The 14 unmissable places to visit in India

Have a bright, bustling jaunt in mind? Overwhelm your senses with our list of the 14 best places to visit in India

Hiding from the sun rays in Jaipur, one of the best places to visit in India

Hiding from the sun rays outside of the Amber Fort, Jaipur

Category Beach & nature Cities

Date 5th March 2016

Bright, vivid and lush, this diverse and exciting country is the place to be if you want to dial up your sensory experience to the max. Here are our top 14 must-see places to visit in India, along with the best time to visit each, based on weather, local cultural happenings, cost and seasonality.

Bangalore (Bengaluru)

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People take to the neon-tinted Brigade Road in Bangalore

Move over, San Francisco, it’s Bangalore’s time to shine! Home to a booming tech scene, it’s full of IT entrepreneurial types. That investor funding must be what’s propping up the endless shopping options such as the yuppie-ish Brigade Road and the luxurious UB City Mall. There’s also a solid foodie and bar scene – craft beer is actually a thing here, and the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms are an old-school marvel.

The traffic is as thick as the pollution, and new buildings mushroom up before your eyes, but if you head to the city center you’ll find beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings, the Windsor-inspired Bangalore Palace, and green pockets like Cubbon Park.

Best time to visit: September – February

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Delhi

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Quiet reflection in front of Delhi’s Jama Masjid mosque

India’s governmental and cultural hub, Delhi’s a vast, ancient district so bustling you’ll need to walk with your elbows out. It’s blisteringly hot in the summer, cold in the winter, but at least the topography is utterly flat, making it easier to jostle your way through the busy streets eating golgappas and chaat papdi (local donuts and stuffed fried bread).

Still, take the Metro if you can. Order a cocktail at the Imperial Hotel, stroll the ancient bazaars of Old Delhi, head to the Mars-colored Red Fort for some Mughal architecture, then enjoy a spot of meditation at the serene lotus-shaped Bahai temple. Lush!

Best time to visit: October – November

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Chennai

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Intricate carvings fill the Kapaleeshwar Temple in Chennai

Boiling hot and renowned for its traffic, Chennai’s charms take a little while to show. Vivid and colorful, it’s brimming with artsy delights and vibrantly painted temples.

Make your way to the colonial heart of George Town and explore Fort St George – built by the British East India Company – and its old-fashioned, rickety surrounds. For a moment of peace, trek out to the nearby gopurams, ancient temple towers that put the Empire State to shame.

Best time to visit: December – March

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Hyderabad

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Chilling in front of the Charminar mosque and monument in Hyderabad, India

The Old Town of Hyderabad is the very essence of ancient India. Cows wander through the crowded, narrow streets. Yelling market vendors sell their wares and the smell of chai and sizzling goat Hyderbadi biryani fills the air.

The iconic Charminar monument and ancient mosques, such as Mecca Masjid, loom above the otherwise unassuming streets, recalling the city’s one-time wealthy past. It’s also a city of extremes: head west to “Cyberabad” and you’ll suddenly wonder if you’ve somehow ended up in high-tech Japan. But if time’s limited, keep your focus on the city’s historic heart and its stunning architecture.

Best time to visit: November – February

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Jaipur

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The peachy pink beauty of The Hall of Private Audience in Jaipur City Palace

Dubbed the “pink city” for its distinctively colored buildings, Jaipur simply sparkles. Everything sprawls out from the central City Palace, where the former royal family still resides, and there’s plenty to see. Snap a shot of the Jal Mahal, a floating water palace; visit Govind Dev Ji, an iconic temple that’s the subject of many Krishna legends; and stargaze from Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO listed astronomical observatory.

Need more hustle and bustle? Brave the bazaar in the city center, or join the rowdy, talkative crowds at the Raj Mandir movie theatre – one of the most famous in the country.

Best time to visit: November – February

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Kerala

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The Arabian Sea crashes against the rugged rocks of Kovalam Beach, Kerala

The setting of Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, Kerala’s a stunning tropical paradise in India’s deep south. Sparkling water, long stretches of beach, and huge jackfruit and cashew trees ripe with fruit abound. If you need a pleasant oasis away from the crowds and noise of the rest of India, this is it.

Trek the Blue Mountains of the Western Ghats, and marvel at the waterfalls at Athirapally. Traverse the backwater lagoons – or watch the Vallam Kali boat race, which takes place annually in August. The food’s famously spicy, so have some coconut milk handy to cool off your taste buds.

Best time to visit: January – March (although Kerala is tropical all-year-round)

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Pune

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The buzz around Pune’s business district

Lush, green and learned, Pune’s been dubbed the “Oxford of the East” – and contains almost as many bicycles. There are universities and colleges galore, so if you want to feel book-smart, this is the place to do it. Partying students throng around Fergusson College Road on Saturday evenings – or swig strong coffee as they hit the books at the many cafés.

Tour the ancient Pune University, one of the oldest in the country, take a horse ride through Bund Garden, and check out the fire-ravaged Shaniwar Wada palace. Indulge your inner foodie with the dozens of options in Koregaeon Park, known locally as the “restaurant suburb”.

Best time to visit: November

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Mumbai

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The sun sets over the Gateway of India in Mumbai City

Brace yourself. The densely populated Mumbai is all about the commotion, with twelve million people crammed into its seven island-based districts. It’s the commercial heartland of the country: concrete skyscrapers abound. Head to Kala Ghoda for museums galore, then to The Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill – a must-stop spot for selfie aficionados – and then chase the pigeons surrounding the historic Gateway of India monument.

The city’s famed markets are a must, with the curios and jewelery at Colaba a particular highlight. Seek out some traditional Hindi performances at the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. If you must visit the beaches, stick to people-watching, and skip swimming.

Best time to visit: November – February

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Kolkata

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Rickety rickshaw transportation in Kolkata, one of the best places to visit in India

A city of contrasts, Kolkata can be confronting to visitors. Its high levels of poverty are highly visible, especially against a backdrop of evident wealth – pristine golf courses, polo grounds and moneyed members-only clubs.

Despite – or perhaps because of – its destitution, it’s renowned as a city of culture, and it’s spawned numerous Nobel Laureates and award-winning writers, poets and other educated elites. Steep yourself in its daily contradictions as you stroll along the river via the Eden Garden promenade alongside the local cricket ground, head to the annual Book Fair – the most-attended in the world – in January, or take in a movie at the Kolkata Film Festival in November.

Best time to visit: October – February

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Mysore

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Strolling around the ancient Mysore Palace gardens

Far from an eyesore, Mysore is famously beautiful. Its must-see masterpiece is the UNESCO-listed palace, with its red-topped domes and kaleidoscopic stained glass interior – a must-visit on a Sunday when it’s lit from head to toe.

The architectural delights continue with the gothic St Philomena’s cathedral and the striking Lalit Mahal Palace, known for its British-style high teas. If you have a sweet tooth, try Mysore Pak, a local ghee-based dessert resembling fudge. Take in some art at the Mysore Sand Sculpture Museum and stroll the fountain-studded Brindavan Gardens. Festival lovers should mark September’s ten-day Dasara Festival in their calendars.

Best time to visit: September – January

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Ooty

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Tea leaf picking in Ooty, India

Up in the Blue Mountains of Southern India, Ooty’s the place to go if you need respite from the tropical heat. Think verdant hills smothered in eucalyptus trees and tea tree plantations – all reached by a quaint miniature train.

Explore the sprawling Ooty Botanic Gardens, home to May’s Summer Festival, and climb Doddabetta peak for some perfect photo-snapping action. Go horseback riding around the lake or deeper into the lush countryside. Gorge yourself on the area’s famed chocolates, and wash them back with locally grown tea. For something a little different, try the eerie Wax Museum.

Best time to visit: March – June

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Pondicherry

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A day at the beach in Pondicherry, one of the best places to visit in India

Listen closely, and you just might hear French being spoken here. “Pondy”, as it’s known, was under French rule until 1954, and its Gallic history is evident, especially on the eastern part of the city. There’s an artsy, bohemian vibe to this place, and it’s about as laid-back as India gets.

The aim of Pondy is to do as little as possible, so indulge your inner sloth. The Old Town area is all quaint townhouses, cobblestone streets, and French-inspired dining. If you’ve been missing your croissants, steak and red wine, get your fix here, and then head for the beach.

Best time to visit: October – February

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Udaipur

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Local Hindi women prepare for a ceremony in the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur

James Bond fans will recognize Udaipur from Octopussy. Bursting with all sorts of architectural delights and tranquil lakes, it’s the perfect setting for a romantic jaunt. color is high on the agenda here, with the annual “color festival” adding a little extra to the already brightly dressed outfits of the locals. Even the buildings get a bit bold – the Udiapur City Palace complex is resplendent with mirrored cupolas and glass mosaics.

The Green New Moon Fair festival, held around the city’s complex of artificial lakes, adds some additional flair in August. The Shilpgram Crafts Fair in November is the place to be to stock up local arts and crafts.

Best time to visit: August – January

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Munnar

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The elevated green hills of Kolukkumalai, a short uphill drive from Munnar town center

Leave the big cities behind and head for the hills. Munnar’s the former summer resort of India’s British contingent, and it’s a lush, tranquil setting filled with tea trees and cloud-topped mountains. Visit the gardens at the Floriculture center, enjoy a picnic at Mattupetti Dam, or test your lungs at Echo Point.

Eravikulum National Park is home to leopards, tigers and fearless mountain goats, while the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is filled with strange avian species. Rent a paddleboat, cycle through the countryside, and brave a rock climbing expedition up Munnar’s steep rock face.

Best time to visit: September – June

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Curious? Visit the momondo blog for more travel inspiration and the reasons why you need to visit India, plus the ways to accomplish your travel goals in 2016

Originally published

5th March 2016