It's more than just viewing a pretty building, and you'll get the most out of the experience if you've read our need-to-know guide.
Editor’s Note: The Taj Mahal is on Fodor’s 2018 No List due to scheduled renovation work throughout much of the year.
With so much to see, taste, and experience in colorful, chaotic, thrilling India, you may be tempted to give the Taj Mahal a pass. You’ve been seeing that white building on calendars and screensavers since you were a kid. Isn’t a bit cliché?
The truth is, you need to go. The Taj Mahal is a must-see for anyone visiting India, and we have the answers to all your Taj Mahal questions.
Is it really that beautiful?
Yes. The site has perfect symmetry that somehow sparks emotion. It nudges your psyche and makes you feel at peace. You may even cry, and you won’t be the only one. And forget that wrong impression of the Taj Mahal being a plain, white building—it’s wildly colorful. The stone is carved with geometric shapes and artful calligraphy from the Qur’an, with swirling flowers and vines made of inlaid black, red, blue and green semi-precious stones flowing around it. The huge onion-shaped marble dome at the center glitters in the sun, while four white minarets and identical sandstone buildings on each side—a mosque and its empty mirror image—create balance and ideal harmony.
So it’s just a really pretty building?
No. The Taj Mahal was built in 1631 as a tomb for Shah Jahan’s adored favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth. It’s a monument to love and it’s been called “the teardrop on the cheek of time.”
Why do I need to visit twice in a day?
The Taj Mahal looks completely different as the light changes: silvery-white or pale peach-pink at dawn, then ivory changing to buttercup yellow towards sunset. The vibe also flips. Visitors are on a mission to see the mausoleum and get photos in the morning. Towards sunset, it’s still busy but feels more relaxed with a kind of a festival atmosphere. There are more Indian families in the crowd.
Where can I get the best photo?
The marble “Diana bench” where the Princess of Wales had her famous I’m-on-my-own-here photo taken in 1992 is a good place for portraits. Everybody gets the long shot of the reflecting pools leading to the mausoleum from the raised entry, or the “Look! I’m crushing the dome between my fingers” set-up shot. Stroll around the site to grab unusual angles instead, like the building’s reflection in one of the pools.
Can you go inside?
Yes. Wear the provided paper shoe covers, or go barefoot. The tombs of the Shah and his wife are private and below ground, but you can see their empty sarcophagi behind a carved lace-like screen made of polished marble. Everything is inlaid with small flowers and delicate vines made from colorful semi-precious stones. The craftsmanship is amazing. It’s gorgeous but there are no photos allowed and if you try to sneak one, guards blow a whistle and scold you.
How early do I have to get there?
The Taj Mahal is closed Friday for prayers at the mosque. Every other day, be there by 6:30 a.m. for dawn entry. You’ll be searched just inside the gates and lines can be long. Bring your passport and line up at the East or West Gate. The Southern Gate opens later. There are four lines: foreign women, foreign men, local women, and local men. Sunset entry is around 5 p.m. You’ll be hustled out as soon as the sun goes down and the site closes.
What can I bring in with me?
Leave everything at your hotel except a small bottle of water, and a camera or phone. No big purses or backpacks, food, pens, or anything sharp can be taken in. Phones must be on silent mode. No smoking.
How can I get tickets?
Tickets cost 1,000 rupees (about $15) and are available at all three gates (remember the Southern Gate doesn’t open until 8 a.m., so you’ll miss sunrise). The East Gate ticket seller is in the Shilgram parking area, about a half a mile from the entrance and probably where your taxi will drop you. Tickets are also available at the Western Gate near the Saheli Burj tombs.
You can also buy tickets for all World Heritage Sites, including the Taj Mahal, at any other World Heritage Site in India. Or get tickets online at asi.payumoney.com. Select the state (Uttar Pradesh) from the drop-down menu and Taj Mahal. You’ll need to know the date of your visit and provide your passport number.
Finally, tours may include tickets, or check at your hotel to see if the concierge can hook you up.
Is it crowded?
Yes. But also, no.
Stay in between large groups or travel opposite to the flow. Hang back when you first get inside the main entrance arch to really take in the sublime view and let the sunrise crowds rush past. There are peaceful jasmine-scented gardens at the east and west sides near the monument that seemed deserted. You can get unusual side views of the dome here and watch vibrant green parakeets flying overhead.
Do I need a guide?
Not necessarily, but how do you think we found about the secret gardens? A great guide (like one from luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent) will explain as you explore, taking you to areas and views you might otherwise miss. It’s fascinating to learn how the Taj Mahal was built.
How do I get to Agra?
Agra is about 150 miles from Delhi and it’s much faster and easier to get there since the Yamuna Expressway opened in 2012. Depending on Delhi traffic, it takes about three hours. Get there with a tour or by private van. There are a variety of trains from Delhi, including the high-speed Gatimaan Express, which arrives in Agra in under two hours.
How do I get to the Taj Mahal site?
Since no motorized vehicles are allowed within 1,600 feet of the Taj Mahal, you can walk, cycle, or take a bicycle rickshaw from your hotel or Shilgram parking. Guests of the luxurious Oberoi Amarvilas, which has a Taj Mahal view from every room, are taken from the hotel to the entrance 2,000 feet away by electric golf carts.