Regions of India
A country of breathtakingly diverse landscapes, history and culture, India is a nation whose contradictions at first bewilder, then beguile. From unforgettable festivals, remote Himalayan villages to the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, every traveller will find what they’re looking for, be it backpacker cool or Raj-style opulence. Use our map of India to start planning your trip and get to the heart of this beautiful destination.
Glimpse the elusive Royal Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park, once a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Relax on the shores of Gokarna after exploring its temples or dive the spectacular reefs of the Andaman Islands. If it’s good food you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed by India’s rich offerings – savour bhelpuri in Mumbai, the street-food capital of India while admiring the Gateway of India.
- Uttar Pradesh
- Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh
- Himachal Pradesh
- Jammu and Kashmir
- Haryana and Punjab
- Kolkata and West Bengal
- Bihar and Jharkhand
- The Northeast
- Andhra Pradesh
- The Andaman Islands
- Tamil Nadu
The best beaches in India
With 7500 kilometres of coastline to explore, good beaches in India aren’t hard to come by. From the party sands of Goa to the bustle of Marine Drive in Mumbai, here are some of the best beaches in India.
Chakratirth Beach, Gujarat
The larger Chakratirth Beach, overlooked by a high bound, is a little to the west, just outside the city walls. In many ways this is the most attractive beach on the west coast of India, and usually deserted, making it the best option for an undisturbed swim – especially for female travellers.
Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai
Situated at the top of Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach is a Mumbai institution. On evenings and weekends, Mumbaikars gather here on this city beach in large numbers – not to swim (the sea is foul) but to wander, sit on the sand, munch kulfi and bhel puri, get their ears cleaned and gaze across the bay while the kids ride a pony or rusty Ferris wheel.
Anjuna Beach, North Goa
The vibe is much nicer at the south end of Anjuna Beach as opposed to the north, where a pretty and more sheltered cove accommodates a mostly twenty-something tourist crowd. A constant trance soundtrack thumps from the shacks behind it cranking up to become proper parties after dark, when bars Curlie’s and neighbouring Shiva Valley take turns to max their sound systems, hosting international DJs through the season. Chai ladies and food stallholders sit in wait on the sands, just like for the raves of old, but the party generally grinds to a halt at 10pm sharp.
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Morjim beach itself is dramatic and well worth a walk, especially in the early morning, when you’ll see teams of fishermen hauling giant hand nets from the surf. The spit at its southern end, opposite Chapora Fort, is also a great birding hotspot, making this among the best beaches in India for a wide range of reasons.
Arambol, North Goa
Arambol’s main drag is a winding road lined cheek-by-jowl with clothes and bedspread stalls, travel agents, internet cafes and souvenir shops selling tourist knick-knacks. The lane bends downhill to the main beach – dotted with wooden outriggers and one of the most picturesque in south India. The best view of it is from the crucifix and small Parasurama shrine on the hilltop to the north, when is an especially serene spot at sunset. After dark, when the Hula-Hoopers, fire juggles and bhajan singers have turned homewards, the candles and fairy lights of the shacks illuminate the beachfront to magical effect.
Arambol beach in north Goa,
Mandrem, North Goa
From the far side of the creek bounding the edge of Ashwem, a magnificent and largely empty beach stretches north towards Arambol – the last unspoilt stretch of the north Goan coast. Olive Ridley marine turtles nest on the quietest patches, and you’re more than likely to catch a glimpse of one of the white-bellied fish eagles that live in the casuarina trees – their last stronghold in the north of Goa.
Palolem, South Goa
With the gradual spread of package tourism down the coast, Palolem, a ninety-minute drive south of Margao along the main highway, is Goa’s most happening beach (even in the realm of the famous Goa beaches!), attracting droves of sun seekers from November through March. Set against a backdrop of forest-cloaked hills, its bay is spectacular, though the crowds can feel overwhelming in the high season.
Marine Parade, Odisha
In the west end of town, along Marine Parade, the atmosphere is more akin to a British Victorian holiday resort. This stretch is very much the domain of the domestic tourist industry and the beach is much cleaner here. It’s a pleasant place to stroll and becomes highly animated after sunset when the nightly souvenir market gets going. Local fishermen patrol the beach as lifeguards; recognisable by their triangular straw hats and dhotis, they wade with their punters into the surf and literally hold their hands to keep them on their feet – the undertow claims victims every year, so weak swimmers should be careful.
Having once been a lively place, today, the only time you’re likely to encounter much action is during festivals and holidays, when the village is temporarily inundated with Bengali holiday-makers. For the rest of the year, its desultory collection of seafront hotels stands idle, left to the odd backpacker and armies of industrious fishermen (katias) hauling in hand nets on Gopalpur’s endless coast to unwind and enjoy the warm sea breezes. Sunbathing on the beach will quickly make you the centre of attention, but its uncrowded sands, punctuated by coconut groves, sleepy lagoons and tiny creeks, makes a good setting for a rejuvenating walk.
The Marina, Chennai
One of the longest city beaches in the world, the Marina (Kamaraj Salai) stretches five kilometres from the harbour at the southeastern corner of George Town to near San Thome Cathedral. Today the beach itself is a sociable stretch, people by idle paddlers, picnickers and pony-riders; every afternoon crowds gather around the beach market. Although, its location, just a little downstream from the port, which belches out waste and smelly fumes, combined with its function as the toilet for the fishing community, detract somewhat from its natural beauty.
Benaulim, South Goa
An ideal first place if you’ve just arrived in the region is Benaulim, six kilometres west of the state’s second city, Margao. The most traveller-friendly resort in the area, Benaulim stands slap in the middle of a spectacular 25km stretch of pure white sand. Although increasingly carved up by Mumbai timeshare companies, low-cost accommodation here is plentiful and of a consistently high standard.
Lighthouse Beach, Kovalam
The largest and most developed cove at Kovalam, known for obvious reasons as Lighthouse Beach, is where most foreign tourists congregate. Lined by a paved esplanade, its seafront of shops and hotels extend along the full length of the bay, overlooked by the eponymous lighthouse at the southern end. You can scale the 142 spiral steps and twelve ladder rungs to the observation platform for a fine view.
Kovalam Beach, Kovalam
Kovalam beach, the third of the coves, is dominated from on high by the angular chalets of the five-star Leela Kempinski. Coach-loads of excited Keralan day-trippers descend here on weekends, but at other it times offers a peaceful alternative to the beach further south and why it makes our list of the best beaches in India.
Known in Malayalam as Papa Nashini (“sin-destroyer”), Varkala’s beautiful white-sand beach has long been associated with ancestor worship. Devotees come here after praying at the ancient Janardhana Swamy Temple on the hill to the south, then perform mortuary rituals on the beach, directed by specialist pujaris (priests). The best time to watch the rites is in the early morning, just after sunrise. And note that it’s best to keep your camera in your bag.
Papanasam Beach, Varkala
Backed by sheer red laterite cliffs, Varkala’s coastline is imposingly scenic and the beach relatively relaxing – although its religious associations do ensure that attitudes to public nudity (especially female) are less liberal than other coastal resorts in India. Western sun-worshippers are supposed to keep to the northern end (away from the main puja area reserved for the funeral rites) where they are serviced by a nonstop parade of local “hallo-pineapple-coconut?” vendors. Sea otters can also occasionally be spotted playing on the cliffs by the sea.
Cherai Beach, Kochi, Kerala
The closest beach to Kochi worth the effort of getting to is Cherai, 25km north on Vypeen Island. A 3km strip of golden sand and thumping surf, it’s sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between the sea and a very pretty backwater area of glassy lagoons. Chunky granite sea defences prevent the waves from engulfing the ribbon of fishing villages that subsist along this strip. Nowhere, however, is the sand more than a few metres wide at high tide, and the undertow can get quite strong. Even so, Cherai is gaining in popularity each year, and a row of small resorts and guesthouses has sprung up to accommodate the trickle of mainly foreign travellers who find their way up here from Fort Cochin.
If you’re looking to escape the city for a few hours, then head out to the village of Ullal, where a long sandy beach stretches for kilometres, backed by wispy fir trees. It’s a deservedly popular place for a stroll, particularly in the evening when Mangaloreans come out to watch the sunset, but a strong undertow makes swimming difficult, and at times unsafe. You might be better off using the pool at the Summer Sands Beach Resort, immediately behind the beach.
Kudlee Beach, Karnataka
This wonderful 1km-long sweep of golden-white sand sheltered by a pair of steep-sided promontories is now punctuated by around fifteen restaurants-cum-hut ventures and one proper hotel. This is the longest and broadest of Gokarna’s beaches, and with decent surf too, though the water can be dangerous.
Why India is the ideal honeymoon destination
Whether you want a fly and flop romantic beach break, or more of an active adventure, India is the honeymoon destination that truly has it all. There’s no better place to fall in love all over again than on the laidback beaches of Kerala, among the chaos of Rajasthan’s colourful towns and cities, or at sunset overlooking the ancient city of Hampi. Here’s why a honeymoon in India is the perfect place for post-wedding bliss.
1. It’s got bucket loads of romance
If there’s a common theme throughout most Bollywood movies, it’s romance. There’s almost always a young Indian man longing for a bride, or a woman hung up on an unlikely suitor, and cinema audiences lap it up. This means India really knows how to do romance, and with such a variety of landscapes you’ll have no problem finding the spot for you.
For classic sand and sea romance, head to the likes of Goa and Kerala for beachside sundowners, or for city slickers, hit Chowpatty Beach and marine Drive in Mumbai to see the sun disappear behind the horizon and create a fiery orange sky.
If rolling green hills are more your thing, head to the Western Ghats in Kerala, where deciduous and evergreen forests are interspersed with tea plantations to create a stunning, undulating patchwork of greenery. Sunrise here is a daily highlight.
In the north, you’ll find vertiginous snow-capped mountains, a vast orange desert where the sky sparkles at night, and the ultimate declaration of love: the Taj Mahal.
2. There’s some truly special accommodation
India’s long and varied human history, from the sixteenth century Mughal empire to British rule to independence in 1947, has left behind some fascinating traditions and architecture. Today, while many of the most important historical buildings are tourist attractions, many also double up as accommodation.
In Rajasthan, stay in a haveli, a traditional Indian mansion or townhouse, usually set around a courtyard and lavishly decorated with Indian fabrics and mosaics. We love this one in the tiny village of Mandawa, or the sumptuous Alsisar Haveli in Jaipur, which has an outdoor pool and an illustrious history.
In Kerala, spend the night onboard a houseboat (or kettuvallam) on the serene, bucolic backwaters, and in the Bandhavgarh National Park, where tigers roam in the forests, you can stay in a unique treehouse – ideal for those looking for a honeymoon in India that’s a bit different.
Then there’s the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai – possibly India’s most famous hotel. While its history doesn’t date back centuries like some of the heritage properties across the country, it’s the place to see and be seen in this sprawling, cosmopolitan city. Ghandi and Obama have stayed here, Bollywood’s elite eat, sleep and drink here, and the suites are simply sublime. It’s a real treat for a blowout honeymoon stay.
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3. There are some gorgeous beaches
If your ideal honeymoon involves sun, sea and sand, India is the place to go. There’s plenty of it along the 4500 mile coastline, and the Indian Ocean that laps its shores is a balmy temperature, perfect for swimming.
Goa is famous for its party beaches, but for a more relaxed vibe head to Kerala. The most developed beaches are around Kovalam, and luxury resorts such as The Leela would make for a spectacular honeymoon in India.
The absolute best beaches, however, and one of the best places in India for a honeymoon, can be found on the far-flung Andaman Islands, strung out in the Andaman Sea between India and Thailand. Havelock is the best honeymoon destination, with plenty of ocean-front resorts offering all-out luxury. Try Taj Exotica Resort & Spa for a classic honeymoon hotel, or Barefoot at Havelock, with its cute thatched huts among a lush forest, just behind Radhanagar Beach.
The most beautiful places in India
India is a place that defies description. At over 3.2 million sq km it’s one of the biggest countries in the world, one with a wildly varied landscape. For first- or 10th-time visitors there will be many new sights that delight (and equally some that dismay). Think of this list of the most beautiful places in India as less like a definitive inventory, and more like a starting point to inspire your travel planning.
So much of India’s beauty is to be found in the small things – the play of sunlight on water, the heaps of marigold garlands in the market, the lush greens of a tea plantation – that we wouldn’t dream of suggesting these are the only things you should see. But you need to start somewhere, right?
1. Taj Mahal
Let’s get this one out of the way first! No self-respecting list of India’s many spectacular sights would be complete without this monumental mausoleum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Finished in the mid-17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, it houses the tomb of his third (and favourite) wife, Mumtaz Mahal. In English, the name means “crown of palaces”. Constructed of white marble blocks and symmetrical in design, the building’s walls display lines of scripture from the Quran. The complex also includes a mosque and several other mausoleums, including that of the Shah himself.
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2. Nohsngithiang Falls
Nohsngithiang Falls, also known as Seven Sisters waterfall, is located in the state of Meghalaya, one of the wettest places in the world (during British rule the area was appropriately nicknamed “Scotland of the East”). Tucked between Bangladesh and Bhutan, Meghalaya translates to “abode of the clouds”. It’s this abundance of rainfall that creates the spectacular effect of the falls. The seven chutes of water only appear during rainy season, cascading over limestone cliffs for some 315 metres, making it one of the highest falls in India. If you’re lucky, when you visit the sunlight will hit at the right angle to create shimmering rainbows above the water.
Nohsngithiang Falls in Meghalaya, one of India’s wettest regions
3. Palace of the Winds
Hawa Mahal, or the Palace of the Winds, might look like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, but it predates the quirky film director by a couple hundred years. Finished in 1799, it was built as part of the women’s quarters in Jaipur’s huge city palace. Most of the building is just one-room deep. The space was designed so that the women in the palace could watch the goings-on in the street below without being seen. Like many other buildings in Jaipur, the palace is made of local sandstone, which gives the building its distinctive hue and Jaipur its nickname, “the Pink City”.
4. Dal Lake
With its mirror-like reflection, colourful houseboats and the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance, Dal Lake in Kashmir is a slice of serenity in a country that can sometimes feel like a (glorious) assault on the senses. During the Mughal era (at its peak from 1526-1707) the lake became the emperors’ destination of choice. Today, it remains a popular summer resort. The shore is lined with hotels and several formal gardens that date to the Mughal era. In winter, it gets so cold that the 18 sq km lake can sometimes freeze over, while in July and August hundreds of lotus flowers bloom creating a carpet of colour on the water.
5. Meenakshi Temple
Whether you agree that Meenakshi Temple should be on this list of the most beautiful places in India depends on one thing – are you a maximalist or a minimalist? Covered in brightly coloured carved figurines, the temple honours Meenakshi (a form of Pavarti), the mother goddess. The legend goes that Lord Shiva (in the form of Sundareswarar) married Pavarti in this very place. The temple, located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is one of the holiest sites in the country. It was built in the 14th century, but references to a “goddess temple” on the site date back to the 6th century. During the festival of Tirukalyanam (held in April), over 1 million devotees travel to worship here.
Prefer endless beaches over 14-century temples? India can help you there too. Enter Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 tiny atolls and coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, that fulfil every dream of a blissful beach getaway. In an effort to preserve the beauty of the region, only five of the islands are accessible to tourists, and getting there involves taking a small prop plane from Kochi in Kerala to Agatti island then a boat to your final stop. The accommodation on the islands is all-inclusive or nothing, and foreign visitors must arrange a place to stay in advance.
7. Tamhini Ghat
The forested hills of the Sahyadri mountains look like they come straight of out a Lord of the Rings movie. Shrouded in clouds and heavy with mist, the ≈mountain passage is a journey through nature at its most raw. The 25-km drive will take you past thundering waterfalls and through cloud cover. All along the way there’s incredible greenery. The drive is best enjoyed during monsoon season when the falls are at their fullest.