As a former capital city of the region, Agra is a must-visit Indian location, with the climate suiting winter visits best. It offers an urban landscape filled with fantastic sights and experiences. The majesty of Agra’s past still lingers and is evident in the culture and surrounding architecture, including the famous inlaid marble and red sandstone buildings. Modern luxuries are also available to all visitors, delivering a wonderful balance of the classic and contemporary amongst the city’s beautiful settings.
There is a wealth of delectable delights for all your senses. Agra is famous for its sweets, which are devilishly delicious and a real treat for your tastebuds. The beautiful sights across the markets will capture your attention too, but be prepared to barter when buying from local craftsmen, who specialise in leather goods, rugs and gold embroidery.
This extensive Expedia travel guide will give you a fantastic insight into Agra. Browse the sections below to journey through everything the city has to offer and plan your very own once in a lifetime holiday.
Taj Mahal and UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The most famous attraction in Agra is the iconic Taj Mahal. This is probably the most popular tourist attraction in India, and is a definite must on any traveller’s list. Famously a testament to lost love, the mausoleum will look different depending on the time of day you visit it. It is pink in the morning, white in the evening and golden in the moonlight.
The tomb has numerous rules for visitors to adhere to. The entrance fee includes the coverings for your feet, a requirement for entrance, and a bottle of water. This is not just a tourist attraction. It is a religious site, with mosques within the complex. Visitors should therefore dress modestly and respectfully. In addition to this, there are also restrictions on what you can take inside the complex, for example, cameras are not allowed and it is recommended that you do not arrive with bags, as this will delay your entrance due to searches. You should also consider opting for an official tour, as you are likely to get more from your experience.
There is a reason the Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world, with people travelling miles to see it. The beauty of the foundation is incredible and it has a captivating story behind it. There are tales that the Emperor planned to build an exact copy of the Taj on the other side of the river in black marble as his own tomb. However, he is buried within the Taj Mahal, sharing it forever with his late wife. In poetry, the Taj has been called ‘a tear drop on the cheek of eternity’. The detail is intricate, with lustrous marble inlaid with gems and plenty of awe inspiring views to enjoy. No visitor to Agra should risk missing out on this.
“Arrive at the location (especially the Taj Mahal) before sunrise to avoid crowds. Check the weather – when do you get better colors? Pack only things you require. There might be multiple gates; find the least frequented one. Keep these tips in mind and get the perfect shot. Happy clicking!”
Anita Bora, travel blogger: http://www.anitabora.com/blog/
Where historical wonders are concerned, Agra is not a one trick pony. It houses not just one, but an impressive three UNESCO world heritage sites. Agra Fort was built by the 14-year-old Emperor Akbar to illustrate his power over his empire. Perhaps because of this, it is as much a palace as a fort.
The building is made mostly out of red sandstone and is truly stunning. The Fort was added to by the Emperor Shah Jahan, and is a short distance from his more famous building work, the Taj Mahal. Ironically Shah Jahan was also kept as a prisoner there, by his own fratricidal son. It has good views of the Taj Mahal, which may have comforted the deposed Emperor, and there is the option to pay for entrance to both sites at the Taj Mahal.
Fatehpur sikri, meaning ‘city of victory’, was built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. It is located to the west of Agra and was the capital city for just a short 14 years. It is said to have been built at the village where Abkar received a prophesy of an heir to his throne.
It is a stunning walled red sandstone city and features the horse shoe gate, where horse shoes have been nailed for many years as a sign of good luck. The Mosque is impressive, designed with a huge entrance way. Within the city is a square that is inlaid to serve as a huge board game, a precursor to Ludo, which was played with people as the pieces. Myth has it that three palaces were built here for the Emperor’s three favourite wives, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian. The red sandstone is especially stunning at sunset.
In addition to the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there are a wealth of sites to visit around Agra.
These gardens are located across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. The beautiful botanical gardens provide a reflective atmosphere, with fresh scents and floral life. They also deliver uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal, away from the bustling crowds. If you’re an early riser, the best time to visit is at sunrise, when you can capture incredible images of the temple to take home with you.
Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah
This tomb has many connections to the Taj Mahal and has even been nicknamed the Baby Taj. It is the tomb of a Persian nobleman named Mizra Ghivas Beg, who was the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, who the Taj Mahal was built for.
The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah was constructed from 1622 to 1628 and was an innovative structure that puts the Taj Mahal through its paces in terms of decadence and intricate design. It is the first Mughal structure to have ever been entirely built from marble and features mosaics, marble lattice screens and ornate inlays throughout.
In the centre of a large, luscious garden lies Sikandra, the last resting place of Akbar the Great, a Mughal Emperor. Akbar started the construction, but it was completed by his son, Jehangir, who put his own touch on the design to reflect his father’s personality. The pyramidal tomb features four red sandstone gates, representing Akbar, along with Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Delicate carvings are visible throughout the red-ochre sandstone structure, along with the inscription of Allah’s 99 names.
Along with the various tombs, Agra is also home to a number of temples. From Balkeshwar Temple and Kailash Temple, both temples to Lord Shiva, to Mankameshwar Temple, a favourite for local worshippers, these establishments are steeped in religion and give a good taste of the local culture.
Animal fans won’t be able to resist the incredible experiences available at Wildlife SOS. This centre has proved vital in the battle against illegal bear poaching and dancing in India, offering a sanctuary for rescued dancing bears. Hundreds of the bears now live in semi-natural environments here, along with protected elephants, leopards and primates. A visit here provides a truly touching experience and helps to support the sanctuary’s fantastic work.
The National Chambal Sanctuary is another great place to witness nature. The natural sanctuary is home to a number of endangered species, including the Ganges river dolphin and a relative to the crocodile known as the Indian ghariral.
Agra Art Gallery
This charming art gallery is surrounded by greenery and is home to a selection of carefully handcrafted items. Opened in 2004, the art gallery has amassed an incredible collection of jewellery, dazzled with precious stones, silver, gold, platinum and pendants, in modern and oriental designs. There are also impressive wooden handicraft items along with stunning marble inlaid products to marvel at.
If you are an avid shopper, then Mughal Bazaar is the best place to go. Located on the Taj East Gate road, it offers a much friendlier shopping experience than smaller stores, with better quality products and more competitive prices.
“If there is one place that defines the Mughal era to me, then it has to be Akbar’s capital town Fatehpur Sikri. Located a little away from the city centre in Agra, the bright sandstone monuments sweep me off my feet as I enter the world of Akbar’s court. I can see Birbal keeping the courtiers in splits while Tansen sings for rains. This for me, is the very essence of Mughal architecture.”
Lakshmi Sharath, travel blogger: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
With so many daylight excursions and activities, Agra is slightly lacking in terms of nightlife. Although it has nothing as busy or vibrant to offer as some other Indian cities, there are plenty of opportunities to socialise. Stay around the Taj Mahal when evening falls and head up to the terraces for a chance to meet backpackers and tourists in this gorgeous location.
There are very few clubs in Agra, so your best option for an energetic night out is to head to the hotel bars. Don’t be put off by their location. Favourites such as the Mighal Bar in Clarks Shiraz Hotel and On the Rocks in Jaypee Palace Hotel offer some of the best evening entertainment in the city.
Although the city may flounder for nightlife, it does deliver some amazing cultural shows at some of the larger hotel and restaurant establishments. One of the highlights is the annual festival known as Taj Mahotsav, which takes place in February and sees streets lined with live performances, decorated camels and delicious local delicacies.
The cuisine in Agra typically features roast meats, dried fruits and nuts, spices and creamy sauces. The food is rich and has definite influences from the Muslim empire. There is also a wealth of street food from the savoury and sweet breakfast treats of fried bread with a bowl of stew and threads of sweet fried dough in syrup. There are also stuffed fried flat breads, usually vegetarian, called paranthaa.
And for those with a sweet tooth, the traditional sweets called petha, made with white pumpkin and cooked in syrup are not to be missed. They come in varying textures and flavours, including saffron, mango and nuts, and tend to have a floral taste.
There are many famous sweet shops in Agra selling their speciality Petha, such as Hari Parwat, which is near Agra Fort. The other most popular sweet shops are the Pracheen Petha Store, Panchi’s and Bhimsain BaidyaNath. If you want to taste the most authentic petha, try the ivory white plain variety or the yellow rectangular syrup soaked Angoori.
Restaurants in Agra
As well as great street food, there are some amazing restaurants to visit. Esphahan is one of these. This hotel restaurant produces excellent food, which you can see being prepared from your table. The staff are attentive and the food is very high quality.
For fine dining at a reasonable price, the restaurant Paatra is a must. The food is authentic and the service and ambience are really excellent. The speciality dishes are well worth trying, especially their Bhatti da Murg.
The restaurant Pinch of Spice is also very popular with tourists. You can choose from an al la carte menu or opt for the buffet, in which water, soft drinks and naan are complimentary. The food is very tasty and credit cards are accepted here. The butter chicken is a real crowd pleaser, but there is a wealth of vegetarian options as well, not to mention the menu of tantalising desserts
For a very unique dining experience, the cafe Sheroes is a popular hangout. The menu is traditional Agra fare, but does not feature any prices. Instead, diners simply pay what they feel the meal was worth. As well as excellent food, this café supports a great cause, with the friendly staff being made up entirely of acid attack victims.
“One you’ve seen the Taj Mahal wet your appetite by trying the local delicacy called “petha”. Petha is made of ash gourd vegetable (Indian pumpkin) soaked in sugar syrup. It is thought that petha originated from kitchens of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the one who built the Taj Mahal.”
Shalu Sharma, travel blogger: http://www.shalusharma.com/
No matter what your budget may be, Agra will have the right accommodation to suit you. From quaint and affordable guesthouses to decadent and luxurious hotels, the city has something to offer travellers of every taste. With 18.9 million tourists flocking to the Taj Mahal alone each year, it’s a good idea to book early to avoid disappointment.
Budget Hotels in Agra
There is an abundance of family run hotels and guest houses in Agra. These simple rooms will offer little in the way of luxury, but will deliver plenty in terms of space and water, which is all you should need considering you’ll be outside exploring for most of your trip.
One of the most favourite budget options is the Hotel Raj. Located near the Taj Mahal South Gate, this is one of the most affordable options in Tajganj. The rooms are lacking in decoration but the Hotel Raj more than makes up for this with its friendly staff, attention to detail and good quality food from its own restaurant, not to mention views of the Taj Mahal from the rooftop.
For travellers looking for somewhere to stay in Dayalbagh, you’ll be hard pressed to find better value than Dayal Lodge. Operating since the early 60s, this guest house has 20 guest rooms, all well furnished with modern amenities. This accommodation also has a made-to-order kitchen service and onsite laundry facilities, along with optional tour arrangements and transfers to nearby airports.
Prices range from between 200 rupees for a single room with shared bathroom to 900 rupees for an air conditioned double, although you can find youth hostels for as low as 50 rupees. Depending on where you want to stay, you will easily find a clean and welcoming hotel that doesn’t break the bank.
Mid-range Hotels in Agra
The majority of hotels in Agra will cater to the mid-range market, with plenty of amenities and a reasonable price tag. These rooms will feature air-conditioning to help you cool off from the Indian heat, along with modern comforts such as internet access and plenty of TV channels.
Just a 15-minute walk from the Taj Mahal and close to the city centre and local markets is Sai Home Stay bed and breakfast. This hotel has a distinctive white exterior, with clean and spacious guest rooms that boast their own private bathroom and comfortable, sizeable beds. Guests here can also enjoy free Wi-Fi, room service, a laundry service and fresh home cooked meals on request, courtesy of your friendly hosts.
The Hotel Taj resorts are conveniently located near Shilpgram, where you can buy your tickets for the Taj Mahal. This modern hotel has only been around since 2010, but it has already cemented its reputation as one of the best mid-range hotels in the region. The immaculately clean rooms and friendly staff make you feel welcome, while the reasonably priced onsite restaurant and rooftop swimming pool will leave you feeling pampered.
There are so many mid-range hotel and bed and breakfasts to choose from, with a wide variety of amenities and locations. Many accommodations will also include the price of breakfast, with costs for a night ranging from around 1,300 rupees all the way up to 6,000 rupees, depending on the room and resort.
Luxurious Hotels in Agra
If you want to live like royalty during your visit, then Agra can definitely cater to your wishes. A choice of luxurious and five-star resorts will deliver sprawling gardens and indulgent amenities, including swimming pools, spas and relaxing treatments, along with onsite restaurants and bars.
Big names such as Marriott and Hilton offer incredible escapes with an attentive service and opulent settings, while hotels like The Oberoi Amarvilas will take your breath away with its stunning interiors and delightful room designs.
Prices for these top of the line hotels can range from 5,000 rupees up to 10,000 rupees, but if you are willing to splash out then you’ll be rewarded with amazing facilities and unrivalled services that take your holiday to a whole new level.
There are plenty of ways to get around Agra. If you’re wanting to visit the Taj Mahal or sites close to it, be aware that cars are not allowed around these sites. However, you can get to these tourist attractions via electric buses called Tongas. These are a great way to get around in general, as are electric tempos.
An alternative method of traversing the city is by rickshaws. There are two types of rickshaws: auto and cycle. It’s useful to remember that, as a tourist, you are expected to haggle on prices while travelling. As a good rule of thumb, expect to pay only 40% of the first price you’re given. Haggle hard for the best prices.
Another way of sightseeing around Agra is to hire an air conditioned taxi for the day. This tends to be on the basis of 8 hours or 80km. There are various ways of booking your taxi. You can do so online for reliability or directly at the train station for convenience. It is also possible to book from the hotel you’re staying at, although this does tend to work out more expensive.
You should bear in mind that taxi drivers are likely to make unscheduled stops at shops, as this is how they receive their commission. Make it clear when you book your taxi that you do not want to visit any shops. Although you may still get taken to them, it shouldn’t add to your fee, as you will pay by the day and not on the clock. You’ll also be unlikely to be pressured into buying anything.
One of the best ways to experience the city is to walk the Sadar or Mall road. This road is full of food vendors, handicrafts and leather goods shops to peruse at your leisure.
“I was wary of traveling solo to Agra but I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this romantic town. The locals were so accommodating and sweet! Take the usual precautions but otherwise I think women can safely explore the city on their own”
Priyanka Dalal, travel blogger: http://travel.priyankawriting.com/