Beach, Serenity Beach and Promenade Beach.
It has the same purpose as Auroville which again gives the place a very peaceful vibe. You’ll also find here many large interesting and spectacular churches dating from the early 1900s and Pondicherry should definitely be on your list of places to visit in India.
23. Kodaikanal – one of the most famous honeymoon destinations in India
In the Ghat mountains lies this beautiful and atmospheric town, which translated means “the gift of the forest.” Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in India, Kodaikanal has many places of interest for travelers and tourists. One of which is the Kodaikanal lake which is a star-shaped man-made lake.
Here you can rent bicycles to ride around the shore. Just east of the lake is a 20-acre botanical garden, from here you can reach Coaker’s Walk, a 1-kilometre long pedestrian path that follows along the south of Kodai. Expect wooded slopes, rocky scenery, and beautiful waterfalls.
24. Gingee – one of the most magnificent citadels to explore in South India
Near the larger city area of Tiruvanamalai, you can find the village of Gingee. Although the village itself is pretty standard, it is home to the amazing Gingee Fort. The fort, which is comprised of three astonishing and massive stone hills, offers some breath-taking views from the top of each hill.
The fort dates back to the 13th century and makes a great subject for anthropology and history buffs. If you want to see the best views, prepare for at least a 900-foot climb. Although rest assured, once you reach the top you won’t be disappointed.
25. Darjeeling – a town in India’s West Bengal state famous for tea growing
Darjeeling is a popular and stunning tourist town in the Indian State of West Bengal. Famous for its tea production and outstanding scenery, it’s often thought to be one of the most beautiful valleys in the world.
The lush green environment, cooling breeze and amazing views make an atmospheric and photogenic destination. In fact, Darjeeling is the only location in eastern India that attracts large numbers of tourists. The more adventurous visitors come here for trekking and river rafting and many others just enjoy leisurely scenic walks taking in the extraordinary views.
It’s hard to mention all of India’s best places in list so I’ll also give a special mention to the gorgeous Lake Palace of Udaipur, Kanha National Park (which was inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book), the incredible Ajanta Caves, bustling Delhi, the rich artistic culture of Jaipur, the scenic beauty of Kashmir and Bangalore which is otherwise known as the ‘Garden City.’ Enjoy this unique and beautiful country!