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Ever thought out visiting India but not sure where to start?
There are plenty of beautiful places to visit in North India to get you started, from the busy streets of Delhi to the holy city of Varanasi and yoga capital Rishikesh.
Travelling around North India is an amazing experience for people visiting the country for the first time, with easy trains and buses shuttling both locals and tourists between many of the most popular cities.
To help you start planning your trip, here are 6 amazing places to visit in Northern India…
6 Cities to Visit in North India
Delhi – “The City of Cities”
Being the capital of India and the country’s second most populous city, the sprawling metropolis of Delhi is a must visit in Northern India.
Delhi is also known as the “City of Cities” due to colonial-era historians believing that Delhi had been the site for a total of seven different cities through the ages, with the rise and fall of many dynasties and Empires. However, the original list of seven cities only referred to the Islamic era settlements (sites of Mughal rulers) so in fact, the actual number could be much higher.
Today Delhi is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations and is a great place to experience the real hustle and bustle of a busy Indian city and admire its numerous historic sites and beautiful religious buildings.
Top things to do in Delhi:
- New Delhi – The newest urban district of Delhi which is home to all government buildings and serves as the seat of all three branches of the Government of India.
- Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) – The last of the seven cities (built in the 1600s) which is now known as Old Delhi and has remained the symbolic heart of the city. The main street of Chandni Chowk is a vibrant bazaar filled with busy shops, street food vendors and a Asia’s largest spice market.
- The Qutb Complex – The oldest of the original seven cities, the Qutb complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of monuments and buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The complex’s main structures include the Qutb Minar, an impressive 73 metre stone tower, and Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, which was built using the ruins of 27 Hindu and Jain temples.
- Hauz Khas – A cool, affluent neighbourhood in South Delhi which is home to a number of modern restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping areas.
- The Red Fort – Delhi’s historic fort which was built by Shah Jahān who also built the Taj Mahal.
- Lotus Temple – A beautiful lotus-shaped Baháʼí House of Worship which is open to any faith to come and worship.
- Jama Masjid – The largest mosque in India.
- Swaminarayan Akshardham – Delhi’s the largest Hindu temple complex.
- Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – One of the most prominent Sikh Gurdwara in Delhi.
Agra – “The City of Taj”
Agra is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The city has long been important to the administration of India and even served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1648.
Agra’s most significant selling point as a tourist destination in North India has to be the iconic Taj Mahal, the ivory-white marble mausoleum on the bank of the river Yamuna which has become a symbol of India. The Taj complex is made up of a large central tomb framed by a mosque, a guesthouse and gardens. The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture in India and has made it onto the list of new 7 Wonders of the World.
But there are also many more architectural wonders in Agra other than the Taj, including Itmad-ud-Daula (often called the Baby Taj despite being built before the Taj itself) and the Tomb of Akbar the Great. Agra is home to much of the country’s best architecture from the Mughal empire.
Top things to do in Agra:
- The Taj Mahal – of course!
- Agra Fort – Agra’s large historical fort which was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until the 1600s.
- Itmad-ud-Daula – A Mughal tomb also referred to as ‘Baby Taj’ as it was built by a relative of the designer of the Taj Mahal and is believed to have influenced the design of Agra’s most famous building.
- Tomb of Akbar the Great – The tomb of Mughal emperor Akbar is an important Mughal architectural masterpiece built in the early 1600s.
- Mehtab Bagh – A large charbagh garden complex on the opposite bank of the river to the Taj, boasting amazing views across to the tomb complex.
Jaipur – “The Pink City”
Along with Delhi and Agra, Jaipur makes up the 3rd point on North India’s golden triangle, the popular tourist circuit made up of the three Northern Indian cities.
Otherwise known as the Pink City for its trademark beautiful pink architecture, Jaipur is the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Thanks to its many amazing forts, palaces and temples, the bustling local bazaars and abundance of luxurious hotels and resorts, Jaipur has become of the most popular cities in India for tourism.
Top things to do in Jaipur:
- City Palace – The most famous landmark in Jaipur, the stunning City Palace is right in the centre of the Old City and consumes much of the neighbourhood with its numerous buildings, gardens, courtyards, temple and now a museum. The palace is a beautiful example of the blending between Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.
- Hawa Mahal – Also in the Old City, Hawa Mahal is a 5-story palace made of the city’s trademark red and pink sandstone. The palace has become a symbol of Jaipur due to its distinct style consisting of almost one thousand small windows built to keep the wind blowing inside the palace.
- The Amer Fort – Located in the small town of Amer just outside of Jaipur, this large fort is one of the most well known in India. The magnificent fort is built on a hill-top looking back down at the town below. There are a number of spectacular buildings, ornamental gardens and plenty more to visit within the fort.
Varanasi – “The City of Temples”
Varanasi is another city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Dating all the way back to the 11th century B.C, Varanasi is often referred to as the spiritual capital of India or the “City of Temples” due to being home to roughly 2,000 temples.
The city is particularly significant within the Hindu religion, drawing in many Hindu pilgrims each year who bathe in the sacred waters of the River Ganga. It is also a popular place to perform the Hindu funeral rites, with several crematoriums on the Ghats along the river where you can witness the ceremonies taking place and the body’s being burnt on open fires.
Being the holiest city in India, Varanasi is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore. You can visit the city’s many temples, watch the Aarti Ceremony on the River Ganga each evening, get lost in the narrow winding streets and admire the beautiful sunset while taking an evening boat ride down the river.
Famous quotes about Varanasi:
“Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain
“Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it is the primary business of Varanasi” – Tahir Shah
Top things to do in Varanasi:
- Dashashwamedh Ghat – A famous Ghat which Hindus believe was created by Lord Brahma to welcome Lord Shiva, making it a popular place for ceremonies and for bathing in the Ganga River.
- The Evening Aarti Ceremony – Every evening at sunset, the Hindu Aarti ceremony is held on the Dasawamedh Ghat. The aarti ceremony is a series of rituals using music and singing while candles and flowers are offered to the river to say thank you to the sacred River Ganga.
- Jalasen Burning Ghat – One of the holiest riverside Ghats in Varanasi where Hindu funeral rites take place and dead bodies are washed then cremated on open fires. As a tourist, you can get close and watch the ceremonies taking place, just remember to be respectful as families are there grieving and don’t take any photos.
- Boat Ride on the River Ganga – Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Varanasi is to take an early morning or evening boat ride on the River Ganga where you will experience some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets of your life!
- Blue Lassi – Varanasi’s famous lassi shop where you can try one of the best fruit lassi’s in India (a lassi is a popular probiotic yogurt drink).
- Sarnath Deer Park – Close to Varanasi is one of the four holy Buddhist sites called Sarnath. It is a significant place within the Buddhist religion as it is believed to be where Gautama Buddha performed his first teaching after his enlightenment.
For even more, check out this full post on the best places to visit in Varanasi.
Rishikesh – “Yoga Capital of the World”
Rishikesh is one of the best places to visit in Northern India if you’re looking for a peaceful place to unwind and experience the spiritual side of India.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayas and straddling the River Ganga, Rishikesh is known for its scenic beauty. The city is also known as the “Yoga Capital of the World” due to the abundance of yoga studios and ashrams (centres for spiritual studies) where people come from all over the world to train in yoga, meditation and more.
Compared to many other cities in Northern India, Rishikesh is relatively quiet and peaceful, making it the perfect place to visit to unwind with some morning yoga, a long walk down the river or sitting in a cute hipster cafe with a book and hot cup of chai tea.
Top things to do in Rishikesh:
- Yoga! – If you’re visiting briefly, stop in at one of Rishikesh’s many yoga studios for a morning session or two. Alternatively, if you’re really interested in yoga and plan on spending some extended time in India, Rishikesh is home to many ashrams, yoga retreats and teacher training schools.
- Shopping – Other than yoga studios, the next most prominent thing in Rishikesh is its abundance of stalls and shops selling everything from street food to clothes, jewellery and books for incredibly affordable prices (just remember to haggle for even cheaper prices).
- The Evening Aarti Ceremony – Just like Varanasi, Rishikesh is located on the River Ganga and therefore hosts the Hindu aarti ceremony every evening at sunset.
- River Rafting and other Adventure Activities – Despite the peacefulness of the town itself, the mountainous area surrounding Rishikesh is a popular destination for activities including white water rafting, paragliding, bungee jumping, mountain biking, cliff jumping, trekking and more.
- The Beatles Ashram – Chaurasi Kutia is an abandoned ashram just a short walk down the river from the centre of Rishikesh. The ashram is well known as it’s where the Beatles studied Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the Spring of 1968 and ended up writing many of their most famous songs. The ashram is now open as a tourist attraction where you can walk in the footsteps of the famous band and admire the beautiful graffiti which now covers many of the remaining buildings.
Pushkar – “The Lotus Flower”
Pushkar is another smaller city in Rajasthan, just a few hours from the much busier city of Jaipur.
Pushkar is a holy city and place of pilgrimage built up around Pushkar Lake which is considered sacred to the Hindu religion. Legend has it that Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, dropped a lotus flower from his hand into the vale and a lake emerged in that place.
While the lake itself is a peaceful place to visit, the streets of Pushkar are somewhat busier, filled with colourful bazaars, plenty of hippie cafes and restaurants and a constant flow of people.
Things to do in Pushkar:
- Walk around Pushkar Lake – Pushkar’s sacred lake is surrounded by numerous temples and ghats (bathing spots) and is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations for Hindus. As long as you remove your shoes you can walk around the perimeter of the holy lake and watch ceremonies taking place.
- Take a Hike to See the Sunset – There are two main hills in central Pushkar which you can climb in order to get the best sunset views, one of which also has a cable car if uphill walking isn’t your thing.
- Shopping – The main path around Pushkar Lake is filled with colourful shops selling everything you could possibly imagine. Remember to haggle and grab yourself some bargains!
- Ayurvedic Massage – Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. It is a Hindu system of medicine native to India and based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. An ayurvedic massage falls within this and is a customized whole body massage using herb-infused oils tailored specifically to you.
Best way to visit Northern India?
I visited North India on a tour with Ellie from the Wandering Quinn and India Someday. Ellie has just started running a number of tours to both India and Pakistan so be sure to give her a follow if you’re interested in joining one of her future trips.