The Best Places to Visit in India For First Timers

taj mahal is one of the best places to visit in india

Wondering Where To Go In India?

India is such a huge and diverse country with so many incredible and unique places to visit that it’s really difficult to decide where to go in India, especially if it’s your first trip. So thought I’d put together, what I feel, are the best places to visit in India for first-timers after years of traveling across this incredible country.

India offers a lifetime of adventures and one of the best things about India, and something that keeps travellers returning again and again, is the diversity of this incredible country. Each state is like a different country with different languages, cuisines, landscapes and cultures.

India has it all – from buzzing cities to ancient temples, majestic palaces and imposing forts, from the desert to the snow-capped peaks of the mighty Himalayas, to the tropical beaches and backwaters of Kerala – there’s SO much to see! So sometimes the hardest part of planning a trip to India is deciding which places in India to visit.

jaipur city palace peacock doorway

The Best Places to Visit in India For First Timers

There are simply hundreds of amazing places in India, but the one thing that remains the same wherever you choose is that you can be sure you will be in for an adventure, infused with the colour, vibrancy, spirit and warmth of the incredible Indian hospitality that makes traveling here so captivating and memorable.

After traversing this huge country many, many times over the years, I’ve put together this post with only the absolute best places to visit in India to make it easier for you! I’m not going to overwhelm you with hundreds of places because chances are you won’t have time to visit them all.

So I’m going to share just the best places to visit in India that are ideal for your first trip to India. They destinations will allow you to tick off some of the most famous sights and landmarks in India, whilst also giving you an exciting insight into India’s rich culture and heritage and being well set up for international visitors.

riding a rickshaw or tuk tuk while backpacking in india

Tips For Your First Time in India

Because the distances are huge and traveling in India takes time, unless you have time for a long trip then it’s a good idea to narrow it down and explore a couple of places in one region. India is a place not to rush around and trying to see all of India in a week will only get stressful and exhausting – less is always more.

One of the more comfortable ways to travel in India is by train but you’ll need to book your tickets well in advance. It’s also not too expensive to hire and car and driver in India which will make traveling here much easier and you’re less likely to get scammed. Do some research into common tourist scams as well to help you avoid them. And don’t forget to get your Indian visa before traveling too!

Generally the best time to visit India is between November and April when it’s dry and (relatively) cool in most of the country, but different regions have different climates so are best visiting at different times of the year. India is not always hot and dry as some people might think (and is sometimes unbearably hot too!)

As a solo female traveller, I’ve always found tropical South India to be more laidback and easier, cleaner and safer to travel in, so I recommend that you start there. Then move on to the famous places in North India once you’ve gotten over the initial culture shock. Here’s some ideas for places to go on your first trip to India.

Best Places to Visit in South India

Goa

Palolem beach, Goa

If you love beaches and would like an easy introduction to India then the small state of Goa is one of the best places to visit on your first trip to India.

Goa has so much more to offer than just beaches, it has a unique culture that is a fusion of Indian and Portuguese so you can explore historic whitewashed churches as well as Hindu temples, colourful hippie markets, waterfalls and spice plantations.

Goa is quite different from the rest of India. It’s one of the countries wealthiest and most Westernized states and is popular with both international and domestic tourists with no end of beach resorts and restaurants and bars.

North Goa is famous as India’s party capital while South Goa’s beaches offer a more peaceful escape with plenty of yoga retreats. And don’t skip the capital Panaji (Panjim) with it’s historic churches and colourful old latin quarter.

Hampi

If you’re visiting Goa and want to explore some ancient Indian culture head to nearby Hampi in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Hampi was the capital of the powerful Vijayanagar Empire and is mentioned in the Hindu epic the Ramayana.

As well as incredible Unesco listed temples and monuments, Hampi has a truly magical and other worldly landscape of boulders and paddy fields.. It’s one of my favourite places in India, spend a few days soaking up the magic.

Kerala

Houseboats on the Kerala backwaters
Houseboats on the Kerala backwaters

The tropical, laid back, luscious state of Kerala, known as ‘God’s own country’ in the far South of India is one of the most relaxing and peaceful places to visit in India so it’s perfect for first timers wanting an laid back experience.

Kerala is famous for its gorgeous, languid backwaters and they are one of the must see places in India. No visit to Kerala is complete without taking a cruise along the backwaters in traditional rice barge, known as a kettuvallam, that has been converted into a luxurious house boat.

Watching the local life along the river side carry on as has done for centuries under the gently swaying palm trees while eating a fragrant fish curry is just pure bliss.

Kerala also offers tropical jungles, wildlife sanctuaries, spice plantations, hill stations, rolling tea plantations and gorgeous beaches and a chance to experience a much more relaxed pace of Indian life.

As Kerala is one of the most laid back places to visit in India, it’s a complete contrast to busy North India so it makes the perfect relaxing break and a great, easy introduction to India.

Kerala is also the birthplace of Ayurveda and a great place to take a yoga and ayurveda retreat. You could ease yourself into the country by exploring relaxed Kerala first and then flying up to tour North India.

Mumbai (Bombay)

mumbai gateway of india taj hotel

Mumbai (often still referred to by it’s old name of Bombay) is India’s largest city, financial capital and home of the Bollywood film industry.

It’s a huge buzzing city with huge contrasts of rich and poor, it was a little overwhelming on my first day in India but I grew to love the city and believe it’s well worth visiting.

Many international flights land here and whilst the sights aren’t as famous as in the north there’s still plenty of interesting things to do in Mumbai. See the Gateway of India, take a boat ride to the ancient rock cut caves in Elephanta Island, and explore to Bandra for insight into modern India.

When my Mum visited me in Goa and wanted to see more of India I created a 2 week Goa – Hampi – Mumbai itinerary to give her both a beach holiday in Goa and a taste of ancient India in Hampi and modern India in Mumbai without having to travel massive distances. It think it worked great as a first India trip.

Best Places to Visit in North India

The Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur

Taj Mahal in Agra
Taj Mahal in Agra

The Golden Triangle consists of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, some of the most popular places to visit in India, This is partly because these cities are home to some of the most famous and iconic sights in the country and also because they are only a short distance apart which makes it a popular India travel route for short trips.

If you want to tick famous places off your bucket list and experience the full chaos of India then travel around the Golden Triangle. You can see the highlights in just 4 days but a week is better.

Start in India’s capital, Delhi, which is a fascinating and chaotic modern city with amazing food that is littered with important historical relics of empires past. Check out both Old Delhi and New Delhi and visit The Red Fort, Qutub Minar and India Gate.

Next, the city of Agra is home to the most beautiful building in the world – the unmissable Taj Mahal. The impressive Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri make spending a few days  in Agra worthwhile, but you can also see the Taj on a day trip from Delhi.

Finally ‘the pink city’ of Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and home to elaborate palaces, colourful bazaars and imposing forts. You can also visit Ranthambore National Park and try your luck spotting a tiger in the world as a small detour from the Golden Triangle route.

Whilst the Golden Triangle contains many of the most popular sights and places to visit in India these cities can be a little overwhelming for a first time visitor to India and have more than their fair share of scams and touts.

If it’s your first time in India you might enjoy it more by taking a Golden Triangle tour or hiring a private car and driver to avoid the hassle, ensure your trip goes smoothly and allow you to enjoy these spectacular sights.

Rajasthan

Sunset over the Lake palaces in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Sunset over the Lake palaces in Udaipur, Rajasthan

The desert state of Rajasthan is India at its most colourful and flamboyant. Rajasthan, the land of the Maharajas, is packed with history, ancient forts and extravagant palaces.

Rajasthan contains some of the best places to visit in India, filled with colourful cities, bazaars and sights. Jaipur, known as ‘The Pink City’ is more than just a gateway to this intoxicating state, Jaipur is home to the intricate Hawa Mahal, the majestic Amer Fort, the City Palace and much more.

The blue city of Jodhpur with its mighty Mehrangarh Fort is also a must see, as is Jaisalmer, where you can explore this massive ancient golden fort of a city and take a camel safari into the surrounding desert.

Also don’t miss the romantic city of Udaipur, a city of mesmerising lakes and places, the holy town of Pushkar, which is also home to the legendary camel festival, and don’t miss the chance to spot tigers at Ranthambore National Park.

You can combine the Golden Triangle with Rajasthan and see all the highlights in about 10 days – 2 weeks.

Varanasi

Along the ghats of the holy River Ganges in Varanasi
Along the ghats of the holy River Ganges in Varanasi

There are many spiritual places in India and if you want to understand more about India’s rich culture, spirituality and religion then Varanasi is an essential stop on any Indian adventure.

India has attracted spiritual seekers since time immemorial and the holiest places to visit in India, and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the whole world, is the ancient city of Varanasi situated on the banks of the holy Ganges river.

Visiting Varanasi is quite an experience as Hindus believe that dying here releases you from the cycle of death and rebirth and being cremated along the holy river is very auspicious for Hindus and a unique and unforgettable sight for tourists.

There is also a nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony that tourists are welcome to attend and don’t miss taking a boat ride along the holy river Ganges at sunrise when the whole place is bathed in a magical dewy glow and you can see all the rituals of life , and death, played out along the river bank.

Varanasi is another city that can be an assault on the senses but it’s an unmissable Indian experience and you can easily add on Varanasi to a Golden Triangle Tour.

The Himalayas

Colourful prayer flag and the snow capped Himalayas
Colourful prayer flags and the snow capped Himalayas

If you’re more of a mountain person and want to escape the heat there are still many places to visit in India that will delight you!

There’s really something special about the majestic Indian Himalayas, and it’s not just the cool air and stunning mountain vistas. You can also visit spectacularly colourful Buddhist monasteries and get a taste of the serene and beautiful Tibetan culture.

Some of the top mountain destinations in India include Rishikesh, a spiritual town on the banks of the Ganges famous for it’s yoga schools. I also love Himachal Pradesh where you’ll find places like Manali and Dharamshala, the home of the Dalai Lama.

Journey further up the mountains to other worldly Ladakh, home to ancient palaces, monasteries and surreal landscapes on the Tibetan plateau. Or head east to explore Darjeeling and Sikkim with its world famous tea plantations and stunning, colourful Tibetan monasteries.

There’s no end to the adventures you can have in the Himalayan mountains and it’s best to visit from April – June when most of the other places in India are too hot to enjoy.

Amritsar

Sunset at the gorgeous Golden Temple in Amritsar
Sunset at the gorgeous Golden Temple in Amritsar

Another of my favourite places in India that I can’t fail to mention is the incredible Golden Temple in Amritsar. It’s the most holy gurudwara for the Sikh community and, as well as being stunningly beautiful, has an amazing energy and atmosphere.

Amritsar is a short (by Indian standards) train journey from Delhi and could also being combined with a trip up to Dharamshala and around Himachal Pradesh.

Tips for Planning your India Itinerary

Now that you know some of the best places to visit in India you can start planning your India itinerary. Of course it would be hard to fit ALL of these places into one trip.

If you only have a short time to visit India then I recommend focusing on one region like Kerala or Rajasthan because the distances are long. There are plenty of domestic flights though which make traveling around India much quicker and makes it possible to see a bit of both north and south, for example Kerala and the Golden Triangle.

If you have a couple of months to travel India then you can see a lot – here’s my recommended ultimate India itinerary for those who want to see it all and have at least a month to explore.

With so much to see it would take a lifetime to see all this incredible country has to offer. This is why many people return again and again.

In Varanasi overlooking the river Ganges
In Varanasi overlooking the river Ganges

Whilst I believe that India is one of the most incredible destinations in the world, I’m also the first to admit that traveling in India can be a culture shock and a challenge for even the most experienced traveller so I put together a complete step by step guide to preparing for your first trip to India to help.

Don’t worry though, it does get easier once you become more accustomed to the country but, especially for first time visitors, if you want to experience all this amazing country has to offer without the hassle then joining a tour or hiring a private car and driver from a reputable tour company like Indian Holiday will help ensure your trip goes smoothly and is memorable for all the right reasons!

Have you been to India? What are your favourite places?

 

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Sunset over romantic Udaipur in Rajasthan

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32 comments

Sujith Samual August 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Great

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Тоня Кудина August 6, 2016 at 2:02 pm

The Golden Triangle, of course. Though i depends on the purpose of one’s visit. Many people are happy to spend two weeks in Goa, others go straight to Himalayas and so on.

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Global Gallivanting August 6, 2016 at 2:46 pm

Yes, you’re right, India offers something for everyone as there is so much diversity and so many places to see but Golden Triangle is def a must do – I put that as my No1 destinations 🙂

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Traveling Junkies August 6, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Nice article! Thank you for sharing!!

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Global Gallivanting August 6, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Thanks so much! Glad you liked it 🙂 Planning to visit India soon?

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Sam Notaras August 8, 2016 at 10:03 am

Indeed, India is a Incredible place to travel. So many religion, culture, people, languages, food. There is so much to learn from India because each and every state is a country by itself and each has its own cuisine. It just amazes me. I specially like Indian wedding styles & their festivals.

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Anna August 12, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for your comment Sam. Yes one of the best things about India is the amazing diversity – I could travel here for a lifetime and not get bored! Happy Travels 🙂

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Blank Canvas Voyage August 10, 2016 at 2:33 am

Only 5?! that must have beeb such a hard decision to make!

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Global Gallivanting August 11, 2016 at 8:34 am

Yes it was! So I cheated a little by doing regions as I can think of 100 places to visit in India! ???? What would your top 5 be?

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Faye August 11, 2016 at 8:07 am

Hi anna, I don’t have a plan to visit India so far. If ever I got a chance, I’ll let you know. Thanks for this interesting glimpse. I’ll make sure nothing to be missed out. India and Thailand are already on my bucket list.

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Anna August 12, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Hi Faye, thanks for stopping by, cool let me know if you visit India – there are lots of tips on the blog or you can email me any more questions!

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Lauren September 18, 2016 at 2:10 am

India is next on my to-visit list! Normally my trips are about 7-18 days. Do you think 2 weeks would be long enough to do two main stops? Love your blog!

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Anna September 19, 2016 at 11:57 pm

Hi Lauren, excited to hear you want to visit India. Yes, 2 weeks would be enough to visit some of the main stops, you could see the Golden Triangle and some of Rajasthan or Varanasi or the Golden Temple at Amritsar – theses are all quite easily accessible from Delhi. Or maybe instead after the Golden Triangle fly down and relax in Kerala or Goa – my advice would be not to rush to fit too much in though as it may end up being a more stressful trip then. Hope you have a great trip! 🙂

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Lucas Rodrigues November 10, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I will visit this places on my trip to india in a few days and write about it on my blog http://www.lucidlucas.com thank you for this great post! It’s really difficult to figure out where to go in such a big country.

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Chelsea November 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Hi! Love hearing all your advice on India. My boyfriend are looking to head to India in March for Holi and do the northern part of India since we only have around 20 days. I was wondering if you recommend booking things in advance before you go or if it is better to book accommodation and stuff like that once you arrive. Thanks again!

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Anil Sinha December 1, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Nice! All the destinations are perfect for holidays, among all ‘The Golden Triangle tour’ is the best one. I found the useful information from your blog. Thanks!

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Ashish Kumar December 20, 2017 at 8:36 am

Kerala Backwater trip will be a great experience if traveler want to travel South India, thanks for sharing

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Anna January 9, 2018 at 5:44 pm

Yes I’ve been on the backwaters many times! 🙂

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Andy January 13, 2018 at 11:20 am

The blog is really well written & nice to see the pictures of the blog

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Leni Alexander June 27, 2018 at 10:26 am

Thanks For Sharing Informative Blog……..Really all the places are perfect for Holidays in India…….Must Visit If You are in India………

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Trip Charlie September 12, 2018 at 4:35 pm

yes… india is one of the best country for travel… very beautiful places… can say proud to be an indian… and nice post….thankuu

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Akash Mirchandani March 4, 2019 at 8:23 am

Hey, Plz also write about Indian wildlife tourism in your next blog

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Saurabh March 5, 2019 at 8:06 am

Try to visit Kerala during ONAM festival. Awesome time to be there

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Anna April 21, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Yes, it would be great to celebrate the Onam festival in Kerala!

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Pradish March 9, 2019 at 1:31 am

October to March is the best time for Himalayan tour if you want to experience snow.After March snow start to disappear.

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Anna April 21, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Thanks for the tips 🙂

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Carlo Travels April 24, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Hello,
The blog posting is a perfect destination for in India is looking beautiful and given the information is fantastic.
Thank you for share us

Reply
Jogi May 18, 2019 at 9:45 am

Taj is great place to visit. Note that ticket rates are different for Indian & foreigners

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Hanumant February 13, 2021 at 6:50 pm

I am a frequent traveler. Every 2 months I planned my next visit to explore new places in India. I visited Rajasthan last month, Really explored the whole Rajasthan. I really overwhelmed by the writers like you publishing such good info. Before the start of my trip, I surf blogs online to find more details and info about the places. Good job, Thanx to all the writers for good content.

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Shivani March 15, 2022 at 2:16 pm

Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful info with us. It is so appreciated.

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Roshani Tomar October 31, 2022 at 10:14 am

Hello, Thank you for giving me this beautiful blog.

Reply
The Complete Step by Step Guide to Planning a Trip to India - Global Gallivanting Travel Blog November 20, 2022 at 12:36 pm

[…] Check out my suggestions for the perfect India Itinerary to get started and see the Top 5 places in India that you’d be crazy to miss. […]

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