There are two main options for hotels in Varanasi, India. Hotels and guesthouses along the ghats of the Ganges River, or luxury hotels in sterile environments over the other side of the city. If you want to immerse yourself in Varanasi, which you should because it's a fascinating holy city, do stay in a hotel that faces the river so you can watch all the goings-on. It's mesmerizing! The only issue is that these hotels can be difficult to reach, as they're not accessible by car, and the unsanitary conditions surrounding them can be a shock to some people. The luxury heritage hotels do provide boat transport for guests who don't want to walk through the alleyways. Also note, riverside hotels generally don't serve meat or alcohol for religious reasons. You can drink alcohol in your room though.
Here's the pick of the riverside hotels in Varanasi for all budgets. Substantial discounts are usually available during the low season (from April until September).
AddressOver Darbhanga House Ghat, Near Munshi Ghat, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 91294 14141
If budget is not a concern, Brijrama Palace offers the ultimate regal indulgence. This remarkable hotel is situated at picturesque Darbhanga Ghat, just a few minutes walk to Dasaswamedh Ghat (one of the most sacred ghats where the famous Ganga aarti is held every evening). It's one of the oldest buildings in Varanasi and was originally a fort, built in 1812, by a Maratha minister. The Maharaja of Darbhanga (in Bihar) acquired it in 1915 and turned it into a palace. The property's present owners, 1589 Hotels, spent 18 years restoring it before opening it as a luxury heritage hotel in 2016. Its exquisite interiors are filled with antiques and original 18th-century artworks. The hotel has 32 rooms spread across three floors, some of them with outstanding views of the Ganges River. Unlike other hotels in the area, it has an elevator, which may be an important consideration. There's live classical music in the mornings and evenings, sunrise yoga and meditation on the rooftop terrace, and exclusive dining experiences ranging from on a boat to in a private courtyard.
AddressB-4/25, Shivala Ghat, Nepali Kothi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 78004 90390
Suryauday Haveli is another beautifully restored heritage property fronting the Ganges River. It was built in the early 20th century by the Royal Family of Nepal as a retreat for the aged and opened as a hotel in 2011. The hotel is located at Shivala Ghat, which is about halfway between Assi and Dasaswamedh ghats (walking time is approximately 10 minutes). It's a small boutique property with 14 guest rooms. The better ones have river views but the windows are unfortunately small, which is a drawback. It's possible to get better views for less money elsewhere. The hotel also offers rooftop sunrise yoga, and boat trips to see the evening aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat.
AddressD22/10, Chausatthi Ghat Near Dashaswamedh Ghat, Pandey Ghat, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 542 245 0392
Hotel Sri Omkar Palace is a new hotel that opened in late 2016, so it's super clean and attractively designed with a contemporary Indian look. The hotel is conveniently situated about 5 minutes walk south of Dasaswamedh Ghat. It has 14 rooms, and it's worth paying extra for a deluxe river view one with a private balcony. It's a great value! The hotel's rooftop restaurant also has panoramic views.
AddressB1/163, Assi ghat, Dumraon Colony, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221005, India
Phone+91 542 231 3218
For atmosphere and elegance, you can't pass up the Ganges View hotel. This rather quirky hotel is a private family mansion owned by aristocracy from Bihar state, and they opened it to guests in 1990. It's situated at Assi Ghat, which is an easily accessible and quieter area at the extreme southern end of the river, with many restaurants. The hotel has large verandas full of plants, and characterful individually decorated rooms. Old photographs and books grace the public areas, and there's a delightful rooftop where you can take in the sights and sounds of Varanasi. The hotel attracts eclectic guests including academics, writers, and artists.
AddressD 3/24, Meer Ghat, Lahori Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 542 239 0057
The very groovy Ganpati Guest House is brightly painted and recently refurbished. It's transformed from backpacker style accommodations to a boutique guesthouse, with a distinct feeling of zen about it. Understandably, guests love it and it attracts a lot of foreigners. The rooftop restaurant is a sociable place, with stunning views, that serves great food for travelers. There's also a leafy courtyard, and 20 rooms for all budgets to choose from. The guesthouse is very centrally located at Meer Ghat, between Dasaswamedh and Manikarnika ghats. Do note that the entrance is down a narrow lane and you'll need to walk for 5-10 minutes to reach it. Porters are provided to carry luggage.
AddressMakan No D3/23, Near Golden Temple, Meer Ghat Varanasi Uttar Pradesh 221001 IN, Lahori Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 76190 09995
Hotel Alka is located next to Ganpati Guest House at Meer Ghat. If you're on a budget, it can't be beaten! I stayed there during my first visit to India in 2000, and it's just as popular nowadays as it was then. One of the best features of the hotel is its huge central courtyard and balcony, perfect for relaxing and watching the lively scene below. The hotel has a vegetarian restaurant and a wide range of rooms, some with their own balconies overlooking the river. It recently gave the rooms a makeover and added an Ayurvedic spa.
AddressD, 16/28-A, Manmandir Ghat, Dasaswamedh, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 542 240 2778
This hotel is hardly a palace, although it was recently refurbished and it has an enviable location next to Dasaswamedh Ghat. The views from the rooftop restaurant (which surprisingly serves beer and non-vegetarian food) and river-facing rooms are magnificent. However, you will be paying for location, location, location!
AddressB14/1 Mansarovar, Chowki Ghat,, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone+91 542 245 5568
This very popular and reasonably priced bed & breakfast is a real gem. It's located in a sweet and homely blue building right at the top of the steps leading down to Chowki Ghat (near Kedar Ghat, not far upriver from Harischandra Ghat, and around 10 minutes walk to Dasaswamedh Ghat). It's kept super clean and has a helpful and friendly staff. Importantly, the beds are comfortable and the rooms are spacious, although they're rather dated. Breakfast is served on the rooftop overlooking the river.