Colorful, lively, and the birthplace of yoga, India is a country that is sure to stimulate all senses – often at the same time.
Think fragrant spice markets, elaborate cultural ceremonies, ornate architecture, rogue cows wandering through busy streets, forests teeming with wildlife, and experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime.
The landscape of India ranges from untouched nature to boisterous big city, all in the span of short distances.
It’s known that you don’t just simply see India when you visit. Rather, you experience it deeply. To make the most of it, go with an open mind and a loose itinerary.
If you’re a traveler who wants to see it all, take note of the 15 best places to visit in India:
Perhaps the world’s greatest symbol of love and opulence, the Taj Mahal is India’s top attraction in Agra.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to keep the remains of his favorite wife, commonly known as Mumtaz Mahal, or “The Chosen One of the Palace.
” Historians speculate that it took over 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants to build this majestic palace of marble and semi-precious stones.
It’s said that the Taj Mahal itself changes color throughout the day, varying from pink hues in the morning to blinding white in the evening.
Of course, whether this is true or not is a theory you’ll have to discover yourself.
2. The Ganges
The Ganges River is one of the most sacred places for practicing Hindus in India and is a lifeline for the millions of people who live alongside it, relying on the river for food and water.
At 2,500 kilometers long, it’s an impressive sight you can’t miss.
All along the Ganges are Ghats, stone steps that Indians use to participate in everything from sacred baths and small offerings to large cremation ceremonies, often attracting thousands of people who come to cleanse the bodies of their deceased loved ones in the Ganges before cremation.
Known as the Yoga Capital of the World, Rishikesh is a place for travelers seeking spiritual connections and inner peace during their time in India.
Rishikesh has a variety of yoga and meditation centers, made popular among travelers thanks to an iconic visit from the Beatles.
Visitors can practice traditional Hatha yoga, or try their hand at new-age crystal healing.
In the evening, head down to the banks of the Ganges and witness the ganga aarti, a Hindu fire offering.
Almost in contrast, Rishikesh is also a white-water rafting hub and is a popular hub for Himalaya hikes if the down-time is deemed to be too much.
Step back in time in Hampi, a surreal landscape of temples, ruins, and palm groves.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site hosts the Virupaksha Temple, an impressive feat of ancient architecture.
Spend a few days touring the Hampi Bazaar, a vibrant village in front of the Virpaksha Temple, exploring ruins, and venturing to both sides of the river.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts with over 18 million residents of slum dwellers, Bollywood superstars, laborers, and billionaires alike calling this big city their home.
Cultural and architecture enthusiasts should check out the gargantuan arc called Gateway to India, the temples at Elephanta Caves, ISKON Temple, and Siddhivinayek Temple devoted to Ganesha.
Foodies will enjoy Mumbai’s hearty gastronomical scene with restaurants available on almost every corner.
If you’re into movie making, hop on a fun-spirited Bollywood studio tour.
Known as the Pink City because of its regal red sandstone architecture, Jaipur can make you feel as if you’re in a fairytale.
Check out Amber Fort, the glasswork and mirrors of Sheesh Mahal, the serene Birla Mandir Temple, and City Palace of Japur, where you might have a chance of meeting Indian royalty.
Venture out of the temples to browse through the many markets famous for selling sequined fabrics, blue pottery, and ornate jewelry.
Goa is home to India’s beloved beaches and psychedelic scene.
Expect all-night parties on Goa’s north end, transitioning into a more laid-back vibe down south.
The best way to see this cultural hotspot is to tour it from one end to the other, stopping at any place that catches your eye.
Check out the beaches of Palolem, Anjuna, and Madrem for three distinctly different atmospheres that Goa has to offer.
Varanasi is often touted as India’s spiritual capital because of the thousands of Hindu pilgrims it attracts.
Though it’s also known as the City of Life, pilgrims perform funeral ceremonies in the River Ganges, cleansing the deceased in holy water before cremation.
The city also has over 2,000 Hindu temples, the most famous being Kashi Vishwanath, an ornate tribute to the god Shiva.
Day in and day out, residents celebrate life and honor the dead in this city centered around the meaning of human existence.
Escape from the constant buzz of India’s big cities to Ladakh, a sparsely populated region between the Kunlun and Himalayan mountain ranges.
Set to the backdrop of jagged mountains are prayer-flag lined Buddhist monasteries, self-sustaining homesteads, and running streams.
Between the warm months of June and September, you can camp at Pangong Tso, a rugged lake surrounded by imposing mountains – perfect for using as a base for the area’s many hiking trails.
In Madurai, Hindu undertones are ever-present and there’s an interesting mix of a booming tech industry taking place inside of ancient buildings.
Covered with thousands of colorful statues, it’s possible to look at the Meenakshi Amman Temple for days without noticing even half of the small details it hosts.
Visit during the Chithirai Festival to witness a ten days of nonstop celebration honoring the marriage between the Hindu gods, Shiva and Parvati.
History buffs will love visiting the Gandhi Memorial Museum, a thorough and interactive tribute that features Ghandi’s influence in India’s path to independence.
The museum also offers yoga classes, and easy access to nearby Madurai Government Museum and the Ghandian Literary Society bookshop.
Mention Sikkim and expect unanimous praise by all of those who’ve been to this green state.
Sikkim is a small Himalayan utopia with strong Buddhist influence, a strong counterbalance to the country’s big city vibes.
Sikkim is the perfect base for hiking, wildlife spotting, and will provide postcard worthy photographs with every camera click.
Experienced climbers can summit Kangchejunga, the world’s third-highest peak.
Covered in orange dust, off the tourist trail, and hosting camel safaris, Bikaner is an adventurous desert town in Rajasthan.
Junagarh Fort, a fortress for old royalty was a stronghold in the fifteenth century that was often attacked, but only captured for one day.
Also visit the other desert architecture sites of Jain Temple Bhandasar, the Royal Cenotaphs, Lalgarh Palace, and Shri Laxminath Temple.
For a natural site, head to Gajner Lake, where you can walk along the shoreline next to the Gajner Temple.
With over 25 million people residing in Delhi, India’s capital is comprised of modern shopping malls and old ruins.
Guidebooks often compare it to Rome, citing that it’s an eternal city with a revolving door of ruling empires throughout the ages.
Visiting Delhi as a tourist can be overwhelming or intimidating, so be sure to set aside a day each for Old Delhi, New Delhi, and South Delhi.
You can find the Red Fort and Margets of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, the India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb, Khan Market in New Delhi, and the Lotus Temple and Qutab Minar in South Delhi.
It’s not a city you can rush through, or expect that everything will go smoothly due to ever-present traffic and millions of people vying for limited space.
However, if you give the city a fair chance, you just might love it.
Set in the lush state of Kerala, Kochi is a vibrant city with a perfect blend of beach and jungle, often further away from the tourist trail than its counterparts.
While here, check out Fort Cochin, Mattencherry Palace, the Jewish quarter, and try your hand at scoring a catch-of-the-day with a Chinese fishing net (for a price, of course).
While in Kochi, load up on the local fare.
Kochi has implemented its own cuisine flare to just about every dish served in the region.
Coconuts, tamarind, and bananas are common ingredients added to Indian meal staples that are often eaten without.
15. Bangalore (Bengaluru)
Known for having great weather, clean streets, well-manicured public parks, the Garden City of India is a peaceful and trendy must-see destination.
Western brands and chain restaurants intermingle with local, locally owned businesses all along MG Road while tourist-free totes can be found in the neighborhood of Koramangala.
Nonetheless, it’s a great base for day trips to waterfalls, trekking paths, natural hills, and the Bheemeshwari Fishing Camp.
Visit Bangalore during the middle or the end of your trip to India, when you’re more likely to appreciate the modern comforts it has to offer.