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India is a huge country so when it comes to planning your first trip to India you may be lost as to where to go in India and where to start with planning your trip to India!
Although there are so many places to visit in India, not all of them are places for tourists to visit in India, a lot of Indian cities and towns do not have tourism infrastructure so it’s good to know exactly where to travel as a tourist in India!
Based on that and my backpacking India travels, here are 24 places to visit in India on your first trip, perfect for first-time travellers to India because they are places set up for tourism in India. This list gives you a mix of cities, mountain towns and beach villages so you can work out what you want from a trip to India and plan your India itinerary accordingly.
If you need help planning your itinerary for India, check out these posts of mine:
Best Tourist Places in India.
Best Places to Visit in North India.
Mumbai is such a different city to other cities in Northern India, it’s much more cosmopolitan and modern and it has a great vibe around it, not to mention that it’s really safe, so it’s perfect for first-time travellers to India. In fact, I really recommend that you start your trip in Mumbai rather than Delhi like I did, especially if you are a bit worried about visiting India as it is not as intense.
Things to do in Mumbai:
In Mumbai you can visit the Gateway of India, get an insight into Asia’s biggest slum, enjoy the sunset on the beach with locals, go on a street food tour, eat in the famous Shantaram Cafe, and you can do all of this by using Uber which is a very popular and easy way of getting around Mumbai, or by taking the local train which is easy to use and very cheap.
Mumbai Travel Tip: I’m not saying don’t get a train in rush hour but what I will say is that if you do, be prepared to get sweaty and have a local experience!
If you need a break from the big cities of Northern India, Jaisalmer is a good place to visit for backpackers in India and a unique place to visit in India due to it being located in the Thar Desert and Jaisalmer Fort is not only open for visitors but the Old City is located inside the Fort!
Things to do in Jaisalmer:
Aside from exploring Jaisalmer Fort, the best thing about visiting Jaisalmer is the Desert Tours which give you the chance to explore the Thar Desert, sleep under the stars and wake up to a Desert sunrise.
Jaisalmer Travel Tip: If you want to go out on a camel you can (just be sure to question and check they are being looked after well), but if a camel tour in Jaisalmer isn’t for you, you can still do a 4X4 desert trip which will get you into the desert a bit quicker and will be less painful!
Pushkar is a backpackers dream, it’s small and chilled with good healthy international food, juice shops, really good shopping for cheap prices, many different places to watch the sunset and although it is very popular with Indian Tourists as a holiday destination in India because of the Holy Lake and its Temples, it’s a place that you will definitely bump into other travellers in.
Things to do in Pushkar:
There are so many sunset spots in Pushkar you’ll need to be there for 3 nights to see them all. Make sure you get blessed by Pushkar Lake but don’t get ripped off. Enjoy the healthy food, do some yoga and meditation, and if you like to smoke some special stuff, you’ll likely find it here in Pushkar!
Pushkar Travel Tip: Pushkar is a purely Vegetarian town with no eggs and no alcohol either which some people won’t mind but others will!
Related Post: 14 Things To Do in Pushkar.
Can you go to India and not see the Taj Mahal? Well I have written about that in more detail in this post, but to give you a quick answer – no, I don’t think you can unless it’s seriously out of your way (like you’re travelling to South India and not North India) but if you’re visiting places in Northern India, you need to visit Agra!
Agra is only a 2 hour journey away from Delhi by train so it’s really accessible and if you did only want to spend 1 day in Agra or do a day visit from Delhi to Agra logistically it is possible but it will be a long day so I suggest staying at least one night in Agra.
Things to do in Agra:
Of course, seeing the Taj Mahal is the top tourist attraction in Agra but there are more things to do in Agra like seeing Agra Fort, the Baby Taj and there are a few cool sunset spots in Agra too!
Agra Travel Tip: The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday’s so do not plan your trip there then!
A city like no other in the world, Varanasi is the city where life meets death, where death is celebrated, where bodies are burnt in full view of people to see and to top it off it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the best places to visit in North India.
Things to do in Varanasi:
Make sure you take a sunrise boat trip out on the Ganges and witness both the morning and evening aarti on the side of the river Ganges, and a visit to the burning ghat is a must-do in Varanasi. Varanasi is not all old, there are some nice cafes in Varanasi, especially near Assi Ghat which is also a good place to stay, and a very famous Lassi Shop – Blue Lassi Shop.
Varanasi Travel Tip: If you can, try to go to Varanasi at the end of your India trip or visit once you have been to a few other places in India because it can be quite intense it will be even more so if Varanasi is one of the first or second places in India you visit.
Related Post:2 Day Itinerary for Varanasi | Things To Do!
Another one of the best places for backpackers to visit in India is Rishikesh because it’s a backpackers dream! Rishikesh is the home of yoga with yoga being offered in many places during the morning and evening, and it has has been famous for travellers since The Beatles stayed in an Ashram there in the ’60s, which you can still visit today!
Things to do in Rishikesh:
Rishikesh is full of amazing places to eat offering Indian Food as well as high-quality international food and plenty of Vegetarian and Vegan options.
It has Waterfalls, Temples, the River Ganges to walk along, massage places, and Rishikesh offers an array of courses like Yoga, Chakra Healing, Tantra and if you fancy taking yourself off to an Ashram for a week, Rishikesh has plenty of Ashrams in and around it.
Rishikesh Travel Tip: Days roll into each other in Rishikesh, especially if you fancy doing a course, some serious yoga, or serious chilling, so be sure to plan a good few days there.
I order to see the state and the rich culture of Punjab, and try the food of Punjab, you need to visit Amritsar.
Things to do in Amritsar:
The Golden Temple is the most popular tourist attraction in Amritsar because it’s the most important Sikh Temple in India and in the world, this along with going to the Wagah Border which is the border of India and Pakistan. Punjab is known for its food so join a street food tour too and learn some history about the India and Pakistan divide at the partition museum.
Amritsar Travel Tip: 2 days maximum is enough time to spend in Amritsar.
This is a good place to visit in the Indian Countryside if you need some quietness and want to see a different side to India to the cities! You will need to hire a car and a driver to get here but it’s easy to get to as it’s between Jodphur and Udaipur and it’s the place to visit in India for quietness!
Things to do in Kumbhalgarh:
Going on a jeep safari is the most popular thing to do in Kumbhalgarh, I saw a bear on my safari! Kumbhalgarh has the biggest Fort in India and its wall is the second-longest in the world with the Great Wall of China beating it! There are many resorts to stay in here, I stayed in the Shahpura Kumbhal Resort which I recommend, some are luxury so if you want a more luxurious break in India, this is the place to do it, but there are also more budget-friendly places.
Kumbhalgarh Travel Tip: Hire a driver to take you there rather than relying on the public bus.
Related Post: Shahpura Kumbhal Villas in Kumbhalgarh Review!
Calcutta or Kolkata as it’s also known as is not visited by most backpackers on their trip around India but it is a really unique Indian city rich in History and Culture. Plus, if you are coming from South East Asia or going to South East Asia after India, because of its Eastern Location in India, it’s a good place to fly out of India from.
Things to do in Calcutta:
Calcutta is a city that feels like it’s been held back in time and the best way to see Calcutta is to appreciate its architecture at places like Victoria Memorial, the Indian Museum and Dakshineswar And Kalighat Temple. Another popular thing to do close to Calcutta is to visit the Sundarban National Park which sits in Bangladesh mainly but also slightly in India.
Calcutta Travel Tip: If you fancy travelling to North East India which has a lot to offer and you want to do something more adventurous on your first trip to India, Calcutta is a good base to do this from.
Located at the base of the Himalayan mountains in the state of Himachal Pradesh is the area called Dharamshala, and this is a must-visit for backpackers to India because it’s a total haven from the big main cities in India like Agra, Varanasi, Delhi, and the big cities of Rajasthan like Jaipur and Jodphur that are most visited by travellers to India.
Things to do in Dharamshala:
Dharamshala, McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot and Bhagsu make up the Dharamshala area. Dharamkot is quite a hippy area full of yoga, healing and ecstatic dance classes and a good place to stay if you like a super chilled out vibe.
Mcleod Ganj is a good place to base yourself too as the town is small but there are plenty of restaurants and places to stay there, it has a big Tibetan Influence and is now the home of the Dali Lama. In Mcleod Ganj, you can visit the Dalai Lama Temple and Tibet Museum and you may even see the Dalai Lama like I did if you’re lucky! Being up here feels like you’re in a totally different Country!
Dharamshala Travel Tip: Dharamshala gets cold in the winter so you want to visit from April to October. Although note that it also gets the monsoon season in the summer months!
If you want adventure sports in India, Manali is another one of the popular places to visit in Himachal Pradesh and is perfect for travellers with a hippy feel to it, similar to Dharamkot.
Things to do in Manali:
Manali is the place to go hiking in India, paragliding and white water rafting, but it’s also a place to chill. There are a lot of cafes in Manali Old Town which is where I recommend staying instead of the new town. Manali is a very popular place to visit in India for Israeli travellers because it’s so relaxed.. and you can smoke there too!
Manali Travel Tip: Manali also gets very cold in the winter and gets a lot of snow. You can visit Manali in winter and take part in the snow activities which are popular with Indian tourists but be prepared for snow!
Jaipur is the Pink City of India and is part of the Golden Triangle (along with Agra and Delhi). Jaipur is truly rich in Rajasthan History and Culture and therefore it is pretty much always on the first time to India itinerary.
Things to do in Jaipur:
There are so many places to visit in Jaipur and things to do in Jaipur from Forts, Palaces, Iconic Buildings and Temples, not to mention all of the amazing Street Food that is on offer and I recommend doing a street food tour in Jaipur.
There is a cinema in Jaipur called the Rajmandir and it’s such a good place to visit as a tourist because it’s a beautiful art deco building and Indian people watching films is so funny! They shout and laugh loud and it makes for a real unique and local experience in India!
Jaipur Travel Tip: In my opinion, the best way to enjoy Jaipur is not trying to do it all!
Related Post: The Best Way To See Jaipur – The Pink City of India!
The Pink City of Jaipur and the Blue City of Jodhpur often get the spotlight of the best places to visit in Rajasthan, especially Jaipur because it’s part of the Golden Triangle (along with Delhi and Agra), and although they are good cities to visit in Northern India, they are very big and busy!
Udaipur on the other hand, also known as the White City of India, is much smaller and the centre of the tourist area in Udaipur is totally walkable which is the dream after being in so many Indian Cities where taxis and tuk-tuks are needed to get around because the traffic is so crazy!
Things to do in Udaipur:
In Udaipur, you can visit Temples and the famous Palace which is very impressive but you can also take courses in Yoga, Art, Cooking and so much more which makes it a great place to relax for a few days and learn something new.
Udaipur Travel Tip: There are 2 sides to Udaipur where you can stay, the area that appears to be more on an island is the quieter side than the main side.
Jodhpur is the Blue City of India and one of the top tourist attractions in Rajasthan. It’s another city that is full of culture but it is also very big and busy!
Things to do in Jodhpur:
Mehrangarh Fort is the star of Jodphur as it’s located up on a hill and the city is based around it. Mehrangarh Fort is worth going inside and visiting but the best way to see it is to go on the Flying Fox zipline in Mehrangarh Fort.
Because Jodphur is so busy I suggest making full use of the rooftop restaurants to enjoy the city views and quietness from.
Jodphur Travel Tip: Be warned now that not all of the city is blue, it’s mainly the old part of the city that is blue which is only small and quite dirty, so adjust expectations of a total blue city now!
Salawas is a village in Rajasthan, not too far from Jodphur and I recommend going here because you’ll get the best homestay experience in India by staying at Chhotaram Prajapat Homestay. I stayed here and loved it, I’ve recommended it to 3 sets of friends and they loved it too.
Things to do in Salawas:
As well as experiencing village life in the homestay the family can take you out on a village safari to see different animals, more villages and some handicraft factories. There’s also a really good sunset spot nearby. The main reason for visiting the homestay though is to totally chill out!!
Homestay Travel Tip: Make sure you book in advance as they do book up quickly.
You really cannot visit North India and not visit Delhi. I suggest not visiting Delhi as your first place in India if you can or at least if you are worried about visiting India and even more so if you’re alone or haven’t been to many places in Asia before.
Delhi is huge, it’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s hot most of the year, but it does offer tourists to India a lot!
Things to do in Delhi:
Delhi is full of famous and iconic monuments, temples and forts like the Red Fort, India Gate, Qutub Minar, the Lotus Temple and Humayan’s Tomb. Aside from seeing these iconic places in Delhi, I really recommend you join a tour like a street food tour or a cycling tour, these are on offer in Old Delhi and they are the best way to see Old Delhi as being with a guide makes all of the difference and will help you enjoy Delhi!
I also recommend trying to see South Delhi which is much more residential and chilled!
Delhi Travel Tip: You will probably know of Old Delhi and images you have in your mind of Delhi are probably from Old Delhi but it’s important to know that there’s much more to Delhi than Old Delhi!
Here is my video with Delhi Travel Tips to help prepare you if you land in Delhi:
Best Places to Visit in South India.
A lot of tourists visit India just to visit Goa and I don’t blame them! Goa has some of the best beaches in the world and it’s seriously chill, and cheap compared to many other beach destinations in Asia.
Things to do in Goa:
Goa is a state in India and there are so many Goa Beaches so the best way to see Goa is to beach hop spending a few days in a different beach village and town working your way up and down the coast! Yoga is also very popular in Goa, I did a one week yoga holiday which I loved and it’s a good place to meet fellow travellers.
If you like to party, Goa is the best place to party in India (and only place, really!), but not all of the beaches are party places in India!
Goa Travel Tip: Goa is huge with so many beaches! You can’t just visit Goa, so do some research into the best beaches in Goa first and work out which ones suit you best as some are best for families, to party, for Brits, for Russians, etc.
Related Post: The Best Beaches in Goa for Foreigners.
If you want to see the famous Backwaters of Kerala, and you should if you’re visiting South India and Kerala, then you have to visit Alleppey to see them!
Things to do in Alleppey:
To be honest there are not many things to do in Alleppey aside from seeing the backwaters of Kerala in one day or one night too if you want to get a houseboat. I recommend staying here for one night and one day maximum.
Alleppey Travel Tip: There are many different types of boat trips from houseboats to kayaking trips so make sure you look into the different options to get the best one for you and our budget.
Related Post: Cruising the Backwaters of Kerala from Alleppey!
Munnar is home of the tea plantations in Kerala and is another must-visit place in South India and a popular place to visit in Kerala because of its tea, mountains and quietness.
Things to do in Munnar:
Hiking in Munnar is the best way to see the tea plantations, you can also visit the tea museum. Keep a lookout for wild elephants here too as they can often be seen close to the roads around Munnar.
Munnar Travel Tip: I suggest staying in accommodation in the countryside and not in the town of Munnar as it’s not a particularly nice town for tourism in South India.
Related Post: Hiking in the Tea Plantations of Munnar!
If you want to see wild Elephants in India, this is the place to come because in Thekkady National Park there are Elephants roaming around.
Things to do in Thekkady:
Trekking is generally what you come here to do. I did a big day trek to see Elephants and although it’s not guaranteed you’ll see them, I did, and it is very likely! There are easier tours that include bamboo rafting as well as a bit of trekking to see the Elephants too.
Thekkady Travel Tip: You only need 1-2 days here maximum as there isn’t much else to do.
Varkala is a super chill beach town in Kerala and it’s pretty similar to the beaches and beach towns of Goa.
Things to do in Varkala:
Surfing is popular here so if you want to Surf in India, Varkala is the place to visit. Yoga is also very popular and aside from Rishkiesk in North India it’s the place to visit in India for Yoga alongside Goa in South India.
Varkala has some great cafes with good food and nice shops and generally is a place you visit to chill.
Varkala Travel Tip: Stay in accommodation close to the cliffside to be in a good location as Varkala has a local town too but this isn’t where tourists visit.
Madurai is not usually on many travellers South India itinerary and that’s why I really liked it. It’s a city rich in culture and the people of Tamil Nadu are very proud of their city.
Things to do in Madurai:
The Sri Meenakshi Temple is the focal point of the city, this Temple is a big and colourful Hindu Temple in the Tamil Nadu style. The best way to see and understand Tamil Nadu is to go on a walking tour with Story Trails which is what I did and I learned so much about the city and about Hinduism.
Madurai Travel Tip: I found there wasn’t much accommodation in Madurai but don’t let that put you off visiting, I did find a good hostel there and you only need 1-2 days.
Related Post: What To Do in Madurai, Tamil Nadu in Just One Day!
This former French Colonial Town located on the East Coast of India should be on your South India itinerary as it’s a totally unique place to visit in India. The architecture and food is like nowhere else in India and you often have to question where you are!
Things to do in Pondicherry:
The idea of visiting Pondicherry is to take it slow. I’d recommend lots of cafe breaks enjoying the European food on offer which is a treat once you’ve been in India for a while. I also took a Story Trails walking tour here which I enjoyed to learn more about the history of how the French and British influenced this city.
The other popular thing to do in Pondicherry is to visit Auroville which is an experimental community and township. You can visit on a day trip but if you are really interested in this place you can stay for a few days too!
Pondicherry Travel Tip: White Town is the tourist part of Pondicherry to stay in so make sure you stay here, not the local town.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
In neither North or South India and closer to Thailand are the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that are actually part of India!
If you want to see some beaches that will rival those of the Maldives, fly into Port Blair and check out the Andaman Islands! Flights run mainly from Chennai and Calcutta to Port Blair.
Andaman Islands Travel Tip: I have heard that the wifi here isn’t very good so there is more accommodation on the islands than there is online!
Now you know where to go in India, have a look at my other posts to help you plan your trip!