India is awash with sights and experiences to stimulate all the senses.
Reasons to visit the subcontinent-sized India are innumerable. Some are obvious, like admiring and snapping a photo in front of the iconic Taj Mahal, cruising the backwaters of Kerala, and deepening your yoga practice in Rishikesh. Others are lesser-known, like the country’s numerous vineyards and dive sites. So, it’s hard to go wrong in this vast and diverse country. To help you create your perfect itinerary, here is our guide to the best places to visit in India based on your travel style.
For Hikers and Trekkers
WHERE: Himachal Pradesh and Northeast India
Whether you’re looking for a multi-day hardcore trek or a gentle one-day hike, India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh and the northeastern region has a hiking trail to suit. Beginners can try the nine-mile Triund trek in Himachal, winding through oak and rhododendron forests and culminating at 2,850 m above sea level, from where you can enjoy epic panoramas of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. Travelers with more stamina and more time and who don’t mind the extreme cold can opt for the 10-day Goecha La Trek in Sikkim. The journey is strenuous, passing through high-altitude villages and national parks. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with amazing vistas of the world’s third-highest mountain, Mt. Kanchenjunga.
For Serenity and Scuba Diving
WHERE: Andaman Islands
Sky blue waters, incredibly healthy reefs, and hundreds of peaceful islands, Andaman–850 miles east of the Indian mainland and easy to reach from Chennai and Kolkata–is a perfect blend of relaxation and activity. Spend your mornings snorkeling or diving at Swaraj Dweep (formerly Havelock Island), home to numerous diving sites. Expect encounters with reef sharks, manta rays, and schools of snappers. Explore the island’s wooded interior on a bicycle or scooter, easy to hire from local outfits and most resorts. Luxury properties like Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Jalakara, and Barefoot at Havelock are perfect for unwinding.
WHERE: Delhi and Hyderabad, Telangana
Good grub is hard to avoid in India, from aromatic biryanis down south to street food up north. Still, the capital city Delhi in North India, and Hyderabad, in the southern state of Telangana, stands out as the culinary superstars. The latter has been recognized as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Here, tuck into succulent dum biryani (a rice dish) at Bismillah Hotel near Mecca Masjid and qubani ka meetha (apricot dessert) at Hotel Shadab. For fine dining, head to Adaa Restaurant in Taj Falaknuma Palace, which serves excellent pathar-ka-gosht (lamb dish).
Delhi, on the other hand, is the street-food capital of India–and a food walk is an easier way to get acquainted with it. Don’t miss daulat ki chaat (a frothy soufflé) at Khemchand in Old Delhi and stuffed parathas (fried flatbreads with vegetable fillings) at Parathewali Gali in Chandi Chowk. The city also has scores of award-winning restaurants serving Indian and international fare. For those who don’t mind splurging, consider Indian Accent for a fusion menu, Bukhara for authentic Indian fare, and Olive Bar & Kitchen for Mediterranean food.
For Beach Bums and Party Lovers
With 65 miles of tropical beaches, Goa is a taste of paradise with sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, parasailing, jet skiing, and more on tap. This west coast state turns into a drinking and dancing hub after the sun goes down. Head to North Goa’s Anjuna and Vagator for a wild party scene, where psytrance music wafts out of the beachside shacks and nightclubs like Shiva Valley and HillTop. If you’re looking for low-key vibes with a dash of nightlife, head to South Goa’s Palolem Beach, where a silent disco is held in the evenings.
For Art Aficionados and Culture Vultures
WHERE: Kolkata, West Bengal, and Odisha
The cradle of the Indian cultural renaissance, Kolkata – once the capital of British-ruled India – is an endless maze of opportunities for art aficionados. Marvel at clay idols during Durga Puja festival at Kumartuli, the city’s famous artisanal hub. For ethnic crafts and contemporary art, the galleries of Ballygunge pack a punch–notably CIMA and Experimenter Gallery. To get a sense of the city’s strong cultural beat, head to College Street, dotted with historic publishing houses and traditional bookstores, or sign up for a multicultural walking tour. You can also simply roam the streets of Kolkata, such as within Tollygunge (center of the Bengali film industry) and Bramhapur districts, to discover some of its colorful street art.
About 404 miles northeast of Kolkata lies Odisha state, where you can learn about and experience tribal cultures, check out the handlooms trail, and visit artisan villages of Pipli and Raghurajpur, specializing in traditional forms of arts and handicrafts. For a glimpse into the state’s rich culture and tradition, consider timing your trip to align with a festival, such as Puri Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival), which happens in June or July every year.
For History Buffs
WHERE: Hampi, Karnataka & India’s Golden Triangle
For that trip in a time-machine feeling, visit the 14th-century ruins of Hampi, the south’s last great Hindu capital, in a spectacular boulder-strewn landscape. Or explore India’s Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, where history spills into the streets. Visitors can sign up for a heritage walk in the capital city Delhi, where reminders of the country’s greatest kingdoms, like the Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, and the British Raj, abound. Then travel 135 miles south of New Delhi to Agra, a former Mughal capital, to see historic sites like Agra Fort and Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah after snapping the obligatory pic in front of the iconic Taj Mahal. The last stop on the route is Jaipur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can wander around the Old City, admire ancient architecture such as Hawa Mahal and City Palace, and swot up on your history knowledge at Albert Hall Museum.
For Wildlife Lovers
WHERE: Madhya Pradesh
The national parks and sanctuaries in the central India state of Madhya Pradesh are without doubt the star of the country’s wildlife line-up, offering wonderful sightings of mammals such as Bengal tigers, leopards, 12-horned swamp deer, gaurs, sloth bears, wild dogs, and langurs, along with several bird species and plant types. Three of the many national parks stand out: Bandhavgarh, Pench, and Kanha. The latter two are the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book. Be sure to visit northern Madhya Pradesh to see cheetahs roam the jungles of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary. Plan your travels between October and June, as many wildlife reserves remain closed during the monsoon season.
For Experiencing Royal Luxury
If you fancy living like royalty, head to the desert state of Rajasthan on the northwestern edge of India. Its big-ticket attractions are the grand palaces, exquisitely decorated havelis (mansions), and hilltop (atmospheric desert forts) forts its aristocrats built throughout the centuries. Some of these edifices have been converted into heritage hotels, offering guests front-row seats to the architectural grandeur of the days gone by. To feel as regal as a maharaja, book the mural-decked Grand Royal Suite. It comes with a private butler and lake-facing Jacuzzi at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, or the Historical Suite with a private sit-out overlooking the verdant lawns or courtyard, the scene of evening cultural performances at Umaid Bhawan Palace, still home to the titular Maharaja of Jodhpur and his family. You can also glimpse the golden era courtesy of the chandelier-draped dining halls, Rajasthani artwork, and antique-filled suites at the 19th-century Rambagh Palace in Jaipur.
For Romantics and Wellness
Kerala, on the southwestern coast, is one of India’s most popular honeymoon destinations. For a truly romantic experience, spend the night aboard a houseboat and cruise the backwaters of Alleppey or Kollam regions, lined with a curtain of coconut palms–the setting is nothing short of magical. Enjoy the sounds of birds chirping and water lulling your boat as you savor delicious Keralan fare onboard. There are many romantic places to stay on dry land too. For the ultimate seclusion, couples can stay on Vini’s Farm, a private island in Munroe, South Kerala. It has plush lakefront cottages with a personal butler. Couples looking to recharge and relax can check into one of the many health and wellness resorts spread across Kerala, the Ayurveda’s rightful birthplace. Among the most popular are Mekosha Spa Suites Retreat in Thiruvanthapuram, offering bespoke Ayurveda regimes, and Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra Kovalam, a clifftop Ayurveda resort where you can partake in five-stage panchakarma practice.
For Spiritual Seekers
WHERE: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
The city of Varanasi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has long been considered the country’s spiritual center, partly because of the Mother Ganges–the longest and most holiest river in India–flowing through its heart. The river brings pilgrims from all over the country, who perform sacred ceremonies by its stone ghats or steps and cleanse in its hallowed waters while locals do their daily chores like washing. Don’t miss the world-famous Ganga aarti, a daily fire ceremony at sundown.
If you’re interested in yoga and meditation, head to the holy city of Rishikesh, located in northern India’s foothills of the Himalayas. Made famous by the Beatles in the 20th century, the city has one of the world’s largest clusters of ashrams offering intensive yoga courses, Vedic heritage and spirituality programs, and meditative walks among nature. Parmarth Niketan, Sivananda Ashram, and Phool Chatti Ashram are the most popular options.
For Star Gazers
Far removed from light pollution, the pristine landscape of Hanle Village in the Changthang region of Ladakh–located in the far northern reaches of India–isn’t just reserved for sightseeing on the ground. The village is also home to India’s first Dark Sky Reserve (opened in December 2022), so, come nightfall, visitors are encouraged to gaze toward the sky for stellar views of stars, planets, and the Milky Way.
For Wine Connoisseurs
WHERE: Nashik, Maharashtra and Bangalore, Karnataka
Wine-making traditions in India go back millennia–and Indian wine from Nashik, about four hours northeast of Mumbai in Maharashtra, has a growing reputation. It has almost three dozen wineries, making it the “Wine Capital of India.” Vino aficionados can whet their palates with classics like Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Shiraz or the Sparkling Cuvee made from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes at York Winery, or sample the aromatic Dindori Viognier or Satori Merlot at Sula Vineyards, Nashik’s first winery opened in 1999. Sula also has a tasting room with amazing countryside views, an on-site Indian and Italian restaurant, and two luxurious resorts that will keep visitors lingering longer than they might expect.
Down south, Grover Zampa Vineyards is also a must-visit for wine lovers. Make a day of it at this winery located about one hour north of Bangalore at the base of Nandi Hills in Karnataka. In addition to tasting premium wines like La Reserve Red and Cabernet-Shiraz blend, you can go hiking, cycling, and paragliding in the region.
WHERE: Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, Parvati Valley is a backpacking paradise with plenty of affordable hostels and guesthouses–Nomads, Lazy Monk, and Mountain View Guesthouse and Cafe are the most popular options. Base yourself in the quaint town of Kasol (aka ‘Mini-Israel of India’), where there are sunset drum circles and moonlight parties. Uphill above Kasol lies the peaceful villages of Chalal and Tosh, a birdwatcher’s paradise. Spiritual seekers can visit the holy hot springs-town of Manikaran and Kheerganga. The valley also has a diverse landscape comprising lofty Himalayan peaks, verdant forests, and dazzling streams, making it an intrepid playground for trekking, rock climbing, and camping.
WHERE: Western Ghats, South India, and Manali-Leh Highway
Travel along the 314-mile Manali-Leh Highway in northwest India for a legendary Himalayan road trip. It is open from mid-June to mid-October and is not for the faint of heart or lungs. En route, explore valleys of Himachal Pradesh, cross high passes including the 4,551 m Kunzum La, admire the mountainside Buddhist monasteries, and camp by the high-altitude lakes.
If you like to take it a bit easy and drink in the cool air and green serenity, hit the backroads of South India’s Unesco-listed Western Ghats, a line of forest-cloaked hills stretching the length of the region. Start the journey through the historic city of Kochi in Kerala and end in Mahabalipuram on the east coast of the Southern peninsula. Along this 405-mile-route, you can explore tea and spice plantations, chill out in Raj-era hill stations like Munnar and Valparai, visit temple towns like Madurai and Thanjavur, tuck into delicious Chettinad cuisine in Chettiar village, and explore Danish and French colonies. Keep your eyes peeled for Nilgiri langurs and fluorescent birds flitting through the wilderness.