Ah, it's so hard to choose! What are the best tourist places in India? A lot of the time, it comes down to personal preference. However, some places to visit in India remain perennially more popular than others. These are among the best destinations in India.
Want to know more about India's top destinations? Take a look at this India travel planner and this guide to the top India tourist places by region. If you'd like to explore beyond India's popular tourist attractions, here are 12 of the best places to visit in India off the beaten track to inspire you!
Also read: Safety issues at top tourist places in India to be prepared for problems you may encounter.
Best for Monuments: Delhi
Most first time travelers to India usually land in Delhi, India's capital city. It can be quite a culture shock. The city is primed to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. However, bear with it! Delhi's top attractions feature spellbinding mosques, forts, and monuments left over from the Mughal rulers that once occupied the city. Many of these are set in beautiful landscaped gardens that are perfect for relaxing. And the crumbling old city of Old Delhi is a fascinating, albeit chaotic, place to explore. Plan your trip there with this Delhi city guide.
Best Iconic: Taj Mahal
A part of India's popular Golden Triangle tourist circuit, Agra is best known for the Taj Mahal. Enough said really. It's India's most iconic monument and one of the top historical attractions. For that reason, it's impossible to leave it off the list. (While you're there, why not get off the beaten track and visit some attractions around Agra as well?). Make sure you read this comprehensive guide to Agra and the Taj Mahal before you go.
Best Temple: Golden Temple
Amritsar is home to one of India's most notable landmarks -- the Golden Temple. It was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. It’s the spiritual capital of the Sikhs and gained its name, meaning "Holy Pool of Nectar", from the body of water around the Golden Temple. The exquisite Golden Temple attracts pilgrims from all over the world and the number of visitors it gets rivals that of the Taj Mahal! It looks particularly arresting at night when it’s beautifully lit up, with its imposing gold dome illuminated. This guide to Amritsar and Golden Temple has more details.
Best Regal Splendor: Udaipur
Ah, Udaipur! Famed city of lakes and palaces, and the most romantic city in India. A must-visit for the ability to immerse yourself in regal splendor. The royal family has converted much of the sprawling City Palace into a museum, housing priceless memorabilia. It provides an extraordinary opportunity to take a look into their lives. Another attractive thing about Udaipur is that it offers great value! There are so many inexpensive yet atmospheric hotels overlooking the lake to stay in. Or, stay in the City Palace Complex itself, at the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel or Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel.
Best Ruins: Hampi
Hampi is, not surprisingly, one of the most popular places to visit in Karnataka. There you'll find the captivating ruins of Vijayanagar, the last capital of one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in not only the state but in India’s history. The ruins are intriguingly intermingled with large boulders that rear up all over the landscape. An incredible energy can be found at Hampi. Its laid-back vibe attracts plenty of travelers who like to stay a while and chill out. The New York Times included Hampi on its list of 52 Places to Go in 2019, so get there fast before everyone else! Have a read of this handy Hampi travel guide for more information.
Best for History and Architecture: Ajanta and Ellora Caves
Among the top caves in India, the ancient and awe-inspiring Ajanta and Ellora caves have been hand-carved into hillside rock quite in the middle of nowhere near Aurangabad in northern Maharashtra. These caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 34 of them at Ellora, dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries AD. They're a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves. The caves at Ajanta are all Buddhist caves. There are 29 of them, dating from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. Words can't describe how magnificent they all are.
Best for Spirituality: Varanasi
Varanasi, one of the top spiritual places in India, is a city quite unlike any other. This mystical holy city openly reveals its rituals along the many riverside ghats, which are used for everything from bathing to burning the bodies of the dead. Indeed, Varanasi is a confronting and rather dirty city (although it has been cleaned up a lot in recent years). However, it provides invaluable insight into ancient traditions in India. Two highlights are wandering along the riverside ghats and attending the evening Ganga Aarti ceremony. Here's a Varanasi travel guide to help you plan your trip.
Best for Culture: Kolkata
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, is a fascinating but underrated city that unfortunately all too often gets overlooked by tourists. Those who are most keen on history, experiential travel, and day-to-day life will appreciate what it has to offer though. Look past its crumbling buildings and you'll discover delicious distinctive Bengali cuisine, interesting places to shop, diverse neighborhoods, and engaging heritage. The city's biggest festival, Durga Puja, is worth experiencing as well! Take a look at these evocative photos of Kolkata for inspiration.
Best for South Indian Culture: Madurai
Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, has the most impressive temple in South India -- the Meenakshi Temple. If you only see one of South India's temples, the Meenakshi Temple should be it. The city of Madurai is more than 4,000 years old, and has remained a major center for Tamil culture and learning. The 12 day Chithirai Festival, featuring a re-enacted celestial wedding of God and Goddess, is held in Madurai during April each year. Here's what else to see and do in Madurai.
Best for Tribal Culture: Northeast India
Tourists are often surprised to discover that there are many different tribes in India. In fact, along with Africa, India has the largest tribal population in the world. Many of them inhabit India's remote Northeast region and they generally welcome visitors. One of the best ways to experience their culture is to attend one of their tribal festivals, such as the renowned Hornbill Festival. Otherwise, reputable local companies such as Greener Pastures and Holiday Scout conduct responsible tribal tours.
Best for Relaxation: Kerala Backwaters
One of the must-do things in Kerala, a trip in a houseboat along the palm-fringed Kerala backwaters is so tranquil and relaxing. The lush green landscape, and houses and villages that line the backwaters make a journey along these waterways seem like a journey through another world. Freshly cooked Indian food and chilled beer on board the boat make the experience even more enjoyable. Don't miss it! Here's how to best visit the Kerala Backwaters.
Best for Beaches: Goa
India's top beach destination, Goa lures visitors with the promise of parties and lazy days by the sea. However, there's more to Goa than just hedonism. The state also offers an eclectic blend of history, nature, culture, and adventure activities. It's divided into north and south Goa, with the north being more developed and action-packed. If you're looking for quiet beaches, head south! However, each beach has its own character. This Goa beach guide will help you choose the beach that's right for you. Check out these gorgeous Goa beach huts as well.
Best for Wildlife: Kanha National Park
India has so many national parks, it's hard to choose the best wildlife destination. However, the jungles of Madhya Pradesh do stand out, Kanha National Park in particular. It's one of the largest national parks in India and it provided the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, The Jungle Book. The park is highly regarded for its research and conservation programs. Numerous activities, such as nature walks, are possible in the buffer zone as well as safaris into the core area twice a day. Tiger sightings are regular there too! Want to visit more than one national park in Madhya Pradesh? Bandhavgarh is also popular.
Best for Adventure: Spiti
The high-altitude alpine desert landscape of remote Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh, provides ample options for adventure enthusiasts. These include mountain biking, hiking and trekking, tracking wildlife, and yak safaris. Spiti's remarkable landscape is scattered with small villages and monasteries, and enclosed by soaring peaks crowned with snow. Take a look at these spectacular photos of the Spiti Valley. Spiti can be reached by road from Manali or Shimla. This ultimate Spiti travel planner will help you organize your trip.
Best Offbeat: Kutch Region of Gujarat
Referred to as India's "Wild West", the Kutch region of Gujarat is an immense stretch of largely barren and harsh desert landscape bordering Pakistan. 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). The region is also celebrated for the vibrant handicrafts made by its talented artisan villagers, and the seaside port town of Mandvi where there's a remarkable 400 year-old ship building yard.
Best Up and Coming: Odisha
Odisha has tremendous potential as a tourist destination and will undoubtedly attract more visitors when adequate infrastructure is developed. Until then, you can enjoy the serenity in this lesser-known state on the east coast of India. Attractions include the unusual Konark Sun Temple, massive annual Ratha Jatra festival in Puri, the Diamond Triangle of sacred Buddhist sites, the wetlands at Mangalajodi where migratory birds can be seen close-up, handicraft villages, classical music and dance festivals, and a multitude of ancient temples. Still not sure if you want to go there? Here are even more places to visit in Odisha and the capital city Bhubaneswar.