Tourists usually prefer not to stay very long in Agra, as it's renowned for being a rather unappealing city with a lot of touts. However, there are quite a few worthwhile places to visit in Agra and around, apart from India's most famous monument -- the Taj Mahal. The many interesting remnants of the Mughal era (predating the Taj Mahal) will intrigue you and the crazy, congested bazaars of the Old City will captivate you. It's possible to experience village life and get close to nature as well. You may be surprised by what's on offer!
Plan your trip to Agra with this useful Taj Mahal and Agra travel guide.
This UNESCO Word Heritage site is one of the most robust and important Mughal forts in India. After arriving in Agra in 1558, Emperor Akbar extensively rebuilt the fort using red sandstone. The process took eight years and was completed in 1573. The fort retained its stature until Shah Jahan shifted the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638. It lost much of its grandeur after his death in 1666, and during the 18th century was repetitively invaded and captured. Finally, it fell into the hands of the British in 1803. Although many of the buildings inside the fort have been destroyed, some mosques, public and private audience halls, fairy-tale palaces, towers, and courtyards still remain. Another attraction is the evening sound and light show that recreates the fort's history. If budget is a concern, it's advisable to skip the less-impressive Red Fort in Delhi in favor of Agra Fort. Read more about Agra fort and how to visit it.
Agra's Other Tombs
Agra has two significant tombs, with impressive Islamic-style architecture, that existed before the Taj Mahal but have subsequently been overshadowed by it. One of them contains the body of Emperor Akbar, widely considered to be the most influential Mughal emperor. It was completed in 1614 and is situated in Sikandra, on the northwest outskirts of Agra on the road to Mathura. (Tickets cost 300 rupees for foreigners and 25 rupees for Indians). His wife's body is housed in another tomb nearby, with a similar entrance fee.
The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah was the first to be made out of white marble (instead of the red sandstone typical of Mughal architecture) and is often referred to as the "Baby Taj". It's located amid a small garden alongside the Yamuna River, and contains the body of Mirza Ghiyas Beg who served under Akbar. His daughter married Akbar's son, Jehangir, and he was later appointed chief minister. (Tickets cost 300 rupees for foreigners and 25 rupees for Indians).
Agra Magic conducts a half-day tour of the monuments.
Don’t want to pay the hefty admission fee or battle the crowds to visit the Taj Mahal? Or, simply want an alternative perspective of it? You can clearly see the Taj from across the river bank. One such place with a view to remember is Mehtab Bagh, the "Moonlight Garden". This 25 acre Mughal garden complex is situated directly opposite the monument and was actually built before the Taj, by Emperor Babur (the founder of the Mughal Empire). It fell into ruin but has been beautifully reconstructed. The entry cost is 300 rupees for foreigners and 25 rupees for Indians, and it's open until sunset.
The Mughal Heritage Walk is a community-based tourism initiative that was started by CURE (Center for Urban and Regional Excellence) to help villagers make an income from tourism and improve their living conditions. This 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) walk is conducted by villagers who have been trained as tour guides. It takes place on the riverside opposite the Taj Mahal, goes through Kachhpura village, and ends at Mehtab Bagh. You'll get to visit a number of lesser-known monuments of the Mughal Era in a rural setting, interact with the village communities, and enjoy a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal as well. For more information and bookings, contact Radhey Mohan on 92594-82266 (cell).
Taj Nature Walk
Get away from the crowds and enjoy the Taj Mahal surrounded by nature. Less than 500 meters (0.3 miles) from the East Gate, on Fatehabad Road, there's a 70 hectare reserve forest that provides a unique opportunity to admire the monument in different hues and settings. You can wander through its paths to various viewpoints, watch towers, and rest areas. The reserve is open daily from sunrise until sunset. The entry fee is 100 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians.
Tucked away between trinket shops opposite The Gateway Hotel on Fatehabad Road is groovy graffiti-filled cafe that's a must-visit in Agra. The remarkable and inspiring Sheroes (She+Heroes) Hangout is completely staffed by women who are survivors of horrific acid attacks in India. It opened in December 2014 and was founded by a Delhi-based NGO called Stop Acid Attacks. The idea is to raise awareness of this dreadful issue and give the women confidence to show their faces in public after being disfigured. As well as serving tasty food and beverages, the cafe has an ever-expanding library (so you can relax and read while you eat) and an exhibition space.
The Bazaars of the Old City
To experience the heart of Agra, head to the fascinating and congested Old City behind 17th century Jama Masjid mosque. There, you'll encounter a tangle of narrow lanes housing a startling variety of wares including spices, clothes, saris, jewelry, shoes, crafts and snack stalls. This area can be quite overwhelming if you don't know your way around. Hence, taking a guided walking tour is a good idea. It will also enable you to discover offbeat attractions such as the concealed Mankameshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Options include this tour offered by Agra Magic and this tour offered by Wandertrails.
Agra Vegetable Market
For a vibrant spectacle, get up early and head over to the wholesale vegetable market on Fatehabad Road. This energetic market, which takes place in a vacant lot, is a distribution hub for produce from all over India. Colorfully painted trucks bring in the produce and deposit it in piles, all arranged by type. Vendors sit surrounded by the tempting, edible displays. The market winds up by 9 a.m., so don't be late. You can also take this guided tour to visit vegetable markets in Agra.
Agra Bear Rescue Center
Wildlife SOS operates the Agra Bear Rescue Center, which houses sloth bears that used to be held captive and forced to dance. The center is open every day from sunrise to sunset and is located on National Highway 19, inside Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. It's about 50 minutes northwest of Agra on the way to Mathura. The entry cost, charged by the forest department, is 50 rupees for Indians and 500 rupees for foreigners. This enables visitors to access an enclosed viewing area and watch a short educational movie. However, if you want to get closer to the bears, you'll need to pay 1,500 rupees per person for a private guided tour. This must be booked in advance and is recommended. Otherwise, you may be disappointed with the lack of interaction. There are three tour slots per day: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Wildlife SOS also has an Elephant Conservation and Care Center, about 15 minutes further along the highway towards Mathura, where you can spend time with rescued elephants.
On the way to Fatehpur Sikhri, drop into Korai Village rural tourism initiative. Korai is a tribal village, whose inhabitants were the keepers of dancing sloth bears. They've been struggling to earn an income and survive since the bears were taken away, as they were not provided with compensation. You'll be able to learn about and experience daily village life, and even meet the village magician, Mohammad. The cost to enter the village is $10 per person.
Fatehpur Sikri is situated about an hour west of Agra and is a popular side trip, although touts and beggars have become a huge menace. This abandoned city was founded by Emperor Akbar in 1571, when he decided to move his capital there from Agra Fort, and is one of India's top historical destinations. Unfortunately, the capital was short-lived and relocated back to Agra. What remains is among the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India. Plan your trip with this Fatehpur Sikri travel guide.