Best for Monuments: Delhi
Most first time travelers to India usually land in Delhi, India’s capital city. It can be a rather rude shock. The city is primed to take advantage of the unsuspecting tourist. 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.
Best Iconic: Taj Mahal
A part of India’s popular Golden Triangle tourist circuit, Agra is home to the Taj Mahal. Enough said really. It’s India’s most iconic monument and the top historical attraction in India. 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?).
Best Temple: Golden Temple
Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of Sikhs. 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.
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 for Spirituality: Varanasi
Varanasi, one of the top spiritual places in India, is a city quite like no 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. However, it provides invaluable insight into ancient traditions in India.
Best for History and Architecture: Ajanta and Ellora Caves
No doubt India’s most popular and widely recognized caves, the Ajanta Ellora caves are carved into hillside rock quite in the middle of nowhere, near Aurangabad, in northern Maharashtra. These caves are simply awe inspiring. Words can’t describe how magnificent they are.
Best Abandoned City: Hampi
An incredible energy can be found in Hampi, one of the top places to visit in Karnataka. The last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history, it’s renowned for its captivating ruins, intriguingly intermingled with large boulders that rear up all over the landscape. Hampi’s laid-back vibe attracts plenty of travelers who like to stay a while and chill out there.
Best for South Indian Culture: Madurai
Ancient Madurai in Tamil Nadu is home to the most impressive and important temple in south India — the Meenakshi Temple. If you only see one south Indian temple, 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.
Best for Relaxation: Kerala Backwaters
One of the most popular attractions in India, a trip in a houseboat along the palm-fringed Kerala backwaters is so tranquil and relaxing. The lush green landscape, diverse wildlife, 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!
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!
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.