Karnataka, India

Created in 1956 from the princely state of Mysore, Karnataka – a derivation of the word karu nadu meaning “black soil” in the local language, Kannada – marks a transition zone between central India and the Dravidian deep south.

Along its borders with Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, a string of mediaeval walled towns studded with domed mausoleums and minarets recall the era when this part of the Deccan was a Muslim stronghold. The coastal and hill districts that dovetail with Kerala are, in contrast, quintessential Hindu south India, lush with tropical vegetation and soaring temple gopuram.

The best travel tips for visiting Karnataka

Karnataka’s principal attractions lie at opposite ends of the state, with a handful of less-visited places dotted along the coast between Goa and Kerala.

Road and rail routes dictate that most itineraries take in the state capital, Bengaluru (Bangalore), a go-ahead, modern city that epitomises the aspirations of the country’s new middle class, with glittering malls, fast-food outlets and nightlife unrivalled outside Mumbai.

The state’s second city, Mysuru (Mysore), appeals more for its Raj-era ambience, nineteenth-century palaces and vibrant produce and incense markets. It also lies within easy reach of several important historical monuments, notably the ruined Vijayanagar city at Hampi, whose lost temples and derelict palaces stand amid an arid, rocky landscape of surreal beauty.

Fed by the southwest monsoon and draped in dense deciduous forests, the Western Ghats, run in an unbroken line along the state’s palm-fringed coast, impeding the path of the rain clouds east.

As a result, the landscape of the interior – comprising the southern apex of the triangular Deccan trap, known as the Mysore Plateau, is considerably drier. Three of south India’s most sacred rivers, the Kaveri (also spelt Cauvery), Tungabhadra and Krishna, flow across this sun-baked terrain, draining east to the Bay of Bengal.

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Bangalore, India © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Karnataka

#1 Explore Bengaluru (Bangalore)

This booming silicon city offers the best shopping, nightlife and dining this side of Mumbai, not to mention a few great parks, plus the odd palace and temple.

Don’t miss Cubbon Park, a welcome green space in the heart of the city, shaded by massive clumps of bamboo, and presided over by a statue of Queen Victoria.

Several prominent historic landmarks are located within its sprawling expanse, including the State Central Library, one of the oldest and largest in the country, housed in the impressive red Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall, and the colonnaded, red-brick High Court of Karnataka (Attara Kacheri).

Inspired by the splendid gardens of the Mughals and the French botanical gardens at Puducherry in Tamil Nadu, the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens designed by Sultan Haider Ali set in 1760 laying are also worth visiting.

#2 Seek out Mysuru (Mysore) the state’s second city

The sandalwood city oozes old-world charm and has lots to see, including the opulent Mysore Palace. A centre of sandalwood-carving, silk and incense production, and dotted with palaces and gardens, Mysore, officially renamed Mysuru in 2014, is one of south India’s more appealing cities and its cultural capital. It remains an old-fashioned place, changed by neither an IT boom nor its well-established status as a top international yoga destination.

That said, the erstwhile capital of the Wadiyar rajas can be underwhelming at first blush: upon stumbling off a bus or train you are smacked by a cacophony of tooting, careening buses, bullock carts, bikes and tongas. Still, give it a few days and Mysuru will cast a spell on you.

Stroll past the evocative, if dilapidated, pre-Independence buildings lining market areas such as Ashoka Road and Sayaji Rao Road lend an air of faded grandeur to the vibrant city centre.

#3 Seek out two of Halebidu’s Hoysala Temples

Halebidu (formerly Halebid), 32 km northwest of Hassan, was the second capital of the powerful Hoysala dynasty, which held sway over south Karnataka from the eleventh until the early fourteenth centuries and its peak stretched from coast to coast. Once known as Dora Samudra (Gateway to the Sea), the capital city became Hale-bidu, or “Old City”, after successive raids by the Delhi sultanate between 1311 and 1326 reduced it to rubble.

Despite the sacking, several large Hoysala temples survive, two of which, the Hoysaleshvara and Kedareshvara, are superb, covered in exquisite carvings and are worth exploring.

#4 Walk under the gigantic gopura at Chennakeshava temple

Located northwest of Hassan, on the banks of the Yagachi River, Belur was the Hoysala capital during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, its importance marked by the gateway tower at Chennakeshava temple.

Still in active worship, the Chennakeshava temple is a fine and early example of the singular Hoysala style, built by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 to celebrate his conversion from Jainism, victory over Chola forces at Talakad and his independence from the Chalukyas.

Today, its grey-stone gopura, or gateway tower, soars above a small, bustling market town – a popular pilgrimage site from October to December, when busloads of Ayappan devotees stream through en route to Sabarimala. The Car Festival held around March or April takes place over twelve days and has a pastoral feel, attracting farmers from the surrounding countryside who conduct a bullock cart procession through the streets to the temple.

Inside the Chennakeshava Complex, the Andal Temple pillars entrance. Belur, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

Inside the Chennakeshava Complex, the Andal Temple pillars entrance. Belur, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

#5 Ditch Goa for Gokarna

This vibrant Hindu holy town is blessed with atmospheric temples and exquisite crescent beaches and is ideal for serious unwinding. Among India’s most scenically situated sacred sites, Gokarna lies between a broad white-sand beach and the verdant foothills of the Western Ghats.

Yet this compact little coastal town – a Shaivite centre for more than two millennia – remained largely “undiscovered” by Western tourists until the early 1990s, when it began to attract neo-hippies fleeing the commercialization of Goa, just over 60 km north.

Now firmly on the tourist map, the town retains a charming local character, as the Hindu pilgrims pouring through still far outnumber the foreigners who flock here in winter. A hotchpotch of wood-fronted houses and red terracotta roofs, Gokarna is clustered around a long L-shaped bazaar. Its broad main road – known as Car Street – runs west to the beach, which is a sacred site in its own right.

#6 Find serenity in ruins at Hampi

Among a surreal landscape of golden-brown boulders and leafy banana fields are the crumbling remains of the Vijayanagar kingdom. The “City of Victory,” Vijayanagar, better known as Hampi (the name of the main local village), spills from the south bank of the River Tungabhadra.

This once dazzling Hindu capital was devastated by a six-month Muslim siege in the sixteenth century. Only stone, brick and stucco structures survived the ensuing sack – monolithic deities, crumbling houses and abandoned temples dominated by towering gopuras – as well as the irrigation system that channelled water to the temples.

The serene riverside setting and air of magic that still lingers over the site, sacred for centuries before a city was founded here, make it one of India’s most extraordinary locations. Many find it difficult to leave and spend weeks chilling out in cafés, wandering to whitewashed hilltop temples and gazing at the spectacular sunsets.

#7 Size up the splendid dome at Vijayapura (Bijapur)

Known as the “Agra of the South” for its splendid Islamic architecture, most famously the vast dome of the Gol Gumbaz. The dry and dusty far northern region of Karnataka is as distinct culturally as it is in landscape. Predominantly Muslim, at least in the larger settlements, it boasts some wonderful Islamic architecture and shrines in the venerable city of Vijayapura (Bijapur), bustling Kalaburagi (Gulbarga) and rather forlorn Bidar.

#8 Escape the tourists, make a beeline for Bidar

This rarely visited Muslim outpost in the remote northeast of the state is famed for its bidri metalwork and magnificent mediaeval monuments. Lost in the far northeast of Karnataka, Bidar is a provincial backwater known for its fighter-pilot training base, but visitors will discover its gently decaying monuments, its robust fifteenth-century fort and the most important Sikh shrine in Karnataka, Guru Nanak Jhira Sahib.

The town, half of whose 210,000-strong population is Muslim, has a gritty charm, with narrow red-dirt streets ending at arched gates and open vistas across the plains. Littered with tile-fronted tombs, rambling fortifications and old mosques, it merits a visit if you’re travelling between Hyderabad (150 km east) and Vijayapura, although you should expect little in the way of Western comforts, and lots of curious approaches from locals.

Mysore Palace in Mysore, Karnataka state in India © Shutterstock

Mysore, India © Shutterstock

Best places to stay in Karnataka

From the bustling tech hub of Bengaluru to the tranquil hills of Coorg and the ancient ruins of Hampi, Karnataka provides an enchanting selection of places to stay that cater to every traveller's preferences.


Due to the great number of business visitors it receives, Bengaluru offers a wealth of upmarket lodgings, as well as serviced apartments. Decent budget accommodation is also available, mostly concentrated around the Central Bus Stand and railway station.

Mysuru (Mysore)

Staying near the city centre allows easy access to attractions like the palace, Chamundi Hills, and the vibrant Devaraja Market. Finding a room is only a problem during Dasara and the Christmas/New Year period, when the popular places are booked up weeks in advance and prices predictably soar. Checkout is generally at noon.

Kodagu (Coorg)

Kodagu has a huge range of stay options from rustic cottages to ritzy resorts, though its charm lies in the profusion of traditional homestays, many in plantation bungalows, which offer the legendary hospitality of the Kodavas.


This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its ancient ruins and historical significance. It's best to stay in the Hampi Bazaar area or nearby Hospet town, which has a range of accommodation options.


Located on the coastal belt of Karnataka, Mangalore offers beautiful beaches and a rich cultural blend. Staying in areas like Panambur, Kadri, or the city centre provides access to beaches, temples, and local cuisine.


Known for its pristine beaches and religious significance, Gokarna is a tranquil coastal town. Om Beach, Kudle Beach, and Gokarna Main Beach are popular areas for accommodation.


This coastal town is famous for its ancient temples and delicious Udupi cuisine. Staying near the city centre or close to Malpe Beach is convenient for exploring the town and nearby attractions.

Browse the places to stay in Karnataka.


Gokarna, India © Shutterstock

How to get around

Karnataka has numerous transportation options available, so whether you’re navigating the bustling city streets of Bengaluru or embarking on scenic drives through picturesque landscapes, the state’s well-connected network of roads, railways, and airways help you to get around.

By train

Karnataka has an extensive rail network connecting major cities and towns. It's advisable to book train tickets in advance, especially for long-distance journeys, to secure your preferred class and seat. Hubballi is the state's major railway junction.

By bus

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operates a vast network of buses connecting various cities, towns, and even remote areas within the state.

KSRTC buses are a reliable and affordable option for intercity travel and reaching popular destinations

By metro

If in Bengaluru, there is now a metro system. The east– west Purple Line links the main train and bus stations (via City Railway and Majestic stations) with points east including Cubbon Park, MG Road and Indiranagar.

The north–south Green Line travels south via Yeshwantpur before intersecting with the Purple Line at Majestic and continuing south via Chikpete, KR Market and Lalbagh. Payment is by single-use tokens or Varshik smart cards, which give a slight discount.

By auto-rickshaw

The easiest way of getting around big cities is by metered auto-rickshaw. Most meters do work and drivers are usually willing to use them, although you will occasionally be asked for a flat fare, especially during rush hour.

By taxi

You can book chauffeur-driven cars and taxis through several state-wide agencies or use Ola or Uber.

 Gol Gumbaz which is the mausoleum of king Mohammed Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur. The tomb, located in Bijapur (Vijayapura), Karnataka in India © Shutterstock

Gol Gumbaz tomb in Bijapur (Vijayapura), Karnataka in India © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Karnataka?

To truly experience Karnataka, you will need a minimum of 7 to 10 days. This will give you time to visit popular destinations in like Bangalore, where you can spend two days immersed in the city's bustling atmosphere and visit iconic landmarks such as Bangalore Palace, Lalbagh Botanical Garden, and Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace.

Then head to Mysore for two days. Marvel at the grandeur of Mysore Palace, take a trip to the serene Chamundi Hills, and explore After that, make your way to Coorg, a picturesque hill station renowned for its coffee plantations or venture into Nagarhole National Park for a brush with wildlife.

Then visit Hampi for its awe-inspiring ruins and temples. Conclude your trip with two days in Gokarna, a coastal paradise. Unwind on the pristine beaches, pay a visit to the revered Mahabaleshwar Temple, and enjoy water activities like swimming or beachside yoga.

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What is the best time to visit Karnataka?

Coastal Karnataka is one of the wettest regions in India, its climate is dominated by the seasonal monsoon, which sweeps in from the southwest in June, dumping an average of 4m of rain on the coast before it peters out in late September.

October to April is therefore the best time to visit. Bengaluru and Mysuru, to the south of the Deccan Plateau, have a temperate climate with mild weather most of the year. The northern tracts and the coast get really hot in summer (April–June), with monsoon bringing some respite between July and October.

Festivals in Karnataka

Karnataka also has several large festivals including:

  • Hampi Utsav (early Nov). Celebrated since Vijayanagar times and revived by the Government of Karnataka, this three-day festival is a cultural showcase of music, dance, costume dramas, puppet shows, fireworks, processions and kushti (wrestling) that once received royal patronage.
  • Makar Sankranti (mid-Jan). The transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn) is when the harvest festival (suggi habba) is celebrated. Temple festivities, cultural programmes and kite-flying, especially in northern Karnataka, mark the occasion.
  • Bangalore Karaga (April). Bengaluru’s oldest festival is celebrated over eleven days around the Dharmaraya Swamy Temple in the old city. The festival honours Draupadi, considered a form of Shakti, and is named after the karaga or large floral pyramid borne by the appointed carrier during a night-time procession to the accompaniment of music and acrobatics.
  • Mysore Dasara (Sept/Oct). The biggest of them all, Karnataka’s naada habba (state festival) culminates in a grand procession on its tenth and final day.
  • Kadalekai Parishe (Dec/Jan). Bengaluru’s unique groundnut fair, held near the Bull Temple in Basavanagudi with rural produce on sale.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

Vittala temple in Hampi © Shutterstock

Vitthala temple, Hampi © Shutterstock

How to get here

From international flights to domestic transportation options, here’s how to get to Karnataka.

By plane

The quickest and most convenient way to reach Karnataka from distant locations is by air. The state has several airports, including the Kempegowda International Airport in Bangalore, which is the busiest airport in Karnataka.

Other helpful airports for travellers include Bellary, 60km from Hampi, and Mangaluru, which has international connections.

By train

Karnataka has an extensive railway network, making train travel a popular and affordable option for arriving here. Hubballi is the state's major railway junction with trains from Northern India and Maharashtra.

By bus

Karnataka has an extensive network of national and state highways, many of which have been recently upgraded.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 05.06.2023

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