India is an enormous country: It's the world’s 7th-largest by mass and 2nd-largest by population. It contains vast expanses of sparsely-populated deserts and some of the densest urban centers on the planets; some of the world’s tallest mountains and dozens of its most beautiful sandy beaches. Above all, India is a country filled with vibrant living cultures with ancient roots, and people as diverse yet welcoming as you’ll find anywhere on the planet. It is, in short, a traveler’s dream, and one which has rightfully made the must-visit list for globally-minded people from all over the world. The tough question is not should I visit India, but rather, where do I start? And that’s fair: With so much to see, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Given the overwhelming nature of the place, travelers should consider looking into some of the excellent tours that are offered by companies throughout India. These tours can either stand alone as an introduction to a city or region or be simply woven into a longer visit. There are lots of different styles and lengths of tours available, and it really is possible to find one that suits your needs, be it a private tour of a specific city, a backpacking tour of a wider region, or a more traditional motorcoach tour of several locations. A good guide will help you demystify the area you’re visiting and act as a translator, both of actual words and of cultural mores, which can be tremendously helpful.
The good news is that we've done the legwork and rounded up the best of the best to book, so have a look. Odds are good that there’s something here that will appeal to you.
01 of 10
Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur are collectively known as India’s Golden Triangle and are by far the most-touristed location in India. It’s the big-name UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the breathtaking Taj Mahal that draw tourists to this region by the droves, but there are lesser-known but also spectacular sites here, as well. Touring with a private guide means you’ll get a breadth of experiences — the big-name ones and some best-kept secrets, too — and have quite a bit of flexibility built in.
This tour begins in Delhi, where you’ll meet your private guide and driver and begin your sightseeing experience. Day 2 takes you to Agra in air-conditioned comfort, where you’ll visit the Taj Mahal and the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah. On Day 3, Jaipur is your destination, with a stop at the UNESCO-listed red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri. You’ll spend the evening exploring the excellent markets and restaurants of Jaipur. You’ll stay in Jaipur the next day, with a jaunt to the Amber Fort, one of Rajasthan’s most magnificent structures, and a tour around the diverse ancient city, learning about its history as a trading center and crossroads for centuries of culture.
Day 5 will take you to the lesser-touristed city of Mandawa, famous for its havelis, the traditional Indian-style mansions that were once the home of wealthy spice route traders. The next morning, you’ll wake up in your Mandawa hotel, have a bit more free time in the city, and then head back to Delhi by car. The trip is a whirlwind, but balances guided touring with lots of free time and flexibility and gives you a good look at this famous region’s highlights.
02 of 10
Sandswept Rajasthan is a place of legendary beauty and ancient mystery. Though it beckons to many visitors, going deep into the region can be intimidating, as the tourist path is not quite as well-trodden or established. This in-depth three-week tour takes the scenic route, working slowly through the more famous cities on the Golden Triangle circuit and deeper into the far-less-explored but equally fascinating areas throughout the state.
The tour combines guided activities with lots of free time for personal exploration — a good balance. Among the highlights are visits to the Taj Mahal, the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur, the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the ancient temples of Orchha, and a boat cruise on the river Ganges. An English-speaking guide, many meals, and hotel accommodations are included in the price of the tour, except on Day 8, when, instead of a hotel, guests will stay overnight in the desert in a luxurious tent accommodation in Jaisalmer.
Entrance fees to all sightseeing stops are also included, but there may be some additional fees for enhanced excursions, photo packages, and so on.
03 of 10
The ancient Ajanta and Ellora caves, covered with carvings that were started around 200 CE, are the major draw for tourists to the state of Maharashtra and the city of Aurangabad, in west-Central India. This short tour is an ideal side-tour for those visiting Mumbai, as it includes all transportation, lodging, and an English-speaking guide who will accompany you on all excursions. In short, it squares away the logistics.
On the first morning of the trip, you’ll be transported from your Mumbai hotel to the airport for your one-hour flight to Aurangabad, where you’ll check into your 4- or 5-star hotel. You’ll then spend the rest of the day taking a comprehensive tour of the city of Aurangabad and a tour of the UNESCO-listed Ellora Caves, with Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain carvings covering the walls of an extensive network of 34 total caves.
You’ll also visit the Bibi Ka Maqbara, the tomb of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s first wife, built in 1660 in a direct imitation of the inimitable style of the Taj Mahal. After what is sure to be a well-earned night of sleep, you’ll spend Day 2 at the UNESCO-listed Ajanta Caves. The intricate stone-carved chaityas (places of worship) and viharas (monasteries) were built within a network of caves in the Sahayadri Hills, turning a natural wonder into an artistic masterpiece. The carvings here, some of which are over 1,800 years old, are considered some of the best-preserved pieces of ancient Indian art and Buddhist art in existence.
You’ll have the whole day to explore these with the help of your expert guide. The next day, after a breakfast at the hotel and perhaps time for a final walk around Aurangabad, you’ll be transferred back to the airport for your flight back to Mumbai.
04 of 10
Varanasi is known as one of the world’s oldest and holiest cities; a sacred place for both Hindu and Jain people that's been continuously-inhabited since the 11th century BCE. Pilgrims come here to bathe in the River Ganges and, at the end of their lives, to die. Because the city at large is a sacred space, conscious travelers are rightfully nervous about behaving appropriately and treating the city and its people and pilgrims respectfully.
This tour gently guides you through that process, with an expert guide giving you an insider’s look into the city while also helping you make sure you won’t accidentally cause any disrespect. The tour includes sightseeing of sacred and ancient places, including the outside of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (non-Hindus cannot enter), the Buddhist holy site at Sarnath Deer Park, and the Bharat Kala Bhawan art and archaeology museum.
It also includes observation of Hindu rituals, including the aarti ritual, with its songs and candle offerings, pilgrims bathing in the river at sunrise, and even Hindu cremation ceremonies at the ghats (sets of steps leading down to the river). Because the tour is private, some flexibility is built in and you can spend more or less time walking, for example, or exploring certain archaeological sites.
Hotel accommodation, transportation (both car and boat), all entrance fees, the guide, and breakfast are included.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Spend a week with a knowledgeable guide and driver exploring the less-visited but absolutely stunning Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, in the foothills of the grand Himalayas. It’s a heavily forested and mountainous rural region, so much of this tour involves outdoor exploration and even a bit of adventure, as well as some time in the state’s ancient cities and towns.
This off-the-beaten-path tour departs from Delhi with a pickup at the airport or railway station and zips the traveler northward by car to Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradesh, where you should arrive with a bit of time for a stroll before dinner. After an evening of leisure and a good night’s sleep, the adventure really begins with a morning in Kufri, a hill station with impressive views of the Himalayas where you can take a hike or lighter stroll, and continues with some explorations of Shimla proper, including an optional pony or yak ride in the evening.
The next day, it’s on to the smaller hillside town of Manali, your headquarters for the next few days, where you’ll have the afternoon at your leisure before dinner at your hotel. Over the next two days, you’ll visit the many Hindu and Buddhist temples in Manali, some of which are centuries old, and also have some opportunities for outdoor adventure sports (snow-related in the winter and water-related in the summer).
On your final day, you’ll see a very different sort of place: Chandigarh, India’s first fully-planned city. Largely designed by modern French architect Le Corbusier, it is a fascinating modern city that feels in some ways a bit more European than other places in India, but also has unmistakeable Indian elements and pushes the imagination regarding what multicultural cities of the future really can look like.
After a day at leisure and an overnight in Chandigarh, it’s back to Delhi for either your return home or for the rest of your India adventure.
06 of 10
Getting off the beaten path is easier in some areas of India than others, but this mini-cruise is quite different from any experience you’ll have anywhere, and if your travels are taking you anywhere nearby, it’s a must-do, and even quite worth the trip from farther-flung places. Alleppey (Alappuzha), in the South Indian state of Kerala, is a canal-laced city that is often called “the Venice of the East.” Much commerce happens on the water, and houseboats are a common traditional dwelling for locals.
This tour gives you an opportunity for a full day aboard one of these houseboats, where you’ll cruise through Kerala’s famous backwaters — a series of serene lagoons and lakes, connected by lazy, barely-moving rivers — and in and throughout the town of Alleppey itself. You’ll see extensive traditional rice paddies, where farmers grow this grain in flooded fields that rest below sea level, as well as small villages and clusters of commercial boats.
Freshly-prepared meals will be served on board and the boat will cruise by lanternlight throughout the evening. On-boat accommodations are surprisingly comfortable and with the stillness of the waters, you’ll sleep like a baby. The next morning, you’ll be transferred back to Kochi to continue on your journey.
07 of 10
India is famously popular for backpackers, but they tend to congregate either on the hostel circuit through the big cities or in the foothills of the Himalayas. This backpacking tour offers something totally different in this region (Meghalaya, which means “The Abode of Clouds” in Sanskrit) which is rarely visited by outsiders, but which is both stunning and culturally vibrant.
Odds are good that, unless you’re an expert on Indian geography, you don’t know many of the included destinations by name, but they include visits to the gorgeous cascading Wahrashi Falls and the Laitlum Canyons, both near the city of Shillong, a trek through the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, and a hike alongside the preternaturally clear waters of the Umngot River at Shnongpdeng.
The itinerary is flexible and can be changed on the fly depending on the group’s preferences. It is a high-energy trekking tour, primarily, but some transportation is via vehicle, and is included. All meals are included, and all are vegetarian.
Accommodations, which may include camps, homestays, and simple clean-but-basic lodgings, are also included. There will be opportunities for some adventure excursions — ziplining, for example — which are not included in the fee.
08 of 10
The spiritual and physical practice of yoga was born in India, with roots stretching back to ancient pre-Vedic traditions, and yoga devotees often feel called to follow these roots. It’s hard, though, as visiting India is quite a lot more complex than driving across town to a yoga studio, and the stress of logistical wrangling can sometimes negatively counteract a spiritual experience.
This Western India yoga and wellness tour makes it easy, offering visitors a way to connect to the roots of yoga in a relaxed way, without having to deal with all the hassle of booking guides and hotels and transportation and simply being able to immerse in the experience.
The tour begins with a pickup in Udaipur, where you’ll start right in with a morning meditation and yoga training followed by a breakfast of specially-prepared foods. After some sightseeing and lunch, you’ll spend the afternoon with an Ayurvedic doctor learning about this ancient health practice.
For the next week, you’ll continue to blend activities this way: with midday sightseeing and cultural excursions and morning and afternoon yoga, meditation, and other healing practices. It allows you to contextualize the cultural roots of these traditions (and their modern branches) while getting specific training from local expert teachers — a rare and precious combination.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
There’s no real reason this tour couldn’t be enjoyed by any traveler, but couples (many of them, anyway) will particularly enjoy this tour that includes many of the highlights of the Golden Triangle but also takes a specific detour to the Temples of Khajuraho, famous for their erotic sculptures (as well as sculptures of deities and daily life), which are believed by most archaeologists to be directly related to the ancient Vedic text of the kama sutra. It’s quite a sight, celebrating the beauty of the human form and the sacred nature of love and desire.
The tour includes much more, though, with other stops including the massive Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the Amber Fort (which you’ll travel to by elephant), and the Taj Mahal. The tour also has plenty of leisure time built in for shopping, dining, or napping. All accommodations, ground transportation, breakfast and lunch, and entrance fees are included in the price of the tour, as is an expert guide who speaks both English and Spanish.
10 of 10
India has pretty much every kind of geographical feature one can think of, including absolutely splendid beaches, with the white sandy beaches at Goa topping the list. This tour offers a nice combination of luxurious stretched-out beach time and some sightseeing of this interesting region, which was colonized for a time by the Portuguese, giving it a different flavor than the areas of the country that were colonized by the English.
Day 1 is a lazy day: you’ll be picked up at the airport and transferred to your luxury hotel. Relax! You might consider trying Goa’s most famous dish for dinner — the searingly spicy vindaloo — or try something a little less intense. Day 2 is a sightseeing day. You’ll visit the UNESCO-listed Old Goa Churches: the Se Cathedral and the Basilica of Bom Jesus, some of the museums at Miramar and Dona Paula, and explore the famous street market of Panaji. Your guide and driver will accompany you throughout the day.
Day 3 is a beach day — stretch out and relax or visit some of the beachfront hangouts. Your guide will prepare you with some ideas for where to go and what to do, but it is an unaccompanied day. Finally, Day 4 will see you back to the airport. Quick, fabulous, and luxurious, with both beaches and culture. What’s not to love?
Our writers spent 4 hours researching the most popular India tours on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 75 different tours overall and read over 150 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.