Agra Travel Guide: The Best Places to Visit, Eat and Stay
Why you need to visit Agra
When people think of Agra they think of India’s most famous monument – the iconic Taj Mahal regarded as the most beautiful building in the world. However, it would be hard to find two places more juxtaposed, the city of Agra is nowhere near as beautiful or serene as the Taj but its still an essential stop on any Indian adventure and part of the famous Golden Triangle. I managed to get through the gauntlet of touts and souvenir sellers at the station and in the narrow streets outside the Taj Mahal relatively hassle free and I did not find Agra to be as horribly filthy or smelly as people had warned us, but maybe I’m just too acclimatised to India by now!
Many visitors understandably make a beeline for the Taj Mahal but there much more to see here. Agra can easily be visited on a day trip from Delhi, either as a tour or independently on the new fast train that takes only 1 hr 40 mins and by road its about 3/4 hours drive. But doing it this way is a long day and you will be rushed, you will miss some of the city’s other sights and won’t get to witness the amazing sunrise over the magnificent Taj.
Did you know that Agra is also the only city in the world that boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Monuments! It deserves much more than a quick day trip! I recommend spending 3 days in Agra.
Continue reading my Agra travel guide for the top things to do, places to stay and eat and more tips for visiting The Taj City.
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Top Things to Do in Agra
There are many wonderful things to do in Agra and there are some great tour companies within the city that can take you on a tour of the top sights. The best way to get a real feel for the city is to take a walk along The Mall Road, Taj Road or Fatehabad Road where you will find spice shops, leather shops, handicraft shops and plenty of food.
Taj Mahal: There isn’t any sight more famous than the Taj Mahal and you’d be crazy to travel India and not see India’s most recognized monument and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This famous monument to love and beautiful exercise in perfect symmetry really does live up to the hype as the most beautiful building in the world.
The Taj is actually a mausoleum, built in 1630 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died during child birth. It took 22 years and 20 000 workers to complete. The perfectly symmetrical monument is arguably the most beautiful monument in India and is one of the country’s most photographed sites. But photos, and words, just can’t do it justice, it is even more jaw-dropping in person. Read if I thought the Taj lived up to the hype.
The best time to see the Taj Mahal is at sunrise as the Taj ethereally reveals itself through the morning mist and then gradually changes colour as the light changes. The best place to get the perfect Taj photo is on the Diana Bench, where Diana, Princess of Wales was photographed in 1992. There’s also great views of the Taj from Agra Fort, Mehtab Bagh and the Taj Khema hotel.
Warning – The main dome on the Taj Mahal is currently undergoing restoration. There is scaffolding and a mud pack on the building. The work is being carried out in sections and is expected to last until April 2018.
Useful tips for visiting the Taj Mahal: The Taj is the most expensive monument in India – it’s 1,000 Rupees for foreigners and 40 Rupees for Indians. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket offices near the entry gates. There are three entry gates; West, South and East. The West is normally the busiest, the South is closest to Taj Ganj where many budget hotels are located. Opening and closing times vary depending on the time of sunrise and sunset, as well as the time of year. There are night viewings two days before, the night of and two days after a full moon, which is an incredible experience. No food, cigarettes, lights or tripods are allowed inside the Taj Mahal, and the frisking is heavy so just don’t bother bringing them. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
Agra Fort, another UNESCO world heritage monument, is an imposing red sandstone Mughal fort. Agra Fort is one of the finest Mughal forts in India and has an interesting history, first as a military fort constructed in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, later Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) transformed it into a palace before he was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and ended up being imprisoned in Agra Fort where he could only gaze out over the river to see the Taj Mahal glistening under the sunshine in the distance.
Agra Fort is similar to the more famous Red Fort in Delhi, but I actually enjoyed visiting Agra Fort more as it had more nooks and crannies to explore from a mish mash of different eras and is definitely worth a visit. visit and there is also an evening sound and light show that recreates the Fort’s history.
Mehtab Bagh – This 25 acre Mughal botanical garden complex on the opposite side of the river from the Taj Mahal offers good views of the monument, minus the crowds. The botanical gardens are open from sunrise to sunset and are perfectly aligned with the famous monument. It was the last garden built by the Mughal Empire and Shah Jahan himself saw it as an ideal place to view his beloved Taj Mahal. Entrance is 200 rupees for foreigners and 15 rupees for Indians. You can also get a rowing boat from near here.
Taj Nature Walk – There is also a nice park and 9 km nature walk that you can take under the cover of the forest to get good views of the Taj from different mounds in the park and see various flora and fauna. It starts 500 meters away from the Eastern Gate of Taj Mahal and costs 50 Rupees for foreigners.
Kinari Bazaar – Right in front of the Taj Mahal are narrow streets and a maze of lanes that are filled with colour where you will find fabrics, jewellery, clothing, shoes and spices, as well as stalls selling typical Indian snacks. I felt like I was surrounded by millions of people, and there was still room for the cows and even the odd elephant. Walking around this area is definitely an experience that will open up all of your senses.
Akbar’s Tomb – The resting place of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great is in the Sikandra area of Agra along the Delhi-Agra Highway. The red sandstone tomb is beautifully decorated with carved rabbits, deer and langurs. There are also lovely inlaid panels with floral, geometric and calligraphic designs. These were later copied in Itmad-Ud-Daulah, which then inspired the design of the Taj Mahal.
Chini ka Rauza – The tomb of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah sits on the eastern bank of the Yamuna River and is known for its incredible glazed tile work. It is a bit off-the-beaten-path and I found that many of the local children were fascinated by me when I visited. The tomb has an unusual structure compared to the others in the city, which is a great reason to explore it!
Itmad-Ud-Daulah – Often called the baby Taj, the tomb of Ghias-ud-Din Beg was built by his daughter; Empress Nur Jehan. The marble mausoleum is also located along the banks of the river and consists of numerous outbuildings and gardens.
Watch a Kalakriti Show – The story of making of Taj Mahal is performed in a dance drama every evening at the Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center, not far from Taj Mahal. It’s a multi-lingual show with a huge replica of Taj Mahal lit up with multi color lights.
Visit a village – A community based tourism initiative called the Mughal Heritage Walk has been set up to improve villagers lives by making an income from tourism. In Kachhpura village you can visit a number of relatively unknown Mughal era monuments and see the village communities as well as get a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal. You can also visit Korai Village, a tribal village on the way to Fatehpur Sikri, whose inhabitants were the keepers of dancing sloth bears
If you do want to Agra as a day trip from Delhi then if you are willing to leave at 2.30am this private tour gets you to Taj in time for the magical sunrise before having breakfast at a fancy hotel and seeing Agra Fort. If you don’t want to get up so early this private tour takes you from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj and Agra Fort.
Day Trips from Agra
You can also do some interesting day trips from Agra.
Fatephur Sikri – It’s an easy day trip from Agra to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fatephur Sikri, an 16th century city that was once the capital of the Mughal Empire. It was abandoned after only 15 years because of the insufficient supply of drinking water there. Fatephur Sikri is home to one of the largest mosques in all of India and is one of the country’s best preserved examples of Mughal architecture.
The impressive Buland Darwaza at the entrance of the city is made of red sandstone, and ornamented with black and white marble. Also check out Jama Masjid, which was one of the first buildings to be built in the complex, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti that sits within its courtyard. There’s also the five-storied Panch Mahal and Mariam-uz-Zamani’s Palace, which was home to Akbar’s Rajput wives.
Tickets cost 510 Rupees for foreigners and 40 Rupees for Indians. It takes about an hour to get there on the local bus or you can take a day tour. You can also visit the World Heritage-listed Keoladeo National Park (formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary). This private day tour goes to both Fatephur Sikri, the bird sanctuary and also visits a rural village.
Mathura and Vrindavan – Explore the holy side of Agra by taking a day trip to the holy cities of Mathura, which is said to be the birthplace of Krishna and Vrindavan. Mathura is one of the seven Hindu holy cities and one of the heritage cities chosen for National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY). Visit the sacred Keshav Dev Temple and Vishram Ghat, where it is said that Krishnu rested after killing Kansa. Mathura’s twin-town of Vrindavan is where Krishna spent his youth and also has lots of temples to visit, including Prem Mandir. There are also numerous temples dedicated to Radha Ramana.
Where to Stay in Agra
There is, no doubt, a need to offer tips for places to stay in Agra. There are lots of budget accommodations in Taj Ganj, which, although a little grotty, is close to the Taj Mahal. There are also budget options in Rakabganj not too far from Agra Fort. The Fatehabad Road area is a little bit more upmarket with some comfortable mid-range accommodations.
Save: The Best Backpacker Hostels and Budget Guesthouses in Agra
Moustache Hostel – is located in a really cool building that looks like a palace. It offers clean, uniquely designed dorms and private rooms that are excellent value for money considering its great location just 2kms from the Taj Mahal. It is a popular hostel with a nice rooftop area, a restaurant and plenty of colourful communal areas perfect for socialising with other backpackers. The staff are friendly and helpful and there’s plenty of fun activities on offer too. Click here for prices and to book.
Zostel Hostel – is another good backpacker hostel option. A clean, cheerful hostel in the heart of the Taj Ganj area near the East Gate with air-conditioned private rooms and 4-bed dorms. Some rooms have a private balcony with views of the city or the hostel’s gardens. There is a common room for meeting other guests to tour around the city with. There’s also a pretty good restaurant and garden. Click here for prices and to book.
Hotel Sheela – A clean, comfortable and popular budget hotel with 22 fan and air-conditioned rooms. The location is excellent, its just 300 meters from the Taj’s East Gate but in a quiet area. There’s a peaceful and pretty decent garden restaurant and the staff are super friendly. Click here for prices and to book.
Hotel Kamal – Another clean, comfortable guesthouse with 16 private rooms that sits just 5 mins walk from the Taj Mahal’s East Gate. Rooms have a private bathroom, cable TV and air-conditioning, staff are good and the highlight is the rooftop restaurant which offers magnificent views of the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Click here for prices and to book.
Aman Homestay – For a more personalised experience in Agra it is well-worth the little bit more it will cost to stay at this lovely homestay situated in a quiet area but still within easy reach of the Taj . Rooms are plush, spacious and comfortable with satellite TV and large terraces. The best feature of this accommodation is the family that runs it, the fantastic vegetarian meals and the great homely atmosphere. Click here to check prices and book.
Hotel Castle View – A cosy, mid-range hotel that sits on a quiet street off of Fatehabad Road. All rooms are spacious and nicely decorated and have flat-screen TV, private ensuite bathrooms and coffee/tea making facilities. The staff are humble and helpful. Click here for prices and to book.
Splurge: The Best Luxury and Heritage Hotels in Agra
If you want to splash out on a luxury hotel Agra is a great place to do this with romantic characterful heritage hotels with views of the Taj Mahal. My favourite two are:
Grand Imperial Heritage Hotel – A heritage hotel right in the city centre where all 30 rooms are named after the great Kings, Queens and Princes of India. You will actually feel like royalty while you fall asleep in a four-poster bed and wake up looking out at the swimming pool or the manicured gardens. There is a fantastic terrace restaurant to enjoy a meal and the views of the Taj Mahal. Check reviews here and click here to check prices and to book.
Oberoi Amarvillas – If you want a memorable and romantic place to stay that matches the grandeur of the Taj then look no further than this stunning fort like luxury hotel. It has exceptional views of the Taj Mahal to mirror the exceptional service and grandeur décor. Each room is expertly decorated with wood floors, a king size bed and a floor-to-ceiling window that has fantastic views of the famous monument. Guests can dine under the stars or on their private terrace, as well as at one of two restaurants. There is a lounge that serves tea and a bar for sipping on a single malt, a glass of wine or a signature cocktail. The grounds are just as amazing as the rest of this property.Check reviews here and click here for prices and to book.
Where to Eat and Drink in Agra
Agra is known for its chaat, petha and dal moth and vendors offer these cheap local snacks at every turn. There is not much in terms of fine dining in Agra apart from in a few of the extremely upmarket hotels, though there are some good restaurants in the Sadar Bazar area.
Many guesthouses in the Taj Ganj area have rooftop restaurants with views of the Taj Mahal and, although there isn’t really any nightlife in Agra, most touristy restaurants will be happy to sell you a beer, often under the table or in a tea cup as many budget places don’t have a license. You can also head to one of the more upscale hotels to have a drink.
Some of the best restaurants in Agra include:
Saniya Palace Hotel – One of the best rooftop restaurants with fantastic views of the Taj Mahal, good food and a relaxing atmosphere.
Joneys Place – Great spot for quality breakfast in Taj Ganj. It is a small restaurant but the masala chai and lassi are excellent.
Sheroes Hangout – An initiative by the Stop Attacks Acid campaign. The menu is simple but food is good. The café is run by survivors of acid attacks and gives them the confidence to carry on. There’s also a small library and shop.
Café Coffee Day – Great escape from the heat near the Taj Mahal. The air-conditioned café serves coffee, tea, ice cream, cake, burgers and sandwiches.
Treat Restaurant – A popular place for travellers on a tight budget. It is a small place but the breakfast and thali is pretty good.
Bamboo Café – A popular place with a very large menu that serves a great breakfast and top quality curries from all over the country.
Yash café – Chilled out café with wicker chairs and good breakfast thalis. On the first floor above shops close to the Taj Mahal.
Lakshmi villas – Great spot for affordable, good south Indian cuisine. Décor is bare and staff are not the best but if you are craving south Indian cuisine this is the place to go.
Esphahan – The finest restaurant in Agra is located in Oberoi Amarvillas. The fine dining menu is said to have recipes that were passed down from the Mughal emperors’ kitchens and includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. There are two sittings (6:30pm and 9:30pm) and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to dine here.
Peshawri – Another fine dining option that is known for its rich flavours and beautiful atmosphere found in the ITC Mughal hotel. It has an award-winning menu with prices to match and is a good choice if you like Mughlai cuisine.
How to get to Agra
Agra is well connected to other nearby cites in North India. You can take a car here in about 3 hours but the best way to go is by train. There are two train stations in Agra, the main one is Agra Cantonment. Express trains run daily from New Delhi and Hazrat Nizamuddin railway stations in Delhi to Agra, the fastest takes just 1 hour 40 mins.
You can also reach Agra by bus, regular buses go to Delhi and take 4-5 hours. There are also overnight buses to Jaipur, Hardiwar, Gorakhpur and Lucknow.
There are auto rickshaws available outside of the train and bus stations that will take you to Taj Ganj for about 120 Rupees. A cycle rickshaw will be around 50 Rupees. Walking is the best way to get around, but apart from that, the best way to get around the city is by cycle or auto rickshaw but be sure to agree on a price before you head off.
Head to Varanasi the holiest city in India
Visit the forts and palaces of Rajasthan’s Capital Jaipur, part of the Golden Triangle.
See the erotic carvings of the temples of Khajuraho