Taj Mahal Essential Travel Guide

What to Know Before You Go

Taj Mahal at sunrise.
••• Taj Mahal at sunrise. Peter Adams/Getty Images.

The Taj Mahal looms fairytale-like from the banks of the Yamuna River. It's India’s most recognized monument and is also one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It has a rich history dating back to 1630 AD and is actually a tomb that contains the body of Mumtaz Mahal -- the wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. He had it built as an ode to his love for her. It's made out of marble and took 22 years and 20 000 workers to complete.

Words cannot do the Taj Mahal justice, its incredible detail simply has to be seen to be appreciated.

Location

Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Delhi. It's part of India's popular Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit.

When to Go

The best time is from November to February, otherwise it can be unbearably hot or rainy. You'll be able to get some excellent off-season discounts though.

Getting There

Agra is well connected by rail. The main railway station is Agra Cantt. High speed Shatabdi Express services operate from Delhi, Varanasi, and cities in Rajasthan. Find out about the best Trains from Delhi to Agra.

The new Yamuna Expressway (opened in August 2012) has reduced the travel time by road from Delhi to Agra to under three hours. It starts from Noida and a toll of 320 rupees per car for a one way trip (520 rupees round trip) is payable.

Alternatively you can fly from major Indian cities, or take a tour from Delhi.

Taj Mahal Tours

Viator offers a popular and highly rated Private Day Tour to Agra and the Taj Mahal from Delhi, as well as a combined Day Tour to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri and Day Tour to Agra and Kachhpura Village.  It's also possible to see the Taj Mahal at night during the full moon on this 2 Day Private Tour of Agra from Delhi.

Alternatively, see the Taj Mahal on one of these recommended Agra day tours: 11 Hour Agra Day Tour including Sunrise and Sunset at Taj MahalPrivate Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Tour including meal with a view and optional professional photographer, or Sunrise or Sunset View of Taj Mahal on Yamuna River Boat Ride.

Opening Hours

6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Friday (when it's closed for prayer). The Taj Mahal is also open for moonlight viewing from 8.30 p.m. until 12.30 a.m., two days before and after each full moon.

Entry Fees and Information

For foreigners, the entrance fee for the Taj Mahal is 1,000 rupees. Indian nationals only pay 40 rupees. Children younger than 15 years are free. Tickets can be purchased at ticket offices near the entry gates or online at this website.

Night time tickets cost 750 rupees for foreigners and 510 rupees for Indian nationals, for half an hour’s admittance. These tickets must be purchased between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., one day in advance from the Archaeological Survey of India office on Mall Road. See more details here, including night viewing dates.

The Taj has three entry gates -- south, east, and west. The western gate is the main gate and generally has the longest queues.

The south gate is closest to the Taj Ganj area, which is popular with travelers and where many of the budget hotels are situated. A huge sandstone gateway provides access to the inner compound there. The east gate has the shortest queues but do note that the ticket office (in Shilpgram) is inconveniently located about 10 minutes walk from the gate.

Festivals

The week long Taj Mahotsav takes place at Shilpgram in Agra, right near the Taj Mahal, from February 18-27 each year. The focus of this festival is on arts, crafts, Indian culture, and recreating the Mughal Era. It gets underway with a spectacular procession that includes elephants, camels, and drummers. Elephant and camel rides are on offer, and there are also games for the kids, and a food festival. The venue has special significance, as it's apparently located on the site where the artisans who built the Taj Mahal once lived.

Travel Tips

The Taj Mahal appears to gradually alter its color in the changing light of the day. It’s well worth the effort to get up early and spend sunrise there, as it majestically reveals itself. If you don’t want to pay the costly admission fee or battle the crowds, you can get a great view of the Taj from across the river bank. Once such place there is Mehtab Bagh -- a 25 acre Mughal garden complex directly opposite the monument. The entry cost is 200 rupees for foreigners and 15 rupees for Indians, and it's open until sunset. The view is one to remember!  It's also possible to take a row boat out on the river. Head down the path along the eastern wall of the Taj Mahal to the riverside temple, where you will find boatmen. 

Uttar Pradesh Tourism's Taj Khema hotel offers notable vistas of the Taj Mahal from its gardens too. A new marble bench was installed on a mound there in early 2015, especially for visitors. Sip tea and watch the sunset! The hotel is located about 200 meters from the monument, on the eastern side. It's a government-run establish, so don't expect great service though.

Agra is a rather dirty and characterless city, so don’t spend too much time there. In case you're wondering what else to do in and around the city, take a look at these 10 Places to Visit in Agra and Around.

Where to Stay

Unfortunately, many of the hotels in Agra are as uninspiring as the city itself. However, these 10 Homestay and Hotels in Agra for All Budgets should help make your stay a memorable one. There are hotels to suit all budgets.

Dangers and Annoyances

Visiting the Taj Mahal can be overwhelming for all the wrong reasons. Be prepared to encounter plenty of beggars and touts there. According to this news report, it has become an increasingly troublesome problem, and many visitors go back home feeling cheated, threatened and abused. Touts operate in sophisticated gangs that have counterparts in other cities who identify potential targets at railway stations. Once the tourists reach Agra, the touts start pestering them by claiming that they are guides or taxi drivers. They commonly use ploys such as free taxi rides or the promise of heavy discounts.

Note: There are 24 hour official prepaid auto rickshaw and taxi booths just outside Agra railway station. Use these to avoid the hassle, and if you book a tour there check the quality of your vehicle to make sure it's satisfactory.

Do be sure to tell auto rickshaw drivers which Taj Mahal entry gate you wish to be taken to, otherwise it's likely that you'll find yourself dropped off in the area where expensive horse and cart or camel rides wait to take tour groups to the west gate.

Apparently, there are only 50-60 approved guides at the Taj Mahal. However, more than 3,000 touts posing as photographers, guides or middleman, openly solicit customers at the monument's three gates (especially at the western gate, which receives around 60-70% of visitors). Hundreds of hawkers (who pay bribes to the police) are also a problem at the Taj Mahal, despite being officially banned.

In addition, many foreigners, particularly women and parents with young children, have reported being frequently asked to pose for photographs (or even being photographed without permission) by other people including groups of guys.  This can be intrusive and uncomfortable.

Lastly, do be aware of the notorious gem scam, which is alarming prevalent in Agra.

Side Trips from Agra

The deserted Mogul capital of Fatehpur Sikri is 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Agra and can easily be visited on a day trip. Nature lovers will appreciate a trip to the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary at Keoladeo Ghana National Park, 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Agra. Another place of interest is the beautifully carved, red ocher sandstone tomb that's Akbar's Mausoleum. It's located at Sikandra, only 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Agra.