Udaipur, Rajasthan's "white city", is often called the most romantic city in India because of its famed lakes and palaces. Therefore, it's only natural that they feature prominently in the top things to do in Udaipur. Experiencing Udaipur is all about reliving royalty and appreciating the city's regal beauty.
Check out these places to see around Udaipur too. There are many interesting day trips and side trips to go on. If you don't mind the heat, try and catch Udaipur's biggest festival, Gangaur, in March or April (it happens a couple of weeks after Holi each year). The Mewar Festival is held alongside it and celebrates the region's culture.
Explore the City Palace Complex
How did Rajasthan's royal rulers survive after India became a democracy and their states merged into the Union of India? They converted their palaces into hotels and tourist attractions in order to generate an income. Udaipur's City Palace Complex, belonging to the Mewar royal family, really sets the standard as far as such heritage tourism is concerned. This all-encompassing destination incorporates two authentic palace hotels (see below) and the City Palace Museum. Plus, a collection of vintage cars and Jag Mandir, a pleasure palace on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola. It's the largest palace complex in Rajasthan.
Wander Through Bagore Ki Haveli
Bagore Ki Haveli provides a further fascinating look into the lifestyle of the royal family and culture of the region. This sprawling mansion, built in the 18th century on the edge of Lake Pichola at Gangaur Ghat (where you can sit by the water), was once the residence of the Prime Minister of Mewar. It was converted to a museum after five years of restoration work in the late 1980s and is a joy to wander through. Inside there are more than 100 rooms, courtyards, and terraces, many with beautiful frescoes and fine mirror work. Royal paintings, costumes of the kings, personal items, and traditional Rajasthani arts and crafts are on display. There's also a puppet gallery and turban collection with the world's biggest turban. The Haveli is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A folk dance performance and puppet show is held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Boat on Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake
Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake (to the north of Lake Pichola and connected by a canal) are the most popular of Udaipur's man-made lakes. A boat ride on Lake Pichola gives a whole new perspective on the city, especially the City Palace Complex. There are a couple of options, depending on what you want to see and how much you're prepared to spend. To visit Jagmandir Island, you'll need to take one of the boats that depart from Rameshwar Ghat in the City Palace gardens (a small fee is payable to enter the City Palace if you're not staying at a hotel there). Tickets cost 500 rupees per person for the regular boat ride during the day, and 800 rupees per person for the sunset boat ride. Cheaper public boat rides depart from the jetty at Lal Ghat. A lesser-known option is to get a boat from Dudh Talai adjacent to Lake Pichola. You can explore Fateh Sagar Lake by renting a boat from the bottom of Moti Magri (Pearl Hill).
Soak Up the View from a Rooftop
The numerous rooftop restaurants on Lal Ghat, Gangaur Ghat and Hanuman Ghat provide a fabulous panorama of Lake Pichola. For something special, including a superb view of the the City Palace, head to Upre by 1559 A.D. atop the Lake Pichola Hotel near Hanuman Ghat. On the other side of the lake, Sun and Moon Restaurant on the rooftop of Hotel Udai Niwas at Gangaur Ghat is sought-after for its view. At Lal Ghat, try the rooftop restaurant at Jaiwana Haveli or Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel.
Watch the Sunset at Ambrai Ghat
Udaipur has many vantage points for photography but arguably the best one is Ambrai Ghat, especially at sunset. It's located directly opposite the City Palace and also fronts the Lake Palace hotel, so you have an unsurpassed view of both as their lights are turned on. To get there, head to the Hanuman Ghat area and keep walking along the road that runs parallel to Lake Pichola as far as you can, past the Amet Haveli hotel and Ambrai restaurant. Do be aware that Ambrai Ghat is a popular local hangout for couples. (Of course, locals know the most romantic spot with the best views in the city!)
Visit Jagdish Temple
This imposing white Hindu temple, with intricate architecture and carvings, is an unmissable landmark in the Lal Ghat area near the entrance to the City Palace. It was built by Maharana Jagat Singh in 1961 and houses a black stone idol of Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who's regarded as the preserver of the universe in Hinduism. The highlight here is the evocative aarti (worship ceremony) every sunrise and sunset.
Take a Heritage Walking Tour
A heritage walk through the streets of Udaipur is a great way to immerse yourself in the City of Lakes and Palaces. The Walk Down Memory Lane tour conducted by Walk and Pedal is one of the best. You'll get to see goldsmiths at work, witness temple rituals, visit quaint shops selling everything from shoes to books, and enjoy panoramic city views. Also check out the dawn and dusk tours conducted by Vintage Walking Tours. In addition, this insightful Udaipur Heritage Walk offered by Virasat Experiences is recommended for engaging with local artisans. It provides an opportunity to meet communities that make jewelry, pottery, and bamboo craft. You'll learn about local traditions, customs, and beliefs too.
Stay at an Authentic Palace Hotel
Udaipur's mystical Lake Palace hotel appears to float in the middle of Lake Pichola. It was built by the Maharanas of Mewar as a pleasure palace in the 18th century. The royal family restored and converted it into a palace hotel in 1963, and then leased it out to the luxury Taj hotel group in 1971, as a way to maintain it. A further restoration was undertaken in 2000, making the property one of the finest heritage hotels in India. It has even had a Hollywood moment when scenes from the famous James Bond Octopussy movie were filmed there. The only way to visit the hotel is to stay at it, so splurge and treat yourself to at least one night of indulgence! The Taj group recently took over the management of the Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel, inside the City Palace Complex, too. The other option for an authentic palace stay is the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel. It also features in Octopussy.
Sample Traditional Mewari Cuisine
The Rajput rulers of the Mewar region, who founded Udaipur, were avid hunters. Meat-based dishes are therefore a feature of Mewari-cuisine, in contrast to predominantly vegetarian Rajasthani food. Laal maas (red mutton curry) is an iconic Mewari dish that's fiery hot. Apparently, the royal cooks spiced it up to hide the aroma of the game meat that was used at the time. The dish has a prominent place on the menus of restaurants that serve Mewari food in Udaipur including Hari Ghar, Khamma Ghani, Upre, Ambrai, and Paantya at the City Palace. In addition, the Bedla family serve recipes that have been handed down over generations at their heritage restaurant Royal Repast, located in their home.
Take an Indian Cooking Class
Udaipur is a fantastic place to expand your culinary skills by taking an Indian cooking lesson. You'll learn all about the different spices and secrets to preparing Indian food. Sashi's cooking classes are among the most popular. She has a reputation for being a friendly and lively teacher, and she conducts introductory classes twice a day with her son at her place at Gangaur Ghat. Mamta's cooking classes are recommended too. She offers four different menus, ranging from basic to super deluxe. The classes take place for lunch and dinner daily near Chandpole. Alternatively, Sushma provides cooking classes at the Krishna Niwas Guesthouse at Lal Ghat. You can choose the individual dishes you want to prepare. The extensive options include north and south Indian dishes, Rajasthani classics, and desserts.
Shilpgram (meaning "craftsmen's village") is a rural arts and crafts complex, located on the outskirts of Udaipur. It was set up by the government in 1986 to showcase rural life and traditions from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa. The complex has huts from each of the states, incorporating their distinctive architectural features. Artisans also sell their wares and perform folk dances. Horse rides and camel rides are offered as well. The complex really comes alive during the 10-day Shilpgram Arts & Crafts Fair in late December.
Buy Art or Make Your Own
Udaipur is renowned for its traditional art, particularly the colorful miniature paintings that originated there in the 16th century. A recommended place to buy them is Gothwal Art near Gangaur Ghat. The lovely owners of this gallery are artists themselves and prices are very reasonable. It's possible to learn the technique by participating in a workshop, such as the ones offered by Vedic Walks. Jal Sanjhi is another rare 200 year-old art form that can be learned in this painting demonstration. It involves painting on water and is a tribute to Lord Krishna. If you're interested in other types of art and handicrafts, this Spirit of Art tour comprises visits to a block printing center and book binding shop, painting demonstration, and sword making demonstration.
Animal Aid Unlimited runs one of India's busiest street animal rescue services and hospitals. More than 75,000 animals have been treated there since the organization was founded in 2002. The sanctuary is home to about 150 animals including cows, donkeys, dogs, and cats. It's a happy place that encourages and welcomes visitors. You'll be able to play with and comfort the animals, and receive a whole lot of love back from them. Tours take place throughout the day at the following times: 10.30 a.m., noon, 2.30 p.m., and 3.30 p.m. Volunteer opportunities are also available.
Feeling energetic? The Art of Bicycle Trips introduced bicycle tours in Udaipur in 2013 and they've become a popular way of seeing the city. Their three-hour lakeside city loop will take you through the countryside past the major lakes (Pichola, Fateh Sagar and Badi), mountains and small rural hamlets. On the way, you'll be able to spot various birds and animals. The tour runs daily from 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. and costs 2,000 rupees per person.
See the Cenotaphs of the Royal Family
Off-the-beaten-track yet just east of the city center, the Ahar cenotaphs honor deceased members of the Mewar royal family. There are 372 white marble cenotaphs that have been constructed over centuries at the place where the bodies were cremated. About 20 of them belong to past kings and hold great significance. The site also has a holy step well, and small archeological museum that's dedicated to ancient settlers of the area.
Relax in Udaipur's Regal Garden
Continue tracing the heritage of the Mewar royal family at Saheliyon ki Bari (Courtyard of Maidens), which was built by Maharana Sangram Singh -- popularly known as Rana Sanga -- next to Fateh Sagar Lake in the 18th century. This elegant garden served as a recreation space for the royal ladies. It's filled with a lotus ponds, sculptures, marble pavilions, fountains, trees, and more than 100 rose bushes. The impressive cascading rain fountains were added by Maharana Bhupal Singh in the late 19th century and imported from England. These days, the garden attracts many local families, and young canoodling couples who aim to get privacy away from prying eyes.
The Monsoon Palace (also known as Sajjan Garh) can be seen from Udaipur, perched high on a hill above the city. As its name suggests, it was a favored destination of the royal family during the monsoon season. The palace belonged to the Mewar royal family until it was placed in government hands. Despite its dilapidated condition, it's a popular sunset spot due to its unsurpassed view over Udaipur. Those who are familiar with James Bond's Octopussy movie will also recognize the palace as the home of the principal villain, Kamal Khan. The drive to the palace takes around 30 minutes and passes through Sajjan Garh Wildlife Sanctuary Biological Park. Auto rickshaws aren't allowed to enter the park. So, it's best to rent a car or take the special minivan that departs from the entrance to Bagore ki Haveli at 5 p.m. daily.
Get Wild at Sajjangarh Biological Park
Sajjangarh Biological Park surrounds the Monsoon Palace and can be visited on the way. The main attractions are trekking trails and a zoo. As far as zoos in India go, it's not bad, with spacious enclosures spread over a wide area. Electric golf carts can be rented to see all of it at a cost of 50 rupees per person, or 400 rupees for a private cart. There are about 20 types of animals and reptiles including lions, tigers, leopards, sloth bear, deer, ostrich, porcupines and turtles. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. Entry tickets cost 35 rupees per person for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners. Do be aware that many of the animals sleep during the day, so it's best to visit after 4 p.m. You'll probably want to give it a miss if you don't have children though.
Ride the Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway
Red cable cars ferry sightseers on short trips (five minutes one-way) up the hill from Deen Dayal Park at Dudh Talai to Karni Mata temple. There's a viewing platform there, and it's another notable location for seeing the sunset over the city. Do be aware that the line and waiting time to buy tickets can be lengthy. Tickets cost about 100 rupees, round trip, for adults. There's an option to pay more to skip the line, which is highly recommended.