If you are taking a trip to India, you might not associate the south Asian country with partying. However, India is one of the most populated countries in the world and offers nightlife with a diverse and growing number of options. Tucked away, you’ll find everything from intimate bars and pubs to multi-level nightclubs. Those interested in something more traditional will find no shortage of cultural performances either.
As you travel around India, it is helpful to know where to look for nighttime entertainment and to familiarize yourself with the legal drinking age, which is a lot older than in many other countries.
Legal Drinking Age
The age for the legal consumption of alcohol varies by state in India—and sometimes even depends on the type of alcohol—which can be confusing for visitors.
In Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab, you must be 25. The age is 21 for beer and 25 for other types of spirits in Maharashtra. Kerala's legal drinking age is 23.
Goa, India's party state, has the lowest legal drinking age of 18 years, along with Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Puducherry, Rajasthan, and Sikkim.
Elsewhere in India, it's generally 21 years, though venues aren't usually strict about enforcing these limits.
Prohibition and Dry Days
In India, it is prohibited to drink or buy alcohol in the states Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep. Alcohol is illegal in Gujarat, though foreigners can apply for limited permits and need to pass an exam by the designated Area Medical Boards.
There are specific "dry days" when the state governments prohibit the sale of alcohol, which often surprises tourists. Typically 5-star hotels have looser regulations and don't have to observe dry days the way small bars and liquor stores do. Dry days around India usually include national holidays like Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15), and Gandhi Jayani which is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday (October 2).
Nightlife generally begins and ends early in India because of curfews, though visitors can look for daytime gatherings or luxury hotels' nightclubs, which may close later. While Mumbai may have the country's biggest selection of places to party—and restaurants and malls are allowed to stay open 24 hours a day—most pubs and restaurants may serve alcohol only until 1:30 a.m. You'll find a similar scene in Delhi, where city bars have a 1 a.m. curfew. Kolkata has no curfew, but most places shut down by midnight, especially during the week. The majority of bars close by midnight in Chennai and 1 a.m. in Hyderabad and Bangalore. In Goa, many places are forced to close by 10 or 11 p.m. due to noise restrictions, though travelers can search for underground psychedelic trance parties.
Pubs, Bars, and Clubs
India's cities have a growing nightlife scene that includes everything from pubs to lounges to discotheques and concert venues, along with exciting restaurants.
Apart from Friday and Saturday nights, Wednesdays are also popular evenings for partying in India. There will often be free or discounted drinks for ladies at bars and clubs.
Since many eateries don’t serve alcohol in India, you may hear terms like “resto-pub” or “resto-bar,” referring to restaurants that double as places where you can drink and sometimes dance later in the night. An eclectic example of a resto-bar is Bonobo Bandra, in Mumbai’s hip suburb of Bandra West.
Mumbai is India's most cosmopolitan city. It has a trendy array of live music venues and memorable bars in neighborhoods such as Bandra West, Lower Parel, and the tourist district of Colaba, where buzzing traveler hangouts offer cheap beer and an animated crowd.
In Delhi, head to Connaught Place and Hauz Khas Village. Bangalore is known for its pub culture, and you'll find dozens along Mahatma Gandhi Road (known as MG Road). Apart from Sikkim, Goa is the only state in India to have casinos.
Nightclubs in luxury hotels come with opulent decor and prohibitive cover charges and drink costs which only foreigners and the richest Indians can afford. If it wasn’t for the music interspersed with the latest Bollywood tracks, prompting a frenzied display of dancing from the crowd, you could easily forget you were in India. Dress to impress as you would anywhere else in the world (skimpy clothes are the norm).
Goa, known as a hedonistic, hippie state, has a reputation for outdoor psychedelic trance parties despite tough regulations. Police presence is an ongoing threat, and events are frequently shut down if the required bribe money hasn’t been appropriately paid.
The main party season in Goa goes from mid-December through the end of February, though there are some variations such as in Manali, where the bashes usually run between April and August.
It's become a very underground and impromptu scene, with gatherings taking place in remote locations in the vicinities of Anjuna, Vagator, Arambol, Morjim, and Palolem. Hill Top in Vagator is renowned for throwing iconic psychedelic-trance (psy-trance) parties, especially on Sundays evenings.
India has some iconic annual outdoor music festivals as well including Sunburn, an electronic music event in December on Candolim Beach, Goa; SulaFest, a February wine and music bash at Sula Vineyards in Maharashtra; VH1 Supersonic for live music and art in February in Mahalakshmi Lawns, Pune; Bacardi NH7 Weekender featuring a diversity of music in both Meghalaya and Pune in November; Alsisal's boutique Magnetic Fields Festival in December, and the September outdoor Ziro Festival of Music in Ziro Valley.
Kolkata has become one of India's cultural capitals with much to offer those interested in live dance, drama, and music. Shows are held nightly at the Rabindra Sadan cultural center and theater located near the Academy of Fine Arts.
Delhi's India Habitat Centre and India International Centre often present classical music and dance concerts. Kamani Auditorium hosts national and global music, dance, and theater performances. Nearby, the Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts holds many plays including Hindi theater and other cultural arts from around the world.
The cities of Jaipur and Udaipur have interesting cultural programs, and Jodhpur, also in Rajasthan, plays host to a number of world music festivals. Check out Rajasthan International Folk Festival(Jodhpur RIFF)—a not-for-profit roots music festival—in late October and early November, and February's World Sacred Spirit Festival that displays the spiritual meaning of music.