As a tourist destination, Hyderabad stands out for its glorious Islamic heritage from centuries of prosperous rule. This ended with the Nizam dynasty, when Hyderabad was merged with the rest of India after Independence in 1947. The legacy pervades the city with its architectural treasures, especially in the neighborhood around the Charminar. These top things to do in Hyderabad will help you uncover it.
Want to take a tour? Telangana Tourism runs inexpensive full day group tours of Hyderabad's main attractions. Alternatively Detour offers immersive theme tours that go beyond the usual sightseeing.
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See the Charminar and Old City
The Charminar is undoubtedly Hyderabad's most iconic landmark. This historic 16th century mosque with grand Islamic architecture stands at the center of the atmospheric Old City. It was built by ruler Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad, when he relocated his capital there from Golconda Fort due to severe water shortage and sanitation problems. The fact that the Charminar was Hyderabad's first structure gives it special significance. It's possible to climb to the first level (tickets cost 15 rupees for Indians and 200 rupees for foreigners) for an impressive view. Surrounding the Chaminar is a noisy, crowded, traffic-infested market area. However, it's brimming with heritage (including the biggest mosque in south India) and is definitely worth investigating.
- Tours: Take this highly recommended Charminar Precinct Walking Tour offered by Hyderabad Magic if you think you might feel overwhelmed. Photographers will love it!
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If you don't have the money to stay there (one night will set you back about 30,000 rupees or more), at least have high tea or dinner at the opulent Falaknuma Palace. It opened as a luxury hotel belonging to the Taj Group in 2010. However, it was originally built as the residence of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, who was married to the Nizam's elder sister. The Nizam liked the palace so much that he ended up buying it and using it as a royal guesthouse. The palace's name means "Mirror of the Sky" and it sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The interior is jaw-dropping, to say the least.
- Tours: Falaknuma Palace (with optional high tea) is included in the half day Nizam Palaces Tour, offered by Telangana Tourism on Saturdays and Sundays. Chowmahallah Palace and the Golconda Fort Sound and Light Show are the other attractions on the itinerary.
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Marvel Over the Museums
Hyderabad's museums not only contain some rare treasures from the city's past rulers, they're housed in spectacular premises. 200 year old Chowmahallah Palace, which was the official residence of the Nizams, is now a museum with a collection including antique cars, photos, furniture, and clothes. The stately home of the sixth Nizam, Purani Haveli, contains the Nizam's Museum dedicated to the seventh and last Nizam of Hyderabad. Many of his personal effects are on display. Salar Jung Museum is an outstanding art and antiques museum, located in the resident palace of Salar Jung III (the seventh Nizam’s Prime Minister, who established the museum). Do note that the museums are closed on Fridays.
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The extensive ruins of Golkonda Fort, west of Hyderabad, also have interesting history and architecture. The fort dates back to the 13th century as a mud fort but rose to prominence as the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the 16th century, before Hyderabad was founded. The Mughals took the fort in the 17th century, after a long and intense battle. And, with it they got some of the best diamonds in the world, which had been mined in the area. There are many structures to see inside the fort, so do allow plenty of time to explore. A sound and light show that narrates the fort's story is held every evening.
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- Tours: This Private Half Day Tour of Golkonda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tombs (book online with Tripadvisor) is an easy way of seeing the monument.
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Wander Through Old Tombs
The grand tombs of the seven Qutb Shahi kings, who ruled the region for almost 170 years, are situated just north of Golconda Fort. The oldest one dates back to 1543 and the Indo-Persian architecture is exquisite. Apparently, the tombs were once decorated with chandeliers, carpets, and velvet canopies. They fell into disrepair after the Qutb Shahi dynasty came to an end in 1687, when the Mughals and subsequently the Nizams took over. Fortunately, Salar Jung III had them restored in the early 19th century.
The intricate Paigah tombs, dating back to the late 18th century and belonging to the noble Paigah family (who loyally served the Nizams in important roles for generations), are also worth visiting. They're quite a hidden gem off the tourist trail.
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Badshahi Ashurkhana, a royal house of mourning for Shia Muslims during Muharram, is remarkable for its colorful enamel-tiled mosaics. It was built by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah in 1594 to memorialize the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, he was a revolutionary 7th century leader who was killed during the Battle of Karbala on Muharram, in a fight against corruption and tyranny. Badshahi Ashurkhana was Hyderabad's second structure, and is the only type of its kind in India. It's tucked away to the north of the Charminar in the Old City, not far from the High Court.
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If you're a foodie, you can't visit Hyderabad without sampling some authentic Hyderabadi biryani. This famous rice dish, aromatically cooked with meat and spices, originated from the kitchen of the Nizams. A blend of Iranian and Mughlai cuisine, it was brought to the city by the invading Mughals. Arguably, you'll find the best biryani at Hotel Shadab near Badshahi Ashurkhana.
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Browse the Markets and Handicrafts
Ladies who love to shop shouldn't pass up checking out the bustling bazaars west of the Charminar. Laad Bazaar, the city's popular bangle market, is located there. However, the items on sale are not limited to bangles. There are textiles, fashion accessories and trinkets as well. Between Laad Bazaar and Moti Chowk is a perfume market, with locally-produced fragrances in glass vials. An extensive range of antiques is also available from shops near Murgi Chowk, close to the Charminar.
- Tours: For those who want to learn more about handicrafts, this insightful Hyderabad City Crafts Tour will take you to a hand loom unit, embroidery unit, and the home of a family who do ikat, block printing and screen printing. A metal handicraft workshop and a basket makers' colony can also be included on the tour. There's plenty of opportunity for shopping! Detours also offers insightful arts and crafts tours that visit the homes of artisans in Hyderabad.