Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, is one of India's top hill stations and is a favorite destination of Indian tourists. A place of splendid natural beauty, it's often referred to as the "Land of Lakes and Gardens" or the "Switzerland of India". Unfortunately, civil unrest has been an issue that's deterred tourists in the past. Now, the city is surprisingly calm, with the only indication of security issues being the the army and police presence there. (Read more about how safe is Kashmir now for tourists?). Do add these top Srinagar attractions and places to visit to your itinerary. Hotels and houseboat owners will happily organize tours.
Also, don't miss taking a day trip or side trip to at least one of these popular tourist places in Kashmir.
Srinagar's extensive, well-manicured gardens date back to the Mughal era. They're abundant with bright blooms and stunning vistas. Start with Shalimar Bagh, which Mughal Emperor Jehangir built for his wife in 1619. Next, visit Nishat Mughal Garden (Garden of Gladness), which borders Dal Lake. It was constructed in 1634 after Shah Jahan became the Emperor of India. Head up to historic Pari Mahal palace gardens for fabulous sunset views over Dal Lake and Srinagar. On the way you'll pass the Botanical Garden, where the famous Tulip Festival is held every April, and Chashme Shahi Gardens. The gardens all have a 10 rupee entry fee. If you want a more tranquil experience, it's best to avoid going there on Sundays. Naseem Bagh (Garden of Morning Breeze) is spectacular during Fall/Autumn when the leaves of its thousands of Chinar trees turn bright orange and red. Also not to be missed is the lesser-known and more peaceful Badamwari Garden, particularly during Spring (from mid March) when its almond trees are in full bloom.
One of the highlights of a trip to Srinagar is spending time on its interconnected lakes -- Dal Lake, and the smaller and quieter Nigeen Lake. More than 1,000 houseboats float upon these lakes. They first appeared in colonial times as the British weren't allowed to own land. The houseboats are stationary but it's still a once-in-a-lifetime experience to spend a night or two on one. See these tips for choosing the best Srinagar houseboat. You can also start the day by hiring a shikara (small row boat) and exploring life on Dal and Nigeen lakes, including the early morning floating vegetable market. There are shikara stands at various spots in Srinagar.
Old City and Mosques
A visit to Srinagar would be incomplete without exploring the atmospheric and distinctly wooden Old City on foot. It's less hectic than many old cities in India and is home to a number of important mosques that also have a serene energy. Jama Masjid, originally built in 1394 and restored for the last time in 1672, is the largest mosque in Kashmir. It has 378 wooden pillars supporting its ceiling and space for thousands of devotees. Shah Hamdan Mosque on the banks of the Jhelum River is astonishingly ornate. Its front and interiors are adorned with intricate and colorful Kashmiri art work, both on the walls and ceilings, and chandeliers. The detail is just incredible. Abdul from River Songs Tours and Travels conducts excellent walking tours. It's possible to go on a Jhelum River cruise through the Old City as well. Jammu and Kashmir Tourism operates an inexpensive service twice a day (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) from the General Post Office ghat to Khanqah-e-Moula shrine.
If you're interested in Kashmiri handicrafts, Breakaway offers a four-day Kashmir by Hand tour that promises interaction with the artisans. Alternatively, the company also runs a shorter one day handicraft and heritage walking tour. The owner of the houseboat that I stayed on (Fantasia Houseboat on Nigeen Lake) arranged for me to visit the papier mache workshop of Christmas Shining Arts. If you only want to buy handicrafts, you'll find plenty of shops along the Boulevard. The Kashmir Government Arts Emporium (open daily except Sunday), located in a century old historic building there, has an extensive range of products and fixed prices.
Chai Jaai opened in 2016, and is undoubtedly one of the cutest tea rooms you'll ever come across! It was inspired by the tea rooms of the Cotswolds to reflect both English and Kasmiri love for tea. Find it above Mahatta & Co. photography studio, in the Dhanjibuoy Building on The Bund at Lal Chowk. There, you'll be able to enjoy classic kahwa, as well as many other different Kashmiri and international teas. The menu also includes local snacks and French baked goodies. Conversations about art and literature are a bonus!
Unique Gulshan Books and Coffee Shop is recognized as India's only bookshop-library on a lake in the 2018 Limca Book Of Records. The business was established in 2016, as a partnership between one of Kashmir's oldest publishing houses and the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC). It's housed in the JKTDC building on Dal Lake's Nehru Park Island, accessible by short shikara boat ride from Boulevard Road. There are about 80,000 books mainly on Kashmir's heritage, plus another 1,500 in the cafe. Read them while enjoying a drink and view over to Shankaracharya Hill and Hari Parbat.
Shankaracharya Hill and Temple
Apart from Pari Mahal, Shankaracharya Hill is another popular viewpoint for a panoramic outlook over Srinagar and Dal Lake. It attracts many Hindu pilgrims who visit the small gray stone temple, now dedicated to Lord Shiva, right at the top of it. What's interesting to note is that it was originally a Buddhist temple thousands of years ago. It became a Hindu temple after Hindu philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, who was visiting from Kerala, put a Shiva linga in it. To get there, take the winding road up from Nehru Park (you'll have to pass through heavy security checks and leave all electronic devices including cameras in your vehicle) and then walk up around 250 steps to reach it. Closing time is strictly 5 p.m., so make sure you get there early enough.