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.
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 roof top terrace gives unrivalled views over the city and surrounding countryside.
Book a private tour of Jaisalmer city and fort that includes a camel safari.
Find more places to stay in Jaisalmer.
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.
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.
Explore more places to stay near Kanha National Park.
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.
Browse more great places to stay in Gokarna.
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.
Skip the inevitable line by booking your ticket to the Taj Mahal in advance.
Find more places to stay near the Taj Mahal.
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.
Explore more places to stay near Khajuraho.
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.
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.
Find more places to stay in Varanasi.
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.
Discover more places to stay in Jodhpur.
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 the most beautiful countries in the world.
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.
Browse more places to stay in Amritsar.
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.
See — and snap — the Pink City in its best light on a tour of Jaipur's best photography spots.
Explore more places to stay in Jaipur.
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.
If you are looking for more exotic destinations - choose your perfect option in our list of the most exotic places to travel.
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.
Explore more places to stay in Udaipur.
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.
Peruse more places to stay in Palolem.
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.
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.
Take a full-day tour with an expert guide to see iconic landmarks like the Dalai Lama Temple and Bhagsu Falls.
Discover more places to stay in Dharamsala.
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.
Take a look at more places to stay in Madurai.
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.
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.
Check out more places to stay in Leh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Aurangabad, enjoy a full-Day tour of the Ajanta and Ellora Caves.
Explore more places to stay near Ellora Caves.
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.
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