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Where to Go in India for the First Time

Excellent food, history, incomparable culture, natural beauty, diverse architecture, affordable accommodation, and did we mention food? India is a destination that truly has it all. Visiting India for the first time? We’ve broken it down for you with this list of top experiences to have when travelling to India, whether it be solo or in a group. From north to south, here’s where to go in India.

1. Varanasi and the Ganges River

Where to Go in India for the First Time

Let the spiritual part of your India trip begin in the northern city of Varanasi. This is a spiritual centre for Hinduism, home to the Ganges River and the nearby Dashashwamedh Ghat (ghats are the Hindi term for steps leading to the river). Many ghats are important ritual centres in northern Indian culture and tourists can even participate in their daily prayer ceremonies.

If you want to dive in a little more, pay a visit to the Dhamek Stupa, which is a beautiful holy Buddhist site. Make sure you try some litti chokha sometime during your stay here; these delicious little savoury oven-baked cakes are one of the most famous foods in Varanasi.

2. Visit the Taj Majal

Where to Go in India for the First Time

Located about 400 km west of the capital city of New Delhi is Agra, where you’ll find the wonder of the world, none other than the (dare we say it) iconic Taj Mahal. After you’ve taken your selfies at what’s probably the most popular attraction in India, there’s plenty more to see in Agra. The city is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites so spend a few days to see them all when you’re travelling in India. Other notable sights in Agra include the Agra Fort, the Itmad-ud-Daula and the Tomb of Akbar the Great.

3. Head to the beaches in the south: Varkala

colourful wooden boats by the shore in kerala, india
Where to Go in India for the First Time

The west coast of India along the Arabian Sea is home to the most beautiful beaches in the country, or even continent of Asia, depending on your tastes. Head south of Goa to the Indian state of Kerala, where plenty of natural wonders await, and consider spending some time in the popular beach town of Varkala for a relaxing part of your India trip.

One unique thing about this coastline of India is the red stone cliffs that the town of Varkala rests on. You’ll find a range of accommodation here from resorts to a laid-back backpacker vibe, and you’ll see why people fall in love with this part of India. This region is also a popular spot to do your yoga certificate, so who knows, you might end up staying a while.

Want to study yoga abroad? Here’s where you should go.

4. Sightsee and sample street food in New Delhi

a plate of dahl with naan and rice in New Delhi
Where to Go in India for the First Time

Chaotic? Yes. Not-to-be-missed? Also yes. New Delhi is filled with historic monuments like the Qutab Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, the Lodhi Gardens, and more. For an unforgettable experience, explore the neighbourhood of Old Delhi by rickshaw. Head to the Red Fort for sunset and the nearby market and get lost in a sea of street food and souvenir stalls. This is Delhi, after all.

Spending a few days in New Delhi? See our New Delhi travel guide for some insiders tips on where to go and what to see in New Delhi.

5. Go hiking in the north

Head northeast to Jammu and Kashmir to Ladakh and you’ll be transported to another world (or at least think you’ve landed in Nepal or Tibet). Get lost in this part of the Himalayas (with a bunch of other trekkers) while exploring the Buddhist monasteries and local markets along the way. There’s only a short season for hiking so it’s a very popular spot, as this region and the roads for tourists will be closed during the winter months (around October-March).

A much more under-the-radar option is the Parvati Valley further south, so consider a hike here if you’re looking for an alternative. This northern India region is more remote, so plan your hikes during the daytime only, and it might be a good idea to hire a local guide or go with a tour group.

6. Hidden gem destination: Pondicherry

men walking out of Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry, India
Where to Go in India for the First Time

Take a break from the hustle and bustle and relax and admire the well-preserved French colonial architecture in Pondicherry, also known as Puducherry. This charming town on the east coast just south of Chennai has a little something for everyone. It was once India’s largest French colony, and you’ll definitely see why once you start exploring the boutique shops and colonial buildings still standing here. You’re bound to find some locals who still speak French!

Pondicherry is part of the South India state of Tamil Nadu, which is reportedly one of the safest regions in India for solo female travellers, where women experience less harassment and hassle. Pondicherry has everything from Buddhist temples, Catholic churches, even an ashram. If you’re looking for some outdoor experiences, walk along the seaside promenade at Promenade Beach.

Best Time to Book Your Trip to India

Wondering when is the best time to book your trip? The best time to book a flight to New Delhi is during the month of August, and the best time to book flights to Mumbai is in January. There are flights from Toronto to India and direct flights from Vancouver to India. If you want to save money and stay on top of the latest flight deals, travel tips, and news in the travel world, Skyscanner Canada’s newsletter has everything for you. Subscribe and you’ll be the first to know about the best flight prices going everywhere. Happy travels!