Hampi (Vijayanagar), India

Among a surreal landscape of golden-brown boulders and leafy banana fields, the ruined “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 second half of 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 huge tanks and temples, some of which are still in use today.

The best travel tips for visiting Hampi

With its wooden superstructure burnt and past buried in ruins, excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India can only piece together the fragmented history of this sophisticated city.

Grappling with years of encroachment and the constant tussle between preservation and modernization, the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority has controversially pressed ahead with plans to revamp Hampi Bazaar and the adjoining “heritage zone”.

Yet, at least for the time being, 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.

Although spread over 26 square kilometres, the ruins of Vijayanagar are mostly concentrated in two distinct groups: the designated Sacred Centre around Hampi Bazaar and the nearby riverside area, encompassing an enclave of temples and ghats; and the Royal Enclosure – 3 km south of the river, just northwest of Kamalapura village – which holds the remains of palaces, pavilions, elephant stables, guardhouses and temples.

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vittala-temple-hampi-karnataka-india-shutterstock_389236051

Vittala temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Hampi

From the bustling and vibrant Hampi Bazaar to the revered Hindu Virupaksha Temple, here are the best things to do in Hampi.

#1 Walk through the columned Hampi Bazaar

Hampi’s long, straight main street, Hampi Bazaar, runs east from the entrance to the Virupaksha temple, and is lined by the remains of Vijayanagar’s ruined, columned bazaar.

Where once merchants would have traded in everything from silk clothes and precious stones to horses, today the Bazaar has been cleared of all shops under a restoration initiative however the area north of the temple towards the river still houses a maze of restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

#2 Visit the Virupaksha temple

Dedicated to a form of Shiva known as Virupaksha (“the terrible-eyed one”), the temple dominates the village with its 50m-high nine-storey tower, the tallest gopura in Karnataka, acting like a beacon.

Get closer and you will see the small three-headed Nandi outside the main entrance. The statue supposedly represents the past, present and future of Hampi. In the 1565 siege, Nandi’s third head, representing the future, was defaced; Hampi never regained its glory.

The complex is entered through a towering gopura. The inner court, surrounded by a colonnade, is usually filled with pilgrims dozing, singing religious songs or receiving blessings from the temple elephant, Lakshmi.

In the middle, the principal temple is approached through a mandapa hallway whose carved columns feature rearing animals, whilst rare Vijayanagar-era paintings on the mandapa ceiling include aspects of Shiva, a procession with the sage Vidyaranya, the ten incarnations of Vishnu and scenes from the Mahabharata.

#3 Take a riverside walk

The sacred ford in the river is reached from the Virupaksha’s north gopura; you can also get there by following the lane around the impressive temple tank. Now some distance away, the mandapa overlooks the steps that originally led to the river.

From this part of the bank, a small motorboat ferries villagers to the fields and tourists to the increasingly popular enclave of Virupapuragadda. For those who want to keep their feet on solid ground, the road left from the sacred ford through the village eventually loops back towards the hilltop Hanuman temple, about 5km east, and on to Anegundi to make a circular walk.

#4 Take in the sunrise at Matanga Hill

The place to head for sunrise is the boulder hill immediately east of Hampi Bazaar. From the end of the main street, an ancient paved pathway winds up a rise, topped by the magnificent Achyutharaya temple on the eastern ridge of Matanga Hill.

The views improve as you progress up towards the small Veerabhadra temple at its summit, which provides an extraordinary vantage point to watch the first light of the day. Muggings have been reported along this path early in the morning, so be vigilant if there are only one or two of you.

Sunrise in Hampi on Matanga Hill © Shutterstock

Sunrise in Hampi on Matanga Hill © Shutterstock

#5 Seek out some rather rude stone carvings

Walking east from the Virupaksha temple along the length of Hampi Bazaar, turning left before the huge monolithic Nandi statue to get to Vitthala temple.

The walk winds past cafés and numerous shrines including a Rama temple – home to hordes of fearless monkeys - before arriving at the 16th century Achyutharaya temple (aka Tiruvengalanatha).The temple is known for its beautiful stone carvings – among them some of Hampi’s famed erotica.

Back on the main path again, make a short detour across the rocks leading to the river to see the little-visited waterside Agni temple; next to it, the Kotilinga complex consists of 1008 tiny lingas, carved on a flat rock.

As you approach the Vitthala temple, to the south is an archway known as the King’s Balance, where the rajas were weighed against gold, silver and jewels to be distributed to Brahmins and the needy on festive occasions.

#6 Hear the musical columns at Vitthala temple

Now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vitthala temple was built for Vishnu, who according to legend was too embarrassed by its ostentation to live here.

The Saptasvara Mandapa (Open Dancing Hall) features slender monolithic granite musical pillars which were constructed so as to sound the notes of the scale when struck.

Today, security guards make sure no one touches them; however, guides will happily demonstrate the musical resonance of other pillars on an adjacent structure.

Outer columns sport characteristic Vijayanagar rearing horses, while friezes of lions, elephants and horses on the moulded basement display sculptural trickery – you can transform one beast into another simply by masking one portion of the image.

In front of the temple, to the east, a stone representation of a wooden processional rath, or chariot, houses an image of Garuda, Vishnu’s bird vehicle. Now cemented, at one time the chariot’s wheels revolved.

#7 Seek out the forgotten temples and fortifications of Anegundi

With more time, and a sense of adventure, you can head across the River Tungabhadra to Anegundi, a fortress town predating Vijayanagar, and its fourteenth-century headquarters.

The most pleasant way to get here is to take a coracle from the ford 1.5km east of the Vitthala temple; these circular baskets, which are today reinforced with plastic sheets, also carry bicycles, which are a good way to visit Hampi’s many monuments.

A contentious bridge was constructed at this point but collapsed some years ago. A new one is being built outside the core heritage zone, at Bukkasagar, further downstream.

Forgotten temples and fortifications litter Anegundi village and its quiet surroundings. The ruined Huchchappa-matha temple, near the river gateway, is worth a look for its lathe-turned black stone pillars and fine panels of dancers.

Aramane, a ruined palace in the centre, stands opposite the home of the descendants of the royal family.

Anegundi Fort in Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

Anegundi Fort in Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

#8 Snap Hampi’s most-photographed monument at Hemakuta Hill

Aside from the architecture, the main reason to clamber up Hemakuta Hill is to admire the views of the ruins and surrounding countryside.

The sheer western edge of the hill is Hampi’s top sunset spot, attracting crowds of tourists most evenings, along with entrepreneurial chaiwalas and little boys posing for photos in Hanuman costumes.

A couple of interesting monuments lie on the road leading south towards the southern group of ruins. The first of these, a walled Krishna temple complex to the west of the road, dates from 1513. Although dilapidated in parts, it features some fine carving and shrines.

Hampi’s most-photographed monument stands just south of the Krishna temple in its own enclosure. Depicting Vishnu in his incarnation as the Man-Lion, the monolithic Ugra Narasimha statue, with its bulging eyes and crossed legs strapped into yogic pose, is one of Vijayanagar’s greatest treasures.

#9 Look for the southern and royal monuments of Vijayanaga

The most impressive remains of Vijayanagar, the city’s royal monuments, lie some 3km south of Hampi Bazaar, spread over a large expanse of open ground.

Before tackling the ruins proper, it’s a good idea to get your bearings with a visit to the small Archeological Museum at Kamalapura, which can be reached by bus from Hosapete or Hampi.

Among the sculptures, weapons, palm-leaf manuscripts and paintings from Vijayanagar and Anegundi, the highlight is a superb scale model of the city, giving an excellent bird’s-eye view of the entire site.

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Vijayanaga, India © Shutterstock

Best areas to stay in Hampi

From the bustling market streets of Virupapuragadda to the tranquil riverside guesthouses of Hampi Bazaar, these are the best areas to stay in Hampi.

Hampi Bazaar

Hampi Bazaar remains the best place to stay for access to the sites, choice of restaurants and other facilities. There are no fancy hotels but a number of guesthouses of varying size and calibre.

Virupapuragadda

Some travellers, especially Israelis, prefer to stay across the river in Virupapuragadda, which is now well-developed and has caught up in price.

Still, prices are pretty low most of the year apart from the Christmas to mid-January peak, when they at least double.

Browse the best hotels in Hampi.

Best restaurants and bars

While Hampi is not particularly known for its bustling restaurant and bar scene, there are a few areas and districts where you can find some dining options.

As a holy site, the main village is strictly alcohol-free and almost entirely vegetarian. There are no such restrictions on the other side of the river.

Hampi Bazaar

Hampi has a plethora of traveller-oriented restaurants in the bazaar, although guesthouse rooftop restaurants above the first floor have been banned.

Virupapuragadda

There is a growing row of joints in Virupapuragadda serving a range of cuisines, including Indian, Italian, and Israeli.

Hampi - Virupaksha Temple © Shutterstock

Hampi - Virupaksha Temple © Shutterstock

How to get around

Hampi is a relatively compact area, and many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other, but from boats and buses to bicycles, it's easy to get around Hampi. Here’s how to do it.

By bicycle

Renting a bike is a popular option in Hampi. Several rental shops hire out wheels.

By scooter

There are scooters for hire in Hampi Bazaar and in other nearby areas.

By auto-rickshaw

Auto-rickshaws are readily available in Hampi and are ideal for short distances.

By boat

If you want to visit Virupapuragadda (Hippie Island) on the other side of the Tungabhadra River, there are boats available from near Hampi Bazaar.

What is the best time to visit Hampi?

The ideal time to visit Hampi is during the winter (October to March) as the weather is pleasant and temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F).

One of the primary reasons to visit Hampi in winter is to escape the scorching heat of the summer months when temperatures soar above 40°C (104°F). The mild and sunny days of winter provide a more enjoyable experience for sightseeing. Furthermore, the winter season coincides with vibrant festivals like Hampi Utsav (or Vijaya Utsav), held in November.

For those seeking a quieter experience, visiting during the shoulder months of October and March can still provide pleasant weather while offering a more serene and relaxed atmosphere with fewer tourists.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

View from Hemakuta hill sunset point with ancient ruins, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

View from Hemakuta hill sunset point with ancient ruins, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Hampi?

A typical visit to Hampi allows for around 2 to 3 days, providing ample time to discover the main attractions and immerse oneself in the destination. This is enough time to cover the main temple complexes, like Virupaksha Temple and Vittala Temple, as well as the Royal Enclosure.

The vibrant Hampi Bazaar draws visitors in with its bustling atmosphere and travellers will often stay longer than they planned to. Stick around Hampi for a week and you'll have time to visit the Hemakuta Hill temples, cycle through the surrounding rural trails, boat along the Tungabhadra River and head across to Hippie Island.

How to get here

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, but the most helpful is Bellary, 60km from Hampi, which has international connections.

By train

Karnataka has an extensive railway network, making train travel a popular and affordable option for arriving here. The closest railway station to Hampi is Hospet Junction, which is well-connected to major cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Goa, and Mumbai.

By bus

Karnataka has an extensive network of national and state highways, many of which have been recently upgraded. Hospet, 12km from Hampi, serves as a major bus hub.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by Andy Turner

updated 7.06.2023

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