Some of the best things in India are free! While many of India's important monuments and historical sights do charge admission fees (which are unfortunately much higher for foreigners, and can substantially add to the expense of your vacation), there are plenty of fabulous things to do in India that won't cost you anything at all. Even people-watching is engaging. Here are the top 10 free things to do in India.
Being a spiritual country, festivals are at the heart of people’s lives in India. The numerous and varied festivals that are held throughout the year offer a unique way of seeing Indian culture at its best. But, best of all? They're free!
Dance with Lord Ganesh in the streets for Ganesh Chaturthi, throw colored powder and water all over people on Holi, watch brilliant fireworks displays at Diwali, marvel over guys forming a human pyramids on Krishna Janmashtami, witness hordes of camels converge on the small desert town of Pushkar for the camel fair, and admire the beautiful floral displays during Onam. Kerala is also renowned for its spectacular temple festivals. Indian festivals are unforgettable!
Visit a Temple or Place of Worship
India's temples are captivating in their construction, with so much intricate detail. Some major places of worship that don't require a contribution include the dazzling Golden Temple in Amritsar, Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the Lotus Temple in Delhi, Haji Ali mosque in Mumbai, the Galta Monkey Temple in Jaipur, Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore, Mahabodhi Buddhist Temple in Bodhgaya, Karni Mata (rat temple) near Bikaner, and Belur Math in Kolkata. Discover more top temples in Delhi and top temples in Bangalore, plus where to see magnificent south Indian temples.
The holy Hindu places Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Varanasi also have many cost-free attractions to offer visitors. The temples and ghats (steps leading down to the river) in these cities are enchanting. Don't miss the evening candlelit Ganga aarti prayer ceremonies by the river.
Kolkata is well regarded as the cultural capital of India. Art enthusiasts will find the Academy of Fine Arts on Cathedral Road. It's one of the oldest art societies in India, and offers an absorbing journey through history of Bengal art. The Gallery of Contemporary Art, and carpet museum are part of the complex.
Mumbai has a dedicated arts precinct called Kala Ghoda (Black Horse), between Colaba and the Fort. It's full of art galleries, with the most famous being the Jehangir Art Gallery. It displays interesting works by Indian artists. In Jaipur, head to the Juneja Art Gallery to see artwork by contemporary Rajasthani artists. The Modern Art Gallery there is also worth a look.
Learn About Gandhi and Indian History
Mahatma Gandhi, affectionately referred to as the "Father of the Nation" has a special place in Indian history for his efforts in facilitating the country's freedom from the British.
In Delhi, a visit to Gandhi Smriti will show you the exact spot where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. He lived in the house for 144 days up until the time of his death. The Gandhi Memorial Museum, at Raj Ghat where Gandhi was cremated, displays the pistol with which he was assassinated.
In Mumbai, the engrossing Mani Bhavan museum is where Gandhi stayed during his visits to the city from 1917-1934. You'll be able to see the room that Gandhi occupied, picture gallery, library hall, and the terrace where Gandhi was arrested on January 4, 1932.
Marvel at the Architecture
Elaborate architecture from India's past empires and rulers can be found all over the country. Many of India's cities are made up of old and new parts. It's fascinating to simply explore the narrow lanes of the old cities, and see where they lead.
Mumbai's ensemble of Victorian Gothic and Art Deco buildings is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of these buildings are in the vicinity of Oval Maidan and Marine Drive. Notable examples of architecture in Mumbai include the High Court, CSMVS Prince of Wales Museum, CSTM Victoria Terminus railway station, and the buildings of Horniman Circle in the Fort area.
Drive through the Shekhawati Region of Rajasthan and you'll come across beautifully painted old havelis (mansions). Many parts of ancient abandoned cities such as Hampi and Mandu are free to enter (although some of their monuments have charges).
Visit Free Monuments and Attractions
In Kolkata, a walk across Howrah Bridge is excellent entertainment value. It's said to be the busiest bridge in the world. The sheer volume and variety of traffic it carries is astonishing. The grassy expanse of the Maidan is an attractive place to have a stroll through. You'll come across several monuments there, such as Fort William, Shahid Minar, Saint Paul's Cathedral, and Victoria Memorial.
Roam Around Rajpath
Rajpath is the iconic ceremonial boulevard that connects India Gate with vast Rashtrapati Bhavan (where the President of India resides) in Delhi. This immaculately maintained part of the city is occupied by the offices of the Indian government including the parliament. It was constructed in the early 20th century during British rule and is known as Lutyens’ Delhi, named after the architect who designed it. Originally the capital of British India, the indeliable imprint of opulence and power remains.
Go for a Nature Walk
There are some pleasant gardens in India, which are free of cost. Many of them are in Delhi. One of the best is Lodhi Gardens, built around the tombs of 15th and 16th century rulers. Mehrauli Archaeological Park, next to Qutub Minar, is also free and has numerous interesting historical monuments.
In Mumbai, Hanging Garden and Kamala Nehru Park are both free. There's an unbeatable view of Marine Drive and the beach, a giant shoe for children to play in, and a motley menagerie of topiary animals.
In Bangalore, head to Cubbon Park and the Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens. Entry to Lal Bagh is free from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Bangalore's Ulsoor Lake, on the eastern outskirts of of the city, is peaceful as well.
India's mountains and hill stations are also full of refreshing scenery, perfect for hiking or a relaxing walk.
Window Shop at a Market
The markets in India are so lively and mesmerizing, you don't have to buy anything to enjoy them. They include Chandni Chowk and Asia's largest spice market in Delhi, New Market and Old Chinatown in Kolkata, Johari Bazaar and Chameliwala Market in Jaipur, and Chor Bazaar and Crawford Market in Mumbai. These chaotic and congested markets will keep you absorbed for hours, as you explore their winding lanes, marvel at the array of goods for sale, and watch the interaction between buyers and sellers. The Kolkata flower market and Dadar flower market in Mumbai also make interesting viewing.
Relax on the Beach
If you're feeling tired from traveling, or just love the beach and want to chill out for a while, there are plenty of options for an India beach vacation. India has some incredibly scenic beaches that offer everything from action to solitude, and of course parties. The best beaches in India can be found on the west coast and Andaman Islands. The beaches on the east coast tend not to be as clean or appealing, with Mahabalipuram near Chennai being the pick of the bunch on that side. There's a bounty of pristine beaches in Odisha but infrastructure is lacking.
Most people flock to the beaches in Goa. However Gokarna and Varkala are picturesque and quieter alternatives further down the coast. If you really want to relax and unwind, try Marari Beach in Kerala.
In Mumbai, city beaches such as Girgaum Chowpatty are popular hangout spots, especially at sunset.
Check Out the Nightlife
If you're a female, you're in luck! Many bars in Indian cities have ladies nights during the week, often on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, where admission and drinks for women are complimentary. The easiest way to find these events is to have a look at the local entertainment guides, such as Time Out, when you arrive in a city. Or, check social media.