Places to visit in India for first comers

India for Beginners: Places to Visit & advised routes

My friends know I have been living in India for two years. Whoever of them travels there, they ask different tips together with the question: “where to go and what places to visit in India?” Initially, this question was quite challenging for me. Since there are plenty of tourist places in India, I didn’t have the “optimal destination” for everyone. India is so diverse with many personal experiences waiting for each visitor. Though I have three recommendations for any traveler:

1. Don’t try to over plan your trip with all possible tourist attractions. Take time to understand the ambiance and culture. I would also suggest building your trip around local experiences. For example, big national functions, traditional holidays. They will help you to connect and better understand the local culture.

2. Choose the route according to your interests. Goa has fabulous beaches, however, if you are a tea lover, a tour around tea plantations will be equally exciting for you.

3. Try to focus on one area if you are coming for a short term period. E.g. North India, Himalaya area, South India. Local traveling is quite time-consuming, thus I would suggest reducing time spent on the road to enjoy other experiences.

India is also diverse in geographical zones. There are deserts, beaches, mountains, wildlife, green landscapes combined with centuries of historical heritage, different religions and rich culture.  I’m writing my general overview of different parts of India for the first comers. I hope this will be helpful while choosing your experience.

Best winter holiday destinations in India

Golden Triangle

Golden-Triangle - winter holiday destinations in India

Maybe it’s the most popular tour of India. If you are limited in time, this is one of the best itineraries for you. Golden triangle gives you a general perspective of Indian culture in three different states: Delhi, Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan). You can squeeze this adventure to one week, though I would recommend reserving 10 days for a more relaxed schedule.

Since it’s one of the popular routes, there will be many ways how you can be scammed. Be careful with tour agencies and “super attractive offers” you may receive.

Delhi – I would recommend reserving 2-3 days for visiting the main attractions of the city. If you wish to go for offbeat experiences – this will require more time, depending on your preferences.  How to commute: Delhi metro is very convenient and affordable way that takes you to all main attractions. If you are in India or South Asia for the first time and you are not habitual to bargaining, then I would recommend an option of a hop on – hop off bus tour for an affordable price with hoho Delhi.  It has one-day and two-day tours by bus that circulate every 40 minutes and take you to the main attractions of the city.  In Hoho Delhi, the prices are fixed and you don’t risk overpaying as in the case of rickshaw drivers outside the metro station.

Agra – the town where is one of the world’s most famous mausoleums – Taj Mahal. In addition to it, Agra offers many more places and experiences . Overall you will require one full day for Agra and one more day for Fatehpur Sikri – it’s a Unesco Heritage site that used to serve as the capital of Mughal Empire for several years. It’s situated in the Agra district on the way to Jaipur. If you have an extra day, consider visiting it.

Jaipur – the cultural capital of Rajasthan. After Agra, you will notice another type of architecture and different lifestyle. Jaipur was one of my favorite experiences before I discovered other parts of Rajasthan. I would recommend reserving 2-3 days for this city for both tourist places and experiences. If you have extra time, you might consider extending your Rajasthan journey to other cities of the state.

Overall: If you are in India for the first time on a short trip – Golden Triangle is a vast one week intro into Indian culture of three North Indian states.

Rajasthan

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Udaipur – “Venice of India”. One of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited

Rajasthan – the biggest state in India called the land of Kings combines both ancient and modern features, old and new. I love this state for its architecture, history, hospitality, cultural festivals and big textile markets. Rajasthan is diverse and beautiful with its cultural capital Jaipur, romantic Udaipur – the city of lakes, camel fair in Pushkar, blue city Jodhpur, golden city Jaisalmer, mesmerizing desert, natural parks, majestic Havelis and many more places and experiences.

This is the state that can teach you many lessons on storytelling. I love spending my mornings in the spice shops sipping tea with the seller and listening about different spices and how they can be used. That is the moment when I feel like buying the whole collection, but my wallet with limited cash always saves me from going bankrupt. Every sale starts very unconditionally: “Ma’am, just take a look. You don’t have to buy anything, let me tell you the story”. If you take time to really connect with people and understand their stories, you will open the whole different India for you, full of hopes and opportunities.

Overall: Rajasthan has an abundance of places that are part of world architectural heritage. Add to them desert, wildlife and rich culture to get a bigger picture. If you love history, architecture, and textiles – this state has a lot of experiences to offer you.

Mumbai – Goa – Karnataka trip

Goa-in-storm

Mumbai is a financial, fashion and the Bollywood capital of India. If you travel for a while around India, you will feel the difference of this city. It’s very fast, dynamic, unconditional and diverse. This is a place where you are not restricted to conservative clothes, you feel independent in lifestyle and behavior. You can have a rich nightlife and people will not judge you because they all are busy in their lives. This is a city with a touch of western culture. You will require 2-3 days for visiting Mumbai.

Goa is a state famous for natural beauty and fascinating beaches. This is not just another “beach” destination. There are many people who visit Goa for a short holiday, then come back for years. Seasonal travelers live there during winters. What can be better than the feel of sand, the sound of waves and a paradise desktop wallpaper in reality? Though it is hard to imagine Goa beyond beaches, there are quite a few sites of historical or religious importance to explore. Read more about places and activities on Goa travel blog.

After Goa, you can make a 2-day road trip to Hampi (Karnataka). Hampi is a Unesco heritage sight. There are many more experiences you can find in Karnataka – awesome beaches that are not discovered by tourists and they feel like less populated Goa, There are hilly areas like Mysore with awesome scenery and nature. The capital of the state – Bangalore, also known as a silicon valley of India, fascinates with its development and startup culture. You will require 2-3 days for Hampi and around one week for other tourist points in Karnataka.

Overall: This is a nice South Indian route that gives you an introduction to the culture and specifics of 3 states.

Kerala

Kerala

Backwaters of Kerala. Image Credit: Jo Kent

Kerala is called Gods own country for its fascinating nature sceneries. It is primarily famous for eco-tourism and backwaters. At the coastal part of the state, you become part of a totally different ambiance – floating shops and houses, lots of greenery everywhere, lagoons. This is a perfect destination for nature lovers. When we talk about Kerala, I can’t skip the fact that it’s a very educated and cultural state with interesting festivals and traditions.

Overall: Kerala is an interesting state from a cultural point of view as well as a variety of experiences it offers: hill stations, backwaters, tea plantations, Ayurveda, and beaches. Recommended stay – minimum 6 days.

Places to visit in India in Spring and Autumn

Himalaya region

Himalaya tour

India is the first country where I’ve seen mountains for real. I was so impressed by their greatness and stature. I was visiting the Himalaya area quite often afterward to experience this unbelievable nature, scenery and get some adrenaline riding a bus in the hill areas.  If you love spending time with nature there are also plenty of parks in Himalaya region: the Hemis National Park, Great Himalayan National Park, the Valley of Flowers to name few.

Shimla, Manali, Sri Nagar, Leh Ladakh – these are the most famous destinations. There are also many other breathtaking hilly areas like Dehradun, Dharamshala, Nainital and surrounding places. For some reasons, they didn’t get into the tourist top by popularity. If you come on a tourist visa, do confirm the formalities for Leh Ladakh and Sri Nagar. This is a restricted area and requires a special permission.

Overall: If you love mountains and hill stations, the variety of fascinating sceneries in Himalaya region will be a great experience for you. Advised stay – minimum 10 days, depending on the number of visit points.

I would also like to add the North-East route to the top itineraries to explore in India. This area has an immense nature and cultural heritage and I’m craving to discover it. Once I get a chance to travel there, I will be happy to share more details.

The above routes are the most popular among the first comers. Though, for long-term travelers – the preferences become slightly different.

What about you? Have you followed any of the above-mentioned routes? If you have stayed in India, which other destinations would you recommend for the first comers?

  • I have never been to India but I always wanted to visit Kerala and Himalaya! Hopefully, I one day I will get to visit.

    • If you are a nature lover, you will enjoy both! Hope you can make there one day)

  • India is one place, despite my love of travel, that has always intimidated me. I usually just hear about Delhi, so I like how you highlighted the other places as well–Rajasthan sounds amazing and I’d never heard of it before this! You mentioned that dress was less conservative in Delhi, but what about other parts of India, particularly the beaches like Goa?

    • I understand what you feel, that was one of the reasons I went to India. I was also scared. The problem is, that media publishes only shareable news and they are mostly negative. Though India is a country of contrasts and I can’t deny that there are many challenges, because it’s a man dominated culture. However, there is also a bright side about technological progress, improved women safety, unbelievable market opportunities, but Western media doesn’t write about it often) I’ve lived in Delhi for 2 years, South part of the city is comfortable as most of expats live there and people are habitual to foreigner community ) As for Goa – this is a place you can wear any western outfits. I haven’t met people (so far) caring too much about dress code in Goa :))

  • Backpacking Detours

    I love how you broke down India into sections. I would love to visit, but I think I would need at least a month! I’m definitely saving this article for future reference.

    • Thank you)) One month will be a good start. It’s true that it takes time to understand this country. Though there are many great tourist places, India leaves the strongest mark in the memory with its culture and diversity.

  • Thank you so much for sharing these tips. Be really helpful for my India trip in September

    • Great! Looking forward to your impressions about India, Lerato. If you need any help or advice about your upcoming trip, I will be happy to share insider tips)

  • Suzy Randjelovic

    Fab outline for first time travellers to India. Your suggested itineraries and timelines are great. Too often I saw people with crazy scheduled trips which would not stack up past a day as the train would be delayed or some other happening. We had a great time in India earlier this year celebrating Holi festival and I got to enjoy my birthday on the backwaters of Alleppey and in Hampi. India is indeed a magical place. Thanks for the northern route (and future north-eastern route), one for my bucket list.

    • Thank you, Suzy) It’s true that many people are trying to cover India in one go, but they rarely consider local reality)) It’s one of the countries where slow travelling works out very well.

      Holi is one of the best experiences in India and I’m happy you had a great time there!!

  • I have never been to India and have been longing to visit Kerala and Himalaya! I saw photos from a friend who has been to Kerala and somehow it left me with deep impression of that place. The beautiful nature, the people. Hope I get a chance to be there one day. This post reminds me of my Indian friends as well, orh, I have been long never get in touch with them! I should do it now! Ha..

    • Tracy, if you are a nature lover you will enjoy both Kerala and Himalaya areas)) I hope you can make it there one day)) Moreover, if you have Indian friends, most probably they will keep inviting you till you visit them 😉

  • Frank Thomae

    Good read. Haven’t been to India but curious about Rajasthan.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Thank you Frank for reading) Rajasthan is an impressive state with lots of cultural and historical heritage. If you like palaces, forts and other heritage places, this state has an architectural wonder in every city)

  • Shubham Mansingka

    Wonderful articulation and really helpful for first time travellers to India 🙂

    • Thank you, Shubham)) Great to hear this feedback from you!

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