Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Things to Do
Where to Stay
Health & Safety
Language & Logistics
Shopping & Scams
There's no country quite like India. And, no country that evokes such an extreme range of emotions as India. Love it one moment, hate the next -- one thing is undeniable, India is unforgettable! This deeply diverse and fascinating country is colorful, bold, raw, and often noisy. There's a story around every corner, an incredible sense of possibility and aliveness, and never a dull moment. India offers something for everyone, whether you're interested in historical monuments, culture, food, mountains, beaches, wellness, or adventure. Just go with an open mind. Our comprehensive India guide will help you plan your trip.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The main tourist season extends from October until March -- this is when the weather is coolest. However, you'll prefer warmer temperatures if you're going far north to destinations such as Ladakh, Spiti, and Kashmir. April to September is the tourist season there. Avoid visiting India during the monsoon season unless you like rain or want to get an Ayurvedic treatment. Read more about India's climate.
- Language: 22 major Indian languages are formally recognized . Of these, Hindi is most widely-spoken, particularly in North India. Both Hindi and English are used by the Indian government for official purposes . English is also prevalent in cities and tourist areas.
- Currency: Indian rupee (INR). Currently, 1 USD = 74 INR.
- Getting Around: Most tourists hire a car and driver to travel from place to place in India. Self-drive rentals are relatively uncommon, due to the poor condition of roads and the frequent disregard for road rules in India. App-based cab services such as Uber operate in cities. Domestic flights are plentiful and convenient, and the network has been expanded to cover many regional destinations. Indian Railways is an inexpensive option for long-distance travel. Buses go all over India and are cheap but lacking in comfort.
- Travel Tips: If you're a female who's traveling solo in India for the first time, you'll encounter fewer hassles in south India than the north. Tamil Nadu is an excellent place to start your trip. Indian Railways has special foreign tourist quotas on popular trains, which you'll find useful if the trains are otherwise fully booked.
Things to Do
India's forts and palaces are a big draw. The well-trodden "Golden Triangle" tourist circuit (incorporating Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal, and Jaipur) attracts most first-time tourists to India, commonly with Varanasi thrown in. Those without time constraints typically head to other top destinations in Rajasthan, and the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Further south, Kerala and Goa are popular states. Nature-lovers shouldn't pass up seeing India's national parks and the opportunity to spot some of the country's famous wildlife. If you'd like to get off the beaten track, consider exploring rural India.
- Take a walking tour to really immerse yourself in a destination.
- Spend a day or two relaxing on a houseboat along the Kerala backwaters.
- Go on a camel safari in the desert (there are non-touristy options!).
- Admire south Indian temple architecture.
What to Eat and Drink
What you may know of Indian food from restaurants outside India is actually a very small snapshot of the country's cuisine, and mostly that of the north. There's so much more to Indian food than butter chicken and chicken tikka masala! In fact, every state in India has its own distinctive type of cuisine. This traveler's guide to Indian food by region has more information. India is also renowned for its street food (there are dedicated food tours in many cities), thalis (platters that come with an assortment of dishes), and sweet desserts. Gastronomes will be interested in the contemporary modern Indian cuisine at fine dine restaurants in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi as well.
Visitors are often surprised to discover that wine is produced in India. The main winery region is Nashik in Maharashtra (about three hours from Mumbai). There are some decent vineyards not far from Bangalore in Karnataka too. What's more, India has a growing craft beer scene! If classy cocktail bars are more your thing, you'll find them in cosmopolitan Mumbai and Delhi. Those who like to try different types of alcohol should keep an eye out for locally produced drinks including feni (cashew fruit liquor) in Goa and toddy (palm wine) in south India. India's tribes also make their own potent indigenous brews such as rice beer and mahua (from fermented mahua flowers). In terms of non-alcoholic drinks -- lassi (yogurt shake), masala chai (milky spiced tea), and refreshing nimbu pani (lemon water) are quintessentially Indian.
Read more about India's historic restaurants, the top restaurants in Delhi, and best brew pubs in Mumbai. And, of course, try eating the local way with your hand. The food tastes much better, honestly!
Where to Stay
India has accommodations to suit all travel styles from budget to ultra luxurious. If you're new to India, homestays are recommended as you'll be able to benefit from the host's local knowledge, eat home-cooked food, and get personalized service. In other words, you'll be well looked-after and have a soft landing! Nowadays, there are world-class backpacker hostels all over India too, which makes it easier for travelers to meet other people. In Rajasthan, authentic palace hotels are a highlight. Alternatively, the growing number of restored boutique heritage hotels provide a more affordable option for atmospheric accommodations. It's even possible to go glamping in India!
All visitors need a visa for India, except citizens of neighboring Nepal and Bhutan . Most people are eligible to get an electronic E-Visa for tourism, business and medical purposes.
India's two main airports are in Delhi and Mumbai. Tourists usually fly into Delhi airport if they're traveling around north India. The airport is large, modern, and well-connected to the city center by the Delhi Metro Airport Express train. Goa has an international airport that receives charter flights mainly from Europe and the United Kingdom during peak season.
Culture and Customs
Tourists usually experience culture shock when visiting India because the customs and lifestyle are unlike western countries. Even the ubiquitous Indian head wobble is likely to cause confusion! Therefore, you should learn as much as you can about India before you arrive. Start with these things not to do in India, stereotypes about India, and what to expect when you arrive in India.
Numerous issues such as scams do make India a challenging country to travel in at times. Be prepared to deal with beggars (ideally don't give them money), firmly ward off touts, and agree on prices before a service is provided.
There's a perception that India is unsafe. You definitely shouldn't let your guard down but if you practice common sense, nothing untoward should happen to you (apart from staring or sexual harassment).
Tourists need to keep in mind that India is a conservative country, and this includes dress standards. It's respectful to keep your shoulders and legs covered. There is some leeway in major cities and in Goa though. Here's a suggested packing list for India.
Bargaining, or haggling, is expected at markets in India and is quite an art form. Here's how to go about it. Tipping isn't compulsory in India. Sometimes a service charge will automatically be added to the bill. If not, a tip of 10-15% is adequate if you wish. Do flag down the waiter to get the bill when you're ready.
Money Saving Tips
- Don't accept the first price quoted. Prices are often negotiable, and vendors routinely charge foreigners more than Indians.
- Travel during the summer and monsoon low season, from March to September, to save on accommodations. Rates plummet up to 75% as temperatures rise.
- It can be possible to get great deals on hotels by walking in and negotiating the rate. However, it's best to book your accommodations in advance for places you're not familiar with to avoid being preyed upon by touts.
- Stay in cheaper accommodations to pay lower Goods and Services Tax (GST). For example, there's no GST on room rates below 1,000 rupees ($15) per night but it jumps to 12% on room rates above 1,000 rupees per night, and further increases to 18% on room rates above 7,500 rupees ($100) per night.
- Avoid fancy restaurants and restaurants in hotels, and eat simple Indian meals like the locals. A thali costs only a few dollars and is really filling for lunch.
- Sikh gurudwaras (places of worship) provide free langar (food) for everyone, and it's super tasty.
- Temples, festivals, art galleries, and parks such as Lodhi Garden in Delhi are free to enjoy.
Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Official Language.
Government of India, Know India.
Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, General Policy Guidelines Relating to Indian Visa, 2018.
Government of India, Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, GST Update, October 2019, page 16.