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Photograph: ShutterstockCity Palace and Pichola lake in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, Asia

25 of the best places to visit in India

Spanning cities, desert, beach, jungle and Himalaya, these are the places in India you must visit at least once

Dimple Shiv
Written by
Malavika Bhattacharya
Dimple Shiv

Its no secret that India is a gem when it comes to diversity and charm. From the snow-covered Himalayas to the golden dunes of the Thar Desert, this country makes for a radical collision of terrains, cultures and wildlife. As far as holiday destinations go, few are as fascinating. And in fact, whether you’re in search of royal splendor, a chilled-out beach hideaway, a jungle safari, a vibrant city break or just a healthy dose of history, you’ll be raving about any trip here for years to come.

Visit Kashmir if you're looking for a dose of natural beauty coupled with snow for some mesmerizing views. Get on a motorbike to make a trip to Ladakh for that adrenaline rush. Roam around the capital of Delhi for some mouth-watering food and Mughal architecture. Take a tour of the state of Rajasthan if ancient palaces, deserts and endless shopping excites you. Go down to the south for beaches, tea gardens, centuries old temples and some wildlife sanctuaries.

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The best places to visit in India

The birthplace of Bollywood. Flashy seafront promenades. Impressive Raj-era architecture. Mumbai is a buzzing metropolis of more than 20 million people and a definitive stop on any India itinerary. Upmarket SoBo or South Bombay is home to the art quarter of Kala Ghoda, upscale restaurants and shopping in Colaba, and architectural icons like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Teminus. Further north, most travellers make a beeline for the up-and-coming seaside neighbourhood of Bandra, which boasts old-world churches, trendy restaurants and thriving nightlife.

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India’s beautiful, sometimes overwhelming capital feels like a microcrosm of the country as a whole, with its diversity of food, craft and cultures. However, it holds its own thanks to a high concentration of historic buildings, museums and plenty of calming green space. Hectic Old Delhi is a labyrinth of narrow alleys packed with delightful markets and street food, but it’s the grand Mughal-era monuments of Red Fort and Jama Masjid that truly dazzle. In New Delhi, trendy shopping and dining precincts such as Khan Market sit alongside historic venues like the tomb-studded Lodhi Gardens.

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The palm-fringed, seaside state of Goa is known for its lively beaches, bars and binge-worthy seafood. Popular beaches such as Vagator and Anjuna are home to casual shacks on the sand, as well as slick resorts, flea markets and plush nightspots. Since its days as a hippie haven in the 1970s, Goa has evolved into very much the sophisticated tourist destination – to see this side of the state, roam colonial-era architecture in the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas, or go bird watching amid sprawling mangroves at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.

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The ‘Pink City’ earned its name from the salmon-hued façades of its Old City, of which the most striking examples are the grand City Palace and Hawa Mahal. Explore the vibrant markets of Johari Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar, however, and you’ll find every colour imaginable in block-printed cotton fabrics, dazzling embroidered bedspreads and leather jutti footwear. Rajasthan’s capital still retains its royal heritage – just check out formidable hilltop fortresses Amer and Nahargarh, or the host of luxurious ‘palace hotels’.

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Once known as Madras, Chennai has a special place in India’s cultural and artistic heart. You can find classic South Indian fare, fashion and warm hospitality in the historic centre of Mylapore and the seaside of Marina Beach. Looking to let off some steam? Best head to nearby party town Mahabalipuram. If you want to understand how ancient India lives on within a bustling urban city, then Chennai is the spot.

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People are drawn to Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry) for many reasons. The city was a French colonial settlement until 1954, and this history is reflected today in the city’s distinctive architecture, culture and food scene. Some come to Pondicherry to admire the heritage buildings, others to soak up the sun and salt at the beach or get active with adventure pursuits.

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An ever-popular mountain resort town in the state of Himachal Pradesh, nestled amongst high peaks in the alluring lush green Beas valley, Manali is one of the most popular tourist spots in northern India. Visitors come for trekking, climbing, skiing and rafting, to take in the stunning views, mountain air and snow. It attracts plenty of backpackers too, seeking to chill out in the hippie villages surrounding the town.

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Pune is often seen as being in Mumbai’s shadow – it’s just three hours away by car – but this Indian destination is exciting in its own right. Thanks to its massive student population and the influx of expats who’ve been drawn to the cooler, less polluted and less crowded town, Pune is an awesome place to explore. History and culture abound, of course, but exciting restaurants and pubs make it even more vibrant.

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This delightful north Indian hill station, one of the country’s smallest cities, attracts holidaymakers from all over India and beyond. As well as a pleasant, cooler climate in summer – and occasional snow in winter – it’s clean and green. Shimla is situated at 7,100ft, with access by twisting roads or the popular narrow-gauge ‘toy train’. The most well-known landmark is the main street, Mall Road: a pedestrian-only walkway, with a variety of shops and restaurants on one side and views across the valley to the other. Everyone comes here, night or day, to promenade.

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Udaipur is often called the ‘Venice of the East’, and while this may be a slight exaggeration, its numerous lakes and bridges certainly lend it a unique charm. Seemingly frozen in time, this historical city still has a palace with a royal family in residence. Its glamour made it a perfect backdrop for James Bond’s adventures in ‘Octopussy’ (screenings of which happen daily around the old city). There’s plenty for history and culture buffs to see and do, but there’s also incredible food, shopping, and pleasant weather. 

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Madhya Pradesh
Photograph: Honza Soukup / Flickr

12. Madhya Pradesh

The elusive Bengal tiger, wild elephants, sloth bears and a host of other endangered species rove the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh. Bang in the centre of the country, this vast state is home to national parks and reserves including Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Pench, which provided the setting for ‘The Jungle Book’. Guided safaris and an array of cosy lodges afford visitors more than just a glimpse of India’s enchanting wildlife.

Photograph: donvikro / Pixabay

13. Assam

Low hills carpeted in endless tea estates are the trademark of this state in India’s remote north-east. Assam is often described as a gateway to the Eastern Himalaya, but the land of the endangered one-horned rhino is worthy of deeper exploration. Stay at a luxurious Raj-era plantation and sip refined Assam tea, cruise on the mighty Brahmaputra river, and traverse the wild grasslands of Kaziranga National Park for the best shot at spotting a rare rhinoceros.

Photograph: Spiros Vathis / Flickr

14. Mysore

In the southern state of Karnataka, the former royal city of Mysore is fast emerging as a popular tourist choice thanks to its traditional atmosphere and striking heritage architecture. Renowned as a hub for yogi, this is the perfect place to perfect your ashtanga. Have a wander and fill up your bags at the various eclectic markets brimming with lavish silks and sandalwood. To round off a trip in style, try the opulent Mysore Palace, which is packed with ancient artworks and intricate wood carvings.

Himachal Pradesh
Photograph: Jan Joseph George / Wikimedia Commons

15. Himachal Pradesh

Surrounded by the mighty Himalaya, the beautiful mountain state of Himachal Pradesh offers spectacular vistas at every turn. With high-altitude mountain passes, apple orchards, rhododendron forests and glacial rivers, the region is a nature lover’s paradise. Come summer, city-dwellers from the plains flock to towns such as Manali, Shimla and Dharamshala, home to the Dalai Lama. For the more intrepid, treks such as the Pin Parvati offer a chance to explore picturesque Himalayan villages like Nakthan.

Photograph: Akuppa John Wigham / Flickr

16. Kolkata

Old-school yellow taxis, a heritage tram network and stately Victorian mansions lend the former British Indian capital a certain vintage charm. This culturally diverse city on the banks of the Hooghly river is known as an arts and music hub, with major architectural landmarks including the Victoria Memorial and St Paul’s Cathedral. Explore the busy flower markets, eat dim sum for breakfast in Chinatown and wander vibrant Park Street. We recommend visiting during the Bengali Hindu festival of Durga Puja, when the city pulls out all the stops to celebrate the goddess Durga for five days.

Kochi and Kerala
Photograph: Shinu Scaria / Wikimedia Commons

17. Kochi and Kerala

Visitors often spend a few days exploring Kochi’s diverse heritage before delving deeper into verdant Kerala. This port city was once an important centre of the spice trade, controlled over the centuries by the Dutch, British and Portuguese. Learn about the city’s rich history on a walk through Fort Kochi, known for its spice shops, artsy cafés, European churches and Chinese fishing nets. Splash out on ayurvedic massages, gorge yourself silly on appam (a type of pancake), and glide down the coconut-palm-lined backwaters on a houseboat.

Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Palitana

The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly iconic, but if you want something that will really take your breath away, try Palitana at sunrise. More than 1,000 temples blanket the mountaintop: the holiest pilgrimage place in the world for followers of Jainism, an ancient Indian religion. You have to climb steps for at least an hour and a half to get there, but that does tend to mean you won’t have to compete with as many other tourists. Palitana is also the only legally vegetarian city on earth: it outlawed the buying and selling of animal products in 2014.

Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad is the capital of Gujarat, Rajasthan’s neighbour state. Grand havelis (lavishly painted mansions) and vivid textile markets line the streets of its Unesco-listed old city, while mind-boggling monuments such as the Rani Ki Vav stepwell and the Sun Temple in Modhera are a day trip away. And then there’s the food: a Gujarati thali is one of the most indulgent culinary experiences you can have in India. Despite all this, hardly any tourists make it to Gujarat. Their loss, your gain.

Arunachal Pradesh
Photograph: Shutterstock

20. Arunachal Pradesh

With a disputed border with ChinaArunachal Pradesh in north-east India is one of the country’s least-visited states. You’ll need an (easily obtained) permit to enter. Once in, you’ll have adventures through sprawling Himalayan vistas, experience dozens of distinct tribal cultures far removed from stereotypical India, and you’ll never once have to move over to avoid appearing in someone else’s Instagram shot. Promise.

Photograph: Daniel J. Rao

21. Majuli

The Keralan city of Alleppey is famous for its backwaters – a little too famous, in fact. Instead, try Majuli river island in Assam, one of India’s seven northeastern sister states. Quiet fishermen in wooden longboats replace lumbering houseboats and tourist motorboats. Instead of walking down streets of hotels, cycle through friendly villages of bamboo huts on stilts, finishing off your days with locally made rice beer called apong.

Photograph: Shutterstock

22. Ladakh

Part of the Himalayas, Ladakh is a place of snow-capped mountains, serene lakes, and sprawling valleys. Head here for for adventure activities like trekking, mountain biking and river rafting, while also exploring the region’s Buddhist monasteries. Time your trip in alignment with traditional festivals like Hemis Tsechu and Saka Dawa and join in with the huge celebrations. If you’re after a unique cultural experience – spanning cuisine, handicrafts and music – you’ll find it in this mystical land.

Photograph: Shutterstock

23. Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh could be one of the most underrated destinations in India. Located in central India, this state is known for its ancient temples, ruins, and monuments – including the famous Bhoramdeo temple – plus its natural beauty and tribal communities. The lush green forests, waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries in Chhattisgarh make it a treat for nature lovers. Don’t skip a trip to the Bhimbetka caves, where you can see rock paintings by the earliest human inhabitants of India.

Jammu and Kashmir
Photograph: ImagesofIndia /

24. Jammu and Kashmir

This state in the northernmost part of India has been called a ‘heaven on earth’, and its breathtaking landscapes and serene natural beauty are properly awe-inspiring. From the majestic Himalayan mountain ranges to the serene Dal Lake, Jammu and Kashmir has a plethora of ultra-scenic spots to explore. And beyond all that nature, the state is also home to several historic temples, forts, and monasteries: Amar Mahal Palace and Hari Parbat Fort both deserve a spot on your itinerary.

Photograph: Shutterstock

25. Uttarakhand

If you’re after nature or adventure, Uttarakhand is a must. From famous hill stations like Mussoorie and Nainital to the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh, the state is a place of spirituality and beauty popularly known as the ‘Land of Gods’.

Looking for somewhere to stay in India?

  • Hotels

In a country so huge – just one of its 29 states, Karnataka, is bigger than England – it’s extremely hard to whittle down a list of India’s best hotels to just a dozen, and in the end it’s a judgment call. Although we’ve included hotels in major cities, there are standouts, both large and small, in rural locations, and we’ve tried to get good geographical spread too.

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