Located on the western coast of India between Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Gujarat didn't really feature on the tourist map until recent years. A very successful series of ad campaigns with Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan and the addition of the Statue of Unity have changed this though. Tourist interest in the state has grown substantially. Gujarat actually has a very interesting and extensive history that can be traced all the way back to the Harappan Civilization and its establishment of coastal trading ports from 2400 to 1900 BC. Much later, warrior communities came and set up kingdoms in the state. They were followed by the Delhi and Gujarat sultanates, the Mughals, and the British. However, Gujarat is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
The legacy of Gujarat's heritage includes remarkable architecture, temples, palaces and mansions (many of which have been converted into hotels), and handicrafts. The state also has some rare wildlife and many bird-watching sites. It's worthwhile getting out and about, away from the major cities, and exploring. You'll be surprised by what there is to see and experience. Gujarat really is one of the most underrated destinations in India! If you're serious about birding and wildlife, archeology, or textiles, Soar Excursions are highly recommended for guided trips.
Do note that vegetarian cuisine predominates in Gujarat and the state is a dry one, so alcohol is not widely or freely available. Visitors from outside the state may obtain liquor permits from upmarket hotels in Gujarat that have liquor shops or apply online here.
Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat for many centuries, was declared to be India's first UNESCO World Heritage City in 2017, beating both Delhi and Mumbai. Its walled Old City was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century and is home to diverse Hindu, Islamic and Jain communities. The Old City is divided into numerous pols (historic residential neighborhoods with winding lanes and carved wooden homes). It has some of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu Muslim art in India. Explore the area on this fascinating Ahmedabad Heritage Walk. You can even stay in a heritage mansion such as French Haveli.
Gandhi's Ashram is another top attraction in Ahmedabad. It was the starting point for his movement for India's freedom through non-violence.
Baroda (renamed Vadodara) stands out for its regal heritage. The Gaekwad royal family formed their kingdom there in the 18th century and their expansive Laxmi Vilas Palace features imposing Indo-Saracenic architecture. It's set on 500 acres of parkland and is reputed to be the largest private residence in India—and four times the size of England's Buckingham Palace. Part of the palace is open to the public daily; this includes the Coronation Room, Gaddi Hall (containing the throne of past kings), Darbar Hall, and the Royal Armoury. Tickets cost 200 rupees and include an audio guide. Madhav Baug Palace homestay offers an authentic heritage experience.
Baroda is also known for its art scene and vibrant Navratri festival garba dances.
- Where: 115km southeast of Ahmedabad via the Ahmedabad Vadodara Expressway.
The world's tallest statue, dedicated to Indian independence activist Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (1875–1950), was completed in 2018. At 182 meters tall, it's twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. Patel was the first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of independent India, and is highly regarded for his leadership in bringing the 562 princely states of India together. The area around the statue has been developed as a comprehensive tourist destination for the whole family to enjoy, with enough activities and attractions to fill in at least three days. Apart from the statue, these include a sound and laser show, butterfly garden, cactus garden, Ayurvedic wellness center, eco-friendly and medicinal plant nursery, handicraft stores, valley of flowers, forest with native trees, children's park with train and mirror maze, safari park and zoo, zip-lining, white water rafting, cycling, and boating on the lake. There's also been a heartening focus of the empowerment of local women, through training and provision of employment. Accommodations are provided in luxury tent cities, hotels and local homestays.
- Where: About two hours (90km) southeast of Vadodara.
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
The little-known UNESCO World Heritage Site of Champaner and Pavagadh is laden with historical, architectural and archeological treasures from both Muslim and Hindu traditions, dating back to between the 8th and 14th centuries. These include a hill fortress, palaces, places of worship (Jama Masjid is one of the most spectacular mosques in Gujarat), residential areas, reservoirs and step wells. Stay at Champaner Heritage Resort or Jambughoda Palace hotel if you want to spend time nature as well.
- Where: An hour (48km) northeast of Vadodara.
Chhota Udepur District
Part of Gujarat's tribal belt, Chhota Udepur is ideally visited during the Holi festival when tribal fairs erupt into life throughout the district. Tribal markets also take place there on Saturdays and Mondays. If you're interested in India's tribal heritage, don't miss Bhasha Research and Publication Center's Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh village of Chhota Udepur. Its incredible Vaacha Museum of Voice documents tribes from across the country. It has a comprehensive collection including musical instruments, paintings, sculptures, textiles, images of worship, and agricultural equipment. Another highlight is the museum's Bhasha Van forest of languages. Stay at Kali Niketan palace hotel.
- Where: Eastern Gujarat. About two and a half hours (110km) east of Vadodara.
Sun Temple, Modhera
One of the most significant sun temples in India is located in peaceful Modhera village. Built in the 11th century by Solanki dynasty rulers, the temple is dedicated to Surya the Sun God. It's a substantial structure, consisting of a carved stepped tank, assembly hall, and main shrine. It's covered in intricate stone sculptures. The sanctum is positioned in a way that it receives the first rays of the morning sun at the equinox.
- Where: Northern Gujarat. About two hours (99km) north of Ahmedabad.
Rani ki Vav (the Queen's Stepwell), Patan
Rani ki Vav is an ancient abandoned stepwell dating back to the 11th century and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also constructed during the Solanki dynasty, apparently in memory of ruler Bhimdev I, by his widowed wife. The stepwell has stairs going down seven levels, and panels containing more than 500 main sculptures and over 1,000 minor ones. Only discovered relatively recently, the stepwell was flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s. When it was excavated by the Archeological Survey of India, its carvings were found in pristine condition.
- Where: Northern Gujarat. About three hours north of Ahmedabad (128km) and 50 minutes north of Modhera (35km).
A town trapped in time, Sidhpur will delight architecture aficionados with its colorful century-old mansions belonging to the affluent Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Many of the houses are empty as their owners have moved abroad. Sidhpur sits alongside the holy Saraswati River and is also a Hindu pilgrim destination. It's dotted with temples and water bodies. The ruins of 10th century Rudra Mahalaya Temple, with its towering carved pillars and torans, is a major attraction.
- Where: Under two hours (76km) east of Patan. It can be visited as part of a Patan and Modhera circuit.
Idar Hill Fort, Sabarkantha District
Giant boulders have guarded the town of Idar, at the southern end of the Aravali mountain range, for centuries. A scenic but strenuous climb to the top of the hill (Idariyo Gadh) through the rocks will take you past the remains of various palaces and temples. The town is known for its handmade wooden toys as well. They can be purchased at the market near the clock tower.
- Where: Northern Gujarat. About two hours east of Patan (98km), near the Rajasthan border. It's on the way to Mount Abu in Rajasthan.
Polo Forest, Sabarkantha District
Trekkers should head to one of Gujarat's best kept secrets, Polo Forest, to discover old Hindu and Jain temples tucked away deep within the jungle. It was once a city called Abhapuri, believed to have been established in the 10th century by Idar kings and later conquered by Rathod Rajputs of Marwar in the 15th century. Visit after the monsoon, between September and December, for the most spectacular greenery.
- Where: Northern Gujarat. About an hour northeast of Idar (45km), near Vijaynagar. It can be reached in three and a half hours from Ahmedabad (156km).
The immense stretch of largely barren and harsh desert landscape that is the Kutch region of Gujarat is sometimes described as India's "Wild West". Its name, Kutch (or Kachchh), refers to the fact that it alternates between wet (submerged during the monsoon season) and dry. Much of Kutch consists of seasonal wetlands known as the Great Rann of Kutch (famous for its salt desert) and smaller Little Rann of Kutch (famous for its Wild Ass Sanctuary). Other attractions in the Kutch region include historic Bhuj, villages and traditional handicrafts, the ship building in the port town of Mandvi, and the Dholavira ruins of an ancient Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan city. Find out more in this Kutch Travel Guide.
- Where: Northwest Gujarat. Bhuj is about seven hours west of Ahmedabad (400km). It has an airport.
One of the four most sacred Char Dham Hindu pilgrimage sites and seven most ancient Sapta Puri religious cities in India, Dwarka is considered to be the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna and the first capital of Gujarat. The Krishna Janmashtami festival is a major event there. Of special importance is Dwarkadhish Temple, built approximately 200 BC and often referred to as Jagat Mandir. Head down to Gomti Ghat, at the holy water's edge, for a spectacle of decorated camels, tea stalls, and seashell jewelry sellers. Just north of Dwarka, Shivrajpur beach was recently awarded international Blue Flag certification for safety and cleanliness.
- Where: Western Gujarat, at the mouth of the Gomti River on the Arabian Sea. It's about three hours west of Jamnagar (132km).
Narara Marine National Park
Isolated and off-the-beaten-track, Marine National Park lies along the coast on the way to Dwarka. It was established as a national park in 1982 and is the first of its kind in India. Yet, not many people know about it. The national park is made up of 42 islands, 33 of which are surrounded by coral reef, and is home to diverse marine and bird life. Tourists are only permitted to visit a couple of the islands though. The main one, Narara Island, is accessible by car and a long walk during low tide. Visit during the winter, and be prepared to wade through ankle deep water on the seabed. Local guides are available. Pirotan Island can be accessed by charter boat but it's difficult and permission needs to be obtained from numerous government departments in advance.
- Where: Western Gujarat in the Gulf of Kutch, about an hour west of Jamnagar (54km).
An important pilgrimage destination, Somnath Temple is one of the 12 jyotirlinga (shrines of Lord Shiva, where he's worshiped as a linga of light) in India. Its seaside location is powerful, the intricate carvings on its sandstone architecture are superb, and its history is fascinating. The temple was ransacked by Islamic invaders and rebuilt numerous times, with the final reconstruction taking place after India achieved independence from the British. Maha Shivratri is celebrated in a big way there in February or March. A colorful religious fair is also held every year on Kartik Purnima (full moon night, usually in November), complete with small children dressed up as Lord Shiva and plenty of bhaang.
- Where: Southwest Gujarat. The closest airport is in Diu. Ahmedabad is about seven hours away. You can take a train from Ahmedabad to Veraval.
- Don't miss the evocative evening Sound and Light Show at Somnath.
Gir National Park
Gir National Park, one of the top parks to see wildlife in India, is the only place in the world where the Asiatic lion can now be found. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have been increasing. Gir is the largest dry deciduous forest in western India. There's plenty of other wildlife there, including about 300 types of birds. You'll have the best chance of spotting a lion if you go during December through May although April and May can be very hot. Safaris run daily. Plan your trip with this Gir travel guide.
- Where: Southwest Gujarat, under three hours northeast of Somnath (68km). It's inland from the beaches of Diu. The closest airport is in Diu.
If you're interested in Indo-Islamic architecture, you'll marvel over the splendid design of the striking 19 century Mahabat Maqbara mausoleum complex of local rulers at Junagadh. This historical city, whose name means Old Fort, is situated at the bottom of the sacred and temple-covered Girnar Hills. On the way to the hills is a building housing 14 rock-carved edicts of Emperor Ashoka, dating back to 250 BC. You can also visit the ruins of Uparkot Fort, built in 319 BC by Chandragupta Maurya, which has some interesting structures such as step wells and Buddhist rock-cut caves.
- Where: Southwest Gujarat, about three hours south of Jamnagar (140km) and two hours north of Somnath (96km).
Shatrunjaya Hill Temples, Palitana
Palitana, a principal pilgrim center for Jains, has accumulated nearly 900 temples and more are being constructed. Climb in excess of 3,000 steps to the top of the hill and you'll find an astonishing Jain temple complex with sensational views. Do note that the hill is considered to be sacred. You cannot wear or carry any leather items and must dress conservatively.
- Where: Southern Gujarat, about five hours south of Ahmedabad (210km). The nearest airport is in Bhavnagar, about an hour and a half away.
Velavadar Blackbuck National Park
The largest population of Blackbuck, the unusual spiral-horned Indian antelope, lives at Velavadar. This untamed area is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. It's home to wolves and many species of grassland birds too. The Blackbuck Lodge, one of India's top jungle lodges, is an outstanding place to stay there.
- Where: About three hours south of Ahmedabad (145km) and an hour north of Bhavnagar (47km).
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary is one of the best places to go bird watching in India. It's made up of Nalsarovar Lake, and surrounding marsh wetlands and islands. More than 250 types of migratory birds can be seen but you'll have to go further into the lake than the standard trip to Dhrabla Island. Unfortunately, it's not set up properly for tourists. Facilities are poor and boat operators are not well regulated, resulting in them charging really high rates.
- Where: Just under two hours southwest of Ahmedabad (63km).
Lothal is the most extensively excavated Indus Valley Harappan Civilization site in Gujarat. Situated on the Gulf of Combay, it's believed to have been a flourishing sea port and trade center. Although the site is in ruins now, it has some significant remains including parts of a dockyard that's thought to have been the first of its kind in the world. Many items from the Indus Valley Civilization are also on display at the small archeological museum at the site. It's open daily except Fridays. The Indian government is in the process of founding a maritime heritage museum at Lothal too.
- Where: About two hours southwest of Ahmedabad (78km) via Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar National Highway 47.
Saputara, meaning "Abode of Serpents", is situated on a densely forested plateau on top of the Sahyadri mountain range. This hill station has been developed as a tourist destination with hotels around a large lake, boat club, tribal museum, cable car, artist village, and other attractions. It's a popular weekend getaway, especially during the monsoon season when it's misty there. The district, known as The Dangs, is home to a large tribal population and is an ideal place to experience rural India. Community-based tourism is being pioneered by Rural Pleasure at Subir village.
- Where: Southern Gujarat, close to the Maharashtra border.