Stretching from the snow-capped Himalayas to the lush tea plantations of Kerala, India is a vast and incredibly diverse country. Its magnificent cities draw visitors from far and wide to experience their vibrant culture, mouthwatering cuisine and historic sites. Struggling to choose which ones to include on your itinerary? Here’s our pick of the top 10 cities in India that you need to visit.
India’s capital is a city built upon cities. At least eight historical cities have preceded the Delhi of today, each having been built on or near the ruins of the one before. The result is a modern-day metropolis dotted with ancient monuments showcasing India’s mighty history.
The wonderfully chaotic old part of the city is packed with bustling markets, stunning temples and is home to the beautiful Jama Masjid, the largest and most impressive mosque in India. To the south, New Delhi encompasses the modern city centre, complete with government buildings, tree-lined avenues and colonial architecture.
As one of the three points of India’s celebrated Golden Triangle, Dehli makes a great base for exploring. Spend a few days taking in the sights and sounds of the capital then head to the Taj Mahal or Jaipur.
Also known as the ‘Pink City’ thanks to its historic pink walls and buildings, Jaipur is the gateway to the colourful state of Rajasthan. Ancient palaces and impressive forts are the city’s biggest attractions, acting as stunning reminders of Jaipur’s royal heritage.
The magnificent City Palace blends both Rajasthani and Mughal architecture in a vast complex of courtyards, buildings and gardens. It’s still home to the royal family today, who reside in the graceful Chandra Mahal.
Other must-visits include the iconic Amber Fort, the honeycomb-like palace of Hawa Mahal and the Jantar Mantar observatory. As part of the Golden Triangle, no trip to India would be complete without spending some time in this impressive city.
Boasting two nicknames, Udaipur is known both as the City of Lakes and the Venice of the East. Situated beside tranquil Lake Pichola and surrounded by the green Aravalli Hills, it also offers one of the most romantic settings in India.
The incredible Lake Palace appears to float atop the lake’s waters. Famously used in the James Bond Octopussy movie, the palace is best viewed on an evening boat ride, when you can watch the sun set over its marble facade.
Another popular place to catch the sunset is the Monsoon Palace, where the royal family would reside during the monsoon season. Perched high on a hill above Udaipur, it offers spectacular views over the city below. During the day you also have the City Palace, museums, temples and much more to explore.
Set on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world. It’s also one of the most holy cities in India and a sacred place to both Hindus and Jains.
Scenes of devotion can be witnessed by the river, with people cremating their loved ones and coming to wash away their sins in the Ganges’ waters. Intimate rituals of life and death take place here, very much open to the public, and a visit can be both an intense and powerful experience.
Home to the legendary Taj Mahal, Agra draws upwards of 35,000 visitors each day to marvel at this marble-white mausoleum. And whilst this spectacular monument is worth every bit of the hype, a visit to Agra has several other sights in store.
Agra was once the capital of the flourishing Mughal Empire and remnants of this era include the magnificent Agra Fort. This stunning red-sandstone and marble fortress was one of the first monuments in India to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the finest examples of a Mughal fort.
The city is also home to an array of other tombs and mausoleums, as well as bustling marketplaces. So once you’ve finished exploring the Taj, be sure to check out Agra’s other offerings.
One of India’s greatest ancient cities, Fatehpur Sikri was first founded by Emperor Akbar in the late 16th century. The city was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, yet it only served as the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 short years before it was abandoned due to a lack of water.
Fortunately, this UNESCO-listed city has been wonderfully-preserved over the centuries and offers a spectacular showcase of Mughal architecture. Akbar had built three palaces, one for each of his favourite wives, and the stunning Jama Masjid mosque which is still in use today.
Typically the first sight visitors come across is the Buland Darwaza, which translates to mean ‘magnificent gate’. Standing 54 metres tall, this gem sets the scene for the architectural wonders that are to follow.
The former capital of British India, Kolkata is one of the country’s most underrated cities. Whilst it doesn’t offer the world-famous sights of Agra, it is home to the imposing Victoria Memorial and is a city where you can gain a fascinating insight into day-to-day life in India.
Locally thought of as the artistic, intellectual and cultural capital of India, Kolkata is home to several galleries, popular Indian classical music festivals and a thriving Bengali-language theatre scene. It’s also the place to go to sample the delicious and distinctive flavours of Bengali cuisine.
If you’re looking to visit Kolkata, you may also wish to time your visit with Durga Puja. As the city’s biggest festival, this event sees elaborate statues of the Goddess Durga paraded through the streets, with much music and dancing, before being immersed in water.
One of the oldest cities in South Asia, Madurai is a metropolis that once traded with ancient Rome. Set on the banks of the Vaigai River, it’s been a center for worship and trade for as long as there has been civilization in south India.
Madurai’s highlight is Meenakshi Temple, a dazzling structure decorated with multicoloured mythological figures. It’s the greatest man-made attraction of the south, drawing over 15,000 people through its gates every day.
The city is also home to one of India’s seven Gandhi Memorial Museums and the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. For a taste of local life, take a wander through Madurai’s wholesale banana market, where 16 varieties of the fruit are sold.
Located in the northwest of India, Amritsar is famous for being the holy centre of the Sikh religion. The city was founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das, and boasts the spectacular Golden Temple.
Amazingly, this temple sees a similar number of visitors to the Taj Mahal. It contains the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, and is regarded as one of the most revered and sacred sites to the religion.
Both travellers and pilgrims alike are drawn to the temple to admire its golden exterior reflected in the pool below. Whilst the temple itself may be a serene sight to behold, Amritsar’s side alleys are packed with bustling bazaars worthy of exploring.
Located on the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, Jodhpur is a beautiful city dating back to the 15th century. Its known as the ‘Blue City’ as much of the architecture is blue in colour, contrasting against its arid surrounds.
The old city is enclosed by 10 kilometres of thick stone walls and overlooked by the vast Mehrangarh Fort. Perched on a sheer rocky cliff, this impressive citadel dominates Jodhpur’s skyline and is still run by the city’s royal family today.
Another popular landmark is the clock tower in the old city. Wander through the nearby alleys and you’ll find spices, fabrics, Indian sweets, handicrafts and much more for sale.