Best things to do in India

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 05.10.2022

Extending from the summits of the Himalayas to the tropical greenery of Kerala, India encompasses an incomparable range of landscapes and cultures. As a result, it’s impossible to see everything in a single trip, which is why we’ve highlighted some of the country’s top attractions. Note, though, that these are just a handful of things not to miss in India — for more, read The Rough Guide to India.

1. Majestic Jaisalmer fort

Located in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer Fort is one of India’s most beautiful citadels.

Giant honey-coloured bastions enclose a labyrinth of narrow streets dotted with sandstone havelis and temples. And all this is dominated by the Palace of the Maharawal, open to the public as the Fort Palace Museum.  

The palace’s five-storey facade displays some of the finest masonry in Jaisalmer. Inside, the museum offers an intriguing snapshot of the life of Jaisalmer’s rulers through the ages. Meanwhile, the rooftop terrace gives unrivalled views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Top experience

Book a private tour of Jaisalmer City and Fort that includes a camel safari. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for panoramic views: Hotel Garh Jaisal. This charmer's roof terrace offers the best panoramas in the fort. 
  • Best for families: Surya. Simple rooms and great views won’t break the bank.
  • Best for couples: 1st Gate. A gorgeous boutique hotel with an on-site spa.

Find more places to stay in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer Fort sunset light, Rajasthan, India © muzato/Shutterstock

Jaisalmer fort — one of our hands-down things not to miss in India © muzato/Shutterstock

2. Kanha National Park — India's top wildlife reserve

Deep in the eastern tracts of Madhya Pradesh, Kanha National Park is widely considered the greatest of India’s wildlife reserves.

Encompassing some 940 square kilometres of deciduous forest, savanna grassland, hills and gently meandering rivers, it’s home to hundreds of species of birds and animals. 

While tiger and leopard sightings are not guaranteed, even fleeting glimpses should be considered a great privilege. Moreover, the park's striking landscapes and overall wealth of wildlife make it a rewarding place to spend a few days.

Top experience

In the unlikely event, your lodge can't organise your trip to Kanha National Park, you’ll need to book an entry ticket via the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Department.

    Where to stay

  • Best for birders: Pugmark Resort. Family-run, this boasts a central campfire and birdwatching tower.
  • Best for eco-friendly luxury: Singinawa. A top-end lodge with a pool and 100 acres of wildlife-filled grounds.
  • Best for families: Kipling Camp. Beautiful wood-beamed cottages with private verandas.

Explore more places to stay near Kanha National Park


Kanha National Park is a paradise for wildlife watchers © Santanu Banik/Shutterstock

3. Gokarna's sacred beaches

Among India’s most scenically situated sacred sites, Gokarna lies between a broad white-sand beach and the verdant foothills of the Western Ghats. 

Clustered around a long L-shaped bazaar, Gokarna has been a Shaivite centre for more than two millennia. Its main road runs west to the town beach, which is a sacred site in itself. Hindu mythology identifies it as the place Shiva was reborn from the underworld after a period of penance. 

Today Gokarna’s numerous temples and shrines continue to draw pilgrims, with the atmalinga (or pranalinga) enshrined in the medieval Shri Mahabaleshwar temple. 

South of town, several beautiful beaches reveal themselves. Hike over the headland from Kudle to reach exquisite Om Beach, so named because its twin crescent bays resemble the auspicious Om symbol. 

If you're set on a chilled-out coastal break, read up on the best beaches in India.

    Where to stay

  • Best for indie travellers: Nimmu House. Beach views in a modern block and leafy location.
  • Best for rejuvenation: Namaste Yoga Farm. Sea-view cottages, organic food and complimentary yoga.
  • Best for luxury: Swaswara. Beautiful wood villas spread over hillside terraces overlooking the bay. 

Browse more great places to stay in Gokarna.

Empty tourist sea trip boats at Om beach in Gokarna, India © Vladimir Zhoga/Shutterstock

Om Beach, Gokarna, India © Vladimir Zhoga/Shutterstock

4. Taj Mahal Majesty

Oft-cited as the most beautiful building in the world, the majesty of the Taj Mahal never fails to overwhelm those who see it in real life.

While the magic of this monument to love is strangely undiminished by throngs of tourists, it’s at its most alluring in the early morning. During these lesser-crowded hours, you’ll find it shrouded in mist and a soft red glow. That said, the Taj Mahal also features in our gallery of the world's best sunset spots.

Whatever time of day you visit, it's truly one of the most romantic places in India, and the world, for that matter.

Top tip

Skip the inevitable line by booking your ticket to the Taj Mahal in advance. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for indie travellers: Sakura Guest House. A well-run, good-value guesthouse near Idgah Bus Station. 
  • Best for modern chic: Hotel Clarks Shiraz. Pricier rooms at this sprawling five-star offer distant Taj Mahal views. 
  • Best for Taj access: Hotel Sheela. Spacious rooms around a little garden, and very close to the Taj.

Find more places to stay near the Taj Mahal.


Taj Mahal © Richie Chan/Shutterstock

5. Khajuraho's temples

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the immaculately preserved Hindu temples of Khajuraho are renowned for their uncompromisingly erotic carvings. 

Built between the tenth and twelfth centuries AD, these are the greatest architectural achievement of the Chandella dynasty, yet it’s still not known exactly why they were built. Some say they’re a “how-to” guide for brahmin boys, while others claim they symbolize the wedding party of Shiva and Parvati.  

Either way, they’re spectacularly intricate, with their beauty shifting through the day. They glow warm pink at sunrise, white at midday, and switch back to pink at sunset. Magic. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for peace-seekers: Hotel Zen. With a Zen-influenced garden, this has free on-site yoga and meditation.
  • Best for luxury: Lalit Temple View. Shaded groves, sumptuous rooms and first-class spa treatments.
  • Best for budget travellers: Zostel. This India-wide hostel chain offers bright, clean dorms and private rooms.

Explore more places to stay near Khajuraho.


Khajuraho temples © Kevin Standage/Shutterstock

6. Keoladeo National Park — bird paradise

The perfect antidote to the frenzy and pollution of nearby Agra and Jaipur, Keoladeo National Park in the Rajasthan region is Asia’s most famous bird reserve,

Some 385 species have been recorded here, including around two hundred year-round residents, along with 190-odd migratory species. These travel from as far afield as Tibet, China, Siberia and even Europe.

Keoladeo is probably best known for its stupendous array of aquatic birds, which descend on the park’s wetlands following the arrival of the monsoon in July. These include the majestic saras crane and a staggering two thousand painted storks, plus snake-necked darters, spoonbills, white ibis and grey pelican.  

But it’s not all about the birds — expect to see wild boar, mongoose, antelope, jackal, jungle cat, chital, nilgai and sambar. All of which means,Keoladeo National Park should be at the top of wildlife-lovers' "things not to miss in India" list.

Browse places to stay in Bharatpur.


Keoladeo National Park © Sourabh Bharti/Shutterstock

7. Varanasi — one of the top things not to miss in India

Founded by Shiva, and known as the City of Light, Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. 

Stretching along the River Ganges, its waterfront is dominated by stone ghats, where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daily ritual ablutions. 

Varanasi is among the holiest of all tirthas — “crossing places” — that allow devotees access to the divine, and enable gods and goddesses to come down to earth.  

As such, Varanasi has attracted pilgrims throughout its history. Today widows and the elderly come here to live out their final days, finding shelter in temples, and assisted by alms from the faithful.

Varanasi, Ganges, India © Shutterstock

Varanasi, India © Joolyann/Shutterstock

8. Jodhpur's mighty Mehrangarh Fort

For size, strength and sheer physical presence, few sights in India can rival Jodhpur’s mighty Mehrangarh Fort. In fact, it features in our run-down of the world's most epic fortresses.

The epitome of Rajput power and extravagance, the fort's ramparts tower above a labyrinthine, blue-painted old city. Its mass of impregnable masonry appears to have grown from the enormous rock outcrop it stands on.

If the steep walk up to the fort from the old city seems too much like hard work, you can reach the entrance along the road from Nagauri Gate. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for community: Durag Niwas. This friendly place runs programmes helping disadvantaged women. 
  • Best for character: Shahi Guest House. A welcoming guesthouse occupying a 350-year-old Mughal haveli.
  • Best for couples: Juna Mahal. This almost-500-year-old, artefact-adorned haveli has great-value suites.

Discover more places to stay in Jodhpur


The glorious, golden Mehrangarh Fort © Alexandra Lande/Shutterstock

9. Amritsar's Golden Temple

Sikh pilgrims, domestic tourists and international visitors arrive en masse in Amritsar for one gleaming reason — the fabled Golden Temple. 

The largest city in Punjab, Amritsar is dominated by the Golden Temple’s soaring domes. Given that this is one of the most captivating sights in the whole country, it’s definitely one of the top things not to miss in India. In fact, it’s one of the reasons you voted India one of themost beautiful countries in the world

Top experience

Book a full-day tour of Amritsar to shop local, eat local, marvel at the Golden Temple, and experience the India-Pakistan parade ceremony at Wagah Border.

    Where to stay

  • Best for central chic: Ramada Amritsar. Super-close to the temple, this has a fab rooftop pool.
  • Best for couples: Hotel Grand. A well-located four-star with attentive service.
  • Best for budget travellers: goStops Hostel. Comfy rooms and a rooftop with top Temple-ward views.

Browse more places to stay in Amritsar.


Amritsar's glorious Golden Temple – one of our top things not to miss in India © JE TAE GYEONG/Shutterstock

10. Jaipur's Rajasthani craft markets

The teeming bazaars of the Pink City in Jaipur burst with vibrant cloth, jewellery, Persian-style pottery and semiprecious stones. It's simply the best place to shop in the Subcontinent.

Jaipur’s attractions fall into three distinct areas. At the heart of the urban sprawl, the historic Pink City is where you’ll find the fine City Palace and the Hawa Mahal. 

The leafier and less hectic area south of the Pink City is home to the Ram Niwas Gardens and Central Museum. Meanwhile, the city’s outskirts are dotted with intriguing relics of royal rule, most notably Nahargarh Fort.

Top experience

See — and snap — the Pink City in its best light on a tour of Jaipur's best photography spots.

    Where to stay

  • Best for romantics: Rambagh Palace. An opulent palace complex in 47 acres of beautiful gardens.
  • Best for atmosphere: Samode Haveli. In an unbeatably central location, this superb old haveli oozes charm.
  • Best for budget travellers: Atithi Guest House. Pleasant rooms and an attractive rooftop terrace.

Explore more places to stay in Jaipur.


Traditional Indian crafts © neelsky/Shutterstock

11. Gangotri and the Gaumukh Glacier

The atmospheric village of Gangotri in the Uttarakhand area serves as a base for a trek to the heart of the Hindu faith. Namely, Gaumukh — source of the Ganges. 

Although the wide Alaknanda may have a better technical claim to be the main channel of the Ganges, Gangotri is for Hindus the spiritual source of the great river. Meanwhile, its physical source is the ice cave of Gaumukh on the Gangotri Glacier. 

From here, the River Bhagirathi begins its tempestuous descent through mighty gorges. As such, this showcases India's natural majesty, and offers some of the most exhilarating sports and outdoor activities in India.

Browse places to stay in Gangotri.


India's Gaumukh Glacier is a gobsmackingly epic sight © Nila Newsom/Shutterstock

If you are looking for more exotic destinations - choose your perfect option in our list of the most exotic places to travel.

12. Romantic Udaipur

Spreading around the shores of Lake Pichola, and backed by a ring of craggy green hills, the city of Udaipur paints a romantic picture.  

Think ornately turreted palaces, dazzling havelis and bathing ghats clustered around lakes or, in the case of the Lake Palace hotel and Jag Mandir Palace, floating on the lakes. 

North of the city, you’ll find the historic temples of Nagada, Eklingji, Nathdwara and Kankroli. To northwest, en route to Jodhpur, lie the superb Jain temples of Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh's rambling fort.

Top experience

Book a guided tour of the palace complex, followed by a self-guided boat trip on Lake Pichola.

     Where to stay

  • Best for big spenders: Taj Lake Palace. Think butler service and limos on its own island. 
  • Best for budget beauty: Lalghat Guest House. A lovely lakeside spot with basic singles, doubles and a dorm.
  • Best for families: Panorama.Cosy great-value rooms, a house tortoise, and rooftop restaurant with lake views.

Explore more places to stay in Udaipur.

Jag Mandir Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India © Blue Sky Studio/Shutterstock

Jag Mandir Palace appears to float on Udaipur's Lake Pichola © Blue Sky Studio/Shutterstock

13. Palolem — a picture-perfect beach

This exquisite crescent-shaped beach in Goa’s relaxed south is famous for its dolphins and local alcoholic spirit, feni. 

Lined with a curtain of coconut palms, the bay forms a perfect curve of golden sand. Little wonder, then, that Palolem becomes somewhat deluged by tourists from late November.  

For more peace, head to smaller, quieter Patnem beach, just a short walk south around the headland.

    Where to stay

  • Best for beachside living: Cozy Nook. One of Goa’s most attractive spots, with three classes of bamboo huts.
  • Best for honeymooners: Village Resort. The area’s most stylish place to stay, but not on the beach.
  • Best for peace: OM Meditation & Yoga Beach Resort. Run by Cozy Nook, this tent camp is a silent space. 

Peruse more places to stay in Palolem.

Colorful bungalows on the tropical beach of Palolem, South Goa, India  © Dan Baciu/Shutterstock

South Goa bungalows © Dan Baciu/Shutterstock

14. Manali–Leh Highway road-trip

Adventurers wondering about things not to miss in India would do well to tackle India’s epic Himalayan road trip. Namely, the Manali–Leh Highway.

Since it opened to foreign tourists in 1989, it's replaced the old Srinagar–Kargil route as the most popular approach to Ladakh.

In summer, a stream of vehicles set off from the Kullu Valley to travel along the second-highest road in the world. Crossing vast lunar wilderness and some of the world's highest mountain passes, it reaches a dizzying altitude of 5328m at Tanglang La.

Depending on road conditions and type of vehicle, the 485km journey can take anything from seventeen to thirty hours. Its surface varies wildly from smooth asphalt, to dirt tracks sliced by glacial streams. 

Into epic wheeled-excursions? Read up on some of the world’s best road trips.

Barlachala pass in Leh Manali Highway © Avik/Shutterstock

Barlachala pass along the epic Manali–Leh Highway © Avik/Shutterstock

15. Dharamsala's Tibetan culture

Home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, Dharamsala — or, more correctly, its upper town McLeod Ganj — is one of Himachal’s most irresistible destinations.

Perched on the edge of the Himalayas, and spread across wooded ridges beneath the Dhauladhar Range, the town is divided into two distinct sections. These are separated by 10km of a perilously twisting, high-altitude road.

McLeod Ganj has been transformed by Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese oppression in their homeland. As a result, Tibetan influence here is very strong, with temples, schools, monasteries, nunneries and meditation centres.

It's also home to the most extensive library of Tibetan history and religion, and a starting point for exhilarating treks into the high Himalayas. All that considered, you might want to read up on Dharamsala’s many delights.

Top experience

Take a full-day tour with an expert guide to see iconic landmarks like the Dalai Lama Temple and Bhagsu Falls.

    Where to stay

  • Best for basics: Shanti Café & Guesthouse. A welcoming lodge with a few colourful, compact rooms.
  • Best for foodies: Hotel Sky Pie. Friendly, lively, with budget rooms, smarter rooms, and a great restaurant. 

Discover more places to stay in Dharamsala.


A Tbetan Buddhist temple in Dharamsala-© hrui/Shutterstock

16. Madurai — ancient city of sculptures

Situated on the banks of the River Vaigai, Madurai is one of the oldest cities in South Asia. In fact, it’s been an important centre of worship and commerce for thousands of years. 

Sitting centre stage is the spectacular, medieval Sri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple — a maze of shrines and colonnades, with an estimated 33,000 sculptures. 

The life of the temple is absorbing, from the puja ceremonies, weddings, and brahmin boys under religious instruction, to the prostrations of countless devotees and the market stalls just inside the east entrance.

    Where to stay

  • Best for luxury: Gateway Hotel. Madurai’s most exclusive hotel, set in 25 acres of manicured gardens in the hills.
  • Best for families: Fortune Pandiyan. Large, quiet, comfortable rooms, away from the centre.

Take a look at more places to stay in Madurai.


Meenakshi temple. Madurai © RudiErnst/Shutterstock

17. Trekking Ladakh and Zanskar 

For dedicated hikers, trekking the ancient footpaths that crisscross Ladakh and Zanskar is one of those sure-fire things not to miss in India. 

Expect to be stunned by an extraordinary moonscape as you traverse challenging trails that link remote Buddhist villages and monasteries.  

It’s fair to say that these paths provide some of the most inspiring trekking in the Himalayas. They’re long, hard and mightily high, but never dull.

Planning your trek

Most hikers arrange their trips as package treks, sold by agencies in Leh. 

Trekking independently is straightforward if you don’t mind haggling and are happy to organize the logistics yourself. To find ponies and guides, head for the Tibetan refugee camp at Choglamsar, 3km south of Leh.

    Where to stay in Leh

  • Best for families: Babu Guest House. A friendly backstreet guesthouse with a cute courtyard.
  • Best for first-class treatment: Grand Dragon Ladakh. Professional service, fancy rooms, and excellent dining.
  • Best for active types: Hotel Asia. Mountain views, bike hire, and pleasant staff.

Check out more places to stay in Leh.

Things not to miss: Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar River, India.

© martinho Smart/Shutterstock

18. Boating Kerala's backwaters

The state of Kerala has intoxicated visitors since the ancient Sumerians and Greeks sailed in search of spices to the shore known as the Malabar Coast. 

Stretching for 550km along India’s southwest coast, it’s divided between the densely forested mountains of the Western Ghats inland, and a lush coastal plain of lagoons, rivers and canals.  

One of the best aspects of exploring Kerala is travelling the spellbinding Kuttanad region by boat, especially historic Kollam (Quilon) and Alappuzha (Alleppey). 

Cruisers and beautiful wooden barges known as kettu vallam (“tied boats”) ply the backwaters, offering visitors a window on village life in India’s most densely populated state.

Browse places to stay in Kerala.

Backwater Kochin, Cochin, India © Shutterstock

Get off Kerala's beaten track by boat © Curioso/Shutterstock

19. Fatehpur Sikri — glorious ghost city

Straddling the crest of a rocky ridge on the Agra–Jaipur highway, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri remains one of India’s architectural masterpieces

Former imperial capital of the Mughal emperor Akbar, the city was built between 1569 and 1585 as a result of his enthusiasm for the local Muslim divine, Sheikh Salim Chishti. 

The fusion of Hindu and Muslim traditions in its stunning red sandstone architecture says much about the religious and cultural tolerance of Akbar’s reign.

Top experience

Book a full-day private tour to explore Agra, the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. 

Explore more places to stay near Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri -  Agra, India © Roop_Dey/Shutterstock

Fatehpur Sikri, India © Roop_Dey/Shutterstock

20. Exploring Ellora Caves

A World Heritage Site with breath-taking Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves carved from solid volcanic rock, the Ellora Caves are unmissable if you’re heading to or from Mumbai. 

In all, 34 caves line the foot of the 2km-long Chamadiri escarpment as it tumbles down to meet the open plains.  

The site’s principal attraction is the colossal Kailash temple. Rearing from a sheer cavity cut from the hillside, a mass of solid basalt has been fashioned into a spectacular complex of colonnaded galleries and shrines.  

Top experience

From Aurangabad, enjoy a full-Day tour of the Ajanta and Ellora Caves.

    Where to stay

  • Best for cosy charm: Hotel Kailas. This peaceful cave-side hotel has a good restaurant and range of activities.

Explore more places to stay near Ellora Caves.


Ellora Cave, India © Thotsaporn.S/Shutterstock

Planning an independent trip? Read up on places to get off the tourist trail in India and tips for backpacking India. You’ll also find tonnes more information in The Rough Guide to India

Our tips for first-time travellers to India will also help you plan you trip. 

Not a fan of planning? Consider booking a fully customisable trip to India. From exploring the Golden Triangle, to immersive wildlife adventures, Rough Guides’ tailor-made trips have you covered, not least when it comes to seeing all those things not to miss in India.

Ready for a trip to India? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to India. If you travel further, read more about the best places to visit and best things to do in India. For inspiration use the India itineraries from The Rough Guide to India and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 05.10.2022

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