India is a vast, astonishing and diverse country. Its magnificent cities are a showcase for the wonderful wealth of tradition, culture, and exuberance of life for which India is world-famous. An ultimate travel destination, India has so much to offer. From the southern states of Goa and Kerala with their laid-back open-mindedness, to the dusty desert forts of Rajasthan, there is something ultimately enigmatic and enchanting about this great and fascinating Asian giant.
A powerhouse of people power, India pushes forward into the modern era, creating cities that are a beguiling hotchpotch of urban innovation. Technology, money, poverty and ancient structures blend in the developing cities. Old markets brim with people and goods, sacred rivers draw pilgrims from afar and formidable forts conserve maze-like old towns. It’s an incredibly inviting destination to travel to, so here are the best cities in India for you to visit.
The Portuguese-infused city of Panaji is in the seaside state of Goa. Welcoming hordes of visitors per year with its Mediterranean-style architecture, Panaji is a modern piece of India with strong links to its colonial heritage. Wander amid its white-washed houses with tiled red roofs, square churches and wide, tree-lined avenues. Hilly terraces and grid streets enshrine the baroque Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, which overlooks the city’s main square, the Praça da Igreja. This relaxed Indian city is the perfect introduction – or antidote – to the immense, restless energy of India.
This Tamil Nadu capital is not one to be missed. A city of epic proportions in terms of age and beauty, the streets are littered with evidence of Madurai’s metropolitan history, and with ancient trading links to Rome, Madurai is no stranger to foreign visitors. Its Meenakshi Amman Temple – a bewildering and elaborate complex – is one of the most impressive in the country and among India’s greatest temples.
Slip into the enchanting atmosphere of Mysore and be mystified by its rich heritage and history. Mysore palace was built out of wood in 1897 and still stands today as an icon of intricate craftsmanship. As night falls, the palace is illuminated to create a magical golden glow. The city isn’t all about its multiple monuments; the beautiful Brindavan Gardens, along with the Karanji Lake, are both special spots in the city to spend time reflecting after a trip to the bustling city bazaars.
The Punjabi city of Amritsar lies on the border with Pakistan and is home to the holiest of Sikh sites. The Golden Temple is in the heart of the old walled city; this serene Sikh shrine provides a place for reflection and inspiration. The streets surrounding the temple are a frenetic fusion of people, markets and activity. Be sure to pick up some traditional goods, such as hand-embroidered fabrics and delicately ornate shoes.
The golden city of Jaisalmer rises out of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Enticing visitors to its pretty streets, Jaisalmer’s sandstone fort looms over the city below, protecting it from invaders since 1155. The medieval city was once a trading point for people across Arabia, Egypt and Persia, and the evidence of this exchanging of culture remains evident today. The huge and sprawling citadel hides Jain temples, while the streets below its ramparts are overflowing with sandstone structures such as the incredible traditional haveli townhouses.
Laden with history, the timeworn, ancient lanes of Hyderabad’s old town are an inviting glimpse into an India of the past. Take a step along its wonky, winding alleys and let the spectrum of colors, smells and people wash over you. This is a city to learn more about India’s Islamic customs and get a glimpse into India’s pioneering high-tech future in this business-focused center – dubbed ‘Cyberbad’. A trip to the city isn’t complete without a visit to the huge and impressive Golconda Fort.
Sprawling and dynamic, Pune is the epitome of India’s future goals. The center of business and education, the city also brims with culture and customs. This busy student city strives for the India of the future, whilst still celebrating its traditions and heritage. There are many temples to explore, as well as the 2,000-year-old Sinhagad Fort and the Shaniwar Wada palace – built in 1740 and featuring a gate large enough for an elephant to pass through.
The city of lakes, Udaipur glistens romantically on the edge of the desert in Rajasthan. The city is protected by the lush Aravali Hills and is where you can find the mesmerizing Lake Palace in the middle of tranquil Lake Pichola. Another captivating sight is the imposing but graceful City Palace, along with the Monsoon Palace, which stand out with walls made of gleaming white marble. Explore old temples, walk the winding streets of this fanciful corner of India, and slip into times past inside its ancient bazaars.
Previously called Madras, Chennai is positioned in the Bay of Bengal. An important trading outpost, Channai’s Fort St. George was built in 1644 and is where visitors can learn more about the city’s past. Delve into the Chennai’s religious patchwork at the Kapaleeshwarar Temple – intricately adorned with carved images of gods – then take a walk inside the 17th-Century St Mary’s church. Marina Beach offers the chance to take some time out and enjoy tasting the richness of Indian cuisine at the beachfront food stalls.
Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala, is a breath of fresh air. Situated on the coast, the city has a distinctly different feel compared to any more northern metropolis. The port town has been packed full of cultural diversity since it began trading with Arabs, Chinese and Europeans. The foreign influences can be seen throughout the city, including the tiled bungalows of Fort Kochi and the emblematic cantilevered Chinese fishing nets.
A city that may seem strange to many Westerners, Varanasi is of great religious importance. The holy city sits on the banks of the divine Ganges and is believed by Hindus to be a sacred place of pilgrimage. The city is known for the religious practices that take place on the ghats alongside the river – pilgrims wash themselves in the waters of the Ganges and the bodies of Hindus are cremated. The sights of life and death along the riverside can be shocking, but a visit to Varanasi is also rousing, contemplative, and ultimately, helps visitors to further understand India’s deep cultural and spiritual practices.
The old capital of India, Kolkata has a long and complex history. The East India Company founded the city as a trading center in 1773. Since then, the city has grown and developed to become the vast megacity of today. Known as the Tea Capital, Kolkata is a friendly place where poverty and modernity live side by side. Sights in the city include the ornate Dakshineswar Kali Temple, as well as the Taj Mahal-esque Victoria Memorial Museum and the monumental Howrah Bridge.
India’s high-tech hub city sits in the south and has become a booming cosmopolitan center of industry, nightlife and open spaces. This developing and dynamic city has emerged as a cultural bastion of shopping, food, drinking, and altogether good times. Bangalore’s modern outlook means it’s a place for visitors to relax and let their hair down. Enjoy lunches at independent cafes, take walks in its plethora of parks – but don’t forget to visit Krishnarajendra Market for that taste of all things Indian.
Agra is known for one thing – the iconic and ultimately impressive Taj Mahal. Set on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, the Taj draws millions of tourists a year to the city. Built by an emperor as an extravagant memorial to his wife, the mausoleum’s porcelain white marble is an emblem of romance, love and adventure. Agra itself sits in the shadow of its imposing monument, but is a small and welcoming city. The ancient Mughal-era Agra Fort is an attractive spot to visit – peer over the walls here and catch your first hypnotizing glimpse of the Taj.
Mumbai is well known for being a city on the edge – its slums overflow with life as its skyscrapers soar to the sky. This strange and extraordinary blend of rich and poor creates a city that strives to move India forward – this most populated city in India has to be seen to be believed.
The center for India’s creative culture, fashion, food and finance, Mumbai has some of the most expensive homes in the world and some of the biggest slums in Asia. This beguiling composite of Indian proportions is where the gateway to India is located – a stone arch built on the waterfront in 1923. Take a trip out of town for some time out and visit the cave temple complex of Elephant Caves.
The Pink City of Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is where you can find the beautiful Amber Fort – a sprawling, stunning complex set in the hillside overlooking a lake. Located just outside of the city and built in 1592, the grandiose citadel was also a palace for some time but is now an impressive tourist attraction. Make sure to take a trip to the opulent city palace with its stunning courtyards and gardens, plus the amazingly intricate Palace of Winds.
Delhi is surging mix of crumbling history, gleaming modernity and, of course, traffic. The Indian capital has long held a reputation as being jammed full of life – a place where the past and the future combine. Despite of – or perhaps because of – its cramped streets, packed markets and overflowing train stations, Delhi has a lot going for it.
The astonishing patchwork of people and culture provides a tempting combination for many visitors, who travel to the city to absorb the frenzied Indian atmosphere. Visit the 17th-Century Red Fort and be awestruck by the scale of the Mughal architecture. Then take a tuk-tuk to Delhi’s Jama Masjid, where you can soak up the peaceful atmosphere and be greeted by a wealth of welcoming smiles. Climb to the top of the mosque’s tower for a small fee and catch a view of the city from above.