Last updated on November 10th, 2018.
There are many travelers coming to India with a purpose to visit Taj Mahal and Goa. If you have spent somewhat six months in India and haven’t covered these places, you start getting some serious looks and questions. There are many great places to visit in India and I recommend choosing your itinerary according to your interests, not global patterns. I’ve visited Agra (that’s the name of the Taj Mahal city by the way) several times (after I was questioned for not doing it) and I’d like to tell more about this city and places you can visit in Agra beyond Taj Mahal.
In addition to Agra, many first-timers do a Golden triangle tour (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) as an introduction to India. If you are traveling on a budget and planning a DIY trip to India, don’t forget to check out the post about Jaipur and what Delhi offers for free. Meanwhile, here is a menu for Agra for your convenience:
- Places in Agra beyond Taj Mahal
- Ways to explore Agra
- Best time to visit Agra
- Popular questions & answers about Agra
- What to buy in Agra
Places to visit in Agra beyond Taj Mahal
The Agra Fort is a walled city on Yamuna River. The first mentioning of it dates back to 11th century, however only during the rule of Shah Jahan the site took the current state. Although Indian Army is using the biggest part of the fort, the places that are open for tourists inside the fort are still worth visiting. As this is the second popular monument to visit in Agra, the tourist authorities formed the entrance packages. For instance, if you pay for a Taj Mahal ticket, you will get a discount for the ticket price to the fort.
Agra fort vs Red fort – which one to visit?
There is at least one fort in each city of the Golden Triangle route. The model of Agra fort inspired the construction of the famous Red Fort in Delhi. They are both impressive from architectural and interiors points of view and have a similar structure. Both are included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites. If I was on a tourist visit and limited in time, I would pick an Agra fort for several reasons: it’s better preserved, the tickets are more accessible and you get an additional view of Taj Mahal from it. It will take you around 2-3 hours to explore the Agra fort.
It’s also known as a Friday mosque. It’s one of the biggest Mosques in India, which is just opposite to Agra Fort. It was dedicated to Shah Jahan’s daughter, Jahanara Begum. I encourage travelers to visit different religious places in India as it’s very interesting how different religions coexist.
It’s a garden on the opposite side of Yamuna Bank. From there opens another great view of Taj Mahal. This was the last Mughal-built garden on Yamuna banks. The structure of this garden perfectly aligns with Taj Mahal garden and fountains. You can get in for 100 INR. If you would like to see the view without visiting the garden itself, our rickshaw driver shared the “alternative way” that lies just nearby(on the right of) the garden area. It’s free and you can have a nice Taj Mahal view opening there as well.
Itimad Ud Daulah
This monument is also called Baby Taj and some guides refer it as a small sketch of Taj Mahal. This mausoleum was built for Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, Persian Amir in exile and named by his title. Itimad-Ud-Daulah stands for the pillar of the state. In addition to this mausoleum, there are also gardens and other constructions in the monument area. As a person who likes historical sites and architecture, I found it interesting and worth visiting. During my visit price was only 100 INR (~1.6 USD) which is one of the lowest tourist fares you get in India.
Explore further Mughal architecture: Akbar’s Tomb and Tomb of Mariam Zamani
Akbar’s tomb is another outstanding monument of Mughal architecture. It was commenced by the third Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great. Although it’s considered to be in the suburb of Agra, it’s just 8 km away from Taj Mahal. The tomb of Emperor Akbar’s wife Mariam Zamani is in the middle of a beautiful garden. It is just 1km away from Akbar’s Tomb as Mariam wished to be buried close to her husband. Nowadays, these places are more interesting from the architectural point of view rather than history.
Fatehpur Sikri is 37 km away from Agra. It’s a city that served as a capital of the Mughal Empire for some time. Emperor Akbar has constructed it and initially named Fatehabad. Fateh means “victorious” in Persian. On the territory of Fatehpur Sikri you will see many famous monuments like Buland Darwaza (one of the highest gates in the world); Panch Mahal (a five-story palace), Jama Masjid(Friday Mosque), etc. Each of them has a history behind so it will be good to get some audio/real guide if you want to know the historical meaning. You can visit this site on the way to Jaipur.
If you stay in Agra more than 1 day and would like to have some cultural program in the evening, read the reviews about this play. You can see the colorful love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaj played in a theater scene. You will be well familiar with both names after visiting historical monuments of Agra.
Ways to explore Agra
These are the alternatives of the city tours that can give you a vast intro into the history and different areas of life of the city.
Agra walks. India is not much of a walking country with a few exceptions. As Agra is quite a small town (comparing to Delhi), the traffic there is quite sane for the Indian reality. Plus there are plenty of monuments and tourist areas tend to be more pedestrian. In addition to this, during walking, you will pay attention to small local details of the town. Agra Walks is one of the most famous walking tours in Agra.
Rickshaw tour. One of the traditional ways of connecting with this city is to take a rickshaw tour in the morning. AgraBeat organizes this rickshaw tour with a twist of giving rides in eco-friendly battery-powered rickshaws. They take you through grand old Havelis of Agra, Mirza Ghalib’s birthplace, the only street of Ayurvedic doctors to special markets of Agra like Kinari market & spice market. They showcase the city’s culture, cuisine, craft and life of local people in 3 hrs of a rickshaw ride.
Agra by bike. Bicycle guided tour is a rage that is fast catching up in India. Agra too has become part of this trend with many companies offering guided bicycle tour through the city. AgraByBike is a company offering bicycle tours that take you through the heritage sites, including Taj Mahal, Agra Fort along with the local markets of the city. They provide complete flexibility for the tourists with no restriction on time spent in the markets or on heritage sites.
Food walk. Every region in India has special dishes and delicacies to taste. Agra Food Trail organizes one of the high rated food walks taking you through hundred-year-old food shops in between the lanes of Agra. Along with food, you will find out the story of each shop and experience the history of the city from the different angle.
Best time to visit Agra
The best time to visit Agra is from November to April. The weather in Agra is at its best in November-December and February – mid-March. In my opinion, January is quite uncomfortable at night due to low temperatures and in March you can already feel the heat of the upcoming summer. I have visited Agra a few times in “winter” and once in a monsoon season. I love monsoons because they give the nature and the city a fresh clean look, plus there are quite a few visitors due to the off-season and better prices. Despite regular rains, it will be still quite hot and humid in summer.
Popular questions about visiting Agra
How many days to stay in Agra? All the places mentioned above can make a two-day comfortable program. On the 1st day, you can cover Taj Mahal, Agra fort, Jama Masjid, the Mehtab Garden and Baby Taj. You might be overloaded with information but distance wise it’s not tiring as they are all close to each other. 2nd day you can visit the tombs and Fatehpur Sikri.
How to travel in Agra? During my first visit, I’ve taken a rickshaw for the whole day and shared the price with my friend. We have negotiated to 500 INR (~7.40 USD) for the whole day and it was so worth it. The driver took us all around Agra plus advised cafe for lunch and a visit to the local market. Rickshaw is a great choice of city transport in India, you just have to strike a good deal.
What to try in Agra from the Indian food? Agra is particularly famous for kachoris (snack), chaat (snack) and paranthas(a type of bread). I generally like paranthas inclusively from Agra. Though I’m not a big fan of Petha – it’s a sweet – many people buy packs of it as souvenirs. It’s a local specialty.
How to reach Agra? You can go from Delhi to Agra by bus, train, and taxi. To prioritize by price, a simple bus will be cheaper than the train. I’ve traveled by train and, as a rule, it is my top transport choice in India. Though the train journey will be slightly longer than the drive through the expressway road. The taxi is the most expensive. My friends have hired once a taxi (Delhi-Agra) for 5000 INR (~74 USD). Due to the fact that Agra hosts a world-known tourist attraction, this town is well connected by both train and bus networks with different cities.
What to buy in Agra?
What do you think Agra is famous for? After visiting several sites, most probably you will be impressed by the marble carvings. The locals have created numerous things from marble, starting with Taj Mahal miniatures till the vases and tables. I’m not sure how much marble you will be able to carry, but it’s worth visiting a few shops to see the variety of goods. As mentioned previously, some people bring Petha sweets as a souvenir. As in other parts of India, you will also see different shops with textiles, crafts, and spices in Agra, but they are not necessarily the local specialty of the city. Before stepping into the shop read about the shopping in India for insider tips.
Agra left a special footprint in my memory. Besides all the beauty and historical heritage, it was the place where I felt the wall of partition between rich and poor the most. From one side it’s Taj Mahal, Fort and other polished monuments that occupy a significant area of the town. They look royal, clean, with thousands of visitors every day. From the other side is poverty, dust, broken roads just half km from Taj Mahal. This is another reality where the citizens of that city live. Both historical and local experiences are valuable. I hope you will find your route there.
I also do believe if you had already crossed half of the globe or half of India to reach Taj, maybe it makes sense to extend your Agra tour and explore the city. If you have any comments or questions, I will be glad to hear back from you! 🙂